Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for September 2019

Comparative, superlative, and correct thinking

leave a comment »

During my visits to Sweden, I re-encountered some old grammar material, including the old bull-shit that a comparative compares two entities and a superlative three or more.

This is a good example of how undue dumbing-down* can hurt the students’ ability to think correctly and to gain a correct understanding of the matter:

*Or is the teacher or book author that lacking in own understanding?

The respective character of the comparative and superlative is quite different, and the above descriptions are outright contrary to accepted use:*

*I make some reservations for different situations in different languages, but this applies to at least Swedish, German, and English.

The comparative compares with no regard for numbers. For instance, all of the following are grammatically correct: “I am taller than Tom, Dick, and Harry.”, “I and Tom are taller than Dick and Harry.”, “I, Tom, and Dick are taller than Harry.” Equally correct is: “No-one among the four whose name begins with a ‘Q’ is taller than I am.”—even though there is no object to compare “I”/“me” with. Even dropping to comparing nothing to nothing is possible: “No woman taller than fifty feet is shorter than any man taller than sixty feet.”*

*There are neither women nor men of that size. Note that the paradoxical statement is actually truthful, not just grammatically correct, as long as at least one of the sets is empty.

In contrast, the superlative makes a statement about who in a certain set has a certain characteristic to the highest degree. For instance, “I am the tallest of us four.” says that “I” have the characteristic of being tall to a higher degree than any other element of this set of four. Again, this applies with no regard for numbers: “Out of Tom and Dick, Tom is the tallest.” implies a comparison between two entities—the alleged realm of the comparative. Indeed, even “Out of those among the four whose name begins with a ‘T’, Tom is the tallest.” is correct, despite an implied comparison involving just a single entity. In the same one-person set, Tom is obviously also the shortest, oldest, youngest, thinnest, fattest, best and worst educated, … (It could be argued, however, that the superlative fails on empty sets, due to the resulting weakness of formulation. If so, I would see it more as a matter of syntax than of logic, in that the concept extends to empty sets but is harder to formulate using e.g. English.)

From another perspective, it might* be sensible to view the comparative as comparing two** different sets and the superlative as discussing one single set. (In which case the “two vs. three” thinking is turned into “two vs. one”.) For instance, “I am taller than Tom, Dick, and Harry.” could be seen as “Everyone in set A is taller than everyone in set B, where set A consists of me and set B consists of Tom, Dick, and Harry.”. (And so on, for the other above examples.) The superlative formulation “I am the tallest of us four.”, in contrast, amounts to “In the set A, I am the tallest element, where set A consists of me, Tom, Dick, and Harry.”. Here we also see the futility of thinking in terms of the number of individual elements, as any of these sets could contain 0***, 1, 2, 3, or e.g. 534 elements.

*Reservations: (a) This might be a too abstract approach for people without prior exposure to set theory. (b) This is a spur-of-the-moment idea, which might have weaknesses that I am not yet aware of. (c) The implied use of “taller” on two levels of recursion in this paragraph should be understandable, but would be unsuitable for a formal definition.

**An extension to more than two might seem plausible in as far as e.g. “All elements of the set A are taller than all the elements of set B and C.” is an acceptable formulation. However, this is still better seen, I suspect, as a comparison between just two sets, one of them being the union of B and C.

***With the above reservation for the superlative and empty sets.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 16, 2019 at 11:36 am

Problems with books in the public domain

leave a comment »

We live in a world where great amounts of text, including by many great past authors, are in the public domain and also actually available on the Internet.

I still find myself constantly frustrated. Part of the benefit is removed by (often entirely unnecessary or arbitrary) artificial restrictions. Sometimes, all of it is removed.

For instance:

  1. Project Gutenberg, the leading source for several decades, is blocked entirely for German IPs—and has been so for several years.*

    *The reason is a German court decision relating to a small number of books. See a discussion by Project Gutenberg, including the reason for a blanket block.

    Downloading from Project Gutenberg using Tor is not possible either, at least not the last time that I checked.

  2. Germany is also otherwise weak, when we look at alternatives like e.g. Wikisource compared to the English, often even Swedish, counter-parts.

    A particular problem is a pseudo-Gutenberg provider, Gutenberg-DE*, which has killed part of the market with a for-profit site and a borderline unusable web-interface. The last time I tried, it did not even work with JavaScript on…

    *I provide no link, because the site does not deserve the traffic.

  3. Poor interfaces are not restricted to Gutenberg-DE (or Germany): Many sites that provide free books only work with JavaScript activated and provide no ability to download books for offline reading. Indeed, they often work on the assumption that the website should be used as a virtual eBook reader, one page at a time…

    Not only is this user hostile, but it also severely limits the options for those who do not want to expose their computers to the risks of JavaScript.

  4. Even sites that provide better options and an ability to download, however, are often highly limiting through artificial divisions. Even Wikisource usually insists on dividing texts into one chapter per HTML-page. If a book has thirty chapters, they then have to be downloaded individually, be it manually or per script, and then merged into a single document. Even the reader who reads in a browser still has to open all thirty chapters individually…

    True: this might still be less effort than going to a bookstore, even price aside, but why not just allow a download as a single document? It is a one-time effort for the provider (often even less effort than providing more HTML-pages), but it saves effort for reader after reader after reader.

    Many even have a division of one book-page (!) per HTML-page, as with most entries on the Swedish Projekt Runeberg.* The reader might now have to open several hundred links to read a book…

    *Not to be confused with the above item, where the standard is to navigate the book pages per JavaScript in a single HTML page.

  5. Often, the best download option is provided by sites that are on the darknet and/or also provide illegal contents, as with The Imperial Library of Trantor*. However, these automatically put the burden of copyright investigation on the downloader, and even the download of a text which is in the public domain in principle can be shady, because the specific edition provided might have further restrictions.** I typically only use these to read something that I could read for free on e.g. Wikisource, but strongly wish to read offline.

    *I provide no link for legal reasons. Also note that it is only (?) accessible through Tor. No part of this text should be seen as an endorsement.

    **I have not investigated the legal situation in detail, but I suspect that e.g. old works with a new foreword or an extensive commentary might be problematic. I would not rule out that even new cover-work could cause problems.

Excursion on varying copyright:
Varying copyright rules between different countries is another complication. This is e.g. the cause of the problems with Project Gutenberg and Germany above, because Project Gutenberg uses U.S. copyright law, while a reader in Germany underlies German law. The reader in the U.S., in turn, might have to be careful when visiting an Australian site. The combination of the often excessive copyright lengths and different laws can lead to absurd situations, e.g. in that a tourist might legally download a book in a visited country but not his home country. If he travels back with it, he would either* break copyright law or force another absurd situation, in that physical travel would overcome the difference in legislation, making this difference the more preposterous. Then again, if he downloads a greater quantity of books during the vacation and is caught in a police raid back home, how is he to prove that the download and “import” was legal?

*I do not know what the typical legal regulation is. A similar situation would apply to physical books, however, which makes me suspect that the second alternative is more common.

Unfortunately, barring an unlikely global harmonization, there are no good solutions. For instance, going by nationality or nation of residence could lead to two people reading the same book next to each other, the one violating copyright law and the other keeping it. Taking the lesser of the copyright durations applying to the reader’s and the website’s respective location might be a way, but this opens the door for “country shopping”—possibly, including countries with next to no copyright protection. Taking the greater duration would keep most of the paradoxes. Etc.

In some cases and some jurisdictions, there might be significantly reduced criteria for downloads (as opposed to uploads) or specific forms of downloads, e.g. streaming. I deliberately ignore this possibility above. (In part, because the research would be enormous; in part, because I consider such restrictions highly dubious. Why would it, e.g., matter whether I watch a video as a stream or do a regular download, watch it once, and then delete the file?)

Disclaimer:
I have not verified that described behaviors and examples are present at the time of writing. Changes for the better might have occurred.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 11, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

The benefits of learning the craft

with 4 comments

Disclaimer: This text started with the title “The benefits of learning the craft and knowing when to break the rules”. As the implied sub-topics grew, partially influenced by a few comments on an older text ([1]), I decided to split it into two parts (of which this is the first). There might be overlooked mistakes in references, problems with structure, or similar, that arose from the late division.

Reading The Craftsmanship of Writing (cf. [1]) brings me to the importance of developing deeper skills of the craft before getting carried away with the art or, in a work-setting, being content with one’s ability. This goes hand in hand with actually putting in an effort, going through training, continuing developing activities even when they are boring,* etc.

*I have heard the claim that the main difference between elite male and female golfers is not e.g. length of drive, but the much greater number of hours that the men have spent training putting. I do not vouch for this being true, but it would be an excellent example of such a developing activity.

For instance, when I worked in IT, I met many who had five or ten years of experience, but still moved on a level of accomplishment that I had surpassed within my first year—because I actually strove to be good at what I did. (E.g. through spending time reading books on relevant topics and actually thinking.) Similarly, some years ago, I made a switch from Java to PL/SQL. I was dropped straight into a project, compensated for my limited* knowledge of PL/SQL and Oracle by spending the half-hour train-ride in the morning reading and doing the same on the way back in the evening—on top of the work-day. If the time allowed it, I also tried to squeeze in some study during the lunch break. Within weeks (!), I had surpassed the level of some of the weakest permanent employees, and by the end of the project I was considered one of the most knowledgeable on the team. Had I worked miracles? No: some others had just spent years without ever picking up a book.

*My then employer had exaggerated my previous knowledge and experience considerably towards the customer.

For instance, many who take up writing, painting, whatnot, appear to want to jump straight to the “art”—and are the worse for it. Not only do they severely limit their own practical options, but a deeper knowledge, ideally mastery, of the craft would also have given them more insight into the artistic aspects.

Looking at painting, Monet was considered a rebel and sometimes condemned as incompetent by the art establishment of his younger years. However, he did not just pick up a brush to paint a sunrise. No, he actually spent years in traditional art school, before which he had gained considerable experience e.g. drawing caricatures, starting at a fairly tender age. As proved by some more conventional early works, he did have a mastery of the craft of painting and he was fully capable of painting e.g. a traditional, quality still-life. Later on, he spent years or decades developing his new techniques. (The “perspiration” aspect of genius is also often forgotten…)

Looking at music, the Beatles spent a significant portion of their early career playing in German clubs—for many hours a day, day in and day out. Contemporaries claim that the Beatles that returned from Germany were levels above the Beatles that originally left. Only the post-Germany Beatles were good enough to launch the career that followed—after having learned the craft. Indeed, one of the claimed* reasons for the removal of Pete Best is that he did not develop like the others did. Lennon/McCartney might or might not have had a successful career as song writers without these many, many hours, but the Beatles would certainly have been a footnote in history. Moreover, the “artistic” or “creative” aspect of their music grew over time, even post-breakthrough.

*There are several conflicting claims and I cannot guarantee the truth.

Now, I have never even attempted to go through a complete list of successful “rebels” and paradigm changers—but almost every time that I have read up on one in the past, I have found an extensive amount of training. Only very rarely, if ever, is their success a matter of just raw genius. When we look at those considered all-time-greats (whether rebels or not), very extensive training from an early age is very common. (Mozart is a well-known example.)

It is true that the training is not always formal, that many are self-trained, and that the training need not be there at the beginning of a career. (Cf. the Beatles.) I would even argue that a too school-like training can be counter-productive, especially for those of great potential.* However, to expect success or accomplishment without mastering the craft is highly optimistic.

*Cf. earlier discussions of education topics, e.g. [2].

Literature might seem to be an area of exception, in that some highly unexpected writers reach great success with little sign of skills. However, this success is usually* based on catering to the broad masses, often specifically female readers, often in the form of “porn for women”, as with e.g. “Twilight” or “Fifty Shades of Gray”.** Such success is not necessarily related to literary value or value of any kind beyond cheapest entertainment. Often the core is simply being able to know what will move certain readers***. Consider Gordon Korman: I read (and re-read) a few of his “MacDonald Hall” books in the 1980s, while laughing myself silly. During my visits to Sweden I re-read them and was torn between amusement and horror. On the one hand, there were a few good laughs even for adult me (not as many and not as intense, but I will not deny that I did laugh out loud a few times); on the other, the stories and some characters were so exaggerated and unlikely that they felt like the work of a teenager.**** Even some things that I remembered laughing at in the 1980s only seemed silly now. Except for the considerable nostalgic value, I would likely not have continued the reading. Visiting the linked-to Wikipedia page, I find that the books were written by a teenager… Korman likely combined a great deal of talent, even be it immature and undeveloped, with an understanding of what he, at the time, would have loved to read. This, in turn, matched what many other boys of the same age loved to read—but not necessarily what middle-aged men love to read.

*For a partially different example, see an excursion on Terry Pratchett below.

**Disclaimer: I have read neither and go by reputation.

***Which is a virtue, but only rarely a source of a higher value than entertainment.

****Note the lesson that over-thinking the logic, continuity, realism, whatnot, of something can be harmful: If the target audience does not appreciate the difference between e.g. the logical and the illogical, the author could unnecessarily limit himself. Then again, it can be hard to know when someone will complain: I was annoyed at continuity errors in my Donald Duck comics even as a small child, e.g. when Gyro Gearloose invented a “first” time machine or a space ship for the umpteenth time, or when Goofy sometimes had super powers and sometimes not.

Excursion on Terry Pratchett:
For a great many years, Terry Pratchett was my favorite author—mostly because of his great sense of humor and his vivid imagination, but also because he often wrote books that provided food for thought. (Unlike e.g. Tom Holt, another highly popular writer of comic fantasy, and J. K. Rowling, who both seem almost exclusively focused on the entertainment aspects.) In at least one case, “Small Gods”, I would have considered the book highly worth reading even entertainment value aside.

It might be tempting to view Pratchett as another Korman*, just with a target audience ten or fifteen years older. However, while his success might have had a similar root, he reached a far higher level of “literary” accomplishment, which makes him a partial counter-example: He did this without having mastered large parts of the craft of writing, including grammar and style, and (for more literary purposes) e.g. plot and character. His plots were often haphazard or mixed things borrowed** fairly directly from other works; his characters were often charming and fitting their respective roles, but most were quite shallow and one-dimensional.

*Measured by the Korman books that I have read. Going by Wikipedia, he has written a great many later books as an adult, and the comparison between teenage Korman and adult Pratchett might be unfair. Pratchett certainly grew more skillful over time.

**Likely intended as homages or joking references. Often, as with “Wyrd Sisters” and “Maskerade”, the borrowing was obviously intended to be recognized.

Still, his books would have been better, had he had a greater mastery of the craft. He could have written books that did not just gain success through comedy (and often fairly cheap comedy, at that), but were actually taken seriously in literary circles, were his deeper thoughts and ideas gained a wider readership of actual appreciators*.

*As opposed to the many who just read him for the entertainment and never thought deeper on the contents of the books.

Similarly, he got away with not writing in chapters*—but did his books benefit from not having chapters? Might they not have been ever-so-slightly better with chapters? Indeed, the few books that he did write in chapters were often of a higher quality. (But likely because of correlation, not causation.)

*This example should be seen in light of his book jackets often proudly proclaiming “Complete amateur, doesn’t even write in chapters” (or something very similar; presumably, from an early review). The quote makes the example irresistible to me in the context of mastery of the craft.

As an aside, I find it amusing, even paradoxical, that Pratchett, himself, spoke positively of his background as a journalist and how it had helped him with the craft of writing (not necessarily using those words). My feelings about what passes for good writing among journalists is no secret…

Excursion on mastery not being enough:
A reverse fallacy is quite common, in that someone who has mastered the craft, earned a diploma, put in a lot of hard work, or similar, is expected to excel. Very often, this will fail due to a lack of inborn talent, e.g. in that an additional educational level (e.g. high school, bachelor, master) does not remedy an IQ deficit, that more musical training does not turn a Salieri into a Mozart, etc. More generally, I suspect that there is a common fallacy of assuming that “X is A and Q; ergo, A leads to Q”, without looking into the true connections and, especially, without considering whether X might also be B and C.

Excursion on the wrong type of learning:
It is often important to learn the right aspects of the craft. For instance, if anecdotally*, graduates from a Swedish high-school design/media/whatnot program were found useless by the intended employers, because they had spent three years learning various programs—but never relevant theory, principles, etc. This matches my own IT experiences, in that many seem to believe that just learning a particular program or programming language is all that is needed—which goes a long way to explain why their work was quite poor. I would take a beginner in a given language who understands topics like modularization, separation of concerns, the importance of maintainability, …, over a language expert who has no clue about software development. (And, yes, during my own Java-to-PL/SQL switch, most of the general skills and understanding that I had developed carried over.)

*I read about this situation some fifteen or twenty years ago. Unfortunately, I do not remember the details.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2019 at 2:29 pm

The disappointing hero

leave a comment »

This week, I have read (increasingly, skimmed) about half of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, ending with the chapter “Initiation”. Again, I find that a work that has been highly lauded, has had a great impact on thought, whatnot, is poorly reasoned, poorly written, and unconvincing.* I will not bother with the remainder.

*Disclaimer: There might or might not be more worthwhile content in the latter parts of the book.

A fatal flaw of this particular book is the psychoanalytic framework that Campbell imposes on the material, including a near obsession with sexual acts, Oedipal themes, and similar, as well as using cherry-picked dreams as support for his thesis and engaging in Jungian mysticism.* In his defense, psychoanalysis was taken much more seriously when the book was written than it is today, but even accepting a psychoanalytical framework, I suspect, the book would not stand up well to scientific scrutiny. For instance, giving examples of superficially similar stories (that might or might not have a common mental origin) or even stories with just some similar aspect** from various parts of the world, is not very convincing. How does the reader know that these stories are not (like the dreams) cherry-picked? If they are, what do they prove? Even if truly universal themes can be found, can we conclude that they go back to Campbell’s explanations? The reasoning used is usually thin, unconvincing, or specious.

*I originally intended to say that he was trying to force a square mythological peg into a round psychoanalytic hole, but that too might have been sexualized by someone like Campbell…

**I have not analyzed examples in detail, but looking back, I would particularly say that the proportion of the stories that cover even most of the entire suggested “hero’s journey” is quite small. However, the similar aspect need not even relate to one of the stations of the arc, but might well be something like presence of bodily fluids.

To boot, the information density is quite low, because most of the book appears to consist of the unreflecting retelling of myths, myth fragments, dreams, tribal customs, and similar, which seem intended to serve as proof more than illustration. It seems to be a disease in the social sciences to cover a lack of convincing arguments by just increasing the mass of text…

There might be a greater underlying principle (but then likely not psychoanalytic)—or there might be a whole lot of coincidence. (Or cherry-picking, or whatnot.) I might suggest a conclusion like “human brains have a tendency to enjoy or be fascinated with certain story elements, because they are ‘wired’ hat way”—but that would have been my claim even without reading Campbell’s book… From another perspective, at least parts of the “monomyth” just seem like natural narrative choices, e.g. in that putting a hero in an unaccustomed environment gives greater opportunities than having him remain in his familiar environment, or that a journey gives more opportunities for diverse encounters than a non-journey.

The same book written as a study on comparative mythology, the psychology of mythology, or similar, with a more scientific approach, could have been a very worthwhile read. Ditto, as a study of the characteristics of successful stories. As it is written, it is mostly pointless.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2019 at 11:51 am

My current noise situation / renewed renovations II

leave a comment »

After my last text on renovations, things improved a fair bit and the last few weeks have been somewhat OK. The works often started early or went late, but there were no machine noises and very little hammering. Indeed, just wearing ear-plugs often made the noises ignorable.

Yesterday, a large stretch of the morning was so quite, that I believed the works to finally be ended, after possibly four months… It was the first working-day of a new month, and, possibly, they were done and the offending apartment now handed over to new tenants.

No, just like the last time I thought the works to be ended ([1]), it was the calm before the storm: 09:40 a very loud drilling (or similar) started. When the drilling stopped, hammering started, when the hammering stopped, drilling started, … It was not as bad as in [1], but far worse than in many weeks. Around 10:25, I fled the building, and remained away until (by coincidence) exactly 15:00. The disturbance was still ongoing. Only some time after* 18:20 silence finally ensued.

*How long, I do not know: this was the time of my last note.

Today, It was silent well past 09:40, and I had renewed hopes. Possibly, they had done last minute work yesterday, and were now finally done? Again, no: 10:45 this bullshit started again. For now, I try to slug it out and, fortunately, there are long pauses with lesser amounts of noise. But: If I, again, have to spend a major part of each day outside my apartment, my literary efforts will be severely hampered.

I have managed to make one improvement compared to the past, however. White-noise was not very effectual, largely because most of the disturbances are at a low frequency resp. a long wave-length.* Using the tool “sox”, I have prepared a one-hour file of brown noise, which is stronger on lower frequencies and works better (but is still far from perfect).

*If in doubt, higher frequencies will be swallowed better by the walls, which might also partially explain why ear-plugs and similar are not that satisfactory: The sounds that get through the walls are the same sounds that tend to get through the ear-plugs.

Shortly after my last text, I wrote down a number of sub-topics for further discussion, but the relative silence made me forget them. Because I am revisiting the topic:

  1. In [1] I was highly skeptical to the “Mittagsruhe”, as oddly timed, pointless, or even damaging. A possible explanation is that it was intended for sleep: Today’s typical schedules make it hard to not be awake through-out the day and sleep solely during the night. This was not always so, and the Mittagsruhe would fit a scenario with a longer post-meal nap reasonably well. Still, today, it remains mostly pointless.

    As a further complication, the Mittagsruhe applies only to private individuals, e.g. if the owner or the tenant performs works himself. For hired professionals, it does not apply. (I was not aware of this when I wrote [1].) This makes the Mittagsruhe the more pointless. It can also increase the harm further, because the harassed parties will only very rarely have any prior information as to who performs the work, which makes planning that much harder. (Indeed, it could very well be both owner and professionals on different days and for different tasks …)

  2. A major problem with the crisis situation described in [1], was that I had no recourse and no contacts. Due to the extreme loudness, I was not even able to tell which apartment was the source. I certainly had no idea of who was employed to do the work and by whom. These, too, are facts that should always be announced in order to facilitate protests and, in extreme cases, legal actions. Here, if I had grown so desperate as to e.g. file for an injunction, it might have taken me weeks to even find out against whom
  3. Some type of upper limit on work per house (or some other criterion) and year should be instituted, e.g. that the sum of all works above some decibel limit must not exceed two months and above some higher limit not two weeks.
  4. A compensation scheme should be in place so that the offending party must cover damages to others, e.g. through paying for alternate accommodation. As is, only a part of the cost falls on the party that reaps the entire benefit, which leads to highly suboptimal decision making from a societal point of view. (Even discounting the great injustice.) Also cf. a more general discussion.
  5. Some rough equivalent of “habeas corpus” might be beneficial for long running works, where the disturber has to demonstrate in court that sufficient permissions are present, that sufficient anti-noise measures are being taken, etc. If he fails, the works must be interrupted.
  6. Too loud noises should unequivocally be considered equivalent to physical assault* and result in both a right to self-defense and the possibility to file criminal charges. This includes any case where the pain-threshold is exceed for a non-trivial time**, highly exceeded for even a short time, or when the combination of loudness and duration can cause hearing damage. The extreme and extremely prolonged loudness described in [1] is a definite such case. Another case, from my personal experiences, was when a train conductor blew a whistle a shoulder’s width from my ear, with not one single word of warning. Certainly, I would rather take a slap in the face than relive the events of [1]. Indeed, without counter-measures, I would certainly take the slap over the current situation.

    *Depending on the severity and the correct legalese, some other term, e.g. “battery”, might be better suited.

    **Hitting the breaks of a car might move the sound into the lower ranges of pain, but only for a very short time.

  7. There should be no government subsidies and only very limited tax deductions available for this type of work. They are often to the sole benefit of the apartment owner and the workers; often a negative for the tenants (of the apartment), who see a rent hike for “improvements” that they do not necessarily want; and a negative for everyone else. Moreover, they remove resources from the building of new apartments—the low rate of which is a major problem in e.g. Germany. There is a lack of construction workers, plumbers, electricians, …, and when they spend time doing renovations instead of building new houses, the rate of building is lowered and the general price level is pushed upwards. Moreover, those who want to invest are more likely to do so by purchasing and/or renovating apartments in a setup where renovations are subsidized, and correspondingly less likely to invest in building something new.

Note that some of these items could have positive effects e.g. through works being done in 3 weeks with ten men instead of 3 months with two.

Excursion on noise cancellation:
In theory, noise cancellation might work well on this type of low frequency. It might be something worth testing later. I used to own a pair of noise-canceling head-phones, the Bose QC25, but they eventually broke during my many journeys and I did not reinvest: they did a lousy job where I needed them most at that time—blocking the overly loud, hyper-annoying, constant PA announcements on German trains and railway stations.* Indeed, because they let most speech through while blocking most background noise, they might even have made the situation worse… Ear-plugs did a better job—and a pair of ear-plugs costs less than a Euro**, while the QC25 were at least 200 Euro. Was the life-time of the QC25 equal to two or three hundred ear-plugs? I doubt it. (But, in all fairness, the sound was quite good.)

*A problem with noise cancellation is that it has (has had?) problems coping with the faster reactions needed to neutralize higher frequencies, which lets speech through with too little blocking.

**Even assuming e.g. a German drug store as source. They might be cheaper elsewhere or in bulk buys.

Excursion on the economics of renovations:
An interesting issue is the comparatively poor economics of (extensive) renovations. They can easily cost tens of thousands of Euro. Hypothetically, let a renovation cost thirty thousand and allow a later average net earnings increase of 100 Euro/month. This implies that it will take 300 months or 25 years to get the money back—and after 25 years, another renovation would almost certainly be needed… Here we can also see the danger of subsidies and tax breaks that make such propositions artificially more attractive… (Disclaimer: The starting numbers are off-the-top-of-my-head guesses. They need not reflect reality in detail—but they do correctly demonstrate the principle. Even a highly optimistic 300 extra a month for the same investment leads to 100 months, for instance. Even getting back the rent lost during renovations might take years…)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 3, 2019 at 1:19 pm