Category Archives: Everything Else

Advice on Graduate Degrees In Computer Science

A recent comp sci grad (BSCS), who was having trouble finding work due to lack of experience, decided to register for a masters degree (MSCS). He asked what I thought about it, especially in light of the dot com bust, and the recent push into offshoring. My response is generally positive.

The fact is, after the dot com bust there was a paradigm shift in recruiting. Previously, companies were just looking for smart, capable people with a solid grasp of the fundamentals. They knew that as technologies changed, so did your job description. When the bust happened, there was an embarassment of riches (i.e., available employees) for recruiters. They started asking for exactly what the position required at that time, usually the exact experience of the person vacating the job. And because of the times, they got it (this famously led some to ask for developers who worked on a technology before it existed). Although things are heating up again, the recruitment practices haven’t changed. I’m looking around now and am running into similar issues, because my experience has been equal parts s/w dev. and project management. Odds are I’ll have to specialize in one or the other before moving on.

There is hope, though. In the ’90s there was an aeropace bust; massive layoffs across the industry. Agent Assassin was an aeronautical engineering major (aero for short). When my school hosted a career fair, with over 100 companies, every one wanted a comp sci major. Only 4 wanted aeros. This led to a collegiate exodus of aeros; many chose a more general major like mechanical or civil engineering (or comp sci!). Now, aerospace companies are having a hard time filling positions with good engineers. The schools weren’t producing them, but the engineers were still retiring, resulting in a seller’s market. The competition is driving up salaries, and my employer is proactively raising salaries for certain employees in order to stay competitive.

Our industry’s bust came around 2000, and I’ve read many articles about comp sci departments not being able to find students. In time, even with the offshoring, we will have a shortage of good software engineers.

I think that for many, getting an MSCS is the right thing to do. For a while now, engineers have found the MS to be a professional standard, while scientists required a PhD. But advanced degrees were often a curse for software developers, with employers valuing real world experience above all. I think that’s going to change over the next decade. Offshoring is driving US companies to be innovators, keeping the more advanced/important work here. So getting a masters will help you compete globally.

Right now, it can be hard to find an entry level job. This because if you have a good, well rounded CS education, you are a tech generalist. And they’re unemployable until they get 20+ years of experience, at which point they’re really experts in everything! So an MSCS is a great opportunity if you manage it well. But that requires knowing the real reason you’re there, a point which escapes many grad students.

When my manager got his MSCS at USC, he noted he could have chosen classes for the entire degree without learning anything new. This is because for many schools, once you graduate with a BS, you are a “grad student”. You are not allowed to get a second BS, you must get a graduate degree. Since this could very well be your first experience with CS, they allow you to get a general education covering the fundamentals. If you have a BSCS already, obviously that would be a waste of time and money. Instead, you want to specialize in something you are passionate about. By specialize, I’m talking about things like:

OOAD/Design Patterns (perhaps even this is too general)
Embedded Software
Human Computer Interaction

You know the drill – the major topics under the CS umbrella. That expertise will be your key to employment. As much as possible, your graduate education should mimic real world experience from a well managed career. And that experience will probably be focused.

This means that if you have a choice between creating a thesis, and taking extra classes, always go for the thesis! At the very least, you can tell people you are a published author. More importantly, you will have a concrete project to show to employers. Even better, doing a thesis (that you chose yourself, instead of taking the first thing your prof. suggested) is an awesome way to create the ultimate class, learning what you’re most interested in. I think that passion is critical for success. It’s cliche, but enthusiasm is contagious, and employers love it. It will come across in interviews when you start talking excitedly about your work. And they’ll want that enthusiasm – and expertise – on their team.

Face/Off Illusion

I think this is a great example of the “good from far, but far from good” principle. All you have to do is stand back from your monitor about 8-15 feet while looking at the image. The email credited Phillippe G. Schyns and Aude Oliva of the University of Glasgow as the creators.


It is interesting to note that the thumbnail preview of this image has the faces switched, and moving closer or further from the screen does not change that. Also, I can see the switch somewhat by removing my glasses; I am nearsighted with an astigmatism.

Dodging cops

Since we seem to have a few car buffs on here I thought I’d mention the news about the Dodge Charger becoming the new NYC police “cruiser”. It’s going to look pretty badass, I think.

I also read that they are testing the Dodge Magnum as a replacement to the SUV support vehicle class.
I think that would be a brilliant choice. How do I figure that?
Here, I’ll show my work.
(Cargo space) minus (rollover factor) plus (beef) equals cool.

Groundhog Day Factoids

In honor of my old team lead, the most revered GroundHog prognosticator, seer and fan.
He holds a Groundhog lunch (tasty!) every year and was a great boss to work for.

And kudos to Pat Chang, who learned to play the piano at age 45 after
watching this movie; it’s never too late to live.

Groundhog Day (1993) was an exceptional motion picture.

Punxsutawney, PA founded in 1850s
Population 6800 (or 6782 in the movie)
Named after Ponkies or “sand flies” in area.
Celebration began as religious Candlemas Day.
First GroundHog Day celebration 1886
First celebration at Gobbler’s Knob, 1887

Phil sees shadow -> six more weeks of winter
Phil was named after King Phillip.
Phil previously known as Bre’r Groundhog
Phil is cared for by the gentlemen of the Inner Circle.

Groundhog nomenclature is Marmota Monax, order Rodentia
Groundhog lifespan is 6-8 years.
Baby Groundhog is a kit/cub.
Average groundhog weighs 15 lbs, 20 inches long.

Poor Phil Connors relives Groundhog day, everyday at 6:00AM
He wakes up to “I’ve got you, babe” from Sonny and Cher

Movie directed by Harold Ramis
Movie actually filmed in Woodstock, Ill.
Best diner in town is the Tip Top Cafe.
Movie playing in town, everyday, is “Heidi II”
Phil likes to be called ‘Bronco’ when wearing a serape to the movies.
Nancy Taylor is from Lincoln High, Pittsburg. Mrs. Walsh’s English class.
She makes chipmunk noises at the most intimate of times.
Robin Duke plays Doris the waitress.
Ned Ryerson is Phil’s insurance-selling school pal.

Phil Connors works for WPBH channel 9, Pittsburg.
He’s a weatherman.
George Fenton and director co-wrote theme song “Weatherman”
And surely Phil got pretty sick of hearing the “Pennsylvania Polka!”

Larry drives the TV van.
Rita produces the TV news segment.
Rita’s favorite ice cream is Rocky Road. And she hates fudge.
Rita’s favorite drink is “Sweet Vermouth on the rocks w/twist”
Rita majored in 19th century French Poetry (what a waste!)
Phils pays $1000 for each of his piano lessons.
Phil plays “Rachmaninoff’s variation on Theme from Paganini” at the party.
Bill Murray actually learned to play that *one* piece for the movie.

A lot of male viewers report this as a “life-changing” movie.
A lot of female viewers wonder what’s wrong with the male viewers.

[NOTE: This author has plans to learn to play the piano in the near future.]

Creation or Evolution? The Kaleidoscope.

OK. Here it is in as short a manner as I can manage: the Truth behind the whole silly argument. Well, it?s actually only my opinion, but it reflects both the hard science in my engineering brain as well as the Godly love that I feel in my heart. As I see this fight playing out on the nightly news, I lean back and wonder what the fuss is all about. What if everyone is right?

Start with a kaleidoscope. You played with it as a child; it was a single cardboard tube with a mirrored insert, plus assorted plastic beads and colored glass bits that produced complex patterns as you rotated the tube and looked through one end of it. As you kept on rotating the tube up to the light you delighted in the unique, non-repeating patterns that you observed.

Now think of the Universe as God’s kaleidoscope. He puts in a ton of hydrogen and free energy and starts rotating the tube. Fusion ensues in the hydrogen eddies pooling in some gravimetric nooks and crannies of space and starts producing the heavier elements and eventual carbon that coalesces into the known worlds and you and me. The amino acid laden primordial soup that created life was but a stage in this turning of the tube. The background radiation that resulted from all the burning plasma in the Universe and which jump-starts the initial combinatorial changes in the chromosomal pool is just another bit of plastic and glass that resided in the tube.

And the continuing evolution of Earthly life in its many forms is just a pleasing pattern of Creation that was started so long ago.

Did God create the tube? Definitely. Can you explain where all the matter and the initial energetic deposit came from, otherwise? And it was a pretty large deposit, too. Does God know that we were coming when the kaleidoscope was put together and started turning? Definitely; that?s one disadvantage of omniscience, you can never be surprised by the Future.

So what is the point of this exercise, this eons-long turning of a cardboard tube? It is pleasing to God and He derives the greatest measure of satisfaction from it (I also enjoy watching crystals grow, but I certainly don?t have the patience for a longer endeavour). But unlike a child watching the ants crawling around in the Ant Farm?, the Creator interacts with His Creation and knows the name of His creatures. We are not pets, but part of the Creator?s family and given part of the family inheritance. Does this violate the Star Trek non-interference rule? I don?t know that God would limit himself to the laws of nature and physics that He himself created. He decided in which direction Time?s Arrow would point, and He can change the infinitesimal characteristics of the tube?s contents when He desires.

So to answer the burning question: Creation or Evolution? I can say ?both.? One does not deny the other. We can acknowledge the mechanism and the Creator of the mechanism. To those that propose the randomness of the process I can only say: It?s random because our small minds cannot grasp the larger pattern. If we had a fast enough computer and limitless storage memory, we could predict tomorrow?s weather. God?s memory is large enough to hold and to view and influence the eventual fate of His Creation.

21-Gun Salute

Recently I attended the funeral for my maternal grandfather. Due to his service in the military shortly after World War II he was cremated and interned at a military cemetary in Ohio. At the ceremony a regiment from the local V.F.W. was there to fire a 21-gun salute in 3 volleys of 7 rifles, followed by the playing of Taps. On the flight home I started to wonder about the symbolism behind the 21-gun salute and the playing of taps and how it all got started. In researching this on the internet it seems like no one else knows either. Both the gun salute and the playing of Taps seem to have many origins associated with them.

Taps seems to have originated as a derivation of a french song and was played prior to the final bugle call at military installations basically to signify “last call” for alcohol. I found at least 3 different stories as to the origins of the playing of Taps at a military funeral but all seem to occur around the time of the civil war. Army regulations by around 1891 required the playing of Taps at all military funeral ceremonies. Today, Taps is played at military funerals and to signify the “lights out” command at the end of the day. The words to the song are:

Day is done, gone the sun,
from the lake, from the hill,
from the sky.
All is well. Safely rest,
God is nigh.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
neath the sun, neath the stars,
neath the sky. As we go this we know.
God is nigh.

The origin of the gun salute is even more confusing. Back in the days when ships still had cannons, gun salutes were seen as a symbol of great honor. By firing all of its guns, a ship or port was essentially left defenseless due to the long reload time of the cannon. Firing the gun salutes in 3 rounds is said to date back to a time when armies would stop fighting to clear casualties from the battleground and then fire 3 volleys to signal to both armies to resume fighting. Many countries used the gun salute to honor heads of state and each country used a different number of guns. In 1875 the united states adopted the use of 21 guns, which was also used by other countries at the time. I found several different explanations of why the number 21 was chosen including one explanation that said that no one actually knows the real reason.

I still don’t feel like I know what the symbolism behind these things are. If anyone does know the actual reason and has references to back up the explanation, I would love to know about it.

Employer Donation Matching

I recently donated to the Red Cross through my employer, since they match employee donations dollar for dollar, and 50 cents on the dollar for retirees. I hear we gave $2.3M collectively, not including their matching, or the $1M they donated separately. But we’re huge, so that’s reasonable. (And I’m not mentioning them, since like so many other corporate employers, they don’t like employee blogging. Someday I’ll have to pay to retain my privacy for this domain, and cut down on spammers).

Best Craps in Vegas

I just came back from Vegas where I found a new favorite place to play craps: Casino Royale. It’s situated between The Venetian and Harrah’s, and is well known for having the best odds on the strip. This is certainly true for for their craps game. We’re talking 100x odds and $2 minimums! This allows you to play very close to an even money game. I used the 5-count from the Frank Scoblete craps books, putting come bets after the 2-, 3-, and 4-counts, so I was up on 3 numbers by the 5-count, when I placed my odds bets: $20 on the 6 and 8, $10 on the other point numbers. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play as long as I wanted. I’ve found craps isn’t a game for those pressed for time.
     I should also point out that it’s clean and much more pleasant than the downtown casinos; they have lower minimums, but aren’t worth the cab fare.
     I also wanted to try $2-$4 poker, but as I’m allergic to smoke, that won’t happen until they open a non-smoking poker room. I doubt that will happen anytime soon.