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Sunday, November 11, 2007


A Dirty Trick On The Comp Sci Students

Back in the 1990s [when people still believed in stuff], a Computer Science professor once played a very dirty trick on his students. Like most professorial pranks, it was delivered during a mid-term exam.

The class in question was called something like Technological Privacy Tools 202 and was concerned with the potential uses of Privacy Tools like anonymous proxy servers, digital bearer cash, encrypted emails and so on. So, there was a mid-term. You know the way things work in exams-

(Any Republicans who may be reading this will please think back to junior high school)

-anyway, they have this piece at the beginning in italics that explains the rules:
read all the questions; no looking at your neighbor's paper; no loud whispering of “Hey! Hey! What does this bit mean?” …

Anyway, this particular prof had written something along the lines of:

…please indicate how you would use the Privacy Tools to deal with the following situations. There are nine questions. Q9 will take you a little longer to answer than the others, but will be worth double marks, and if you can answer it satisfactorily, it will show that you have truly understood the lessons of this course.

So, the students read through the exam, and sure enough QQ1-8 were things such as:

Your stupid government has violated international law by banning online gaming. How can you wager your hard-earned cash on a little Texas-Holdem without the Federal Bureau of Killjoys finding out?

And then the students came to Q9, which read, as near as I can remember it:

You are a farmer in North Korea. Two days ago the soldiers came and confiscated the last of this year’s crop. Your baby is sick. Weak with hunger, you sit outside your house when a movement catches your eye.
An unmanned aerial vehicle is flying over the country, dropping thousands of parachute packages. One lands near to you, and you pick it up.
It is a solar-powered PDA, which comes with a recorded video message in your language, explaining its features. Features like the webcam, the email app and the internet browser, as well as the hotlinks to a number of interesting sites: a nutrition guide to the flora and fauna of East Asia, a medical diagnosis and treatment site, the schematics for a number of firearms and a comprehensive manual of guerrilla tactics, as well as email addresses for a number of expat Korean organizations and links to the Privacy Tools we have studied in this course.
With the sum total of human knowledge at your disposal and ready access to a world of big-hearted fellow human beings…
What now?

You know, Professor, students are supposed to cry during midterms when they don’t know the answer to the question.

You magnificent son of a bitch.

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