Being a paid Fortran tutor to my teacher


Being a paid Fortran tutor to my teacher

Being a paid Fortran tutor to my teacher


When I was a College Freshman, I was taking my last semester of German Language Lab from a Linguistics Grad Student. While talking about who we were and what we did, I mentioned learning Fortran in High School. He had a major Linguistics paper to write, in a hurry, and it appeared to be suitable for computer assistance. Problem: he didn't know how to program.


So I offered to tutor him, a teacher at least 4 years older than myself. We negotiated a fixed charge for my tutoring, now worth about $160. I said I'd figure out how to do it with him, and show him enough Fortran to do the project and print out the results, guaranteed.


This was a long time ago, long, long before computers could understand enough English to answer phones, or splice together recorded words and so on to even speak a telephone number for Directory Assistance. So although what the Grad Student actually did may sound trivial by today's standards, it wasn't then: it was a first step in a very long road toward Google and other programs.


What he was working on was studying exactly which sounds that people make in a language can be "legally" strung together to make words. These sounds are called "phonemes". In general, there are a lot of them across all human languages, and they could make an enormous number of words. He was only concerned with pronounceable words, decided by rules he knew about what sounds could follow what other sounds, and that made the list a lot shorter.


To make the project easy enough to do in a short period of time, he simplified the problem to: Compute, and print, all the phonetic spellings of pronounceable one-syllable words in English, in alphabetical order. I taught him how to program this in general in a few minutes, and how to translate that to Fortran in about an hour.


He got an A on his paper, and I'd succeeded on being a professional tutor for the first time.


MA Cert Teacher in Mathematics, Physics; Specialize in Special Needs


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