Archive for the ‘irritation’ Category

"taking a vacation from the computer too?"

August 22nd, 2007

This is a question you're likely to hear from friends or relatives, notably those who don't know a whole lot about computers. It annoys me, because it's such a stupid question. So. You're on vacation. Does that mean you're taking a vacation from the computer too? Sigh. It's like saying. "So, you're on vacation, does that mean you're taking a break from books?" Yeah, as if books were only ever useful in school right. Or how about take a break from your car, because you're not working this month. Yeah, that should score you some points at the Most Pointless Statements awards.

It's annoying, because what it implies, that is if you're not saying it explicitly, is I think you're spending too much time on that computer. Yeah, as if what you're doing is so much more worthwhile. A myth, that's what it is. So what do you do with your time? Spend an extra half hour in the bathroom every day fixing your hair? Cooking fancy meals? Watching tv? Hanging at the mall? Reading books? I would not trade for any of that, in fact I've optimized my time to get the the maximum time doing what I find the most useful. And if you don't agree, tough.

What people don't seem to get is that a computer and a network is good for more than typing an essay. Five hours spent watching tv, and five hours spent at a computer are very different things. With tv you're just a recipient, and you can't decide what you're watching. A computer and the net gives you the possibility to get in touch with people, to learn stuff you want to know, to work, to read, to be creative, and to be entertained. What you choose to make of it is the relevant question, but personally I use it for all the above and much more.

Yes, I should be getting more exercise, that I agree with. And so should you. We should all be getting more exercise, because few people actually do that. In fact, I was getting a lot of exercise when I was a teenager, because people were into that. Now it's really hard to get people to do that with you, cause no one cares about it anymore.

And not only that, we should all be reading fine literature, learning music composition, practicing yoga, attending the opera, and solving math equations for fun. Better, smarter, healthier. But you're not doing any of those, either. You're just wasting more time on menial tasks. What we are and what we want to be are always going to be far apart, because achieving things is hard, but wishing for them is really easy. Fine, you waste your time over there, I'll waste my time over here.

parking authorities can kiss my ass

August 8th, 2007

There was a time when you could park for free in the city. Obviously not in the main street, but there were areas that if you knew about them you could still park pretty close to the center. But today it's basically impossible. They've covered every cm2.

It's not even that parking costs money. Because sometimes it costs an arm and a leg, but let's leave that aside for the moment. It's how incredibly redundant it is. What exactly are we paying for? It's a completely pointless tax. People have cars so obviously they need to park. Do we park less because it costs money? I doubt it, I don't see rows of free parking spaces. In fact, often it's hard to find a spot even when you're paying. And it's getting worse. So what is it for? No one is prevented from buying a car, so what the hell do they expect us to do with them? If they want to reduce traffic then have some guts and actually make inner cities pedestrian-only.

And paid parking is an incredible annoyance, because it's not enforced either. It's an idiotic system. Basically you park and it's up to you. If you don't buy a ticket, there's every possibility that you will get away with it. Or you could be slapped with a fine. And the fines are obscene amounts of money. So people speculate - they don't pay when they're parking for a short time, or they only pay for as much as they think they need. Of course, the second your ticket expires the humble civil servant of a parking attendant is in his right to slap that insane fine on you.

I could understand paid parking if it were a fee for something, like some expense they had to cover. Some of those things do make sense, like a toll to pay for a new bridge or tunnel. But parking fees are completely pointless. And to realize that, you only have to see how it works. First of all, they have never ever said that the fees go to some special important cause. It is merely money into the city coffers. And just how sensibly cities spend their money I think we've all witnessed. Secondly, it's not enforced at all. You can get away with not paying if you're lucky or you know a certain place isn't monitored as much. In fact, some places are crawling with parking attendants while some aren't. Again this says that it's not an organized process, it's just a contest to write the most fines they possibly can.

And finally, there is no regulation as to how much you pay, how much parking costs or what exactly it is you pay for. Parking fees vary wildly, and without any semblance of order. There is never a reason given as to why the fee has to be increased, it just goes up. And if you ask yourself what it is you're paying for, there is no obvious answer. If you park for 10 minutes and you pay for 5, you pay half price. But if you park for 30 minutes and it turns out you only need 10, you're royally ripped off. The whole system is rigged so that they get as much as they can from you. To be safe, you should pay for more than you need, just in case you need more time. So you end up with a spare 20 minutes. Now someone else comes around and takes your spot. If parking fees were some kind of real estate payment, that person would now get 20 minutes free parking. Because the spot has already been paid for. But no, it doesn't work that way, the new guy has to pay for the time I've already covered. So the payment isn't actually for anything, a product or service that costs a certain amount, it's just paying for the sake of paying.

It would make a lot more sense if you were somehow charged when pulling out (like in a parking garage). And then just paying for the time you parked. But you can't do this, can you? If you didn't pay and the parking attendant is writing you a ticket just as you get back, he won't accept that you pay for the time you used (which would be sensible), he will give you the fine anyway. Why? Because it's only paying for the sake of paying, and the more they can squeeze you for the happier the leeches are.

And what about parking attendants? This is the definition of redundant. It almost sounds like a scheme the government introduced to lower unemployment. An utterly pointless job that is entirely self serving. Think how depressed those people must be on the weekends. Here they landed a job and there isn't a single person in the world who thinks what they're doing is even a tiny bit useful. And yet it's our taxes that are paying their wages, isn't that amazing?

grades are bs

July 28th, 2007

First, read TFA. I have personally made many of the same observations over the years, but Kavan presents it with great coherence and eloquence, so it's well worth the read.

All of us in school have had to endure grades, for better or for worse. Early in my academic career I used to receive very uniform grades, I was a B student, almost without exception. I guess if nothing else, my grades were consistent, so in some sense it seemed logical. It should be said that in both junior high and high school, the teachers had guidelines for grading they had to follow, and their grades were evaluated to some degree - in that statistics were compiled at the end of a year and those whose grading was way off no doubt would get a talking to. In the IB there's even a strict regime to plot grades worldwide, where if the grades of one teacher were considered out of range the whole class would get their grades adjusted accordingly. I was quite happy with that, because it was very organized, and it deprived teachers from having absolute power.

Once I entered the mystical halls of higher education, this state of affairs was upset. My grades suddenly fluctuated a lot more. Some grades I couldn't understand at all. With the unexpected low ones I was mad, with the high ones I was puzzled (but since it was in my interest it didn't exactly enrage me). But one thing was clear: the grades made a lot less sense now. You would think that teachers in colleges and universities would be smart enough to grade sensibly, but you'd be wrong. Half my grades would be right on the mark, the other half would be completely out of whack with my expectations. And not surprisingly, some teachers were much more on point than others. I still think this randomness is because teachers have absolute power since no one is checking up on them. And I detest it.

As Kavan writes, the Bell Curve, which was used as the basis for grading in most of my education, is completely bogus. I recall that in high school, the guidelines said that each of the five grades should be assigned to some x% of the class, so eg. C would get 40%, B = 25% etc. Which is idiotic, because if 50% score an A, then that is what they score.

Another practice which is entirely based on a teacher's inability to give a good test, is moving grades up or down. So if the mean is supposed to be a C and it happens to be a D, every D becomes a C, every B becomes an A etc. If the test was more relevant to what the students actually know, you would expect to get a finer granularity at the level you want to, rather than having almost no one answer the hard questions (which are supposed to distinguish students from each other) and everyone doing the easy ones (which offer no distinction).

The gravest mistake I've encountered is to make the test completely irrelevant to the teaching. There is no excuse for this kind of stupidity, and yet it happens. Sometimes exams have a sizable portion of problems concerning stuff that was nowhere in the syllabus at all. What on earth is the point of this? Is this a teacher's admission to "I would like to teach the stuff, but I don't know how, or I don't have the courage, so I'll just give it on the test alone"? Or maybe "this is what I wish my course to be about"?

What annoys me most is the disregard for quality grading. If you had parking attendants in the city who wrote tickets without much care as to whether your ticket is valid, or whether you were parked legally, you'd be pissed, and rightly so. Incompetence, at all levels, is grounds for complaint. Many years ago I had a teacher who graded 70+ exam papers in two days (the standard for getting grades out was 3 weeks) and the grades made absolutely no sense. So many people were pissed off that the department decided to stage an extra re-exam.

How can you possibly defend that grades in higher education are less accurate than those in middle school?

taking care of your nails

July 19th, 2007

Oddly enough, this is a conundrum which seems to affect only women. Few things are so gender biased as nail care. See, for men it's very easy. Wash and cut, you're done. But women have a whole maze of ideas and bad advice to navigate. And for this reason they get it wrong a whole lot.

What you're basically saying is that your nails are so ugly/dirty/disgusting that this fugly nail polish is actually nicer to look at anyway.


Let's start with the basics. Do you know what species you are? Yes, human, correct. Here's the thing. Men and women are both human. Their hands and fingers are exactly the same. And the rules for nail care are thus also the same. You cut the nail where the skin of your finger ends.

It's like women sometimes want the shape of their nails to be like the nails of members of the animal kingdom. Instead of ending them where the skin ends, they want to extend them for no apparent reason.

It's odd how controversial this rule is. See, leopards have long nails, don't they? Yes, because it's also a weapon. They need to have long nails, it's an environment thing. If you lived in a really tough neighborhood, you'd need some protection too. But you're not a leopard, are you? That's right, and weird nails won't make you one either. For a panther it's pretty important to have long nails. If it wants to pierce the skin of a fruit (or peal an orange), it doesn't have a Swiss army knife. But you have all kinds of tools in the kitchen you can use.


This one's even worse. Some women advertise their nails 3 blocks away. It's almost like all you can see is the nails sometimes, because they're so at odds with everything else in the environment.

See, there is something called contrast, and color balance. They teach this in art school, but we can't all go to every single school, so it's useful to know the most basic things anyway. The basic idea is that if the contrast of two adjacent things is high, something is wrong (it's unpleasant to look at, it signals a conflict). Contrast is a principle present all the time, the contrast between your clothes and your skin, the skin and the hair, the skin and the shoes, the socks and the pants etc etc. In most cases people do an okay job of it. But somehow the idea is completely lost when it comes to nails, people have no good sense anymore. I mean you wouldn't paint your hands red, would you? That just seems stupid. Well, there you go.

Even a leopard has more sense than to paint its nails red, or fluorescent yellow, or purple, or what have you.

The idea is that the nails are actually part of your hands, so you want them to appear as such. Some light color that doesn't contrast too much with the skin is passable. As is blank polish. But what you're actually doing is painting over the surface of a piece of wood so it won't get damaged. But since your nails aren't wood, the whole procedure is completely obsolete to begin with. I guess you don't varnish your fingers for protection, do you?

The checklist

I guess that was a lot of information to take in, so here's a short checklist to remember.

  1. Are your nails longer than to comfortably play the piano? If yes, then they need trimming.
  2. Are you trying to flag down a jumbo jet? If yes, your nails need a good scrubbing to reveal oh yes, the nail.

If your answer to both is no, you're in the clear.

does shopping make you feel good?

July 18th, 2007

You hear all kinds of things about what shopping means to people. That it's comforting, therapeutic, liberating, exciting, or just plainly makes you feel good. While some of the epithets may be true, I cannot agree with the last one.

Of course, there are different "kinds" of shopping. But I mean the very special kind, the kind of thing where you go out and buy something you've wanted for a long time, or needed for a long time. It's supposed to be a relief and delight to get it. That kind of shopping.

Well, getting the item does feel good. But shopping for it doesn't. I can't stand that conversation with the salesman. My focus is that I want to make the best possible deal, I'm trying to concentrate hard to cover all the angles and foresee every possible scenario that may occur with the product. But that doesn't mean I know what to say. I think of one thing to ask, then another, then I draw a blank. I stand there for a while listening, hoping the guy has more stuff to say, anticipating another question to ask. Quite often, the guy wasn't really drawn into the conversation either (which I'm not very good at), so he answers my question and then he's waiting for me to pick up the thread again. Which I struggle with. It's really quite a stupid situation. I don't enjoy it in the least.

So that's one thing, conferring with the salesman. Then there's actually buying stuff. I just don't feel good about that either. I always feel guilty for spending the money. And the more it costs the more guilty I feel about it. As if anyone at the store would care enough to judge me for it, but it does make me feel uncomfortable.

Buying stuff online is actually a nice change. I don't have to talk to anyone. :)