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Creation Date: 2003-05-10
Programming: is it a means or an end? It was pretty simple for me to answer this question earlier, but now that I think of it, it's a bit more complex. Usually when a person compares means and ends they are judging whether ends justify means, visa versa, or whatever the case. This argument is not so complex, it is simply whether an activity can be seen a mean or an end. As simple as this question is, it has defined my actions to a very high degree for the past 8 years. Eight years ago, I was 13 years old and I decided my future. As if I haven't told this story before, I'd like to explain a bit about my past. Since I was old enough to understand my surroundings, my family has used computers. From the Commodore 64, Amiga, 386-25, 486-66, Pentium 90, Pentium Pro, right on up. At age 10, I started watching my dad program. He programmed a lot because when I was 10, he quit his job as manager of a convenience store and became self-employed programmer. He programmed in FoxPro DOS and moved right up the line. He currently programs in VB.NET. So growing up, I watched him. At age 13, I spent 10 hours working for him on a mall security incident project written in the brand new Visual Basic 3.0. It was pretty hard because I didn't understand things well enough, but my work was fruitful. I got things done, I learned a lot about how a project gets done, and my dad got his project done. He paid me the absurd salary of $10 per hour for it and he in turn charged the client $40 per hour for my work. But in the weeks to come, I decided that I would not program for money; programming for a living. My brother made a similar statement but meant something completely different: he was not going to program, period. I meant that I would program for reasons other than a living. That's right, not to make money, but for a dream of something better.

Update: 05/07/2003
Yes, very idealistic, wasn't I? Two years later, I created my first website. It's still up, preserved (with a few updates) as it was in 1997 or so. However, I was not interested in working for profit. I worked on a project that used BASIC Stamp to power an ornithopter that used Muscles Wire (Robat). The project failed because of my lack of knowledge of flight. It was a good project because it shattered my adolescent dreams of rocking the engineering world without serious work. It inspired me to get a physics degree (originally a chemical engineering degree) and get more backing than I need for a really important project. At this point, I believe that I could make a serious attempt at making a working Robat using very light electric motors instead of Muscle Wire*. Those motors would flap the wings in a figure eight to generate _forward_ thrust (one of Robat's main failures was that it tried to generate downward thrust which only works for butterflies that weight less than a gram). From that, it would not be much better than a normal rubberband-powered ornithopter.

The computer usage for my website was as a means to the end of making friends online. For Robat, the computer was a means to the end of getting help in science through e-mail, mailing lists, websites, and advertisement. But during that time, I was increasingly working on projects that were means to the end of having more fun on the computer. Certainly the end of having fun is related, but not completely the same as working on the computer as an end. However, projects like messing around with Microsoft Agent 2.0, working for the Nanocomputer Dream Team (I foolishly worked on the Internet-Based Supercomputer for two years of ~20 hours/week), and my neverending search for fun stuff on the web. Instead of surfing for at 28.8 for info on something, I was surfing for fun. I got a bit of euphoria when I would surf. I'm saying this as past tense because now I download Linux programs to get that same euphoria. Programming interesting things gave me the same empty euphoria that most people seek from movie watching. As ways to spend one's teenage years go, there are better ones, but I had access to none of them. I was a hacker and I still am, curious of all that others wish me to see and do on the internet. But I have plenty of my own ideas of what I wish to see, do, and think.

This is the digital world of the bit. Interaction is key, not just reading, not just writing, chatting, playing, working, thinking, doing; each of these is important to different people all experiencing their own online experience. I happen to be a developer, content creator, blogger, reader, surfer, viewer, consumer, and occasional chatter. For the past four years, I have spent ~60% of my awake hours on the web which gives me plenty of time for each of these pursuits. It most certainly has soared far away from a means to the end of finding real world stuff to do. For five months, I played Everquest to have fun with my roommate and friends who I've only ever met online. Certain that was an ends in itself. My AltSci3D Manga Director project and Javantea's Fate project both are only online. They promise no real life reward and no online reward. If I get no reward for either, what am I doing them for? Because not only do I have property in myself, I also require no outside reinforcement to do what I wish to do. As an ends in itself, computer programming is the best I have found on Earth. I would simply not be satisfied talking to friends in a coffeehouse as an ends in itself. I would not be happy taking photographs of petroglyphs as an ends in itself. I certainly wouldn't last very long working as a computer programmer as means to the end of getting a lot of money I don't need. I can't seem to get interested in physics beyond it's usefulness in different high tech applications. However, I don't feel that my time is well spent if I only spend it working on fun things that don't help people. Physics is a decent example of an ends in itself. We study physics to advance knowledge and technology. It is often seen as a means to the end of technology, but really is important on its own. If we could ensure perfect health and happiness, we would still research physics because it is important to know more physics.

* As a primary propulsion source, Muscle Wire loses its usefulness when the force needed is larger than a few dozen grams. The specs say that it can generate a kg of force, but the wire shrinks by 1% which is only useful in huge reverse levers which reduces the force to grams. This is something that a person without a good understanding of physics or engineering doesn't understand.
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