Posts Tagged 'problems'

Facebook: The Great Debate

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An awesome friend of mine recently posted to Facebook:

I have to see the world to understand it.

I replied:

And I have to understand the world in order to see it.

Who is right or wrong here? Many times, there will be a black and a white, a clear distinction between the truth and a falsehood. Other times, it may not be so neat and easy to distinguish correctness between ideas. Sometimes neither side is an appropriate view, and a middle-ground must be sought.

Here is another example. A friend of mine recently struggled with the following two ideas:

I pay for the game because I can’t stop playing it.

I can’t stop playing the game because I pay for it.

Turns out, when he quit paying the monthly fee to a game that he was addicted to, he quit playing easily. Having already paid for a month he made extra time to play the game because he didn’t want the money to go to waste. Removing the obligation, in this case, removed the addiction.

Sure, it won’t always work that way. Sometimes these two-way arguments have a clear right and wrong, like this one:

I poop because I eat.

I eat because I poop.

Sure, one could go into long philosophical arguments and biological and physiological explanations of how the second condition could also be true, but essentially this is a simple cause and effect situation. Trying to make the second one true only obscures the fact that poop is a byproduct of the body’s system of removing nutrients from the food. Pooping happens because of our need to eat, not the other way around.

Other times there is no clear right or wrong. Sometimes the right or wrong will lie in the eye of the beholder, other times it will vary by circumstance. Many times both sides will have some validity and it will be up to the individual to find their own balance between the two.

A battle has raged for years in my head around Facebook. There are two main camps in this war:

I have it because I need it. Keep the account.

I need it because I have it. Close the account.

There was, at one time, a third position that existed in my mind, one that proposed a middle-ground truce between the two, but that one is dying a slow and painful death. I’ll explain that one after I’ve explained the positions of the main arguments.

Before going too far into this, there is something you should know about me. Most people might casually define socializing as having and interacting with friends and acquaintances. Mostly, I agree. However, socializing is work for me. It is hard work. I feel that having close, reliable friends is of paramount importance, but unnecessary socializing is difficult and should be avoided at all costs. Good friends are both chosen and come to you on their own. I could write an entire supplementary article on good friends (and I might one day) but for now just know that I see Facebook friends as belonging to one of four categories:

  1. Family
  2. Good, Close Friends
  3. Acquaintances & Associates
  4. People I don’t really know or care much about

Now, here are both sides of the battle in my head over Facebook. I encourage you to join in the internal discussion with your comments below.

Argument One: I Have It Because I Need It

Every time I think the other argument might win, this one has pulled through and kept me from closing my account. Facebook has become ubiquitous and prominent in our society. Growing up I made phone calls to friends who were not physically near, or we exchanged letters in the mail. The Internet came along and made long-distance communication an integral part of our lives, and changed everything.

I have another good friend who recently dropped his text messaging plan. He downgraded his iPhone to one of the most basic models of cell phone available, and told AT&T to block all incoming text messages. He says he’s doing it to save $10 a month and because he was relying on it too much. Now, when I want to text him to ask him something simple, I have to call him. I might be interrupting something, I usually end up wasting more time than if I had just fired off a text, and we often wind up having a pleasant conversation that leaves me wondering if maybe it wasn’t so bad to drop texting after all. I mean, I make fun of him a lot for not having texting, but how much damage has he really done by dropping it? There are numerous pros and cons, and in the end this is clearly something that he sees as the right thing to do.

We’re not here to debate on whether texting is necessary or not though. Personally, my wife and I rely on texting far too heavily, as do most of my coworkers, family and friends. I’ll be keeping my texting plan. Even if it didn’t start out this way, I definitely have it because I need it.

It’s entirely possible that Facebook has graduated to the same status as texting. Without Facebook there are several people I know I would lose contact with, some of them being family members or really close friends. I could say we’ll exchange emails, subscribe to each other’s blogs, and text each other, but I know that won’t happen with a few of them. In a sense, if I wish to keep all of the social ties and connections that I currently have, I need Facebook. That’s the way the world is now.

Argument Two: I Need It Because I Have It

And this is the way it begins, right? Before something like Facebook exists, nobody needs it. Sure, some relationships weren’t happening before it existed, and one could argue that those relationships need Facebook (and they do), but how badly do I need Facebook?

Let’s face it, Facebook is just a giant online socializing arena. If I loved socializing, I would love Facebook. The fact is, I like having connections with people, but socializing is work. Sometimes, socializing is painful and annoying. Some people who I would absolutely love to spend time with face to face can be downright annoying on Facebook. Anyone else have that friend who never uses Facebook for anything but advertising for things that they are passionate about? I would remove that friend, but they are close to me and I want to keep my tie with them in Facebook because of that closeness. I would block them from the feed, but what if they have a bad day and post a non-advertising status message and I miss an opportunity to be there for them? So instead, because I love them, I endure their many posts about things that I should buy. Multiply this times the sixty friends I have on Facebook, and you can see how it starts to wear on me.

It’s not that all of my friends are marketers, but many of them try me in other ways. I love them all, but I don’t want to have any part in immature dramas or “he said, she said” communication melt-downs. What about that person that I go to church with and they post a nasty status update filled with cursing and nasty things about their neighbor? Does anyone else have that one friend who seems to post nothing but complaints all the time?

There are many alternatives to Facebook style social networking. I love typing emails and reading blogs. I only wish more of my friends would make the time and do the work to have a more traditional correspondence with me. If I close my Facebook account I will be cutting off many good social ties with people. Then again, before Facebook I wouldn’t have had those ties, and I would have been perfectly happy without them. So, do I really need to keep in touch with those people who wouldn’t keep in touch without Facebook?

Argument Three: The Best of Both Worlds?

Of course, both of the above arguments have quite a bit of truth to them, so finding a balance becomes necessary, right?

Categorizing each and every one of my friends by priority (see the priorities above, numbered 1-4) and deleting all who fell into the lowest priority brought my number of friends down below fifty. It felt good. Checking Facebook took less time, and it was nice not having to worry about those people I didn’t really care about.

However, now that I’ve lived and worked where I do for a little longer, I’ve begun to add acquaintances and associates from work, a category that I feel is important due to the fact that Facebook is often where people disseminate work-related information, and my friends list now numbers over 65. For someone like me, that is a lot. Still, not a single person in my friends list can be trimmed out. They are all in the top three priority categories.

This is where Argument Three fails. This is why the battle is primarily between the first two arguments. I am doing everything I can to ensure that I do not have excess in my friends list, and still it grows uncontrollably. If I get even more discriminate with who stays in my friends list, I know that it will be bad. Even if Facebook isn’t important to me, it has become such an integral part of our society that the act of removing a coworker from your friend list can be considered offensive. I do not wish to hurt relationships, I only wish to be relieved of the strain that Facebook puts on my life.

Final Thoughts

If I keep Facebook and simply endure its rough spots, just like everything else in life, then I am keeping a tool that is an important part of our modern society. If I delete my Facebook account like so many have done, then I am removing a heap of heartache and stress from my life and may find that I can live without it just fine. Either way, with either decision, regrets are sure to creep up from time to time, and I will likely revisit this argument at some point in the future.

For some people, one of the three arguments will be the correct answer. For other people, there may be no clear answer. For me, I feel that a decision needs to be made. While I seriously consider closing my Facebook account almost daily, I have talked myself out of it or neglected to make any changes due to apathy every time. On several occasions I have “reenacted” the third argument, harshly reevaluating each and every friend on my friends list, sometimes making a cut or two, other times walking away with a sigh of defeat having realized that, like my waistline, a few inches have been added and there is nothing I can do to shed them.

Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely love all of the friends and family that I have on Facebook, and I enjoy the interactions I have with them as well as my esteemed coworkers and acquaintances. However, not all of my interactions with Facebook are pleasant, and I often feel that I might be better off without Facebook.

While this decision is mine and mine alone, I do enjoy hearing what other people have to say about things. So, for fun, I have a little poll here that I would like you to vote on, and I encourage discussion in the comments.

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On Electronic Chain-Letters

I’ve been sick, and I’ve felt like writing, but I didn’t know what to write. Funny thing about inspiration though, it can hit you at any time, and in any text box. I just happened to get the urge to write while responding to an email, and the result was something I wanted to share with everyone.

Blah

I'm not fat - I'm puffing my cheeks.

Hey there. I’m sick today, and I lack the will to do anything except sleep, sit at the computer or at the couch, and do almost nothing. I’ve been thinking for quite some time that I’d like to write an unnecessarily lengthy letter to someone in my immediate or extended family, and since you’re my father-in-law and we haven’t exchanged words in a while, you win the prize.

So, when you forwarded that “touching true story” I thought I’d take a look at it rather than AUA it (Archive Upon Arrival).

The fact of the matter is, that I don’t care for forwards. I’ve got one friend (that’s one person, in the whole of my 200+ email contacts) that has ever forwarded me anything I thought was interesting. Most of the forwards I receive are silly “touching stories” that really don’t mean much to me. I’ve had too much experience with fabricated and embellished stories on the Internet, I suppose.

Anyhow, a really good friend of mine introduced me to snopes.com last year, and ever since then I have used it when faced with something on the Internet that seems outlandish. A quick query on snopes.com revealed a most interesting article written specifically about the email you passed along today. Interestingly, this particular story actually has quite a few true elements in it (most of the stories I have seen circulated in email forwards are so exaggerated and embellished that they are rarely representative of any truth that may have served as their premise). However, several key facts were changed and exaggerated.

The story took place in the early eighties, the boy’s name was Frank, and the Make-a-Wish foundation actually granted this as a wish (along with a ride in a hot-air balloon, and a trip to Disneyland). The most touching part of the real story doesn’t even appear in the email, and to make it worse, the email is copied nearly word for word from one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. The night that the boy died, it was five firemen that climbed into his room, not sixteen.

Here’s the link to the true account (along with the version of the email that the author saw, which is slightly different still from the one you sent me):

http://www.snopes.com/glurge/fireman.asp

So, yes. The story is touching, but I hate reading these stories in email forwards because they are almost all full of embellishment and twisted truths. I find it much more satisfying to scour the news for heartwarming articles that are presented as a collection of facts with the purpose of informing the reader. That way I’m getting completely true stories, which are better than the big, bold, colorful words (usually in the Comic Sans font) that have been changed or invented to elicit an “oh, how darling” response and usually wrap up with a self-righteous plea from the author to get me to say a prayer for some cause (usually, something I don’t care about).

In my view, the Internet is only good for six things, and half of them I don’t want any part of (pornography, gambling and robbery). The only three things I use it for are (presented in order of the value I place on them):

  1. Humor/Entertainment
  2. Communication (keeping in touch with close friends and family)
  3. Access to accounts and services (banking, on-demand-self-publishing services, etc.)

Even getting factual news on the Internet can be a challenge. My father runs the Internet arm of a newspaper corporation in Arizona, and this is a problem they deal with on a regular basis. Sure, there are news sources on the Internet that can be trusted, but they are drowned out by all the chatter and clutter from sources like the mysterious writer of that email you sent me (who, again, did little more than poorly copy another “touching” email, which was nearly a direct copy of a segment of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book).

So, I just use the Internet to look at fun stuff, like this article and clip from Robert Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech. Occasionally there is some interesting news at those trusted sites, like this article about a group of apes that had never had human contact before. Mostly, the Internet loves things that are silly and irreverent, like this historical look at a group of entertainers known throughout history as fartistes, among other names.
The main reason I love the Internet, though, is because of people like David Thorne. I really can’t explain all that well what it is that I love about his work, but I would encourage you to read this email exchange he had with his renters, and this exchange he had with a Blockbuster employee. He is extremely irreverent and at times a tad inappropriate. However, he is a comedic genius. After one of his earliest email exchanges went viral a coworker told David that he would never be able to do it again. David bet him his Christmas bonus that he could, and two weeks later he had another email exchange that went viral.

Essentially, what I love about David Thorne is that he embodies the idea that the Internet is not to be taken seriously. He is quoted as saying, “the Internet is a playground.” I agree, and that is why I don’t like coming across stories that are supposed to be “touching” on the Internet, unless they come directly from trusted news sources. If they don’t come from a trusted news site, then I’m a sucker for believing them until I’ve researched the facts myself.

As you can see, between David Thorne, funny/interesting stuff that comes to me in my feed reader, and finding funny videos like these ones, the Internet provides me with far more entertainment than I even have time for. It barely even leaves me time to read email, especially forwards. However, next time I get a forward from you that claims to tell a “true” story, I’ll check the facts on fark.com and tell you what they say. Sometimes the truth is better than the lies that circulate in chain-emails.

I hope you enjoy the links I’ve provided you with, and we all here love and appreciate the effort you make to maintain a presence in our life. Your daughter and grandchildren send their love, as do I.

Love,

-Brian

Why do we need to know?

Nobody wants to miss this?

Nobody wants to miss this?

Today I read a brief article: Alert the Media – Obama Has Made a Break for It – NYTimes.com. It was one of those things that, after reading it, I found myself asking, “Why in the world did I actually finish reading that article? Why do I need to know how the President Elect orders his sandwiches?”

What a sick world we live in where there are some people who can die and their absence goes unnoticed for months, and other people have every moment of their life reported, down to the minute, to the public. I don’t think we need to know anything about the President’s personal life unless it directly interferes with his ability to do his job, and Obama isn’t even the president yet (not officially).

So, why do we need to know every detail about every minute of Barack Obama’s vacation? You got me.

All About Me

Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?

Ah, the classic questions. It seems that everyone either has their own version of the answers or they openly acknowledge that they do not have the answers. If you put people into respective groups based on this assumption, there are those who know and those who do not.

I would generally consider myself to be in the group of those who know. I say this because if you ask me who you are, what you are doing and where you are going, I will have clear, true answers for you. As for me, the general truths I am familiar with (those I would share with you to answer those three questions) still apply so I am safe to say that I am one of those who knows.

But am I really? I know the answers to those questions, I understand them, I have personal convictions that run deeper than than a wishing well and testify to the truth of what I believe. I don’t have an issue with my beliefs. I have issues with me.

Here’s where it gets a little complicated. If you’re not willing to sit with me and explore some of the vastness that is my persona, my complex and my enigma, then I suggest you stop reading, leave a nice comment about what a silly person I am and go find something light to read (like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank).

Where’s the problem?

Now that’s an interesting question. I would say that I am the problem, but in reality I know that either I created the problem or I was born with it, like one of those personal challenges we’re given to struggle with and try to overcome while on Earth (you know, like some people are blind, others only have one leg, and so forth).

Back to the question of where the problem is, I think it’s safely tucked away somewhere inside me. The most likely place inside me that you might find the problem is in my head. No, the problem is not in a sinus or a nostril, I’m pretty sure it’s in my brain, my mind, my head.

What is the problem?

Well, I stated it simply above saying that I have issues with myself. What are a few of those issues?

Would you like a bullet list, a numbered list or some stories to illustrate? First, I’ll just start listing a few off in paragraph form and see where that leads me.

I annoy people, and I especially annoy myself. I annoy myself the most when I am annoying someone else, and horribly so when I am annoying someone I care about. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between how much I care about a person and how normal I can be around that person. For example, people who I don’t really care about may never realize that I have issues. On the other hand, people I hold dear and close probably wonder occasionally if I might benefit from a little professional help.

The source of this problem eats at me. It eats at me because I haven’t been able to find it as of yet. Perhaps this frivolous inquiry and these superfluous thoughts on digital paper can help me in my quest to eradicate the issue. (How do you pronounce that word, by the way? SuPERfluous? Or SUperFLuous? I once preferred to pronounce suPERlative as SUperLAtive because I thought it sounded better. It does have the word “super” in it, so logic dictates that the prefix should not get swallowed up in the pronunciation of the whole word, but should retain its identity through clear pronunciation of each part as they were before being joined together. Whichever rule is followed, I think it would be nice if we could just follow the same rule for any word containing the prefix “super” and avoid any confusing pronunciations due to inconsistencies.)

(Oh, and I prefer to throw any idiotic irregularities in our language to the French. It’s a nasty language where words have twelve or more letters and only one or two syllables.)

Let’s take a look at my class environment, for example. At first I didn’t care about anyone there, and I was largely successful at remaining transparent and unnoticeable – not annoying. Now, though, I have made a friend in class (that’s right, only one) and I seem to be on her nerves about a third of the time (I was going to say half, but I don’t think I can take credit for all of that).

(Plus, she’s not actually annoyed at me half the time, most of that time I just think she is.)

What’s worse, is that other people in class seem to get annoyed at me too.

Please don’t think me to be a simpleton. Many people make that mistake. I am aware of far more possibilities for explaining these behaviors than I am willing to write out, and some of them you would probably never even consider. You know why? Because I do social things the same way computers play chess. Basically, I take a look at where I am (the whole situation), calculate every possible reason for why things might be that way, how they may have gotten there and where they could possibly go next; and I do a very robotic, detached and mathematical evaluation of the situation based on my data. It’s like I’m not even entirely human (but I’m not the only one).

An example of just one of my thoughts about the classroom situation (outlined above) follows:
Perhaps the situation is entirely a product of my own perception. I could be creating something out of nothing just because I am beginning to take emotional stock in the situation. (Details and variations of the same idea omitted for brevity’s sake.)

I share this one because that is the answer my logical mind has selected as the one I am most likely to hear (or any number of variations on it, which I also have automatically iterated in my mind) from someone trying to give advice and insight into the situation. Each possible interpretation of a situation has detailed information attached to it along with every variation or mutation, and all of that is thoroughly cross-referenced and cataloged with everything else I know and have observed in life. The relationships between bits of information in my brain form spontaneously and painstakingly and comprise an elaborate, multidimensional network.

Making sense of social, emotional or even logical events in my life requires a maddening amount of mental effort. I literally exhaust myself physically performing these calculations all of the time. I am a very skinny person, yet I eat more than (or at least on par with) the average guy my age. Doctors have told me I must have a high metabolism, but I tend to think my brain burns all of the calories I consume just to get through the day.

Because of the physical nature of my mental activity, I prefer routine and regularity to help keep a steady pace. Abnormalities and irregular events tend to disrupt me more drastically than I wish they would, especially when I am under any stress that may be preventing my mind from adapting to the change.

I do not like that I am a low energy, bland person either. Some people may perceive me as less than bland, but they are not around me as often as I am. I bore myself, sometimes even to tears. I get excited about things, but not the same way most people do. I get happy about things, but I do not show happiness in a way that allows others to see how happy I am. Granted, the way I show happiness about one thing may differ greatly from the way I show happiness for something else. That doesn’t mean that I am more or less happy about one thing than the other thing. It just means that I express my feelings differently for different things.

I complain about this because people I perceive to be “normal” (as in, people who share traits and tendencies with others around them in a manner that leads me to view their type as the majority and those whose traits and mannerisms differ greatly from the majority then fall into minority groups I call “abnormal”) tend to have predictable reactions for happiness regardless of what has made them feel happy. “Normal” people tend to show excitement, happiness, sadness, anger and other emotions in varying degrees, and they do so in proportion to the degree to which they are feeling the emotion. I just can’t seem to emulate this behavior. I can’t even crack a half descent smile for photographs, and my birthdays must be horrifying for potential gift givers because I just can’t seem to get my body and facial elements to work together to send the same message I deliver verbally – “Thank you, I really love your gift.”

I don’t like unanswered questions, unsolved problems or unfinished work; all of which I have an abundance of all of the time. I enjoy too many hobbies for any one of them to be enough. It’s like having a dozen or more favorite, I mean absolutely favorite, foods and trying to decide what to eat for just one absolutely perfect dinner. You couldn’t possibly finish every dish if you decide to include all twelve favorite dishes, but you can’t think of which ones could possibly be omitted from the perfect meal. Such is the nature of my hobbies and interests. There are too many to be satisfying.

There is plenty more I could mention, but you’ve gone far enough with the conclusions you are drawing about me. Yes, my over-active brain has been tracking every possible conclusion a person could draw from every thought, every word, every sentence, every idea I have shared here. While you will not come to every one of those possible conclusions, the numbers are not looking good. You might feel inclined to suggest that I edit some things out then, so as to reduce some of that effect.

Nah, I’ll leave it as it is. If you liked me before I find it unlikely that there is enough reason here to stop liking me now.

On to something more positive to wrap this up… for now. This is something I find very therapeutic so I will probably revisit this topic in the future.

Is there any hope in sight?

My brain is beginning to chatter at me like an uncontrollable, unintelligible man from India. If that little man doesn’t quiet down soon, I may have to discontinue my writing for the evening and leave this question unanswered.

Hope? Yes, I always believe in hope. I believe people can change and people can overcome. If the problems I face are my own creation, then I should be able to undo them. If I was born with these issues as challenges, then I should be able to rise to the occasion and overcome. If I am just messed up for no reason, then I can become stronger and better and make changes in my life to become more comfortable in the world.

No matter what happens, or what turns out to be the answer to any of the questions I have posed tonight, I really do have all of the answers I need… somewhere. It may be a matter of figuring it out, it may be a matter of sorting priorities and evaluating things, or it might just be a matter of time.

Whatever.

The thing is, I’m not really all that unhappy with the way things are, I’m just uncomfortable. That’s a feeling I have grown fairly comfortable with over the years, and even if I see absolutely no change over the course of my remaining years, I shall live, love and be happy.

Call to Arms

I propose that the whole idea of an operating system that needs to restart in order to update or fix errors is fundamentally flawed and has its roots in the days when processor time and memory use were drastically more limited and more carefully budgeted in programming than they need to be now. If we continue to hold on to programming habits and traditions formed in those early days, future progress may slow or even halt when our technology begins demanding more efficient, dynamic infrastructures on which to think and perform calculations. When such a day comes, we might be left scratching our heads wondering what the big holdup is – unless we are ready.

For what reason do we have files in our systems that the operating system needs to protect from change while running? I believe that this may have originated in the days when the first two digits of the year were dropped to save space in the memory. The programmers didn’t consider that eventually the year wouldn’t start with a nineteen, or that such savings in memory would be trivial in just a few short years. I think that in order to keep the processor free to run programs in the operating system, programmers avoided having to reference certain system files more than once while the operating system is running. By reading them once at startup, then deeming them “untouchable” during operation, they avoided having to read the same information several times while running. Whether I have this particular detail correct or not, I think the basics of the idea are based in processor usage or memory management somehow. Either way, programmers did not realize that one day computer processors would be capable of performing calculations several times faster than most users would require of them and memory would be measured in terabytes rather than kilobytes.

In order to clearly see a need for change, we can travel into the future. Imagine a robotic surgeon performing an emergency surgery in a remote area of the world. This robot may be completely autonomous, or it may be remotely guided in some capacity by a human surgeon. The operation begins, the first slice cleanly revealing the innards of our poor, doomed example subject. A few cuts later and a major organ will be in jeopardy. There will be a thirty second window to take needed precautions to prevent this patient from being seriously injured or even killed. Our multi-limbed machine is fully capable of performing this task in under ten seconds, but suddenly, as the thirty second window opens, a fatal error occurs in the operating system code. A blue screen of death shines in the background while our patient is beginning to die in the foreground. A redundant system realizes the problem and restarts the main computer. Backup processes would have been able to carry out the instructions necessary to save this man’s life, but the data has been corrupted and needs to be restored. Luckily, this is the future, and our system restarts in just under ten seconds. The local data is restored by logging into the robot’s online data cloud and reconstructing the damaged areas. Finally, nearly fifteen seconds in to this critical countdown the surgeon begins saving the dying organ. Unfortunately, the process takes twenty seconds, and fatal damage has already been done. The patient dies.

Admittedly, even more redundant systems would probably exist on such an important machine, several of which redundancies would be fully capable of accessing uncorrupted, collectively managed data and completing the surgery without incident. My point wouldn’t be made quite so clearly though if redundant systems had saved the patient. The question is, why should our systems need to restart when an error is encountered? Shouldn’t proper, modular programming techniques be able to circumvent the need to completely reboot the whole operating system? It is both expensive and impractical to simply give every important computer system several redundant iterations of itself.

With processor speed so high and memory so freely available, I don’t see why we can’t have a certain amount of built-in redundancy for every individual computer without having to install physical clones of the computer. Systems exist that will add redundancy to data storage (like the Drobo), but even these techniques cannot prevent your system from needing to restart after certain errors. In a modular operating system, a fatal error should only require the affected module to restart, not the entire system. If the module that encounters the error is a critical system module that would cripple the entire operating system while disabled, then a redundant module should exist to prevent the user from being affected by the error.

For another silly example from the future, let’s visit the computer system that handles traffic movements. This system monitors traffic needs and controls traffic flow in an entire city. It networks with traffic computers in other cities to gather data about movements between the two cities. It connects with individuals’ calendars to help them get to appointments on time. This computer is a very busy system. Once a week, though, at three am (on Wednesday), it logs in to its manufacturer’s website to check for updates. If it finds any updates, it stops traffic for ten seconds while it reboots.

Ridiculous? Yes. If a computer is controlling traffic, the vehicles may be moving at amazing speeds. Ten seconds holding still, rather than moving at five hundred miles per hour, could mean big financial loss for businesses that rely on the quick movements of goods or people. Ten seconds not moving might seem like an eternity to a mother in labor on the way to the hospital, or a young man who has swallowed his iPhone and can’t breathe.

The traffic computer should be able to make changes to its system files without needing to shut down and restart. A modular system that isn’t afraid to reference itself dynamically should be able to make changes on the fly without exhibiting the archaic behavior of our current computers.

Why should we wait for such changes in operating system philosophy to become necessary? We are ready now, we have the processing power now, let’s do this – now. I call on operating system programmers everywhere (and anyone else who wants to help) to organize and begin redesigning the operating system from the ground up to be modular, redundant, resilient to errors and dynamically capable of updating without ever needing to restart, reboot or shut down.

Cheep Advice #1

I need to get some writing in tonight. I’m not going to do much, because there is a lot that needs to be taken care of around the house, but I’ve been slacking off a little.

I don’t feel that I’ve been wasting my writing time (with the possible exception of this morning), but I don’t feel that I’ve been getting any quality writing done.

I have, as you may have noticed, felt slightly uninspired; but that shouldn’t stop me. This morning I just plain slept through my writing time (I honestly felt that the sleep was a better use of my time since the baby had kept us up late and all night). That’s the first time since I started getting up early that I slept though my morning writing time though, so I don’t feel all that bad.

Today on the way home from work my wife and I were discussing something that brought a saying back to mind that I learned in Mexico. It’s one of those ideas that you are aware of, but might never hear it put into words. The wording in Spanish is elegant, but it still works in English.

In English it goes something like this: “If your problem has a solution, why are you worrying about it? If your problem doesn’t have a solution, what are you worrying for?”

Simply put, every problem either has a solution or it doesn’t, but worrying about it never does any good. I think the saying came to mind because of some issues at work where everyone is nitpicking about the details of how something is going to be scored. In the end, if you do your best why would it matter how they score you? I’ve always seen inquiries like this as “how bad can I be” questions. Like when you want to know how far over the speed limit you can drive before the cops will take notice, or how many times you can call in to work with a family emergency before your boss will fire you. It’s important to have and be familiar with limits, but not with the aim of knowing how bad you can be.

I remember the story of a trucking business that needed a new truck driver (I think it’s made up, but it teaches a good lesson). The owner of the company put out a wanted ad, and eventually narrowed the applicants down to three drivers. The route the new driver would be negotiating had a very dangerous mountainous stretch with steep cliffs right at the edge of the road. So, the owner took the three of them out to this part of the route and had each of them demonstrate how they would negotiate one particularly treacherous turn.

The first was a middle-aged driver with several years of experience. He assumed that the manager wanted to see how skillfully he could make the turn, so he took it at a moderate speed but got as close to the edge as possible. When he was done the manager acknowledged his skill stating that he had taken the truck closer to the edge than anyone else before him.

The second applicant saw this and thought, “I can do better than that.” He was, of course, the youngest of the bunch, but he was very skilled, and indeed he pushed the truck past the edge. Some of the tires were hanging off the cliff as he tore around the curve well past the recommended reduced speed limit. He returned safely, smugly tossing the keys into the hands of the astonished business owner and shooting a smirk at the first driver. With a proud, crooked smile he thought to himself, “Let’s see what this next guy can do. I doubt he can do better than that!”

The owner handed the keys over to the final applicant, an older driver who had been in the business for longer than the second driver had been alive. The man climbed slowly but swiftly into the cab and started the engine. First gear, second gear, on up he accelerated carefully to the recommended speed and went around the curve, almost hugging the mountain on the inside, as far away from the edge as he could get. Thinking themselves to have clearly demonstrated greater skill, the first two drivers laughed at the last driver.

When he returned, he climbed down from the truck and walked over to the owner. The owner took the keys from him and thanked him, asking him when he would like to start his new job. The other two drivers protested, saying that they had far more driving skill and one of the should get the job, to which the owner responded, “I don’t know if the man I’ve hired can do what you can or not, but I do know that he will always transport my goods safely and they will always arrive at their destination.”

That last driver did not ask “how bad can I be?” He just did his best with integrity. Living in this manner we never have to worry about the details of how we’re “scored” or how we’ll be judged (of man or God). Whatever your problem may be, a test, a judgment, or a relationship; if your problem has a solution, why worry? If not, what are you worrying for? Just do your best.

OK, that’s your cheep advice for the day. Take it or leave it!

Avoid These

I’ve been reading a wonderful little book called The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. I feel that I am learning a lot from the book, but at the same time I know that I’m going to have to really work hard at its principles in order to fix some of the problems in my writing.

Right now I’m in a section of the book called Misused Words and Expressions. I believe this section was an addition by E. B. White, but that is irrelevant to you. I wanted to quote a few segments from this section for you, because I found them humorous.

OK, since this is grammar related, most of it is just interesting (I still got a good chuckle from a few of them). Here’s one that many people get wrong, or they may realize that one variation is wrong and fail to latch on to the correct one. Let us allow Mr. White to enlighten us:

Care less. The dismissive “I couldn’t care less” is often used with the shortened “not” mistakenly (and mysteriously) omitted: “I could care less.” The error destroys the meaning of the sentence and is careless indeed.

I know that has come up more than once with several of my friends, some being grammar fanatics. I think most people get it right, but those who fail to stop and think about what they’re saying probably get it wrong.

Some of the words and phrases listed seemed to pierce me to the core. The author used sharp language that left me wishing I could take back some of what I’ve written in the past:

Character. Often simply redundant, used from a mere habit of wordiness.

“A mere habit of wordiness?” Ouch. I understand that he said “often” and by this he probably means that referring to good character is permissible. However, he gives the example: “acts of a hostile character,” saying it should be replaced with: “hostile acts,” and I know I’ve probably used character in that sense before. I think I do have a habit of wordiness, and I’ve been aware of it for a long time now. That’s why I’m reading books like this. I want to drop the habit.

This one was just interesting:

Clever. Note that the word means one thing when applied to people, another when applied to horses. A clever horse is a good-natured one, not an ingenious one.

I had heard of clever horses with this meaning, but failed to understand.

This one was funny:

Enthuse. An annoying verb growing out of the noun enthusiasm. Not recommended.

He then lists two examples of it in use with his recommendations of how to fix it using the noun rather than the “annoying verb.” I think it’s funny that he used “annoying” to describe this. I too find verbs that grow out of nouns annoying. In fact, I find most modern, lazy speech annoying.

This one was the last one I read this morning, but it made me laugh out loud and I had to share it with you. Careful, the author might be calling you illiterate!

Flammable. An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means “not combustible”. For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.

The author is obviously expressing his opinion that only children and illiterates would be confused by the proper use of inflammable. If you didn’t know this, or had doubts before about this word (or any of the others I’ve listed), perhaps it’s time to brush up on your English.

Of course, I’m not perfect. Several years ago I saw something correctly labeled inflammable and was thrown off by the prefix. I looked it up and have ever since been aware of this. What a relief it is to not be illiterate!

That makes five words or phrases I’ve shared with you. The rest of what he listed was either uninteresting or unlikely to come up in every-day use. If you’d like to know more, read the book. As I finish reading I might find something else funny, and you can bet I’ll share it with you.


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