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Creation Date: 2003-02-13
A few of my friends asked me the other night, what do you need to get into UW? I told them, "You need to live in Washington." While that isn't all you need, it's the main factor sadly. The probability charts say that with the same grades/SAT scores in-state has a 90% chance and out-of-state has a 40% chance. I then added, "You also need above 3.0 and 1100 on the SAT to have a 90% chance of getting in." I had a 3.4 and 1210 on SAT (most of which was math, btw), for example. The difference between getting into the UW and going to community college after high school is about $10k per year (the difference between middle/upper and upper class), so it's nothing to scoff at for most people. Most middle/upper class students find that trading two years of their life is quite worth it. But what if you could trade four years for a decrease in pay by about $40k per year? Would you do it? If you'd give up two years to higher education for $10k, you would certainly not give up four years _and_ $40k. But I am. The technicalities are important, but the fact remains: I am throwing $40k per year and four years of my young life. Not exactly throwing away, though -- I am refusing it and instead living my own path. Instead of programming right out of high school at $60k per year, I've decided to go to the UW and make average $3k per year in my spare time and will be making ~20k per year when I graduate this June with a Bachelor's in Physics. Why? I graduated high school and got my AA degree in 1999 (age 17), the year of the dot coms, Y2k panics, and Monica Lewinsky. When I was 13, I worked for my father doing programs. I made $100 in one day and decided that year that I would not program for a living. That's right, I, who currently makes a living programming decided that I would not do what my father did. I would not work all day to make inane amounts of money and spend it on junk. I would not use computers to make programs for businesses. I would become a scientist and use my talents for the betterment of humanity. My dream has changed and I've even programmed for a businesses against my morals so that I could fund my physics education. I've even thought of programming computer games for a living. But I cannot and will not spend everyday working for money. Just the thought of 9-5 makes me physically ill. 7AM-6PM is no worse or better in my view. And the truth is that I do not need to work 9-5 or 7-6. Being single, without a car, and without massive entertainment budget, I can and have been living on $600 per month, something completely unknown to Gen-X Americans. If you do the calculations, it's $7,200 per year, well below the poverty line of $8,860 for a single adult. Of course, I don't buy clothes, I don't drive, and I am not counting my very expensive education which is going onto loans. Hopefully, you can see a bit of logic in my picture. A computer that does economic calculations would say "Illogical, cannot compute!" But I think that my computer understands. "If computers could scream, would we be so callous as to turn them off at night? We might, if they screamed all the time for no good reason." ^_^

The lesson for today is about money. But I hope that you are forced to see a bit beyond that. If you want advice from me about money, I can give it to you, but if you're looking for a way to make lots of money and spend it all on junk (SUVs, cheap women, and booze), you should try one of those pyramid schemes because I'm not going to tell you. Yes, I have read Ayn Rand. You can see by this that I do not believe her hook, line, and sinker. She explains that money simply gives an accurate value of your work and its worth. People who hoard money simply want to have it be said that they are of high value and that their work is worth as much as five loaves of bread or whatever. To Ayn Rand, to take a person's wealth is to say that they have no value. In Atlas Shrugged, she explains that indeed the industrial CEOs have a terrific value in their work. She goes on to stipulate that in fact, the world cannot survive without them. Without the COO of the railroad, trains will not run. Without the meticulous, scrooge-like owner of a smelter, you have no metal. Without the owner of a lumber company, you have no wood and you have to live in caves. She then explains that graduated income tax is the exact manifestation of stealing value from those who have rightfully earned it. I agree with that much. But I see in my own situation a far greater measure of value: doing something that I feel is worthwhile. I don't see money as a measure of my value, but the value of my work to others. If I spend my life hoarding money and never do anything of actual worth, even though everyone else thinks my work is of extremely high value. I would have wasted my life trying to give it value, which is terrible irony. That is why I went to the UW, so that I could learn something that I could use to give my life real value to the advancement of humanity. On this, Ayn Rand would probably scold me. She sees money as an actual value while I see it as being a value given by others. She also says that advancing humanity is a value of giving to others. But I see advancing humanity to be an actual value in itself that requires no others to give to. How is that? One of my favorite quotes: "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today." I don't know who said it, but it I believe it. You do things to make things better simply because you want them to be better. You do it not for tomorrow, not for others tomorrow, not for yourself today, not for what others think of you in the next generation, but because it is right. And this is another basic part of Ayn Rand's philosophy. You do something not because it helps others, not so that others will think better of you, but because it is right. Ayn Rand is a very stong proponent of truth. You do not bribe an engine into working, it works because it is correctly made and maintained or repaired. It does not matter if you are for blame for what you did or did not do, but rather if you did what is right. If you mistook what she said as simply justification for greed and profit, look again.

If you are wondering where this rant came from, I listened to a lecture today on the internet about software patents. In Atlas Shrugged, the socialist government of the USA took away all patents, including the patent of Rearden Metal (a fictitious metal that is much stronger, lighter, and cheaper than steel created by Hank Rearden, the CEO of Rearden Metal). Of all the things that the socialists did, this was possibly the worst. Why? Because without a patent, you cannot stop your competitors from copying your very-expensive research and development. Many software companies collect royalties on techniques that they have patented. The problem is that patents don't quite work when you talk about software. There are only 32 CISC commands and very few combinates that work to make a working program. If I patent a new fast gaussian blur, that means that anyone who reverse-engineers the formula must pay me royalties (5% of the profit of their program). Which means for 20 years, no one can use this fast gaussian blur without paying me money. So these people say that indeed I should not get a patent for that and that everyone should be able to use it that can reverse engineer it. Something more complex like LZW compression must be kept as an industry secret (which is impossible in computing, really), we shouldn't have to pay royalties on it. Well, what about the two scientists who made LZW? It took a long time to create it. Does their work go without reward? Does their work have no value?! There's the Ayn Rand argument there. Luckily, those two scientists were employed by mega-corporations so we can bash them. What if I decide to patent "A way to create web comics using 3d computer graphics"? Then anyone who wants to make 3d mangas like JF either has to buy my program or a program which pays me royalties for my idea. What if I patent "A way to navigate a 3d scene with a camera using a single constantly accelerated particle"? That means no one can use my accelerated camera in a game. I could also patent a few of my collision detection algorithms. Then, no one can detect certain collisions with a faster function in their games without paying royalties. By patenting these ideas, I would be stifling any developer who I decided to sue. Seriously bad, isn't it? So what is the solution to this horrible problem? I won't pretend to have the perfect solution, but I know that it does not involve abolishing software patents and it does not involve leaving lame patents intact. I use unpatented, free (as in speech) software, I don't patent anything, and that is my solution.

Update 2002-02-13: Looking at the low-quality version, you may disagree on my last statement. Yes, I do use JPEG as an alternative format for those with odd browsers that don't support PNG, or those who use a 14.4 kbps modem. JPEG (which stands for joint photo experts group) is patented by Forgent Networks. Looking it up on google tells you a little more. The patent was issued on 1987 to Compression Labs. Since royalties were not enforced, it became the free standard for digital photography. Forgent bought them in 1997. and decided to enforce patents starting with Sony for $15 million. Then in 2002-07-22, we get a little update: Forgent does not have the patent on jpeg! They have the patent on RLE. ^_^ If you didn't know, RLE, is the silliest compression ever. It says, if you have a string of bytes like aaaaaa, compress it to: aa6 where aa initiates the repeat sequence and 6 says that a will be repeated six times. What a brilliant compression, huh? *cough*bs*cough*. For stuff like my hi-quality version, it works about 1/2 as well. For stuff like a photograph, it actually is the exact same size. But I assume that the JPEG compression uses RLE after it compresses it in other mathematical ways. It occurs to me that a person could make a new standard that uses normal JPEG compression without RLE and skip the patent. Why hasn't someone done this? Because all the jpegs currently out there use RLE. To see them, you must use RLE. Thus a new codec would require everyone to transcode their jpegs. Transcoding is a big no-no for compression buffs which means that you take something which is lossy compressed and then lossy compress it to create a worse looking version. I have been told twice that what I have done is transcoding and wrong. The first was transcoding my mp3s into oggs. By doing that I'm losing quality and increasing size. The correct way is to rip my cds again. What a bother... Slowly but surely, but more slowly than surely when I have 60 CDs. The second time was when I hacked my System Shock 2 CD for 4 hours of voice audio in MS IMA ADPCM and transcoded it into Speex voice codec (which is free (as in speech, don't mind the pun) and patent-less). One may think that this is not actual transcoding since the IMA ADPCM is almost a lossless compression (compress from 16-bits to 4-bits logrhythmic), sounds good, and has a pretty high kbps (170 kbps). But the person was stern about it. He said something like, "The IMA ADPCM could mess with the stream, please do not do that." And I bet that someone will accost me if I explain how I'm converting my jpegs into jpeg 2000 compression.

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