Wordmaker

Wordmaker is a python program that helps people learn words and their meanings. It’s a console program, so run it from the command line. Use wordmaker --update initially to retrieve a seed list from the web (fetched from the Sig9 Words database), and then use wordmaker to output a list of word/meaning/usage triads. The mode I find most useful though is wordmaker --question which lists the word first allowing you to recall it from your memory, and only then displays the meaning and usage.

It’s a very simple and ad hoc python program with less than 65 lines of code. I’ve uploaded both the source and the windows binary out here. It’s BSD licensed, feel free to do what you want with it.

TODO: It’s not entirely synced with the words list as of now, but that requires a server patch-up. Maybe if/when Vivek feels like it, he’ll work on that. 🙂

Download: Source | Windows Binary

Gee Aar Eee

You haven’t seen a healthy post on this blog for 24 days, and you deserve to know why. Let me unscramble the mystery. GRE!, the ubiquitous test on the planet that lets you get into dream universities, and I’ve been behind that for more than a month. Bunked an internal test series, bunked classes, email and even my wee little blue love over here for an infernal exam. I’ll post a series of articles (and some homegrown code) on how I went about the process, but let me tell you what happened on the D-day (i.e. today).

The Prometric testing center at Thiruvananthapuram is on the 2nd floor of PTC towers, pretty near the heart of the city (for locals reading this, it’s SS Coil Road, the one adjacent to Sreevisakh/Sreekumar theatres, and the one with the SBI/SBI Life Banks), and entering the place is like walking into the most perfectly sterile environment I’ve seen around here. Smashed up but comfy AC, polite doormen who double as test bouncers, a water cooler, bathrooms with tissues et. al. It’s the nicest place I’ve taken a test in ;-).

You start off with the doorman handing you a form to fill in. It’s a pretty stupid form, and it says something like ‘I’ll not divulge the contents of this exam; I’ve read and understood all the directions’… and all such legal BS. You’re supposed to transcribe that sentence in your own handwriting in the space provided, sign the form, and hand it back. He’ll shove you a locker key, and you should stuff your bag, your mobile, your usb disk, your pens, your purse, your pencil and your notepad (hey, I’m no worse than some of you girls out there, at least all these are functional) in it. You may only have your passport ID (and the passport is a must) with you before you’re called in according to your locker letter (Mine was a ‘D’). Enter the mystic door and the polite proctor greets you with terse directions. I looked into the computer cam and had an ugly photo taken, “signed in”, and then was ushered into the hall. It has just eight computers out there, so it’s a pretty cosy affair.

You’re given six sheets of pretty high quality scratch paper and two pencils to work out with. Please practise doing maths with pencils if you haven’t done so before… the experience can be pretty disturbing. Wise people ask for ear plugs, and since I pretend to be one, earplugs it was… and it came out of sealed packages too… gosh!

Smashed on my earplugs, confirmed my details (my photo was up there staring down at me), and pressed Enter to begin. Since I’m pretty confident that the ETS tutorial was prepared for braindead monkeys (how to use the mouse and keyboard, how to answer), I skipped all that and rushed to the main event. Voila!

Analytical section! My favorite! (sic). Forty Five minutes of an essay and Thirty for an argument. I’ve forgotten the essay topic entirely, but the argument was one about two medicines for curing cold (search for that in the pool). I did these as best as I could, tried to reason out the argument logically, and had a healthy portion of my energy drained by this section.

You have a ten minute break after this. I raised my hand, asked to leave, and “signed out”. Got into the bathroom, and pumped myself up for the vocab section. Vocabulary was my greatest weakness in the practice tests, and I had died and gone to heaven twice before I finished even the high frequency list. (Please note: this is entirely atypical. A person I know has the entire 3500 Barron’s list almost by-heart). Signed back in with three minutes remaining, took a deep breath and was greeted by the Quantitative section.

Mathematics! I had practised very little for this, and in the end, I guess it showed. Overconfidence really helps you when the questions are dead simple and the answers intentionally misdirecting. I couldn’t finish the section in time, and had to rush to answer the last two questions in 30 seconds. With hindsight, I think though that I got a couple of DI questions wrong, having completely misunderstood one of them.

I didn’t know all this then of course (Thank God!) and I finished up that section, broke the screen that said “You have a 1 minute break” and moved on to the verbal. Thirty questions later, I thanked my luck ten thousand times coz almost every one of the words asked I’d known the meaning of. Sentence completion, as usual, was a breeze, but the first reading comprehension was a mile long: I scrolled and scrolled without end until I finished reading that. I finished that section with a minute or two to spare, and then clicked “end section”, expecting another quantitative or verbal one.

(Aside: For readers unfamiliar with the GRE scheme, you have an Analytical writing section (45+30mins), and then three sections, one of them a Quantitative(20q, 45mins), one a Verbal(30q, 30mins), and one which can be either. Two sections among these are marked, and one is an “experimental” section. You don’t know which one is the experimental one, so you’d have to answer all of them to the best of your ability. Then, after that, you could have a research section, which is like another experimental section, but it’s identified as one, and doesn’t add to your score. It’s almost like we pay to be test dummies for the next GRE.)

BUT, instead of that, I got a “clearly identified research section”. I didn’t have the experimental section. The research section had me writing another essay (a pretty stupid one about ideas being original yet derived), with an incentive of $250 if you’re the highest scored one in your “category”. You could also opt-out for this, but I did it anyway.

And after that, two repetitions of “Do you want to show your score or cancel them?” later, I had my score in front of me. 670+770 = 1440.

I’ll post more info later. And lots of other stuff too… soon. Even in the middle of preparations, I’ve led a pretty exciting life. Will keep you guys posted.

Google Talk

Everybody please switch over to Google Talk. It’s free, it’s minimalistic, and it’s what I’ve wanted in an IM since ages. Hope Google continues to evolve this service, but still keep it cruft-free. Make all em smilies and girlie features into a plugin, and let people who like them actually use them!