“Third Floor,” the elevator operator announced. “Mathematics, Philosophy, Unemployment offices... ”
For almost two weeks after my layoff I barely touched my computer. I did little except implement the new things I was teaching myself about computer networking and security.
I had “gone-live” on the Internet in April through a 144kbps IDSL link. I had my own domain, and there were some kiddie-cracker DOS/Windows attempts to crack my secure layers.--Mostly young teens run these kiddie-scripts looking for unsecured Windows computers on the net. A Unix system is immune to these scripts as far as I knew; but I wasn't taking any chances. I hardened everything. This was the system adminidtration side of things and didn't involve too much programming. After about an hour when my shoulder complained, I took a few-hour break.
Toward the end of October I once again got interested in HTML and other web-related things. By spring of 2002 I had a virtual web site for my writers' group well underway. My HTML skills were years out of date, but thanks to some excellent online tutorials, I began picking up the latest. Thanks to other web-programming sites, I began to understand more of programs that made stuff work. With 20 years of substantial programming under my belt, the web programs were pretty straightforward.
A few days after my layoff Bet asked me if I was still intending to consult eventually. I was vague, saying something like, “I probably will think about it when my shoulder is better.” In fact, I'd begun a web job hunt the next Saturday afternoon, September 29th.
Besides the countless dot.com people out beating the bushes, shrubs, grasses, and gopher holes, Boeing had slashed thousands of skilled labor jobs-- mechanics and engineers immediately following 9/11. Not only that, but I needed something I could do working from my home office. While the politicians in DC insisted that economic recovery was underway-- that this latest recession almost didn't deserve that name--from my vantage point things still looked bleak.
Toward the middle of November, 2001, I was beyond being bored out of my skull. Engineers have the deserved reputation of being first-hired and first-fired and over the years there were several times when I'd been between jobs. But those times had been filled with fierce scrambles toward a new job. Due to the shoulder destruction finding another job was all but impossible. Searching via the web and through my network of “virtual friends” turned up virtually nothing.
Circumstances prevented my going on to college after high school, so I decided to make it as a free-lancer writer the following year. Not since I had began free-lancing in April, 1963 had I been this still, felt this useless. I was staying as busy as my shoulder would permit; I was staying as close to the leading edge of computer technology as possible, and writing, and reading... but the final analysis was brutal. My income-earning days were history--barring infinite medical miracles and significant changes in human nature.
For the third time in my life I stood at a major crossroads. At the start of my autumn years it was up to me to find a new path, a third path. My last hurrah, whatever that was, would be as completely different from computer engineering as that was from free-lance writing.
One Sunday evening, mouse-clicking around the web, I happened upon a university site and saw a link to their “Distance Learning” courses.
I felt a flood of warmth surge through me as I clicked on that link to see what courses they might have in Philosophy. I had taken a fascinating survey course in philosophy at Ohio State in 1967, although reading Plato during my senior English year in high school was what whetted my interest. There was something about philosophy that grabbed me--it was an interest that was second only to my love of the bio-sciences then. Because pursuing any formal study of philosophy was utterly impractical, I had dropped it. Instead, over the years, through the 1970's and 80's and 90's, I had studied philosophy on my own. My studies were haphazard and undisciplined. Still I had a recurrent fantasy that after I had retired at age 65 or 70, perhaps I would take some college correspondence courses in Philosophy. Maybe I would be able to attend on-campus classes and earn, formally, a second Bachelor's, then go on for a Master's. Obviously, this would be pointless from an economic standpoint... but so what? By 65 or 70 I would have paid my dues in full.
Now I followed a series of hypertext links at this university site ... and found that they offered only one distance learning Philosophy course. A survey course.
After a few more hours I investigated at least two dozen more colleges and universities across the US. Not one had more than five undergraduate courses, most of them introductory.
On my own, I searched out schools that supposedly offered BA degrees in Philosophy. No joy. That left one alternative: the reference department at the library. Within a few days, Karen Hardimann sent me pages of schools with course descriptions.
Again, not much luck in the North American continent, but thanks to the lists and an email suggestion from the head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan and a nod from Bet, I wound up contacting the University of Wales.
“Here are two universities that offer post-grad degrees,” I told Bet. One's in South Africa, the other is in Wales.”
She pointed to the listing at the University of Wales, Lampeter. “Why not try there?”
So I did.
There was endless paperwork, getting my transcripts from Berkeley, requesting help from friends near and far to vouch that I was qualified to be a postgraduate student at Lampeter.
Penny Gerking, who was the facilitator at the writers' group, both friend and mentor, volunteered to be one referee. David Patterson, one of my former profs and a leading computer architect said, “Sure, no problem,” when I asked him to be my other. Dave agreed during the Christmas break (2001) although it took a few email taps on the shoulder before he got around to it.
I am not likely to impress the world with some new and grand philosophical paradigm. I've given it my best shot through my contributions in the open-source computing world over the years. And I'm ready to step back into that arena with the hope that I can contribute further: if and when.
My topics included capital punishment, suicide, euthanasia, and other life and death topics. This kind of intellectual granularity is new and challenging. For example, the many flavors of suicide.
Ethics has been an integral part of philosophy since Socratic times. Ethicists have had a profound influence not only in religious and legal matters, but, naturally, in what has become the generally accepted moral and ethical standard.
The late professor of surgery, Sherwin Nuland, wrote about the myriad facets of death and life and the new concerns coming to the fore. In How We Die, Nuland says that these issues merit the attention and the scrutiny “not only of philosophers and scientists but of all of us.” On these matters Nuland writes, “the clinical and the moral are never so far apart that we can look at one without seeing the other.” (page 162)
Issues like these have been on my mental back burners for many year. Before my philosophy studies these issues were rather nebulous and ill-defined. No longer... .
In the final analysis, studying philosophy was right for me, for my heart, for my soul. This may be the first time since I stomped in mud puddles when I was seven that I'll have followed a path for the simple joy of doing it. There was something amiss at the University of Wales system--at least at Lampeter--because it was well over seven years before my 22,000-word paper was accepted in late 2009. The diploma was sent in the mail the following July. I expected the degree to proclaim that I had been awared an MA in ETHICS or BIOETHICS. Nope. The certificate simply stated that I had been admitted to an MA in "The Ethics of life and Death." Well, fine.
It was the first dipolma I ever framed. And almost certainly the last!