grasshopper

Grasshopper Enterprises

Chapter 6 - Input/Output (Finding Information)

World Access - Navigating Out There

Maximizing the cyborg potential to debug its environment

A cyborg is not a self-contained entity. The purpose of a cyborg’s existence is so that it can interact with the world. A cyborg is not an automaton. It can think for itself, live and breath, just like any other organism out there. But a fruitful existence requires proper interaction with the world. In this chapter, we will examine the many ways in which this can be most effectively accomplished.

The Brain Age - Living in a World of Information

How to stop oneself from being drowned in a sea of knowledge

UPDATE: As of 1996 I have been recommending that people access the Internet via the World Wide Web. This chapter was written prior to the invention of the Web and before Netscape was even a company. Technical information here may be out of date especially with regards to BBS systems, but the concepts remain viable. Recall than in Chapter Three, we used Megatrends 2000 for examples to practice our memory skills with. That book was the sequel to the original Megatrends, in which John Naisbitt talked about a shift from an industrial society to an information society. In other words, during the factory-age of the industrial revolution, people were more concerned with the production of physical, tangible products. Now, in the new age of the information society, the key goods are intangible products and information is the king commodity of them all. It allows people to understand the world around them and allows them to take the best course of action. Information is more valuable than money, and sometimes even more than human life. Some people pay large sums of money to obtain stock market information, or to obtain an education, while others will sacrifice themselves or resort to physical injury and murder to retrieve secrets. Fortunately for us, we do not have to be concerned with the extreme lengths that some people go to in order to obtain information. As cyborgs, the resources of information at our disposal are within extremely easy reach. In this chapter I will show you how to obtain what we need, using the example of a student researching a subject for the writing of a termpaper.

Intelligence Gathering

Obtaining Information on Virtually any Subject

The best place to go for research is the library. You probably already knew that, but it seemed such a cliché that you never gave it much thought. In addition, you probably think of the library as a really dull place. I am sure that simple psychological conditioning contributed to that perception. Every time you visited the library, you were compelled to do so because you had a research topic to do. After a while, the only times you went to the library were when projects were due. Over time, you thus learned to associate deadlines, work, and pressure with the library. We will change that perception. Let me first show you a marvellous invention that saves you a lot of legwork and makes your library sessions more efficient.

The Cyberspace

The “Real” Virtual Reality

Have you ever played with one of those nifty Virtual Reality machines? Have you ever put on 3D goggles and found yourself inside a computer-generated world? Virtual Reality - or VR - has become the new wave of entertainment and the latest form of the evolving human-machine interface. VR is, indeed, one of the best examples of cybernetics.

However, the term “virtual reality” has its roots in a more fundamental, and more powerful, dimension of space: That of the computer modem. The modem, or “modulator/demodulator,” is a device that allows your personal computer to “talk” with other computers over regular telephone lines. It converts digital data (the 1’s and 0’s a computer uses) into analog data (the actual sounds that are transmitted over the phone lines). This process is called modulation, and the reverse of that - translating the analog sounds back into digital information at the receiving end of the communications channel - is called demodulation. So, the word “modem” is a contraction. In Chapter Five, you learned how important it was to buy, or obtain use of, a modem. Here I will show you why, and how to use one properly.

A modem allows you access to the incredible world of the “internet.” Now, contrary to what a lot of people think, there is no company, no institute, no central controlling organization for the internet. The internet - spelt with a lowercase “i” - is simply the term used for describing the entire collection of telecommunications links in the world. In other words, when I say I am going to access the internet, what I actually mean is that I am going to tap into the entire world’s information, by hooking up to a local access port (or point of entry). Put in another way, if I wanted to join a whole bunch of people at a party (to obtain information about the latest gossipy news!) then I would have to start by walking into the door, before I can participate in the discussions. To walk into our internet “door” we need to establish a modem link with one of the many ports in the internet. This can be in the form of your educational computer network at your university, or a large commercial network company such as CompuServe, or even with a smaller-scale bulletin board system - or BBS - which is simply a computer that someone (usually a computer enthusiast) has dedicated exclusively for the transfer of electronic information.

Large corporations and government institutions have their own direct internet links to the internet. If you work for such a company, ask computer personnel if this service is available. For information on using the educational network, ask your computer science professor, or the computer department. As for commercial systems, there are special “starter packs” that are almost always included in the purchase of a modem. Otherwise, flip through a computer magazine to find toll-free numbers, or ask a computer store. Finally, BBS sytems the world over usually have their modem numbers listed in local computer newsletters.

One of the best reasons for using a BBS, and not the other ports, is that it is usually free of charge unless you call a long-distance system that is out of town. In addition, a BBS system has a sense of “community” in it, with a specific set of people and personalities that regularly “drop in.” In time, you will learn peoples’ names, and begin to treat them as associates, or even friends. With larger systems, it is much harder to establish rapport with individual people because the rate of information exchange is so high and numbers of people involved in the discussions so enormous.

The reason why we are interested in establishing rapport is that one of the best ways of getting information is by asking an expert on the topic. We may already have friends who are “into” certain subjects, or know people in those industries, but by expanding our horizons and getting to know more people “out there” in the cyberspace. The cyberspace is the region of “space” defined as the non-physical dimension where everyone participates in electronic discussion, and where all the electronic files and databases are located. Through it, we can reach more people, and get more responses. In fact, if we post a message in a BBS system asking for advice, not only will the “regulars” reply to it, but other people that we’ve never heard from would suddenly jump into the discussion. An electronic message in the internet is like throwing a stone out into a vast pond. The ripples caused by your message would soon cause an enormous collection of people to give you information, or at least tell you where to look. By tapping this power we are giving more audience to our request for information.

The manner in which we “log on” and access a BBS system varies depending on the type of computer and modem you use. Generally-speaking, a Hayes-compatible modem would respond simply by typing ATDTxxx-xxxx where “xxx-xxxx” is the phone number of the BBS system you are trying to connect to. Obtain these phone numbers by (1) asking any computer enthusiasts you know in or outside of school; (2) visiting a computer store and asking the people who work there; and (3) picking up a copy of a local computer newsletter. In Toronto, one of the most-circulated computer newspapers is Toronto Computes! and every issue contains a short BBS listing. Each BBS is also listed with a certain description, informing you of the theme, or major topic of interest, of that particular system. Think of BBS’s as electronic social clubs, or interest groups, and be sure to ask your questions in the context of a proper BBS.

Your terminal program is the software that controls your modem. It lets you access online services such as BBS systems. The terminal program will usually have a command-line interface that stresses typing commands, and resembles the MS-DOS command prompt set-up. When connected to an online service, most of the time you will be presented with a menu of options, and asked to select a number from the choices. The commands may be rather esoteric when you first navigate the cyberspace. Be sure to have your terminal program and modem reference books handy, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a computer enthusiast. Those people really know their stuff.

An alternative terminal program is epitomized by the Macintosh computer’s First Class Interface. It sports a graphical environment interface. Commands are represented by icons, or miniature pictures, that replace the archiac command-line menu. While other terminal programs work with generic BBS systems and large networks, the First Class systems require special software (which is free) to connect to the BBS featuring this interface. One such BBS is MAGIC - the Macintosh Awareness Group in Canada - run by Mark “Magic Merlin” Windrim. In fact, MAGIC is one of the best places in Toronto to ask for information. The BBS is the largest one of its kind in the world, and has multiple lines so that a lot of people can connect to it at the same time. MAGIC is actually a miniaturized version of a large network, rather than simply a BBS. The best part of all is that MAGIC is free (at least, at the time of this writing). I highly recommend it. The current phone number for MAGIC is 416-xxx-xxxx but updates can usually be found from the sources I mentioned above. An MS-DOS version of the First Class interface has been recently released, so people who do not have a Macintosh computer can join in the fun.

By going online, you can take the Yellow Pages’ advice, and let your fingers do the walking, and typing. For example, assume that I was assigned a research project concerning the astronomical constellation of Corona Borealis, and I needed to write up an essay about its mythology and science. I would thus go to a BBS featuring astronomy as its main theme, a BBS featuring ancient mythology, and a BBS (such as MAGIC) that has separate conferences - or forums - on each of these topics.

A typical message to be left would run along the lines of:

Hi Everyone!
I need some information about the constellation known as CORONA BOREALIS. I require information on both its MYTHOLOGY and its SCIENCE. If anyone can help in any way, I would appreciate your response.
Thanks very much in advance.
Angus.
Some systems even offer simultaneous and instantaneous communications via its chat mode (or "CB-simulator," the original CompuServe name for this wonderful feature), rendering the communication not unlike a telephone conference call, except for the fact that everyone is typing instead of speaking. However, chat modes usually are less productive compared to simply leaving messages, because people have less time to formulate a reply for you.

When posting messages, you should, of course, ask nicely and phrase your message concisely and succinctly, to save your potential responder time and effort in reading it. You will also save your host system operator - or sysop, for short - valuable storage space on his disk. Above all, don’t ask so many questions that people begin to start ignoring you and consider you a nuisance. Just use common sense.

Messages that are posted usually take from 24 hours to a few days before everyone who is interested in responding to you has done so. In the interim, you can use the time to check other sources for information. Again, you don’t have to leave your desk. By using your modem, you can access a whole slew of other information channels. One of my favourite hangouts is at the library - the electronic version. Most libraries have their entire catalogue stored in a computer database. Because of the pioneering and visionary efforts of certain librarians, external access by the public is available. This saves the time and energy required to physically go to the library. I can check what books the library has on a certain topic, and narrow my search by author, title, or date of publication. To learn how to use your local library online service, call them or pay them a physical visit, and ask the librarians. Be sure to inquire about the hours of operation, because even though most libraries run their databases all the time, some have to shut them down for maintenance once in a while. I rememeber I had to do a research assignment one night and found my favourite database shut down. Fortunately for me, I had a list of other libraries, and those were open. Be advised that the computer databases are also available for access via terminals inside the library itself, so you can take advantage of this valuable time-saver when physically at the library.

Aside from the electronic catalogues, there are other similar methods of finding books and magazines. (An example would be the traditional card catalogue.) Those are, however, archiac technologies and more often than not have been replaced with their modern versions. In any case, if you need help finding something, always ask a librarian. If he or she doesn’t know, ask another. If the third librarian still cannot help you, go to another library.

Your modem can serve you in yet another manner: Through online computerized abstract search and retrieval - CASAR for short; my terminology. A CASAR service allows you to locate magazine and journal articles, a process that is expedited via the computer. CASAR services let you find periodical (magazines, journals, anything published on a “periodical” basis) information by narrowing your search through criteria you designate. For example, I could enter in the command FIND: corona AND borealis AND astronomy. The results of that search would show me all the articles ever published in all the periodicals that are covered by that database (therefore, there may be other periodicals that the search missed, because the service does not cover them). Without CASAR, a manual search would take days, or even weeks and months, to obtain a comparable search depth. You can take advantage of CASAR services through either a commercial network system such as CompuServe. Their service is called IQuest. Sometimes, it is offered as part of your online library database service package. For example, the online database at York University offers a citation database search service, in addition to the usual book database. Some CASAR services let you order the actual article, and by paying a certain fee you will receive a photocopy of the article in the mail. You may want to resort to this if you cannot find the information you need elsewhere. Be advised that commercial systems usually charge for the use of their search services. Always make sure you know whether or not you are incurring charges when logging onto any service, even if only to browse around Be sure to know the exact details of your financial and legal responsibilities, before you use any online service.

Speaking of abstract and citation databases, a non-modem version of it is the CD-ROM search system - based on Compact Disc technology. Most of the larger libraries have CD-ROM systems. Their usage is not unlike the CASAR services, but this time without the need for a modem link.

When you have exhausted your library databases and periodical services, you will have quite a large collection of sources of information, yet no real solid information. That will come later, when you actually read the books and articles. Now, it is time to go back to your BBS systems and check for messages. Depending on your reponses, you may obtain more sources, or actual information on your topic. Please understand that even though you have have been given actual information on a topic (for example, someone may have told me: “Corona Borealis is known as the ‘Northern Crown’ as opposed to Corona Australis which is the ‘Southern Crown’ in the Southern Hemisphere”) but it is up to you to check and verify and identify the source of that information through your own research. It is not enough to simply quote a reply from a BBS system in your footnotes for the termpaper.

Where No One Has Gone Before

The Library

When you have finally collected all your preliminary information, you can start obtaining the real stuff. The only really efficient way of doing this is by physically going the library. You may not want to, because you have a certain perception about what a library is, but in time you will start to appreciate this incredible storehouse of a wealth of knowledge. Think of it this way: If you have a question, the answer is probably hidden somewhere in the library. It’s a game of intellectual hide and seek.

Before you leave your house, though, check your own library. Perhaps you already have one of those books you need, or the particular magazine with the article in it, somewhere. Maybe one of your family members has it, or your friends. Drop your shielding for a while and ask around. This could save you from unnecessarily borrowing a book, or incurring photocopying charges.

Finally, gather up your notes, and head off to the first library on your list. You will probably have to visit a few libraries to get all the information you need, so just start off with the one you think will have the most information. When you arrive at the library, be sure you know how to go about finding your books and magazines. Check the call-numbers using the computerized catalog. If in doubt, ask a librarian. Then, go to the specific floor, or section, of the library, and take the book out. Know also that sometimes magazines are kept in the form of microfilm. Aside from giving you the goosebumps by reminding you of exciting espionage movies such as the James Bond films, microfilm is a valuable resource especially when you need to check out periodicals from many years ago. Next, take all those books and magazines to a table, and sit down to skim through them. Check whether or not you can actually use the material in them. (Chapter Eight will teach you how to scan a book properly.) Locate the specific pages that contain relevant information. Mark the pages with Post-It notes, or otherwise jot down the page numbers. Be sure to eliminate redundancy. Sometimes the same material is presented in several books or magazines. You only need one or two sources for it.

While you are doing all this, your research essay should start forming in your mind. You should be getting a picture of how it might look like, and what you might include in it. This is good. Exposure to the information in the books and magazines will give you a sense of the scope your essay can cover, and all the possible ways of arranging and presenting your information. Above all, the most important thing to note is that you should be getting an opinion of the topic. Even if your topic isn’t a controversial issue, you should have some kind of attitude towards it. This is excellent, for it gives your essay a direction, and the foundation for a thesis statement, or what your essay is trying to show or prove. All essays are trying to demonstrate a certain point, and all your research goes into supporting that point.

When you have finally finished with reading and identifying the information you need, take the books and magazines to the photocopier, and have a spending spree on xeroxing. It is far easier to flip through photocopy pages, than trying to manipulate an entire book. The exception to this is when a certain book contains so much material that it is better to borrow it, rather than photocopy all those pages. When photocopying, be sure to write down the exact title, author name, publisher, and year of publication of the book, onto your xeroxed pages. For microfilm, there are copier machines that reproduce the article you require, onto regular paper.

One additional point I wish to make concerning the use of a library, is that although the bulk of your material will probably come from books and possibly periodicals, you should also check out the other forms of media such as videocassettes, audio tapes. Although it may be difficult to “xerox” these forms of media, you can take notes while watching or listening to them. Write down the publication information for these sources as well.

The final thing you should do is put everything back in their places, or drop them into the “returns” box for reshelving. If you have any books you intend to borrow, go to the counter and take them out. Then head on home and take a break. Your reconnaissance mission has been successfully executed.

Mission: Consolidation

Organizing the Information You Now Have

After your break, it’s time to get back on track with the project. Take all the notes and photocopies you have and flip through them. Get an idea of all the various subtopics you have in that pile of paper in front of you, and write these subtopics down on a piece of paper. They form the “building blocks” of your essay.

You are finished with Phase One of the assignment: Preliminary Reconnaissance. This was the stage when you explored the various topics, in the library, and just now, to determine exactly what kind of information you have. Now it’s time for Phase Two: Target Acquisition.

In Phase Two, your mission is to identify (1) your thesis statement and (2) your supporting arguments. To obtain a thesis, think about what you want to prove in your paper. Summarize this in a sentence. That’s your thesis statement. For example, “The increased demand our society has put on information has generated a new industry of information specialists and services,” is a thesis statement. Even with my Corona Borealis example, I could state simply that “Corona Borealis is a constellation abundant not only with scientific research, but it is also rich in mythology and folklore.” If you really can’t think of an argument for a topic, remember that most topics are important. At least, important enough for you to be assigned the task of writing a paper on it! A worst-case thesis might be, “The invention of the shoe was a very important event,” but that sounds horribly dull, so try to rework it at least into, “The invention of personal footwear was an event that influenced the entire course of human history.”

When determining your thesis, just ask yourself what the material you have researched is trying to say. Usually, there is an overriding main point that they are all trying to prove. Sometimes, you will find information that is conflicting. This shows that your topic is a controversial one. Always pick the side of the issue that you have the most supporting arguments for - unless you are prepared to do further research in order to provide for the side that lacks sufficient arguments and supporting evidence (and this is quite often the proper route to take). The point of your paper is to prove your thesis. It would do no good if your arguments tend to favour the other side of your argument.

When you have your thesis statement, the rest is easy. Simply pick out the arguments and separate them into two sides: Yours, and the opposition’s. Take neutral data, and interpret it so that it favours your arguments. If your thesis was, “Mr. Peabody enjoyed that glass of water,” and the neutral fact was that the glass was half-filled with water, you can argue that Mr. Peabody drank the entire half of the glass! If you want to show that Mr. Peabody hated that glass of water, say that he left an entire half of the glass still filled! Have fun with manipulating data. Everyone’s doing it these days. Politicians, advertisers, your mother-in-law, you name it.

Next, create a priority list of your arguments. Put the most compelling argument as number one, followed by the next-most compelling, and so forth.

Now, your paper will follow this order: Introduction, second-most compelling argument, other arguments, most-compelling argument, conclusion. This is the strategic order of a termpaper. Most people put their most-compelling one first, and then the second-most compelling, etc. but this makes the paper drag on and arguments become less and less persuasive. The reverse causes the reader to consider all arguments before the last couple to be weak and might ignore them. The strategic order will ensure maximum impact with what you have.

The next thing you do is write your introduction and conclusion together. The introduction and conclusion are basically the same thing. Use an hourglass layout. That means, you start broad (“There are many factors involved in determining the direction of the human species,” blah, blah, blah) and go into a narrow focus onto your thesis (blah, blah, blah, “But one of, if not the most, important of these factors is that humans tend to perfer chocolate mousse cake over strawberry ice-cream.”) Remember to reverse this order in the conclusion by first summarizing a few of your most important points (“As we have seen, not only does the preference for chocolate mousse cake determine the shopping habits of people, but it also influences the frequency with which they wake up during the night in order to indulge themselves. This severely affects their work habits.”) and then leading onto the wider scope again (“Although we have examined just one reason why the entire economy, and indeed very future, of a nation can hinge upon the simple biology of a tastebud, there are a multitude of other factors deserving such attention. It is to the men and women of science, and the pastry shops, that we look to, in that their intelligence and wisdom shall guide humanity towards a brighter, and perhaps more hopeful, future.”) Finally, fill in the space between the introduction and the conclusion. Remember to use the strategic order. Each of your arguments will take up one paragraph. Begin the paragraph with a statement that summarizes that particular argument (“The human desire for confectionery cannot be restrained under usual circumstances, and can only be checked in the face of physical injury or death.”) and continue the paragraph by explaining why. You must also use a proper “link” from that first sentence onto the one above it (For our ongoing example, the first paragraph would begin with: “One of these reasons is that fact that the human desire for confectionery cannot be restrained…” and so forth) so that the “flow” of your essay is smooth and appealing. Style is very, very important.

When your paper is finished, look through it once, and see how you can make it better. Perhaps there are some points that sound too weak. Strengthen these either by reworking the material, or doing further research. Don’t expect to turn in a perfect paper the first time around. You have to tailor and customize it to have the best effect possible on the teacher. Think of termpapers as a nuclear missile. You create it, craft it deftly, and then send it to the teacher, nuking him or her (and thus ensuring that they give you a good grade!). If you don’t have enough firepower in your essay, you won’t “blow 'em away” and won’t impress your teacher as much. Be sure the warhead works, before you launch it.

Presentations

The Mother of all Battles

There are some people that consider public speaking more horrible than even death. Death?! Can that be right? But it’s true. Some people would rather die than stand up in public to speak.

Perhaps you don’t quite fear it as much. Perhaps you really do. Teachers usually give pep-talks such as, “Hey, you’re going to have to do it anyway so don’t even think about getting scared.” Or they might be a little more persuasive and tell them, “It’s going to be OK. Everyone’s doing it, and we’re all nice people here anyway, so why worry?” That’s all a load of, um, hogwash. People are going to get scared anyway.

What’s the secret to overcoming this? Well, you can get drunk, but that wouldn’t help because you wouldn’t be able to think properly, and then you’d really make a fool out of yourself. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to get to know the people who are going to listen to you. Try to make friends with them. That way, you will consider speaking to your friends and not a bunch of scary people who are probably thinking about what a horrible shirt you have on today. If the people in your class really do turn out to be jerks, and not worth your effort at befriending them, then establish rapport with your teacher. When giving your presentation, just pretend you’re speaking to him or her exclusively, and the rest of the class is just being nosy and listening in on your conversation. If they manage to ask you questions, just remember that you’re the expert (if you’re not, make sure you are by doing enough research) on the topic you’re giving, and that you’re going to be giving them your piece of mind, and not the other way around.

Follow the same procedure as writing an essay, for putting together a presentation, only this time you don’t have to write so much. Remember to use the strategic order in your presentation, do thorough research (especially if fielding questions - think of questions as possible missiles, and consider research as protective shielding), dress smartly, do your hair properly, act cool, and take the room by storm.

Know Thy Enemy

Establishing Rapport with your Teacher

Your teacher isn’t really your enemy, but he or she is the one who will finally give you the grade. The usual way a student will obtain a good grade is by doing whatever the teacher assigns the class. The usual way a teacher knows what to assign the class is by following not only the curriculum, but in addition following his or her own preferences. Educators are, after all, only human - unlike us cyborgs - and they’re subject to the same whims and fancies that make people who they are.

As a result, it is one of your primary mission directives to seek out your teachers and analyze their personality makeups. Find out what they like and dislike. The only way to do this is by chatting with them, after class, or whenever it is socially viable. By chatting with them you are (1) establishing rapport; (2) removing the possible false prejudice that teachers are inaccessible, cold, and non-human; (3) understanding the class from their point of view. This last item is very important. Usually, when a teacher is giving a presentation, he has a specific point he wishes to impress upon the class. In fact, he has a thesis not unlike one which might exist in an essay. Indeed, there is usually a thesis for the entire course. This overall objective is usually written down in an outline of the course given at the beginning of the year. Never lose track of the main theme of the course. Everything you present to the teacher in the form of essays, tests, final exams, presentations, etc. will be gauged against how well your understanding of the course material is on par with the teacher’s own thesis (or the course’s thesis). Sometimes, the course’s thesis will change over the duration of the year, and you should be aware of this, but for most of the time it will remain the same as when you started out from Day One.

By paying attention to the teacher’s thesis, you will ensure handshaking with him or her. “Handshaking” is a term used in computer communications jargon to mean that two machines are agreeing to speak to each other in a certain manner. Put in another way, you and your teacher are on the same wavelength. Until you establish this communications channel, there will be interference and noise, and both you and your teacher may misunderstand each other (but only you really suffer, because you get the grade, not usually the other way around).

On the other hand, I do not want to appear to condone senseless chit-chat, or asking questions just for the sake of asking a question. Usually, when that happens, everyone in the room knows the student is trying too hard. Mr. Wannabe-A-Student had better do a lot of reading and research and ask an intelligent question, or one that honestly deserves attention, or one that he honestly wants to ask for the sake of information and not the act of asking a question. Teachers (and fellow students) would sometimes get annoyed at questions that obviously are a waste of everyone’s time. I’m sure you probably have heard one of them in your academic career. The only way to ensure that you’re being sincere and useful and, above all, impressive upon the teacher, is to understand the teacher’s thesis, understand the course’s thesis, understand your course material, and then ask a question on the basis of all these things. I am not trying to discourage people from asking questions. That’s the last thing I want to come across as saying. I just feel that there is a definite need for students to understand the distinction between asking a question, and moving your mouth with your hand up. I stress this distinction not for the sake of the class, but for the sake of the student. If a teacher realises that a student is trying to “suck up” or impress him or her just because they want a better grade, then that teacher will feel “used” and probably won’t give the student much thought. However, if the teacher sees that a student has done his homework - literally! - and is sincerely interested in the topic (while further demonstrating his prowess by bringing into the discussion outside reading and research which is relevant to the course material) then the teacher will enjoy teaching that student, and enjoy giving that student high marks. You must realise that teachers, like everyone else, wants to be useful. If they feel that they are doing a good job, they’ll be happy, and a happy teacher is what you want when it comes to writing down that A+ on your report card.

A further note on teacher-student rapport: If a teacher realises that a student is a capable and interested pupil, he or she will find it difficult to give them a bad grade. What I mean to say is that a teacher will want to find some reason to give the student a good grade. Usually this is provided through the normal course offerings of exams and assignments. Sometimes, however, a student can create further opportunities by asking for more work! You might shudder at this suggestion, but it really isn’t as bad as it sounds, and bonus credit for extra assignments usually are easily earned since there isn’t as much pressure associated with them as the usual “mainstream” assignments.

Another reason why a teacher wants to give a good grade to a student is quite simply because the teacher feels that the student deserves it. And if you’ve done all your work properly, you do indeed deserve a good grade. Everyone deserves good grades, but only those who are committed to making the efforts involved will get them. I remember quite distinctly a certain professor (who shall remain totally anonymous!) I had at my university. I had originally thought the course she taught to be very stupid, and took it only because it was required. As the year progressed, I began to understand the thesis of the course, and found out that it was totally unlike the thesis I thought it was at the beginning of the year! When I realised this prejudice of mine, and thus changed my paradigm of what the course meant, I enjoyed the class so much that even my professor realised I was enthusiastic about it. One day, after handing back a very important essay (worth probably about 30% of our grade) she took me aside and told me that my essay was missing some parts, and that she thinks I have what it takes to get an A for the course. So she offered to let me rewrite a particular portion of the essay, so that I could obtain a higher mark. I thanked her for her kindness, and rewrote the paper. I got an A for that course. So you see, teachers will sometimes go out of their way to help students. All you have to do is show them that you deserve their help. And you must always remember the favours your teacher affords you. The professor who let me rewrite my paper was not only bending the rules for me, but she must already have tons of work to do, without having to entertain the extra effort of marking my essay a second time around. I guess I am sincerely grateful to her enough to include her example in this book.

Friends or Foes

Fellow Students

Put simply, anyone who deters you from a good grade, is an enemy. This may, of course, change with circumstances, but it’s a general rule to follow. (For more information on determining who the enemy really is, please see Chapter Seven.) At the risk of sounding like I am condoning superficial human relationships, I venture to say here that it is to your best interest to make friends with your fellow classmates if for no reason other than that it will help you get a better grade.

Fellow students are filled with information. They can help you out when you cannot attend class on a certain day, or when you have to find out the exact deadline for an assignment, or when you have to do a group project. Always try to make friends with the students who seem the brightest and most enthusiastic in the class, but never be so conceited and arrogant to ignore the more quiet and less conspicious of your classmates. If you have the potential to make friends that last not only for the duration of the course, but perhaps for a lifetime, why pass on that opportunity? What I’m saying is that you should make an effort that is more active and has more initiative than usual in getting to know people. Don’t just let things happen “naturally.” Everything happens naturally. It’s just that sometimes “natural” isn’t what you want to happen. Finally, making friends with students ensures that you walk into a classroom of people, and not just faces. You will feel more relaxed, having more friends who are “on your side,” and you will be able to participate more frequently, and with less stress, in class discussions. You will find that you will enjoy just being in the class, simply because you know people around you. Every little bit helps. Remember: Synergy. By making yourself known to your fellow students, and your teacher, you are on your way to becoming the exceptional student, and a happy cyborg.

Now, power up your weapons, because in the next few pages, you will encounter the most important chapter in this book. You will enter…