Saturday, June 24, 2006


Carolyn Myss once said something like, if you ask God to teach you to be patient, God will fill your life with difficult people. I'm not quoting her exactly, but that's not important since she may have been paraphrasing someone else. In any case, she's got a point, or the person she was paraphrasing has a point, or God has a point, or whatever.

But my question is, if you want to learn how to be patient, is it better to have a lot of difficult people in your life, or just one extremely difficult person?

I don't have that many difficult people in my life, but I'm learning to be patient anyway. As a matter of fact, if patience is a virtue, I might be one of the most virtuous people you know. Unless you don't actually know me.

It seems like my patience has been tested a lot lately, and I'm happy to say that it's passed every test so far. But I don't want to try your patience with a detailed account of these tests, so I'll try to describe them in brief.

First of all, remember a while ago when I was telling you about that LCD monitor I bought? After a month or two, I noticed a problem with the display. It wasn't the problem I was complaining about in my earlier post -- I got used to that once I realized it's an inherent problem of all LCD monitors. The problem I'm talking about was a weird little shadow at the far right edge of the display. I don't think it was always there -- I think it just appeared out of nowhere. In any case, since I had it more than 30 days when I discovered the problem, I couldn't return it for a new one, but since it was still under warranty, I took it to an authorized service center. I asked the woman there how long it would take to fix it and she said she didn't know -- maybe a week, maybe more. It all depended on whether or not they had any new display panels in stock.

After about a week, she called to tell me that they didn't have any panels in stock and they'd have to order a new one from Korea. I asked her how long that would take, and she said she didn't know -- maybe a week, maybe more.

I called a couple of weeks later and she said they ordered the panel but she didn't know when it would arrive. But two weeks after that, she called to tell me that my monitor was all fixed. So I picked it up a couple of days ago, and as I was leaving, she thanked me for being so patient. Of course, the way I figure it, I didn't really have much of a choice. So that wasn't a huge test of my patience -- as a matter of fact, it was probably the smallest among my recent patience-testing incidents.

Here's another one: Remember how long it took to get that streetlight moved? And remember what a hassle it was? Well, once it was moved, I thought it would be a simple task to get someone to tear up the old approach to the driveway and put in a wider one. As it turns out, I was half right. It was pretty easy to get someone to tear up the old one, but it was practically impossible to get someone to put in a new one.

The guy I hired to do the job took about two or three weeks to get started. That was no big deal -- he was busy, and I could wait. The only problem was, after he tore up the old approach, he sort of lost interest in putting in the new one. He had a million excuses, but they didn't matter to me. All that mattered to me was that I couldn't get in my garage, and that in front of my driveway was a huge pit of dirt and broken concrete.

After a few weeks, he told me he couldn't complete the job, because he was going on vacation for a month.

So I called up about five or six other contractors, and it was practically impossible to get any of them to give me a bid. I don't know why. People said they'd show up but they never did. Or they'd say they'd get back to me and they never did. One guy said he'd call me back with a price but I never heard from him again. I called him about five times and he never returned my calls. Another guy broke his foot the morning he was supposed to meet me. I was beginning to think the new approach might never get poured.

But I finally found a guy who was willing to do the job. He started a few days ago and just finished yesterday. Now I just have to wait for the concrete to cure. So everything turned out okay. But if this doesn't seem like a big deal to you -- something that would try your patience -- then you've never had a big open pit in front of your house for close to a month.

Still, when you think about it, a month isn't really that long. It's only about 30 days. So here's another one: A little while after my new garage was completed last November, I decided to begin my next project, which was to build a retaining wall along the North side of my property. It didn't seem like that big a deal to me, and I naively thought I might be able to get it done by late December or early January.

Well, it's now the last week of June and the plans haven't even been approved yet. I talked to the woman in the Planning department last week and she said they'd be approved soon, and then I'd have to show them to the Building and Safety department so they could approve them. That could easily take a few more months, so at this point I'll consider myself lucky if the retaining wall gets built sometime this year. According to the contractor, it should only take about three weeks to build, which means there's no reason it shouldn't be done by the end of summer, but I'm not betting on it.

So there you have it: three events that have taught me to be patient.

If you're the impatient type and you like to get things done fast, you might be interested in IBM's announcement last week that they've developed a CPU that runs at 500 GHz. And in case that number means nothing to you, the fastest CPU you can buy today is under 4 GHz. So IBM's new chip is over a hundred times faster. Sure, you need to keep it at sub-Arctic temperatures to run it that fast, but even at room temperature, it supposedly runs around 350 GHz or so. It'll be a while before you can get a chip that fast on your home computer, but still, so much for Moore's Law.

Of course, now that we have the technology to build such fast hardware, the real challenge will be for software developers to add more and more useless bells and whistles to their applications and operating systems to keep them from running any faster than they do now.

And for some reason, that reminds me of Bill Joy's famous quote, "Operating systems are like underwear -- nobody really wants to look at them." Unfortunately, operating systems are getting so big that you can't help seeing them. Microsoft's new Vista operating system is a perfect case in point. Its Aero windowing environment will let you do things like look at your open windows at an angle and riffle through them like a deck of cards. Microsoft claims this is a productivity enhancement feature, but I doubt if it will really enhance anyone's productivity. I think it'll do just the opposite. Most people will probably just sit in front of their monitors idly riffling through their open windows until the novelty wears off. Then they'll probably forget about that particular feature.

Useful or not, it's pretty cool, which is why when I recently put together my new computer, I made sure it had enough power to run Vista. It was originally supposed to be launched this year, but now it won't be ready until 2007 sometime. And when it is ready, I'm still not going to rush out and buy a copy. Microsoft never gets anything right the first time around, so I'd rather let other people discover all the bugs before I put it on my machine. But even when it's relatively stable, I still won't be in any hurry to install it. That's the thing about being patient -- you don't mind waiting for things.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Unnecessary Instruction

Last week, I mentioned an article I read about colleges teaching "real world" skills to students. My belief is that it's better to learn such things in the real world.

But we have a long history of wanting to teach things that come naturally. For example, well over a decade ago, I remember seeing a listing for a nature show on television. The topic of the show was "Teaching survival skills to wild animals." I never actually saw the show, but I'll always remember the topic, just because it's so idiotic.

In the last week I saw some more examples of this sort of thing. According to one of the commercials I saw, now you can buy special diapers that will help toilet train your baby somehow. And you can also buy special toilet paper with patterns and designs that will teach your young children exactly how much toilet paper they should use.

I don't have any kids, and my own childhood is such a distant memory that I don't remember if I ever had any concerns about how much toilet paper I should use, so I don't know how much of a problem this actually is. I'm pretty sure it's not that big a deal, however. So I have to question whether or not such a product is actually serving the public good. And the cynical part of me can't help noticing that it would be in the toilet paper manufacturer's best interests to teach kids to tear off more toilet paper than they actually need.

As for toilet training, maybe the special diapers help and maybe they don't. But it doesn't really matter. In either case, they're absolutely unnecessary, since toilet training is a skill that no healthy human being has ever failed to acquire. The term, "toilet training" is a misnomer, of course, because in the long history of human beings, the toilet is a relatively new invention. But long before the first toilet was ever put to use, cavemen learned the very practical skill of controlling their sphincter muscles, and they didn't need special diapers to do it. (And when I refer to "cavemen," I'm actually talking about cavebabies, of course.)

That's all I've got for this week. It may not be much, but it's more than I was planning on writing, since I wasn't actually planning on writing anything. I keep telling myself to curtail my blogging for a while, so I can spend the time rewriting my third novel The Useless Detective, but so far I haven't gotten around to taking my own advice. I will eventually, though, so it's not a problem. And if it ever becomes a problem, I bet I can find a class somewhere that will teach me how to overcome it.