Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘experience

Frozen-bubble II

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After a recent text relating to frozen-bubble ([1]), I have spent some time actually playing the game again.

During play, a number of other observations (mostly: re-)occurred to me, many with a wider applicability, including:*

*While I give examples, understanding the examples is not necessary to understand the individual point. Note that levels mentioned are not necessarily the best illustrations, just ones found through quick checks. Moreover, note that while levels with higher numbers tend to be harder, individual levels can deviate considerably, e.g. in that level 70 is likely the hardest, while some of the 9x levels are reasonably easy.

  1. An intensive involvement with a certain activity, including computer games, can be a great source of self-knowledge, e.g. how one reacts when, what errors one tends to make, how one handles stress, … Similarly, it can be a form of training for at least some of the discovered problems. I have learned particularly much about myself from playing “Battle of Wesnoth”. This strengthens my opinion that it is important to build depth first and breadth second (cf. e.g. [2]).

    (I strongly suspect that something similar is behind some Japanese activities that straddle the border between activity and mediation.)

  2. Looking at levels, there is a difference between “average” difficulty and difficulty when having good or bad luck—something notable in many other games too. Some levels are just plain difficult, irrespective of luck (unless it is absolutely outrageous), while others are easy or difficult depending on random events. For instance, level 65 can be completed with two single shots—if the first two (randomly colored) balls in the “gun” happen to be orange. (And if the player happens to have good nerves…) On the other hand, with a more typical series of balls, it can be quite hard—and with “poor” balls it can rival level 70.

    Level 86, in contrast, is very easy on a “normal” day, with even somewhat reasonable balls, but can turn into a nightmare when no blue shot appears over a prolonged time.

    Similarly, an easier level can be less tolerant of errors than a harder level, especially in the first few shots—something that seems to correlate mostly with how low down the balls reach at the beginning of the level. (Something that might be a partial explanation for the “cursed” games from [1]: An early screw-up and a bit of poor luck leads to a first failure, I make a second attempt with a little more adrenaline, and see a repeat, etc.)

  3. The best sign of greater skill is not manifested through being able to complete a level at all, but to be able to do so with more consistency and even when playing poorly (relative a base level). Even a comparatively poor player can get by level 70 with the right mixture of luck and “being in the zone”—but the better player is much more likely to do so with few attempts.
  4. The best approach to a certain level can depend on the amount of luck. For instance, look at level 65 again: If orange balls appear fairly early, the best approach is typically to just avoid blocking the orange “line of fire”, and then to let the two orange balls kill half the field each. However, if orange balls come later, the best approach is to play the level more-or-less like any other. The problem: The set of balls to fire is (excepting the next two) not known in advance, making a perfect choice of approach impossible, which forces the player to find some compromise between using an approach suitable for more likely eventualities, hedging his bets, and risking failure when sufficiently “wrong” balls appear. (In addition to, obviously, adapting as the level develops.) In the case of a sufficiently hard level, where more than one try is usually needed anyway, it might even pay to play under the assumption of a certain set of balls, and then play the level repeatedly until this set actually does appear. (But I have no recollection of actually having done so myself.)
  5. Some of what I have learned about game play has had an accidental component, in that I have seen the fired ball do something* unexpected, which I have later been able to duplicate deliberately.

    *A trivial example is the first time I saw a ball bounce of a wall—likely on the first or second level of my very first session. A more notable is firing a ball between other balls, when there is a one ball space, but even a slight imprecision causes the ball to “stick” rather than pass through. A quite surprising one is that, on level 98, either one of the two lower “bunches” can be taken down with a single shot, even in the state at the beginning of the game (assuming that the ball to fire is white respectively blue).

  6. A shift of perspective has often led to an unexpected, temporary improvement in level of play, e.g. playing with the game at an unaccustomed screen position*. This might be a result of increased concentration and less self-confidence. I have similarly made the experience that I can (in general) work quite well when a bit tipsy, because I am more focused than normally—I know that I am not at the peak of my mental capacity and try harder to compensate. (Not to be confused with the misjudgment of ability that can also follow drink. Of course, the best approach is to be perfectly sober and focused…)

    *There is a full-screen mode, but I prefer to play with a smaller “windowed” game that covers just a quarter-or-so of the screen area.

    This overlaps with e.g. a text on how easy tasks can be harder than hard tasks.

  7. In at least one case, which shot is hard and which easy has changed places: In my early days, I had great problems with shooting a ball through a one-ball gap—normally, it just got stuck in the gap. Today, I have great problems making it stick—it often goes through even when I want it to stick. (Note that getting through is what I want to do in the clear majority of cases, which makes this the more accustomed shot and might also cause an unconscious thought of a sticky shot being poor.)

    A similar effect is present on the entire level 39: With some experience and skill, I could easily shot off the most of the elongated bunch with my first shot by bouncing a ball on the wall and into the right “slot”, and be done in a very short time. With much more experience and skill, I find myself constantly missing the easy-on-paper shots involved, making it take longer than in the past. (But I cannot recall the last time I actually failed on this level.)

    (Through an unrelated effect, I am less likely to get through level 70 today, despite being a better player: with less experience, I usually played it again and again until I got through; today, I rarely bother to give it more than a single try.)

  8. While playing faster is usually good, and being able to play faster with quality is a sign of greater proficiency, play can easily become too fast: Choosing a better shot and reducing the risk of failure just a little can have a major impact on results, especially because (a) the effects can accumulate, (b) there is often a great difference in value between a great choice and a merely good one. If an increase in speed leads to worse play, this can often overcome the gain through having more shots per time frame.
  9. When playing for a longer time, especially on easier levels, I occasionally zoom out mentally, and have my thoughts wondering while playing. To some degree, this is a problem, because my play suffers; to some degree, it can be a very nice, relaxing, meditative state.

    On rare occasions, I can even lose the focus of my eyes on the game—and continue to play with no obvious problem. (Possibly, because movements are detected more by the “fuzzy” parts of human vision.)

  10. Especially when playing fast, decisions are not necessarily made based on the playing field as it is but as it will be in a few shots time. This is mostly good, because it allows faster decisions; but can lead to complications like a missed shot causing one or two other poor shots, e.g. because they aim at a target that is not reachable. It can also lead to gross errors like shooting the one ball where the next should have gone, because the brain “jumps the gun”.
  11. Deficits in one area can be partially made up by another, e.g. in that (for frozen-bubble) a beginning player can compensate a lack of precision shooting with a better strategy. This can even promote a better understanding of a level, and I do in part find myself having a lesser understanding of how some levels work now than I did at earlier times–despite having played them more often.
  12. Skipping lower levels because they are too little of a challenge can backfire by removing a great training opportunity. With the greater security margins, a player can try out a lot of hard shots with little pressure, and will not have to improvise them for the first time when there is pressure. In some ways, lower levels can be seen as training sharp-shooting while higher levels train speed-shooting.

    To boot, the lower tempo and lesser stress can be a very pleasant change.

  13. General ideas for good tactics apply differently to different levels. For instance, many levels benefit from “going deep”, trying to hit ball clusters far away from the player (e.g. level 70 or, when having early orange balls, level 65), while others benefit more from trying to hit balls close to the player and to work oneself upwards (including level 65 without orange balls).

    (Not to be confused with those levels, where going deep simply is not possible or only possible after having already made considerable progress.)

The above does not include observations on good approaches to the game it self, e.g. the benefit of having a free center of the field, or things that the game makers could have done better, e.g. by not having that annoying, unskippable animation after a loss—for the simple reason that this is not a text about frozen-bubble, just on experiences and thoughts caused by playing frozen-bubble.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 29, 2019 at 10:03 pm

Frozen-bubble

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Looking at my backlog, I find a few thoughts on “frozen-bubble”*, that I originally thought too short and uninteresting to publish. However, they do in part give a different perspective on things that I have written about tennis** (notably item 2 of [1] vs. item 2 below), so what the hell:

*An arcade-style game that I have played reasonably often over the years, especially since it comes for free with Debian. The exact details of the game are not that interesting for this text, but involve firing balls of varying colors onto other balls of the same color to eliminate them from the playing field, before they reach the ground.

**Especially because (a) I have never played tennis, (b) the two have in common that the player has to make many very fast decisions based on incomplete information and then execute those decisions with a high precision. (However, frozen-bubble is likely considerably more extreme, and likely more akin to playing at the net than at the base-line.)

  1. Situations often arise when I am under extreme pressure for some time, where even one false shot will virtually ensure a loss. When (and if…) those situations are overcome, there is a very great danger that I lose my concentration and/or become over-confident and thereby get myself into trouble again. Similarly, I have often had a feeling of “I have as good as won already”, even without preceding pressure, and then somehow ended up losing. (Vice versa, I have often had the opposite feeling and the opposite result.)

    This is possibly most interesting in light of the constant accusations on the Internet that a certain player “choked”, as e.g. with Federer in the recent Wimbledon final. Might it be that certain-looking-victories-after-a-hard-fight are not lost due to e.g. nerves—but do to loss of concentration or over-confidence in the unconscious belief that the victory is already finalized? This would be understandable in someone very used to winning, like Federer, and matches the above final very well—a long, long fight, and then two championship points that he both burned. (With the remaining items, I will leave potential applicability to tennis as an exercise for the reader.)

  2. It is often the “safety shots” that go awry. Indeed, I do not know how many times I paused, thought “I am no hurry at the moment, let’s go for safety”, and then missed a normally trivial shot—sometimes in such a manner that I soon found myself in hurry.
  3. In contrast, when playing under high stress, I can often pull off a series of shots that I would have considered near impossible as a beginner—and at a rate and with a decision time that I would have considered impossible. When having no time to think, the brain can do some really impressive things, and training certainly pays. (But do not construe this as “I am a great player”—I suspect that there are those who would still make me look like a beginner.)

    A wider lesson, well matching my observations in other areas, is that training and experience does not necessarily or solely result in the ability to reach better decisions—it is often a matter of reaching the same decision faster and with less effort.

  4. I have often found that I am a noticeably better player after a prolonged break, e.g. in that I play very intensely for two or three days, take a six month break, and then play at a higher level than before the break. (This is a fairly typical rhythm for me and frozen-bubble.) Likely, the brain has received enough stimulus to, in some sense, re-wire it self, and after the break the re-wiring remains.

    This is not to be confused with the drop of ability that can occur simply through playing for too long without interruption and how this drop disappears after a break or a good nights’ sleep.

  5. There are situations when the game seems cursed, when I suddenly put three, four, or five important shots just half-a-step off, whereby I not only miss the benefit from making the shots, but also often found that important later shots are blocked. Worse, I have sometimes gone through level after level in the first attempt—and then suddenly become stuck on one level for five to ten attempts, where I would normally go through in one attempt or, on a bad day, two or three.* This can usually be resolved through just taking a quick break, clearing my head, and re-starting—but doing that is hard. My instinctive reaction is just to try again and again, with a continual decrease in both my mood and my playing level. Often, the issue is not resolved by success in the umpteenth attempt—but by me just closing the game before I lose my temper.

    *Not to be confused with getting stuck on a hard level—if I got through level 70 in five attempts I would consider it a good day… Indeed, usually I give it one attempt, and then just skip to level 71. (With the side-effect that my mastery of level 70 likely trails that of other levels, even difficulty aside.)

  6. It is very easy to “blame the game” when things go wrong, at least in the moment. When I gain some distance, I usually see what I did wrong, which has been an important real-world lesson: Do not blame others for everything that goes wrong in a blanket manner. Instead think things through and blame them for the problems that they have actually caused. (Which is plenty enough…)

    However, in my defense, there are a few quirks that can cause a loss out of mere bad luck, notably when a needed color does not manifest for ten rounds or an “extinct” color is re-born again and again at the end of the game. (Players will understand what I mean.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2019 at 10:53 pm

A few further thoughts on norms, experience, etc.

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A few follow-ups on two recent, overlapping texts ([1] ,[2]):

  1. In the previous texts, I argue against adopting furniture/ideas/methods/behaviors/whatnot that we see used by others by convention. However, there is nothing wrong with adopting them when they bring us a net benefit. Similarly, it is not necessarily wrong to temporarily adopt something as an experiment to see whether it would bring a net benefit. (With some reservations for the cost of the temporary adoption.) On the contrary, I strongly encourage looking at others as an “experience short-cut”—as long as it is done with a critical mindset, while keeping oneself the final arbiter of what is beneficial, and with an eye at an individualized adoption.* Indeed, failure to be open to such impulses is just a variation of the “take the norm for granted fallacy”—the norm now being the status quo, personal habits, whatnot (also see an excursion at the end).

    *Exactly this critical mindset was missing in some examples given in [1]: I bought a washing machine because I made a blanket assumption that I would benefit from it and/or through an unconscious attitude that a washing machine “belonged” in a household. The carpet and the chandelier, similarly, were not based on a thought-through decision about what would improve my then apartment. Instead, it verged on a fix idea that I had built when visiting my grand-mother as a child—when I grow up, my apartment will …

    For instance, when I (as a software developer) have seen someone else working or encountered his finished code, I have often found some idea that makes my own future work better. For instance, to stick with homes, I found the grilled sandwiches my father made during my recent visit to be delicious and bought a mini-grill of my own once back in Germany—and have been very happy with it as a value-adder.

    The latter also exemplifies the type of individualized adoption mentioned above: My father’s grill was a specialized sandwich toaster, while I went for a more general-purpose, low-end Foreman imitation. Firstly, this gave me more flexibility both to grill non-bread and to grill larger slices of bread, which suits my lower prioritization of kitchens and kitchen implements better—one tool for several tasks.* A sandwich toaster might be better at sandwiches at a given size, but then I would need other tools for other tasks. Secondly, it allowed me to duck the preparation problems my father occasionally had (e.g. regarding how the bread must be buttered), which suits my different effort-vs-taste priorities better.

    *The recurring reader might be surprised that I do not apply the Unix paradigm of “doing one thing well”. This is partially because different spheres (e.g. kitchen implements and software) can have different requirements, partially because the difference in quality is not that large (arguably, even a matter of taste), and partially because the “one” is largely a matter of complexity—and my grill is no more complex than my father’s. In contrast, a combined grill and coffee maker would have left me skeptical. It could even be argued that my grill is closer to Unix ideals through being more flexible at the same level of complexity.

  2. Untested assumptions can be troublesome, especially when a difficulty is under- or overestimated. (Also cf. an older text on how an easy task can be harder to do right.)

    For instance, my problems with orders and deliveries of shelves and whatnots (cf. some earlier texts) are examples of underestimating difficulties, of assuming that something would “work as advertised”. (More correctly, “work sufficiently close to advertised that I did not spend hours of effort and encounter weeks of delays, only to have nothing to show for it in the end”. I have been burnt before…)

    For instance, my later measures to remedy my shelf situation show overestimation, the assumption that a certain difficulty would be so tough that I had to make it easier: I spotted a cheap and light-weight* shelf, which reached an assembled height of 1.5 m while being just 0.8 m long pre-assembly. Seeing this as something that I could realistically bring home on my own, I bought one to see whether I could make it fit with my plans.

    *Six kg per a later weighing.

    In order to get it home, roughly 2.5 km away, I bought a large plastic bag at the check-out counter and took the train for most of the way. The plastic bag was more of a hindrance than a help, because it lacked the depth needed, forcing me to repeatedly intervene, lest the package fall out of the bag.

    Satisfied with the assembled shelf, I later bought two more to approximately cover my original shelf-needs.* I brought a luggage-on-wheels to make the transport easier and to avoid a second train ride**, but found that it was hard to get both shelves to stay on at the same time***. As a result, I spent roughly half the way home “carting” both shelves, and half carting one and carrying the other. I found the going to be slower and the work harder in the former case. I had to stop for short rests several times, and saw virtual stars when I had gone up the stairs to my apartment (preceded by a bit of a hill).

    *The result has less depth and height, compared to my original online attempts, but greater width. The maximal load is considerably lower, but that is not currently a problem.

    **Whenever the distance, load, time, whatnot, does not make it unrealistic, I try to walk as a matter of course.

    ***This might have been solvable with e.g. a rope.

    Yesterday, this time to extend my kitchen, I bought another two of these shelves and, wiser from experience, just took one under each arm and walked. Apart from a few red-lights, I never stopped and I never, not even at the red-lights, put either of the shelves down until I was at the house-door—and then only because I needed free hands to find my keys… Compared to the second time, I was home earlier, I was less tired (both in terms of “cardio” and most individual muscles), and my hands were less sore.

    If I had not overestimated the difficulty of carrying the shelves, I would have saved myself a train ticket and a bag* (first time) and would have avoided a lot of paradoxical effort (the second time).

    *The bag was not expensive, but I thoroughly detest paying for items that display advertising and that often were complimentary in the past. Also see e.g. [3].)

    Note, however, that this is not a recommendation to be optimistic—the way to go is to be realistic. If in doubt, gather more data or make an experiment. For instance, my first trip, with just the one shelf, would have been a perfect opportunity to gather experience with little risk, seeing that I could have alternated between rested arms. If I still had found myself over-challenged, I could just have dropped into a coffee shop for a cup, a sandwich, and a twenty minute rest.

Excursion on the status quo as norm:
An over-focus on the status quo as a norm is quite common, especially in the business world. (With some variations, e.g the “not invented here” phenomenon.) A particularly annoying case is the German claim/cliche “X hat sich bewährt” (roughly, “X has proven it self”) as a means to silence suggestions for something new or to end a discussion without actually providing factual arguments. When used honestly and insightfully, this claim is not something bad, because it would point to an evaluation of X based on experiences and experimentation. In reality, however, it is (be it as an excuse or through narrow-mindedness) almost always code for “this is what we have always done, and we do not care to experiment”, “we tried this once, the apocalypse did not follow, and we have stuck with it ever since”, “this was originally my idea and I will stick with it till the bitter end”, “I do not know why X was chosen, but someone must have had a reason”, or something similarly narrow-minded.

As a special case, that the current choice once was legitimately good (which might often be the case), does not imply that it still is: There might be better choices available today (but not back then). The needs to be filled might have changed. The world with which the choice interacts might have changed to make it work less well. Etc. Correspondingly, it can pay to re-evaluate choices every now and then—even when those choices were originally well made. That T-Ford is not a good choice for car, be it in absolute terms or relative the price.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 17, 2019 at 3:50 am

A few thoughts around glasses

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In school, long ago, I was frustrated by a difficulty to read what was written on the blackboard—and by everyone else doing much better. I can e.g. recall once during wood-shop*, when I had the misfortune of standing at the back of the crowd: I could barely make out the presence of white lines, had to ask the girl next to me again and again what was written, and saw her starting to wonder what was wrong with me.

*A mandatory subject through some school years in my native Sweden. (This might have been year four or five.) I suspect that the use of a blackboard was a rare exception in this class, but my memory is a bit vague.

The explanation was that I needed glasses—an obvious explanation both to me, today, and my parents and teachers back then. However, back then, even with both parents using glasses, this explanation did not occur to me. This in part because glasses “were for adults” and I was the first* in my class to get them, but to a greater degree due to the slow, continuous weakening: I had no reason to suspect that I had weak eye-sight, because I never noticed a change relative earlier times, until some critical limit was passed. Even past this limit, however, I did not so much notice the change in me as the difference relative everyone else.

*Looking at a few old schools photos from a few years later, there is still only one other wearer of glasses. (But some might use contact lenses.)

Similarly, every time I got new glasses, I became aware of how much my eye-sight had continued to drop through the sudden contrast between the old and the new—but the preceding gradual deterioration had not registered.

This brings me to four points (some with an overlap with [1] from earlier today):

Firstly, if we judge the abilities of others by our own, we are often misled. I could not read the blackboard at a distance—and I assumed that others should be similarly troubled. I was wrong. Others made the reverse assumption and were equally wrong. Similar examples can be found around the other senses: not everyone sees, hears, smells, …, equally well.

However, the problem is not limited to the sense. It also includes the ability to think. Indeed, an an ever-recurring annoyance for me,* is that many others, especially among the incompetent, assume that because they cannot see a connection, draw a conclusion, come up with a solution, whatnot, others (specifically, I) cannot do so either. They do not understand that knowledge and understanding can arise based on own thought—not just books and instruction. They do not believe that others can come up with a better way to approach a problem with just a few days of experience than they can with a few years** of experience. Etc. Many even seem to live in a world where there are quasi-magical authorities and geniuses that are the sole source of knowledge, which flows down to the rest of the world, and where no mere mortal, e.g. a co-worker, can ever be a source of his own. This is the more annoying as the people most lacking in ability are also those most unable or unwilling to recognize ability in others. The simple truth is that there are great differences in the ability to think between humans, even between those having college degrees or similar qualifications. If A is a few levels above B, then A will often run circles around B.

*Especially, because some of these people have been higher in the hierarchy at hand than I, including a few teachers, VPs and project leaders with a business education, and colleagues with seniority. (A business education is interesting, because it filters only weakly with regard to the ability to think, while e.g. a math education filters fairly strongly.)

**Which is not to say that I can do this with anyone in any field. However, when the gap in “brains” is large enough, there comes a point where experience is not enough to compensate for the difference. For a lesser gap, we might need to replace “years” with “months” and/or “days” with “weeks”, or we might see the difference disappear altogether.

Vice versa, admittedly, I often have problems understanding their short-comings: If I see something at a glance—should not every else also do so too? (No, and unfortunately there is no solution comparable to putting on glasses.)

More generally, it is dangerous to judge e.g. the reactions of others to an event, the feelings of others, the this-or-that of others, by our own reactions (etc.)—they can be quite different and making assumptions can have negative consequences.

Secondly, it pays to compare (to the degree possible) our own “nows” and “thens”. I* have e.g. often seen my impression of my “now” be distorted through not appreciating the nature of the “then” (as with glasses above). This is particularly negative when it comes to fitness, where it is very easy to lose ground over the years through the effects of aging and the often increasing time taken by other areas (notably, work and family). I have also often e.g. forgotten something enjoyable that I used to do (or rather how enjoyable it was). Even good solutions to a recurring problem might be forgotten, as with the mattress vs. duvet issue discussed in [1].** Such issues can be reduced by greater efforts to recollect the past, by using reminders for important things, running some type of log for what might need tracking over time, or similar.

*Here I assume that many or most readers will have a similar weakness. I might, obviously, be as wrong as with the blackboard…

**To further drive home a point from [1]: My original intention to buy a proper mattress (and the purchase of the original foldable one) was not just a matter of having forgotten a solution (i.e. the use of just a duvet or two). It was more a matter of unthinkingly adapting the “conventional” solution. Once I started thinking about the problem as a problem (as opposed to being lured to view it as a nail in want of the hammer provided by convention), other solutions presented themselves readily.

Thirdly, the benefits of experimentation and of trying something new—e.g. new glasses. If we never change anything, we will cease to improve. (And a change that goes wrong can usually be undone, with just minor losses.) Try a new approach, a new technology, another shop/restaurant/whatnot than usually, an unknown author, … What if I, looking back at [1], had not been experimental enough to try alternative sleeping arrangements? What if I had never bought my first Pratchett*? What if I had not become a free-lancer**? What if I had kept going to the barber instead of buying a hair clipper***? Etc.

*This was a fairly close call in the mid-1990s, seeing that I had a negative impression from the blurb on the back of the books I had looked at. I still bought one, due to his already considerable reputation, and he soon became my favorite author for at least fifteen years.

**Less money, less geographic variation, probably less work satisfaction, less opportunities during my sabbatical, and likely too small buffers to attempt a career as a writer. (But possibly deeper personal connections or a higher-ranking position through a longer stay somewhere.)

***Some money thrown away, (more importantly) time thrown away, and likely worse kempt hair (because I tended to postpone the barber until I was two months overdue).

In all fairness, I have probably still erred on the side of being too stuck in my habits and of experimenting too little, and questions like “What if I had become a free-lancer five or ten years earlier?” are valid (I really should have). I will try to do better…

Finally, we should be aware of the risk that an unrecognized short-sightedness distorts our world-view. In much, this amounts to what I have already written using Plato’s cave as a metaphor. In the other direction, the wrong glasses can distort a world-view—just like glasses with a deliberate distortion (e.g. green glass) or of the wrong strength can do more harm than good. It is not always enough to find (real or metaphorical) glasses—not all glasses are worthy of use and sometimes the right set depends on the intended user.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 13, 2019 at 8:16 am

The effects of our base-line on perception / Follow-up: A few thoughts on traditions and Christmas

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Traditions [1] were the topic for a Christmas text last year. In the almost exactly one year since then, I have again and again noted various overlaps with the sub-topic of our perception of normality. More specifically, it seems that there is a point of “normality”, where something becomes so familiar that we do not notice or reflect upon it, or where we experience it highly differently from less familiar phenomena and/or from how others experience the same phenomenon.

A few examples:

  1. As children, I and my sister often stayed for prolonged times at our maternal grand-mother’s. She declined many wishes for pasta and rice with the argument that “we already had that once this week”—but had no qualms about using boiled* potatoes as the “staple” five to seven times a week. In all likelihood, she genuinely** did not perceive the paradox in this argumentation, being so used to potatoes that they were a standard part of any meal***—just like the glass of milk.

    *Mashed or fried potatoes happened on occasion; I am not certain whether she ever served French fries.

    **To which should be noted that she was not very bright—others might have been more insightful even in the face of ingrained eating habits. Unfortunately, back then, I took it to be just another case of dishonest adult “argumentation”.

    ***She was born in 1924 and grew up with a very different diet from even what I (1975) did, let alone what some born today will. Indeed, left to her own devices, deviations from boiled potatoes were more likely to have been e.g. kåldolmar (cabbage rolls) or rotmos (a rutabaga mash with some admixture of potatoes(!) and carrots) than rice or pasta.

    Consider similarly my own caffeine habits*: I drink large amounts of black coffee—no sugar, no milk, no cream, … This despite originally not liking the taste. When it comes to tea, I have tried repeatedly to use it as a substitute, but within a week or two of a cup a day, the experiment always ends, because I do not like the taste.** I have used e.g. Nespresso and Dulce Gusto machines, but eventually grew tired of the taste and returned to drip-brews. Similarly, when I ordered coffee in restaurants, I used to take the opportunity to have an espresso or a cappuccino—today, I almost invariably order a “regular” coffee. What is the difference, especially since I did not originally enjoy coffee? Simply this: I have drunk so much of it that it has become a taste norm. Tea does not have that benefit and other variations of coffee are implicitly measured as deviations from that norm. The latter might even taste better in the short term, but then I simply “grow tired” of the taste.

    *Also see parts of [1] and of a text on prices.

    **In fairness to tea: I have so far always used tea bags—some claim that they are a poor substitute for tea leaves.

    This item has some overlap with (but is not identical too) the concept of “an acquired taste”.

  2. Why does boy-meets-girl feel less hackneyed than childhood-friends-fall-in-love? (Cf. an excursion in [2].) Well, the former is so common that it does not register in the same way as the latter—despite the paradox. Or take teenage-girl-and-much-much-older-vampire-fall-in-love: Only a very small minority of all works of fiction has this theme, and it would likely amount to a minority even of the vampire genre. Still, it feels so hackneyed that my reaction typically is “not this shit AGAIN—I will watch something else”. A higher degree of rarity can even increase the perceived hackneyedness, because the concept registers more strongly.* Beyond a certain rarity limit, the recognition factor might be so large that the automatic reaction is not “hackneyed” but “plagiarized”…

    *However, another partial explanation can be that a theme has still not been explored enough, leaving works using a certain concept too similar. For instance, the overall vampire genre is much more diverse today than in the hey-days of Christopher Lee, because so many new variations of the theme have been tried over time—“vampire movie” does no longer automatically imply scary castles, big capes, the surreptitious biting of sleeping maidens, or similar.

  3. Virtually every generation complains about the music of the following generations. To some degree this can be due to actual falling quality (e.g. through increased commercialization or a shift of focus from music-on-the-radio to exotic-dancing-on-TV) or a greater filtering of old music (where only the great hits have survived); however, a major part is the base-line that we are used to (likely coupled with nostalgia). Notably, the hit music of a certain period appears to fall mostly into just several fairly specific genres, with a great internal similarity in “sound”. Those who grow up* with a certain sound will tend to see it as a norm, be more likely to be estranged by newer genres and be more able to differentiate within and appreciate the old genres. (Hence complaints like “it all sounds the same”.)

    *In my impression, most people listen to more music and more intensely in their youth than at higher ages, and they might be more easily malleable to boot (be it for biological reasons or because the prior exposure has been lower). However, I suspect that amount of exposure is more important than age.

    A similar effect is almost certainly present between contemporaneous genres that differ considerably.

  4. As a small child, I somehow got into a discussion with my parents as to why the clock on the kitchen wall was not audibly ticking. They claimed that it was, but I could not hear anything. On their insistence, I spent a short period listening intently—and there it was! I was simply so used to the sound that it had not registered with me, until I deliberately tried to hear it…

    In an interesting contrast, I often found the antique wall-clocks at both my father’s and my maternal grand-mother’s so annoying that I used to stop them—in turn, slightly annoying my respective hosts. This might at least partially have been due to my base-line being “tickless”; however, they were also much louder than the (modern) kitchen-clock, and might also have had a more irregular or prolonged sound. (The antiques used an entirely mechanical, crude-by-modern-standards clockwork with pendulums and whatnots; the kitchen-clock had a modern clockwork, ran on a battery, and likely used a balance wheel.)

    As an aside, this points to the risk that isolating one-self from disturbances can lead to an increased sensitivity to the disturbances that do occur, while increased exposure can bring greater tolerance—a dilemma that I have long struggled with as someone sensitive to noise. An extreme example is present in the movie “The Accountant”, in which the autistic protagonist deliberately exposes himself to very loud noises, strobing lights, and physical pain during shorter intervals, apparently trying to increase his tolerance. (I caution that said movie did not strike me as overly realistic.)

  5. When I lived in Sweden, German seemed a fairly ugly language with too strong (in some sense) pronunciations of many sounds (including “r” and “s”). After twenty years in Germany, it sounds just fine, while I am often struck by Swedish as bland and lacking in character. Back then, I heard how German differed from Swedish; today, I hear how Swedish differs from German.

    English is somewhere in between and has not struck me in the same way. However, it is notable that TV and movies have left me with a U.S. base-line, in that I mostly (mis-)register U.S. English as “without an accent”,* while e.g. any version of British English comes across as British**. This is the odder, since I actually consider (some versions of) British English more pleasant to the ear and have a tendency to drift in the “English English” direction, or even towards amateurish pseudo-RP, on those rare occasions that I actually speak English.

    *But many versions of U.S. English stand out as non-standard, including the heavy Southern ones.

    **Often with a more specific sub-classification, e.g. “standard”, Cockney, Irish, Scottish; in some cases, as something that I recognize as a specific accent but am unable to place geographically. (The same can happen with U.S. dialects, but is much rarer—possibly, because British English is more diverse.)

Outside of examples like the above, there are at least two areas that might be at least partially relevant and/or over-lapping: Firstly, opinion corridors and similar phenomena. Secondly, various physical phenomena, e.g. drug resistance, specificity of training, or how the human body reacts to cold: Apparently, Eskimos “in the wild” have the ability to work without gloves in freezing temperatures for prolonged times without ill-effects, pain, whatnot—but a few years in “civilization” make them lose this ability. Allegedly, Tierra del Fuego natives have (had) the ability to sleep almost naked in free air at low (but not freezing) temperatures, while the typical Westerner can feel cold at a little below room temperature without a duvet. I have myself witnessed two or three Westerners who walk around in t-shirt and shorts all year round (in Sweden and/or Germany—not Florida), at least one of which made the papers for this habit—he claimed that the body adapts* if one can push through the early discomfort.

*The exact nature of those adaptions are beyond my current knowledge, but at least some of them likely relate to how fast the body switches from a low-isolation to a high-isolation state and how strong the isolation becomes. That this is trainable to some degree can be easily verified through only taking cold showers for a few weeks and noting how strongly the discomfort is reduced in that time frame. Increase of “brown fat” likely also plays in.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 21, 2018 at 9:27 pm