Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘life

A few thoughts for a HAPPY New Year

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As the one year ends and the next begins, spending a few words on happiness might be a good idea.

Let me start with a detour over self-driving cars: When I first heard of realistic* plans for these, I was very pleased. Here we might finally have a good alternative to commuting by train, allowing me to read a book or watch a movie in peace and with plenty of space, while getting from A to B. At least in Germany, however, government thinking amounted to “you may have a self-driving car, but you must be constantly alert and ready to immediately take over driving, should a problem occur”. This sounds like a downgrade relative just driving. Reading and movies are obviously out, as is beginning work in the car, and what is left is basically to stare out the window and listen to the radio—while actually driving would involve activity, continual decision making, and a correspondingly more active brain stimulation.** With this approach the driver-as-passenger of a self-driving car, on the one hand, is turned into a parcel relative the car and, on the other, does not have the option to seek out activities that he finds more entertaining and/or developing—the worst of two worlds.

*As opposed to speculation and sci-fi; however, I note that the these early plans seem to have underestimated or deliberately downplayed the difficulties, which might make “realistic seeming” a better formulation…

**I also have doubts as to how well this would work, as chances are that most drivers-as-passengers would soon lose their concentration and not be able to intervene sufficiently fast in case of problems. A regular driver is kept at least somewhat alert by the constant activity and decision making, even should it just involve a slight adjustment of position on the road, and is in a very different position. (A good driver would also constantly evaluate the surroundings for potential dangers and whatnots, which would increase the difference further; however, I am uncertain to what degree most drivers actually do this—especially after the first ten minutes and especially while driving on well-known roads, as with a daily commute.)

This approach to self-driving cars shares much with modern life, where old activities, instances of decision making, whatnot have grown rarer or outright disappeared and found no true replacement—old needs are fulfilled in a convenient and allows-us-to-be-lazy manner, but there is too little new to fill the void left behind, unless we go looking for something new of our own.* In many ways, the modern life is a journey in a self-driving car—nominally, a “sit down and relax”; in reality, something much less appealing. In some, modern life is worse, as the driver-as-passenger at least sets the destination, while the metaphorical destination of life is increasingly set by others, most notably the government.

*Those who are unaware of the void might go through life with an unhappiness that they do not understand; those who go looking might be vulnerable prey to those who promise a purpose by joining a Cause or Crusade; and even those who search in a more informed manner might see a lesser fulfillment, because the “new” is less basal (cf. below) than the “old”.

This the more so since the arrival of COVID and the ensuing excessive and harmful government meddling, which has left the citizens virtually powerless (or revealed their degree of powerlessness?); and this the more so, if many (especially Leftist) politicians get their way, everyone is taken care off by the government, own decision making and self-determination disappear, etc. Remember “Watership Down” and that human-run warren?

Below, I will look at some of the factors involved, and I invite the reader to think on how these have changed over time and if/when/where (in Western countries) earlier generations might have had an advantage or disadvantage compared to us in terms of happiness:

  1. Happiness often results from the satisfaction of needs, and the effect appears to be the larger the more basal* the need and the greater** the previous deprivation. For instance, someone who has never been truly*** hungry might be objectively better off than someone who has to skip meals, but the satisfaction from even a very plain meal for someone truly hungry can be greater than that of a meal in an expensive restaurant to someone who is not.

    *In a classification like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. With reservations for special cases: for instance, someone who falls asleep after being awake for three straight days might not, as he is asleep, be satisfied in the manner of a hungry eater—and might be too confused to think clearly, or at all, before falling asleep.

    **Within reasonable limits. For instance, someone undergoing life-threatening starvation might not have the energy and whatnot to be happy when food is presented.

    ***What should be considered “truly hungry” can be a further matter of debate, as there is always a further step and even going a full day without eating can seem like nothing to the starving; however, the point is that most of what is called hunger today amounts to “I want to eat” rather than “I need to eat”.

    The same principle applies to a wide range of other areas, from the life-sustaining to such trivialities as drinking coffee, e.g. enjoying a cup as a mere bonus while reading a book vs. drinking one after having spent an entire caffeine-less day on one’s feet, outdoors, and in cold weather. (I will stick mostly with eating, be it eating out of necessity or enjoyment, for below examples, as eating is very easy to relate to.)

  2. Enjoyment of something often has a deliberate component, in that the enjoyment increases when we pause, cherish the moment, whatnot. The more we have, and the easier life is, the greater the risk that something enjoyable will not be enjoyed to the full degree. Compare e.g. eating a single piece of candy, knowing that this one piece is it for today, with wolfing down two dozen pieces. Similarly, compare the reactions of the girls in “The Little House on the Prairie” books to various gifts (candy or other) that would seem like nothing today. Similarly, note how “firsts” tend to be enjoyed much more deeply and often than “fiftieths”,* because the relative scarcity causes a greater attention. Etc.

    *E.g. a first book, CD, whatnot. This assuming an individual value/enjoyability/whatnot that is sufficiently comparable, as a poor “first” might certainly lose to a top-rate “fiftieth”.

    (However, this item can clash with the previous one, as this type of deliberate enjoyment is less basal and/or urgent. It would, for instance, be unreasonable to expect someone who has not eaten in 24 hours to take a single piece of candy and savor it. The natural and appropriate reaction is to make up for the deficiency in nourishment as soon as possible; and the current item is more relevant to those whose more basal/urgent needs are already satisfied. More generally, I do not guarantee that any given item, let alone combination of items, will make sense in any given situation.)

  3. A degree of happiness or, at least, contentment seems to arise from continually and successfully solving or dealing with small problems, which is likely a reason for the popularity of computer games and for how easy it is to lose track of time while playing them. (Also note the discussion of self-driving cars above.) These problems, however, need not be of a “thinking” nature and can equally involve something more physical.* For instance, being physically tired and putting in a few steps more can bring a satisfaction on its own—and a distraction from the problems of life. (It is hard to dwell on this-and-that when that next step fills one’s mind, which makes this a good approach to “take one’s mind off something”.)

    *In addition, there seems to be physiological benefits from physical activity on happiness, both in the short and the long term. My knowledge of this area is fleeting, however, and I am more interested in the “psychological” components, except to the degree that these are explained by more physiological effects, e.g. in that something might be more mentally satisfying than something else because of some physiological effect.

    The same applies to writing, and I suspect that one of the reasons for my unhappiness at around this time last year was that I had cut down on my writing too far, and my very extensive writing during the last few months has made me much happier. (Notwithstanding a great amount of frustration and the like. Cf. a later item and note many past texts. If in doubt, writing makes it harder for that frustration to manifest.)

  4. The previous item is partially an example of intellectual* stimulation, which is of great importance in avoiding boredom—and need not consist of analyzing the works of great philosophers or solving math problems. On the contrary, for many, a random chat, even without any intellectual* aspirations, can fill the same function—as can the modern teenager’s fiddling with a smartphone. Looking at myself, I have rarely drawn much stimulation from small-talk and e.g., in my childhood, preferred to spend car rides with the family reading, often eliciting complaints that I spent too much time with my nose in a book.** The point is that some activities are stimulating to the one and boring to the other—and that it is hard to be happy when bored. As counterpoints, too much stimulation in one area can lead to a neglect of other areas, while a too great difference in what brings stimulation can make someone an unnecessary outsider.

    *The word “intellectual” has more than one meaning, and here two overlapping-but-not-identical meanings are intended.

    **It is interesting, however, that my reading was a minority behavior that seemed odd to others, including most fellow school-children, while the similar behavior relating to smartphones has become the norm today, in at least some age groups. (But what is done with a smartphone can vary considerably, while reading can vary in content and intensity but not in being reading.)

  5. Above, I speak of “successfully solving or dealing with small problems”. When the success is not there, things can go downhill fast. (The same applies to problems that are not small, but it is important to note that even small problems can have this effect.) Consider doing something that, in some sense, “should” work, seeing it fail, making a modification that really “should” make it work, seeing it fail again, making a modification that really, really, really should make it work—and seeing it fail a third time.* No matter how trivial the issue, but provided that the time from first to third is sufficiently short, I tend to grow very annoyed and frustrated. To make matters worse, the level of annoyance and frustration can make a fourth or fifth attempt too sloppy, leading to further and unnecessary/self-caused errors and bringing me to the point of explosion.**

    *To give a specific example is tricky, as most of my own experiences stem from computers and it is unlikely that any given reader will share a sufficiently common ground among the many uses of computers to make such an example sensible without considerable explanations, and as real-life examples might vary equally much from person to person. However, chances are that he will recognize many such situations from his own life.

    **A natural human reaction seems to be to, literally or metaphorically, use more force when things do not work. In the stone age, this might have been a good approach, but not necessarily in the modern world—and certainly not when dealing with computers.

  6. More generally, a lack of own control can be extremely frustrating—especially, when it comes to things that we rightfully should control. Ditto when our attempts at control are thwarted by others. (Note my text series on choice, including on the illusion of choice, unfair government and choice, and overruled choice.)

    Consider e.g. most government involvement in our lives, the horrors of customer “service”, and, in my case, the absurd amounts of renovations that have taken place in my apartment building during times when I have tried to study and write my books. A particular complication is that the government has often removed all realistic means to take own actions in various areas and has provided no adequate substitutions in return (cf. e.g. [1]).

Excursion on diminishing returns:
Diminishing returns is a recurring theme above, to the point that I almost included a separate item on the issue. The core idea, that the “marginal gain” in happiness through having more of something grows smaller the more one has, is sound, but it does clash a little with one of my main points, namely that the removal of a greater need makes for more happiness. Going strictly by diminishing returns, the one who has more is still happier than the one who has less, which is not necessarily the case once we consider who has the greater removal of a current need. A threshold level might also be argued, in that returns do not diminish in a consistent manner, but see an abrupt drop once a certain level has been reached, e.g. that more food brings comparatively much value as long as someone is hungry, but comparatively little once satiation is reached.

Excursion on worry and other constant harms:
Worry is another factor that can cause unhappiness. Here we see a shift from the more personal and more urgent of the past to the more distant and less urgent of today. For instance, worrying over politicians wrecking the energy supply or whether one will be fired/be promoted/pass that exam/whatnot is different from worrying over whether there will be something to eat tomorrow. (Notwithstanding that the mixture of artificial and unnecessary COVID-countermeasures, artificial and unnecessary inflation, artificial and unnecessary energy-supply issues, etc., has made similar concerns hit a wider range of the population than just a few years ago.)

A potentially important difference between e.g. a removed need and worry is that the former gives a strong-but-short push towards happiness, while the latter gives a prolonged push towards unhappiness. Other such factors exist, e.g. many instances of fear, pain, and, of course, hunger. (And note that I do not recommend going on a starvation diet for several days to get the benefit of a single excellent meal, or, more generally, claim that more hardship is better. I do suspect, however, that we have long passed the optimum levels and are now doing increasingly worse by having it too easy.)

As an aside, worry is a paradoxical emotion as things either will work out, in which case the worry was unnecessary, or will not, in which case the worry just made things worse. Worry can have a legitimate place as a motivator, e.g. to ensure that stores to survive the winter are built up during the warmer days of the year; however, this presupposes that we have sufficient control over our lives and the problems that we worry about.

Excursion on other factors:
There are a great many other factors that can contribute to/detract from happiness, and many that might be relevant in a “now vs. yore” comparison, including those that relate to human evolution vs. current life. (E.g. in that humans might be happier with a greater exposure to nature than most of us get today, with larger families, with less “screen time”, etc.) A particularly interesting possibility is that “ignorance is bliss”, that a better understanding of the world/whatnot makes it harder to be happy. Yet another issue is that having more comes with secondary costs/efforts/stress/whatnot, e.g. risk of theft and need for maintenance. The above focuses on cases that have figured in my recent thought.

Excursion on my own behavior:
This is an area where it is much easier to give advice than to follow it. I have repeatedly set a target for myself to act based on this-or-that observation (not necessarily from the above), e.g. to eat less but with more deliberate enjoyment, but the effort has rarely lasted for more than a day and/or been restricted to a day here and a day there. (I might call these New Year’s resolutions, except that they have never taken place at the right time.)

An interesting example is the trick of deliberately feeling happy: I have developed a knack for simply letting certain positive feelings sweep over me without a trigger event.* The downside is that this feels a bit like a chore, which makes me put it off, and doing so for more than a short time can be boring, even border on the tiring. In a manner of speaking, it is broccoli for the soul—good for me, but not something that happens as often as it could or should.

*I can no more explain how to do this than I can explain how to make my body move; however, I suspect that most readers have to some degree made similar experiences. A partial tip is to notice how parts of the body behave during various types of happiness, notably relating to smiles and orgasms, and try to force this behavior, and to engage in some experimentation of what movements can have what effect. However, much of it does not have an obvious physical aspect.


Written by michaeleriksson

January 1, 2023 at 4:28 am

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Yet another day of everything going wrong

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As I have noted repeatedly in the past, there are days when it seems like everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Today is one of those days.

In addition to some of what is mentioned in earlier texts from today,* I note that I have a recurring problem with USB and my Internet connection: I use the Internet connection of my smartphone, attached per USB, as the source of Internet for my computer. Every once in a while, the computer begins to misbehave, going through a phase of dropping and re-adding the corresponding USB device, and, as a consequence, dropping and restoring the Internet connection.

*My earlier prediction that there would be little writing during early December has proved incorrect…

Now, firstly, this dropping and re-adding is spurious, as there normally really is no problem or only a problem of such fleeting character that the device is re-added virtually immediately. However, during such a phase, the computer* stubbornly drops and re-adds the fully functioning and well-connected device.

*I have had similar issues with other devices in the past, which points to the computer, not the device, as the source of the trouble. This includes external hard drives (although, interestingly, not since my switch from Debian to Gentoo), which then might need a complete unmount and remount to work, despite there being nothing wrong.

Sometimes things do not work out, and the device is not properly re-added, while the log files complain about an allegedly poor USB cable. Here, when renewed attempts really would make sense, say, by trying again in five minutes, no attempts follow. Once there is one single failure, the cycle of dropping and re-adding is (usually) ended until I physically unplug the USB cable and re-insert it. (After which things work perfectly for days or hours, or the cycle of spurious drops and re-adds begins again, or the complaint about the USB cable reappears.)

In other words: if at first you do succeed, try and try again, until you fail; if you fail, never try again… Or: if it’s not broken, break it; if it’s broken, don’t fix it.

The last time around, I bought a new-but-cheap* USB cable, paying great attention that it would be marked as suitable for data transfer, and got close to six months of problem-free use. Last week, I noticed the same spurious cycle again, and bought another new cable. However, until today, when the problems grew out of hand, I did not get around to replace the cable. As I did replace the cable, expecting another handful of months of problem-free use—the problems continued! If anything, they grew worse…

*3 Euro, if I recall correctly.

As if this is not enough, Alpine, my email client, misbehaves when the Internet connection goes missing: When attempting to send with a missing Internet connection, a sane client should give an error message that, e.g., “Sending failed. Please check your Internet connection.”. What does Alpine do? It simply (and silently!) switches to an external editor* to edit the email—an action that is not only pointless but will leave the typical user highly confused. (I have the advantage of having seen this idiocy in the past.) Moreover, a second attempt to send cannot be made without exiting the editor, losing time unnecessarily—especially, when the second, third, fourth, … attempt also fails.

*I have Alpine configured to use Vim as an external editor. I do not know how Alpine would behave if no external editor was configured.

In the past, before I switched to a more mail-drop-y configuration, it was even worse, as the client would just freeze for minutes at a time, if an open connection to an external mailbox failed due to the Internet connection dropping, and never recovering, even when the Internet connection returned.* After these few minutes, I would briefly have the opportunity to break the connection—and missing this brief window led to another few minutes of a frozen client, before the opportunity re-appeared. Note that there was no way, short of killing the entire client, to break the connection outside these windows, that there (to my knowledge) was no way to reconnect the client without a restart, should the break succeed, and, again, that there was no automatic reconnect once the Internet connection returned. Amateurs!

*Note that different protocols are used for sending emails and interacting with mailboxes. The two activities are surprisingly independent.

(I have written about idiocies in Alpine in the past. A problem might be that it originated as a non-FOSS software, and still carries issues from those days that no-one has bothered to fix, because they appear to rarely.)

Then there has been repeated issues with my spell checker (unrelated to the Internet), but I will save that for another day.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 8, 2022 at 2:22 pm

Children lacking exposure to grown-up activities and experiences

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My backlog contains a number of half-written texts, and even more unwritten ideas, concerning experiences from my own upbringing. The themes involved can be quite complex and are often overlapping, to the point that they really should be merged into larger joint texts, but which would then be too long.

There might be a few subtopics, however, that can be reasonably extracted into standalone texts. A good example is the integration of children in “grown-up”* activities, responsibilities, experiences, whatnot. As it happens, this is also a very important subtopic.

*Quotation marks are used as the classification is partially misleading, which is one of the points of this text. (I would also have preferred the word “adult”, but the connotations of something sexual are disturbingly strong in today’s world and there is a disturbing current trend to sexualize even small children, so “adult activities” would have been unfortunate.)

Looking at the world in general, there is a definite problem with prolonged infantilization of children—often into their twenties. (Also see various older texts.)

A common* modern scenario sees the child shoved into school around age six, where own thinking is punished more often than rewarded, compliance is seen as one-sided virtue, natural** (especially, boyish) behaviors are suppressed, and children are kept in an environment dominated by children and childish attitudes. For those aspiring to call themselves “educated”, this phase typically stretches into the early or mid-twenties, as colleges/unis often have a very patronizing attitude and pushes this attitude hard.*** Out-of-school activities are often in a highly organized form, with parents putting the children in “kiddie leagues” or their local equivalents, while e.g. U.S. schools assume that the children participate in “extra-curriculars” organized by the school. Household chores are mostly done by parents, often without the children being truly aware of the effort that is necessary. Pre-adulthood work? Depending on age, locality, and other circumstances, this might be one or more of illegal, hard to find, impossible to fit into the schedule, and pointless-seeming in light of a large allowance. Marriage and own children? Increasingly, these happen when the new adults are in their thirties.

*Note both great individual variation and variation in norms between e.g. different countries. The example should be roughly representative for a great number of Western countries and a considerable portion of the population, however.

**Not necessarily in the obvious “rough and tumble” category. In my case, the damage included less time for own reading and educational TV, which gave me better educational value for the invested time at any stage of school, and which often gave me greater absolute value, even in light of the greater proportion of time lost/spent in school.

***This especially in the U.S.; however, it is not limited to the U.S. I note e.g. that many German professors have an attitude of “you can only ever learn in a lecture”, where, on the contrary, the key to learning is good reading material, own thought, and (where applicable) own experimentation and/or observation, while most lectures are merely a lecturer-flattering waste of time. When I was around thirty and working on my second master, I still repeatedly encountered a behavior that seemed to reflect a “students are just children” attitude.

In the past? Well, giving a representative example is virtually impossible, as the variations over time and geography have been very large. However, the amount of free play and own organization of spare time has usually been larger or far larger. School has been shorter and adult or semi-adult responsibilities far earlier, e.g. in that a typical teen was expected to help extensively with the family business and/or in the family home. The teen years were often a transitional period to adulthood, where, among other things, the future spouse was to be found and (at least) betrothed.* Etc.

*Age of marriage might be one of the things that has varied the most, and has often had practical constraints of “when we can finally afford it”. Outright marriages between two teens were, I suspect, the exception in most reasonably modern cultures and countries—but might have been of great importance in sufficiently older times and this importance might have left a still present evolutionary influence on teens.

Not only did the kids of yore have an earlier integration into an adult life (while, likely, also having a longer “early childhood”), with corresponding effects on early maturity, responsibility, whatnot, but the transition was also more gradual. Today, there is a massive one-off change in various rights and responsibilities as someone turns (typically) 18. Equally, there is massive one-off change as someone first enters the labor market and has a first own apartment, often in his mid-twenties, (In both cases, a change for which little preparation has been given.)

Looking at my personal* experiences in detail, I was involved in the more grown-up activities to a far lesser degree than was healthy with an eye on my future knowledge, ability, and understanding, where I have e.g. been forced to rediscover for myself what amount of cleaning is needed when and how to best clean this-and-that. Depending on age, I might or might not** have grumbled about an inclusion, but I would certainly have been better off for it as an adult.

*Many others will have similar experiences; many others, different experiences.

**As a younger child, I tended to see the rare inclusions as a bit of an adventure and might have been outright welcoming.

Throughout my pre-adult life, there was always an aspect of “mother arranges”—if in doubt, because my mother would preemptively arrange anything that needed arranging, before I even had the time to look into the issue. I was not complaining at the time, but it certainly delayed my transition into a “self-arranger”. For instance, I have no recollection of ever buying clothes for myself until I went to uni, and before I moved to Germany at age 22, the majority was still provided by my mother.* Clothes, and m.m. most other necessities, were things that just showed up, either because my mother dropped them off in my room or because some utter bastard gave me a soft Christmas/birthday gift. (Books! I want books, not socks and sweaters!)

*Specifically with regard to clothes, I might have been an exception among my age peers, as I lacked the drive to look “cool”, “fashionable”, or whatnot that many of the others seemed to have. (Mothers, according to teenage axioms, are unable to buy something cool. Even should they stumble onto something cool, it automatically turns uncool through the purchase—presumably, through some type of quantum effect.)

I also note that there were few or no attempts to pass on experiences and insights from the various adults, be they relatives or teachers.* The great problems with civil servants, for instance, found not one word of mention. The risk that a business will try to cheat the customers? Not one word. How to handle women (or, at the time, teenage girls)? Not one word. Unexpected costs that pop up, e.g. the need for a non-obvious insurance? Not one word. Etc. In all fairness, I never asked, but this type of information is important enough to be volunteered, especially as the need for the information might not be obvious to the younger generation.

*But some minor coverage was present on e.g. TV.

My recommendation: Include the kids in grown-up activities whenever circumstances allow. Make sure that they understand that household work is not done by helpful brownies (unless parents are classified as brownies). Teach them the whats, hows, and wherefores of running a household, taking care of a house or car, and whatever you are in a position to pass on. Teach them the realities of life. Encourage them to get experiences with own work. Etc. A good rule of thumb is that if either your parents passed something on to you or you found yourself wishing that they had, then you should pass it on yourself.

In this, do not assume that school will step up—chances are overwhelming that it will not. Maybe it should, but when it does not, the disadvantage is with your children. (In fact, considering the level of education provided even where school does feel responsible, and how much of value does not fall into that category, homeschooling is the way to go, if it is legal in your jurisdiction and practically workable.)

Excursion on various age-of-X:
An interesting paradox is that society blocks or delays the development of children into adults, and often seems to consider even younger* adults to be children, while tendentially lowering e.g. the age of voting or the age of majority. (Both are often found at 18 today, while 21 was popular in the past.) In a further twist, very personal age-of-X, notably the age of consent and the age of drinking, often see a political pressure for an increase, while those that potentially can affect others severely, including the age of voting and the age of driving,** are often kept low and/or see a downward pressure. An oft-made U.S. observation is that a kid of 16 is allowed to drive a car that could kill others, while he is not allowed to drink until 21, despite others usually*** being safe from negative effects.

*Indeed, many politicians and civil servants seem to have an absurd attitude that only they are adults and the rest of the world, regardless of age, IQ, education, whatnot, consists exclusively of children.

**Note e.g. the risk that the likes of Joe Biden are elected resp. the risk that a young driver kills someone in a car crash.

***The most notable exception is, of course, when drinking and driving is combined.

Excursion on missed opportunities through bad luck:
In my case, there were quite a few missed opportunities, especially for more male activities, through bad luck. A divorce reduced my contacts with my father early on; and there were no cars, house repairs, and whatnots in his ensuing life in the city. A temporary male figure was my maternal grandfather, but he died, very prematurely, just a few years after the divorce, before I was old enough for any true knowledge transfer. (He was still, I suspect, the adult who was the most keen to explain things to me, as he volunteered information, say, what the different pedals in a car did, in a manner that the others did not.) If he had lived another ten years, things might have been very different.

Excursion on the child-ish vs. the child-like:
A key observation when it comes to the behavior of children, immature adults, and whatnots, is that some behaviors and attitudes are merely childlike, something often positive, while others are childish, something entirely or almost entirely negative. If we look at e.g. school, it tends to suppress childlike behaviors, but might actually help to keep childish attitudes in place by preventing the children from maturing by exposure to experiences of the type discussed above. (This idea has a wide applicability, e.g. to adult women, many of whom (a) prove their own immaturity through being childish, (b) condemn mere childlike behavior in men as immature.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 2, 2022 at 10:07 pm

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Further misadventures

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Warning: The following serves mostly as stress/tension release. With one thing and another, the Nazi series will likely see an interruption until late next week.

After my long period of problems (cf. earlier texts), things were really beginning to look up again, a day here-and-there with construction works notwithstanding. True, I had partially bought this improvement through slacking off, neglecting my writing and reading, letting the mail mount up again, and not, for now, getting to the bottom of a few outrages (notably, the inexcusable behavior of building management and the local chimney sweep, where I have put off very thorough complaints for over a year)*.

*If and when I get around to them, I might also write a few blog entries on the topic. Chances are that you will not believe me, because the situations are so utterly absurd. (And those complaints are on a very different level from the ones in this text.)

Still, things were locking up, I was beginning to get my energy back, writing was beginning to look good again, I was beginning to read heavier material, and I had the new project of researching emigration from Germany (which by now borders on being a Leftist dictatorship).

Then the screen of my newish computer just dies…

(Fortunately, just a few hours after the latest full backup. I have hopes that the issue will be repairable, as it might simply be a loose contact somewhere, but there is no guarantee, notebook repairs are often disproportionately expensive relative the original price, and there is not telling how long this might take.)

This, then, amounts to less than four months of use, while its predecessor might have worked for four years.

The next day, yesterday, I went to the local Mediamarkt to look for replacements*. Again, a bit of good luck among the bad—had this happened a little earlier, Mediamarkt might have been closed or off limits due to Covid restrictions.

*As shown both now and around New Year’s, notebooks are highly troublesome when something goes wrong, as the user has to start almost from scratch and he can be restricted in his work for days. With a desktop, I could usually just buy a new one and spend five minutes switching hard drives, while a mere monitor issue could be solved by just replacing the monitor. (Yes, notebook hard drives can also be replaced, but they are much trickier to access, might differ too much in size to fit in another notebook, and the driver situation can be trickier, which makes for more work post-replacement.)

I walked, as I always do, the few kilometers, but finding myself more tired and lacking in energy than I would have expected from such a distance. Too much time indoors due to a mixture of COVID-restrictions, low temperatures, and (during last summer) prolonged bronchitis have really damaged my fitness. (And then we have the question what this might imply for the future. If I fail to compensate through that much harder work, it might very well be a few years of my life when I am in my eighties.)

I walked around Mediamarkt, looking for suitable specimens, beginning, close at the entry to the second floor, with a set of marked-down-due-to-damage computers. Marked down? Maybe, but, apart from the Chromebooks, they were still more expensive than I cared for, and I had the slight fear that some mixture of stampeding inflation, bottlenecks for various chips and whatnots, and market segmentation* would make the affair far more expensive than intended.**

*E.g. in that only Chromebooks and various Android devices can be had cheaply, while a “grown up” computer goes for massively more. Chromebooks et al, however, are not suitable for my current purposes.

**A few years back, I wrote about an atypical lack of progress or even regression in terms of bang-for-buck when it comes to computers. At that time, the decades long trend towards ever more bang for the buck was temporarily broken. A reason for this might have been the vastly increased demand for smartphone components.

I walked over to where the regular items were found, easy to spot and well displayed—and so expensive that I could not believe my eyes. The cheapest (!) went for 900-something Euro, while the median might have been in excess of 1200.* As a comparison, my first notebook, bought in, maybe, 2000, went for less than 3000 DM or around 1500 Euro. (Yes, this was a low-end specimen and there have been more than twenty years of inflation—but there have also been more than twenty years of technological progress.)

*Reservation: I go by memory and did not take exact mental notes. The general idea holds, even should I have the details wrong.

Then, the day seemed saved: in a much less visible aisle, I found a handful of notebooks at much more moderate prices, of which I picked two (of different models) for a total of less than 900 Euro. These, while low-end, were even of better bang-for-buck than the last time around.*

*Which points to the broken trend having resumed in the interim. Imagine my relief.

Sadly, the year is 2022 and the notebooks still all came with a useless and price-increasing Windows installation. Again: 2022—not 2002. This shit should be long behind us.

I went back home on foot and, having a bad conscience about my fallen endurance, picked a road a little longer and much hillier. (Wuppertal has no end on hills, if one picks the right or, depending on perspective, wrong path.) The result: For the first time in years, even with my building in sight, I had to stop to get my breath back—and the last time around I had a loud both heavier and more awkward to carry.* Halfway up to the third floor, I had to halt again—also for the first time since that heavier-and-more-awkward load. Once in my apartment, I put my notebooks down, kicked off my shoes, dropped my jacket to the floor, too tired to hang it, and then I laid down on the floor, myself, where I spent several minutes. Now, I am not saying that this day would have been an outright pick-nick in the past, but… Two years ago, I would neither have had to stop, nor would I have found myself on the floor afterwards—and I suspect that I would have held a higher average tempo.

*The sum of bag and notebooks might have been around 5 kg, maybe less. (Weight is an area where there really has been progress.) To my very vague recollection, the prior event, involving furniture, might have been at 16 kg, but, in all fairness, over a shorter and flatter course.

After a brief excursion, at snails-pace-by-my-standards, to buy food, I spent most of the remainder of the day feeling really lousy, as I do after an overexertion. The intended high point of the day was a Tex-Mex pizza from the local store (one of my favorite dishes). I put it off until the evening—delayed gratification and all that. Twenty-five minutes in the oven, as I like the pizza crispy and firm, and it should have been good to go. But no. I tried to fish it out onto a teller with a fork, as I always do and which has never failed me in the past. This time, very unfirm dough split around the fork tines and the pizza landed in a heap on the oven lid. I tried to grab the heap with the fork and a hand, and the fork just went through it again, leaving nothing that could reasonably be eaten.*

*I do not know what the problem was. A possibility is that I had not turned one of the knobs far enough, but, if so, I should have noticed it when I turned off the oven—as I always have on the very few prior occasions when a knob has been short of the mark.

Today, I began the installation of Linux (Gentoo). Here things grew tiresome again. For starters, I had, around New Year’s, downloaded the installation manual* to an e-reader—which should be perfect right now. But no. When I opened the document, the font was on the small side, so I picked a larger one. The result: The reader locked up in “hour-glass mode” for so long that it went into power-save** mode before the document had reloaded. Once done, simply going from page 2 to page 3 caused another massive delay, after which the power-save mode was reactivated. After turning the thing on again, I was still on page 2… After several repetitions, I tried to go back in size, as things had worked to begin with. The reader worked for half an eternity, went into power-save mode—and was, surprise, still using the larger font afterwards. Several repetitions brought no improvement.

*Note that Gentoo is a distribution for somewhat more proficient users, and that there is a lot more manual work and own decisions to make than with e.g. Debian.

**Due to the minutes of waiting. The battery, to avoid misunderstandings, was fully loaded.

I gave up and began the installation on the first notebook. Just as I recalled, the installation medium did not contain the installation instructions (a bizarre choice, especially considering how little space would be needed), and the central “man” command for displaying other documentation was equally missing. Fortunately, “cryptsetup” was present and I could mount my (encrypted) backup drive, where I, among other needed things, did have a copy of the installation guide. From here on, things went much smoother than around New Year’s; in part, because I had some experience; in part, because I could forego a number of steps and just populate most of the hard drive from the backup drive. However, there were still quite a few curses, due to the incompatibilities of the defaults in the installation shell and my own ingrained-in-my-fingers preferences. Some obscure errors held me back for a while, because I had forgotten to manually add a “/tmp” directory (which I do not backup), including that tmux refused to start.*

*And why is it so hard to give decent error messages? Pretty much the first rule of writing error messages is to indicate what object caused the problem. It should never be e.g. “File not found!”, but “File XYZ not found!”. Ditto, never “Access denied!” but “Access to XYZ denied!” (unless the object is obvious from the interaction).

Still, apart from some issue with the sound,* I had a working computer and a working Internet much, much faster than last time around—and i decided to carry on with the second, too, today. (Originally, intended for tomorrow.)

*A missing driver, likely. I will look into that later. The device is found by “lspci” but is not in e.g. the “/dev” tree.

But no. While it definitely has a functioning hard drive, as it managed to boot into the pre-installed Windows when I was a little slow with entering the BIOS. However, when I tried the Gentoo installation, this hard drive simply could not be found. There is not even a “/dev” entry. If I have the energy, I will troubleshoot tomorrow, but in a worst case, I might have to replace the boot-image for the installation. Absurd. Again, the year is 2022 and interfaces should be sufficiently standardized that something like that simply cannot happen.

(I also have some misgivings about the keyboard layout. As I noticed during my brief experiments, a few keys had been moved out of position in a manner that could be extremely annoying to the touch typist. Another first rule, and another one all too often violated—if you design keyboards, keep the touch typist in mind, not just the hunt-and-peck typist.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 23, 2022 at 9:52 pm

More issues around perverse incentives, evil, and lack of concern for others

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Two issues in the overlap between some recent texts ([1], [2]):

Firstly, one particularly common source of negative effects on others through disregard is children. Now, children themselves cannot necessarily be blamed for their behaviors, as they, depending on age, often are victims of nature, naturally lack the intellectual capability to see a non-egoistical view-point or to see that some actions are disturbing to others, are so used to being around other children that they see screaming and noise as the normal state of affairs,* whatnot. The great problem is the many parents who should know better but either do not or do but willfully ignore the interest of everyone else when their children are concerned, e.g. by bringing a small child into a library and letting it scream its head off for several minutes before silencing it or removing it from the premises.**

*Yet another reason why it is idiotic to put children in large groups of other children with few adults, as e.g. in a typical school.

**An actual situation that I encountered last summer.

A critical point is the risk that this type of parenting has a negative effect on the behavior of the next generation: if the children are never told to behave themselves, show concern for others, respect the rights of others, …, and if the parents never set good examples, chances are that many will keep this type of egocentric behavior into adulthood, compounding the problems in [2] and likely leading to a new generation repeating the same type of negligent parenting.

My own and my sister’s upbringing was already comparatively lax, and the attempts to impose discipline usually came from the grand-parents. For instance, my maternal grand-mother repeatedly tried to set limits on the out-of-control behavior of my sister, but my mother let her get away with anything, even overruling my grand-mother (her right, obviously, but rarely a good decision and definitely a contributor to sister’s “hyper-millennialism”).* For instance, I was a few times told the Swedish equivalent of “children should be seen and not heard”**—always by the grand-mother, never by the mother.

*With time, my memories have grown vague, but one example was my sister deliberately breaking a cheese dome (?), my baby-sitting grand-mother saying that she would make sure that my sister would have to pay for it, and my mother later letting the matter slip.

**Taken to excesses, this attitude can be harmful, but I consider it a sounder attitude than today’s extreme laissez-faire, and there is no contradiction between a moderate use of it and an independent development of the child, e.g. by silencing screaming and trying to move as much play as possible to the playground. There certainly is no contradiction between being an independent adult and a considerate one.

Today, not even this appears to take place. A very common German attitude, e.g., is “Kinder machen Lärm” (“Children make much noise*”), which is then taken as an excuse to allow them to cause disturbances wherever they are, as well as admitting them to places where they should not be, for want of maturity, e.g. “adult” restaurants. (A saner conclusion would be to keep them away from situations where they would disturb others.) I have heard** at least one story of a child putting its hands in the food or drink of an unrelated guest in cafe or restaurant and the parent just wanting to laugh it off. I have myself had a strange child trying to climb (!) on me to get a better view in a zoo, without the parents intervening. Etc. The children, then, go through years of doing what they want, when they want, where they want, never learning to pause and consider anyone else, never learning about personal boundaries, etc.

*“Lärm” might normally be translated with “noise” (without “much”), but this is too weak as “noise” could also be the translation of e.g. “Geräusch”. An overlapping English expression is “children will be children”.

**And seen a fictional parallel on a TV show, possibly “Sex and the City”.

Secondly, a common reason for current societal issues is that humans are built for a different kind of society, and that the (in some sense) disturbance of the old environment leads both to imbalances and to unwanted behaviors being more beneficial (to the perpetrator—not society) and/or receiving less punishment.

Notably, we used to live in a society where too negative behaviors, sooner or later, had direct negative consequences for the perpetrator, e.g. in that a misbehaving child was given a slap* on the behind, that someone who repeatedly violated the rights of others might have been punched** in the nose, or that someone who committed fraud might have ended up with a knife in the back. (Also consider the saying “a dueling society is a polite society”.) Today, the population is almost helpless, having to rely on governmental assistance over own force, and this assistance not always being intended by the system, rarely forth-coming when it is intended, and error-prone and slow*** when it actually is attempted. This implies that the risk–reward balance for a great number of behaviors have changed in favor of the perpetrators of negative**** behaviors.

*While the slapper today is put in the same box as someone who gives a child two dozen strokes with the belt, because all violence against children is considered unacceptable.

**Today, the puncher would usually be in worse legal trouble, regardless of (non-violent) provocation. In theory, the state should intervene to protect against such behavior, but it usually does not.

***The lack of a direct connection and a short time between action and re-action makes an adjustment of attitude less likely, while a deterring effect might be absent altogether. (Compare the deterring effect of e.g. “if I try to rob old man Smith, his sons might beat me up within five minutes” and “if I try to rob old man Smith, I might be caught, might end up in court, and might go to jail in a few months time, but more likely I will just receive a slap on the wrist”.

****Similar, for the worse, can apply to positive behaviors, as with e.g. someone who supports the neighbor’s family in [1].

(Of course, this does not necessarily imply that a system of self-justice would be better—just that it has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. I would definitely argue, however, that the limits on self-justice are too heavy in e.g. Germany, in light of the abysmal job that the state does of protecting the citizens.)

Secondly, consider hard work and economic prudence: In the past, someone who was lazy, spent his money on entertainment instead of necessities, whatnot, risked a quick death due to starvation. Today? Governmental aid will come to the rescue, even of those undeserving*, changing the balance to favor the imprudent. Have too many children back then, and some would starve; today, and the government keeps them fed, implying that the “imprudent reproducers” can eat their cake and have it too. Etc. A particularly interesting case of perverse incentives is the German ALG II** (likely with many other similarly flawed schemes around the world), where existing wealth prevents people from receiving this income booster. This might seem reasonable on first glance: why should the government give handouts to those who can support themselves for months or years based on exiting wealth? However, now consider two individuals, both identical in income, career development, and whatnot, but differing in that the one saves 200 Euros a month and the other spends all his surplus money on entertainment. After ten years, both are fired and unable to find a new job. Eventually, the time for ALG II comes: the prudent saver is now denied ALG II, because he has roughly*** 24 thousand Euro; the prodigious spender will have an empty bank account and will receive ALG II. What incentives does this bring? (Especially, to those at risk of being in need of ALG II, who should be saving as much as they could to protect themselves while they still have an income.) Of course, those who have very poorly paying jobs might be tempted to avoid work at all, draw ALG II instead, and lose little or no money while gaining that much more spare time.

*The idea behind aid schemes was typically originally that those willing-but-unable to provide for themselves should be helped. This is not where we are today.

**A scheme intended to cover the difference between actual income and the existential minimum (or some similar standard). This is particularly relevant for those with no income after exceeding the time limit for unemployment benefits (“ALG”—hence the misleading “ALG II”); however, it also includes a wide range of cases where income is present but insufficient.

***The exact number will depend on factors like saving/consumption during unemployment, interest rates, prior emergencies, whatnot, but in doubt it is the principle and not the exact number that matters.

(Again, this does not necessarily imply that a system of self-X would be better—just that it has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. However, the balance has definitely been pushed far to far towards reliance on the state in many countries, including Germany.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 4, 2020 at 11:32 pm

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Evil and disregard for others

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The topic of evil has popped up repeatedly in my writings, including a few texts from earlier this December. I have long been tempted to write a more in-depth piece, attempting to classify and explain evils (but I probably will not), including the great influence of some characteristics that are very wide-spread among humans, e.g. stupidity and irrationality.* Another aspect is the difference and overlap between evil actions and evil outcomes.**

*Such characteristics are another reason why I take an “evil is as evil does” stance and why I see much greater similarities between the “extreme Right” and the “extreme Left” (often even the more moderate Left) than with other parts of the “Right”, e.g. traditional conservatives: the members of these groups are often very similarly minded, e.g. in that they are stupid and irrational, and might well have ended up on the “other side” had they been exposed to the other side’s propaganda first or more strongly. Similarly, Nazi-Germany and the USSR, and their respective ideologies, were in many ways evil twins, sides of the same despicable coin, opposites only in the sense that the two sides of any coin are opposites.

**Throwing a stone at a political enemy to prevent him from speaking is an evil action, but it need not lead to an evil outcome (e.g. because the stone lands harmlessly on the ground after a too weak throw). On the other hand, many well-intended acts can have evil outcomes (“the road to Hell …”), e.g. attempts to protect one group that reduces civic rights for everyone. Depending on context and point of view, even natural accidents, e.g. a lightning stroke, might be considered an evil outcome. At least for the purposes of this text, I will gloss over the differences.

One specific such characteristic (or family of characteristics?) that has been on my mind over the last year: a lack of concern for the rights and interest of others, or even the inability to understand that others do have rights and interests. This, obviously, in part due to the excessive renovations and other unnecessary noise-making that has taken place in my building during the last year (cf. earlier texts and below). However, a great many other examples can be found, including some having a society-wide impact, notably (kept) promises made by politicians for the sole purposes of ensuring re-election and “after me, the flood”,* warfare for personal glory, gross violations of civic rights to stay in power, … Or, on a more individual scale, murder for a wallet, suicide bombings, pyramid schemes, …

*Here some reservations has to be made for the intent behind this-and-that, e.g. in that a political promise might instead be explained by stupidity or ignorance in the area at hand. Similar reservations might apply elsewhere.

However, it is the many small examples that truly depress me, that prove how large the problem is, and that make me fear that this issue will be almost impossible to resolve, because e.g. replacing one crop of politician with another will merely replace one group of people prone to this attitude with another, proving that farmers and pigs have much in common. For instance, during a very recent four-day excursion to Bonn (where I spent hours each day walking around the city), I observed e.g. (a) how many willfully drove bikes on sidewalks* in order to increase their own convenience, (b) how employees of some type of “electric scooter” rental deliberately placed scooters in the middle (!) of the sidewalks, in order to increase the visibility (and, presumably, chance of a rental), with no regard for the obstacle this posed to pedestrians, (c) some marketing company or pseudo-charity** aggressively approached by-passers, even those obviously and deliberately trying to avoid the employees. (Of course, none of this is unique to Bonn or this time of year.)

*This is illegal in Germany, for good reasons, unless an explicit, announced by signs, exception has been made.

**A very sizable portion of the major charity organizations spend a disturbing amount of money on their directors, organizational costs, marketing, etc., with the well-being of the directors or the organization often taking precedence over the actual cause. (Analogous to problems around e.g. the IOC, FIFA, whatnot.) The employees harassing people in the street, at least in Germany, are typically not volunteering do-gooders—they work for a marketing firm hired by the charity.

Why was I on a four-day excursion to Bonn? Renovations started up again on the 19th, in form of hours upon hours of very, very loud hammer strokes. Even a conservative estimate lands at thousands of strokes that day alone (to what purpose, I do not know). I barely got through the day. On the 20th, the hammering started again, but this time less loudly, and I thought that I would manage. Then the drilling began … This at a volume that made a further presence intolerable. I left the building and made the impromptu decision to go to Bonn until the evening of the 23rd, having received notification that the works would allegedly be ended on the 23rd. (Going by the noises today, the 24th, the main Christmas day in Germany, this was not true, even though the disturbance today was much smaller.)

This provides yet another example of the complete disregard for others discussed above, even the works*, themselves, aside: it would cost next to nothing to just put up a sign at the house-door two weeks earlier, warning those living in the house that e.g. “I have ordered renovation works between the 19th and the 23rd. There might be some considerable noise. For any questions, please call [etc.]”—something which would have both lessened the impact of the negative surprise and made it easier to work around, e.g. through a better planned** trip. How did I know that the works were supposed to end on the 23rd? No sign, that is for sure: I had contacted the authorities for advice on my situation on the 19th, and there was apparently some type of record.***

*I have serious doubts as to whether this type of work, especially in a year which has already had months upon months of loud renovations, can be justified; however, there is at least an obvious “egoistical trade-off”: the renovator improves his apartment and someone else takes the hit. With the lack of sign, there is no such trade-off, the costs of a sign being dwarfed by the benefit to the others living in the house. Is the perpetrator truly too stupid to understand the damage done or is it a matter of simply not giving a fuck? (Other explanations exist, but all seem far less likely to me, e.g. that there was a sign, that someone tore it down, and that the perpetrator did not discover this until it was too late.)

**Indeed, because I made up my mind long after leaving the apartment, even deciding on the destination only after my arrival at the train-station, I did not even have a change of clothes or a tooth-brush with me.

***I have not investigated the details of or reasons for this, but it is remarkable that someone would bother to notify the authorities without seeing the need to notify those actually exposed to the disturbance.

Excursion on stupidity as a root cause/characteristic:
A problem with stupidity is that it tends to pervade a person’s being, development, other characteristics, whatnot. For instance, someone more intelligent is more likely to have an awareness of others and the potential consequences of actions on others, more likely to have a better developed ethical system, more likely to be able to put himself in the other party’s shoes (“do unto others …”), etc. In this, stupidity is the root cause of many other problems, be they related to evil or not. (Unrelated examples include a lesser likelihood of being proficient at a given task and a lesser return on education.) Both Hanlon’s Razor and the Dunning–Kruger effect are notable in this context.

Excursion on this Christmas:
If today is the main day of Christmas in Germany (and Sweden), why am I writing and not celebrating? The days in Bonn contained a never ending stream of Christmas decorations, trees, sales, whatnot—I need to come up for non-Christmas air. There will be some food and Christmas related DVDs tomorrow.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 24, 2019 at 8:25 pm

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Impressions of aging

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An interesting contrast between my recent visits to Sweden and my childhood experiences is my impression of aging and life expectancy:

Both my grand-fathers died when I was quite young (and they comparatively so at 61 resp. 69, or thereabouts). Most of the old people that I encountered were in poor shape, be it through lack of exercise or through sickness, often diabetes. One old man in particular made a lasting impression on me: He was so weak that he did not even risk sitting down in deep chairs, lest he be unable to get up again. Old? Probably not that old.* Later, my paternal grand-mother spent a significant part of her 70s lying in bed in an old people’s home, usually with a confused mind, before dying at a somewhat respectable 80. My maternal grand-mother actually managed to reach 88 (or 87, depending on exact month of death), but she had a bout of severe problems in her 60s, during my later childhood, and she did not look set to reach even 70. Indeed, many of the people that I encountered as a child were already weakened in their 50s.

*Finding out how old is hard by now, but he was my paternal grand-father’s brother-in-law. Said grand-father died at 61, and this weakness was either already present then or manifested within just a few years afterwards. There might well have been a bit of age difference between them, but an age estimate beyond “early 70s” is unlikely, and “late 60s” is certainly more likely than “early 80s”. His problems might, going by very vague recollections, have been partially related to a stroke.

During my visits, I found (among others) a step-father at 71* who still shoveled snow, climbed ladders, and was otherwise physically active; his mother at 103, who still had the energy to serve coffee and cookies (and who emphatically spoke of not baking herself only for fear of burning herself on the oven); an uncle at 73 who walked six miles a day and looked in better shape than some others at 60; and a father** who was still going somewhat strong at 67.

*All ages estimated at the time of my visits. I might be off by a year here or there.

**I would not call him healthy or in shape, because he is not, but he is better off than many of the old or “old” people from my childhood; and as a teen I honestly thought that he would be gone in a heart-attack by 60. As is, he will likely live well into his 70s. He is not (or “not yet”) a good example in absolute terms, but he has done quite well relative the expectations of young me.

Excursion on my mother:
My mother is, unfortunately, already dead, but her death (ALS) was not related to age and, unlike many of the problems that I saw in my youth, not self-caused.

Excursion on the reasons:
Apart from the general upward drift in life expectancy and health in old age (e.g. due to a greater “health consciousness”) there are other factors that can have affected the difference in impressions, including that my own family had a history of disputable eating on both the paternal and the maternal side, that many of the old people were encountered at the Salvation Army*, where a disproportionate number of lonely or sweet-toothed visitors was likely, and possibilities like my step-father’s family having unusually good genetics for aging well. It certainly appears that modern trends have not so much moved the cap on the human life-span as it has increased the proportion that approaches the cap. (But note that the topic of this text is not so much differences in aging as differences in my perception of aging.)

*My parents used to be officers there and several other family members were involved in one capacity or other. I suspect that the function of the Salvation Army in Kopparberg, where I lived as most of these early impressions were formed, was more social than religious—an opportunity for the old and lonely to meet others over coffee, cookies, and singing.

Excursion on actual drop in ability:
The drop in physical ability in those who try to stay in shape is potentially surprisingly small, unless or until medical complications occur. For instance, going by Wikipedia on masters athletics, the age-80 world record for the 100 meters is currently 14.35 s, roughly the overall world record + 50 %, despite a far smaller pool of athletes, lesser monetary rewards, etc. Similarly, the record for the 800 meters is given as 2:48.5, which is better than most 20-something office workers could do, I suspect.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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My writings, lack of time, and the future

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One of my great frustrations is the combination of the many, many things that I want to do and how little time there is to actually do them. This includes (but is by means limited to) things that I want to study, books that I want to read, and texts that I want to write.

Writing is increasingly becoming an outright problem, because I can barely keep up with the new (still non-fiction) texts that I am motivated to write—especially, because many texts end up being longer or considerably longer than I had planned. Meanwhile, my backlog blogging-wise is growing*, I have outstanding TODOs on my website that are ancient, and I am not making as much progress with fiction as I had intended. This is made more complicated by occasional finger pains. While these are no major problem by themselves, I see myself forced to limit the portion of my time spent on writing, lest true problems develop.

*Including a number on texts on my recent visits to Sweden that are growing less and less recent…

As a result, I will try to be considerably more restrictive with texts based on new impulses (e.g. news items), in the hope that this will free up enough time to slowly catch up.

Excursion on progress with fiction:
While my progress has been hampered, it is by no means non-existent. I have improved considerably in terms of understanding and, I hope, ability, and I will likely soon be ready to start* on the actual writing of my first book. Meanwhile, I have gathered many ideas and planned out at least some parts of it in my head.

*An important word. I make no statements as to when I will be finished, especially with an eye on the significant re-writes and revisions that I suspect will be needed for this first work. (Publication, of course, is yet another different matter.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 28, 2019 at 8:31 am

A contemplation of Creation and the nature of God

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Consider this short selection out of the very, very many awkward facts about God’s Creation:

  1. The planets orbit the sun in ellipses, instead of circles.
  2. Speaking of circles, Pi has the very awkward value 3.14159…, instead of a nice round 3, or on the outside a suitable rational number like 22/7.
  3. The year has roughly 365 1/4 days, which is neither a round number of days nor evenly divisible into months (be they moon based or assigned a fix number of whole days).
  4. The human back is suboptimally designed for standing, let alone sitting in an office chair.
  5. Human eye-sight tends to deteriorate so badly over time that artificial aids are needed.
  6. Success in life disproportionately goes to the ruthless and evil actions are often rewarded.
  7. When bad things happen, they often happen indiscriminately, leading to death or suffering among good people.
  8. The magnetic North Pole does not coincide with the geographic North Pole.
  9. A significant part of the year is uncomfortably, or even dangerously, cold, while another part is uncomfortably, or even dangerously warm. (With some variation depending on geographical location.)
  10. The more someone wants to sleep, the harder it becomes.
  11. The M25 and Milton Keynes. (Cf. [1].)

Conclusion: Yes, God is a woman.

Disclaimer: The above is written for humorous purposes, deliberately playing on stereotypes, in conjuncture with a more serious text to follow presently. From a more serious point of view: (a) I am an atheist, making the question academic to me. (b) Assuming a Christian world-view, I would consider it highly unlikely for God’s nature to be mappable onto such human concepts as sex or gender.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:02 pm

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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