Washington Monument Prank

True story: For several years (2003-ish to 2009-ish) if you did a Google image search for “Washington Monument, one of the first search results you’d see came from me:

Washington Monument Search Results

Here’s the actual image:

Washington Monument

Needless to say it was slightly photoshopped and the fact that this showed up for so many years was quite amusing to me and many others. I’ve gotten a few emails, and quite a bit of traffic over time for it. It was completely unintentional that it SEO’d so well and for so long. Ran across the image today and figured it’s a good time to tell the tale.

Common Application Bugs

There’s a curious article in the NY Times about the Common Application‘s technical glitches. The Common Application is a uniform way of filling out one application to apply to many colleges, as opposed to filling out an application for each individual college.

As a web developer, this struck me as particularly odd:

As it turns out, applicants do not have, say, 150 words to discuss their most meaningful extracurricular activities; they have something closer to 1,000 characters (Max said he eventually figured this out). And because some letters may take up more space than others, one applicant’s 145-word essay may be too long, while another’s 157-word response may come up short, Mr. Killion said.

“A capital W takes up 10 times the space of a period,” he said. “If a student writes 163 characters that include lots of Ws and m’s and g’s and capital letters, their 163 characters are going to take many more inches of space than someone who uses lots of I’s and commas and periods and spaces.”

Asked why the problem had not been fixed, Mr. Killion said, “Believe me, if there’s a way to do it, we’d do it. Maybe there’s a way out there we don’t know about.”

Sounds like the folks behind the common application need to go back to middle school and learn about variable width and fixed width fonts. If they had switched to fixed width fonts in the <textarea/> and used the same number of cols and font size it should be pretty accurate. I’m guessing some designer insisted on Helvetica or whatever they are using.

That said, are they actually printing these things out? Is there no way to do this electronically in 2010?

Back in my day (2002), I was advised to go the paper route since many still felt/feared that electronic applications weren’t being fairly considered (and in some cases not processed correctly). That was also the first year public colleges could join the Common Application as I recall. I suspect I was the last class where the majority did it on paper. I guess it’s still an improvement for a technophobic educational system.

Apple’s College Market Share

From iPodNN:

Only a little over 20 percent of 212 polled students say they bought a new computer in the last three months, as compared to over 30 percent in 2009, 40 percent in 2008 and nearly 70 percent in 2007. Mac share has meanwhile risen to 38 percent, from 32 percent in 2009, 29 percent in 2008 and 14 percent in 2007. Apple is now tied with Dell, and doing better than HP’s 13 percent and Toshiba’s 5 percent.

There’s a perfectly logical explanation for declining trend in new computer purchases by students and it’s not the recession: they already have computers. The days of the one family computer until kids go off to college are mostly gone in the middle class who dominate college in the United States these days. Why buy a new computer outside of your normal upgrade cycle just because your going to a new school? Given a typical 4 year lifespan of a computer I suspect it will stabilize around 20-25%, most of whom bought new computers replacing current computers.

As for Apple’s growth: Largely chic factor. Outside of some computer science folks who actually understand the UNIX architecture under it, I’d venture most students use nothing but a web browser, iTunes and maybe Microsoft Office and couldn’t give a solid reason why they choose what they choose. The handful who do will say “it’s more secure” without anything coherent reasoning to back that up. The computer science folks started the migration several years ago when Mac’s started to turn up in lots of high-tech offices. AutoCAD coming back to Mac also means that engineering students will soon be able to use Mac’s as well.

Skype For iPhone

I’ve been a Skype user since 2004 when I first fell in love with the service. I used it a fair amount in college as a way to study for tests and work on programming projects with other classmates without having to sit in a library for hours. It was convenient to each code from home or dorm rooms, have a TV on, talk without a librarian getting upset etc. I can recall 7hr plus Skype to Skype sessions that didn’t cost anyone a dime.

I still find myself using Skype from time to time because it’s convenient, other people use/prefer it, and quite frankly, it “just works”. Not to mention a PC headset is often cheaper than one for your landline phone making it great for long calls when you want to be hands free and not use speakerphone.

iChat doesn’t compare either since it doesn’t support calling phones and isn’t nearly as good at dealing with firewalls and poor bandwidth, two frequent problems in college.

Skype for iPhone is rumored for next week. I expect it will only work when connected to WiFi and will otherwise be pretty similar to the desktop client. I’d also expect it to be in “beta” until the summer when push notification is released.

If it works, it will be awesome.

For anyone wondering: Yes, I tried Fring, and no it never worked for me. From what I can tell I’m not the only one.

Paul Graham on College

Paul Graham, whose writing I greatly admire wrote an excellent bit on College recently. Being a college student myself, I found this to be by far the most interesting thing he’s ever written (and there’s quite a bit of competition there). A few things he wrote stick out in my mind:

The way to be good at programming is to work (a) a lot (b) on hard problems. And the way to make yourself work on hard problems is to work on some very engaging project.

Couldn’t agree more, and considering that I’m a geek, this one comes rather naturally. I didn’t need to make an effort to accomplish this one, it just happened for me. I guess that’s a good thing.

In fact, the amount of math you need as a CS major is a lot less than most university departments like to admit. I don’t think you need much more than high school math plus a few concepts from the theory of computation. (You have to know what an n^2 algorithm is if you want to avoid writing them.) Unless you’re planning to write math applications, of course. Robotics, for example, is all math.

Finally someone with credibility admits this one. One of the reasons I avoided the CS major was simply my dislike of math (and more importantly the dislike it has for me). It surprises people that I know how to program without a CS degree. It surprises people even more to know that I royally stink at math (just ask any former math teacher/professor I’ve had). Nobody believes that I can code because of this… well go figure I can.

The worthwhile departments, in my opinion, are math, the hard sciences, engineering, history (especially economic and social history, and the history of science), architecture, and the classics. A survey course in art history may be worthwhile. Modern literature is important, but the way to learn about it is just to read. I don’t know enough about music to say.

I agree with the one omission of a Business degree. It goes very well with a CS degree should you pursue one. Simply for the reason that just about whatever you do with your CS degree will take advantage (if not require) it. Take for example a corporate IT department. To advance, you’ll need a business background. A small company? You can bet a business degree will prove critical to your success. Startup? Hello, that is a business. Having a product is 10% of a successful company. The other 90% of it is a good business to support, continue, sell, market, manage that product. Take a look at the dot com bubble to see why Business ranks. To his credit he does mention economic history, which is also important. No matter what you’ll be involved in business if you want to succeed. Either with a startup, or with a corporation, understanding the business implications of decisions you make are essential to how you’ll be valued as an asset.

Of slightly less interest (at least right now) is the topic of Grad school, which I agree with. Though with a business degree, it has more merit than it likely will with a CS degree.

Overall a great (and recommended) read.