Friday, 28 September 2012

How much clearer can I be?

We have to explain our graduate admissions process to a lot of people, so we (I) developed a FAQ for it. I tried to be as clear and complete as I could. So sometimes I get weird feedback from (potential) applicants that makes me think either I've left something out, or they've completely lost their minds.

Frinstance. We have a requirement in our applications process that the applicant suggest a potential supervisor. The purpose of this, as we explain, is to provide the applicant with the opportunity to review our research specialties and find an advisor with the relevant expertise.

The real reason we do this is so that the passionate individual who wants to develop teaching materials for teachings Anatolian Hittite to speakers of Vedic Sanskrit has the opportunity to realize that a) none of us do anything relate to language teaching and still less to materials development, and b) none of us do anything with Anatolian Hittite or Vedic Sanskrit. If that's what you want to do, more power to you, but we can't help you with it.

By the way, this does not deter the (usually Chinese) applicants who don't even mention word language, let alone Linguistics, nor even any particular language in their applications (which cost them $100 to submit, plus whatever it costs them to get whatever documents they need, and whatever they have to do or pay to get permission to study outside the country), who instead want 'devote their lives to the profession of teaching' but aren't actually interested in doing any research. Luckily these people rarely suggest a potential supervisor.

So anyway, in the last couple of years, our requirement that they suggest a potential supervisor has gotten construed as a requirement that they secure a supervisor before submitting their application. Exactly how they make that leap mystifies me, and frankly I don't think it indicates a skilled critical reader.

But let's say I require you to secure an advisor before applying (I learned recently that Education does this, but whatever). The response seems to be to send a vague email to everyone in the department, begging to be considered as a student. Occasionally, but rarely, with a vague statement of their own research interests, and usually without any useful acknowledgment of the receiver's interests. Sometimes this is obviously a 'let's send the same message to everybody' (often without bothering to conceal that you're sending simultaneously to multiple addresses).

Now let me ask you this, since if you're reading this blog you are obviously a person of high intellectual standing. If you wanted to find an advisor, what sort of message would you send? Would it be ...

"I would like to apply to your university. please be my advisor. "

... or ...

"I would like to do research on X, and I believe you would be a good advisor for this because of your interests in Y. "

Guess what we usually get.

So what I'm getting at is that if you are applying to graduate school*, you are applying to develop as a scholar and to contribute something to a field.  If you just want a degree, I'm sure you can send $3000 to any number of on-line, for-profit universities that will be happy to sell you one. But don't waste an actual scholar's time with your absence of initiative or ambition.

*Even if you are applying to professional school or for a certificate in something specifically job related, you're still applying to study *something* *with* someone.  Hopefully someone whose reputation for doing whatever they do means that you will inherit some of their wisdom.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Rob does math (is never pretty)



A while ago, a friend asked on Facebook how big a new widescreen TV should be if he wanted the height of the picture to be about the same as his old 32-inch TV, or something like that. I didn’t answer at the time, because I thought it was ridiculous. You want the width to be the same? Or maybe it was the area. It struck me as odd, because at the very least, you want your new TV to have the same picture area, or ideally, the same height.

The old standard TV picture is proportioned at about 4x3.  The newer widescreen TVs are typically about 16x9.  So if you maintained the same width, the height of the picture would shrink proportionally. So I declined to answer the question.
On the other hand, this has been simmering at the back of my head for weeks. Maybe months.  If I wanted to preserve the height of my picture (and add width to make up the new proportion), how would I do that?

So to distract myself this evening, I think I figured this out.

To do it my way (keep the height the same, add the width, starting diagonal dimension about 32 inches):  The 32 inch diagonal is the hypotenuse of a right triangle.  The two other legs of the triangle have the proportion of 4x and 3x.  Pythagoras, I think, teaches us that they length of the hypotenuse (32) squared (=1024) equals the square of the lengths of the other two sides (4x)^2 + (3x)^2.  At this point, I was stymied, since for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to take the square of a complex quantity. 

After some Googling, I finally figured out that (4x)^2 (4x-squared) is 16(x^2).  That is, both terms in the quantity square.  If this is wrong, please let me know and I’ll start over.
So now, armed with this, I know that 16(x^2) plus 9(x^2) = 25(x^2) = 1024 (parentheses here just to remind me I’m now just squaring my variable.  Divide both sides by 25 and we get x^2 = (approximately) 41.  The square root of 41 is about 6.4. 

So the proportions of the sides of my television are about 4 x 6.4 = 25.6 inches and 3 x 6.4 = 19.2 inches. I don’t mind doing a little approximating, since I assume the 32 inch diagonal I started with is also an approximation. 

So, to buy a widescreen with the same vertical height, I need one that is about 19.2 inches high, and it will be a little over 34 inches wide because (19.2/9)*16.  The diagonal dimension will be something like 39.something inches.

So having worked all this out, I built myself a little spreadsheet.  You put in the diagonal dimension of your old 4x3 TV and it tells you the diagonal dimension of a widescreen TV if the vertical dimension is the same, the horizontal dimension is the same, and if you want to maintain the picture area.

Me so smrt sometimes. Unless I got the original quantity wrong, in which case never mind.

I wonder if I could  somehow build an app out of this… Hmm….