(Over) Thinking

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Intelligence is arguably the most significant development that evolution has brought to, um, ‘us.’ I’m not alone in thinking this — it’s even in ‘our’ name — Homo sapiens sapiens. Not only does it include the word ‘sapiens’ (wise, sort of), it appears twice.  It’s really important.

Because of this, the history of mankind is full of breakthroughs, discoveries and inventions that have changed the world. (Sometimes even in a good way.) Arguably, thinking is central to our existence.

Except it isn’t. At least not always. People think — but they don’t always think. (Apropos to nothing at all, Gilligan’s Island isn’t on every list of The Stupidest TV Shows Ever Made. What’s up with that?)

Even when people think, they sometimes don’t do it very well. Or maybe they over think. I’m guilty of both of those, of course. More often than I like to, um, think. One recent time was when I had an Appointment for my annual Goo Test.

The day started with some modest-but-not-excessive Thinking — I curled with some old men and was lucky enough to out-think my opposition and win the game. After the game everyone at the table but me had the four dollar lunch. “You should have some” my lead told me. “It’s very good.”

“No can do” I replied. “I have to go have a litre of goo squirted into my pants and apparently you have to fast before doing that.” “Ah” he replied. “Been there, done that.” (Apparently having a stranger soak your underwear in goo is a rite of passage for middle-aged men. Apparently you really do learn something every day.)

I arrived at the Goo Administration Office in plenty of time to have my traditional embarrassing battle with technology but — in an anticlimax that was positively anticlimactic — there wasn’t one. Instead, there was a nice young lady who took my health card, frowned at it, consulted a screen and told me to Have A Seat Someone Will Be With You Shortly.

Without the obligatory public humiliation I had plenty of time to sit in the uncomfortable chair, read Every Single Magazine that was less than two years old (and it’s not because I’m a speed reader or anything) check my email three times and fidget. Then I was Called.

The technician wasn’t particularly talkative. (Which is fine; I’m not either.) She told me to take my shirt off, lie on the cot provided and respire on command.

“Take a deep breath. Aaaand hold it. Now breathe.” I did what I was told. Reasonably well, I thought. Then things got complicated.

“Roll to your right. Deep breath. Aaand breathe.” Again, I managed to do what I was told. Then things got tricky.

“Roll to your right.” Wait, hadn’t I just done that? Again? Really? Roll how far exactly? Onto my side like last time, or even farther? But farther would be lying on my stomach. If she wanted that, why hadn’t she just said so? Why does everything have to be so complicated? But she was still talking: “Toward the wall.”

Wait, what? The wall was on my left. What did she mean by that? In this scenario was she Metternich or was I? Was she someone who confused left and right? I do that sometimes so it’s possible that other people do too. But she does this a lot  so it’s less likely. Hmm. Perhaps this was Something More?  If so, how should I interpret it?  What would Freud say? (Besides Fehlleistung, I mean. Hmm — that’s almost as good a word as ‘Schadenfreude.’ Hey, that sort of sounds like ‘Freud.’). It’s been some years since I read any of his work but I remember him arguing that this sort of slip of the tongue could be a serious psychological Event. So what should I do?

“ROLL TOWARD THE WALL.”

I rolled toward the wall.

Until I saw the sign, I wasn't even tempted.

Until I saw the sign, I wasn’t even tempted.

There on the wall was a Sign.

Hm. Wait — is that really a problem? It must be, dummy, or they wouldn’t have put up the sign. But who on earth would want to check Friendface at a time like this? I mean, I like technology as much as the next guy but it’s more fun to use if you’re not at the mercy of a goo-wielding (and she’s not afraid to use it) lady with possible psychological issues.

But which issues? That was key. If I could use my phone I could look them up. Maybe I’m doomed and they don’t want me to try to escape. I could say I was just checking my email. Do you think she knows I checked it back in the waiting room? Where did I leave my shirt? It’s cold out there, after all. Ready…

“I said, YOU CAN LEAVE NOW.”

Oh. I took the postage-stamp-sized-towel, wiped off about three percent of the goo and lurched toward the door.

So I survived and learned some stuff:

  • Goo in your underwear is a Thing.
  • You can think a lot and it still might look like you’re not thinking
    at all.

Not only do you learn something every day, some days you learn two.

 

Seeing. Or not.

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Bananas. We were out of bananas.

And that meant that I had to go to the store. Not just for bananas, you understand; I needed other stuff too. I’m too lazy — usually — to go to the store for just one thing. It’s just that bananas (like monkeys, farts and a few well-chosen words) are inherently funny. Anyway, when I went to the store my first thought was ‘mathematicians.’ My second was ‘pigeons.’ And that led to holes. Naturally.

And people say grad school taught me nothing.

Anyway, that led to thinking about mathematics (again), about birds, about the internet and, eventually, about this blog. In particular, it occurred to me that after forty-four months I really don’t have a pigeonhole to, um, pigeon it into. It’s not a ‘travel blog’, it’s not a ‘fashion blog’, it’s not a ‘food blog.’ What is it? When people ask me, I often say that it’s about public urination but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. (Or even most of it.) I guess I need a word for ‘things that make me stop and wonder “what’s up with that?” while trying not to drool too much.’ Haven’t thought of one yet, though.

One consequence of this hard-to-describe ‘theme’ is that I tend to talk about things that happen around me or to me and don’t talk about me all that much. For one thing I’m not really comfortable talking about myself; that probably means that if I try to I’ll do a lousy job of it. Plus, of course, I’m really not that interesting a person (unless you consider ‘difficult and annoying’ and ‘interesting’ to mean the same thing — something most people, um, don’t). But recently a few things that I have mentioned about myself became part of something that happened that might be moderately entertaining.

Or not.

Those things are

I wear glasses

and

I’m not as young as once I was

and

there is a long-suffering Ms. Rose who is less annoying and difficult than I am.

Let’s talk about glasses.

I’ve worn glasses, off-and-on, for more than forty years. (There was a chimpanzee involved with the acquisition of my first pair but there’s been no simian influence since then. At least, not that I remember.) I need them for distance — in my younger days they were required in order to read blackboards at school, especially from the back of the room. (Because hateful misanthropes often sit at the back.) These days mostly I need them to watch reruns on TV and drive to the store to buy bananas. Because, being of A Certain Age, for a lot of day-to-day stuff they just make things harder. Can I wear them and edit this text if it’s in 10-point Courier? It’s doable if I’m not tired and the contrast is just right, but it’s definitely harder. Can I read the morning paper even though it’s not in 10 point Courier?  Ditto. Can I tell the difference between an unwanted weed and an expensive perennial? That’s a little easier but still pretty ditto-ish. And, unlike many of my peers, I remain bifocal-free.

Which means that — especially at home — I take my glasses off a lot. And when I do that, I tend to put them down so that I have two free hands. And when I do that I have a habit of walking away when I see something shiny. I hear the siren call of idiot strings but I’m resisting it. So far.

Oo! That clip show with Thor is on soon. What am I doing in about an hour? Why, looking for my glasses of course.

Actually, it turns out not so much. Because they were where they were supposed to be.

To explain: I’ve attempted to combat the where-did-I-leave-my-glasses-THIS-time problem by designating several ‘safe spaces’ where I allow myself to leave them. Places like next to my keyboard. The bedside nightstand. The table next to where I prepare dinner. Sensible places. Logical places. And, most importantly, a small number of carefully enumerated places. Because finding glasses without glasses is a pain in the…

It’s just a pain, okay?

This scheme has the advantages of clarity and simplicity. Plus it works pretty well. Except when it doesn’t. Well, it’s a fairly new system, there were bound to be some bugs to work out.

For example:

One day last month I couldn’t find my glasses. Well, that happens all the time. I’ll just look in the places The System says they’re allowed to be. I did… and they weren’t there. Worse, they weren’t in any of the ‘not-technically-allowed-but-you’ve-put-them-there-before places. Even worse than that, after I did the ‘retrace-your-steps-when-do-you-remember-having-them-last’ thing I wasn’t even sure what house I had been in when I last had them. Well, that was unfortunate. So I called in some help. I asked the long-suffering-but-less-annoying-than-me Ms. Rose. I told random guys from the curling club. I sent email to a nice lady who lives in New York City and who has the same name as Ms. Rose. I contemplated putting it on twitter but didn’t since I hate twitter.

In short I passed the word: “Have you seen me in the last few days? Do you see my glasses? They look like something Larry King might wear.”

Apparently not. No one had seen them. Damn.

But then, some days later, TLSBLATM Ms. Rose needed a rag for something; I don’t think I ever asked. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a problem: we keep a bucket of them in the laundry room next to the washing machine. And there in the bucket, resting atop some ripped-up old sweatpants, were my glasses. She picked them up and presented them to me without comment. She didn’t ask “What were you THINKING?” She didn’t ask “Why WEREN’T you thinking?” She didn’t say “You IDIOT!” She didn’t say anything remotely judgmental at all.

So I learned four things.

I learned that my unbelievably clever system does have bugs. One of the biggest appears to be… me.

I learned that, while I might need more allowed/safe spaces for my glasses, the pail of cleaning supplies in the laundry room probably shouldn’t be added to the list.

I learned that Ms. Rose isn’t just less annoying than me — she’s much MUCH less annoying than me. I guess I need a new acronym.

and

I learned that reruns aren’t significantly less enjoyable if you can’t actually see them.

 

Sizing

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absurdities / rant

I’ve mentioned before that I’m easily confused. Especially by odd (by my definition of course; your mileage may vary) things that people say or do.

This is probably the reason that I’ve written a lot about various ‘adventures’ I’ve had with the healthcare industry. (It’s not really an industry, but I can’t think of a better word right now.) With healthcare you have people (sometimes confusing), technology (often confusing) bureaucracy (almost always confusing) and politics (practically the reason for the existence of the word in the first place).

Another setting is retail. Weird stuff happens there for some many of the same reasons. There are a lot of things about the retail mindset that I just don’t get. I was reminded of this the other day

because it’s now spring.

There was no Sign, of course (well, I guess maybe there sort of was), nobody recited that stupid poem (you know the one) and there was snow yesterday (and today AND they’re predicting more for tomorrow) so wool socks are definitely going to remain in my wardrobe for the forseeable future.

But it’s spring.

IMG_20140412_151252

Delusional flowers in the rose garden. The roses
have enough sense to keep their (metaphorical) heads down.

All the signs are there — the accumulated dog poop of the winter (dog walkers often, um, ‘linger’ behind the radish where they think we can’t see them — I should put up a sign that says I CAN SEE YOU AND I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING) is now visible, psychotic avians have begun their annual siege of the house and its occupants (nature is not always pretty), delusional flowers have made their appearance and been covered in frostonite for their trouble and

it’s spring hockey time.

Now, there’s not really a lot of difference between winter hockey and spring hockey. The personnel changes a bit, it’s on a different day at a different venue but the ice is roughly the same and the dressing rooms, while newer, are still generic, slightly too small and slightly too smelly with less-than-ideal showers and wi-fi that you’re not supposed to use.

But since it’s spring it’s just that little bit warmer.

Which is a bit of a problem because when it’s ‘too warm’ I tend to get overheated, overtired and overcranky (by which I don’t mean to imply that I’m ever ‘undercranky’). But I can leave a hopefully refreshing beverage in the car and — because it’s spring — it won’t freeze. Which kind of makes the long (Was it this long when I came in? It was? I find that hard to believe.) walk back to the car worthwhile. I get there, dump my bag (which is significantly heavier after the game than before, what’s up with that?) in the back, sit (there’s a bench that’s in the sun that’s conveniently close to the portal) and enjoy a restorative (that means caffeinated) and calorically-appropriate (in this context that means cold) potable from a pink container. (Because pink is so much more than a colour.)

One day last spring, though, I succumbed to AAADD and forgot the pink container (or was it the green one?) at home. Oh no! What’s a tired houseplant to do? “But wait,” I told myself, “there’s a fast food restaurant establishment that’s not totally socially irresponsible just six hundred metres away and they sell root beer that’s not completely horrible. I’ll just go there. There are no seats in the sun and there’s no portal, but it’ll be Good Enough.”

So off I went. I told the bored-looking lady at the counter the full range of my hopes, dreams and desires. Or at least what I wanted to drink.

“I’d like a large root beer, please.”

“We don’t have large.”

Say what? Every fast food restaurant establishment in existence has had since time immemorial (if not longer) three sizes of beverage, invariably named something like ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large.’ Ah, perhaps they had adopted a pretentious (not to mention stupid) naming scheme designed to distract The Customer from the fact he was paying way too much for this consumable. That must be it. I just needed to figure out what particular pomposity they had chosen to replace the word ‘large.’ I looked at the menu.

There were two — not three — sizes of drink listed, but no ridiculous names for them. So I was confused. I have no doubt that I looked confused. I shifted my attention back to the bored-looking lady behind the counter. She patiently explained, with the aura of someone who had already done this a thousand times that day

“We have small and medium but not large” she said.

That made me even more confused. It was on the menu so it wasn’t just that they had run out of cups. Apparently they had changed the menu so that the largest possible beverage you could order was named ‘medium.’  Well, at least it wasn’t pretentious. But…

“Doesn’t a size named ‘medium’ sort of imply the existence of something bigger? Unless it’s supposed to suggest some sort of heretofore-unsuspected relationship to a spiritual grifter, of course.”

She looked at me like I was insane, so apparently not. Well, I bowed to the inevitable. (A bit. I still thought it was ridiculous.)

“A root beer please. The largest size you’re allowed to sell me. Whatever that might be called.”

I imagined a guy in a suit in a corner office and tried to understand what he had been thinking when he decided to fly totally against company (and industry) history and tradition and not even put up a sign but make nice ladies who weren’t told the reasons explain them (“Listen, bub — I don’t understand it either. I just work here.”) to overheated, overtired and overcranky nitwits. I concluded — not for the first time — that I really, really didn’t understand the retail (or suit) (or corner office) mind.

But even though there was no bench in the sun next to a hazardous dimensional rift  it was good and soon I was  feeling considerably more human.

Still confused, though.

 

Warning

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It’s a dangerous world out there.

It’s always been dangerous, of course, but we (the collective ‘we’, not ‘you and me’) keep finding new and different ways to jeopardise our very existence. The meal I’m planning for this evening? Apparently it’s potentially lethal — and not just because I’m not that good a cook. Write a blog post while sitting next to the router?  That might just be a bad idea. Order a cup of coffee in a restaurant (and I use that term loosely)? That might require hospitalization.

Like I said, it’s a dangerous world.

Of course, if your coffee throws you into the clutches of the medical community or if your bachelor party gives you whiplash or if your cell phone tells you to walk onto a freeway, you can always sue. You might win. Or you might not.

Of course, ubiquitous lawsuits frivolous or not — come with a price. There are no more see-saws, for example. You can’t get your oil checked. My local arena has banned cell phones (while at the same time putting Wi-Fi in the change rooms). And everything has a warning label. (Talk about first world problems.)

Recently I was removing the (excessive) packaging from a gift I had received. Unsurprisingly, the packaging came with a warning. In all-caps so I knew they were serious(or at least loud).

I contemplated the warning; it didn’t apply to me but I still worried a little.  What did it say? It said

NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN 12 AND UNDER

Oh. What was this incredibly dangerous product that was unsafe for use by prepubescent human beings? Was it a poorly engineered piece of machinery? Umm, no. Was it poisonous? Not so far, no. Would it lead to criminal or anti-social behavior? Not as far as I can tell although with me ‘anti-social’ is a matter of degree.

It was a shirt.

 

Designing. Shoeing. (Is that even a word?)

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(Apparently it is and it even has multiple meanings and definitions. I like this one best, though. But I digress.)

Form follows function.

That’s a principle usually attributed to a dead architect; I don’t claim to understand all of its nuances, subtleties and implications but it seems to me that it means that at least some of the features of a thing should be inspired by what that thing is going to be used for. (The dead architect was presumably mainly thinking of buildings, but as far as I can tell the principle has been applied to lots of things that aren’t.) That seems entirely reasonable to me — at least as a starting point — although I recognize (based on nothing more than the number of results to a google search) that the issue is one that attracts many opinions and has no clear consensus. Heck, at least one prominent publication has called the principle a ‘misused cliché.’

Whatever. For my part it sounds sensible but I’m more than willing to believe that in design, as in programming, There’s More Than One Way To Do It. Even if some of the ways might sometimes be a little, um, obscure non-obvious. Or even disturbing.

Consider the chair that I’m sitting in for a moment. (I’d include a link to the manufacturer’s catalogue page but since the catalogue only works in some browsers — one out of two in my sample — I’d be risking a rant about sloppy programmers and wasting time searching the web for pithy quotes by an incredibly gifted one. So I’ll just skip it.)

When I was a student I used a desk chair that was probably older than I was; it looked like the kind of chair that you’d see a sketchy — or at least down on his luck — newspaper reporter from the 1930s sitting in. It had four legs. That’s fine — four is a usually a good number of legs for a chair. Four legs is stable.

But not if you add wheels.

If you lean back in a four-legged chair with wheels there’s a certain grim inevitability that you’ll soon not be sitting in the chair. You’ll be sitting on the floor, various parts of your anatomy will hurt and one or more of your roommates will be asking if you’re okay and are you going to keep doing that because it’s, like, TOTALLY ANNOYING, DUDE. (I can draw a free body diagram if you’d like.)

(Not that I have extensive experience with this, of course.)

Anyway, the Green Chair of Thinkitude (not Nappitude — that’s just mean and not entirely accurate) has five legs. So even though it has wheels, I fall out of it much less than I did with the Brown Chair of Aggravating Roomies. Form followed function and eventually chair designers added an extra leg. Good going, chair designers. Took a little longer than I would have hoped, but you eventually got the idea.

Consider dressing rooms. Designing a dressing room (especially one at an arena) is easy — or at least it should be.

First of all, putting on hockey gear while standing is difficult and annoying so the room should have places to sit. You can’t be sure how many players will show up for a game or how friendly they’ll be so benches are better than chairs. Hockey players are violent so make the benches extra-sturdy. (They’re also larcenous and can’t be trusted so better bolt the benches to the walls while you’re at it.) They put on skates so cover the floor with some sort of tough, cut resistant material, preferably something that won’t dull a blade. (Rubber is nice. Removable rubber tile is even nicer because in principle you can wash the floor underneath it even though everyone knows you never will. Because dressing rooms, like new cars, are supposed to smell a certain way.) They need places to put their coats (because winter) and clothes (because hockey players almost never arrive at the arena naked), so put lots of hooks on the walls. And so on. Easy.

Of course, I made some assumptions there. I didn’t assume anything was spherical (I’m a physicist — to a first approximation, everything is spherical) but I did assume that hockey players can remember where they sat before the game, which stuff belongs to them and that peer pressure should be enough to keep them from walking off with other people’s belongings. Experience has shown me that all of these assumptions are generally pretty good.

Just not perfect.

Hockey players can usually remember where they sat. I mean, it’s not really all that complicated but so they don’t have to remember, many of them always sit in the same place. It’s not OCD, it’s just being practical and efficient.

Yeah, right.

On a recent Thursday I arrived at dressing room 4 (the door is also inscribed with the numbers 132 and 223 but the font used for the 4 is larger so I’ve always assumed that’s the ‘correct’ number) and there was someone in my spot. Well, okay. He was a guest star so didn’t know any better and while I’m obsessive-compulsive, I’m not obsessive compulsive enough (or forgetful enough) to care so I took the next spot over.

Bad idea. Because that was the spot of someone else, someone who — as it turns out — is obsessive-compulsive enough to care. Someone who also held the ‘biggest goon’ trophy for several years running and is surprisingly proud of that fact. Someone who…

Aw, hell. Let’s just say that I should just have moved, okay?

As for remembering which stuff is theirs, well…

I’ve played hockey with a lot of different kinds of people over the years. I’ve played with doctors. I’ve played with lawyers. I’ve played with professors. People from all groups have, on occasion, forgotten where they sat and which clothes were theirs. (To be fair, when you’re tired one pair of pants looks much like another. Not that I’d know anything about that.)

One day I came out of the shower and went back to my spot and it was definitely my spot — that was my bag, those were my pants, that was my shirt, those weren’t my shoes.

Wait, what?

My shoes were white. Those ones were blue. Ergo, they weren’t mine. (Oo! Someone open-ended his Notice roll.) I then concisely and effectively communicated this anomaly to the remaining occupants of the room.

“Uhh, guys? Are these anyone’s? Because they’re sure not mine.”

No one admitted ownership but someone was clever enough (this was a group of university professors, after all) to focus on the crux of the matter and ask the pertinent question:

“Who was sitting next to you?”

Of course, I couldn’t remember. (Fumble!) To be fair, I have a bad memory for faces and names at the best of times and when entering a change room the first thing I do is take off my glasses. (After all, there are some things it’s just better not seeing — like Professor X’s back hair. I really, really don’t need to see that again.) Eventually, though, we managed to establish (“Was it A?” “No, he always sits over there. It must have been B. Unless it wasn’t.”) who had been sitting next to me (not his regular spot. Just saying.) so we knew whose shoes they must be and, by extension, who must have left wearing mine. I would have to phone him later. But first, I had to get dressed. My clothes were all there but I’d have to wear the Blue Shoes That Weren’t Mine home. Oh well, at least they were probably more or less the right size.

But they weren’t. They were at least two sizes too large. This meant that I could wear them and wallow in Schadenfreude while contemplating how much his feet must have hurt wearing mine. I thought to myself that he’d probably be in his office with aching feet and waiting for my call.

I was half right — he was in his office. But…

“Oh, hi. It’s Rose. I think you left the change room this morning wearing my shoes.”

“I don’t think so.”

Uh oh — my finely crafted theory appeared to be in danger. But wait a minute — ‘I don’t think so?’ What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“Oh. I have a pair of blue size 12 shoes and I’m looking for the owner.”

“My shoes are blue and I wear a size 12.”

Hmm. Maybe there was still some life left in my theory.

“Um, okay. Are you wearing a pair of white size 10 shoes?”

Long pause.

“Yes.”

To make a long story short, I walked to his office, we traded shoes and both lived happily ever after. (Well, maybe not so much that last bit.)

So. He had worn shoes two sizes too small for at least an hour and hadn’t noticed — even when I brought the possibility to his attention. Because of this I learned two things:

The design process is more complicated than I thought.

And the ‘absent-minded professor‘ trope exists for a reason.