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March 23, 2010

Etc
Posted by Patrick at 04:47 PM * 88 comments

Combining this website’s preoccupations with the Netherlands and emergency services, here’s a Flickr photoset dramatically documenting the rescue today, by bystanders, of a man who nearly drowned in an Amsterdam canal.

Elsewhere:

Instant political folklore.

Merlin Mann preaches the truth, brother, truth:

Perform automated, redundant, and rotated backups as often as you can afford to lose every single bit of information that’s been changed or added since your last backup. Because it’s going to go away.

Seriously:

  • If it’s not automated, it’s not a real backup.
  • If it’s not redundant, it’s not a real backup.
  • If it’s not regularly rotated off-site, it’s not a real backup.
Finally: Having frequent meaningful conversations makes us happier. “It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.” It “may sound counterintuitive”? Counterintuitive? On what planet?
Comments on Etc:
#1 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:15 PM:

As you know, Patrick, "deep discussions" often become arguments, and arguments are widely viewed as bad for a relationship.

Idiots.

#2 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:18 PM:

Backups: I just completed a full backup of my system, not a real one, as above, but a duplicate nonetheless, the day before my computer died.

Turned out it was just the power supply, and didn't take the hard disk with it when it died, but still.

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:19 PM:

I was tempted to do a standalone post about the study that suggests that people who have frequent substantive conversations are happier than people who only make small talk...and title the post SCIENCE PROVES JO WALTON RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

#4 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:29 PM:

Also. Backups are not the end product. Restores are. If you don't test the restore, then you don't know that you have a good backup.

(e.g., backing up and encrypting the backups is nearly useless if you can't lay your hands on the key when you need it. )

#5 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:51 PM:

To the tune of "Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?"

Incremental backup utility
Can feel like an exercise in futility
But you might learn a little humility
When you find that your files are not there.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 05:53 PM:

In the photoset, my favorite sequences are about the people:

Note the pinkish red garment under the man's head here. See this picture? Now go back in time to here and find the garment and wearer again on the left.

She was just passing by, but she got into the boat and held his head, then literally donated the shirt off of her back.

And, of course, the guy who jumped in to save the man just goes on about his business.

Because that's what people do.

Note that Dutch children all take swimming lessons to earn their A, B and C diplomas. Each swimming diploma requires one to swim in increasing levels of clothing. The gentleman who jumped in was dressed for his B diploma, but demonstrated C diploma rescue swimming skills.

(My son is taking the test for his A diploma tomorrow. I should show him the pictures.)

#7 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 06:12 PM:

Re: substantial conversations: I'm screwed. The only substantive conversation I get most days is here on ML.

#8 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 06:21 PM:

abi @ 6 ...
Ah, that makes sense. I was surprised that so many folk were being usefully involved.

#9 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 06:38 PM:

I went to a birthday party for grownups a couple of years ago and was horrified when they pulled out the pictionary and charades and wanted to play party games.

I kept saying, "Can't we talk? Wouldn't you all rather have a conversation?"

Apparently not. The party games were supposed to be an "ice-breaker" for the people who didn't know each other to get to know each other.

Result: I don't remember the names of anyone at the party that I didn't already know going into it.

*grumble*

#10 ::: Kevin RIggle ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 06:42 PM:

Jacque @7: You say this as if those conversations somehow don't count. IME physical presence is nice but hardly a requirement.

Backups: I practice a slightly... different version of this, myself. The rule is "if it's not on at least three spinning platters, it doesn't exist," and I solve it with a combination of RAID 1 on several machines and putting all my important files in a distributed source-control tool and making a working copy on any machine I use frequently enough to need it, which puts it on two platters, an SSD, and my university's network filesystem (which is itself backed up). I'm not religious about propagating changes around, but normal use seems to result in a level of eventual consistency I find acceptable. The beauty of this solution is that I get backups without having to think about them, and I know they work because I use them every day.

Carrie V @9: I hate that. Or when a host will interrupt a group of people having an interesting conversation with "Let's all play a game!" (Here read: "It's time to play a game now.")

#11 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:00 PM:

Re: depth of conversation: this is why I have foregone financial security and a degree of social acceptance to try for a career in academic philosophy. Plato's Apology is a pretty decent guide to life in this respect:

Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living - that you are still less likely to believe. And yet what I say is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you.

#12 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:03 PM:

The planet on which the result about deep discussions making you unhappy is "counterintuitive" is one on which the only possible context for deep discussions is talking about painful events (i.e. a deeply un-intellectual mindset), and where ignorance is bliss. In this worldview, if you're unemployed and need to discuss budgeting with your spouse, it's the Serious Discussion, rather than the unemployment, that makes you unhappy, because it isn't real until you have to talk about it.

I'm not sure that this study isn't just saying "people who have close relationships are happier", though, which is even more staggeringly obvious than the result as stated.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:05 PM:

Abi, I was just looked through the photo series, spotted the business with the sweater, and complimented the photographer on his eye for narrative detail.

I've been trying to puzzle out the comments on the first photo in the series. Check me? I think the first commenter, michelmitchell, asks whether this was where the man jumped in (is hij hier net gesprongen ofzo?), and the photographer, Marien van Os, replies "Yes, I was (running?) on Damstraat and heard a splash; I take it he jumped, but I'm not certain." (Ja, liep vanaf de damstraat en hoorde een plons, ik neem aan dat hij gesprongen was maar weet het niet zeker...)

#14 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:06 PM:

I have one automated offsite backup (which is disturbingly prone to deciding it Doesn't Want To Work for no apparent reason, but warns me when that happens), one manual offsite backup for my most important files, and two computers that sync said important files via the manual offsite version. And I still worry occasionally about data loss.

My rule of thumb was "If your house burns down tonight and you can rescue none of your possessions, how much data will you be able to recover?" Offsite/automatic covers most of that; I had not thought of the redundant part, so much.

(Granted, if my house burns down with desktop and laptop in it and the people hosting the offsite backup have their servers go up in flames too, I think there are larger problems afoot than my data loss.)

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Lorax: would that be a universe where you only have deep discussions when they're unavoidable, so they're assumed to be painful occasions?

#16 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:08 PM:

Kevin RIggle @10: Oh, trust me, they very sure do count. Only thing that keeps me from going after the local populace with distructive instruments, most days.

It's just not ... enough.

#17 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 07:46 PM:

Teresa @15:

would that be a universe where you only have deep discussions when they're unavoidable, so they're assumed to be painful occasions?

Yes, I think so. Or perhaps the causation goes both ways -- you avoid deep discussions because you assume they're painful, so the only times you have them are when they are painful occasions. What I don't really understand is how people get themselves into this cycle in the first place, but I suspect it has to do with associating enjoyment purely with turning your brain off.

#18 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 08:48 PM:

I think that some people must live in a mental universe where the only possible deep discussions are of deeply unpleasant things.

#19 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 09:40 PM:

Or they feel that surfing a daily froth of superficial interaction actually is having relationships.

On what planet? On planet Chatty McExtrovert, where my spaceship has broken down.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 09:57 PM:

Debra Doyle #18: ... or at least of existential threats.

Compare to some of the complaints embedded in the definition of Neurotypical Syndrome....

#21 ::: Kaja ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 10:15 PM:

Lorax @ 12: I'm not sure that this study isn't just saying "people who have close relationships are happier", though, which is even more staggeringly obvious than the result as stated.

I think that's part of the puzzle, but not all of what's being said. You'll note that the study was conducted among university students (who often have these kinds of conversations as part of their daily work), and that "deep conversations" could include both things like discussing budget adjustments with your spouse and discussing the inner lives and motivations of the characters on a television show. It seems like the main criterion for such a conversation is not the closeness of relationship between the participants, but the degree to which the conversation requires thoughtful engagement with the subject matter and an investment in the conversation itself.

I often find myself in what would be classifiable as "deep" conversations with people I don't have a close relationship with at all (colleagues in my very large department, fellow students at the fencing school I frequent, people I've only just been introduced to at social events, etc), and it isn't always a step toward building a close relationship either.

Perhaps the generalization could be rephrased to, "People who are actively engaged in their community and take time to think and share their views about the world around them and how they fit into it are happier," with "close relationships" fitting somewhere within "community"?

Of course, that makes the "counterintuitive" comment even weirder, unless it's a restatement of "ignorance [and isolation?] is bliss". Which is even more depressing.

#22 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 10:21 PM:

It seems to puzzle many non-fen when I attempt to explain why I do badly in 'normal' cocktail-party style conversational contexts with strangers. I start with, "Well, I like talking about information, and when I try doing that at parties [with non-fen], people look at me funny. They expect me to talk about random surface stuff without ever mentioning anything interesting."

Which is what it looks like to me. Also, most of it appears to be status-related ... and I mostly don't have the status. "What do you do?" "I'm a college dropout who lost three jobs caring for my grandmother when she went senile. Since then, I haven't been able to even get a job interview, so I went back to school and am having kids." Not that I'm so socially tone-deaf as to SAY it like that, but that's the actual content, and I know no real way to dress it up so it doesn't make the other person either supercilious or bored.

Fen are perfectly happy talking about SOMETHING, not talking about NOTHING! And they don't get offended nearly as easily if your opinion on the topic is counter to theirs, which is NOT what happens on, say, the bus when I make some offhand remark relating current events and suddenly my conversation partner says something that makes it clear they would think I'm either stupid or deluded if I voice my true opinion ...

#23 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 11:28 PM:

What bugs me is when people can converse F2F but don't know how to do it in email. They don't answer any questions or really respond; you ask how their trip was and you are lucky to get a single sentence. I lost one friend that way.
Then there's the ones who seem just plain anti-thought, who when asked about the frequency-range/fidelity of that gadget they listen to, turn out to know nothing of what you'd think any consumer would want to know. Or the ones who play the radio (too loud) at work all day, and when you commment on the vicious lyrics of the song you have already endured 3 times, they act all surprised and say they never listen. WTF??
At our semi-annual family gatherings, cousins spend hours playing games and I would rather talk about something interesting that we didn't get to during dinner, and all the other relatives are in the other room watching sports. Sometimes it's better and there's someone else who can sit around and talk--full range from small talk to big. My relationship with my parents has had some rough spots, but one of the things I really appreciate is that most anything I want to talk about, they are smart enough to understand and sometimes teach me something new. But there's a few things we can't go into without arguing, so I am glad to have a few other friends. Including the people here.
I can't swim very well, or anything physical--due to various reptitive stress injuries, arthritis and a lifetime of teachers, doctors and relatives singling me out and finding all manner of things wrong with my body, never bothering to consider how many such judgments I might have already heard, nor finding anything good to balance them out. It's cumulative, like mercury. A person who is already distracted by other things is likely to give up on physical activity. It wasn't till adulthood that I realized I had great grip strength. I don't know if Dutch swimming teachers would have helped me, but they could hardly be any worse than the one I had.
I back up my data on jump-drives carried next to my heart. I mean to put it on CDs or something stored in a 3rd site...

#24 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 11:31 PM:

Backups: I used to have offsite backups of crit data on CD/DVDs in my grandmother's gun safe. Until she got so senile, she tried to sell the (very large, very heavy) gun safe to someone, almost taking my data with it.

#25 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 11:32 PM:

About the Instant Political Folklore link -- I wholeheartedly agree that HCR is a big fucking deal!

I rather like how Joe Biden speaks before he thinks. I live a long way from his home state, and really didn't know much about him before he became the VP candidate, so I may have missed some faux pas that would appall me. The ones that I recall him getting beaten up about since then are usually things that I'd probably say myself. (I am not cut out for politics.) People often complain bitterly about politicians being slimy spin doctors. Here we've got one that actually says things without spinning it. Let's appreciate him!

#26 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 11:39 PM:

Angiportus @ 23: What bugs me is when people can converse F2F but don't know how to do it in email. They don't answer any questions or really respond; you ask how their trip was and you are lucky to get a single sentence.

I represent that remark to some extent, as people who've met me IRL and compared my conversation to the stuff I type here can probably attest.

Things I would say easily in conversation seem terrifyingly, brain-meltingly inane when I write them. So I mostly don't, even though at some level I know better.

#27 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:20 AM:

For people who can, I've heard lots of really good things about Windows Home Server. Makes backing up a number of computers in a home very easy.

For people with Mac, Time Machine d does do a great job of incremental backups with very little hassle.

Neither of these systems get you offsite easily, but they are an important start.

Also, it may not be possible to repeat enough that RAID is not a backup, in any circumstance.

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:46 AM:

TNH @13:

You're almost there. Liep is the imperfect of lopen, which means "walk". van Os was walking (much more common here; there's very little jogging.)

Note that his 1 picture a day site is worth popping by regularly.

#29 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:05 AM:

Elliot @22:
Miss Manners accepts the "what do you do?" question as part of the delicate negotiation to find a mutually agreeable topic. Not that it's never used as a status marker, but the skilled conversationalist ought to ask you how old your child is and what skills she has learned lately, or admire your fortitude in looking after your grandmother, or ask a different question to try a different avenue if they're not keen on children or grandmothers. I don't think there's a ban on discussing information, but there's no way to get down to the meaty stuff without some false starts, and of course some sets of people just won't have enough serious interests in common to get past the "nothing."

I submit that fen, especially meeting at cons, have a whole lot of context suggesting mutually agreeable topics-- like the book in a person's hand or the panel just finishing up-- that shortens this negotiation considerably, and greatly increases its likelihood of eventual success.

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:18 AM:

I went to a birthday party for grownups a couple of years ago and was horrified when they pulled out the pictionary and charades and wanted to play party games.
I kept saying, "Can't we talk? Wouldn't you all rather have a conversation?"

An obvious market for my proposed board game, "Significant Pursuit". The board and rules itself will look familiar, but the questions will be along the lines of "True happiness is impossible in a hierarchical society. Discuss" and "To what extent was the expansionary military policy of Revolutionary France inherent in the universalist beliefs of the Enlightenment?"

#31 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:27 AM:

Despite the fact that we've been sidetracked from the doing bit to the talking bit, I'd just like to come back to the canal and say:

a) civilisation is the kindness of strangers; and

b) a functional civil society brings a tear to the eye.

#32 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:28 AM:

Angiportus @23: Then there's the ones who seem just plain anti-thought, who when asked about the frequency-range/fidelity of that gadget they listen to, turn out to know nothing of what you'd think any consumer would want to know

Is not knowing the technical details of the things you own "being anti-thought"? That's the sort of thing I can't imagine having a "deep conversation" about, and I'd hardly call myself anti-thought.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:37 AM:

me @6:

Apparently rescue swimming is no longer part of the C diploma; it's all about managing in increasing amounts of clothing* for increasing distances and times.

Rescue swimming is a whole 'nother diploma.

----
* A Diploma: shorts, T-shirt, shoes
  B Diploma: long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, shoes
  C Diploma: long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, jacket, shoes

#34 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:59 AM:

Elliot Mason #22 - what do you mean by fen and non-fen? The words seem vaguely familiar but the internet is swamped with false positives.

#35 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:20 AM:

34: "man" pl. "men", "woman" pl. "women"; therefore "fan" pl. "fen".

#36 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:26 AM:

But the happiest person in the study, based on self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject, had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest, Dr. Mehl said.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the happiest person most likely doesn't work at WalMart. Having time or opportunity for significant human connection can be a bit of a luxury in these sad fallen times.

[cuddles the internets and pats its little head]

#37 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 07:28 AM:

ajay @ 30, and then you think you're on a winning streak and you get "Who won the Cup Final in 1949?"

#38 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Abi @6, the thing that struck me about the series-- apart from the understated "just doing what decent people should do" heroism of the guy who jumped in and the woman who donated her shirt--is the number of people in the audience. A couple of people take the initiative to help, and a bunch of people watch. I wonder which group I would be in.

#39 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Nickp (38): It wasn't just those two, it was also whoever went and got the ladder, and the people holding it. And if everyone there tried to help, they'd just be getting in each other's way.

But you raise an interesting point.

#40 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 10:05 AM:

SeanH #32--No, but not even knowing the basics makes me wonder. It was the tone of this person's voice that set me askance, definitely apathetic. I don't recall the exact nature of my questions, but it was something analogous to "how many burners does your stove have" vs. "wattage of each one".
You've gotten me thinking, though, and I do recall that in fact not being very technically inclined doesn't automatically mean a lack of great thoughtfulness/depth in other areas. But this individual, whom I worked with for some months, gave me the impression of not having much depth in any area. Maybe there were inner facets that I knew nothing of, but I didn't have a feeling that that could have been the case.
There are some smart people who maintain willful ignorance of some topic or field for various reasons that might not be all their fault. It might be something that traumatized them once, or there may be a practical reason. My aunt, a farmer's wife, carefully had nothing to do with any of her husband's work, even knowledge thereof, and I suspect this not only helped her work better as a teacher but reduced spousal friction. (Maybe. His drinking and cruelty to children eventually ended the marriage.) She had her blind spots, but was not "anti-thought".
Speech versus writing--there are some things I can say better on paper or screen than with words, and vice versa. And some of the people who didn't provide the significant connection I needed, seemed indeed to be busier than a healthy person should have to be.
Also, what Alex #31 said. I think everyone should rush out and get everything Miss Manners ever wrote--that's not on the same level with saving lives, of course, but it is vital to a society clueful enough to be in the mood to save a life. What I like about the blogs and so on I frequent is there aren't a lot of trolls and the moderators know how to deal with the ones that do appear.

#41 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 10:33 AM:

Nickp@ #38, the people standing around are (a) not getting in the way and (b) available to help if someone shouts, "Hey, does anyone have a blanket?" or whatever. Not a bad thing, in my opinion. Also (c) probably some of them called for the ambulance.

#42 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Dave Bell@37: I got that once when I chose History over Sport in a quiz.

#43 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:03 AM:

Abi @ #28 - also gotta be careful with lopen in Belgium, which will refer to running; I kept getting weird looks until I remembered to substitute with wandelen.

Crazy(although, these days, those that know me remember that my Dutch is from north of the border, and compensate in their listening)Soph

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:25 AM:

crazysoph @43:
also gotta be careful with *lopen* in Belgium, which will refer to running; I kept getting weird looks until I remembered to substitute with *wandelen*.

Meanwhile, as you know soph, in Nederland we use hardlopen or rennen for "run". Lopen is "walk", either unmarked usage or with a purpose (Ik loop naar de auto) . Wandelen is "taking a walk", walking for the sake of the action itself.

#45 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 11:45 AM:

Glad to know the man would probably have had experience swimming in that level of clothing (since he pulls the rescue off, I had tentatively concluded that already, of course). It still seems like taking the few seconds to take off his shoes would have been a good investment (if only in the future life of the shoes!); it seems to me that water and rescues are dangerous enough that any additional impediment is to be avoided. But I've never learned to swim decently, or become at all comfortable in the water.

#46 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:11 PM:

DDB @45:

The diplomas are actually aimed at "what happens if you fall in yourself?", but clearly they're more widely useful.

Looking at the picture of the victim, I'm not sure I would have stopped to take my shoes off.

And, more importantly: sitting here outwith the moment, I'm certainly not minded to criticize what any of the rescuers did or talk about how I could have done it better. I wasn't there, and I'm not sure I would have done better had I been.

#47 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:14 PM:

And I forgot to mention: Alex passed his test, and now has his A diploma!

This is a big thing in Dutch culture; he'll be collecting handshakes and congratulations for the rest of the week, though most of his classmates are already there.

Fiona still has some ways to go, mostly on speeding up. I've promised a chocolate cake with an A on the top when they're both through it.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:21 PM:

abi... Congrats to Alex!

#49 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:51 PM:

Elliott, #22: It seems to me as though that could be made to sound a lot more positive by reframing it as, "I spent X years being a caregiver for my grandmother, and now I've gone back to school and had a child." This lobs the conversational ball back into their court, with several options for a return that isn't entirely superficial -- what are you studying, what do you plan to do once you're done, do you find it hard balancing child-raising and school?

Zelda, #29: Good point! The fact that both of you are at a con in the first place immediately suggests several areas to explore looking for common ground -- favorite authors, preferred programming, favorite media SF, etc.

SeanH, #32: Thank you, I was trying to figure out how to say that with at least a modicum of politeness. Ask me about the music I'm listening to, and I can easily have as deep a conversation as you want. Ask me about technical electronics shit... not so much, because I DON'T CARE about that. "Any consumer would want to know," my ass. And anybody who calls me "anti-thought" because of that isn't going to get much conversation out of me on any topic whatsoever.

Mary Aileen, #39: I wonder how many of those people watching were hanging around... I'm having trouble phrasing this... against the possibility that there might turn out to be something they could do to help?

#50 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Congrats to Alex!

In general, for any situation where urgent and unusual action is needed, I think it's a good idea to go over it at leisure later, particularly to see what lessons can be drawn from it, and how decisions made in a hurry stand up to calm reflection. (The analysis needs to be reasonable and thoughtful of course; taking into account only what the people could reasonably have known at the time they had to decide, for example, and not what was found out later.)

This is an important part of how one prepares for such situations. Mostly (certainly in this case) this doesn't involve criticism of the actions taken by the people actually there, just trying to learn from them. Nor does it imply that I think I would have done better if actually there. The point is to try to learn from the experience, even if it's at a distance; to try to make the actions that I would take after the leaning process better than the actions I would have taken before it.

#51 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:00 PM:

Lee@49: I'm somewhat croggled myself at the idea that people to whom music is important might not care about the quality of the reproduction they listen to. The apparent existence of such people may be an artifact of our having reached the wonderful stage of "good enough"; where the common consumer MP3 player and earbuds are good enough that few people would find them clearly inadequate. When I bought my first stereo, it would have been quite easy to buy something for the same amount of money, in the same store, that sounded pretty crappy; knowing something about what you were doing was an important survival skill!

#52 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:09 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @51: I love music, but will happily admit that I know nothing about the devices I use to listen to it.

In the past when I've decided to purchase any of these toys, I've done research, looked at reviews of said item, and then gone and actually listened to them. Whatever one sounded best to me I bought.

(And there's this Bose home theater system I'm lusting for -- but it will have to wait until I've actually the cash-in-hand to buy it...)

#53 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:09 PM:

re: the flickr set. The deeply frustrated part of me thinks that if you also had a bunch of angry people getting in the way, shouting "Let him drown!", and accusing the people trying to save him of taking sidewalk space away from non-drowning people who actually earned their place to stand, I'd say you had a really good analogy for the US Health Care Reform debate.

#54 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:24 PM:

Lila@41

Agreed to all that, but still, it is clear from the photos that a small crowd had gathered before one man jumped in.

So, yes, not everyone was just rubbernecking, but I find it interesting that in this sort of situation, some people take action while others watch...or dither...or wonder what is going on...or plan what to do...or anything other than just leaping in.

I'm reminded of the instructions in CPR class to point at particular people and say "You! Call the ambulance" instead of yelling "someone call an ambulance." If you don't point at a particular individual, most people will just dither.

So, I wonder why this guy actually jumped in, and I wonder if I would be that guy or one of the watchers.

#55 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:27 PM:

Lee @49 --

While recognizing the whole negotiation thing, I tend to get tripped up on not-previously-considered cases. So if someone makes a reply I haven't encountered before I tend to drop the conversational ball.

And I loathe being asked what I do, mostly because it doesn't have a name. ("XML tools and processes for information delivery" is the current best approximation, but that's certainly not a name.) "computer stuff" sometimes works.

I suspect this "uncertain of convention" problem is a genuine cross-cultural issue. Different cultures have different conventions; I'm quite sure there are some where asking about the weather isn't a real opening for discussion, frex.

#56 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:40 PM:

Lori@52: Research plus listening before buying solidly meets my concept of rational behavior there. I may acquire more interest in the things I'm researching, and maintain it longer, than many people, I guess. I've bought bits of stereo equipment from the 1970s through the 2000s (nothing in the 2010s yet), and at this point the concept that it's an ongoing thing is pretty ingrained. Same for cars, even though I'm not a gear-head at all (don't do cars as hobby).

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:47 PM:

David, #51: Obviously, I wouldn't buy a piece of stereo equipment without listening to it. But I don't give a rat's ass why it sounds good or bad, only that my ears can tell it does. And a lot of the things that salesdroids go on and on about as if they justified running the cost of the unit up another $500 make no difference in the way it sounds compared to another unit that doesn't have Super Special Feature X, so arguing that learning the technical shit would help me shop cuts no ice.

Suzanne, #53: More so if the angry people are accusing the rescuers of trying to strip the clothes off their backs to give to this bum who obviously doesn't deserve them.

#58 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:50 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 51: I'm somewhat croggled myself at the idea that people to whom music is important might not care about the quality of the reproduction they listen to.

I've known a lot of professional classical musicians who had lousy stereos. I've always assumed it was because the distance between "bad stereo" and "good stereo" was so much smaller than the difference between "recorded classical music" and "live classical music" that they didn't see much point in spending a lot of money on it.

For electronic musicians like me, the stereo is the instrument, and we want it to be as good as we can afford. But we have to keep some crappy systems around to check that our work degrades gracefully.

#59 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 01:52 PM:

DD-B @51: I actually very carefully refrain from developing fussiness about things like sound reproduction quality. Why? Because it can get very expensive very fast, and thus is much more a source of frustration than pleasure. I can enjoy good repro, I just refuse to get dependent on it.

I reserve my nuanced perception for visual phenomena. I can spend a half an hour contemplating the contours of oily rain in a gutter, cost free. I'm the only person I know who finds watching paint dry fascinating.

#60 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:03 PM:

Lee #57: Is that what they're always going on about, redistribution of wardrobe?

#61 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:08 PM:

guthrie @34 said: Elliot Mason #22 - what do you mean by fen and non-fen? The words seem vaguely familiar but the internet is swamped with false positives.

The answer at 35 is accurate; to be a little more expansive, when I used the word, I intended "fen" to mean "people I (am likely to) run into at SF conventions."

Lee @49 said: Elliott, #22: It seems to me as though that could be made to sound a lot more positive by reframing it as, "I spent X years being a caregiver for my grandmother, and now I've gone back to school and had a child." This lobs the conversational ball back into their court, with several options for a return that isn't entirely superficial -- what are you studying, what do you plan to do once you're done, do you find it hard balancing child-raising and school?

Yes, but any time I mention that most of my day involves childcare, I very often get a condescending reflex from my conversational partner, because of how deeply unvalued things like caregiving or childcare are in modern American society. Almost nobody who hasn't1 spent their day doing it has much of an idea how exhausting it is.

They also tend to assume, once they know I'm a stay-at-home parent (and student), that I have basically no job skills or former experience; at least, they get shocked and surprised when I say things later on about skills I acquired on previous jobs or hobbies ... as if once I'm 'mommy' I cease to have any expertise, in their eyes, in any other field.


1 Complicated double- or triple-negatives employed to avoid offending those enlightened few who DO know how much work it is, even though they haven't done it themselves.

#62 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:11 PM:

Lee@57: yes, just listening is fine, if the conditions are such that you get a good idea of how the component will work in your use, and if you trust your ears that much. I've encountered enough cases of flaws that became noticeable only with familiarity that I want more than just my own cold listen before buying anything I have high expectations of.

#63 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Lee @ 57: Learning the "technical shit" helps you shop by pruning your search tree, knowing how equipment that won't sound good at home is made to sound good in the showroom (and sometimes vice versa), knowing which components can more safely be economized on without testing every combination, etc.

None of which is to say that it's important enough to warrant the brainspace involved, or that you can't do just fine by listening. But it does help, especially in a field like audio where there's a lot of confusion and even fraud, and spending more money can actually make your system sound worse.

#64 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 02:51 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 51: The apparent existence of such people may be an artifact of our having reached the wonderful stage of "good enough"; where the common consumer MP3 player and earbuds are good enough that few people would find them clearly inadequate.

I'd say it's mostly this. You don't really need to know how an mp3 player works (or how a record player works, for that matter, even though it's much easier to understand), so long as you can hear it and decide whether the quality meets your standards. What's important is not whether one cares about the topic or not, but rather if one decides that it's not a valid topic for anyone to care about.

In any case, a well-honed BS detector will help keep the clueless salesdroids from bamboozling you with the marketing literature they're reading off the side of the box. Especially when it comes to audio. I get the impression that there are a lot more audiophools than audiophiles.

#65 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:10 PM:

People who have deep, meaningful discussions about backing up their data are happier than people who don't.

#66 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:11 PM:

Bruce@65. Eventually anyway.

#67 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Bruce@65: This is a place where the best is very much the enemy of the good; those deep, meaningful discussion could prevent ever actually backing up the fscking data, in which case the people having them would not remain happy indefinitely.

#68 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:46 PM:

Graydon @55:
"Computer stuff" is the correct answer, then, to "what do you do?" You don't *have* to give a clear description of your job to the technically uninitiated; you only have to signal whether this is or is not a good topic. Those with clue can respond with "Oh? I'm a ____ myself; what field are you in?" and the two of you can be hip-deep in delightful technical details in fifteen seconds or less; those without clue can move on to another subject.

Elliot @61:
I am sorry you meet such a high proportion of jerks. The fraction of them probably varies wildly from one social microclimate to the next. Once you learn that your conversational partner is one, I guess you have your choice among expending the energy to educate them, discussing nothing (e.g. the weather), and suddenly discovering that your beverage urgently needs a refill...

#69 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:50 PM:

Ahh, thank you Ajay and Elliot.

Does anyone else have this problem that as you get older and more knowledgable, your ability to have deep meaningful conversations is restricted somewhat by a) knowing more about fewer topics and therefore having trouble finding people to converse with, b) knowing that spouting off on any old topic with no knowledge makes you look stupid.
On the other hand I'd quite like to have meaningful discussions on a more regular basis.

#70 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 03:51 PM:

This all puts me in mind of one of the stranger dates I had. Gentleman invites me to his house for dinner. Puts in time fussing in the kitchen to produce [something Chinese and fairly yummy, if memory serves]. Deploys food onto plates, indicates the table in the dining nook. We sit down and ... he proceeds to become engrossed in a comic book.

(To be clear, it's not the comic book part I found weird.)

#71 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:00 PM:

#58, Tim Walters, wrote:
I've known a lot of professional classical musicians who had lousy stereos.

Never underestimate the possibility that professional classical musicians have significant hearing loss. Depending on instrument, they may spend much of their time very very close to very loud sounds. (It turns out that hearing damage is cumulative at lower db's than previously thought.) One might suspect that their poor quality equipment might be well matched to their surviving cilia.

You yourself might want to consider seeing an audiologist at intervals to find out how quickly the curve is bending for you. (No offense meant!)

DD-B:
re: audio salesdroid's tricks: a very small increase in volume in two different systems produces a very clear preference for the slightly louder system.* Since no two speakers are equally efficient, if you compare two side by side, you'll buy the slightly louder one, more often than random chance. You can see how easily a cunning salesdroid can fox the outcome. What's not as obvious, is that you can do it to yourself, even if you carefully A/B test. This is why it can seem rewarding to periodically 'upgrade' your speakers. An additional side effect is that for people who don't listen carefully, frequently, any change from day to day stands a pretty good chance of being rewardlingly different.

Which sums up why most people couldn't be bothered to care about stereos after, say, 1990. I do not mean for that to be snarky - I just mean "good enough" arrived after CDs became inexpensive enough that manufacturers had to hew to the same basic standard of quality. The amount of variability between manufacturers had to decrease because tape hiss or record pops weren't going to cover gross defects any more. The frequencies most speakers are still kinda weak at, like mid-to-low frequencies, aren't paid close attention to by consumers anyway, probably because almost any background noise muddles them, and most music that has a vocal component, doesn't put the lyrics in that range.

*I got this from some perception research about 6-8 years ago. Can't find a cite, sorry. The gist is that the sensory system likes things that are ever so slightly more stimulating than whatever it got used to. Which is why the volume drifts up as the night goes on at clubs, frex. Why most clubs start the night at volumes that would probably damage most people's hearing within a moderate amount of time and drift up to volumes that do damage anybody's hearing in a short amount of time, I don't know.

#72 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Edgar@71: I remember knowing roughly the "louder is better" trick from the 1970s; we may well not have had as good an experimental basis for the belief as the more recent research you recall. Honest stores have an AB system with fine-tuning correction for efficiency; but of course setting it right is non-trivial and hard to verify.

I noticed the "classical musicians have lousy stereos" thing in college, which makes the cumulative damage theory less likely to my way of thinking, and tends to support the "all stereos are so bad, they don't pay a lot for minor improvements" theory. The other obvious theory is "serious musicians tend not to be well-to-do"; but again college is to early for that to be a good explanation.

#73 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:18 PM:

Jacque@70: sounds like he ate alone a lot! And had not, perhaps, really thought things through :-).

#74 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 04:47 PM:

DD-B @ 72--I don't know, my nephew had a choice between a new cello and a new car when he graduated from high school and went to college. So yes, they could be that broke that early. Sheet music ain't cheap either--I have three cousins who are all professional classical muscians (and, in one case, married to a professional classical musician as well), and their accounts of 'What I Went Through to Get a Copy of X' are epic (and often hilarious, which is beside the point here, although it's worth noting that the organist made up in sheet music what he saved by not having to buy his own pipe organ*). So yes, they tend to be broke early and often**. And starting to lose hearing early is believable--as I recall, even in high school, when they were working on their college admissions, they were practicing as often as 8 hours a day--not counting working with the various ensembles they played in.

*Their response to finding the Wiki where you can download classical sheet music for free? "Kids these days have it easy! I spent two weeks and $XX is photocopying, plus the Interlibrary Loan fees getting a copy of Z!"

**Then there's the cost of the clothes--because classical performers do have dress codes to deal with.

#75 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Jacque @ #70:
"Gentleman invites me to his house for dinner. Puts in time fussing in the kitchen to produce [something Chinese and fairly yummy, if memory serves]. Deploys food onto plates, indicates the table in the dining nook. We sit down and ... he proceeds to become engrossed in a comic book."

In those circumstances, he might be forgiven if the comic book in question was Iron Wok Jan.

#76 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 05:17 PM:

About deep conversations: It's not uncommon to have most of your encounters with anything you'd think of as deep, or have pointed out to you as deep, come in explicit opposition to enjoyment.

We've had threads in the past at great length about the bad teachers we remember, for whom criticism is basically about doing everything to a text except enjoying it. And we've pretty much all, I think, had to deal with people for whom analysis of anything popular entertaining is about looking for reasons not to enjoy it, to force one's own anhedonia on others. If you're not heavily invested in, oh, politics as a regular thing and then go try to find out something about an issue that seems important, you can spend a lot of time wading through people with extremely poor anger management skills. Und so weiter.

If you're not fortunate enough to get some better connections along the way - and it seems to me there is a big element of luck in it - then I find it really easy to believe that deep conversation could seem entirely or probably unpleasant.

#77 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 06:05 PM:

Suzanne, #60: Dammit, I know there's a "wardrobe malfunction" joke to be had out of that, but it just won't crystallize for me.

David & Tim, #62-63: That, I would say, is where the "good enough" hypothesis comes in. As for online research, customer review sites are frequently more valuable than technical data in the narrowing-down process.

I should also perhaps point out that I am NOT a stereo-geek, nor do I listen to music nearly as much as a lot of people do; "good enough" is a quite acceptable standard for me.

#78 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 08:26 PM:

As someone whose default state is "paralyzingly shy in social situations" I finally learned that the secret to casual social conversation was to craft in advance the "cocktail party answer" to all the standard opening-pitch questions. ("What do you do?" or, back in grad school, "What are you studying?" and "What are you researching?")

The cocktail party answer is one carefully designed to provide enough detail to give your interlocutor a hook for further interaction, but not so much that they glaze over before you finish talking. It should have some deliberately intriguing or provocative framings of even the most pedestrian details but should use accessible language and imagery. Too brief and sparse an answer gives the questioner nothing to latch onto to continue the conversation -- it's uncooperative. Too detailed and lengthy of an answer distorts the give-and-take symmetry of a social interaction.

Once you come up with one (or a couple of minor variations) you can continue to re-use it for a long time, so you can draft it up under comfortable circumstances and test it out on a friendly audience, if desired.

(The other secret I discovered about casual social conversations is that you can get through a lot of cocktail parties simply by providing those meaningless opening questions yourself. People do love to talk.)

True, it's much more satisfying to move on to meaningful conversations about topics of substance, but as others have said, it's hard to identify the likely topics and conversationalists without working through the opening movements of the dance first.

#79 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2010, 10:19 PM:

Went thru an audio-geek phase some decades back and learned on my own not only how to walk into a room with 2 dozen pair of speakers and tell which ones were on by only moving my head a bit, but how to not fall for the efficiency trick that makes louder ones seem better.
Guthrie #34: "fen and non-fen", "swamped with false positives" --Just don't get bogged down.

#80 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 03:18 AM:

DDB, and Tim@58 - I had a housemate in college who liked classical music and had a medium-quality stereo, and had found that it was good enough that he could hear the music - so it was much more important to get records by better orchestras with better conductors than to spend money improving the stereo, because reducing that last few hundredths of a percent of distortion wasn't going to make the Uninspired Strings Orchestra play any better.
On one of the related topics, our dinner group ended up with several race-car geeks one week, and their conversation led me to the experience of "oh - that's fairly precisely what *we* sound like to non-computer geeks" (as opposed to hearing sports fans talking or whatever.)

#81 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 03:57 AM:

Carrie #9: clearly the problem is that you didn't play Werewolf (or Mafia or whatever variant is common in your milieu). You certainly remember people after playing that (or even watching them play).

I am dreadful at random small talk, but I discovered blogging and twitter, and so am now armed with enough context about people I meet in my circles that I can either pick up an existing conversation, or have some idea of a mutually interesting topic (assuming I am in those circles; I am still often at a loss at my boys' school events).

#82 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 10:22 AM:

One thing I have noticed is that big, "powerful", speakers sound better at low volume settings. But I do a lot of my listening with headphones, these days. What I mean is for a given perceived loudness, the larger speakers, with the higher nominal power rating, sound better.

I have a pair of speakers, some thirty years old, which are huge, compared to what you can see as routine, now. They have a lower bottom-end frequency on the label than have the sub-woofer boxes you have to buy these days.

I can sort of understand the thinking that says the low-frequency sound isn't very directional, and putting it all through one sub-woofer doesn't lose you anything, but I'm not sure I trust the people pitching the idea. If the directional sound-waves have to be smaller than your head, the directional speaker systems they sell must have been made for pin-heads.

#83 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 12:07 PM:

Dave Bell @ 82: I can sort of understand the thinking that says the low-frequency sound isn't very directional, and putting it all through one sub-woofer doesn't lose you anything, but I'm not sure I trust the people pitching the idea.

It works pretty well if you have the sub well-calibrated and sitting in the right location, if your bass management system is good, if your sub doesn't have a nasty overly-resonant port... in other words, it doesn't really work very well most of the time in typical consumer situations. (True 5.1 is another matter; the only thing going to the sub then should be effects rumble.)

#84 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Abi, is it for certain that the fellow who was in the water, was in fact saved? For some reason, viewing the photographs did not indicate to me one way or the other.

Thanks.

#85 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Abi, is it for certain that the fellow who was in the water, was in fact saved? For some reason, viewing the photographs did not indicate to me one way or the other.

Thanks.

#86 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 04:41 PM:

sorry for the double post

#87 ::: Tatterbots ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Perhaps another reason classical musicians don't need good stereos is that the processing equipment inside their heads is so good that it more than makes up for poor sound quality. They're actively engaged in the music and alert to every nuance, and their minds can fill in anything they can't hear properly.

It fits my experience; if I know a song, I can enjoy hearing it played quietly in a crowded cafe, even if the background noise is such that my companions can't hear the music at all. And my hearing isn't particularly acute. The parts I can hear jog my memory, and my brain fills in the rest.

#88 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 01:39 PM:

I tend to forget what decent instruments that aren't guitars (or pennywhistles, I guess) cost; musicians playing them have some big expenses to cope with by college age, that's very true. (One of the advantages of being a pianist or an organist, I believe; you're not expected to bring your own instrument!)

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