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Sometimes Because Of The Difficulty Of Being Alive, I Consider The Possibility That I Don't Actually Have Any Opinions And Everything I Known Has Been Stolen From People Smarter Than Me


Today this blog is now four years old! Four years of screeching into an empty void about loosely related things that most people won't find interesting. But as with last years' post, today is a day where I talk about something that is interesting to everyone!

My feelings.

But first, a retrospective on this past year of writing garbage on the Internet.

I think it's been going alright with what I set out to do last year,(1) there's that one weird post that seems bugged out, but overall, I'm slowing creating a body of work that I can be somewhat proud of.

(1) If you want to know what I set out, read the post.

Slowly is probably the keyword here, if you look back you'll probably find that the rate at which I've been writing new posts has gone from once a week, to once a fortnight, and is now roughly once a month. The obvious answers as to why this has happened are that I'm getting lazy or/and I don't have that much to talk about any more, both of which are true to some extent but it's not really as simple as that.

Having to write all these things and put my thoughts into words has requires me to actually examine and think about them critically. And that's good of course, I think it gives me more clarity on things and helps me to construct my opinions better. But there's this one thought that's been popping up repeatedly over the past year.

Why do I think these things?

I'd really like to think that I formed all these opinions on my own through and objective and evidence based view of the world, but I can't believe that in good conscious without feeling like a liar and a scoundrel. I feel like the answer is just "I read it on the somewhere on the Internet and I either haven't put enough though into it or I'm too stupid to argue against it."

Anyway, let's talk about something fun and uplifting instead. How about how I started programming? That's a thing people ask me often when they find out I started working as a software engineer three months after I finished high school.

In July 2015, Zachtronics released the game TIS-100 onto the Steam store. It's an assembly language programming game and I, a teenager that was into weird hacker shit,(2) thought would be cool and fun to play a game that looked like a glorified DOS prompt. I spent my weekly pocket money allowance and downloaded the game excited about writing code of a made up computer language into 12 black squares.

(2) I'll have you know that I started running Arch Linux and using Vim (to edit config files) the year before >:)

Turns out assembly language, even a made up one - real confusing. Could not get past the third level.

Was it because I've never written an actual line of code (let alone a line of assembly) in my life before? I thought it would probably help if I actually knew what programming was, so I decided to put the game on hold for now and looked up a Python tutorial on the Internet.

I don't remember what tutorial it was, but I remember thinking that Python (and programming in general) was surprisingly easy to understand and I should have started learning this earlier. And you know what, maybe there are other things that I could learn on the Internet which are surprisingly easy to understand that I never bothered to look at before. Things like economics, philosophy, linguistics - these are things I always thought would be interesting to learn but thought I couldn't understand so never really tried.

This has been my past 7 years, finding something I find remotely interesting and attempting to get a detailed understanding of it from researching it on the Internet. 2015 was also a interesting year for me because it holds my first memory of proper anxiety and depression.(3) It's actually one of my clearest memories from my child and teenage years, which is unfortunate because I don't have many of those.

(3) I'm going back into the sad and shitty shitty part of these posts now, sorry. Consider this your warning.

Showers are very important tools for programmers. I've designed many systems and fixed many bugs in them while trying to figure out how much shampoo to use. Throughout my time as a programmer, the shower has been the first place I go to when a difficult problem is ahead of me. Maybe it's also not a coincidence that the only place where I'm separated from my phone or computer is my second favourite place to be after being asleep in my bed.

Every piece of code I've considered "good" was not made in a black and white terminal on a computer, but in a box where bringing and trying to use a computer would destroy it.

It's just too bad I wasn't a programmer yet.

This memory comes from before TIS-100(4) and takes place on a nice and sunny Saturday morning. There I was taking a shower and getting ready for another weekend of ignoring the outside world, playing video games, and leaving my homework to the last minute. I don't actually remember any shower I've had before TIS-100 so it seems the first shower I can recall ended with me on the floor crying and struggling to breathe.

(4) Yes, I split my life up in two parts: "before TIS-100" and "after TIS-100". It has surprised me how important that game actually is to me since I don't have that strong of an emotional bond to it.

All my life, I've been called a shy and reserved kid which is not incorrect at all, and anyone who met me would say the same, but I always felt the description was somewhat wrong, that there was more to it than that. Under that stream of hot water, I finally realised that I had (and still have) social anxiety; a genuine fear of interacting with other people. And then I realised how much this disorder has in the past and will in the future - fuck me over.

If I still got anxiety from my friends, how would I ever be able to cope in a job interview? Actually, how could I ever be able to deal with a job, cooperating with co-workers. At least in school I could focus mostly on myself and stay invisible even in group projects, but when my livelihood will start depending on it? I don't think I could handle it.

It was ingrained into me that my entire school life is supposed to lead me to and prepare me for getting a job.(5) 17 years (and another 4 if I went to university) would go down the drain if problems with my brain make me unable to function as an adult in the real world.

(5) That is obviously wrong and a shitty thing to think, but you can blame my parents for that.

That day I had decided that if I didn't find a way to fix myself, I'd kill myself before my 18th birthday.

I turn 22 next month so that obviously didn't happen. But not because I "fixed" myself (whatever that is supposed to mean), but because it didn't mess me up nearly as bad as I thought it would. Don't get me wrong, my brain is still all sorts of messed up and the suicide thing hasn't exactly gone away, so I've really just… learnt to live with it I guess.

Job interviews are actually as horrible as I thought though. Apart from my first, all jobs I've gotten have been through references who have sung my praises to the heavens and on more than one occasion called me a "coding prodigy".(6) I still fear the day when I'll have to find a job by myself and with my merit as a person alone.

(6) If you're one of the people who have said this, thanks that's really nice. But please don't, it's a lot of pressure to put on me.

But back before 2015 I didn't know any of that. The future scared me as much as ordering food from the lady at the canteen and I never believed I would ever become something.

I wasn't particularly good at or have a real passion for anything back then. I did enjoy video games, but the only way you can turn that into a living is if you're extremely good at them or are extremely entertaining while you play them, and I was certainly neither. Then came the time after TIS-100 and I started realising that "hey, learning stuff on the Internet is actually pretty fun. I like this."

Finally, there was something I could attach myself to. Something I could do to not feel so worthless all the time. And so, I started to judge myself based on my knowledge of things (or the appearance of my knowledge on things).

I have a very low opinion of myself so I wouldn't discount the idea that this "detailed understanding" of things I tried to get from researching it on the Internet is just mindless regurgitation of the things other people say. Knowledge isn't just the ability to produce true statements, it isn't knowing what things are or what things will be, it's knowing why things are and why things will be.

The Internet was an easy way for me to feel intelligent.

This may sound like it's just a case of impostor syndrome, where I have a severe doubt in myself and my skills. But I don't think it's that. I know I at least have some intelligence because I know I would not have a job or be respected by my peers if I didn't. It's more that I don't believe my intelligence is my own or that it has been earned in any way.

While trying to "research :)" if other people feel this and if it's a known thing, I came across this academic article: "People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own".

Normally this is the part where I summarise it and tell you how it applies but in last years' post, I mentioned that it's a bad idea to try to self diagnose yourself with things you read on the Internet, so for once I'm going to heed my own advice and leave that link for you to read for yourself.

Speaking of last years' post, I referenced six academic papers in there and I've only just mentioned the first (and spoiler warning, the only) one here. I like reading research papers. But do I like it because it actually entertains me or because it makes me feel smart? I don't know any more.

I wonder how much as a soon to be 22 year old I actually understand about the world. As far as I know everything I think is correct (or I'm at least on the right track and there is a clear path to completely understanding it), but that is objectively wrong and I must be missing something without realising it.

I worry that I've not just been reading and internalising ideas that are wrong, but that I've just been learning isolated knowledge and that I'm a Chinese room made of flesh, bones, and blood. That I can't do the actual interesting work of synthesis to combine information and ideas or derivation to determine new results from my existing knowledge base.

I want this blog to be a place of learning, but when I read previous writings I start to questioning whether I actually know what I'm talking about. Not that there's any I seriously object to now,(7) I just find it hard to believe that I can be correct on anything, or if I actually added any value to anything and if it was worth writing at all.

(7) I have changed my mine on some minor points of my previous opinions, but the general arguments stay the same. I might make a future post detailing those.

My self-worth is almost entirely dependant on how smart I feel I am and having my thoughts in writing is exposing me to myself.

Anyway, enough of that depressing shit. The WRC is back this weekend with a new era of hybrid cars. Generally in motorsports a large regulation change like this narrows the performance gap between cars, which means maybe this year we'll see a different and not stupid country win rallies.(8) So let's see how the inaugural event at Monte Carlo is going so far.


wrc results

Fuck my life.

And if you're wondering if I ever went back to TIS-100 now that programming is my job so you'd expect me to be better at it, I did in fact play it again in preparation for this post but…

Turns out assembly language, even a made up one - still real confusing. Could not get past the seventh level.

I have finished SHEZHEN I/O though, which is like TIS-100 (made by the same people too) but you're an electrical engineer, so maybe it's time for me to change careers.