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MIT student blogger Rachel F. '12

When The Omnipotent Hand Of Google Fails You by Rachel F. '12

How some classes at the Institvte are justifiably hard.


source: http://xkcd.com/863/

Last night, I had a convincing nightmare that I was trying to double major in 18 and 6-3 and had mysteriously forgotten about 6 required classes, which I would have to pack into senior year. I’m not making any of this up. It probably stems from a talk I had with a double 18/6-3 yesterday, rather than some unconscious, lurking Freudian terror.

Flash back to the real world, where school is still kind of hard despite having little in the way of required classes. A classmate and I each spent four hours writing three 12-bar arrangements of a Thelonious Monk song for a recent 21M.340 assignment. Hopefully, we are not just intrinsically awful at jazz, and this will get easier as we gain more familiarity with the notation and subject. Sadly, classes here tend to compensate by progressing in difficulty at a slightly faster rate than one adapts.

So with that out of the way, I have some actual comp sci psets incoming. As a member of Generation Y, I expect everything I’d ever want to know to be neatly packaged in an organized, clearly-explained Wikipedia entry as the first Google hit on the topic. But instead, when I look up clarifications of concepts we learned in class, I get a slew of research papers with long-winded titles and, if I’m lucky, a sad little wiki stub.

Me: “Hey google, show me some concrete examples of using the noisy channel model for machine translation!”
Google: “Sure thing! GRAPHEME BASED MACHINE TRANSLATION OCR CORRECTION UNSUPERVISED WORD SENSE DISAMBIGUATION BLARGASDFJHKL;WASDHURGBLUG would you like to see more results?”

This has often been true of my high-level classes, with the exception of Sipser’s computation and complexity theory class, which uses the textbook that he wrote for it, which is so good that literally every university with an equivalent class bases their curriculum on it.

The omnipotent hand of Google fails me only occasionally, but whenever this happens, it’s a sobering reminder that many classes here don’t just consist of century-old axioms distilled into a form gentle enough to be diffused into our frail young minds — sometimes, they’re actually based on a bunch of fresh research the professor thought looked cool when he visited a conference last year. Which, in turn, is unsoberingly motivational.

…I’m also reminded that I should go to office hours more often.

23 responses to “When The Omnipotent Hand Of Google Fails You”

  1. nanu (15?) says:

    so google isn’t as omnipotent as you thought?
    what will your next post be on? disprove the existence of santa claus?

  2. rfong '12 says:

    don’t be silly. everyone knows that santa claus is real–OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IT’S ALL BEEN A LIE???!!!!!!!11cos(0)

  3. nanu (15?) says:

    actually, around here we don’t have santa claus anyways…
    so long as we’re both settled about the tooth fairy’s existence everything will be fine(unless someone else slipped all that money under my pillow…)

    p.s.
    captchas are annoying

  4. anon says:

    Unless you entered college very late, you are not a member of Gen. X.

  5. K '13 says:

    Geez, guys. It’s a blog post. Lighten up!

  6. kapow says:

    exactly, this does not fail Google, instead it just shows how ULTRA COOL MIT is!!! the cartoon’s more awesome, though…lmao!!!

  7. rfong'12 says:

    anon: oops yeah that was a typo. thanks

  8. Anonymous says:

    I googled “show me some concrete examples of using the noisy channel model for machine translation” and omnipotent google showed my this blog page!

  9. anonymous says:

    I like to think of Google as a very eager to please pet. Can’t find the ball? Okay! I’ll tear up some grass for you instead! Is that okay? :D :D :D

    also in the spirit of typo correction, you probably want to use the full url for the 21M.304 link.

  10. moondust says:

    Hahahaha @rfong12: !!!!!!!!!!11cos(0)
    LOL

  11. For a double major, you have to petition the Committee on Curricula after your 3rd term.
    This pretty much sums up the double-major process:
    http://web.mit.edu/registrar/subjects/cmtes/coc/petitions_doublemajor.html

  12. Vivek says:

    @Ovid – Thanks

  13. rfong '12 says:

    @vivek: exclamations would be substantially more challenging if I had any ambitions toward describing the space of all 1’s

  14. Vivek says:

    ‘We all do sweetie’ – Laughed out loud

    ‘Sure thing! GRAPHEME BASED MACHINE TRANSLATION OCR CORRECTION UNSUPERVISED WORD SENSE DISAMBIGUATION BLARGASDFJHKL;WASDHURGBLUG would you like to see more results?’ – Almost fell our of bed laughing. Yes. I totally get it. Once in a while, you either:
    A) You don’t enter the right keywords.
    B) You don’t enter the keywords in the right order. Google’s algorithms give highest precedence to the first keyword.
    C) Google’s spider-slaves were brutally murdered on their way to/back from the aforementioned hypothetical search results in some corner of the Interwebz.
    D) THERE. ARE. NO. SEARCH. RESULTS.

    @Rfong – cos(2n x pi) is a tad bit more accurate. wink

    @Anon – I find the pet analogy extremely cute. :D

    @Nanu – The captchas are sourced off the recaptcha network, and to be honest, they’ve been ramping things up lately. It can be a very degrading experience hitting ‘Refresh’ till you see one you can read. raspberry

    Anyway, getting onto the real content of the post. Nice dream you had there. (You do realize that it gets classified as a nightmare only after it forms a recurring pattern of night terrors. Which I sincerely wish you never experience. raspberry) Best of luck with the jazz too.

    On another note, assuming that X is admitted to MIT. And after freshman year, X decides that he/she/it wants to do a double major. What steps must the organism X then take to achieve that?

  15. anon says:

    @PseudoIntelletualHack

    err wait, I thought a triple major wasn’t allowed?

  16. Anonymous says:

    I think a great education happens in places like MIT where google is of little or no help.

    Now that Watson has mastered Jeopardy, I’m sure he and his cousins are listening and hatching out a plan to help out in future… Maybe Watson will be wired up to a human brain extracted from an intelligent dead soul that is kept in a special solution nourished with minerals that the brain needs to gets it neurons to fire…

  17. rfong '12 says:

    @pseudointellectualhack: yeah, when I was really gung-ho about all the 6.85*’s as a sophomore, my planned-out schedule basically only needed 18.03 and CI-Ms to finish a double in 18 and 6-3.

    @anon: not allowed any more. although nothing’s stopping you from just taking the classes corresponding to a triple major, if you really want to for some reason. I know one person who’s done it. doesn’t sound terribly rewarding, though — you could be spending the time doing research or your own thing in one of those three areas instead.

  18. Oh dear gawd how many times during undergrad had I tried to look up stuff online and only found obscure titles of research articles. Not sure which was weaker… my power of insight or Google-fu…

    I must say that 18 and 6-3 double major is not a totally impossible combo due to overlapping. Although only really crazy people used to triple-major @ MIT…

  19. @rfong: I wanted to take 6.837 but felt I didn’t have “substantial” programming experience… I guess I was more interested in the “graphics” part, but looks like a good course. Prof. Durand seems interesting from what I gather…

  20. rfong '12 says:

    @Anonymous: um most of our odd hours for the first 3 weeks of MC06. do I know you?

  21. Anonymous says:

    How common is it to double major at MIT?

    Also, I think the only other place I’ve seen “!!!11cos(0)” is the Phantom of the Lecture Hall. How much time did it take to write that script?