Afternoon Chats with the Navy

This morning, I read Claire Vaye Watkins’ essay The Ivy League Was Another Planet about the college application process for an American rural high schooler. Her story was nearly identical to my experience.

My high school had one overworked guidance counselor that also doubled as a college counselor. She was a very nice woman that seemed concerned about our futures, but there were only so many hours in the day for her. I vaguely remember my one or two sessions with her consisting of showing me the SAT testing calendar and pointing me towards the federal aid forms. Through some of confusion of mine, I didn’t think I needed to fill out these aid forms. These turned out to have been a prerequisite for many merit-based scholarships as well, which would have been useful information.

Somehow I escaped these sessions with only applying to one school, the main state school in North Carolina. I chose this school because a couple of my good friends were going there and I knew it was a “good school.” No one let me know that applying to just one university was a bad idea. I did really well in high school and not going to college if I had missed on this one application would have been a disaster.

Even the only application I filled out was a disaster-in-waiting. Like most college applications, it required an essay. I don’t remember getting anyone to proofread mine. I can barely write my name without a grammar mistake so I’m surprised they even let me on campus. Who knows, maybe they saw me as a great fixer-upper.

Watkins’ memories of taking the SAT were reminiscent of my own. The test was paid for out of pocket, and it didn’t seem to be guided by any internal force in school. It was just one of those things that we knew we needed to look into and apply to take. Afterwards, I learned from people that went to other high schools that the SAT was something that was taken multiple times and that taking preparation classes was commonplace. I took the sample test in the SAT packet and felt like I was being extra studious by even doing that. I had college friends that had studied hard for the math portion, rested during the verbal sections, and then did the inverse on another taking since you’re allowed to combine your best scores from your sittings. We could have probably figured out this strategy for ourselves, but the thing is we shouldn’t have had to. Even so, taking a $50 test multiple times would definitely have been out of reach for most of my classmates.

Our entire class also took the ASVAB. This test was administered in the school cafeteria and we got out of an afternoon’s worth of classes to take it. I did well on this test and within a week I had military recruiters calling me. The Navy must have called dibs on me as every afternoon after school, a Navy recruiter would call and we would chat. He was an excellent salesmen. He nearly convinced me that living in a submarine for months at a stretch was a completely normal life choice. The military’s rigid environment appealed to me at the time and I was probably a 60/40 split between going to college or joining the Navy. I realized this morning that if I had enlisted, I would have probably been at basic training during the September 11th attacks.

My high school ended up sending roughly half of my graduating class to college, half of those to the local community college and the other half going to a four-year school. Half of the four-year students went to Appalachian State University, which is a great school up in the mountains about an hour’s drive from the high school. I imagine the high application rate to this school was the same phenomenon that Watkins mentioned in that it was the closest four-year college to our high school and there were a lot of alumni around.

I know people who went to elite private schools that applying to college was a multi-year process with the school helping you research colleges that matched your academic needs, keeping track of application dates, paying for tests, and generally herding you through the often-confusing and always-expensive process of something that is still one of the best ways to improve one lot’s in life. Colleges in the US, I believe, are welcoming and available to everyone with the wide range of diversity and financial aid scholarships they offer but, like too many things, some are already starting a few steps closer to the finish line.


This is a little tool that I wrote a couple of years ago that I think a handful of people use occasionally. To keep up with my philosophy of “if it can be open sourced, it should be open sourced,” combined with asking for people's read-and-write privileges to their Flickr accounts without showing the code, I finally got around to taking out the secret config bits, writing a README and opening it up. Below is a copy of the README.


FlickrTrickle lets you slowly introduce photos you upload to Flickr into your contact's streams so they'll get seen by working around Flickr's interface that only shows the last five photos show from a contact, regardless of how many they just uploaded.

This is the code behind FlickrTrickle.


So let's say you go on a trip, like hiking the Appalachians, touring federal prisons, or visiting Disneyland, and get shutter-happy and take more than 5 photos. With the rise of digital cameras, taking multiple pictures in one day is not unheard of, and is practically encouraged in some circles. Now, you want to upload your more-than-a-handful number of pictures to Flickr. You're quite proud of these photos, either due to their composition, their dynamics, or the way the light plays softly against edges of your latte art next to the kitten, and want your friends to see them. But Flickr (rightfully) wants to keep your photos-from-your-friend's stream from being dominated by one person if they were to upload 150 photos so they only show the last five uploaded from each your contacts. This is very egalitarian of them.

Through anecdotal experience, anything beyond that 5-photo barrier gets next to no views. Maybe my storytelling abilities don't drive people to want to see those next photos but the interface doesn't help me out either.

You want more. You want your friends to see your photos. The best way to make this happen for me is to only upload a maximum of five at a time. Remembering to do this and keeping track of what you've already made public is an exercise in bookkeeping, something that computers are quite good at and my wife will attest to that I'm terrible at.


The way around this is to use three different Flickr features: tags, privacy settings, and the date-posted-at attribute.

Flickr sorts your photos in the global stream by the date posted to Flickr. Like most things on the site, this is adjustable by the API, meaning you can lie to the computers and say “yep, I uploaded this one a second ago even though you saw me upload it two weeks ago.” Computers are gullible that way. We can use that superpower and upload photos to Flickr whenever we'd like but set them private just to get them up there. Sometimes you want a photo to be a private without being visible to this trickling-interface (trickle-face?) so the code only pulls photos you've tagged with “flickrtrickle.”

Then through a magical web interface (aka, this code), you select the ones you want to be visible to your friends and the date stuff automatically work itself out so it looks like you uploaded them at that moment.

You get to upload all your photos to Flickr at one time, and then “trickle” them in a few at a time.