The Life Unwired with Ben Combee (unwiredben) wrote,
The Life Unwired with Ben Combee

How I Got Linked to Fast Cars

Here's a story about summer school, Tracy Chapman, and the way the web works.

Summer 1990 was one of the happiest times of my life. I got to spend ten weeks in hot, sticky, middle-of-nowhere Valdosta, Georgia, along with 599 other really smart teenagers at the Governor Honors Program. This is a special summer camp setup by the state of Georgia that picks the best rising high school juniors and seniors from around the state to go live at Valdosta State University and take special enrichment classes from some of the best instructors in the state. Each enrollee enters in a specific major, and he or she is able to pick a minor as well. I was there as a math major, and I took computer science as my minor (big surprise!).

While there, I met lots of people; I don't remember many of them very well, but a few standout. There was my roommate Jamie who went on to study the history of science at Harvard. There was Natalie and Vicki, they both started Georgia Tech with me; Natalie went on to help found the GT Pagan Community, while Vicki was instrumental in the creation of the GT Women's Student Union.

Natalie was a math major with a theater minor, and she told me about their warm-up sessions that they did at the beginning of class to the sound of Tracy Chapman's song "Fast Car". This turned into a game, with both of us coming up with more and more variations on the main lyric. I wrote these down. and the opportunity to use them came when I did one of my first personal websites, and I set up a section called "Combee's Notebook". One of the entries was "Tracy Chapman Ad Infinitum", and it's been online for almost ten years.

Well, I was doing some searches with Google, and I found that there is this whole network of sites that just exist to show ads and point to other web pages, littering the search engines with useless cruft. A number of those pages have been linking to that article, since I guess it was in the first 100 or so links that you would get when searching for "fast car", and that's pushed its page rank up to unusually high levels. It's not that the page has any real merit, but that it's just been around so long that it's been embedded into the plumbing of the World Wide Web.

For more on my GHP activities, here's an article at palmoswerks I did on Core Wars and the computer science program.
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