BY RANDY MCINTOSH
“Certainly having the exam in advance isn’t really cheating,” I thought, “you still have to produce the answers on the spot!”
I countered myself, “True, but the other students don’t have that advantage.”
I countered again, “Also true, but the other students aren’t facing a loss of a job. No one will know and you’ll be back at the university next week.”
I pulled the protective sleeve off the USB stick and inserted it into the USB hub connected to my laptop.
I typed a quick command on the keyboard, hit <enter>, and then sat back.
“This operation will reformat the drive. If there are data on the drive, it will be erased. Are you sure? Y/N”
I typed “Y”
“Any data that are on drive will be unrecoverable. Are you sure? Y/N”
I typed “Y” a bit more emphatically.
About ten seconds later a message came up: “Formatting complete. Drive ready for use.”
As an extra precaution I copied a folder full of our vacation photos from past five years on to the USB stick.
About thirty seconds later a message came up: “Operation complete. How about a nice game of chess?”
The operating system’s growing abilities at personalization were impressive. However, I opted to close the laptop and review a little more on probability theory, which still gave me heartburn. I wanted to do well on this test, not to prove anything to the rest of the world, but to prove to myself that I was where I belonged.
The halls of the school were empty when I arrived for the final exam. It seemed like it may be a holiday were it not for the chatter in the administration offices. For a brief moment I thought I might be late for the exam and I ran to the classroom.
In the room all the students were sitting in separate desks rather than groups of tables. A few turned around to look at me, and then back to the tablets on their desk.
Thomas waved and pointed to the seat next to him. I approached and sat.
“Hey, why is everyone here so early? The exam doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes.”
Thomas shrugged, “It’s a habit that we’ve sort of formed, I guess. It’s supposed to help us relax.”
He looked down at his tablet, “So, are you ready?” he looked over at me slyly.
I pulled my tablet from my satchel, “Yeah, I studied for several hours yesterday afternoon and got a good sleep. How about you?”
Thomas seemed puzzled, “You studied? But what about the, uh, notes I gave you?”
“Thomas, I threw them away. I need to do this for myself and all by myself.”
“Wow! Who’d believe you grew a conscience now?” he shook his head, “Well, good luck, man.”
“Thanks, you too.”
Thomas winked, “I won’t need it.”
The clock sounded the hour but Mister Crandell had not yet arrived. A few whispers floated out of the back of the room and soon more conversations started.
“Has Crandell ever been late on exam day?” I asked Thomas.
“No, never. Something’s up.”
Leonard came running in and plopped himself in the desk beside me, “Whew, I hate it when I oversleep!”
I scanned the room for my other team-mates, and found Jenny in the front row and Heather in the seat next to her. They looked back at me and waved, both oozing confidence.
At ten minutes after the hour, Mister Crandell arrived in with another teacher. They walked to the front of the room and plugged in a USB stick into the main computer.
He faced the class, “Apologies for being late everyone. Seems there is a USB stick missing from the exam room. While we cannot be sure the system was compromised, we are taking no risks. We have spent the last few hours pulling together a new exam, which we are loading on the system now. It will take a few more moments and then we can begin. And do not worry, the material is the same as we have covered in the class, so there shouldn’t be any surprises if you have studied.”
I glanced over to Thomas, who seemed to have stopped breathing. He then looked down at his tablet, back to Mister Crandell and then over to me.
“I hope you didn’t share your notes with anyone else,” I whispered.
Thomas’s eyes widened and snapped back to his tablet.
“Okay everyone, we are ready to start,”Mister Crandell’s voice broke the waves of whispers in the room, “You should have the exam on your tablets now. Remember to read through all the problems and tackle the easy ones first so you have time for the harder ones. We need to keep the total time to three hours, so use it well.”
Following his advice, I skimmed over the ten problems on the exam. Two of them I dealt with as soon as I read. Then I came to a problem on permutation and combinations, which moved into deriving a probability distribution, which was inspired by Conway’s Game of Life.
“Damn,” I thought, “this is going to be a rough one.”
I glanced over to Thomas, who seemed to have gotten over the initial shock and was diligently working away. My other team-mates at the front were similarly immersed. Leonard, on the other hand, had fallen asleep on his tablet. I tried to nudge him, but got a stern look from Mister Crandell.
Heather was the first to finish. She walked up and handed her tablet in and walked to the rear of the room. Soon a few more students did the same.
I had finished nine of the problems, leaving the nasty permutation to probability question for last. My problem with these is that I tend to read too fast, missing key points. I took my time and deliberately programmed in the key variables, moving between the code and the problem. Once I completed the code, I doubled checked it against the problem and, confident I had gotten it correct, hit <enter> to start the calculations.
“The answer is 42”
“Okay class, time is up! Please close your tablets and bring them to the front,” Mister Crandell rapped his knuckles on the front desk to accentuate his words.
Leonard managed to wake up just enough time to do a few problems, but was obviously anxious that he hadn’t finished.
Thomas was visibly angry or agitated as he walked to the front to hand in his table. There were a few other students who were eyeing him as well, probably the ones who purchased the USB sticks.
I met up with Jenny and Heather at the back of the room. Their exam results were compiled just after they handed in their tablets so they already knew their final grade, which were sent by SMS to their mobile phones.
“I got ninety!” Jenny gushed, “I really didn’t think it would be that high.”
Heather was frowning, “I only got ninety-five! There must be a mistake. I am going to talk to Mister Crandell now!” she made her way to the front of the room.
A few moments later I felt my phone vibrate and took it out to see a text message: “Chattan, Terrance: 90 exam grade, 85 course grade, pass”
Leonard was staring at his phone, “I, uh, I think I PASSED!!”
He showed me the message on his phone:“Hunter, Leonard, exam grade 65, 60 course grade, pass” .
“Wow, Len, that’s amazing. You’ve definitely put a new meaning to be able to do something in your sleep,” I patted him on the shoulder. The big guy seemed to be on the verge of tears.
Heather came back to us visibly annoyed, “Mister Crandell said there was no mistake. Apparently, I used a nested loop structure in my code, when I should have done a vector operation. I guess it’s not just about getting the right answer, but also how you get there that counts.”
“Wise words, young Padawan,” I said. Heather had no idea what I meant.
Thomas was walking quickly towards us.
“How’d you do?” Jenny stepped in front of him.
“Passed, barely. It probably messed up my scholarship chances. Uh, hey,” he glanced back over his shoulder to the group of determined students walking towards him, “Len can I grab a ride home with you?”
The next morning I watched the deep blue sky change to pink highlights as the rising sun’s rays caught the clouds on the horizon. The warm coffee cup felt comfortably familiar in my hands.
“Beautiful sunrise this morning,” my wife walked into the breakfast room.
“You’re up early!” I turned to put my mug down and give her a hug.
“I wanted to treat you to a nice breakfast for your first day as a legitimate professor,” she looked up into my eyes with a smile.
I returned the smile with a wink, “Let me pour you some coffee.”
She made scrambled eggs atop of guacamole and toast, then covered in cheese.
“Oh this is good!” I was shuddering it was so delightful, “what do I get if I redo high-school English?”
“You’ll be more articulate,” she smiled, “I’ll let you finish alone. I gotta run to a morning meeting.”
She blew me a kiss and went on her way.
I savoured the last bite and then proceeded to clean up the kitchen before heading to the university.
As I walked down the hall to my office, it all seemed a little different, maybe because I felt a bit more confident of my place. Paula was standing outside my office reading a posting on the bulletin board.
“Hey, welcome back,” she tapped her pen on the posting, “you see that the ads for summer students just got posted today?”
“Not yet,” I looked at the ad.
“I got a message from someone who asked if you were in yet. She wants to know if you’re taking any students this summer. She said that you’d remember her.”
“What’s her name?”
“Heather Jacoby. She said she learned something from you and thinks she’d be good in the lab.”
I let out a surprising laugh, “She’s probably right! This is one of the students I worked with in calculus. She’s a programming wiz!”
“Well here’s her contact information,” she held up a slip of paper, “I’ll give it to you if you promise to start working on your conference presentation.”
“You have a deal,” I bowed and turned to my office to get started on the presentation.
I arrived home earlier than I expected. My wife was not yet home and the cats seemed uninterested in my arrival. I decided to go down to my office and do a little more work on the presentation.
I opened my laptop and an automatic application began playing the latest news feeds. The sound from a video stream echoed in my basement office. It was a media scrum after a parliamentary debate.
“We’re not closing the Imposter program, we’re merely recalibrating,” Minister Bloodstone spoke over the barrage of questions, “the people are smart and know an Imposter when they see one.”
“So you’re encouraging vigilantism?” A reporters voice rose above the din.
“No, we’ve set up a hotline and website. If anyone sees or hears anything that they consider evidence of an Imposter, they can leave the information anonymously and we’ll send a team to investigate.”
“So you’re expecting the public to find the Imposters now?”
“The people know best,” Bloodstone then looked directly into the video camera.
He glared directly into the camera, “If you’re one of the Imposters, we will find you,” and abruptly walked away.
I went over to my closet and moved my suits out of the way, seeing the old guitar case stuck in the back. I pulled it out and laid on the throw rug. With the faded colour of the case and the faint text of the old decals, it looked sort of like an artifact dug out of someone’s basement, which I guess it was.
I undid the latches and opened the case. The room light caught the red sparkles in the finish and the chrome hardware of my old guitar. I carefully lifted it from the case and sat down with it in my lap.
“Hello, Henry,” like other guitarists, I gave my guitar a name. Maybe not the coolest one, but Henry could really scream in a lead solo.
I plucked a few strings, and they responded with a surprising crisp tone, despite being quite out of tune. My hand formed a G-chord and I touched the strings again.
Definitely out of tune. I tested the tuning pegs and started to adjust the tuning as best as my ear could pick up. The pegs creaked like my joints when I get out of bed in the morning.
In a few moments, I got old Henry in tune well enough to play a few licks from songs that were stuck somewhere in the back of my mind.
“Are you going to start playing again?” my wife was standing in the doorway, “it must be at least twenty years since you touched that thing.”
I smiled and played a few more licks, “Yeah, maybe. It seems like a great time to resurrect my old band, The Imposters.”