## Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Work For

Try this idea on for size.

Just as the atom bomb [was] supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again.

—Tim Kreider in Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

In a world with Groupon hemorrhaging millions of dollars a year and Facebook reaching a market cap of $104 billion while making under 0.2% that amount each year, this is all too easy to believe. It seems like the profit models of most major tech companies involve living off research grants and investor funds. Facebook exists simply because the public values it enough to keep it afloat. In a world of BitTorrent, open source, freeware, ad-funded, and "freemium" revenue models, it really is starting to look like the beginning of the end of capitalism. But is this really all that bad? Is capitalism the only working model? Here's another great excerpt from the same piece: “Let us not kid ourselves,” Professor Vladimir Nabokov reminds us. “Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever. ... ” But practical value isn’t the only kind of value. Ours is a mixed economy, with the gift economy of the arts existing (if not exactly flourishing) within the inhospitable conditions of a market economy, like the fragile black market in human decency that keeps civilization going despite the pitiless dictates of self-interest.1 As I sit here sharing my own free, unsolicited2 opinions with the world, I'm prompted to think of the implications of recession and academic inflation in my own industry. Interestingly, this is even a problem in the research sciences, with today's glut of PhDs. The blog linked there hints at my own opinion: students and other hopefuls cannot stand up for themselves. Employers must refuse to let people work for free. It hurts the whole economy, and it is not the way forward. Just the other day I was talking to a friend about the possibility of entering a post-scarcity economy in the next few decades. Sometimes the dearth of jobs and the neverending recession make me think that post-scarcity might almost be upon us. After all, we are becoming ever more efficient with food production.3 There is already enough food produced each year to feed everyone in the world (and there has been since 2002). What's the problem with not everyone having a job, as long as we can continue to feed them? More and more tasks are becoming automated, putting humans out of menial jobs. This creates more demand for jobs that cannot be automated because they depend on human creativity, such as the jobs in art and writing that are now struggling for pay. It also creates more demand for jobs that require true human intelligence, which involves more than basic training; these are jobs in science, law, medicine, and engineering that demand years of education. These jobs cannot be filled by robots in the near future, or possibly any future. So as labor jobs experience a shortage, knowledge work experiences growth. But these jobs will be less numerous as the economy becomes more productive. As a rule, a single person will be able to achieve more and more in an increasingly technological economy. Their job will become more automated. They will acquire more sophisticated tools that can accomplish the same tasks in less time. The demands of the world simply will not be able to keep up with this new level of productivity. Thus, there will be less demand for people to work. There will still be jobs to be done, but the few that are left will require a lifetime of intensive training, and cannot (nor need not) be filled by everyone. Perhaps Karl Marx's day is approaching at last, though not quite in the way he imagined it. If everyone could have basic living expenses paid for, then we could all be free to do what inspires us. I could stop hearing artists complain about how much I'm pirating their music, and patent trolls could release their stranglehold on the tech industry. Perhaps most surprising is that these aren't just the whacky thoughts of some out-of-touch roboticist with a soft spot for science fiction.4 In actual fact, Switzerland is already voting on it. 1. He certainly has a way with words, doesn't he? Maybe he should get paid after all. 2. Surprisingly, no one asked me to write this (unlike some of Kreider's work). 3. We're also having trouble managing the effects of big agro on the environment, but I view that as a separate issue. 4. Well, they are also that. ## (See the Exercises) From a single section of a single chapter of an actual textbook: ... it can easily be shown that the boundary of the specularity is defined by (see exercises) $1 - \epsilon = \mathbf{V} \cdot \mathbf{P}$ . Okay, fair enough. It is easily shown (see exercises) that the normal to a parametric surface ... Easy, my ass. There are two obvious possibilities. We explore the consequences of these models in the exercises. I obviously knew you were going to say that. We explore the minimization problem in the exercises. Are you guys bored writing this chapter? ... (you can convince yourself of this with the aid of a spoon). Definitely bored. The recovered surface does not depend on the choice of curve (exercises). Okay, now you're just getting lazy. ... (it is complicated, but not difficult, to build more elaborate models). Complicated, but not difficult... complicated... not difficult... until just now, I thought those two words were the same thing. By the way, here's a couple of typical exercises: 2.10. Read the book Colour and Light in Nature, by Lynch and Livingstone, published by Cambridge University Press, 1995. 2.12. Make a world of black objects and another of white objects (paper, glue, and spraypaint are useful here) and observe the effects of interreflections. ## New Grad Student Insights Grad students love “pourovers.” No, that’s not some French Canadian word… see here. (Personally, I don’t know what’s so difficult about using a French press.) College is still worth it. A post-secondary education is still a worthwhile investment, if we are safe in making certain assumptions. (This data is from my home country, so it might not even be applicable here in Canada.) This concrete 'E' gets graffitied about once a week. Nerds can tag, too. The major sources of funding in Canada are: The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC); and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). • If you’re in medicine or biology, you’re probably funded by CIHR. • If you’re in other sciences, you hope to have NSERC money coming your way. • If you’re in the humanities, you look toward SSHRC. Calhoun’s internet tickets don’t expire. If you don’t use the internet when you’re there, your ticket will still be valid the next time you visit. I used a week-old ticket today. (Calhoun’s is a 24-hour café/bakery where an endless torrent of UBC students come to study.) Featuring: Canadian Tuxedo! Tater tot eating contest! (Huh?) Being a(n adjunct) professor can kill you. Literally. Blackboard is still just as crappy as it was 7 years ago. (Yes, the last time I was in school was almost 7 years ago.) The 99 B-Line is really loud... at 1 a.m. on a Saturday on the way back to UBC, that is! Computer science professors at UBC prefer the term “computational intelligence” to “artificial intelligence.” Because after all, when does it cease to be artificial? What is artificial? Whoa, that's deep... The Stanford Prison Experiment is not all that remarkable. It seems like every pop psychology article I read cites the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in one way or another, as an example of the inherent brokenness of justice systems, or something like that. But now that I’ve actually been forced to read about it as part of research ethics training,1 it’s clear to me that the experiment was designed to produce draconian behavior from the get-go! We cannot safely conclude anything from this study.2 UBC campus is an ecosystem. There are skunks and raccoons and giant seagulls everywhere! And these are my coonfriends. These guys aren't the least bit phased by humans. There are amazing free apps to manage libraries of PDF documents. Though I have far from explored the space yet, the main ones seem to be: These are objectively awesome. I have even started to use them for note-taking in class, instead of paper. I might write a more detailed blog post about this in the future, depending on how well it works out. It’s hard for students to ask questions in class. Some instructors get annoyed when students get lost in class and don’t ask for help. But now that I’m a student again, I can see that it’s nearly impossible to ask good questions. I’m not going to say any more about this now; I’ll write a full post on this later. Finally, don’t feed the grad students. A peek into the Computer Science Grad Student Bullpen. 1. Look out for this if you’re a new grad, too. You must take one of these if you are going to be involved in any kind of human or animal trials! Ask your advisor if you need it. 2. There was no clear experimental design, no independent variable, no controls: just an environment designed to produce maximum psychological effect. There is next to nothing to be learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment; at best, it is an anecdote, not an experiment. And here we have entire theories of social psychology and humanity built upon it. In fact, the only really interesting observation to be made is how out of 50 outside observers of the experiment, only a single person ever objected to what was being done. Disturbing, indeed, but not conclusive of anything in particular. ## Getting Octave to Just Goddamn Work Already on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion ## The So-Help-Me-God Edition If you are in the fortunate position to be a lucky owner of a spiffy new Macbook, I salute you! In my humble opinion there could not be a finer breed of computer. Savor it, my friend! However, if you are in the unfortunate position of needing to implement algorithms and plots in GNU Octave, I pity you. It is your fate to run through the gauntlet of Unix dependency hell that is getting open source software to work on a closed source operating system. But I have good news! Hopefully, I have now exposed all the booby traps that Mountain Lion has set for you, and I've discovered the secret command-line incantations necessary to avoid them. Yes, much like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I will now deftly disarm the traps so that you may pass freely into the chamber of the Holy Grail1. Choose wisely. 1. First, install XQuartz. In the past this came installed on OS X, but as of Mountain Lion it is no longer included. So go fix that. 2. You will also need the Xcode Command Line Tools if you don't already have them. Both Homebrew and XQuartz need this to work. 3. Now you are ready to install Octave from Homebrew:2$ brew tap homebrew/science
$brew install octave If you don't know what Homebrew is, then do me a favor and slap yourself a couple times. Install Homebrew now; thank me later. Wow, Neil, that was easy! That's it, huh? NO, YOU FOOL! 1. Octave claims to have native drawing support using FLTK, but I haven't been able to get it working yet. We'll rely on gnuplot instead, which must be installed separately:$ brew install gnuplot
2. Now edit your Octave startup file or create a new one:
$vim ~/.octaverc and add the line: setenv GNUTERM x11 (btw, to save and exit vim, type ':wq', or to exit without saving, type ':q') 3. Now for the ultimate fix: reboot your machine! Yep, until you restart your Mac, Octave will be unable to launch XQuartz on its own, and you won't be able to plot anything. 4. Once you're back in, open the terminal, fire up Octave, and plot a sombrero(). You're all set! 1. The Holy Grail of Octave? Okay, not the greatest analogy. 2. If you're having trouble with this step, see: Octave for OS X ## Evolving Higher Education Recently, Udacity announced that it would be offering an Online Master of Science in Computer Science, in collaboration with Georgia Tech and AT&T. Just another stage in the nascent world of the Internet. When I mentioned it, my mother asked me a question: Does this dilute the prestige of a Master's in CS if 10,000 people do it, as they say? You do not need to take the GRE? It will cost less than$7,000 total? So you can still work and make money and end up with a Master's from Georgia Tech! Gee!

Here was my response to her (emphasis added).

Ahem... you mean an Online Master of Science from Georgia Tech. That is to say, OMS is different from MS.

Still, degrees are like fiat currency, in that if enough people believe that they mean something, then they mean something. So OMS could come to mean the same thing as MS, in time. And that might mean that an MS becomes cheapened, or it might mean that an OMS becomes stronger, or they meet somewhere in the middle.

We should try to view this with some perspective. As I understand it, MAs and PhDs have been around since medieval times, but they were mostly a license to teach until the last 100 years or so. And they've seen a huge burst in popularity in the past few decades. I could easily imagine a world without them. Not to mention, there are already dozens of different types of Master degrees—just check out the Wikipedia page for "Master's degree." Schools are often inventing new degrees, but since you and I are outside academia we aren't aware of it most of the time. This one just happens to get a bit more publicity because of the format.

I also often forget that there are already a vast number of OMS programs. The only thing that's new here is that this is the first one in MOOC format. So you could equivalently ask, does the fact that someone can get a cheap degree from Phoenix Online or Drexel University dilute my degree from UBC? Do people believe there is any difference between these three programs?

I'd love to discuss this some more the next time we talk. It's very interesting. A professor whose blog I've been following just touched upon some of these issues. You should read that too.

I look forward to seeing how my opinions on the business of pedagogy evolve and deepen throughout the course of my MS/PhD (which is now fast approaching!). I'll certainly be writing more about this in the future.