White Belt Tests, and Latin

Besides competing in a tournament, a belt test is probably the most nerve-wracking part of martial arts.1

Belt tests in my alma mater focus more on the upper ranks: Black belt tests can be 45 to 90 minutes long, but lower rank tests are pretty short: usually about 15 – 25 minutes long.

Why so short, if you’ve been training for months? The idea is that the instructors already know how well their students are doing; the test is really more of a recital than anything else. (But again, at higher ranks the test carries more weight.)

The white belt test is really short. Its main purpose is to determine if anyone is exceptionally talented or experienced. Everyone comes in as a white belt, of course, even if you come in from another school2, but if you hold black belts in other disciplines, chances are that you’ll dispense with some of the beginners training. That’s the main purpose of a white belt test: to determine how far the student will advance. Not if, but how far.

The only way to fail a white belt test is to walk off the mat before it’s over.

My mother recently reminded me that I took one of my AP tests in Latin, which I didn’t remember doing (it was thirty years ago). I don’t remember the idea, or the reasoning that led me to doing it. It makes sense, though, if I remember correctly.

I mean, I really sucked at Latin in high school. And here I was taking my AP test in it. Why? Because no matter how bad I was at Latin, the practice test was still unbelievably easy. Like, my straight C average in Latin in high school translated to an A in the AP test world. As usual, I was my own worst critic. And if I hadn’t taken the practice test, I might never have found out that I could pass the real one.

Who knows how well we’re doing? Don’t doubt yourself TOO much; you’re also probably your own worst critic. Just do the best you can.

And don’t leave the mat until the test is over.

[1] There are some schools who don’t make an entire production out of a test, but who spring them on you one day unexpectedly, or even just abandon them altogether and present new ranks whenever the instructor deems the students ready. I think I favor a hybrid approach myself, but that’s another story.

[2] Usually. Unless you hold a recognized certificate from a similar school, or something. Or are really obviously advanced.


Surreal Stalker: A Snack

I’m looking over my writing notes, and hope to start posting more regularly.  Meantime, here’s something, just to keep the engine running:

I swear this is an actual transcript of a conversation I overheard one day.

I don’t remember where I was, who was talking, or what any of the circumstances were.  But this did happen and was, in context, serious. Make of it what you will:

“So yeah I was like talking to him over the weekend and while we were talking, y’know, my phone was on the counter, and he was like, ‘Hey, let me see your phone’ and I gave it to him and he said ‘Yeah, see? That light on your phone. That’s a phone tracker’ and it turns out it was my stalker’s dad trying to find out where I was. Which is weird, right? But that’s just my stalker, he does stuff like that all the time.”

Impressive, Inspiring, and Inexplicable

This is a story to remind us all to enjoy what we do, and to do what we enjoy:

It started absently enough.  Someone asked: “What’s the difference between three nines and four nines?”  The first hit on Google was https://uptime.is/

It’s a slick little calculator, showing what each level of 9s in uptime translates to, in minutes/hours/etc.  So I got my answer, and normally that might be the end of it – but something on the page caught my eye:

Secret alien technology, heh. –Wait, what’s that in the alien’s trunk?  A flag? And it says … lisp?!

Lisp is a programming language taught in prehistoric Intro CS courses, with – as far as I could ever tell – the sole purpose of hazing students.  I figured it was there to winnow out the students who thought “Hey, this could be a lucrative career” from those who really had a passion for programming.  Since leaving that course (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), I never heard of that language again.  What’s the story?

The story is at the top of the tool’s own page.  It describes how an Norwegian IT lawyer decided to write this simple but useful tool, and basically decided to write it in Lisp, just to be perverse.

I love it.

It reminds me that – yes, this is our job, and often we have to race to find the best solutions for things, but that far too often we’re constrained by fear, or by worry, or by concern.  We design things as best we can because there’s a certain artistry in good design, but mostly because we don’t want the phone to ring at 3 am.

But it’s supposed to be fun.  It’s too easy to forget that.  Mr. Miazine, apparently decided, just for the sheer giddy foolishness of it, to write the thing in the most bloody-minded language he could find.  Look at his grin, in the picture on the article.  He knows.  He knows he could have written something quick and easy and common, fired it off, and left it to be used but forgotten in a corner of the internet like some kind of programmer’s paper towel.

Instead, he created art.  Intentionally or not, he made a statement that said, “Do what you love and love what you do.”  Even though – or perhaps because – that statement was written in the most archaic language possible.

Cheers, Sir.  I salute you, and thank you for reminding us to pursue our passions.

(Comments particularly welcome.)