Three Billion Blind Sheep
I spent a lifetime raised by nerds.
We were not necessarily stereotypical nerds, but we were nerds. And
darn proud of it. When I took an I.Q. test and scored 175, all I
could think was, "Thatís IT?" And yep, my mother had the same reaction.
But y'know -- that's how I felt it should be. That just happens to
be how I was brought up. The first computer I ever touched (a C64)
was hardly ever used for games. It was meant for programming.
Thatís exactly what my brother and I did with it. Oh sure, we had
a game or two for it... Arkanoid, Turrican, LazerZone... but other
than that, there was just good ol' BASIC. And that was fun for me.
It got to the point that I would today prefer to look up info on the latest
processor rollouts and algorithm research than play a network game of Counterstrike.
That aspect of me has loosened up somewhat, but not too significantly.
Part of that is attributable to one other thing Iíve always had engraved
on my skull - a college student is a person who is not entitled to enjoy
his/her life for 4 or more years. Prior to being in college, I was intent
on salvaging what few years I had left before having to face the arduous
hell that would approach. At the same time, I wanted to make sure
my time in college was short. Iíd heard of all the people who went
into college not knowing what they wanted to do, and jumped around from
major to major, all the time only prolonging their years in the prison
known as the university. I was not going to let that happen to me.
I started my search long before any normal person would have. I experimented
with some 15 options. It just so happened that programming and music
were the things that stuck. Music went on and off, but programming
was permanently affixed to me like some sort of barnacle. Now I enjoy
having my blood sucked out.
For all the learning I did outside of
school, it was mostly sparked by a certain event on May 17, 1993.
I downloaded and executed a certain VERY special program. UNREAL.EXE.
If you think this is the Epic Megagames Unreal, then you're a deprived
and sad fellow. Besides which, that game did not exist in 1993.
This program was NOT a game nor did it have any significant interactivity...
It was a simple standalone demonstration of what the programmers, musicians,
and artists in a small, unorganized group of 7 could do. Then again,
so is Sounds & Visions,
but that's another matter entirely... ;) Moving along, the point
is not that Unreal was the culmination of everything, but it was the spark
that ignited a great roaring flame.
But there was a certain problem.
This problem was an institution that sought to cause endless suffering.
This organization would not rest until we would grow pale and roll over
while breathing blood. They watched as every individual cell in our
bodies chilled and fell dead and into rigor. They drew endless joy
in witnessing our degeneration into a sea of protons, neutrons, and morons...
No, I'm not talking about Microsoft. This is and entirely different
millstone around our necks that has plagued the world even longer...
We simply call it "school." School was especially harmful around
1995. This was a period where the PC demoscene evolved VERY rapidly.
There were huge leaps and bounds being made overnight. And here I
was being bored to tears being fed "soh cah toa" 5 times a week.
While it was certainly true that democoding was just a hobby, it was a
hobby that involved some "|\/|(-|d 5k1||z." In short, not something
that will ever be taught in any school. However h4x0r=i5h it was,
they WERE undeniably useful skills. In particular, the fact that
it involved some halfway decent knowledge of the subsystem architecture.
And there was some hardcore code optimization in there. Vsync was
one of my faves... sooo much cooler than Vretrace!!!
Well, eventually, a magical year known
as 1997 rolled around. Why was 1997 important? I finished high
school that year!!! Moreover, that summer was my most relaxing in
a long time. I was not taking a full load of classes. So I
had chances to actually catch up to the scene. That I did.
And in 6 weeks, for that matter. Yes, that's right folks...
My makeshift d3mo-gr00p and I managed to make up for about 18 months of
lagging in a matter of 6 weeks. PMODE coding? done. VBE
2.0 LFB? done. XM & IT playback? done.
This led to a new question. What
made that rate of learning possible? Sitting in classes for 15 years
never did that much. In all fairness, the same wealth of information
was not so readily available 15 years prior, but information is only as
useful as the mind it enters. The formal education system was also
about conveying information. What made the progress of the system
so weak when compared to an obscure hobby? One could say that it
was because I was so incredibly interested in it, but I did have, as probably
everybody had, at least a few school subjects that I found interesting.
Moreover, the practice of most graphics algorithms involves an intense
math background. I knew I had to be diligent in my math classes or
I would not have any value in the space of the hobby I loved. Those
math classes, however, simply did not make the same progress that my own
hands made for me. I would not have had even a tiny clue as to what
Pluecker space is if I never went out and sought the information myself.
The obvious argument is that it should
make perfect sense that I would do better on my own than to follow some
set curriculum. If that makes sense, though, why do the schools not
take advantage of that? The simple answer is that it takes too much
effort on their part. To do so involves faculty that get closely
involved in the process of tracking students individually. There
are a few schools that attempt to manage learning in this way. These
are the same schools that would require a multi-millionaire family to take
out a second mortgage on their homes to cover tuition and fees. Either
that, or they are meant to be purely supplementary. In either case,
it is a tremendous added expense. To think of formal education as
a system by which people learn at the limits of their capacity is naive.
School is not a place of learning by any means. It is quite simply
a business. In a more global sense, the sole value of a university
is in its facilities. If college were solely used in a supplementary
fashion, that would be quite ideal, but the definition of "ideal" may as
well be "that which cannot exist."
For those of you who are studying practices
that involve hard-nosed experiments and such, I can still guarantee you
that the teaching abilities of the school are several trillion times less
capable than you are monkeying around and electrocuting yourself.
You do need facilities. What you do NOT need is class. You
do need the occassional supplemental personal sources. You do NOT
need someone telling you what to learn. You can learn basics on your
own. You can learn intermediate things on your own. You can
learn advanced topics on your own. You can learn cutting-edge hyper-advanced
topics with a little help. And that's about it. This is basically
the conclusion I've run into after witnessing examples of the products
of several schools.
For all that, I should have run across
at least one that seemed at least adequate. In theory, a business
such as a college should seek to outdo its competitors by providing a superior
product or service. This didn't happen in any of the schools I'd
seen. In all that time, they were answering to higher powers.
They had always tried to maintain a relatively fixed standard. It
wasn't the standard that was convoluted, but the idea of standardization
itself that caused all the problems. I could only reach the conclusion
that the standard, basic system that I had seen was there to make the jobs
of the faculty easier. They wouldn't have to think or adapt to
anything. Just stick by what they know, and that means they
can just ride along and milk the cash cow. This is in fact, all there
is to life... If you think that being a long-standing practice makes
it right, then you rank among the most naive people to walk this lithosphere.
Sadly, the "master-student tradition" argument is probably the most common
one I've heard.
I've always found that intelligent people
do not dominate the world. Whenever I saw people praise prodigal
children on television, it begged the question of "why?" If there
were many smart people on this planet, one more smart person isn't a big
deal. The problem is there are not very many smart people on this
planet, and that is why a prodigy is such a big deal. If there were
smarter people in this world, the average IQ would be a great deal higher
than the 90-105 range that it is today (not by the definition of IQ itself,
but you should get what I mean). The threshold of genius would not
be the pitiful 140 assigned to it right now. If I was unimpressed
by an IQ of 175, why should the world be so amazed by 140? Moreover,
how do you define smart? Is it just the fact that someone KNOWS STUFF?!???
That's utterly pitiful. So that guy
who won lots of money on Jeopardy is super-smart!!! He should
rule the world! Yyyyyes, Pinky! How does beating your friends
at Trivial Pursuit make you smart? For god's sake... it's called
"Trivial" for a reason! If that really is smart, then I guess school
really IS about making people smart. After all, we are fed information
down our throats and expected to memorize and regurgitate it all back.
Well, having the ability to spout facts means that we're smart! Oh,
Moreover, how great does one have to be
to be smart? Getting straight A's? That's utter BS!!
Getting an A involves being in the upper 10% echelon. Depending on
the class, that can mean getting a 70%. Sure, a 70% average got me
an A. But since I got an A, I must be ultra-smart. By that
same logic, I could go up to a piano, and attempt to play a song.
I can get 7 out of every 10 notes right... and people would call
me "maestro." Rrrrriiiiigght... But no one sneers at that 70%
A grade. No one sees the very concept as being "tainted" or "foolish."
We've been programmed. We respect a piece of paper because we're
all too stupid not to. The only thing that is gained for the world
is a certain guarantee that everyone with said piece of paper has achieved
a certain minimum status of knowledge. This is a very tenuous guarantee,
at best. For one, you're depending on the memory of thousands of
people. Two, they're being told what to learn by other people --
not all necessarily by the same person. And you close your eyes to
the prodigies who were previously praised as if their potentials were beyond
imagination. I guess we can't imagine very much. After all,
we're told what to think about from day one.
There was this time when I was given the
chance to do a guest lecture at Texas A&M. This was a video conferenced
sort of thing, so nobody had to exchange any money and I didn't have to
go anywhere. Naturally, the reactions of a lot of profs included
phrases like "You? But... you're an UNDERGRAD!" Thank you for
that, O professor. Now please allow me to cut off your head just
so that I can spit down your throat, you lowlife scum. Well, the
topic was visibility algorithms and I started with something basic -- regular
old Z-Buffering. Not more than 2 minutes in did a hand raise and
he said "We JUST covered painter's algorithm." I think I took pause
at that for about 15 seconds. Mostly mulling over the fact that I
was lecturing to grad students. This was sad. This was a whole
other level of sad. This was higher education. A short discussion
with Paul Nettle some time before that signaled to me that this was not
a unique experience or anything like that. Whatever happened to the
days when you coded day and night not sleeping and you typed and typed
until your keyboard was covered in blood? And you didn't do it for
the sake of getting an assignment in on time. You didn't do it to
meet some deadline. You did it for yourself. I MISS those days.
I would give anything to go through them again. Sure, I'll probably
die young if I do that too much, but I wouldn't mind. Death isn't
scary. Seeing a whole generation of CS grads who don't know what
a Z-Buffer is ... THAT is scary.
Really, the art of learning is not going
to happen if someone tells you what to learn. By our very nature,
we do not want to be tied down and locked in a singular path. Sure
there are people who are weak and helpless. We call them "grad students."
There are people who are probably never going to sort out what they want
to do in life. We call them "burger-flipping grad students."
Even more sad is that people whine about some of the things that they really
shouldn't whine about. If anything, we all have it easy. I
simply have to retch every time I hear a high school senior whine about
calculus being too hard. This is math that people have been doing
for almost 330 years. 300-year-old math is hard? If this is
an example of humankind getting smarter every generation, I really don't
want to know what previous generations were like. Granted, there
are evil and highly pointless areas of study that many of us are forced
to learn. I'm not getting into that. Many of these evil areas
are theories formed within the past few decades. Everyone did stupid
things in the twentieth century. And academia always takes the crown
in that area. However, whining about things that have today become
so utterly fundamental is just not right.
All it boils down to is pushing yourself
to your own limits in gathering and compiling information. Our brains
are pitifully slow, but they excel in the art of making sense of a jumble
of info. That is education. A person will always do best outside
of a standardized system simply because people themselves are not all alike.
The very existence of schools and classes would be better justified
if their funcions were solely supplementary. A school is where we
should go when some information we seek is not so easily acquired.
And those who learn on their own can judge their limits and where they
might need help. No one can judge your own knowledge better than
yourself. Anyone else is absolutely unfit to do so.
If anyone thinks they are fit to judge your knowledge, they are hopeless
fools. But at the same time, it is useless to argue with idiots in
that order of magnitude.
Well, the other side of the coin is that
one could simply go through standard curricula and just work to our limits
on that material and thereby gain volumes of knowledge, but also satisfy
what the world asks for. There are a few problems with this.
One, you assume that such a thing is possible. No matter how you
slice it, there will be at least one class for which a person cannot be
motivated. Without motivation, there is no way for one to push his/her
limits. Two, you will still end up a sheep. You may be one
of the finest sheep in the meadow, but you are a sheep, nonetheless.
We do not learn so that we can be assembly-line products. Having
the force-fed so-called knowledge that is unleashed in a university setting
can only make you identical to all the other Model T's out there.
Nothing makes you good. All you are is adequate. Three, you
still have no idea what you want to do. There is no point in any
curriculum where the curriculum is focused. Oh sure, there are trade
schools, but we're generalizing here. Besides which, trade schools
have their own problems. Not the least of which is cost. Sure
there are people who become great in spite of it all. Every possibility
exists and I also have magical powers. Sure, you might be different.
Of course, your field of study may be a special case. Life is filled
with "could have's" and "should have's" and "maybe's." I MIGHT actually
be Enrico Fermi... but I'm not.
I'm not saying that we should idealize
the world. After all, that's never going to happen. If we tried
too hard to idealize the world, we'd probably end up regressing into an
Ancient Roman re-hash of sorts. And I'm not saying that we should
get rid of universities altogether, either. For one, there ARE always
going to be those weaklings who can't do anything constructive unless they're
told. There ARE always going to be those who are completely brainwashed
and will forever remain in those nascent stages where they believe in the
value of so-called higher education. There ARE always going to those
people who fear the non-ideal world out there and wish to remain completely
out of touch with it. There has to be a place for those people.
As long as people like that exist, there will always be a way to make money
off of them. What I AM talking about is the mistakenly high respect
that is placed on school. And that is exactly why people still "have
to" go to college. People put so much stock in it that there is no
recourse. We have approximately 2 billion orders of magnitude too
much value in this outdated system. I say outdated because it was
perfect for ancient times when books could not be printed in volume.
Back to the times when experimental equipment only existed in a handful
of places around the planet. Back when there was no web or coffee-selling
bookstores. Take away the books and assume there's only a few copies
of any book or paper in the entire world. Take away all the eCrap
and iGarbage. Take away the lattes and frappucinos. And in
that kind of world, you absolutely HAD to go to classes and learn from
masters. You absolutely HAD to memorize and regurgitate because you
certainly couldn't get it any other way. You would be quite hard-pressed
to find a child prodigy who wasn't the son/daughter of a living legend.
You simply could not teach yourself is what it really means. Today,
it's much easier to teach yourself. There are no exceptions.
One could say that we're in nascent stages
but that would assume that change is either occurring or is due.
I don't believe that it is. People don't like change. And the
education system is actually something that has been socially programmed
into us all. The moment it is subject to change, people will cower
away in fear. People who think they're making it better are not.
You can't fix a problem by using it more and more.
The only other thing to deal with is the
sheer amount of work. Some people are just too lazy to spend life
researching on their own time. If you're not strong enough to deal
with the difficulties and pitfalls, then you just don't deserve a better
chance in life. If you are just plain lazy and weak, then fine...
SOMEBODY has to flip burgers. Now all we need is enough cows to go
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