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In The News

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.

Categories
In The News Politics

The Real Cost Of Changing NYC Street Signs

There’s outrage today over a story that NYC needs to spend $27.5 million to replace street signs because they are uppercase and federal regulations require title case. They will also now be using the font ClearviewHwy rather than what I believe is Highway Gothic (I’m no font geek).

However the headline is misleading if you read the actual article. A little common sense and a trivial knowledge of accounting (you most likely learned this in High School) will make you scratch your head.

The article even says typical sign lasts about a 10 years. They have until 2018 to make the change, which is 8 years. Assuming an even distribution that would mean 80% of the signs would have been replaced by 2018 anyway due to their age. The remaining 20% would be nearing their replacement time anyway. 20% of $27.5 million is $5.5 million. That’s the cost of the signs that will be replaced prematurely.

Even that however is not correct since the city would almost definitely use straight-line depreciation on the cost of the signage. The reasoning for this is as follows: If you have the sign for 8 of the 10 year lifespan, you got 80% of the value. Each year is worth 10% of the value.

The formula goes something like this:

annual depreciation expense = (cost of fixed asset - residual value) / useful life in years of asset

Again we’ll assume an even distribution of the remaining 20% (that’s 10% replacement per year or about $2.75 million). We’ll also assume no residual value though they are likely sold for scrap metal and have some token value.

($2.75M-0)/10 = $275,000

Now 10% of the signs are being replaced 2 years early, another 10% are being replaced 1 year early. That’s 3 years of value lost. That means:

$275,000 x 3 = $825,000

The actual cost to the city is $825,000 in lost value due to prematurely replacing signage. Not $27.5 million. I guess you can throw in a little more for labor, though I doubt you’ll get $26M and change out of that.

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Mozilla Web Development

Optimizing @font-face For Performance