My University Education

I’ve been thinking about my job again. I try not to think about my job because I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I have to do it. Even if I was willing to just walk out the door without a diploma (having wasted a year and a half in a really irritating way), I’m not really morally ok with abandoning the obligation I took on by agreeing to do it.

Because I lied and pretended to be more interested than I actually was, Julie made commitments she can’t change. When I got here, I didn’t say, “God’s honest truth, I really want a Ph.D. so I can teach. I don’t love robots, but Vandy’s a good school and hopefully I can learn to love them.” After my first year, I didn’t say, “I just got through doing a shit-ton of work and the vast bulk of it was a waste of my time. I’m mostly convinced this is the wrong place for me.”

I have spent hours and hours of my time learning the intimate details of shit that I really really don’t need to know that well. (It took a week to learn how to derive the ANOVA. I managed to retain it subsequently for all of four days.)

Not that depth isn’t vital for being a scientist. I’m in the process of learning about peer-to-peer cryptographic down to the bare metal. I will have read and written hundreds of pages of detailed descriptions to understand this shit by the time I’m done.

There’s a limit to how much I can learn though, and how much time I have, so what I choose to learn in great detail is important to the quality of my work. My problem with this University is that by and large they told me what was important to learn, and only showed a passing interest in what I thought was important.

That sense of being a professional being able to make adult decisions about what is and isn’t important was rarely encouraged by the University.

The class whose structure I liked the best was Multimedia Systems. The first half of the class was the professor taking about random subjects and the second half presentations by each of the students giving presentations on subjects of their choosing.

I’ve been thinking about trying to set up a research collective based on mashing a survey course with the infoshop model when I get to Baltimore. Surely I can find for or five geeks to hang out and talk P2P networks and cryptography with once a week.

The University isn’t some great evil to be rallied against. It’s a system with both costs and benefits. I want to figure out ways that I can sustainably have the benefits with a minimum of bullshit.

That’s the other thing that turning 30 did for me in addition to making me want to value my time more was kinda kicking me in the pants and figuring out I really need to get a steady income source worked out. You might note that one of the later stages of the plan is me opening a recommender systems research laboratory in the form of a bar in DC. Does that not sound like a pretty cool job?

I think if I ever actually get it going, I will likely turn most of it over to someone else. Recommender systems help answer questions of happiness that are integral designing economic systems, but it’s really the underlying social and economic systems that interest me. I’m really interested in the questions of poverty reduction. I don’t think that we can possibly live in a peaceful world until no one is in danger of starving. So long as there are people whose lives are shortened by the limits of their access to resources, they have too great of an incentive to cheat to take what someone else has.

That was the other thing that really turned me off about the University: all the problems were so far from things that really matter. I’m really interested in computational modeling and have ideas for computational models that consider the philosophical ramifications of semiotics. Instead of working on those, I spent four months writing shitty Matlab code to generate graphs. It had diddly to do with the problems I want to work on, but it was Vandy’s computational modeling class.

Don’t even get me started on the weeks of writing LISP for my stupid AI class.

I still have hope though. I keep telling people, “the internet has changed the whole game,” but I don’t think people realize it yet. I think that in 100 years people will look back and mark this the beginning of change as big as the industrial revolution.

We have the technology to live in a world where all of human knowledge is accessible to everyone. We just have to get the social, economic and political kinks worked out so that we can actually make that happen. It is almost certainly going to happen, the only real question is if it is going to happen fast enough that I get to see it.

(It will if I can do anything about it. ☺)

Well, I suppose I ought to get back to my damned robots. This code that will be discarded within the year isn’t going to write itself.

Four and a half weeks to freedom.

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