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Oh, goodie...

It's been not a long while since my last post, but what the heck. I've had first hand experience from trying out TopCoder's Single Round Match very early today -- started at 1 AM and ended 2:30 AM here in the Philippines. I got 137.5 points for the 250-point problem, but not knowing that unsuccessful chellenges take away 50 points, I blew almost all of it out on 2 unsuccessful challenges. Talk about stupid mistakes. At least now I know what NOT to do when in a Single Round Match.

Going solo on a programming contest is a nice experience, giving me more reasons to go out of my way and polish my skills in both C++ and Java development. These exercises prove that knowing the algorithm is just half of solving the problem -- the other half is actually implementing it. And with this, I shall work on all the pending projects I have lined up in my computer with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

Ah, but lowe and behold: the magic of forums and blogging and real interpersonnal communication without the hassles of meeting someone in person. The anonymity of the net sometimes gives people the power to say what they want without getting muck for it. The same anonymity also gives people the nice feeling of security while all the while not knowing that for the first few things you do online, you give away a lot of privileged personal information (of course without proper system configuration and praning precautions).

Someone (presumably an economist) actually reacted to my article/post yesterday. It had to do with me comparing a car to a computer program. Either he's an economist purely and doesn't do any software development (and therefore thinks that coming up with information (i.e. computer programs) takes virtually nothing). I might be jumping to conclusions but his/her anonymity prevents me from messaging him/her directly and allow myself to get enlightened. RN doesn't say much about who you are, unless you leave maybe your email address.

Ok, lemme dig into what I meant yesterday. Take a car (the system of working parts bought, sold, produced with raw resources) for example, and analyze the internal workings of the car -- nevermind how much it costs to produce the car for now, just concentrate on the internal going ons, the design, the concepts at work to make the car work. You ride a car, you sometimes own a car, and most of the time you use it to get from one place to another. You always place your life on the line when you ride a car, whether you like it or not.

Ok, then let's use that concept of a car, and then close off all the essential internal workings from mechanics around the world. Let's put a EULA along with car, and say that you do not OWN the car, and you just have a license to USE the car. Therefore, you're not the owner, you're the End User. And you agree to that. (Read the End User License Agreement (EULA) that comes with your OS if there is one for more information). Let's not stop there, let's seal the hood, close up the engine and make anyone trying to understand how it works liable in the eyes of the law.

If that were the car you were going to buy(?), would you still buy(?) it? If you knew virtually nothing about the internal workings of the car, and that when it breaks down, no other mechanic but the makers of the car are the ones going to fix it, would you still consider the car? How about when you die or get incapacitated due to the failure of the car to work according to specifications, the EULA you agreed to says that the company that produced the car will only pay you $5 if you actually get to prove that it's their fault that you got incapacitated/killed. (Read your OS' EULA and search for the number 5).

OK, now the car, which you will eventually entrust your life to which has been closed off from the prying eyes of others (internally speaking) is now an Evil and Anti-Consumer medium for terrorizing users. NOW, let's take the software that you use to run mission-critical and life-threatening equipment like the software that runs/maintains a Nuclear Power plant. Let's put it simpler, how about the software that runs your bank? Or the software that's in your cellular phone (yes, there is software/firmware/logic that runs your digital cellular phone)? Wouldn't you like to know what REALLY goes on behind the scenes?

Wouldn't you feel safer knowing that you (or ANYBODY) could actually look at the code and scrutinize the internal workings to see whether it actually works according to specification? Wouldn't you feel safer knowing that the software being used to run your cellphone is not streaming your conversation to some remote server recording everything you say and/or write through SMS? Wouldn't you feel better knowing that the plane you're riding (or will be riding, or rode) ran software that had been looked at, scrutinized, tested, and improved by competent people and proven to be within given acceptable specifications?

Wouldn't you feel better if you knew how something really works and not just it being a black box that "simply works for all you know"?

See, that's how I compared the Car and the Computer Program. But if you want to factor in cost, and find out how much it actually costs people to make competent software, you do the math: study 2-4 years for a BS Computer Science or a certification on [insert favorite programming language], countless hours of practice and mastery of [the same language, or something else], and maybe get a masters degree on Computer Science or Software Engineering, and then be part of a 1500 strong workforce. So the cost of being a qualified software developer is multiplied by N where N is the number of people working on a certain piece of software. Tell me NOW that creating proprietary software costs virtually nothing...

Oh, and the car? If you use the economies of scale, you'll see that the cost to create 1 software product is considerably more than producing 1 car. Talking in terms of traditional software development and of course in the sense that yes diskettes and paper cost money -- but so does TIME and EXPERTISE. Wouldn't you wonder why you'd pay a person more based on what he/she knows than what he/she could do? Wake up and call your consultant.

But all through this, I'm smiling. :) Please keep in mind that people's intellect are defined not by the answers they give, but by the questions they ask. If you give very bad answers and ask very bad questions, then what does that make you? :D No offense meant, and none taken...

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT an expert. Just a blabbering geek, trying most to use his common sense to appeal to others. :)


PS YES, I was referring to the world reknown Sacha Chua -- here.


  1. My name is Rey Natividad. I had given a comment earlier to your previous post (

    In this article, you wrote "... for the first few things you do online, you give away a lot of privileged personal information... " Is this for real? I was wondering whether you can figure out where I work even though I had not consciously given any information about myself.

    You misunderstand me. I had intended my other comment to focus more on your choice of subject, not serve as an affront to your fondness for open source. Unfortunately, your reply still fails to address some of the issues that I had brought up.

    I am not against open source.

    That said and done, let me bring out the other issues.

    1) The cost of reproducing electronic information is virtually nil. The cost of producing electronic information is not virtually nil. The cost of media is not virtually nil.

    2) Public goods. See or just Google it ("public goods" +"economics" +"definition"). The section "Legislated Exclusion" deals briefly with the marginal cost of information access.

    By definition, public goods are goods that
    a) are difficult to exclude someone from using
    b) does not deny someone the use of that good when it is in use by another person

    Software is an impure public good. My car is not a public good. If you wish to compare them, that is your freedom. Samuelson's "Economics" (readily available at the main library) is a good read if you're interested.

  2. In this article, you wrote "... for the first few things you do online, you give away a lot of privileged personal information... " Is this for real? I was wondering whether you can figure out where I work even though I had not consciously given any information about myself. <- quoted from comment.

    Well, I don't have the access to that information readily -- but considering the IP address, it would be possible to track someone down on the net. And besides, I wouldn't go that far to know who reads my posts. :D

    Maybe the car was a really bad example, but you might think of the MRT, or perhaps yes the Nuclear Power plant, and your bank. The concept applies to every public good you can think of (theoretically, pure or otherwise). Wouldn't you want to know where your waste goes? Or perhaps the documents you throw away containing personal information? :D

    Please keep them thoughts coming my way, I enjoy learning very much. :D


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