Thursday, September 16, 2010

More like borophyll, amirite?!

As time goes on, I am finding it increasingly more difficult to justify the existence of higher education in America. Our colleges and universities and changed very little over the course of time, which is wholly inconsistent with the trends of modern technology. The fact that most students still walk to class with books under their arms, only to sit in a rotting classroom and listen to a half-dead professor mumble in front of a chalk board for two hours is nearing hysterical. We’ve been doing this same song and dance for the past century; our fathers and grandfathers walked to class, read twenty-pound textbooks and listened to Father Time slowly die with each passing stroke of the chalk. The only real difference between your father’s college experience and our college experience is the price they paid to sleep in the uncomfortable chair way in the back of class.

This isn’t to say that I don’t fully support the education of today’s youth. I feel as though we shouldn’t charge little Timmy $80,000 to impart upon him the vast and intricate knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics. My main argument is that a large majority of the vast and intricate knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics is available online for free. With the proper understanding of search engines, you can find information about anything. Did you forget how to solve quadratic equations? Google has 4.5 million pages regarding the quadratic equation, and it found all of them in 0.10 seconds. How about finding the electron configuration of boron? Google found 85,000 pages on that subject in 0.18 seconds. When you think about the capacity of the internet, does a $1200 9-week chemistry lecture really sound all that great?

Do we really require a teacher to become intellectual creatures? Are we so accepting of our own inability to learn independently that we will pay exuberant amounts of money to be talked at for years on end? If you’re sitting at a computer right now reading this blog, you’re already connected to a limitless knowledge database; you’re at the helm of a data repository so unimaginable immense that, if it was printed, you would need hundreds of thousands of liters of ink and over one billion pounds of paper. Could you imagine a textbook that was over one billion pounds? What will really blow your mind is the fact that you paid $200 for your last 20 pound textbook. Remember that billion-pound textbook I was talking about? Free.

So what stops us from utilizing the knowledge so readily available to us? The business of education and the education of business, that’s what. Universities and colleges don’t care about you, your future, your classes or your silly little clubs. They don’t care about your grades or your football teams, and they most certainly don’t give a fuck about your education. Higher education is concerned with one thing and nothing else – your money. With the money you pay these institutes of higher education, you could buy property, you could buy a house, hell… you could invest it and let it trickle interest. You pay for your education though; you pay for your education because without the textbook and teachers, you don’t have diplomas.

This is where the education of business comes into play. Most businesses require some form of evidence from an institute of higher education that you paid a shit ton of money to learn a whole bunch of things that, for the most part, have absolutely nothing to do with the job they will offer you. The process is cyclical and corrupt beyond the point of repair. Businesses require degrees, degrees require school, school requires money, and money requires a job. If you’re lucky, you’ll pay off your debt by the time your 30 or 40 and be free of the cycle, and look at the bright side – you’ve only wasted half your life.

I have a crazy vision of the future where this is no longer a problem. I imagine a world where everyone takes responsibility for themselves, they set aside time to look up new ideas and concepts on the internet. They use the technology that they play games on to look up scientific information about the world around them in order to gain a greater understanding of the universe they live in. These kids are excited about learning new ways to comprehend the intricacies of their existence. Businesses no longer require a Bachelors or Masters degree to be hired; they simply formulate a complex entry examination relevant to the job. Between the test and an interview, the applicants can be properly evaluated for their compatibility with the available career, all without the unnecessary monetary and emotional drain of higher education. In order to do well on your entry exams, you’ll be forced to learn about the field you’re applying for on your own, utilizing the ever growing knowledge database that is the internet.

In my vision of the future, we stop spending money on our own education and instead siphon these funds towards educating others. With the amount of money we spend on tuition and books, we could instead begin designing a basic infrastructure for the poorer nations of the world. Within a decade or two we could have wireless internet access anywhere on Earth, and every human could have access to a computer. We could begin efforts to raise the world literacy level to near 100%, and use this readily available technology to assist in translations and basic literacy education. With proper dispersal of language software, we could eventually live in a world where everyone had at least a basic grasp of a universal tongue. As more and more of humanity become fluent with not only language, but also technology, the amount of data on the internet will increase even faster than it already has. The diversity of content will increase by the minute; articles, discussions, news and history from nations that once never new what a computer was will begin finding its way online. As our understanding of different cultures becomes more intricate and more extensive, so will our tolerance for things we don’t understand.

Perhaps I’m just an idealist. Maybe this world is destined for the cliché sci-fi ending of smoke, robots and rotting corpses littering the countryside. Perhaps we are perpetually doomed to live in the shadow of Agent Smith and his memorable speech:

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Article: Everything great must fall.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my strong distaste of Apple’s new ‘magical and revolutionary’ device. I’ve read a number of pro-iPad blogs and just as many anti-iPad articles, and I’ve come to find that they’re arguing the wrong points entirely.

We all know about the iPad’s good features - The ARM processor, the oleophobic Multi-Touch display, Apple’s commitment to replace the entire unit upon battery failure, the sleek and sexy design that is indubitably Cupertino’s fine handiwork and the non-BFR, non-PVC, arsenic and mercury free construction. Most of all, the device is smooth, fluid and really easy to use.

On the other hand, we’re also well aware of it’s immense lack of features. The system is running the iPhone OS, there is no webcam integrated into the system, Apple is still refusing to integrate flash into their browser, the screens resolution is laughably small and 4:3 in a 16:9/10 world, the device requires the purchase of several additional dingles and converters in order to fully use the device and the price truly is unbelievable. Unbelievably high.

Now, this is the point I want to drive home with everyone who reads this - it doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO of a fortune 500 company or an 18 year old college kid trying to pay scrape together rent money - the price on this device is too high. The price tag isn’t high because Apple is trying to make a profit off the system alone; the sheer number of extra cables, docks and dongles you’ll be purchasing just to use USB and an SD card will take care of that. The apps, books, music, and [horribly cropped] movies you buy will take care of Apples monetary concerns.

The price tag on this featureless system is so high because Apple is attempting to market to a price bracket instead of a demographic. Instead of creating a full-featured, powerful, market-changing, truly revolutionary tablet device that cost who cares how much, they decided to make a $500 device that does as much as you can with $500. 

Every single person who has ever purchased a MacBook Pro has had ‘that friend’ who goes out of their way to point out how overpriced the system is. When I bought my MacBook for $1300, my friend purchased a Dell XPS with similar specs for just under $1000. I didn’t mind the cost of the system because it had all of the features I wanted - a powerful enough GPU to raid Icecrown Citadel twice a week, a built in webcam so I can videochat with my friends who live out of state, a full aluminum chassis with easy access to the internal components, back-lit keyboard, and, most of all - the ability to run OSX, Windows 7 and Gentoo in perfect tandem.

Apple understands the market that the MacBook Pro belongs in. When they create a new rendition of the MacBook, they design it to have the features that MacBook owners want it to have. Students, designers, professionals, anyone who has ever had to disinfect a WinAntiVirus2009 Trojan, and all of the other little niches that Apple has found home in. When all is said and done, their products cost more, but nobody gives a shit. They pay more for a better product that does what they want it to.

This is why the iPad is an abomination of technology. The entire design of the system, from the dismissed hardware to the restrictive operating system, is not created for their market - or any market. In all reality, the device is an insult; it was designed to forgo the the ‘complexity’ of current computing, to make the interface of computers ‘friendlier’, to ‘revolutionize’ technology, literature and application dispersal. Apple created a device for people who want someone else in control of their computing experience. With the iPad, you no longer own your device, you own a copy of Steve’s device.

Computers are more than a technology, they are a philosophy and a way of life. For some people, computers are just too hard to deal with - no matter if it’s a Windows XP based Gateway or a brand new MacBook. Some people honestly want a very, very simple device for simply doing one thing at a time. For these people, the iPad will probably find a cozy place on the coffee table.

Others, however, understand that your computer is your sanctuary. It’s the nation in which you’re the president; you make the laws, you run the show and do do whatever the hell you feel like. With great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes you’ll haphazardly fire your pistol into a crowd of innocent system files and the mighty segfault gods will strike you down with great vengeance. This is the world of computing, it’s a place where you are free to open as many applications as your hardware will handle, a place where you never have the think “do I have the hardware to run this program”, a place where you can fully unleash your creative and intellectual potential. A computer should be a tool for opening a closed door, not a deadbolt keeping it shut. 

Some aspects of ‘desktop computing’ are difficult, but that’s the lay of the land. Having control over your computer is a necessity, it makes you free and it gives you the power to do amazing things, whether you chose too or not. There are many forms of government that are more effective, more controlled and easier to manage that Democracy; despite this, we choose to have freedom at the cost of a convoluted and insanely complex government.

I’m sure the iPad will sell well. I know plenty of families that buy every single new revision of the iPod, just because they enjoy new toys from Apple. There are some people that don’t mind the oppression of a single-application interface and have no problem with Apple’s holocaust on Flash. Some people might just crave the nostalgia of their old 4:3 television sets and wish there are a way to still buy full screen movies.
Myself? I would have gladly stood in line on April 3rd to buy an iPad with the following specs:
  • A screen resolution of 1280x720
  • A built in webcam
  • Just one single USB port (integrated, no ridiculous dongle)
  • An option to buy the system with OSX instead of iPhone OS
  • A price tag of $1500, $2000, $eleventy million for all I care
A revolution should be about creating a freedom, not about taking it away. I’m sorry Apple, I love you to death - but I won’t stand for the injustice of the iPad’s technological fascism. If you want my business, make a product that lets me be who I want, not who you want me to be.