Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
Home » Misc. » Blog | About me Impressum Contact Sitemap

Collection of tidbits


Due to reasons described in an earlier blog entry, I decided to experimentally switch to more frequent posts of minor tidbits that I have lying around. This page was created to contain these, in the order of posting.

For convenience reasons, this page has since come to contain most of the new entries—even if not strictly one of the intended tidbits.


One of the very greatest obstacles (and possibly the hardest to overcome) on the road to excellence and further improvement is the belief that one excels...

Modern knowledge?

It is notable that many ideas considered relatively modern or insightful have, in fact, been wide-spread for thousands of years. As an example, the basic idea behind cognitive behavioural therapy is present in the teachings of the stoics of ancient Greece. Another example: Study of pupil dilation is often mentioned as a semi-advanced technique to measure personal attraction or interest in a particular object, topic, whatnot, yet use of bella donna and similar means to deliberately increase pupil dilation was not uncommon amongst medieval women (as a mean of increasing their attractiveness, which incidentally implies that there is also a subconscious effect on the viewer). Allegedly, knowledge around pupil dilation goes back at least to the ancient egyptians.

Images as aphorisms

I have recently been reading many entries on e.g. http://graphjam.com/ and other sites presenting (more or less) entertaining images. It is not uncommon for these to state a fundamental truth in a manner similar to that of an aphorism. Considering the entertainment value, it is conceivable that conventional aphorisms, sayings, adages, ..., will be playing second fiddle in the future (or be replaced by something newer yet, e.g. videos with a similar content). Similarly, the educational content of many cartoons (e.g. Dilbert) should not be underestimated.

More generally, a paradigm shift from written information to pictorial information seems have been underway for decades. Whether this should be welcomed as a beneficial use of new technologies, or rejected as a sign of illiteracy or a return to cave-wall paintings and church murals, is an interesting question. However, it could be noteworthy that information transfer of old was largely based on the spoken word, which lead to poetry; and that poetry has been overtaken by prose and the written language (in an earlier paradigm shift).

TV influencing decision making skills?

On TV, preconceived opinions (about e.g. the innocence or guilt of someone based on personal affection) usually turn out to be correct, hundred-to-one chances miraculously work out for the best, etc. This could be a contributing reason to why so many people are poor decision makers, even among those (e.g. managers) where good decision making skills are of unusually great importance.

Notably, by just being open for the fact that someone with a pleasant personality can be a criminal or an incompetent, these decision makers could avoid many incorrect decisions. Similarly, the awareness that only one in a hundred of hundred-to-one chances will work out, and that of ten nine-in-ten chances one will fail (on average), could prevent much damage.

The never ending idiocies of OD

As an indirect consequence of my more frequent posts in recent days, I have also started reading others diaries again. Suddenly it struck me that the other diaries did not show dates in the Swedish date format (where I had arbitrarily left the corresponding setting after playing around). As turns out, after some experimentation, the setting Personal Profile/Date and Time Format does not control what format is displayed to me, but which format is used for my diary... For now, I have set it back to use US English, so that my readers can understand the dates. Still, I have to add further criticism towards OD: Is the difference between personal information and diary information that hard to understand?

Sportscasts as clues to the minds of the masses

The way sportscasts and the like are mistreated can give valuable clues on how the minds of the masses work: If we assume that the artificial agitation of the commentators actually has a positive effect on most viewers, this is a disturbing indication of how they tick. Similarly, the common absence of actual information is an equally disturbing indication of their lack of focus on what reasonably could matter.

Unwise reactions to feedback

Many people react to feedback in a manner lacking in constructiveness (and, yes, it is not enough that the feedback it self is constructive—the reaction must be so too). Consider e.g. the feedback “The formulation you use is ambiguous.” and the typical reaction “Then suggest something better!”. This is a highly destructive and immature reaction: A suggestion would indeed be helpful; but, by pointing the ambiguity out, the giver of feedback has already spent time trying to help. He has no obligation whatsoever of spending (potentially, much) more time on doing the author’s work for him. Notably, even if he was willing and available, there is no guarantee that he could: Because he cannot be certain what the original author intended, any suggestion would be speculative.

Lack of perspective on perspective

I have repeatedly, including in school, heard the medieval European art be criticized, even ridiculed, for its amateurish use of perspective, with e.g. the surface of a table facing in an unnatural direction. Interestingly, however, the same phenomenon is present in both classic Chinese art (where it was very deliberately used) and in modern computer games (where it is used to bring over as much information as possible). In light of this, I very strongly suspect that the negative view of medieval art is naive. The true (if possibly only partial) explanation may well be that the artists of old wanted to bring over a certain impression and information, while being relatively less interested in photography-quality depictions.

The key to writing?

The key to writing (with the intention to educate, rather than entertain), in the light of the limitations of language compared to thought, may be to expose the reader to just sufficient reasoning, examples, whatnot, that he, himself, fills in the appropriate blanks. The hitch with this is that it requires some amount of intelligence and awareness on behalf of the reader, and that most readers will be insufficient in this regard. (OTOH, it can safely be assumed that most readers have problems with any texts “harder” than a tabloid newspaper.)

Time heals all wounds...

...the saying goes. What is not said: A wound leaves a scar—and a large enough scar is worse than a small wound.

Asking others for opinions

A regularly occurring scenario in my past is the following: I gather experiences in an area that seem to point to a particular conclusion or insight, realize this and spend some time thinking the issue over, and then ask someone else for his opinion—hoping to get another perspective, deeper insights, whatnot. He then immediately (without any kind of deliberation) gives this opinion—which almost always turns out to be a highly naive one that misses the actual points of the issue. (I stress that not all of these have been disagreements: Even if someone agrees with me, he can have a naive opinion by agreeing for the wrong reason.) On the rare occasions where I have made deeper investigations, it has turned out that not only his amount of deliberation, but also his actual experiences and theoretical knowledge, has been more smaller than mine—even in areas were he claims (or has the reputation of) over-average knowledge.

Charming people

A particular danger with “charming” people is that they are used to get their way by charm, not facts and arguments, which implies that when they come up against a more logical person, they will a) be less skilled at persuasion than others, b) misattribute their failure to a personal deficit instead of a deficit of the issue. In a next step, they project the (imagined) personal failure on their counter-part, e.g. by “He does not like me enough, I am extremely likable; ergo, there is something wrong with him or his social skills.” or similar.

A particular complication is that charm will often even have a negative effect on logical people, who have learned from experience to be leery of “used-car salesmen”, that a flashy cover is very often an attempt to compensate for a lack of content, and that things that glitter more than gold are almost always worthless. (Obviously, because the logical are in a small minority, they are the ones to, unfairly, get the short end of the stick. Cf. the tall dancer phenomenon.)

Nobel’s Peace Prize

Having experienced one of the greatest surprises of the year, I saw myself forced to write a piece on Nobel’s Peace Prize and the joke it has become. Those interested can find it on my website: Nobel’s Peace Prize—a sad joke.

The emperor’s new clothes

Much of human behaviour is exemplified by the tale of the emperor’s new clothes—including the naivete of the child (my typical role so far) in speaking up, where he might have been better off pretending that everything was in order. An interesting difference between the tale and reality is that the roles of the “tailors” and the emperor are often combined. It is further noteworthy that the same person can play different roles in different contexts, e.g. emperor in one, tailor in another, member of the populace in a third. The role of the child is somewhat different, and hard, but not impossible, to combine with the populace role, because the mind-sets are so different; further, it is unlikely to go with the role of tailor for reasons of ethics and calculation. (A combination child/emperor, however, cannot be ruled out: We all tend to be more naive about ourselves than about others, and it is quite conceivable that someone, e.g. I, who normally plays the child’s role, is the duped emperor in another context.)

Disclaimer: Since writing the above, I have re-read the story onlinee and found that my memory was faulty in one critical point: The clothes are not (allegedly) invisible because of their own quality, but because only the competent could see them (again, allegedly). Both variations of the story provide valuable and similar insights into the human mind; however, my above comments are best read from the perspective of my remembrance, where failure to see the clothes is not a sign of incompetence, but of the specific inability to see sufficiently fine threads, as a metaphor for the inability to recognize the quality of e.g. an idea or a product: Even if the bosses idea is idiotic, it is often best to pretend to see virtue in it (from a pragmatical perspective, not necessarily an ethical one).

Innovation in open-source and commercial software

A commonly uttered criticism of open source (at least from the likes of Microsoft) is that it lacks innovation or only copies features from commercial sources. Apart from being of very disputable truth, this criticism entirely misses the point: Open source adds features that users actually need or want, and/or features that have been implemented, tested, and found to be valuable elsewhere. Commercial software, in contrast, has a group of people thinking up new features of very dubious worth (often even with a negative worth—remember Clippyw?) based on what the users should want (in the eyes of the software makers), what might impress them, what might look good in marketing, what might be of strategic worth for the maker of the software, etc.

I will take the open-source view on innovation any time...

Wisdom from books—or not

There is much wisdom to be gained from literature. Unfortunately, however, the ones most in need of it, are the ones least likely to read the right books—and if they do read, they fail to understand. If everyone were to read even one single book (of at least some accomplishment) a year, and actively and successfully used its characters as mirrors to display his own flaws, then we would live in a very, very different world.

Poor uniforms as a sign of impending doom

A recurring theme in writings on war times that draw on real-life experiences: The party that makes the largest compromises with regard to uniforms, boots, and similar, eventually loses the war—and this is apparent months or even years before the war is actually over.

This is easy to explain: When the military cannot afford uniforms it will be low on money indeed; and when the industry cannot provide the uniforms, there will be a severe shortage (e.g. of raw materials or working production facilities) that will likely affect other items needed (e.g. guns, ammunition, food) and/or the rest of society (public suffering, unrest, ...) Notably, longer wars tend to be won by the stronger industry and economy, not the stronger army.

Consequently, compromises with regard to uniforms is a major red flag indicating far worse problems than those caused directly by the compromises. In particular, it is quite possible that not the absolute level is more important, but the drop compared to a previous level. (Which is not to deny that too poor clothing can be a severe problem on its own.)

Having had more than my share of interactions with managers, who seem to insist on fighting the symptoms instead of the disease, I see myself forced to add: No, this does not mean that spending more on uniforms would win someone a war. Such spending may well have positive effects (e.g. better morale, fewer losses to cold); however, it would not solve the underlying problems that cause a war to be lost.

Lotteries, irrationality, and different people

People playing lotteries are often considered idiots by mathematicians and other people of some rationality: The chance of coming out on top, let alone carry away a million dollars, is slim, and merely saving the money at an interest could lead to a decent nest egg by retirement.

In this I fully agree—however, I suspect that is not irrationality, in and by itself, that is the problem (based on observation, articles on gambling addiction, how advertising seems to work, and similar).

I would consider two likely causes behind the popularity of lotteries:

  1. For someone without eduction, intelligence, and prospects, the hope associated with each lottery ticket can be a way to make life easier—and certainly a better and cheaper way than e.g. drug abuse.

  2. The actual act of checking the results is likely a thrill to many, causing an emotional high. This also goes a way to explain the artificial delays that seem to be present in most lotteries. I have e.g. heard that the practice of drawing numbers “live” on TV (which at least used to be popular in Sweden in my youth) is just an artificial enactment of the unspectacular real drawing previously completed by a computer: The numbers are already known internally by the time of the televised drawing. Again, for someone in the right/wrong circumstances, in this case a life with too little excitement or entertainment, a lottery may be a reasonably cheap way of making life a little better.

(Note that both do require some amount of irrationality, or over-excitability, but in a much less direct way than a typical mathematician might assume.)

This points to an underlying issue of greater import, namely that it is very hard to understand the minds of other people. (Cf. e.g. the tall dancer issue.) Looking at my own case, I have over the years had enormous problems because I constantly forget that most people I interact with will be much less rational, much more emotional, have a much harder time seeing logical connections, and so on: They look more or less the same, but are, in fact, very different. The same problem applies in reverse.


The above discussion is based on “habitual players”, for whom it is typical to have one or several lottery tickets awaiting a draw (or to engage in other forms of “soft gambling” with a similar consistency). Casual cases are not included (e.g. someone who buys four tickets a year); nor are “heavy gamblers” included—someone who spends twenty hours a week in a casino is in a very different situation.

Windows, shorthands, and Shaw

There are some interesting observations in the preface of Pygmalione concerning both personal behavior/success and marketing/commercial success. In particular, his discussion of Sweet’s and Pitmann’s respective shorthands remind me of a number of similar constellations in the world of software—above all the entirely undeserved success of Microsoft Windows when compared to many vastly superior operating systems. In fact, one statement catches a lot of Microsoft’s business strategy (not limited to the OS) in a very compact form:

... yet the shorthand in which I am writing these lines is Pitman’s. And the reason is, that my secretary cannot transcribe Sweet, having been perforce taught in the schools of Pitman.

In other words: Ensure that sufficiently many users only know Pitman/Windows/MS-Word/whatnot and the rest of the world will have to adapt—even when they know of something better. Notably, this explains why so many software companies spend large efforts on usability for the absolute beginners and leave the proficient users standing in the rain, why marketing efforts directed at executives are given such weight while internal scripting languages are neglected, etc.

(Note: I am not myself qualified to judge the relative merits of the two shorthands, but the same principle holds either way.)

Lyrics as a tool to understand others emotions

Over the years I have learned that deliberate trying to understand the underlying emotions, behaviours, and motivations behind the lyrics, or the combination lyrics/music, of popular songs can provide invaluable insights into the minds of others—in particular women. Just understanding one of Belinda Carlisle’s songs can bring a man more than reading a book on relationships.

(Beware that the above may apply to a lesser degree to women—or to men who are less rationally oriented than I am. Most humans behave very oddly, in my eyes.)

Consider questions like: Why is this the topic of the song? Why does the woman behave in the manner described? What feelings are behind the behaviour or are resulting from the behaviour? Etc.

It is true that the same applies to other forms of art and entertainment, including literature. There, however, the case is often more obvious than with lyrics (to me); and the insights are often less fundamental, because literature often tries to capture more subtle feelings and behaviours, special cases and situations, and similar—while pop music goes for more basic and commonly occurring feelings and situations. Critically, there are many differences in these fundamentals (e.g. when comparing men/women or intro-/extraverts) that most people seem to be unaware of, and which are more important in understanding others than more subtle psychological insights.

Positive messages—negative messaging

A problem with many sources of messages like “think positive” or “goodwill towards all men” is that they deliver the message in such an imbecillic manner that they lose all credibility—often additionally demonstrating that they are parroting ideas that they do not truly understand or that they want to make money of the message.

Cliches like “Turn that frown up-side down!” or “Don’t be a painbow, be a rainbow!” may work when preaching to the choir—for others, they are off-putting. I note that my (limited) experience with children and own childhood memories give no indication that they would work well with children either.

This is a shame, considering that many of the underlying ideas and principles are sound and could benefit the non-idiots too. For this, however, they have to be communicated in an adult and informative manner.

Take a little and use it well ...

... is a good general principle in life. The problem when an abundance of something is present is that people not only use it wastefully, but they actually use it so wastefully that the net result is worse than if they had had a limited amount that was used judiciously. This include time, money, food, work, soap, ...

A splendid example is special effects in movies or music, where the effects often seem to be added in as a quick and easy way to reach a certain result—or even just for the sake of having effects. In both cases the end result would benefit if more attention was put elsewhere, and the effects added only where they would bring indisputable enrichment. In many cases, the effects can be dispensed with altogether: Replacing a shot in the head with a bang and camera cut is often more effective than a bucket of gore. The monster that is not seen is often scarier than anything ILM can come up with. Etc.

The software industry is another good example in several aspects, including features and man-hours: Add few new features, but make them count and make them high quality—do not through together whatever bull-shit ideas float around in a hope to impress marketing. Use few man-hours, but use the best men, with good equipment and work conditions, minimize red tape and overhead, etc.—do not mushroom manage several dozen incompetents. (Notably, in a weak pun, software developers are not fungible.)

Related principles: Less is more, small is beautiful, quality over quantity.

Resistance to change

A sufficiently slow change of personality, opinions, whatnot, will be appreciated as development. A too fast or too abrupt change, however, is highly unwelcome to most people. This is likely mainly explained by an unwillingness to admit error (to others or to themselves); however, an alternate explanation could be that a too abrupt change is a death of sorts, and that humans, understandably, wish to avoid this.

Obviously, this explanation would only be relevant for major changes, say a highly religious person who loses his faith. Generally, when a certain belief or opinion is a central part of a persons identity, or when much has been invested in this belief (e.g. in form public statements, adjustments of lifestyle, or large investments of time), then the effects of a change of belief could lead to a change of perceived identity—or indeed have so large effects that a true change of identity has taken place. (Such a change, however, should not be viewed on par with a “Freaky Friday” transformation, but is more similar in character, if not speed, with replacing a person at age x with himself at age x + 10.) The effect is that the original person is no longer there, which amounts to death.

Importance of history/East Germany

Twenty years ago, 1989-11-09, what amounts to the D-Day of East Germany took place, and I have spent a considerable part of the last few days reading up on the events and East Germany. While this is very interesting, in it self, I was mostly struck by re-watching the movie “Good bye Lenin”, which focuses on the time around and after the D-Day, and the obsession with the forty-year anniversary of East Germany (taking place on 1989-10-07) which was portrayed.

This brought to my mind an older observation on how the US has a much stronger sense of history than most other countries—despite having a very short past by European standards. This seemingly contra-intuitive fact could be explained by deliberate over-compensation combined with a natural increase in importance of individual events and persons through lack of competition and the filling of niches like national hero, founder, “Robin Hood”, ... Consider e.g. how many of the “founding fathers” have a near legendary status in the US, with comparatively little actual accomplishment behind them. (This is not to deny that they seemed to be preferable to most modern politicians; however, here I measure real men against their legend—not against other men.)

The same likely applied to East Germany, with the added factor that it was a highly propagandistic society, where a forty-year anniversary was an opportunity not to be missed. That it was all a cover without content was proved a month later—the next anniversary never took place, having been preempted by the re-unification of the Germanies on 1990-10-03.

What’s in a smile?

A few days ago I was promenading in the center of Cologne. Some thirty feet away, I spotted a mid-twenties blond, who, while not a bomb-shell, was unusually good looking—and who carried a smile that shone with happiness and joy of life. The distance closed while she talked on her cell-phone, and I was able to hear her voice: While not letting her smile waver for even a second, she spoke to her counter-part with such fury and hatred that I had to deliberately quell the impulse to make a wide circle around her.

What’s in a smile? That which we call joy,
With any other face would feel as sweet.
So anger would, were it not furrowed brow.
Retain that dread aggression which it owes
Without that scowl.


Quips like

Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.

(Einstein, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/women_marry_men_hoping_they_will_change-men_marry/145986.htmle)

are common, yet seem to miss the point: Both men and women change, often considerably—and remain the same to a very high degree. The hitch is that there are specific areas that change and others that do not. (Looking at myself, I can see things that have changed radically in the last five years, and others that have not changed since I was five years old.) This while what changes, respectively remains the same, are the wrong things from the POV of the other sex:

Women often want particular changes in personality, preferences, and behaviour that go against the grain of most men—often misleadingly referring to this as “maturity”. (Cf. e.g. discussions on maturity and women and women and losers .) If a man is comfortable in old jeans and a t-shirt the chances that he will spend half his salary on a Calvin Klein outfit are slim—he may do it, but only to avoid the continued hassle if he does not. Similarly, career ambitions seldom grow over time; in fact, they tend to diminish with greater maturity. Etc.

Men, in turn, typically want women to keep their youth and beauty, but also that they keep certain youthful characteristics of “joie de vivre”. The latter often fade rapidly in women as they leave the teenager or student years behind, and are confronted with the harsher life of an adult. (To speculate on the exact reasons, I would be inclined to also add shrinking popularity and social circles, which seem to be highly important to many women.) A further complication is that women can go through border-line scary personality and priority changes due to child-birth and menopause. (Cf. e.g. Brizendine, The female brainw.)

(Neither paragraph should be consider more than a short and over-simplified statement of principle.)

Literary Blunders

The last few days, I have spent some time with the book Literary Blunderse (dealing with the obvious topic), which is both highly amusing and highly instructive. Of particular interest is the subtlety of many of the errors made, and how easy it is even for an intelligent semi-specialist to make blunders of great impact or embarrassment—something that we all benefit from being reminded of on a regular basis.

A minor warning: The book is written in a nineteenth-century context, and many of the references are obscure to a modern reader, who has both a different type of schooling and a different set of “recent events” than the author and his original readers had.

The single best advice...

...to give to a young person: Learn to take advice.

Unfortunately, this is something that almost everyone learns only through long experience—with the side-effect that other advice given is wasted.

(How to work around the “Catch 22”-ish self-reference? Let me know, if you have suggestions—I know of no fool-proof way.)

The fascinating mystery of Willow

Yesterday, I discovered the site http://forums.sexyandfunny.com/e (a message board for jokes), and started reading post in chronological order. There were many post made by a user “Willow”—an apparently very charming young lady.

She struck me as too good to be true, however, and I decided to send her a message inquiring into her true identity, along the rough lines of:

  1. You have a wonderful sense of humor—women seldom do.

  2. The amount of time invested in a forum not relating to sex, relationships, health, or a similar topic, is unusually large for a woman.

  3. The number of exclamation marks and smileys is suspiciously low.

  4. Your appearance (photo + name) is almost too perfectly sympathetic—in particular considering that women are often shy about publishing photos on the Internet. (Outside of their private pages.)

  5. All in all, I suspect that you are man. Please let me know whether I am right (I promise not to tell). If I am wrong, please take this as an incidental joke.

Opening her profile, I found the claim that she was blocked and a link to the reason. I invite the reader to have a look for themselvese—I do not have the words to describe the situation.

Marriage panic

I was reading a forum poste where the 22 (!) y.o. OP expressed his (!) fears that marriage was slipping from his reach: Half of the women are married at 25 and assuming at least two years of knowing each other before that...

Being a 34 y.o. bachelor, I actually experienced a moment of blind panic: While I am far from certain that I will ever actually want to get married, seeing the opportunity out of reach was an unexpectedly negative and unexpectedly strong feeling—and so young a marriage age took me by surprise, like being hit by a bucketful of ice-cold water.

After that brief moment, I realised that the situation was not as bad as that: Men tend to marry younger women; half is not all; and there is always the possibility of being a divorcees second husband (albeit not my dream scenario).

In a next step, I started to question the number: Very few people I know in person have been married at that age—if at all. Marriage statisticsw prove me right, with the Swedish and German ages at first marriage being 32.9 respectively 32.6 for men, and 30.4/29.6 for women. (The US ages are 27.7 for men, 25.6 for women, well in line with posters statement; however, they are largely irrelevant in my case.)

Being reassured that I was not yet a hopeless case, I saw my interest in marriage drop to near zero again. Now, however, I have a fear that I will eventually grow into a desperate fifty y.o. who jumps into an ill-adviced marriage with the first thirty-five y.o. gold digger who offers.


Recently, I have been reading up intensively and extensively on feminism, gender-equality, and related issues, and I have found my impressions from earlier readings to have been not merely correct, but overly optimistic: Consider e.g. that modern statistics show that more women than men commit domestic violence—yet, mainstream feminists still perpetuate the myth about the woman-bashing husband. The alleged wage-gap disappears when correcting for hours worked, experience, and similar factors—yet, it is still one of the strongest arguments that (at least Swedish) feminists use to demand more “equality”. Etc.

The problems are the worse as the equity-feminists (like Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia), who try to stear feminism back to its original equality ideal, end up being shouted down by gender-feminists for being “gender traitors” and similar. Aggressions against some equity-feminists include threats, defamation, and even violence—all by other women...

A good starting point for those who want to educate themselves is the blog Heretical Sexe or a disturbing article by Erin Pizzeye.

My feelings in short: I am pro-equality, pro-man, pro-woman, and therefore, by necessity, anti-feminist.


How would you account for transgendered people? At least in America, male-to-females lost on average about 1/3 of their previous income after a sex-change, while female-to-male people had a slight increase in their wage. This would account for differences in experience and other factors. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/before-that-sex-change-think-about-your-next-paychecke

I have had a look at your link, but did not find any deeper information about the actual study, with a few googles being equally unsuccessful. Before I can make any kind of judgement, I would need to know e.g. the sample sizes (a ten person study would mean nothing), whether the subjects stayed with the same employer/in the same field (a move from engineer to hair dresser is bound to bring a pay-cut), what time frames were involved (a change of 30 % within one year would almost necessitate a problem with the survey), whether the “new women” altered their lives more than the “new men” in other regards (a two year sabbatical to adjust will have an effect on salaries, running around with more make-up than a teenage girl will make a poor impression), has the “new women” been more prone to state their status than the “new men” (a discrimination against transsexuals could exist irrespective of any discrimination against women), and so on.

If you can provide more details or, preferably, the study it self, I will be happy to take a look. Without details, I can merely express some surprise that the changes were that different in size and that the stated drop for the “new women” seems to put them below what “old women” earn.


Today (2010-03-20), I stumbled on an article on transgenders in the workplacee, which points more to problems with being a transgender than with being a woman.

Can you see the Matrix?

I started out writing an entry for OD on how the concept of the Matrix is an analogy for much of my world-view, largely with the wish to give some background information on an earlier entry on marriage panic. The text grew to be longer than planned, so I published it on my website instead. Those who are interested can find the page there.

I’ve got the power!

Back again, that is: As I woke up this morning, I found myself the victim of a power outage. Expecting it to be temporary, I left home to go about business as usual; however, as I eventually returned home, there was no improvement. I checked and re-checked the fuse-box, the meters in the cellar, flipped and switched—to no avail. A first call to the electricity supplier was in vain: There must be something wrong with the wiring in my appartment; and I would need to call the landlord (a sociopath who has taken a personal dislike after I exercised my legal right of reducing rent payments during a major renovation), so that he could arrange for an electrician to come by. This in the very late afternoon, when the sun light was going away, I had no electric light, no computer, no music, could not read due to the lack of light, ...; and when I had to contemplated whether I should move to a hotel, or whether buying a flash-light would do until the morning.

A second call, after having performed some additional checks wished for by the supplier, was more successful, and the representative reluctantly agreed to send a trouble-shooting team. As it turns out, the electricity left the meter in the cellar as it should, but did not arrive in my apartment—possibly due to some normally highly unlikely damage to a cable. Fixing it would require an electrician to put a hole in the wall, tear out the old cable, and put a new one in.

Digging deeper, in the light of the low likelihood, and possibly about an hour after its arrival, the team found the true problem: The meters were connected to the wrong apartments—and when another team deactivated the meter of one of my neighbours (presumably for not paying his bills) in the morning, my supply was cut off, instead of his. (Incidentally pointing to a problem of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does: With better internal communication and documentation this deactivation would have been the first thing to check.)

Soon the problem was (temporarily) corrected. Remaining problems: Firstly, the permanent correction of the cabling is the responsibility of the landlord, which means that this can take time or be screwed up again. Secondly, previous bills concerning the consumption by me, my neighbour, the previous inhabitants of our apartments, and (possibly) the people who lives/lived in other apartments, are simply incorrect—resulting in one hell of a mess of who owes whom money.

Original research or reading

Thinking about issues, developing a better understanding of issues, making discoveries of my own (as opposed to learning the discoveries of others from a written text) is immensely rewarding to me—and something that I spend a sizable part of my free time with.

There is one crux, though: Learning in this manner is slower than learning through reading, and I am faced with the choice of learning somewhat slower in a more rewarding way or somewhat faster in a less rewarding. To find a reasonable balance is not that hard, I admit, but I am still occasionally frustrated—in particular, when going the fast way and being fed an idea that I had already developed myself. (This is more or less unavoidable: To have a thought that is truly original, never previously thought by anyone else, is something of extremest rarity. It may even, by now, be restricted to leading researchers within their respective field of speciality—and even here most original thoughts will merely be specific instances of something more general that someone else has already discovered.)

The wisdom of the cynic

It is interesting that some of the greatest insights into how humans and their sub-groups function can be found in the sayings of people who are considered bitter, cynical, misogynistic, or similar—and who sometimes are dismissed on that ground. It seems to me that it is often the insight that leads to the state of mind, rather than conversely.

Levels of intelligence


Since the original encounter, see below, I have seen similar claims attributed to quite a few others, often in (original) English, and going back long before this Alexander Goebel.

For instance, Socratese has (in English translation) been attributed with:

Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.

Generally, bright claims are often repeated by others and then misattributed to the repeaters, who often fall short of being “[s]trong minds”.

Some time ago, I stumbled over the following statement:

Die drei Stufen der Intelligenz:
Menschen, die sich nur über andere Leute unterhalten—niedrigste Stufe
Menschen, die sich über Ereignisse unterhalten—normale Stufe
Menschen, die sich über Zusammenhänge unterhalten—höchste Stufe

(Alexander Goebele)

Roughly translated:

The three levels of intelligence:
People who only discuss other people—the lowest level
People who discuss events—the normal level
People who discuss connections—the highest level

(Where “event” refers to something that happens, an incident—not e.g. a party—, and “connection” is a causality, a correlation, an interdependency, or similar.)

This statement matches my own observations about what interests different people very well, when looking at aggregates and allowing for individual variation. Those who are inclined to introspection or like quizzes may be interested in classifying themselves.

To make a problem go away

The phrase “to make a problem go away” (with variations like “he is good at making problems go away”) illustrates a fundamental problem with organisational life: Typically, it does not imply that a problem is solved, reduced below a critical limit, or otherwise alleviated. Instead, the typical meaning goes in the direction of “sweeping beneath the carpet”, mask, ignore, shove into someone elses responsibility, or similar. Worst of all: It often means making the people who point the problem out go away...

This is a source of endless irritations and complications for those of us who are interested in actually solving problems, to make the world a little better, to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and so. In particular, we tend to clash with the typical manager and the average business graduate, who both tend to be very keen on keeping appearances up, no matter the underlying substance. Further, having a minority view, we run into Tall Dancer problems.

The sad truth about software development

Low complexity is good for users and developers; high complexity is good for consultants and software firms (of the Microsoft kind).

This applies to basically any kind of complexity, including internal architecture, features available, and how interaction with other software applications is done. As a result, most modern software applications are absolute disasters from a technical and conceptual POV; and if they are even adequate from a users POV, then despite complexity, not because of it. It can further be argued that most of the software that the typical user considers adequate, or even good, would be considered poor, if he had greater experience with other types of software, with cleaner interfaces, more minimalistic intentions (“do one thing, and do it well”), with greater abilities for easy interaction with other applications, and so on.


A central point when considering people who are convinced and/or enthusiastic: Their behaviour says something about their beliefs, but nothing about whether they are, in fact, right or wrong. It can even be argued that they are less likely to be right than people who are more critical and skeptical, because the latter are less likely to be naive, gullible, and uninformed—not to mention that the apparently enthusiastic are often putting on a show, in order to be more convincing.

Correspondingly, it is highly disturbing that people who more enthusiastic tend to be more successful in convincing others, than the more critically minded are. (The explanation is likely to be found in Mirror_neuronsw, or some similar mechanism.)

Even more annoyingly, those who do keep a clear head when confronted with a highly enthusiastic person is often considered grumpy or negative by others—merely for not catching the enthusiasm. (While they might show a very different reaction when convinced by facts and reasoning.)

Similarly with those who are uncritical convinced that they are right: Sheer conviction seems be more valuable than actual arguments...

Good Yule!

Apparently, some English speaking countries have a problem with politically correct frowning on phrases like “Merry Christmas!”, sometimes trying to solve this by e.g. “Season’s Greatings!” or “Happy Holidays!”.

For some reason, the obvious solution of using “Yule” is rarely mentioned—this despite this word being in common use in several countries (including Sweden, with the cognate synonym “Jul” and the standard wish of “God Jul!”). My proposed solution is the title of this entry.

An additional benefit of using “Yule” is that it re-centers Christmas on its true meaning: A celebration of the darkest day of the year being passed, an attempt to lift the spirits with hope in midwinter, and an opportunity to enjoy life. (Notably, this aspect is somewhat more important in Sweden than in most other countries—and was of far greater importance in the days of poor lights and heating, unisolated houses, scarce food,...) In fact, every time I hear a Christian urge that we return to the true meaning of Christmas, I am amused: In many ways, the modern celebrations are closer to the true meaning than the Christian version. (Which is not to deny that it, if their religious believes are true, is also of great value.)

One-sided argumentation

It is easy, in particular for the untrained mind, to be impressed or swayed by a one-sided argumentation playing on emotions, appealing to “common sense”, or showing highly selected (dis-)advantages that occurs because of X or not-X. A good way to counter this is to immediately and deliberately seek out a similar argumentation for the opposing view.

Unfortunately, this not done by most people; worse, many of them actually become vested in a cause based on just a few such one-sided accounts. In particular, doing so when considering an idea of ones own is very easily forgotten.

An obvious example that I saw on an “infomercial” as a child: A hyper-energetic and hyper-enthusiastic salesman was (literally) running around praising a piece of training equipment. Among his methods was a comparison with products from the competition, along the lines of “XXX is the best product!!! Here look at competitor A! That’s a good product too, but it is twice as expensive as XXX!!! Or competitor B, wonderful item, but you cannot stove it under the bed like XXX!!! [and so on for several other competitors]”. Here XXX is taken to be better than each and every competitor based on one single, cherry-picked criterion per competitor—without mentioning how the products would compare on other criteria.

Other examples, e.g. in politics, can be far more subtle—in fact, most things that politicians propose and proclaim likely fall into this category...

(As a further complication, there are cases when someone makes recommendations in good faith that turn out to be disastrous when implemented, because side-effects, long-term effects, loop-holes, typical human behaviour, whatnot, have not been sufficiently considered. Consider e.g. The Noble Experimentw.)

Quality efforts (or lack thereof)

One of the most depressing things about how most organisations (including not only commercial companies, but many not-for-profit organisations and governmental agencies) handle their quality work is that they do not... Instead the claim that they do, and hope to fool sufficiently many people, respectively that their mere claim will give them sufficient “back-cover”. I daresay that there are many organisations who spend more money on commercials claiming that they have a high-quality product (or similar) than they do on increasing the actual quality.

Generally, I see a clear tendency for organisations to claim their strengths exactly were their weaknesses are, e.g. that the customer unfriendly corporation claims customer friendliness, that the low-quality producer claims high quality, or that the over-expensive store lauds its low prices. Likely this is a deliberate and systematic attempt to distort the perception of customers.


Many people seem to have a very odd view of what is rude and what is acceptable. Apparently, for them to make statements that denigrate, insult, or annoy the receiver is OK, as long as it is not done using crude language or highly explicit statements. OTOH, pointing out that their behaviour was rude is, paradoxically, considered rude. Similarly, it appears that people consider it OK to be thoroughly incompetent, “lie, cheat, and steal”, refuse to fulfill their obligations, whatnot—yet, pointing out, even in a comparably diplomatic manner that they are not doing what they should, or doing what they should not, is considered rude. (Civil servants and some customer-service people are exceedingly good examples of this.)

As a particular complication, there seems to be a negative correlation between in- and out-going rudeness, insofar that the ruder someone is, the lower his tolerance for rudeness (even the kind of pseudo-rudeness mentioned above) in others.

A central issue: Is this kind of behaviour a deliberate tactic to gain advantages, or is it stupidity and hypocrisy? My impression so far are conflicting, and “a bit of both” is the best answer I can currently give.

See also a forum thread with some related discussionse.

Disservices in UI development

The German DVD industry has been an endless source of irration for me, through its mixture of incompetence, user-hostility, and, sometimes, even criminal behaviour. One specific example that beautifully illustrates the disservices that many modern corporations, in particular in the software industry, do to their customers:

Some DVDs automatically turn audio to German (in German releases of non-German movies) whenever German subtitles are chosen—this even if non-German audio has been explicitly chosen by the user just a few seconds earlier.

This is highly inadvisable on at least four counts:

  1. The expressed will of the user is ignored, based on speculation on what he could conceivably have meant.

  2. The speculation is idiotic: Using foreign audio and non-foreign subtitles is a much more likely use case than same language audio and subtitles. (Note the difference between subtitles and captions.)

  3. It violates rules of consistency in UIs.

  4. It makes it very hard, possibly too hard, for an inproficient user to reach his goal.

Such attempts to second guess the user is one the greatest banes of UI development, and does far more harm than good.


The above is not to be confused with the (equally inexcusable) DVDs that prevent some combination, e.g. English audio and no subtitles, often with misleading information on the DVD cover, in order to save license fees—these violate “fitness for purpose” criteria, and should be considered fraudulent, rather than incompetent. Other examples of typical problems include forcing the user to use entries in the DVD menu, rather than player functionality, to change languages; overriding the default language setting of the player; unskippable time-consuming animations of menus; ...

Nowadays, I always use Mplayerw, which allows me to circumvent most of these problems.

Schools and media

The two most important tools for informing the population are schools and media. Here one would expect to find intelligent and well-read people. In particular, teachers will reasonably have been among the best students of the class in their own school days, and the journalists of the leading national newspapers should be found among the best and brightest.

What I find fascinating: It is more or less the other way around. Todays teachers often have problems reaching the criteria that should be applied to their students. Journalist often have horrifying problems with style and grammar—and the actual content of what they write, their background knowledge and research, and their intellectual honesty are typically even worse. (Individual variations are very great for both teachers and journalists, however.)

In addition both schools (at least in Sweden) and media tend to be influenced by political ideas, sometimes to the point of not merely making value judgement, but actually going in the face of scientific fact. In Sweden, when I went to school, we were more or less indoctrinated in various regards. A notable example is the (then) planned abolishment of nuclear power, which was uncritically touted as something to be proud of: Nuclear power was evil and the rest of the world should follow Sweden’s example. (I do not deny that nuclear power has its problems—that is not the issue here. The problem is the lack of critical thinking, the lack of pro-and-con, the lack of neutral information, etc. Where a good school would teach critical thinking and let the students form their own opinions, the Swedish typically strove to imprint a pre-formed opinion.) Tellingly, the then ruling Social Democrats occasionally made statements along the lines of “School should raise children to be good social-democratic citizens.”—highly disturbing.

Similarly, Swedish media tends to spread a set of pre-formed opinions, including e.g. gender-feministic ideas (some of which have been scientifically debunked). The situation is the same in others countries, except that the ideas vary from country to country—and that the journalists seem ignorant of their own errors, while attacking the media of other countries...

Several of the articles on my website deal with related issues, including a longer discussion of education or of misconceptions about equality in Swedish media.

Winter depression

For at least ten years, possibly a lot longer, I have had mild winter depressions. With last year’s winter solstice (when the days start to lengthen again), I found myself unaffected. I had a few days below par during early January; however, this seems to have cleared, and now, roughly one month past the solstice, I should be on safe ground.

As for the reasons, I see the following differences to previous years:

  1. As time has pased, I have gained a considerable knowledge of what makes me happy and what not. Naturally, this has affected my behaviour, which in turn has affected my “basic happiness level”.

  2. Specifically with the winter in mind, I have paid attention to light, e.g. in that I do not turn the lights off when watching DVDs or similar. (Coincidentally, I have also spent more time surfing and reading, rather than watching DVDs, which makes for a brighter screen, on average. OTOH, this also makes for less laughter.)

  3. Following the economic down-turn, I have had a draft in projects for a few months (I work as a free-lance IT consultant), and have not had to work. The implications include a freer schedule; better control over my life; more fun; the ability to actually get a solid eight hours of sleep, irrespective of when I go to bed; not needing to put up with, often, half-witted co-workers; and, unlike the preceding winter, not having to commute with Deutsche Bahnw. (As for the latter, I think most readers will get the point when I say that Deutsche Bahn is state-owned, a quasi-monopolist, and a railway company...)


Those who are familiar with my writings (e.g. on promotions) know that I do not think highly about the average manager. In this most people are in agreement; however, when I look at the opinions of others, they sometimes have a negative opinion for the wrong reason: The boss is considered an asshole, because he does the right thing (in principle, not necessarily in detail), namely put the interests of the organisation over his personal relations to the employees. Conversely, those who are considered exemplary are often not doing their job, but playing for popularity at the cost of their respective employer. This often goes hand-in-hand with an attribution error among the employees: They fail to realize that a “nice guy” boss is usually a manipulative politician—not a kind-hearted philanthropist. (Be thankful for the exceptions.)

The over-priced Swedish Post

Today, I received a post-package with some pocket books from my mother in Sweden. In a rough estimate, the price of the books was 300-something Kronor. (With the Krona at roughly 1/10 Euro and 1/7 Dollar.) Astoundingly, the price of postage was no less than 215 Kronor—likely more than 60 % of the actual book price.

Yet another proof that the Swedish Post is extraordinarily over-priced. As a comparison, after a little research, sending the same books to Sweden from Germany would be 8.60 Euro with the German Post. Amazon UK would charge roughly 10 Euro (8.94 Pounds) + VAT for delivery to Germany—which, unlike the other numbers, includes the extra cost related to packaging the books. (There is no Amazon Sweden.)

On the plus-side: The books are so far very enjoyable.

Observations on online diaries

I have spent comparatively much time reading the diaries of other people. Naturally, I have over time noticed some patters, including e.g. some red-flags for when a relationship is in trouble. Some of these are present in an article that I just published on my website.

Do not buy Windows 7!

As I gather from recent news reports, Microsoft has completed a banner year, aided by large sales of Windows 7. I would like to take this opportunity to strongly disencourage anyone who intends to purchase it.

Many good arguments can be found on the pages I link to from my website; in particular, http://en.windows7sins.org/e. In short, however, Microsoft places its own interests far above the users—who even have to stand back for some third-parties, e.g. the movie industry. The results include users who are themselves used and abused; low quality, usability, and security; unnecessarily high hardware requirements; and disproportionally high prices.

As for the main alternatives:

  1. Linux is better than Windows on almost all counts, and the only major weakness at the moment is that not all software (in particular games) is released in Linux versions. Even here, however, work-arounds like Winew solve most issues. Other traditional problems compared to Windows are small obstacles by now: I have even heard claimed that the usability for beginners is higher with Linux than with Windows (obviously, this will depend strongly on personal opinion; I, myself, am too far away from being a beginner to judge the issue).

    Moving from Windows to Linux will require some adjustment; however, this is adjustment that pays off fast.

    Importantly, for a proficient user, Linux compares to Windows like a computer does to a pocket calculator.

  2. Mac OS will be a good alternative for those who still sees Linux as too hard for beginners, and is better serviced by e.g. game-makers—while still giving the power user room to spread his wings. On the down-side, Mac OS shares some of Windows weaknesses, e.g. a high price and a poorer (but not as poor) security—and for similar reasons.

Religion and philosophy

When confronted with eternity a fool becomes religious; a wise man, a philosopher.

Rocking the boat

An interesting aspect of “rocking the boat” is that the rocking is often in the best interest of the organisation—however, not in the best interest of the leaders of the organisation (or many of its more self- or career-focused members), because they are usually among the problems that need to be rocked.

Correspondingly, the rockers tend to simultaneously be among the most valuable members of the organisation and make themselves unpopular with those in charge.

Surprising books

I was recently surprised to hear that a book by H. Rider Haggard (Shew) was one of the biggest sellers of all time—seeing that I had always had the impression that he was in the second tier of popular authors of his day, behind e.g. Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.

Proceeding to read this book, I was again very surprised: Based on rumor and the one book of his I had previously read (a likely highly abridged Swedish translation of King Solomon’s Minesw), I also had the impression that he wrote “pulp fiction”. As it turns out, however, Rider Haggard is strong on themes like philosophy and psychology, explores moral dilemmas, and is otherwise a good choice for someone who enjoys literature that causes the reader to think. (This based on the three books I have read in the last week—more will likely follow at a later time.) He is weaker in some other regards, e.g. many stereotypical characters indeed often found in pulp fiction; however, I strongly recommend to give him a try.

An interesting contrast is formed with a few books I asked my mother to send me: Per Anders Fogelström’s (a highly renowned Swedish author) City pentalogyw:sv. Here I had expected a more intellectual literature, but found it dealing almost exclusively with the more depressing aspects of worker life during the late 19th and early 20th century, with few aspirations outside of history and social realism. While still educational, interesting, and vividly written, they do not measure up to Rider Haggard’s works in terms of intellectual depth. (But, to avoid misunderstandings, also books that I recommend for those who manage to find copies in the right language; again based on three books, I plan to turn my attentions to the remaining two next week.)

Glas half-X

I have always been confused by the logic behind the division into “glas half-full” and “glas half-empty” people. (While I understand the “optimist” and “pessimist” division perfectly.) Why would the opinion that a glas is half-full be more optimistic than that it is half-empty? One could, after all, reason that the former thinks “Only half-full. This sucks. Why can’t the glas be full?”; and the other “Only half-empty. Great! I am lucky that it is not all empty.”—in fact, this is the way I reacted the first few times that heard the expressions used, which made me highly uncertain what was meant, unless sufficient context was provided (e.g. by being a reference to someone who was clearly optimistic or pessimistic).

An added complication is that these expressions are as good as always used to indicate a positive respectively detrimental mind-set—which is not necessarily (but often) the case with optimist and pessimist. While I agree that there is much value to be found in being grateful for what one has and other kinds of CBT-ish or Stoic thinking, it is often the case that labels like optimist/“half-full” are applied to those who are naive, build castles in the air, or similar; while the reverse labels are awarded to those who view a particular situation with a more realistic eye. It is important to remember that the correct mind-set depends on the situation at hand, and that undue optimism can be just as bad as undue pessimism.

Jaywalking (in Germany)

Yesterday, I crossed an entirely empty street with a red light at the crosswalk. To my surprise, a near-by woman actually complained about this—a behaviour which, to me, is both rude and unproductive, certainly worse than jaywalking. Over more than twelve years in Germany, it was also a complete novelty. (Not counting one case when I entered the street with a green light, the light switched during my crossing, and an unobservant car driver complained—despite being wrong in every aspect of the issue.)

Interestingly, however, it seems that Germans are internationally known for just this type of complaint (cf. e.g. a discussion of jaywalking in Germanye). Another oddity is claims like “jaywalking just isn’t done”: While Germans may be more prone to wait than Swedes, I still see various forms of jaywalking all the time; and I have so far never encountered the attitude that it would be more than a “Kavaliersdelikt” (“gentleman’s delict”; something technically illegal, but not, or just very slightly, morally wrong, nothing a gentleman would be ashamed to do; possibly, “peccadillo”), if done with caution and when no children are around. However, many crossings carry a classic sign “Nur bei Grün, den Kindern ein Vorbild”—“Only when green, an example for the children”, and many, including me, usually abstain when children are present.

Nevertheless, it is still true that too many Germans are overly sheepish when it comes to rules and regulations, follow the rules to the letter instead of the spirit, uncritically do anything a civil servant demands, and so on. In particular, civil servants (just as incompetent in Germany as elsewhere) learn to expect compliance, irrespective of whether they are right or wrong, with even worse service as a result.


During my researches, I repeatedly stumbled on the claim (unfortunately never in English; e.g. Övergångsställew:sv) that a crosswalk would increase the risk for pedestrians trying to cross the street. This goes well with my personal opinion that it is better to cross when and where it is prudent considering traffic, rather than only using “green” crosswalks. The main use for the lights should be to ensure that pedistrians are guaranteed an opportunity to cross a heavily trafficked road within a reasonable time-frame.

Masterful musical mentalism

Having largely abstained from radio and TV for years, due to the amount of commercials, proportions between music and uninteresting talk, etc., I am not up-to-date with the “young” music of today. There are in particular one singer (Lady Gaga) and one band (Jonas Brothers) that I only knew through sites like http://roflrazzi.com/e. (In the case of the former, I have also seen her name in some news overviews—invariably dealing more with her clothing than her music.)

This until two interesting events:

  1. I purchased Night at the Museum 2w and was confronted with three cherubs with one of the most annoying and exaggeratedly “sugary” songs I have ever heard. Based on the impression formed from the Internet-ridicule by others and the character of the song (and the fact that that there were three cherubs), I came up with the semi-conclusion that this was the work of the Jonas Brothers. To my slight surprise, I was correct.

  2. I decided to go for some variation with Internet radio. After listening to some interesting ethno music on an allegedly classical channel, I switched to one more oriented towards pop music. The first song that I encountered, half-way through, was reasonably entertaining and very spectactular, but also somewhat unpolished, lacking in the “feeling” that differs the good from the great, and definitely was more bombastic than masterful—an artist comparing to Freddie Mercury like Salieri to Mozart. My thoughts, remembering the previous episode with the Jonas Brothers, were immediately drawn to Lady Gaga: This is how someone with that kind of dress sense would go about music. As it turns out, I was right... (Specifically, the song appears to have been “Bad romance”.)

I likely had a bit of luck; in particular, as these samples need not be representative of LG’s/JB’s respective music. Nevertheless, I feel very smug—so smug that I actually post twice in one day...

For those who wonder: While I give the cherubs both thumbs down, I postpone judgement of Ms Mercury until I have a larger sample.

Internet radio revisited

In the last few days I have made some further experiments with Internet radio—unfortunately, mostly a frustrating experience. In fact, it provides a very good illustration of the thoughtlessness and incompetence that has so often made me despair about humanity.

In particular, most popular music stations (that I have tried so far) suffer from one of the main problems with normal radio: The station feels the need to insert redundant talk between each music piece, using a phony and annoying voice and communicating no valuable information, often in a failed attempt to be witty or entertaining; or to play some kind of even more annoying jingle (“XYZ RADIO! YOU’RE ONE STOP FOR THE BEST OF [this or that]! STAY TUNED!”, repeated without variation in content every fifteen minutes). In addition, many stations have commercials, but, fortunately, fewer than with normal radio (besides, commercials I can at least understand as necessary evil).

(The situation is better for classic music and some specialized genre stations. The above should not be confused with stations that legitimately mix talk and music sections, say actually discussing a topic and adding in a piece of music every 5–10 minutes.)

Finding stations is not a thrill either: An obvious google query includes appending a “just music” (or similar). This results in a listing of stations proudly exclaiming “[...] not just music!”—the exact opposite of what I was looking for. I then end up with ugly queries like:

"internet radio" "just music" -"not just music" -"more than just music"

Then again, there are many sites providing listings with stations. These tend to be equally hopeless: Many require JavaScript for no good reason. None has had a good search function; few have had reasonably browsable categories. Disturbingly many try to hide the websites of the individual stations and original streams from the user, who, apparently, is supposed to only access them over the list site... Further, quite a few seem to assume that the user will listen to the music via his browser—why would he, when he has access to specialized tools that are far better suited? None would earn more that a C in usability, where I grading them.

To make matters worse, many stations from the US and UK appear to be unavailable in Germany, because they only have legal clearance for their respective home country—a result of highly artificial restrictions enforced by the music industry.

Internet radio re-revisited

As an addition to my last entry, which may have been overly negative:

Internet radio is not all bad. Notably, I have re-encountered a number of songs from my youth that I have not heard in half an eternity (in many cases not even remembering until I heard them again); experienced a greater variation in genre than normally; and gained a bit in “general knowledge” of music, e.g. by listening to some of the goa one of my old colleagues was always raving about (pleasant in smaller doses; but with a beat that can be too accentuated and repetitive for my taste).

Generally, I write about negative things disproportionally often, because I have learned that this is good way to get release tension and irritation—sometimes even to turn it into something positive. In contrast, when I am happy, the sun is shining, whatnot, I just enjoy in silence.

Me, blogging, OpenDiary, and WordPress

When I first heard the term “blog” (possibly in the late nineties), it had distinctly negative connotations. In many ways, it was like Twitter today: Some people wanting to keep others abreast of their doings, others satisfying their vanity, others yet spreading junk content, and similar.

Naturally, I stayed away from the area—and, as it turned out, carried a prejudice long after the “blogosphere” had evolved from fish to reptile.

Came 2009, I started my own website. Not long thereafter, I decided to try out my own blog in order to increase traffic (in particular, to overcome the initial dry-spell before I was picked up by the search engines). Only having made minor experiences with the blogs of others, I landed at OpenDiary—without realizing how unsuitable it would be for my purposes (while perfectly valid for a diary), e.g. by having the wrong audience, providing only minimal functionality, deliberately blocking search engines, ...

(I have a surprisingly hard-to-defeat tendency to assume too much about the minimum functionality provided in different areas—where even the market leaders often lack functionality that I would consider near-mandatory. For this reason, I failed to do the research I should have done. Further, the difference between a diary and a blog used to be more fleeting than it is today, so the name was not necessarily a contra-indication.)

This was originally not a big deal: My main task was to build a website, blogging was just an incidental side-activity, and most of my entries were shortened versions of things I had written for my website. As time has gone by, however, several things have changed, notably that I have become much more aware of the advantages blogging can bring, of the many quality blogs that exist today, and that there are blog services with functionality that is actually useful. A particular benefit: I have many ideas and short texts with too little mass to make a good article for my website, but which fit reasonably in a blog.

Further, to my surprise, I am beginning to see some value in the occasional more personal entry (more akin to those found in other OD diaries). While I understand perfectly how others can benefit from “sharing”, I like to keep my private life private. Still, there are occasional events that I would like to write about, but that do not really fit with my other writings (e.g. my recent OD entries on Internet radio).

As a result, I have decided to move the conventional blogging part from OD to WordPress and use my existing OD account for more personal entries (likely with a reduced posting rate). Occasionally, entries may be posted on both, like this one.

My website: http://www.aSwedeInGermany.de

My OD diary: http://www.opendiary.com/entrylist.asp?authorcode=D794738e

My WordPress blog: http://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/e

Vera Lynn, the benefits of going with the classics, and the need for critical thinking

For some ten years or so, I have increasingly been looking towards older sources of entertainment. My reasoning: Out of all books written, movies made, pieces of music written, whatnot, the vast majority is not worth bothering with—and the longer a particular work remains popular, the likelier it is to have been one of the best of its year. (And as time goes by prices drop... On the down-side, older works will not have benefitted from developments of the art.)

This works reasonably well, and includes the odd jack-pot: I once picked up a five-cd set of Glenn Miller’s works for three or four Euro—and listened to nothing else for at least a month... If I were forced to pick a favourite in popular music, he would be it.

Applying this principle while browsing the Internet Archive, I downloaded some of Vera Lynn’s workse. As it turned out, not quite my taste; but I was still very impressed by her abilities, and I can well understand how she has remained popular. With her her rendition of Amazing Grace, I went from impressed to awed: While this was the type of over-the-top singing that has given me an intense dislike of e.g. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, I was still blown away by the sheer immensity of the accomplishment. How could a woman born 1917 have managed this? Were was the overlap between sufficient youth and sufficiently well-developed sound technology? How could she have be so far ahead of her time? Both amazing and a grace, indeed.

I turned to Google for more information, notably from when the recording was, and soon found the explanation (annoyingly on the download page where I got the music in the first place...):

Somehow, a 1997 Leann Rimes version had been substituted—and since we now have a modern day singer with modern day technology, the situation is very different. (The second time through, I could hear clear differences in the voice.)

The obvious lessons: Always think critically; if something seems too good to be true, it usually is; and never put too much faith in unverified claims.


Possibly the best way to tell a man from a woman is to observe their respective approach to shoes—as demonstrated by my shoe-shopping earlier today.

I prefer shoes that I am comfortable with, which typically implies that they are worn-in—and the more worn-in, the better. Unfortunately, worn-in shoes eventually become worn-out, which makes the choice of when to buy new shoes a precarious balance between the increasingly comfortable and the increasingly ugly. (I admit to probably erring on the ugly side.) With the rain and snow of the last few months, I finally saw myself forced to give up my faithful companions of well over a year—not only were they now very shabby, but one of the soles had actually started to detach it self from the tip of its shoe.

I went straight to the C&Aw store where I buy almost all my clothes nowadays, proceeded straight to the shoes, took five minutes to pick out a reasonably priced pair similar to the old, paid-up, and left.

When I compare this to the shoe-shopping of most women I have known, the differences between the sexes appear unsurmountable. Compared to extremes like Carrie Bradshaw... Well, let us not go there.


Earlier today, I wrote a post on my blog concerning commentse (“notes” in OD-speak). The contents do not apply without modification to OD, but could possibly still be interesting to some diarists.

Pharmacies—to be avoided

On Monday, I went by a German pharmacy to buy adhesive bandages (aka Band-Aids)—an occasional need caused by new shoes (cf. an earlier entry). I was very negatively surprised to hear a price in excess of 5 Euro for a 6 cm x 1 m package, but with my last buy five years (or so) in the past, I just assumed that I had lost track of what the normal price level was.

Well at home, I had a look at the old (empty) package—and found that the price per area had been roughly half (!) that of the new package.

Whether I was just over-charged, or rather lead to buy an unnecessarily expensive brand without any information about alternatives by an unethical sales clerk, is unclear. However, in light of some earlier experiences, I would advice anyone in Germany to avoid the pharmacies for anything they can buy elsewhere. If you, the reader, do visit a German pharmacy, try to make your own choice (instead of letting the clerk choose) and never buy anything of a suspect price. Above all, beware that pharmacies seem to work a strict “caveat emptor” basis—do not assume good faith!

To give a horrifying example: A few years ago, I had a very hard to kill, if light, cold. After about three weeks I decided to try some kind of medication. Well-knowing that the medicines sold in normal stores were often quackery, and very often scientifically unverified, I went to a pharmacy to ensure that I got real medicine. The clerk, a woman actually sporting a “Dr.” on her coat, gave me a bottle at a cost of almost 10 Euro. As it later turned out, the bottle contained a smidgeon of alcohol and otherwise just water—what the “Doctor” had failed to mention was that it was not a legitimate medicine, but a homeopathic fraud. (Exactly the kind of thing I wanted to avoid by going to the pharmacy...)

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice—see me take my business elsewhere.

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

As I started college in 1994, I entered a completely new world—as did so many others: New people, new places, new responsibilities, new entertainments, new independence, ... It was the best of times, it was the first of times. (Well, a time of firsts, at any rate.)

Among the many firsts were the first real computers most of us had ever encountered—SPARCstationsw. Among the many programs available, there was a very popular gimmick called Xsnoww: A virtual snow fall that came down from the top of the screen and assembled on top of the windows, flake after flake.

In comparison to everything else that went on, this gimmick was a nothing—but it was very charming and, to someone used to early nineties PCs, it was highly impressive in terms of graphics.

Xsnow has remained a very fond memory to me ever since. Alas, just a memory. No employer could afford the descendants of SPARCstations over PCs, Windows does not carry it, and even, surprisingly, Linux-distributions seem to be wanting—every time I have had a new Linux installation, I have checked both the pre-installed programs and the repositories, but always in vain.

Today, out of nowhere, I was struck with the wish for snow (I am Swedish, after all...), and decided to get to the bottom of the issue, once and for all—if nothing else, there had to be an old version of the source code somewhere, which I could compile on my own. There was: Downloadable at the author’s homepagee, I found the source, last updated in 2001. A download, a failed compilation, the installation of a missing library, a new compilation, and—it snowed!

(Not only that, but there were a few bells and jingles that had not been available in the past.)

Of course, once seeing the snow assembling on my windows again, I was struck by other recollections, in a positively Proustian manner: Sitting in the old computer rooms, walking to class through real snow in the winter, environments and people of old, my naivete and youthful optimism, the very different life I lead. Alone the image of KTHw after a heavy snow-fall, after dark, and illuminated by floodlights...

This may not have been the happiest time of my life (there is competition, including the now), but it was the most exciting, the most memorable, and, above all, the most magical.

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Does the son/daughter never communicate with you?

If so, this entry may help you:

I have found that I spend a lot of my spare time involved in written communications of various kinds, including on my website, blogging, or commenting on the blogs of others. Yet, I see every email from my mother as chore—while she obviously feels that I communicate too little.

The underlying reason is that we have too different interests and communication styles. She writes about what she has done recently, what she intends to do, the health of this-or-that person, and similar.

These are topics that are of very low interest to me, and, worse, give me little room for a natural answer—which implies that there is no basis for dialogue, but only for two monologues.

I have tried on several occasions to bring about the kind of discussion that I would like to have, dealing with how things are connected, more abstract concepts, cause-and-consequences of this-and-that, insight and opinions on various topics. Yet, these attempts land on equally barren ground on her side, and her reply is back to events and people.

The lesson here: If non-trivial amounts of communication are to take place, some common ground must be found—or the party with the greater interest in communication must adapt to the party with the lesser interest.

If you are not satisfied with the amount of communication with, e.g., a son, consider that you may be fishing with the wrong bait. Find the right bait, and things may take a different turn. Even a thing as simple as switching mediums can have a positive effect, e.g. by not insisting on a phone call when the other party has a preference for email. Important things to bear in mind include that men are more prone to communicate in order to exchange information and knowledge, while women are more prone to seek bonding, that older relatives are more keen on keeping in touch, while younger want to live their own lives, and that a feeling of obligation can further reduce willingness.

Of course, I make no guarantees that the above will solve every problem: Lack of communication can have many other reasons, including resentments and lack of time.

Gratuitous post

I have had a comparatively long pause in my diary writing—partially, because I have moved much of my attentions to WordPress; partially, because I have not had anything OD-relevant to write about for some time. (Within the realms of what I am willing to share: I am sure that you would love to here the recent episode about me, the Russian princess, and the Siberian tiger; however, my wish for privacy and a pledge of silence limit my options.)

The latter applies equally today; however, from a psychological POV, this somewhat gratuitous post can make the difference between my forgetting OD entirely and my just being on a vacation.

Lord of the Rings—movie version

Yesterday, I re-watched the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—and was pleasantly surprised. On the preceding three watchings (none very recent), I had a comparatively low opinion of the movie(s). The reasons for this remain, including some instances of melodramatic over-acting, lack of logic, and odd changes towards the books. Poor Glorfindel...

Still, with my expectations having adapted over time, the movie was know noticeably more enjoyable. In fact, I might go as far as giving it an A-, with particular strengths in the visual area. The hitch, obviously, is that the books where A+ with a gold star.

More generally, this a phenomenon that I have observed on a number of occasions in both myself and others: Expectations give the viewer/reader/listener/whatnot a view of a work that is unfairly poor. Reasons include the work having its strengths where the viewer does not have his attentions, the viewer having the wrong mindset/being in the wrong mood, and the wrong viewer landing in front of the right work. The possibly paramount example is the “new” Star Wars trilogy, which has been widely derided, despite being an A+ work and complementing the original three movies in a wonderful way—it is simply different from the original trilogy, not inferior.

My adventures with public transport

Yesterday was horrible transportation-wise: I was traveling for the second time to a small town roughly forty miles from Cologne (where I live) for business purposes. I used the same travel schedule as on the first occasion, with a train ride and two bus rides (lines 1 and 2), but soon got into trouble:

The train departed and arrived according to schedule, but my wait for a bus from line 1 grew from the ten minutes of the time table to almost twenty. At this stage a bus from line 3 arrived at the bus stop and, after a brief consultation with the driver, I boarded. This bus took a different route than planned, but would also enable me to board a bus from line 2—if at another bus stop and with a twenty minute (the interval between buses) delay compared to the original schedule. This brought my time margins down to zero, but would still allow me to arrive on time. (Waiting further for line 1 would have brought no benefit schedule-wise—and with a thirty-minute schedule on this line, I would have been entirely out of the game, if the original bus was cancellled, not just late.)

Unfortunately, fate was not on my side: Well on line 2, we drove past the bus stop where I would originally have switched buses, I had the name of the bus stop on my mind, I saw a grass-covered roundabout (just like I remembered from my final destination), I saw a car dealership (ditto)—and I panicked, concluded that I had driven past my destination, and jumped out at the next bus stop to walk back. Once there, I realized that the roundabout and the car dealership had been coincidences, and that I had to wait for yet another bus while wearing a metaphorical dunce cap.

Once I had arrived, the meeting went reasonably well, but then the time came to return:

The ride with line 2 was unproblematic, but with a bit of a wait for line 1 and with beautiful weather, I then decided to walk the remaining two, two-and-a-half miles to the train station—and arrived at the station just to see the train leave. No big deal, I thought: Best-case, there would be just a few minutes wait (assuming more than one train-line and a fortunate scheduling); worst-case, thirty minutes (assuming only one train-line), during which I could go grocery shopping. Alas, as it turned out, the actual schedule was one train-line with a full one-hour schedule...

(Apparently, living in the cities without interruption for close to ten years has given me unrealistic expectations of public transport on the country-side. There is something to be said for being able to catch a subway in the right direction every five minutes.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Among the books that have earned the epithet “cult”, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxyw is one of the foremost—in particular among those of the neirdy persuasion. Indeed, when I first read it (and the few sequels available in the local library) I was swept away: Excellent comedy, adventures, space-ships, you-name-it.

Unfortunately, my early-teens impression has not stood the test of time: I am currently re-reading the series (being in the middle of the third book), and find myself horribly disappointed. Yes, there is a lot of comedy, but most of it tends towards the silly rather than the funny. Certainly, Douglas Adams does not hold a candle to Terry Pratchett; certainly, those who have read Wodehouse and Jerome will find his writing mostly more of the same—and usually of lesser quality (if with added space-ships). Yes, there are adventures, but they, again, tend towards the silly rather than the exciting, with a great many authors being superior (including Pratchett). Yes, there are space-ships, but just space-ships are not enough. Notably, the available amount of sci-fi of various kinds and forms has grown immensely since the eighties (when I encountered the books)—and even more since the seventies, when the series saw its beginnings.

Partly, I have changed: I would say that Adams writing is youth literature that can be read with a lesser reward by adults—and I am no longer a youth. This while some other writers (Pratchett, Tom Holt, Neil Gaiman, e.g.) in a similar genre write books for adults that can also be read by youths. (The lines between the authors can be hard to draw, however: While Gaiman is best read with an adult mind, Holt might be best read by a late teenager or someone in his early twenties—and Pratchett arguably writes adult books for children and children’s books for adults. Still, they all have a greater “ideal age” than Adams.)

Partly, the world has changed: Adams was in many ways a ground-breaker, who had the advantage of facing little competition and being able to be the first to plant a flag on new land (and for that he deserves his props). For a modern reader, however, this is not enough: In terms of women’s pole vaultw, he was a Bártová or, on the outside, a George—but no Dragila or Feofanova, let alone an Isinbayeva.

Decreased writing

Oddly, since I opened my WordPress blog (cf. a previous entry—and in great contrast to the tendency of that time), I have written comparatively little for my own account. True, I have made a number of entries at WordPress, but (surprisingly) my work on my website has grown to a near stand-still, and (unsurprisingly) new posts at OpenDiary have been rare.

There seems to be a number of explanations:

  1. Time earlier spent writing has been shifted (partially, through external circumstances; partially, through a change in interests) to other tasks.

  2. Most of my writing time has been spent commenting on other peoples blogs.

  3. Many of the thoughts I have had in the last few months have been hard to put into words in a satisfactory manner and with a reasonably small effort. (Possibly, as a side-effect of my having nearly eliminated “internal monologue”, which is a pollution of the mind, and having adapted to more actively using and exploring other forms of thought. This side-effect has manifested before; however, not to this degree and mostly when using spoken language, which is more limited in both expressiveness and time available to formulate a thought. The change could possibly be explained by an increase in proficiency and habit over the years.)

Perceptions of good and evil

I have recently contemplated my perceptions of good and evil based on user-friendliness:

Reading a post on how google is moving into gaminge, I realized that I considered this a very bad thing—and that the less we saw of Google the better. This is largely based on rational considerations: It is a bad thing, if one company has too great influence. (Partially, because power corrupts; partially, because more power means greater opportunities for and consequences of abuse.)

However, it also struck me that my perception of Google had changed not merely because the company Google had changed over the years—but also because the search service Google had become horribly user-unfriendly... (The details are beside the point, but the most noteworthy is the brain-dead attempts to “help” the users with alternate spellings and the like, which by now lose me more time than I gain—not to mention regularly ruining my mood.)

In a next step, I realized that low user-friendliness has been a leading cause in other cases too, most notably Microsoft. Indeed, ten years ago, I hated Microsoft with a burning fire for the near-unusable crap products I was forced to use at work (most notably Windows, in it self). Today, I have not had any major interactions with Windows for more than a year (with Linux making large in-roads into the business-desktop market)—and my hatred in this area has cooled down to a thorough loathing. In the mean-time, I still keep an overall dislike based on Microsoft’s despicable business methods; however, while this dislike is both strong and well justified, it is of a different character and from a different source than my original hatred. (There is obviously some amount of overlap here: Selling inferior software to outrageous prices is one example of those business methods, and the many of the problems with Microsoft’s products are rooted in poor ethics.)

Similar statements apply in a number of other cases, including e.g. Amazon (once a wonderful way to buy cheap books not available in Sweden; now an unusable piece of crap).

On the balance, poor user interfaces are a leading cause of my dislike of various companies, with business methods being secondary. Whether this holds true for other users, I cannot judge; however, two likely lessons:

  1. A poor UI can ruin a lot of goodwill, and it is in the best interest of a software maker to beware of this.

  2. We should all pay attention to the question of why we dislike something.

The oddities of how we process language

Being someone who often actively uses three languages in one day, I have had many odd experiences with both language learning and use. One of these is that I occasionally write a text, proof-read it, stumble upon a word (typically English with a Latin source) that evokes a reaction of “What the blazes does X mean—and what is it doing in the text I just wrote?!?”, and, checking a dictionary, find that the word in question was highly appropriate and fitting.

This particular phenomenon was brought to my attention again by a similar incident in German: I used the word “zensieren” wanting to imply “to censor”; however, was left with a little nagging voice deep in the back of my head, telling me that something was wrong. Suddenly, it occurred to me that “zensieren” actually meant “to grade”, while I was probably looking for the word “zensurieren”. Checking this with the online dictionary Leoe, I was greatly surprised to find that “zensieren” actually meant both “to grade” and “to censor” (while “zensurieren” is an Austrian and Swiss word for “to censor”).

The exact reason behind this is unclear to me, but the two most likely explanations are that it either arises out of a separation between the cognitive processes that are responsible for active and passive treatment of language (such separations are well-known in cognitive psychology) or that it is rooted in simple pattern recognition—I have simply, from reading, learned to expect a certain word in a certain place in a certain context, leading me to grab for that word, even when not conscious of its actual meaning. (I suspect that similar processes of pattern recognition are quite common, explaining e.g. many language errors. Consider “X was glad because of me”, “X was glad because of me [sic!] winning the competition”, and “X was glad because of my winning the competition”.)

The death of an immortal comedian

It is a rare day when I have tears on my face, but today was one of those rare days: I found out that Martin Ljungw, arguably Sweden’s greatest comedian and my own first idol, had passed away two days ago.

In 1976, when I was one-and-a-half years old, his children’s show Farbror Frippes skafferiw:sv (“Uncle Frippe’s cupboard/pantry”) premiered, and went through several re-runs in the following few years. Farbror Frippe was an old man (by my then classification of child/adult/old; Ljung was just short of 60 at the time) with a cupboard filled with tin cans of various shapes, sizes, and colors. Every now and then, he would open one of the cans—and the inside of the can would show a short movie. This was absolute magic to me, and I wished for such a cupboard of my own. Notably, this was in the days before VCRs, let alone DVD-players, and the only form of “screen” entertainment I had ever known was TV, where one had to take what was broadcast on the two state-run channels—and hope for a re-run one or two years later, had a particular program been unusally good . The very concept of being able to decide what to watch and when to watch it was a novelty.

Ljung’s works were by no means limited to children’s entertainment, however. He enjoyed a long career (1940s and onwards) as a revue artist, actor, and a stand-up comedian, becoming one of the most popular and well-known entertainers among several generations of Swedes.

He (like Astrid_Lindgrenw) also gave the appearance of immortality, having already been “old” when I first encountered him as a small child, yet managing to be around more than thirty years later.

In a twist, in one of his most famous sketches, he portrays an aging hypochondriac. This severely weakened character, paradoxically unable to bring up the strength to put down the brick he carries with him, goes back to at least 1952—23 years before I was born and 58 before Ljung’s death. At the climax of the sketch, Ljung complains of how much weaker he is now than in his youth, that back then he could do “this”, performs a one-handed cartwheel, and (in renewed paradox) regrets that he is unable to do so anymore—to the intense laughter of the audience. In the early 1990s, with Ljung in his 70s and physically more in line with the character, I saw a newly made version of this sketch on TV. Knowing the traditional end, I waited in puzzled anticipation—surely, not even he would dare to attempt a cartwheel at his age? Indeed not: The, to me, almost heart-breaking compromise consisted of kicking the brick, presumably a fake, out over the heads of the audience. Whether the self-reference between the character and the actor, and the implicit memento mori, was intended, I do not know; however, it moved me in a way that no other comedy has ever managed.

A few years later, during my studies in Stockholm, we actually lived in the same part of town, and I regularly saw him in person, mostly when we visited the same grocery store.

He reached the age of 93, while, according to the papers, still being active and enjoying life—a model to us all.

(The the Swedish Wikipedia article on Martin Ljungw:sv has been used for additional information.)

Happy 100th post!

I find congratulatory statements based on arbitrary criteria to be silly, often even annoying—in particular when self-serving. Today, I make a hypocritical exception: My post count has been very low over the last half year and some artificial respiration need not be a bad thing, if only to remind me that I have an OpenDiary account. My next (and 101st) post is more legitimate, however.

To give or not to give

Last Friday I was on a business trip to Karlsruhe. Walking to the train station to catch the next connection to Cologne, I was halted by an early-twenties man with an interesting story: He claimed to be visiting from Munich, had lost his wallet, and needed another 20 Euros to afford the ~ 90 Euro train fair back. Could I lend him the money? (After, as offered, inspecting his ID card, calling his mother for confirmation, or taking his home address.)

I now found myself in a dilemma: Should I give him the money and risk helping a fraudster—or decline and risk hurting an innocent traveler with a genuine problem.

We talked for roughly a quarter of an hour: He trying to convince me of his need; I trying to form an opinion of his truthfulness.

Neither of us were successful. I was particularly held back by the knowledge that a skilled fraudster can be more convincing and genuine than the “real deal”. What spoke to his advantage was the fact that he had approached a grown man (where a woman would be more likely to fall for the empathy card and a youngster more likely to lack the experience to consider the possibility of a fraud)—and a somewhat similar scene in Date Nightw nagging at me. I did not go into his offers of corroboration: ID cards can be faked, any woman can present herself as someone elses mother, and an address need not be real.

In the end, I compromised by gifting him three Euros. My reasoning: If others were to react in the same way after the same amount of time, he could still get back to Munich in a conscionable time frame, while a fraudster would probably earn better money through the more common one-Euro-at-a-time solicitation.

Looking back at the situation, there were a number of things that I could have suggested that did not occur to me in the moment, including:

  1. Approaching the Bahnhofsmission (a charitable organisation working in and around train stations, e.g. to help blind people with boarding the right train or feeding the nearby homeless) or the social services. These may have been able to provide a corresponding help.

  2. Traveling a part of the distance without a ticket, e.g. by buying a ticket for the closest-to-Munich station he could afford, pretend to fall asleep shortly before reaching this station, and hope that there were no additional ticket checks. If he was caught, there is at least some chance that the faked sleep would give him sufficient excuse to not have to pay extra fees (but merely de-board the train at the next station). Failing this, he could still cover the remaining distance to Munich without cash at the price of higher punitive fees to be payed at a later date.

  3. Investigating cheaper means of travel, including slower trains, hitch-hiking, and travel by bus. As it turns out, when I checked prices at home, even train rides within his limited means were available—the ~ 90 Euro being a genuine price, but the most expensive ride of the day. (Prices vary somewhat depending on time of day and exact route.)

  4. Trying to get money “wired” to him from the parents, possibly spending a night in Karlsruhe with the money he already had or, it being Friday, using a one-night-stand as a cover for a free sleep-over.

I did have some suggestions at the time of talking, including riding as close as possible to Munich and having a family member pick him up in a car for the rest of the way. These suggestions, however, had one obstacle or the other (something which, obviously, had a minor negative impact on his credibility).

OpenDiary, get your act together!

I have written repeatedly on the poor usability of OpenDiary. To add yet another example of simply amateurish errors:

Today, I have entered two other entries. As always, I have written them in advance, before logging in to OpenDiary. (For a variety of reasons, including wishing for a separate copy and a usable editor, and not wanting to risk some idiocy or malfunction by OD to cause my text to disappear). Obviously, the time between submits was short—shorter than the minimum interval allowed by OD as a spam-prevention measure (according to the error message I received).

This would be acceptable—except that OD handled the follow-up inexcusably: There was no possibility to proceed with the commit at a later time, while going back to the editing page for a re-submit did not restore the text to the edit field... Fortunately, cf. above, I had a copy of the text, but many others would not.

As an extra insult added to the injury, the editor was switched back from the “source” mode to the “rich text” mode.

Add to this that I originally tried to add these texts yesterday, but was prevented from doing so by OpenDiary being down...

OpenDiary, get your act together! With so many users you have a responsibility to deliver a service where the most glaring errors have been removed—even if the service is free-of-charge.

Recognizing ones own words and thoughts

Over on WordPress there is a comment-notification system, where a commenter can subscribe to comments per email. On rare occasions, the gap between a comment’s being submitted and its being approved (after which the email is sent) can be extremely long, possibly because the comment lands in the “spam queue” and is not recognized as a valid comment until a manual check takes place.

Interestingly, when one of this “time capsule” comments happen to be written by me, I typically do not recognize it as mine when I receive the email. Sometimes, I have a feeling of “Hm, sounds like something I would say.” or “Did I not write something similar myself once?”; sometimes, I am totally oblivious, with a “Interesting thought...” or, rarely, “What nonsense!” in my mind. In both cases, I find myself genuinely surprised when I look at the name of the author—and find that I am he. If I revisit the blog post, I sometimes find that I would have chosen an entirely different angle or sub-topic for my comment.

Similarly, I often find myself thinking that the comment is written in a very stilted language—not at all like my own...

Diary closed for now

Since opening my WordPress accounte my posts here have become fewer and fewer. With the last a full three months back, it is probably best to consider this diary closed indefinitely. Correspondingly, I have changed the comment settings to disallow comments (“notes”), seeing that any comments would likely go unanswered (and that there have been very few comments here to begin with). Those who wish to contact me or keep up with my other writings are very welcome to visit my blog (s. above) or my homepage.