Archive for the 'Maryland' Category

Hard to believe it’s been a year

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I graduated University of Maryland. Compared to how quickly this one went by, all of the previous years in my life felt like eons. And the sad thing is I can’t really even point to anything that justifies the passage of a whole year (except possibly writing that novel, my work on Veropedia, and that telescope I haven’t finished yet). Nothing particularly amazing happened; I just worked, earned money, and wasted time. It’s kind of unfulfilling. At least I have this blog, which gives me some kind of accomplishment to point at. Otherwise, I would be really melancholic right about now, having blown a whole year on work, surfing the web, and playing games.

Whereas other people have New Year’s resolutions, I think it makes sense for me to have a Graduation Day resolution. I don’t want to be in the same place next year as I am today. I’m resolving to do more worthwhile things, in whatever form they may be. For now, I think that will involve a lot more writing. I’ll have to seriously cut down on idly browsing the web and channel that time towards my writing. I’ve already really cut down on my time spent playing games, so that’s good.

Eventually, though, I think I would like to go back to school. There’s something about being a professor that really appeals to me. I think I was one of the few students in my classes who really envied our professors. And I know I have the intelligence to accomplish that goal; it’s just a hell of a commitment. So for now I’ll continue working, saving up my money, and writing, but I do have my eye on more nobler goals.

Sin city (College Park, to be exact)

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for the three semesters prior to my graduation. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 19th and final opinion column, Sin city, originally published May 4, 2007.

My bad luck with letting the editor choose the column title struck once again.


This is my last column for The Diamondback. I am graduating this semester, and I hope at least some of you out there enjoyed reading my columns these past three semesters. One thing that has stuck with me during my entire stint as a columnist is the utterly dysfunctional love/hate relationship between the city of College Park and the university. The city owes so much to the university yet seems to think it can get away with making no compromises.

I went to Maryland Day last weekend and saw the booth set up by the city of College Park. It had two bullet points on a large poster bragging about the city’s selling points: “Home of the University of Maryland” and “Cradle of Aviation.” As for the second bullet point, this may be news to some of you, but College Park does have a civilian airport that is pretty ancient. Without the university, this would be the city’s only bragging point: “We have an old airport.”

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Lessons from Blacksburg (the one year anniversary)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 18th and penultimate published opinion column, Lessons from Blacksburg, originally published April 19, 2007.


On Monday morning, the Virginia Tech community witnessed the worst civilian shooting spree in United States history. One of Tech’s students, South Korean national Cho Seung-Hui, killed 32 others before turning the gun on himself. As we at this university continue to witness the horrors unfolding on television, we feel a special bond with the students of Virginia Tech. Even if we don’t know any of them personally, they too are college students, and they’ve faced an unexpected, extreme tragedy that could just as easily have happened in College Park.

There are some lessons to be taken away from the events of Monday morning, and I hope the administrations of both Virginia Tech and this university are learning them. For one, if there is a deadly homicide on the campus and the perpetrator isn’t caught, it may make sense to take drastic actions such as bringing in dozens of police officers for a manhunt or locking down the campus. One who has killed already and is still on the run is a uniquely dangerous individual, as Monday unfortunately taught us.

We also now know there was significant evidence that something just wasn’t right with Cho. His writings consistently showed signs of psychopathy; in one particular play a teenager is killed by the stepfather he falsely accuses of molesting him. He also wrote poetry so disturbing that it creeped out the majority of his poetry class, causing him eventually to be removed from it. His classmates openly questioned whether he could become a school shooter. The police were even contacted multiple times regarding his disturbing writings and the multiple times he stalked women on the campus. Clearly, all the warning signs were there; now many will live in perpetual regret that more was not done.

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Curse the whole damn flawed system (housing at University of Maryland)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 17th published opinion column, Curse the whole system, originally published April 6, 2007.


On Tuesday, 556 rising seniors and 86 current seniors were told that they could not continue living on the campus in any of the dorms next year (only South Campus Commons and The Courtyards are immune). Next year will mark the first in Maryland’s history that no seniors, except resident assistants, will be living on the campus. To what or whom do we owe this massive failure of planning?

The university actually has, in recent years, tried to secure funding to build a new high-rise dorm on North Campus. But the funding request was quickly shot down by the Board of Regents, citing a priority toward academic buildings. But one wonders why the priority is focused so exclusively on academic buildings; surely if the housing crunch had been this bad during all of the university’s previous growth, its academics wouldn’t be near where they are today either. Sorry Board of Regents, but you definitely deserve some of the blame for this, as does the Maryland State Assembly, who has seen fit to not give us the necessary funding.

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I KNOW HOW TO PROGRAM WITH C++

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Thankfully, I no longer live in the rundown rented house that I called my home during my senior year at University of Maryland, College Park. That means no more housemates setting their socks on fire in the microwave (no, really). It also means no more contact with my former West African roommate who believes that shamans control the weather. Well, that was the idea anyway. But on the day that I moved out, I foolishly gave him my email address, and he just contacted me:

Hello Mr BEN,how are you doing?I just thought about you,and i would like to send you an email.I hope you are enjoying your job.I wish you good luck and success.By the way,whenever you will find a job’s opportunity in COMPUTER SCIENCES,try to reach me.I KNOW HOW TO PROGRAM WITH C++.Also,i know you are able of all when you want.THANK SO MUCH and i hope your candidate JOHN MCCAIN WILL WIN THE ELECTION.

I cannot come up with any kind response to him, so I won’t. But I don’t mind responding here, simply because there’s vast humor potential in his message. There’s the random capital letters. The meaningless platitudes trying to soften me up for the pitch (and in one of them he seems to think I am omnipotent). Then there’s the pitch itself: he’s really contacting me because he’s looking for a job in computer science. Apparently he thinks that the one semester of Intro to Programming in C++ he took (which I helped him with, mind you, so I’m aware of his lack of skills) is enough to qualify him to do the same kind of job I’m doing. Of course, I have a dozen years experience and a college degree in the field — but hell, he took Intro to Programming! I would love to hook him up with all of these various “computer science” companies I know so well, and they would be blown away by his qualifications!

This is the same guy who applied for a $999,999 educational loan online in response to spam (inputting all of his personal details in the process), was infected with numerous viruses and malware that took me several hours to clean, and eventually corrupted Windows, necessitating a reinstall (which I did, of course), because his version of shutting down his computer was to unplug it. He didn’t even know how the lock on the door to his room worked, so he ended up locking himself out several times, and I would come home from classes only to find him moping about in the common area waiting for me to pick the lock for him. Despite explaining many times that he should verify that the knob turns from the outside of his door before shutting it, he never really got it. So I have already helped him a lot in the past simply out of a sense of housemate’s responsibility, and now that I no longer live with him, I feel no more obligations.

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Less money, more problems at University of Maryland

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my sixteenth published opinion column, Less money, more problems, originally published March 16, 2007.


As each week goes by, we hear even more negative financial news regarding this university’s public funding. This year, the University System of Maryland is being underfunded to the tune of many millions of dollars by the General Assembly. Gov. Martin O’Malley has not yet reneged on his promise of a tuition freeze, but the promise is looking impossible to keep. In the wake of budget cuts, how else will the university be able to raise the necessary funding if not by extracting it from the pockets of its students?

We’re already facing the effects of this budget crunch. The construction of the new journalism building is being delayed by two months, a delay which could extend to much longer as the full extent of the budget deficit becomes clear. Construction of a new, desperately needed highrise dorm on North Campus has been delayed indefinitely, a travesty I wrote about in one of my previous columns. The Physics Building is old, decrepit and proving to be a huge liability to the department’s attempts to attract top-notch professors to the university. University libraries do not have enough funding to keep up subscriptions to many journals, a problem that is harshly affecting undergraduate students, graduate students and professors alike.

Unfortunately, there is precious little that can be done in the face of looming funding cuts by the General Assembly. The university has a lot of private sector deals in the works and is currently in the midst of a record fundraising campaign, but neither of these will provide the necessary immediate monetary relief. If the cost of tuition does not go up, the university will have to start cutting all sorts of programs and services. It is hard to say which is worse.

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Learn by doing (on the importance of undergraduate research)

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fifteenth published opinion column, Learn by doing, originally published March 2, 2007.


Many students seem to think of the university as a solely educational institution. It’s not. In fact, the majority of the work that goes on here is research-oriented. So it is a shame so few undergraduate students get involved in the university’s largest focus area. They’re missing a huge opportunity they may never get again if they aren’t going on to graduate school.

Undergraduate research is an excellent opportunity for students. Almost every department at the university offers undergraduate research programs, and most of them offer the guided or independent study variety through which you can earn class credits. You have to take 120 credits to graduate – why not get a measly three or six of them from doing something unique?

I’m working on a guided research project run by a professor in the astronomy department. It’s a three-credit class with a workload comparable to normal three-credit classes. But it’s so much more fun and exciting. I’m using satellite imagery taken by Mars Global Surveyor to determine Martian surface ages using isochrons calibrated against surface ages of the Earth’s moon. Basically, the more craters on a surface, the older it is. Of course, the details are a bit more complicated than that.

Conducting and working on research is a great opportunity, and it’s sad that relatively few undergraduates are availing themselves of it. How many people in this world get to perform primary analysis on data taken by a $100 million spacecraft millions of miles away? It has a certain “wow” factor that impresses graduate schools and prospective employers alike. You should get involved in research if only for selfish reasons: Real-world research experience looks very good on resum├ęs and gives your education more depth than just classroom learning. Research also advances the body of knowledge in the field, so even selfish motives yield altruistic results.

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Where are all the computer science majors?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

On Thursday, I attended the career fair at University of Maryland, College Park on behalf of my employer. It was a pretty sweet deal. Instead of spending the day coding in the office, I got to return to campus on a weekday during all the hustle and bustle of usual college life. I ran into and caught up with some people I know who haven’t graduated yet. It was a fun time, and the slightest bit surreal because, just one year ago, I was at the same career fair, only in the opposite role of one of the students prospecting for jobs. I still remember very well what it felt like to be a student talking with the various employers, and I crafted my own pitch around what I think would be most effective on the me from one year ago.

Although I had a great time at the career fair, and those five hours seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye while I was chatting with everyone, I can’t help but feel that my company didn’t get the best return out of it. Registration for the career fair was $700 for the small booth that we had; as these things go, that’s pretty expensive. Compared to that expense, we didn’t really talk to enough people that we would be interested in hiring.

My company is looking for full-time “programmer analysts”, which is a fancy way of saying software developer consultants. All of our literature and our poster used that term, and we began thinking that maybe compatible people were simply passing us by because they didn’t realize we were actually looking for them. So we put up a prominent “Software developers needed” sign, and did get slightly more people throughout the rest of the day.

To be a good programmer analyst, you have to be a good programmer. That pretty much means a computer science major, or someone in a related major (such as Computer Engineering) who has significant programming experience. We aren’t looking for experience with any particular languages, the theory being that good programmers can quickly adapt and learn whatever is necessary to complete the job. Besides, the choice of programming language isn’t up to us; it’s whatever our clients want. And while most of them want Java or .NET, there’s a fair number of other languages some of them use that no one learns in school.

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Stamping out chaos

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my fourteenth published opinion column, Stamping out chaos, originally published February 16, 2007.


Last Friday, the Black Student Union and Phi Beta Sigma tried to host an abomination of a party at Stamp Student Union. One person was arrested, another injured, a police officer was assaulted, fights broke out as admission was closed, the fire alarm was pulled and the whole travesty was finally canceled. The whole event just wasn’t planned or organized well at all, yielding an all-too-predictable result.

This was the sixth time so far this year that an event at the Student Union has fallen into disarray. This is far too common an occurrence. The rules need to be changed to foster a safer atmosphere. If a student group doesn’t have its act together, it should not be allowed to try and bungle its way through hosting an event. Its application for use of the Student Union should be swiftly denied.

The staff members in charge of the Student Union must be stricter in their application requirements. Student groups should be required to submit a detailed event plan showing that they have thought everything through and that they are thoroughly prepared. The No. 1 thing that could have prevented this embarrassment Friday night would have been preparation.

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Gimme shelter (the student housing crisis at University of Maryland)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the thirteenth of my opinion columns, Gimme shelter, originally published February 2, 2007.


During the past few decades, Maryland has become a significantly better university. Average GPAs and test scores of admitted students have shot way up. Maryland is no longer considered a safety school by so many of its applicants but is now a first choice. Its ability to attract top researchers and professors has increased significantly, and a look at Maryland’s rankings among other universities shows a sharp upward trend.

Yet Maryland also faces some disadvantages in comparison to its peer universities. It has a relatively small endowment, a consequence of its very recent ascension to greatness. It faces a perpetually high level of crime as a result of its geographical location, something that many other universities do not have to deal with. And it faces the looming threat of a lack of on-campus housing that too few have yet realized is a significant problem.

The size of the waiting list for on-campus housing continues to grow year after year, even as the annual admissions numbers have stayed more or less level during the past five years. A larger percentage of students than ever before now want to live on the campus and enjoy all aspects of the college experience Maryland has to offer. In a few short decades, this university has transformed itself from a predominantly commuter school to a genuine live-in college community. However, we are not entirely there yet, as many students, particularly transfer students from other colleges, are denied the opportunity to live on the campus.

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