I did not decide to go home just out of the blue. The fact is that I have been wanting to go home since the day my son Cris died, more than 8 years ago. I have been telling my friends about this desire, but none of them took it seriously because the desire faded away whenever I started talking about it.
Three years ago a very interesting idea occurred to me about how to process images coming in from a digital camera. Graphics cards have become so powerful that 3D games have gained enough realism to engage the players’ full visual attention. You could now almost feel wet when you dive into the simulated water surface. Explosions are not just movie frames anymore, but each frame computed so that each particle and object in the explosion is simulated in millisecond increments. Textures are mapped to surfaces in similar real-time increments. My idea was to simply model a world, render that world using the same technology that 3D games use, and track the position and pose of a camera (that exists in the same world) by comparing frames from the camera to rendered images. I applied for a patent to protect the idea in November, 2005. My employer was not interested in the idea.
I want to build such a camera localization system, and I believe the only way I can do it without other people’s money is to live in a place where living expenses are one sixth they are in the U.S. This is my main motivation for going home. I have been preparing my wife Eureka for this possibility for a year now: she has no desire to go back home, and in fact has cried a number of times whenever she realized it was fruitless to make me change my mind. Recently she has finally accepted the decision and has thrown herself headlong into it. My five-year old daughter Kristin is still apprehensive about the whole idea. (We have gone home on several occasions since she was a year old, and each time she got sick after a week of stay in Cebu.)
Until my boss fired me on October 16th of 2008 I was a software engineer, a permanent employee at Microsoft, in the IT division. This just hit me like a rock: being fired for "low performance" is equivalent to a death sentence in this career. This single event in my life sealed the decision to go home. Nobody seemed to want to hire me even as a contractor, and the one interview question that always stumped me was "Why did you leave Microsoft?" Unable to to get a contractual job, I was worried that if I lingered too long in the U.S. without a job, I was going to deplete my cash. I wanted to go home to Cebu pronto, but Eureka convinced me to stay until she obtained her U.S. citizenship. Our departure date is now set to sometime in February.
Part of the reason Eureka finally agreed to go is that I have built some software assets that should earn us some immediate income. I have just submitted a set of apps to Apple’s iPhone App Center. I bought my iPhone just before Microsoft fired me. (I would not have bought it after losing my job.) I wanted to return it, but on November 4th Barack Obama won the presidency and suddenly I had a strong urge to listen to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk shows. Now there are two ways to download Rush’s daily dose of MP3 files to my iPhone: one is to use my PC and run iTunes on it, and the other is to use the iPhone browser. Either way was very cumbersome: if I used iTunes, I had to first download the files to my PC, and then copy the files from the PC to the iPhone using a USB umbilical cord. Using the Safari browser allowed me to take advantage of iPhone’s 3G or WiFi connection to download the files directly, but getting to Rush’s web site, logging-in, navigating to the location of the MP3 files, and finally downloading them was not the way the iPhone was meant to be used (it should take on average three or four taps to get what you want on the iPhone). It was this inconvenience that gave birth to a simple product idea, replicated for every conservative talk show with an accompanying web site and podcast. Now, I can start listening to a Rush Limbaugh episode in just a couple of taps. As of this writing, Apple is still testing the apps, and I still do not know whether they would earn me some money at all. Eureka is pessimistic, but sometimes I can sense some optimism as well. I will make the same apps available to users of Blackberry and Windows Mobile as well.