My alarm goes off and I sit up in bed. The opening shouts of the song No Sleep till Brooklyn storm through my brain. This happens every morning. I don’t know why. I’m not even particularly fond of the song. I guess I have it in my head because the lyrics are talking about not getting enough sleep, which is my big problem these days.
It’s six in the morning. I’ve been asleep for five hours. I can’t hit the snooze button because I’ll miss the bus.
I pull my McDonald’s uniform out of the washer, toss it in the dryer, grab some breakfast, and get dressed in the business casual outfit we’re required to wear at school. (Which is basically, “business formal, but ties are optional”.) I grab the now-dry McDonald’s uniform as I dash out of the house and drive to the other side of town, where I park my car. Next I catch a bus to Pittsburgh. The ride takes about an hour. I try to sleep, but I can never get comfortable and I’m always worried that other passengers might mess with me. The bus drops me off at the David L. Lawrence convention center, and I walk a mile from there to ICM School of Business. I attend classes there all day, then retrace my steps: Walk a mile, ride a bus for an hour. As soon as the bus drops me off I go to work a seven-hour shift at McDonald’s. Finally I stagger into the house a little after midnight, put my McDonald’s uniform in the wash, and collapse into bed. I do this five days a week.
It’s 1991, and I have somehow screwed things up. Other college kids have these heroic stories of sleep deprivation and all-nighters. They seem to keep up with studying, dating, early classes, and late parties. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t party, I don’t have a girlfriend, and my schooling requires very little extra study, but this lifestyle is killing me.
When I graduated high school, everyone impressed on me the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get a job without a degree. It was taken as a given that I would go to college somewhere. The same question came from friends, parents, people at church, and random strangers I’d meet: Where are you planning to go to school? I didn’t have an answer.
Buckling under this pressure, I looked for a way to get a degree as quickly as possible. I don’t want to go to school at all. The only thing I need is a piece of paper that will tell employers that I know the stuff I already know so I can get on with this career thing already.
This place is called “ICM School of Business”, but it’s more correctly a technical school. (Years later this place will be renamed Kaplan Career Institute.) It’s designed around the idea of a small number of focused classes, and they offer the chance to get an associates degree in under two years. The curriculum is fixed, so everyone in the same degree program will have exactly the same classes. Because of this, students are assigned to a room, and the teachers move from classroom to classroom, instead of the other way around.
The idea of getting a two year degree in eighteen months sounded good to me at the time, but the process is miserable in its execution. The bus trips to Pittsburgh are expensive, and most of my pay goes into getting me to school. I do the math and realize I’m working a seven-hour shift to pay for two hours worth of travel. I could drive, but the cost would be about the same once I paid for parking, with the added thrill of driving while sleep-deprived.
I complain about this to Mom, and she explains that I ought to keep it to myself. Apparently this school is costing our family a lot of money, and everyone is making sacrifices so that I can go here. As small as my income is, we need every little bit. This is actually news to me. I understood that the school cost money, but I have no idea how much the family makes, or how much things cost. I am reminded of that first day of kindergarten, where everyone else seemed to already know how things worked and what was expected of them.
I was given a computer for graduation. It’s a proper IBM clone with a hard drive. It also came with the Borland C development environment and reference books. Over the summer I went crazy and binged on programming. I was teaching myself C, graphics programming, and trigonometry at the same time. I had to set all of that aside when I began at ICM, because I simply don’t have the time.
The school seemed very impressive during the tour. They showed us the generous computer lab and talked about how much access we would have to the machines. It sounded good, but now that I’m in the thick of things I’m horrified at the actual curriculum itself. There is some computer history, which was thoroughly covered in Vo-Tech. Then there is COBOL, which was doubly covered in Vo-Tech, and which is stupid and useless and not what I want to learn. A total of three COBOL courses stand between me and graduation. There are two accounting classes. I can understand throwing one accounting course in there, but two is ridiculous. Not all of us are going to be writing report generators for accounting, and very few of us will ever need anywhere near this much depth of accounting knowledge. There’s also a psychology course thrown in, for some reason. It’s a stimulating subject and introduces me to interesting ideas like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but I’m not sure why we’re burning class time on it.
Then there is the class on the computer language called RPG, which stands for Report Program Generator. This is such a monumental waste of time that I am actually offended by it. This language has all the problems and limitations of COBOL, only to a greater degree and with terrible syntax. It is a thoroughly ridiculous language. In RPG, you design your programs by putting certain letters in certain columns. Sometimes a line of the program will begin with a few characters, then require one more letter floating in (say) column twenty, on the other side of the page. You can always tell when someone is programming in RPG because you can see them rhythmically smacking the spacebar over and over while they count spaces in their head. Unlike COBOL, you can’t just glance at the printed source and see what’s going on. You need to squint at it in a word processor and count spaces to get a sense of where the characters are positioned so you can see what they mean. This probably made sense during the days of the punch card, but now it’s a massive liability. I don’t want to know this language. I don’t want it taking up space in my brain. This is a bad idea that needs to die. I would love to take a job killing this language. I would rather leave the field entirely than take a job perpetuating it.
Of all of the incredible things we could be learning, of all the vast fields of study that involve the computer, is this really the best we can do? Accounting and report generators? There’s no theory here. There’s nothing on how you make good software, or how user interfaces should work, or how programming interfaces should be designed, or how to debug, no networking theory, no graphics, nothing on logic, nothing on computer languages in general, not a word about data structures, no mention of of the inner workings of the computer’s memory or CPU. Just accounting and report generators. This is like going to school for a communications degree and only being taught how to proofread. Okay, it’s a solid skill and in reasonable demand, but that’s a pretty thin basis for even a single semester of schooling. Making an entire two-year degree around something this narrow is just sad.
Once I complete all of these classes, there will finally be a couple of classes on the C programming language. I suddenly realize that every single thing they’re teaching me is either irrelevant, stuff I already know, or stuff I could learn on my own after I’ve begun my career. I will need to complete all of this before they finally get around to teaching me the one relevant subject that might be of use to me. This wouldn’t be so bad, but I was already learning C when I began school, and I had to stop learning it when I began school. This school actually halted my education.
I’m working hard and not making any money. I’m going to school and not learning anything. I’m tired all the time and I’m evidently putting a strain on the rest of my family, who I hardly ever see. How did I screw this up so bad? Are all schools like this, or did I pick a bad one? I suppose you can look at the curriculum of a school before you sign on, but I didn’t know that that was something I needed to do. It didn’t even occur to me that curriculum was something a school could get wrong.
I can’t possibly keep up this pace for two years, but what should I do now? Do I drop out? I don’t have time to look at other schools, and now that I know this is such a burden on the family, the last thing I want to do is tell them, “Whoops. This school sucks. I quit. Sorry!” At the same time, I don’t want to continue to waste my life and the family income on something so worthless.
The Gameplay is the Story
Some advice to game developers on how to stop ruining good stories with bad cutscenes.
The Dumbest Cutscene
This is it. This is the dumbest cutscene ever created for a AAA game. It's so bad it's simultaneously hilarious and painful. This is "The Room" of video game cutscenes.
Black Desert Online
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The No Politics Rule
Here are 6 reasons why I forbid political discussions on this site. #4 will amaze you. Or not.
Good to be the King?
Which would you rather be: A king in the middle ages, or a lower-income laborer in the 21st century?