My World: A Personal Blog About Everything

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting Into Grad School: The 10 Commandments

These are my 10 rules to follow to get into a top Ph.D program in the United States based on my personal experiences.

1. You have to be really smart, but not THAT smart, just smart enough. Don't worry so much about being academically perfect, but just be really good (C.G.P.A > 3.7 /4.0 )
2. Don't worry about the GREs, plan ahead and do them when you can focus, but don't worry about the scores. If you're aiming for a top Ph.D. program, most likely it's in your blood to do the best you can on any test, so I know I can't stop you from studying really hard, but just don't stress too much.
3. Look at schools and programs early. You have to apply at the beginning of 4th year before you do anything, meaning that 3rd year is really important. So start looking at schools between 2nd and 3rd year. You want to tailor what you do in 3rd year towards the short list of schools you want to get into (i.e. match interests, pick courses that are applicable to the programs you're interested in)
4. Do research VERY early. During first year start talking to your professors about what they do. Do research with them during the year or in the summer. Volunteer! don't expect to be paid, getting a paper published will be worth a lot for you in terms of grad scholarships, etc... In second year, start getting to know the research groups in areas that interest you and sit in on weekly meetings. Find projects you're NATURALLY interested in and ask if you can help out grad students working on those projects. Basically, do anything you can to get as much exposure as possible without wasting professor's time.
5. Before third year, talk to a professor in a field you're interested in and ask them what the top schools in that area are. Start learning the names of professors at those schools that someday you might work with.
6. If you don't have a thesis or undergraduate project in 4th year, find yourself a professor who wants to be your advisor. Ask if you can have weekly or biweekly meetings just to talk about the area of research, people in the field, and ideally work on projects with them.
7. Don't email professors from other schools. Some people say it's a good idea around application time, I don't think it is. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, professors know each other and if you follow step 6, your advisor will tell the other profs about you and things will magically work out. Let your advisor talk for you, they hold 10000x more influence than you do.
8. Look into the administrative details when looking for schools. U.S. schools are expensive so look for programs that have full funding. Look at where the graduates go and where the current students are from. All schools tell you how great they are, so look for objective facts that show in which way they are great. Do they get a lot of publications? Have top facutly? Produce students who go to top schools? Have current students from top schools?
9. Find what you really like to do. Don't be swayed but what people tell you they think you should do. Don't be swayed by what things SOUND like. What you learn in school is stuff from many, many years ago so look at what people are doing NOW. Look for conferences that sound interesting and look at the researchers who publish there, then look at the schools they're from and the departments they're in.
10. Apply and then wait, March of you're final year will be the busiest month of your life so far, I promise... that's when acceptances come in and you fly all over the place to meet people.

Summer @ Facebook

Like I did when I went to California for my PEY almost 2 years ago, I'm going to blog regularly (weekly?) about my time in California at Facebook. I obviously won't be able to talk about any top-secret stuff, but I'll definitely be talking about where I go, who I see, what I do, etc... like last time... so that family and friends can keep tabs on me and so that I'll have a record for the future.

I'm leaving next weekend and I promise to write a post shortly after my first day.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

5 Reasons Why Facebook is Awesome

Facebook is cool right? Everyone's on it, even my 80 year old grandfather logs on daily. Well, if you follow start-ups as closely as I do, you'll quickly find bloggers try to poke holes in Facebook, from a business point of view, whenever they can. Now this is their job, but some are so wrapped up in the hype of "social networks" they miss the unique things about Facebook that make it so awesome. It's not the number of users, or the worldwide reach, or the massive number of pageviews, or the revenue model, and that's what this blog is about.

  1. Facebook is awesome because it is becoming the defacto communication platform for many social groups. Email will be around for a while, but Facebook is starting to become the default communication platform for a lot of people because it affords new paradigms email just can't handle. For example, my family got together this past weekend, cousins, grandparents, parents, sibling, uncles, aunts, etc... and everyone at the table has a Facebook account and uses it regularly. Only one person has to take a group photo and then share it with everyone on Facebook. Everyone can comment on the photo together, and share it with the extended family. No multiple photographs with multiple cameras, no email chains with a million copies of the same photo, and the sharing and commenting aspect, well that's just priceless AND impossible anywhere else. Valuable in terms of dollars and cents? Maybe, maybe not. But from my point of view that's just awesome.
  2. Facebook is awesome because the engineers make their own stuff. It bothers me sometimes when people throw out fancy sounding techy/geeky terms and can't really explain what they're talking about. Facebook engineers build a lot of things from scratch. They built a cross-language service framework, a log aggregation tool, and practically injected memcache (a tool for caching data for quicker retrieval) with steroids. These are among the small group of cool things they've actually told the public about. The point is, Facebook engineers build things that make sense, and when they don't make sense anymore, they fix them so they make sense again. Hopefully that last sentence makes sense too. Facebook engineers are awesome.
  3. Facebook is awesome because it has real social impact. There are two sides to this point. First, Facebook is big on leveraging its social network to support charities. A recent campaign featured $5 and $10 gifts from the gift store, where the proceeds went to an array of charities. Second, Facebook levels the playing field for many people with disabilities. Recent guest blog posts about using Facebook with autism and using Facebook being blind show this. Bringing everyone together regardless of their abilities or disabilities is awesome.
  4. Facebook is awesome because Mark Zuckerberg is awesome. So maybe he doesn't listen to you, but he has a vision and he's executing it. There's a reason why Facebook underwent the first layout change last year. An ultimate, cross-generation communication platform has to be clean, simple, and professional and make it easy to find what you're looking for. The second redesign was necessary, conceptually, to tie together everything on the site. The fact that about 1% of daily users complained about these changes means nothing. I understand Zuck's vision and regardless of what people say as Facebook changes along the way, it's a pretty darn awesome vision.
  5. Facebook is awesome because it's real. For years people say the Internet isn't "real", it's not "real life", it's an "alternate world". If I'm "hockeyfan9" arguing with "puckboy7" on a forum about hockey sticks, well ya, that's not a "real" conversation, you can say anything and walk away. Fortunately Facebook doesn't have nicknames/avatars and this is one of the things that make Facebook awesome. On Facebook, you are you... that includes telling little lies, the same lies you probably tell in real life, and more importantly, you are responsible for what you do and say. A sixteen year old girl on the train said "two people aren't in a relationship unless it's listed on Facebook", that shows how Facebook has a real-life impact. A caveat to this point is that Facebook has data, data about how we interact with each other. Facebook data scientists at the tip of an iceberg in learning more about humankind simply by studying our actions on Facebook.
In conclusion, Facebook is obviously awesome. The end.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Youtube is the new America's Funniest Home Videos (AFV)

One of my childhood favourites America's Funniest Home Videos (AFV) has effectively been replaced by Youtube.

AFV,, has been on ABC since 1989 and will be celebrating it's 20th anniversary this November. This is how the show works: viewers send in funny videos, the funniest ones are aired on the show, and the audience picks the funniest one every week to win around $10,000.

This is how Youtube works, the viewers (a.k.a everyone) send in (post) funny videos, the funniest ones get passed around viraly and get high public exposure, and the every year people vote on the best Youtube videos. Sounds similar to AFV when you put it that way!

Before going too far, I acknowledge that Youtube has other uses, such as sharing informational videos from schools, organizations, etc... For example, many schools post recruitment videos on Youtube and many organizations post panel discussions and recordings of special presentations. Music videos are amonst the most popular type of Youtube video being watched, and wanna-be artists also post their music often.

But my question is why is Youtube more successful (socially) than AFV? I haven't thought about it enough to answer the question completely, but I'm going to throw some thoughts out there. The social aspect of Youtube is huge. People talk about videos via text or video comments and I'm guessing this makes a person feel like their voice is being heard. Or maybe, as Durkheim would say, it's increases their Social Solidarity, as a person feels like they're part of some greater collective and feels some kind of bond to the group of peope who all enjoy the same video.

One thing I can't explain is the "characterization" of people in popular Youtube videos. On AFV some unsuspecting man gets hit in the groin with an apple and no makes up a nickname for him. On Youtube some panda makes funny sounds at the zoo and all of a sudden she's "Crazy Panda". I don't even watch that many Youtube videos and I can at least one Youtube "character". So why do people get so attached to you Youtube videos, I don't know.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Actel PEY Pays Off in Good Grades

Actel Coporation hires 20 PEY interns or so every May for 13 month internships. It's a great opportunity to work for a leading-edge tech company right in the heart of Silicon Valley... which if you don't know is near San Francisco, California.

I did my PEY internship there from May 2007 to June 2008, so I've been back for a semester of school. The reason I'm writing this blog entry is to show the extra benefits of doing an internship in your field. First semester is finished (except for York students), and marks and rankings have been finalized. All of my friends who went to Actel with me had truly excellent semesters, many of them ranked in the top 20 out of almost 200 people. The rankings improved so much from third year to fourth year for this batch of Actel interns that the correlation can't be ignored.
The PEY office says that everyone who does a PEY will see their marks go up in fourth year and I belive this is true, but the fact that Actel interns' rankings increased so much relative to other students has to say something about what you learn there!

That's the end of my endorsement of Actel, to find out more about Actel or many other companies join over 2200 students at internSHARE

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fake Degress Part 2 (New TorStar Article)

Last week The Star wrote an article about a guy who makes fake degrees (amongst other things). This week they published an article 9 about some people who were caught using fake degrees who had decent jobs. The people range from down and outs looking for a leg up, to immigrants looking to validate their credentials from another country, to people who did it for ego.

The important thing that is not discussed in the article is that these people were getting away with it. They were fulfilling their job responsibilities and no one noticed that they were lacking in knowledge. So the people lied, and that's wrong, and you don't want to have employees that lie, hence they should be fired, but this discussion questions the purpose of University in general. One of my professors discussed the role of University and writes that University is a path to greater knowledge, greater understanding of the world, and lets us find a role where we can best life the rest of our lives. This professor also mentions that people with Arts degrees rarely use their degree-related knowledge in the job market and rely on the transferable skills they've developed.

I personally feel that University is what you make of it. If you do the minimum to get by, never question anything, never think of applying what you're studying to new situations then University is pointless for you. If your going because "smart people go to University" to get an Arts degree and then get a completely unrelated job, then University is pointless to you, drop out now, but a fake degree and get the same job because you're just wasting time in school. This is why a lot of those Online Universities aren't really recognized, because people know your doing it just to get the degree and not for an intrisic interest.

When people like doing something, they'll make time to do that thing, when they don't like something they make excuses. If you generally want to learn then you'll dedicate yourself to school, if you don't you'll complain the whole time through, and do the bare minimum.

What's the point? I'm saying that University is totally useless unless you make something of it. How do you make something of it? Ask Professors questions. Start up projects of your own. Join and participate in clubs related to your interests. Always think, what's the point of "this", why is is important.


Sunday, December 7, 2008 vent about Drive Test and your driver's test

In light of an article in the Toronto Star today about Drive Test quotas and such, and issues in the system... and my own experiences with Drive Test and driving school, I quickly put together this site: (inspired by It's a place to vent about your driving test results since Drive Test won't do anything.