Rants and Raves!

I'm a proofreader and copy editor, an occasional writer, and a travel enthusiast (70 countries) who's interested in grammar, linguistics, funny quotes, quirky stories and bargain deals.

This is the place for rants about lousy service and atrocious quality, praise for things done right and funny or interesting items that wouldn't fit within Twitter's 140-character limit.

For quality results that even a curmudgeon wouldn't grumble about, hire me for your proofreading and editing needs. I'm Chicago-based, if the occasional in-person meeting is important to you, but I'm happy to work with customers worldwide.

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Tone Deaf

Posted Thursday, October 30, 2014
In a television episode of Person of Interest last season, the plot revolved around an artificial intelligence known as "The Machine" using high-frequency tones to communicate secret messages to our younger heroine which was completely missed by the older antagonist.

Apparently the show transmitted real messages at very high frequencies, which I was unable to hear. The YouTube video embedded here pairs the rising pitch with a visual display of the current frequency and is an excellent way to determine the edges of your range of hearing

The basic principle is that as one ages, the tiny hairs in the inner ear lose some of their functionality, slowly causing hearing loss in the very high frequency ranges. Higher-frequency tones are sometimes used by teenagers for their cell phone ring tones. While cell phones are usually banned from the classroom, most teachers are old enough to have already experienced some hearing loss and can thus no longer hear these tones when that phone rings in class.

So the argument implies that the teacher won't know what's happening. Unless something radical has changed with human nature in the last few decades, however, only a senile teacher would not be able to make note of the grins and grimaces and glances of the other students when such a call comes in. And even senile instructors are likely to get occasional real-time reporting help from the class tattletales.

A couple of companies use this same principle to create wall- or pole-mounted anti-loitering devices. The transmitter can be placed wherever teen loitering is a reoccurring problem, the expectation being that most teens will find the tone so annoying that they’ll go somewhere else. Adults, on the other hand, aren't bothered by the tone because they can’t hear it any more.

Have you ever found yourself trying to buy a meal at a fast-food restaurant when school lets out? Have you ever tried to get a group of teens to shut up and stop texting during a movie? Have you ever had to repeatedly shout at some kids to get off your lawn?

No more! Soon you'll be able to say,"There's an app for that!" Just launch the shaking fist icon, turn your volume to max and watch those young whippersnappers scream and cover their ears, then run far away as fast as they can!

This will surely be the #1 bestselling app for people over 25!

I just have one minor legal question before I launch my Wall Street empire: Can an officer of the law charge you with disturbing the peace if he's too old to hear the tone?

Tags: technology, TV

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How do admission officers verify college application information?

Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Why would they need to?

Admissions officers have heard it all. If you are going for quantity, they won't be impressed; they are well aware of how many hours there are in a day and if you claim to be an officer in 20 clubs, it's obvious that most if not all of them rarely meet and get little accomplished. If you do something remarkable, bordering on unique, it will certainly be mentioned in one or more of your letters of recommendation. If not, that's probably a red flag and a quick call to the school's guidance counselor will either clear the matter up or place you in the reject pile.

Rest assured that any truly stand-out idea you can come up with has already been explored by high-paid "admissions consultants" working for rich families. If you claim to have co-authored peer-reviewed scientific papers, they'd probably expect to see a detailed letter of recommendation from the professor you worked with, singing your praises, or largely assume you got the opportunity through family connections. If you write about all the great things you accomplished over the summer in some Third World backwater, they will wonder why you didn't accomplish the same in your own local community and figure it was pretty much just a vacation.

The bottom line is that it's pretty easy for an experienced eye to read your transcript, your essays and your letters of recommendation and quickly see a discrepancy in the pattern being shown. It's quite probable that many applicants exaggerate slightly, but if every applicant is doing pretty much the same thing, the exaggeration can be ignored as statistical noise. If you're known to lie or cheat at school, your recommendations could directly state that or indirectly reflect it via an absence of specific praise.

Most selective colleges get so many qualified applicants that they could easily fill their class over again with the students they are forced to reject due to a shortage of available space. If you look qualified but something about your application seems just a bit off, the next applicant will get the nod in your place: You should remember that it is not the admission officer's job to give you the fairest possible hearing, but rather to create a viable and balanced incoming class in the most time-efficient way possible.

Also be aware that admissions officers have no problem whatsoever picking up the phone and talking to the guidance counselors if they feel the need to do so — and that sometimes it can be for a positive reason. One admissions officer called my son's high school guidance counselor because the college was considering sending my son an early-write admissions offer, but didn't want to do so until they saw the mid-year grade report. The lesson here: it's a good idea to keep your counselor informed of your goals and accomplishments, so that he or she can help make your case, should such a call ever come.

Tags: education, college

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How to Improve Your ACT Score

Posted Tuesday, September 30, 2014
It's that time of year again when ambitious high school students start obsessing about doing well on the ACT or SAT. Obviously you need to know the material well, but knowing some general strategies can also help your score.

Here are some general tips, courtesy of my younger son, who is currently a junior at Brown. He got a perfect 36.0 composite score on the ACT twice as well as a 240 on the PSAT. The second ACT sitting was due to a bureaucratic graduation requirement because his first effort was taken as a sophomore, which didn't "officially" count — a rant for another day!

• Know your grammar rules cold; both the ACT and the SAT delight in offering you trick answers which "sound right" to the native ear and might even be acceptable in casual conversation, but don't actually follow the formal rules.

• In the reading section, you must consider all the answers. The "correct" answer is often the least worst. Any answer that has the tiniest factual detail wrong should be eliminated, even if it sounds like the best answer. Pick the last man standing.

• In math, pause for a couple of seconds to reflect before grabbing your calculator — that calculator can often become more of a crutch and a distraction than a useful tool because it encourages you to attempt to use brute force rather than to analyze the problem to see if there is a shortcut. The math section is designed to be fully answerable in the time allotted even without the use of a calculator. My son didn't even bother to bring a calculator for his PSAT and his second ACT and still got all the answers correct.

• In ACT science, there often isn't enough time to carefully read all of the presented body text and still answer all the questions. Begin by looking at the questions presented and the charts and graphs; quickly scan the body copy for any unanswered questions. If the answer to a given question isn't immediately apparent, move on and finish the rest of the test first and then come back to review the handful of missed items. Remember the objective is to finish answering the most questions possible, regardless of sequence!

• In general, you should consider each problem holistically: the answer choices presented often offer clues. There is often a back-door shortcut, especially in the math section: keep that in mind as you take the test. And if the problem seems too difficult, take a deep breadth and try looking at it from a slightly different perspective.

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Tags: education, test prep, college

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