Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bionic Ear

Here's an article I found very interesting: It's about a guy who lost his hearing completely, but is now able to hear things via a computer implant in his head. The article is mostly about his quest to hear music well enough to enjoy it again. I found it a very fascinating article. It also makes me think I should be doing something a bit more useful for an occupation other than writing software for portable barcode printers. I always start thinking this way after reading articles about people in the science or engineering fields that are doing very interesting things that actually help make people's lives better. I feel like I never went in the right direction for my work.

It all started back in 1989 with my first two competing job offers out of college - I could work for an environmental firm that made computer models for predicting the affects of oil spills in the ocean or work for a newspaper doing business related computer programming. The newspaper job offer was more than $10,000 higher than the job for the environmental firm. For a young adult just out of college, the difference between $23,000 and $33,000 was more than I could resist. I rationalized the decision in a bunch of different ways, telling myself I could just do the newspaper job for a little while to save up some money and then switch to a job that matched my ideals later. But deep down, I felt like I sold out. And in the end, I suppose I did sell out. I ended up staying at the newspaper for over 10 years. Sure, the work was interesting. I got to do cutting edge Internet-related stuff long before most people even heard of the Internet and the company paid for me to go to school at Brown to get my masters degree, but in the end, it was all very self-indulgent.

Whatever happened to the ideas of trying to get a job that will make the world a better place? I'm not sure. There's no simple answer. At the time I decided to leave the newspaper back in 2000, I was engaged to be married and I was thinking I needed to find a stable family-friendly position in the Rhode Island area (i.e. a job that paid well, that had work I would find interesting, and that had reasonable hours). So, working for a non-profit organization trying to change the world wasn't high on my list. And that is how I ended up where I am now - writing embedded software for portable printers. The work is very interesting and challenging, it pays well, and the hours are very "family friendly" (I basically work 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday). The only catch thing is, I never did get married, and I don't have a family, so why am I still working where I am? Why not now pursue that ideal of a "worth while" occupation that actually provides some sort of benefit to the world?

Why indeed. That is a very difficult question and I don't think most people will understand my answer. At the risk of people thinking I'm way too obsessive (yeah, like you don't already know that about me...) the main reason is karate. Right now my job has pretty much perfect hours in order for me to take karate classes. And why would karate be so important that I would not even consider changing jobs or moving out of state? Because, as I have mentioned in the past, karate (real karate) is about more than just physical fitness. It's also about self-improvement, character development, and becoming a better person. And since I have found a place that actually teaches these ideals on a day-to-day basis, I don't think I could ever bear to move away from such a positive place. There are many ways to benefit the world, and while I might have a better aptitude at the high-tech sort of work, I really think what I am learning now at the dojo can be of great benefit to the world. Hopefully I will someday be able to help teach this to others.

Hmmmm.... that was a bit of a tangent from talking about an article about bionic ears....