Saturday, March 19, 2022

A student discovers the vacuousness of midsemester grades

Midsemester grades are epistemologically invalid. Yes, you can compute something but it doesn't mean anything. At midsemester, every student's grade ought to be an 'F' since they have not finished the course. Aside from that, any faculty worth their paycheck should be giving student enough feedback that they know how they are doing, what to do to improve, and how to get more help or practice. At Ball State, a rule was passed a few years ago that we have to give "midsemester grades" in all classes. Par for the course, nobody actually defined what "midsemester grades" mean.

At midsemester, I threw my students' grades into a spreadsheet blender and dutifully keyed the results into the terrible Web database interface. Because I use a form of mastery grading—where students can resubmit work until it receives full credit—it is not uncommon for students to have an F or a D at midsemester and end up with a B or an A.  Furthermore, the majority weight of a student's grade comes from work in the second half of the semester. I made an apologetic announcement on Canvas about having to file midsemester grades, explaining exactly what I did, that it should contain no surprises, and suggesting how students interpret their status. (It turns out, explaining to someone how to achieve their goals is the actual solution to the problem that the university is trying to solve through midsemester grades. The process is human and personal, not quantitative and automatic. No one should be surprised by this.) A few students expressed concern about their midsemester grades, but not many, which I take as an indication that perhaps a majority read the Canvas announcement. A professor can dream, anyway, since the alternative is despair.

But none of that is my reason for writing today. The previous two paragraphs provide the backdrop my tale. Pardon the metadiscourse.

As I explained in early January, I introduced a new achievement into CS222 this semester. Tool-Maker is earned by "satisfying your obsessions," and more particularly by doing the following.

Write a program to compute a student's grade in CS222 based on the policies described on this course site. You may use any programming language or environment that you like, but you must follow the practices of Clean Code.

I know of one student who is pursuing this achievement, and he has been working on it on and off for a little while, sending me occasional questions to clarify policies described on the course site. Today, he emailed me such a question. He asked whether the tool should compute one's grade as if there are no future assignments or whether it should compute one's grade and counting future work as zero.


He stumbled directly into the midsemester grade problem. He did not mention if his question was based on memories of my Canvas announcement, and so I suspect he simply ran across this as he tried to know whether his tool was correct or not. I told him that either way was fine with me. Practically speaking, I don't care, because the two goals of the assignment are to understand class policies and to get practice with Clean Code. My scholar sense tingles, however: once he has completed the work, I will have to ask him why he chose the path he did. One of them may simply be easier than the other, and I couldn't blame him for taking that one. However, he may make his choice based on perceived usefulness, and which model he finds useful might be a tasty bit of insight.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Painting Myth: Dark Frontier—the City of Farrenroc

Remember how, back in 2018, I painted the heroes from Myth: Dark Frontier, and I said I didn't have any plans to paint Farrenroc, the modular city miniature? Well, some time after that post—but I cannot figure out exactly when—I did prep the city for painting. Then it sat for years either on my desk or, later, in a box on my shelf. Now, however, I find myself in a situation where I would really like to reclaim the corks that the pieces were glued to. This, of all things, inspired me to finally finish the city.

My city never did fit together very well. Prior to priming it, I used my hobby knife to carve one large hunks of plastic from the undersides of the pieces in order for them to fit together better. After painting and priming it, I have just reclaimed those corks and so, after four years, have reassembled the city. I wish the fit were tighter, but it it is what it is. I think it looks pretty good, and like so many models, it looks so much nicer than grey plastic.

Farrenroc (complete, front)

Farrenroc (complete, back)

Farrenroc (partially disassembled, front)

Farrenroc (completely disassembled, front)

For those who don't know, Myth: Dark Frontier has the players cooperating to defend the city of Farrenroc. As it takes damage, you remove pieces from it. When all ten of the pieces are removed, you have lost the game.

When I was getting ready to paint it, I was inspired by sneth's paint job that was posted to Board Game Geek. It looks like a straightforward base layer, maybe a drybrush, and a wash, plus some clever use of flock. This was my intention going in, although I wanted the city to be more white, since my recollection is that the fluff describes the city as such. My "white" is actually a mix of white with a spot of yellow ochre and gray. It can be hard to get good coverage with white, and after four of five layers, I was both more familiar with the pieces and less satisfied with my decision. I used a bit of yellow ochre originally with the idle thought of doing some blue highlights, and once I started adding these, I got to really enjoy the theme. Bright white and dark blue look regal and orderly, but it still wasn't quite the right amount of contrast for me, based on the shapes of the pieces. I then added the grey, and I'm happy with this color choice.

I painted the base with a blend of blacks and browns to give it a charred, wasted look at the end of the game. I thought about doing something similar for the inside faces that get revealed as pieces are removed, such as the one you see at about 10:00 in the last image above. However, I could not think of  way to get them to look like rubble since it's just a solid wall of plastic. Black and brown didn't seem right, but I didn't want to try to paint in white, blue, and grey rubble either. I ended up leaving them in my white base coat.

That's all for now. I'll try to get Dark Frontier to the table again sometime soon. I am sure we haven't played in years, but I remember enjoying it. Stay tuned to the blog to find out what I needed all these extra corks for.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Painting Arcadia Quest: Whole Lotta Lava and Others

Way back around Christmas 2020, my brother sent my family a bunch of Arcadia Quest stuff, knowing that we like playing and painting. We painted most of the figures over the next few months, probably finishing in February or March. Then, there was a ridiculously long delay before I varnished the models, in large part because we were waiting on one son to finish one minor part of one figure. We did not do any family painting between then and now, so it wasn't like he could get to it while the paints were out. After it slipped out of immediate attention, it became much easier not to think about it. A few days ago, I was looking at the mess that is my home office, and I told him we had to finish up that project. Within a few hours, the figure was painted, and then I varnished everything, and here we are.

I have divided the figures by painter since friends of the family probably care more about who is painting what than what is being painted. The figures come from the Whole Lotta Lava scenario as well as some other hero packs. Keep in mind these were painted a year ago; I'm sure the younger boys would do an even better job now.

My Sole Figure

I was painting something else at the time, I think it was the figures from Thunderstone Quest: Barricades. However, the boys also wanted me to join them with his project, so here's the one I painted: Valma.

Valma (front)

Valma (back)

Regular readers may recall that "family painting" means, in part, sitting in a poor lighting condition without my whole arsenal of brushes, mediums, and accessories: it's mostly just basic Vallejo colors and water, though we also have two or three washes in the family box. I think Valma turned out fine. Looking at it now, she's a bit too pale since her flesh tone is not distinct enough from the skull on the end of her hammer. It's a fair match for the card art, but I should have made that visually clearer.

#1 Son

My eldest son worked on these two from Whole Lotta Lava.
Ignos and The Fallen Angel (front)

Ignos and the Fallen Angel (back)

I think he did a bang-up job on Ignos. It really feels like its molten core is glowing. The Fall Angel looks nice, too. I don't think he's done much with multihued transitions, and those wings were a good exercise for him. 

The Fallen Angel has such a ridiculous emo hairstyle that I decided to lie him down and try to get a shot of his face.
The Fallen Angel (fallen)

Unfortunately, Whole Lotta Lava is a scenario for Arcadia Quest: Inferno, which we don't have, so I don't think we have a way to get Ignos to the table. He belongs on display somewhere perhaps. The Fallen Angel should be able to be integrated into our hero collection for our next campaign.

#2 Son

I cannot remember now why this son only painted one figure from this set. I think it was by choice, that he just had other things on his mind at the time. The only one he painted was Anvil, but I think he did a great job with it.

Anvil (front)

Anvil (back)

It is solid work, and when photographing it, I noticed how he tried to add some rust to the hammer, which is a nice touch. The card art is a bit ambiguous about what's going on with the hammer; it could be interpreted as oxidation, dirt, or simply artistic flourish. 

#3 Son

These are OK, but I remember feeling like this son was more interested in being done than in actually painting. I don't remember if there was something particular that was distracting him. I think that next time we do family painting (which I hope will be soon), I can work with him more on seeing opportunities for detail work, covering mistakes, and keeping focus.

A Hellcat and Yona (front)

A Hellcat and Yona (back)

As above, I am not sure the Hellcat will make it into any scenario, unless we just swap out a different mini for it at some point, but Yona will definitely go into our pool of heroes for the draft.

#4 Son

I always sit next to my youngest son while painting, and so I am able to give him more direct instruction and feedback than the others. It's a sort of family echo of my essay from the other day, when I talked about how I cannot be everywhere in the studio at once. He developed a good eye for when to take action. 

Mittens, Kuruk, and a Hellcat (front)

Mittens, Kuruk, and a Hellcat (back)

Those two furry heroes were tricky to paint. He's too little to think much about painting in the shadows, but it was clearly a great opportunity to learn about prudent use of washes. I helped him thin down a little Agrax Earthshade and Nuln Oil so that he could do a light wash, think about it, and potentially add more as needed. You can get a lot of bang for your buck with that technique, and I'm really proud of how well he did here, especially the details and color transitions on Kuruk.

Bonus Extra: Mrs. G's Viking Warrior

I don't think miniature painting really calls to my wife, but she does do a nice job when she sits and paints with us. She chose, rather than painting a figure from this set, to paint the Reaper Bones viking warrior that she was given as a Christmas present by one of the boys. 

Viking Warrior (front)

Viking Warrior (back)

I remember her being upset about how hard it is to paint convincing blonde hair, and I agree: it can be a difficult thing to get right. She ended up leaving the shield plain blue rather than freehanding anything over it, and I don't blame her. Freehanding is scary, and I try not to look at my first few shield attempts. The tattoo I painted on Valma's head is very simple and still just OK.

That's it for the latest installment of family painting. Yesterday, I just primed a new set for us to explore, but you'll have to tune in later to find out how that goes. Give us a few weeks... but hopefully not another 15 months.