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Archive for March, 2008

That was my first impression when I saw a link to “Simon’s Rock College of Bard” and heard it being described as a college that allows admission to students from 10th or 11th grade. Seemed like a school that accepted high school dropouts… “Rock College” brought to mind Rock n Roll.

I couldn’t be further from the truth.

Turns out, it’s a small, exclusive school for really bright young students who are ready to go to college without completing their high school. Their marketing is rather impressive:

No other college in the country does what we do.

We’re a small, selective, supportive, intensive college of the liberal arts and sciences in the middle of the Berkshires, one of the nation’s cultural and natural treasures. All of our 400 students come to us after 10th or 11th grade in high school. We give them a broad-minded, paradigm-shifting education; faculty trained in the country’s best universities; inspired and inspiring classes; first-class facilities for the sciences, the arts, and athletics; and an astonishing range of opportunities for conducting specialized research and gaining hands-on experience.

They’re description of campus life is every college student’s dream:

What’s it like to live on campus? This is the general idea: It’s like living in a picturesque village with four hundred people your own age, who want to talk about the things you want to talk about, who (like you) are in love with ideas and politics and culture and science, and who (like you) are bold and determined enough to have chosen to come here—and yet who are as unlike you as it is possible to be, who teach you simply by thinking and living the way they do, who support and inspire and challenge and thrill you.

And I just fell in love with their description of their academics:

Our education, in other words, isn’t just a series of isolated classes; it’s part of the fabric of our students’ daily lives. Wrestling with unfamiliar and complicated ideas, dreaming about improbable solutions, finding a new language to describe the human condition—this is the kind of thing we do at a seminar table, in the dining hall, in the meadow, and in a friend’s room in the darkest hours of the morning.

That last line just killed me. It’s the finishing touch. (As they say in Chinese: 画龙点睛 (direct translation: draw dragon dot eyes).

Of course, after sobering down, I figured that the descriptions (apart from ones about accepting 10th and 11th grade students and their batch size) are probably what premium colleges the world over seek to offer.

I’ll dream of this tonight….

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{proof}

Delightful play by David Auburn, ranking 2nd to Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” among the mathematical plays I’ve read. *

A commentary, along with reviews, of the play can be found here.

One of the characters says:

If I wanted to work a problem all day long, I did it.

If I wanted to look for information – secrets, complex and tantalizing messages – I could find them all around me. In the air. In a pile of fallen leaves some neighbour raked together. In box scores in the paper, written in the steam coming up from a cup of coffee.  The whole world was talking to me.

If I just wanted to close my eyes, sit quietly on the porch and listen for the messages, I did that.

It was wonderful

Wonderful indeed; it could be a eulogy of the joys of mathematical thought, until we realize, later in the play, that the character is mentally instable in the John Nash kind of way (“A Beautiful Mind”), and that he’s not talking about mathematics, but about deciphering some code sent down by aliens. Still, it is a very good quote when applied to mathematics.

There’s also this exchange that takes place between two sisters, one a student of mathematics, the other a down-to-earth currency analyst. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who’s who (they’re talking about hair conditioner):

Claire: You’ll like it. It has jojoba.
Catherine: What is jojoba?
Claire: It’s something they put in for healthy hair.
Catherine: Hair is dead.
Claire: What?
Catherine: It’s… It’s dead tissue. You can’t make it healthy.
Claire: Whatever. It’s good for your hair.
Catherine: Like what? A chemical?
Claire: No. It’s organic.
Catherine: It can be organic and still be a chemical.
Claire: I don’t know what it is.
Catherine: Heard of organic chemistry?
Claire: It makes my hair look, smell and feel good, and that is the extent of my information about it.

I can imagine myself having this kind of conversation.

* Only 2 so far…

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Endpaper from the 2nd issue of the Harvard College Mathematical Review.

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Someone read Psalm 1 (no pun intended) today, and I was reminded of this poem. I’d read it long ago, and I’d told myself I’d never be a cynic. But it’s so easy to be cynical, to mock and smirk (in one’s own heart, perhaps?) at the hopes of others, to shake the knowing head…

This poem is a good reminder.

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“Blessed is the man… who sitteth not in the seat of mockers.” -Psalm 1

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The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss

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THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
.
I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
.
I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
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Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

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