Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Personal

A few further thoughts on norms, experience, etc.

leave a comment »

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.

Advertisements

Written by michaeleriksson

May 17, 2019 at 3:50 am

A few thoughts around glasses

with one comment

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

Improving my apartment, going against conventions

with 2 comments

Even when having enough money to be more conventional, I have usually been fairly frugal and unconventional when it comes to e.g. furniture and appliances—including having never owned a dish-washer, never replacing the, to date, sole washing-machine I have ever owned after it broke, preferring* a mattress on the floor to a bed, and even having had a stretch where I used moving boxes in lieu of shelves after a move.

*Truly preferring. I have even on occasion put the mattress of an existing bed (in a furnished rental) on the floor. Advantages include more space, use of the floor as a very large night-table, and the extra exercise from getting down and standing up.

After finally actually living in my purchased apartment, I had planned to change this considerably, including buying a load of furniture, a better mattress (cf. below), a dish-washer, a washing machine, …; as well as replacing the sub-standard built-in kitchen(ette)*. My experiences with eCommerce, deliveries, and whatnot (cf. a number of recent texts) has put a stop to this plan. I have gone through my actual needs in detail, and have decided to (for the time being!) limit myself to a freezer, possibly a better fridge, and some type of table or other (non-integrated) means of increasing the work-space around sink and stove.**

*Which I had brought with me from an older apartment. Due to different placement of fixtures, the original compact row needed to be split into pieces; it is unnecessarily small; there is wear and tear; the fridge is barely adequate in size; and there is neither freezer nor dish-washer.

**As well as the shelves that I have already procured. Concerning dish-washer and washing machine, the decision was also influenced by the lack of space in my bathroom and how the piping in the kitchen is awkward to reach with the current innards.

The question of mattresses form a particularly interesting special case:

I bought a cheap foldable mattress, normally used for temporary guests, shortly after I bought the apartment: I knew that I was not going to move in officially for quite some time, that I would only spend the odd weekend in the apartment until then, and that investing in a “real” mattress so early could back-fire, because I could not know the optimal measurement that far in advance. The guest mattress might have cost me about forty Euro; a “real” mattress would cost several to many times that (especially if I listened to the sales people in the mattress store). This mattress worked surprisingly well even after I had moved in full-time, and only started to grow uncomfortable after about six months of heavy use, when the mattress had developed deep compressions—and I got another (less comfortable) six months out of it simply through putting a folded duvet over the compressed parts.*

*I stress that this duration was not planned. The duvet-solution was intended for a much shorter time, but other tasks with higher priorities and the eCommerce/delivery issues led to an excessive delay.

To avoid delivery issues, I decided to try something original—an air mattress. (Which I could, obviously, carry from a store with no problems.) If it worked, I was well set for a low cost; if it did not, I had unnecessarily spent a small amount that I might still be able to re-coup at a later time, e.g. by using the mattress as a guest bed. The result was mixed: the particular specimen that I bought was not up to the task of a permanent mattress, giving too little support in areas under heavy load and moving too much under my weight, but the principle was sound and a (presumably more expensive) mattress with more than one air-compartment might have worked quite well.*

*Other partial solutions include a narrower mattress, which might give more stability in exchange for less space than the current 120 cm, and a higher air pressure. (I found myself wanting a suitable pump, “pumped” by mouth, and might have ended slightly below the ideal pressure. Then again, a higher air pressure might have resulted in too little yield.) I would certainly give an(other) air mattress a further try, before shelling out a fortune on a conventional mattress.

Realizing that the current set-up did not work well, I was suddenly struck by the memory of having slept on just a duvet for a some time around ten years ago. Going for a new experiment, I let out the air, put my duvet on top, and have since found myself in better comfort than the last time I had a real mattress! My only complaint is that, if I remain still for too long, there can be a slight pain on certain points, notably where my hip-bone is pressed into the duvet when I lay on my side; however, this has been reduced by a slightly different sleeping position (shifting pressure from bone to muscle), more movements lead to a further reduction, and another duvet would likely take care of any remaining objection. (I have not felt the need to date, but this might change.) Meanwhile, my posture is better, a slight occasional twinge in the lower back is reduced, and the rest of my body is quite comfortable.

This type of unconventionality was not always there, however. Notably, my early adulthood was still influenced by an expectation of what belonged in a home from my childhood. For instance, I bought the aforementioned washing-machine at a very early stage, without having ever investigated my needs and the advantages and disadvantages. For instance, I was moved to buy a small crystal chandelier and a smallish oriental carpet (both in an affordable quality, however), because my paternal grand-mother had had similar objects in a room that I slept in when visiting her. Over the years, I learned to be more pragmatic and more questioning of whether what most people have/use/whatnot is actually worth the money* and effort—sometimes it is; sometimes not. (This especially with an eye on different people having different needs, e.g. due to size of household, spare-time activities, whatnot.)

*The main reason for why I had more extensive original plans is that I simply had more money available than at earlier stages of my life—and splashing out a few thousand to get a conventional and decent kitchen and whatnot at age 44 was well within the realms of the affordable and responsible. This much unlike what might have been the case at e.g. 24—and much unlike those who actually spend twenty thousand on a kitchen, sometimes without having the money at hand. However, a contributing reason is that I had spent such a long time living in furnished apartments and hotels (for professional reasons) that I had started to lose track of the right attitude and indeed slipped a bit in the direction of adhering to expectations. Without this slip, I would likely still have had similar plans, but I would have spent more time investigating my needs and wishes before making the plans. (As is, I made the plans with too little thought, was given a “second chance” through the delays, and revised the plans over time.)

Excursion on general principles:
Generally, I have found it important to question norms, typical behaviors, accepted truths, whatnot.* For instance, I view various societal phenomena and institutions, claims by politicians and news-papers, whatnot, with skepticism unless and until I have had the time to form an independent opinion. I have certainly learned that much of what is taken for granted or is preached as inviolable truth does not actually hold up to a critical examination, especially not when viewed from scratch**. Do not expect me to fall in line as true believer, if a claim does not have convincing arguments to back it. Do not expect me to believe everything an authority says. Do not expect me to do something in a certain way just because it is the conventional way. Do not expect me to automatically consider the current state of affairs the best, let alone the sole possible. Etc.

*Which is not to be confused with the claims of doing the same by e.g. some post-modernist, quasi-Marxist, PC, or whatnot groupings. Firstly, quite often they are the providers of the conventional truth and norms, while what they criticize as alleged norms often no longer are (if they ever were…) the norms. (Indeed, my attitude owes a lot to exposure to faulty claims and reasoning, norms that do not makes sense, whatnot, that originated with these very groups…) Secondly, they are rarely intent on a fair critical examination, which might well result in an acquittal, but on proving a preconceived opinion that this-or-that is evil and must be condemned/abolished. (Recurring examples include Western culture, traditional roles, and anything male or White.)

**By which I mean approaching an issue e.g. through the perspective of a human from a very different time period. Consider e.g. the reaction of a pre-historic farmer if he had to surrender a proportion of his harvest (minus expenses) corresponding to modern German tax-rates and got as little in return as many of us have. Similarly, while a pre-historic farmer might not be negative towards a modern mattress, he would likely find it highly odd and e.g. a thick layer of straw more natural—as might, indeed, the typical farmer until far more recently. Ditto when the cultural perspective is switched, e.g. by comparing German and classical Japanese sleeping arrangements. (The latter being reasonably close to my current.)

Excursion on rentals and kitchens in Sweden and Germany:
An interesting difference between Sweden and Germany is that kitchens are usually provided by the landlord in the former and by the tenants in the latter. While the Swedish system might give a lesser flexibility, the German is associated with ridiculous cost increases for those who do not spend decades in the same apartment. This not only through the considerable additional costs for de-installing, moving, and re-installing the kitchen with every move,* but also through the risk (as above) that the kitchen does not fit well in the new location. To boot, there is a risk that market prices for kitchens are driven up artificially through excess demand; ditto cost per man-hour for the installers and movers. Certainly, the costs will automatically be higher (at a given quality and content) for a private person than for a land-lord, due to economies of scale. Notably, if the first kitchen in an apartment is installed by the builder**, he can buy in bulk, can use the staff at hand (which is cheaper than hiring per hour), and is not explicitly or implicitly billed for travel costs. Then there is the issue of deductible VAT and deductions of costs from revenue, which the builder and landlord can apply, but the tenant can not.

*Some of these tasks might be doable by the tenant, but many will lack the skill or the man power for some steps, it can pose an unnecessary danger (e.g. through water-damage due to amateurish plumbing), and some steps might legally require a qualified handyman, e.g. connecting ovens to electricity in Germany. Even in a best case scenario, there will be an opportunity cost through all the extra work.

**Who will often be the landlord, work for or in cooperation with the landlord, or later sell to the landlord.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 13, 2019 at 4:51 am

A few notes on my language errors II

leave a comment »

Re-reading a text on experiences in Sweden, I found an example that simultaneously illustrates two problem areas: “false friends”* and a weaker knowledge of words for everyday items (or, more generally, a knowledge that varies with the domain). Specifically, I wanted to translate the Swedish “kartong” (“carton”) and jumped straight to “cartoon”… The mistake is understandable, seeing that all three words are derived from the French “carton” or ultimately the Italian “cartone”. The result is still border-line hilarious—and this is a mistake that a native speaker would be unlikely to make. Notably, there is a wide range of words that most native speakers learn as children and that only rarely feature outside e.g. home settings, implying that non-natives are unlikely to pick them up from language courses, science books, fiction,** whatnot.

*I.e. words from different languages that sound/look as if they mean the same thing, but where the actual meaning is different. However, to me, this is normally a greater problem between German and Swedish than a constellation involving English, because the languages are more similar. This includes many cases of words that used to mean the same but have since drifted apart. For instance, when, probably, my mother once complained that I was still unmarried, I tried the excuse that there were too few women at work—and, with the German “Frauen” (“women”) in mind I spoke of “fruar” (“wives”). (A closely related issue, if not “false friends” in a strict sense, is the many words in German that sound/look as if they would have an immediate equivalent in Swedish (or vice versa) but do not, or where there is an almost immediate equivalent with a slightly unexpected shape. Consider e.g. the Swedish “avlasta”, where a naive translator might try a faux-German “ablasten” instead of the correct “entlasten”.)

**Much unlike e.g. “homicide”, “evidence”, “subpoena”, …

More generally, knowledge of a language is often strongly domain dependent, depending on factors like what we have read and what fields we have worked in. I, e.g., am weaker with kitchen and “home” terminology in German and English than in Swedish, due to my Swedish childhood; but stronger with computer terminology, due to my German work-experiences and my English readings. Quite often, I have found myself in a situation where I am well aware of the word for a certain concept in one language but lack the same word in another, depending on what type of readings has created the awareness.*

*This is sometimes noticeable in that I use lengthier formulations or awkward terminology in one discussion and better terminology (for the same concept) a few years later. In some cases, e.g. “identity politics”, I have been aware of the concept before I learned the phrase in any language.

The “carton”–“cartoon” mix-up is not a case of confusing sound-alike words (a problem mentioned in the the first installment). In doubt, the “-ton” and “-toon” parts of the respective word are quite far apart in pronunciation. Instead, it was either a matter of having the right word in mind and not having a sufficient awareness of the spelling, or of grabbing the “false friend” instead of the correct word with too little reflection. (To tell for certain after more than a month is hard.)

In contrast, my mistaken use of “shelve”* for “shelf” is at least partially a sound issue (partially a “not good with home terminology” issue), although of a less unconscious kind: I was uncertain whether the singular of “shelves” was “shelve” or “shelf”, decided to go with “shelve” and to let the spell-checker correct me as needed—overlooking that there is a verb “to shelve”… (Implying that the spell-checker saw “shelve” as a correct spelling, being unable to tell from context that a noun was intended. Actually researching the spelling through the Internet would have given me the correct answer in a matter of seconds…) More generally, the question of “f” vs “v[e]” is often a problem, including my often forgetting the switch to “v” in a plural (e.g. “lifes” instead of “lives” as a plural of “life”) and hypercorrecting (e.g. “believes” instead of “beliefs” as plural of “belief”).

*In a number of recent texts relating to my attempts to buy shelves online, e.g. [1].

Written by michaeleriksson

April 30, 2019 at 1:52 pm

A few notes on my language errors

with one comment

When proof- or re-reading my own texts, I am often annoyed by the number of language errors that I make, even discounting those relating to ignorance* and sloppy typing**. Below, I will discuss some issues that I have seen repeatedly recently.

*I am not a native speaker, and my understanding of the rules of English can have weird holes. For instance, it was only fairly recently that I realized that “one’s” (“someone’s”, etc.) takes an apostrophe (as opposed to “ones”, “someones”, etc.) in standard English. I also often rely on my spell-checker to find problems with words that I have only used actively on rare occasions. To boot, my own opinion on certain less regulated language questions develops over time, e.g. in that I earlier used “may” quite often to indicate a “might”, “could”, or similar—but now consider this poor style, because of the loss of precision.

**While I only very rarely pick the wrong character, I can get characters turned around (e.g. “on” instead of “no”) and occasionally pick the entirely wrong syllable (e.g. “-er” instead of “-ing”). And, yes, I would count the latter as sloppy typing in my case, because it is not a conscious choice but more of “crossed wires” at some point in the transfer from brain to computer—I pick the wrong set of keys where a less experienced typist might pick the wrong individual key. On occasion, my fingers type an entirely different word than I had in my mind.

The influence of pronunciation* is particularly frustrating, e.g. in that I might mix-up “two”, “too”, and “to”—despite having a firm grasp of when which should be used. It seems that the influence of the similarity in sound often tricks my fingers when typing and my eyes when proof-reading. This is likely an area where being a fast typist and reader is actually a disadvantage, because I spend less time on each word (compared to someone slower) and am less likely to notice such differences. Generally, proof-reading is hard for me**, because of the problems with keeping myself concentrated and suppressing the temptation to read faster.

*Beware that I might be more vulnerable to this as a non-native speaker, because different languages have different rules for pronunciation and phonetical “minimal pairs”.

**Here I found myself writing “more” instead of “me” in an example of the crossed-wire issue mentioned above—somehow, a spurious “or” was inserted.

Late stage changes and additions to a text are often stumbling blocks: The parts of the original draft that remain until publication have been proof-read at least twice (often more)—but the changes made during proof-reading, the new thoughts added after the first draft, the reformulations made because the original was too clunky,* etc., will have gone through fewer stages of checks. Factor in how boring proof-reading is, and a last-minute change might even end up with a single skimming in lieu of proper proof-reading. Sometimes these errors can distort the text, as with a recent use of “net”**: I originally wrote an example in terms of net income/profit, but decided that it made more sense to start with revenue, re-wrote the example correspondingly—and left a “net” in. This causes the numbers used in the example to seem incompatible with each other. In German, with its more complicated grammar, I often have problems like a change of words leading to a change of gender, which would require different suffixes on other words in the same sentence or the use of differently gendered pronouns (possibly, in other sentences)—but where I fail to make all of the secondary changes.***

*Yes, even I have a limit…

**The error is still present at the time of writing, but I might edit the text at a later date. I have refrained from doing so, so far, because I do not trust WordPress’ editing functionality. The same applies to other examples.

***Consider the differences between “Ich habe ein kleines Tier gesehen. Es war braun.” and “Ich habe einen kleinen Hund gesehen. Er war braun.”, and contrast this with the identical English surroundings: “I saw a small [animal/dog]. It was brown.” (However, something similar can happen with at least “a” vs. “an” in English too, e.g. “a dog” vs. “an animal”.)

The imitative character of language learning (see excursion) has often led me astray—to the point that I might find myself unconsciously making the same mistakes that I criticize in others. For instance, I have condemned linking on the word “here”* as naive (and stand by that text!), but found that I have myself made this mistake on a few occasions. (E.g. in blogroll** updates, where I have repeatedly used formulations like “That link was first described here.”, with a link on “here”.)

*Which I would see as a part of language use in the context of hyper-text.

**Originally, I wrote “role” instead of “roll”.

While I have repeatedly complained about how people screw up the “linguistic logic”* of their sentences, I am not infallible myself. For instance, I recently wrote “not entirely unsurprisingly” in a context where “not entirely surprisingly” was the actual intention. I should have stuck with a plain “unsurprisingly”, which had been less likely to cause confusion for writer and reader alike.

*E.g. through screwed up negations (as above), use of phrases like “fast speed” (a car is fast; its speed is great), or some examples from an earlier discussion.

A quite surprising problem area is line-breaks: If a line-break takes place after a (usually) one-syllable word, I often type this word again after the line-break. Likely, the end-of-the-line suffers some variation of “out of sight, out of mind”, with the result that I fail to recognize that I had already typed the word once. More rarely, the opposite happens and the word is left out entirely; however, this could be unrelated to the line-break, as it happens in other parts of the text too*.

*Just wrote “two”…

Excursion on imitation:
Human language is naturally learned by imitation, and humans seem to be strongly geared towards such imitation. This to the point that I have occasionally found myself correctly using words that I did not know (at least, on a conscious level). This imitative character can have many negative effects, including that people make incorrect assumptions about what a word means (e.g. “decimate”, “discriminate”, “petrified”), use words in a manner that causes a drift in meaning over time (e.g. “discriminate”; possibly, “decimate”); or pick up weird language errors that would have been obviously incorrect to someone who had stopped to think (e.g. “I could care less” or “literally” to imply the exact opposite of what is actually said). Correspondingly, those whose language reaches a greater number of people should see it as their duty to speak and write as correctly as possible, be they authors*, teachers, journalists, politicians, … Similarly, parents should take care when speaking to their children, lest they pick up poor habits from the beginning. In particular, they should avoid deliberate “baby words” like “doggy” and “bowwow”.

*A complication is the compromise between correct/standard/whatnot and realistic speech by fictional characters. Unless the author wishes to put heavy emphasis on some quality of a character (e.g. that he is unusually stupid or belong to a different dialectal/sociolectal/whatnot group than the main characters), I recommend erring on the side of the correct, e.g. through assuming that this particular member of a certain group is one of the more well-read and educated—the variation between e.g. construction workers on the same building site can be quite large.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 24, 2019 at 11:44 pm

A few thoughts on the proportion of complaints in my writings

leave a comment »

Looking back at some of my writings, especially in 2019, I see an awful lot of complaining. Do I have nothing better to do with my time? Is my view of the world really that bleak? Is my life really filled with that many annoyances?

To some degree the answer is “yes”—but to an even greater degree “no”. Notably, no matter how much I might seem to complain when writing, I see myself as of (possibly considerably) over-average happiness in life, in comparison with e.g. various family members and most of my past colleagues.* Why then the high proportion of complaints? The answers include:

*To the degree that I can judge their situation. Further, with the reservation that this was not necessarily always so.

  1. In all fairness—the “yes” aspect: We do live in a world plagued by incompetence, ignorance, irrationality, lack of respect for the rights and interests of others, …

    There objectively is much to complain about, and complaining has the benefit of allowing me to “process” these issues. It makes it easier for me to get things of my mind,* it makes it easier for me to find an upside on a negative situation (“at least I got material for a blog post”), and there is usually something to learn from the events (cf. below).

    *I do have a tendency to not let go of issues that bother me, before I have processed them: Write a text to complain and I can put the issue away; do not write a text and it can annoy me for days.

    However, a critical difference between me and many others is that I seem to be much better at spotting such issues—many are themselves too incompetent or naive to understand that they are the victims of one or more of these problems: They fail to see that things could be done better. They do not realize that someone is taking advantage of them. They miss causal connections. They fail to investigate the truth of claims made by others. They are tricked into ignoring the negative effects of a problem, because the causer of the problem smiled at them and said a few polite words. Whatnot. We all live in a highly flawed world; not all of us have noticed it.

    I can e.g recall how my mother once came home from the auto-mechanics, gushing with gratitude over the fact that he had found or “found” another problem than she originally came in for, which had yet to actually manifest in something negative, and which made the cost of service explode… Now, I am not saying that this was fraud—such problems do legitimately occur, and he might genuinely have found one. However, my mother did not even contemplate the possibility that it might have been a fake discovery. This despite such fake discoveries being a part of the auto-mechanic stereotype*. She shelled out her money, was happy, and might or might not have avoided a future issue. A more wise-to-the-world car-owner would at least have asked for a second opinion.

    *More generally the craftsman et al. stereotype—and for a good reason. My private experiences include, shortly after moving into a new apartment, having a plumber come by to fix something on behalf of the land-lady. He went under the sink, worked vigorously for a few moments, got back up, turned the tap on, pointed out the absence of a water flow, and insisted on changing the entire tap. This did not fly: The tap had worked perfectly until he came and it was obvious that he had just deliberately turned off the main-valve, which was also under the sink…

    While such naive behavior is bad when it comes to commercial transactions, it can be disastrous when politics is concerned—as can be seen both by the typical quality of politician elected and the often useless or even harmful policies that they push.

  2. Writing about the positive things in life usually feels pointless. Yes, it can be nice to recollect* them at some later time; yes, shared happiness is double happiness**. However, there is also less to learn and analyze, less of a need for change, less that might be achieved through writing a text, and less opportunity to provide “food for thought”. Indeed, when I (as a reader) encounter a “feel good” text by someone else, I rarely bother to read it to an end, because it seldom provides a push for me to think or an opportunity to widen my horizons.

    *And I have a few more positive posts in planning relating to my visits to Sweden and the many recollections of the past that they invoked. (That these topics are on my mind might be clear from this text.)

    **To quote a ceramic decoration that I re-encountered in Sweden: Delad glädje är dubbel glädje.

  3. One of my main goals with writing is self-development, and writing about things that are, in some sense, wrong provides me with a better opportunity (also see the previous item). For instance, if we look at my recent eCommerce and delivery issues (cf. a number of recent texts) and assume that everything had gone right—what would there be to learn from and write about? I could note that things went well and I could try to figure out why, but that is pretty much it. (And the “why” mostly makes sense with an eye on past eCommerce and delivery failures, bringing us back to failures…) When things go wrong, the situation is very different: What happened? What could the underlying problem be? How could things be done better? Who is to blame? Is this a wider problem or something that happened just to me? Etc. Not only is there more to write about, but there is also an incentive to read up on related issues. (Here, for instance, I have read a number of pages dealing with the delivery experiences of others, magazine articles dealing with the delivery chaos in Germany, and similar.)
  4. I strongly believe that learning from the failures of others is a great way to excellence—indeed, that merely avoiding the more common errors in a certain field will bring someone quite far towards the top in said field. (It is astonishing what proportion in more-or-less any field is actually quite incompetent and how many “beginner’s” errors prevail even among veterans.) By writing such texts, I do not only give myself an opportunity to learn, I also offer the same opportunity to others.*

    *To which I stress that the important part is not that my opinion be taken as an ipse dixit, although I am pleased when my opinions/reasoning/whatnot are convincing, but that the reader is stimulated to think for himself.

  5. I also strongly believe that many of the current problems remain unchanged because people do not complain enough.* If people were less naive, less complacent, whatnot, and actually stood up against e.g. incompetent service providers, things would change. My complaints might be nothing more than a lone candle in a vast darkness, but it is proverbially better to light a candle than to curse the darkness—and if more would join me, we might have enough candles to actually defeat the darkness.

    *Not counting the many complaints that are misguided effects of propaganda efforts by e.g. Feminists. Cf. any number of previous texts.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 24, 2019 at 12:10 am

Blogroll update (much delayed)

with 2 comments

It has been a very, very long time since I updated my blogrolls—or even visited most of the linked-to pages.

To improve matters, I have just added three new links and removed a number of others. Note that the “temporary” section is reduced to one entry, due to the excessive time since the last update. (Normally, it would be fixed at three. Cf. my blogroll policy.)

Links that currently appear to be defunct are prefixed with a “#”. They might or might not work at some later time, from some different geographic area, or similar, but do not bet on it…

New:

  1. Minding the Campus deals extensively with problems on U.S. college campuses (and similar settings), notably in areas like freedom of speech and opinion, due process, and damaging PC excesses. Seeing that higher education is an enormously important topic and that the current course is disastrous, this site is one of the most important around.

    Recurring readers might recognize the name from repeated prior mentions.

    (English blogroll)

  2. Academic Rights Watch is a similar site with a focus on my native Sweden (in Swedish, despite the English name). Much of the same applies, but there are some thematic differences resulting from the different Swedish situation and/or different priorities in detail. (The former includes a more homogeneous population, a system that does not involve U.S.-style campuses, and a less intrusive-upon-the-students mentality of the colleges/universities.)

    (Swedish blogroll)

  3. educationrealist writes about practical experiences from teaching U.S. high-school students in a highly informative manner. I have a half-finished draft of a longer discussion that will be published in the near future.

    (Temporary blogroll)

Replaced:

  1. #My own old OpenDiary seems to be defunct. (Without my having been notified…)

    I have changed the link to point to a (complete or near complete) backup on my main web-site.

Removed:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education currently, in an unethical and visitor-hostile act, blocks access to content with a request that visitors join a mailing list. To boot, the usability of the web-site has otherwise been reduced considerably since the original addition; to boot, the interested reader will find much more information on Minding the Campus.

    (However, the foundation appears to still play an important part as freedom-of-speech and whatnot activists.)

  2. #Feminismus oder Gleichbehandlung leads to a browser-error page.
  3. #Call for a more sensible take on prostitution (German) leads to a server-error page.

    This site was also part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

  4. #Länger Einkaufen in Bayern leads to a server-error page (and might have been hi-jacked by some type of squatter, porn site, or whatnot).

    This site was also part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

  5. Human Stupidity was part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 5, 2019 at 12:19 am