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April 07, 2005


That class looks cool. The text is pretty cheap but I don't know whether I have the guts to buy a twenty year old computer science text. It is probably the only CS book for which an amazon reviewer defines the Heideggerian concept of "thrownness" ("humans don't rationally consider all possibilities and make perfect decisions because situations they are put in don't permit such cognition and/or we simply we aren't capable of it")

The Heideggerian concept of "thrownness" looks like a useful tool for keeping meetings short.

Check out this syllabus. Ok, you're requiring Design Patterns, so why not put A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way of Building on reserve? But then ... Aristotle? The Critique of Pure Reason?

(The Dragon Book will be 20 years old next year, and some guy at Stanford, who was a CS undergrad, had it.)

I'm gonna tell you what I told Adam: flip a coin.

Does that mean you retract your previous advice to follow the money? I suppose abiding by a coinflip is a form of money-following.

Your postcard is in the mail, btw.

No, it just means I often give contradictory advice.

I look forward to the postcard.

A Pattern Language is a good book. Witold Rybczynski said that architects hate it when their clients read that book because those clients boss the architects around too much.

The Dragon Book is just evil.

I would call people who graduated (or dropped out)from each program to see what they have to say about the programs and their current prospects. People will tell you the truth. Even if it doesn't effect your ultimate decision, it is better to go in without illusions.

Also, if you have an CS undergrad degree, you can become a patent lawyer if you go to law school. That is what I do. It isn't bad work. You learn a little about a lot of different technologies. It isn't perfect, but it is pretty easy to get a job in a major city even from a second tier law school (let alone from stanford). I would be happy if one of my kids became a patent attorney; it isn't particularly soul destroying.

My undergrad degree is in philosophy, alas.

It's not just overproduction and academic game-playing that bugs me, but the notion that there is such a thing as scholarship and that it's always worth producing.

On the other hand I can't deny that I do have a genuine interest in philosophy (or aspects thereof, and related areas—I'm sure other disciplines have as wide a spread of subfields as does philosophy, but given the incredibly varied interests just among the admitted students I met, that's hard to credit), and I find baa's oft-repeated advice unsatisfactory, in that what's wanted isn't just colloquy with the past in one's private library but to be part of an intellectual community, and preferably physically. (I know that expecting graduate school to be intellectual camp is unrealistic, but it seems less unrealistic than expecting Dewey, Cheathem & Howe to be one.)

Substitute history for philosophy and you've described pretty well many of the issues I've been struggling with since I started grad school. I don't know if that means that, on some level, they'll never go away, or that I simply didn't spend enough time thinking about them before I began my program. (I hope it's the former.)

The compromise I've come up with - or think I've come up with - is this: there is such a thing as scholarship worth producing, but not everything that's accepted as scholarship is worth producing. The more I engage with the former, the the more I think I'm on a path worth following. But I'm prepared to look in other directions if it turns out that I cannot - or do not - produce it myself.

I suppose that I never looked at my decision to go to grad school as a final decision to enter academia as a career. Instead, I've found myself having to decide over and over whether or not to stay, and can see myself continuing to do so for quite a while.

So I guess my advice is: you've already gone through the whole application process and you've been accepted at a top institution that you can at least see yourself attending (and I assume they're offering a multi-year package?). If you don't want to go through the process again - if, say, you decline now but down the road change your mind - it may make sense just to give grad school (or law school, but I don't know anything about that) a try right now.

You don't have to stay: one person left my program after the first term. Others have gone in various directions since then. Even a decision to accept can be a decision to defer.

At the same time, I can't believe I'm recommending grad school to anyone, especially someone I don't know. So maybe you should take what I've written with a grain of salt.

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