what to do with useless information?

During an attempt to get Home DepLowe’s to repair the lawnmower from which I violently extracted the pull string, I experienced a taste of the unusual way humans and our digital overlords have chosen to use computing. The mower was purchased over a year ago, so, no, I did not have a receipt. Somehow knowing my dad’s phone number and the month (just the month, not the year) it was bought, the clerk was able to pin down an invoice number which would later be used thus:

An actual human will go through our microfiche archives to determine whether or not you signed up for the Extended Advantage plan, which will allow me to refer you to one of our certified technicians.

IMAG0243She really said those words. Sinking into moderate despair at the thought that anything could ever be run like this, and that more than likely actual governments are probably being run in more insane ways, I was pretty resigned at this point. I offered the digital image pictured here, asking if it helped. This was the reply:

That’s good information to have, but it doesn’t help.

From this point on, I pretty much zoned out, as 103% of my mental energy was directed at the philosophy behind that statement. I would disagree and say that on the contrary, non-helpful information is by definition not good information. Useless information is, in many circumstances, equivalent to misinformation or even a total absence of information. How could it possibly be good, in any scenario, to have information that doesn’t help you at all? Information’s quality  is directly related to its usefulness.

By now, I had wandered off to aisle 73 or whatever and found myself in front of lawnmower pull string thingies for $4. I got one, went home, and in my DIY fervor, ripped open the plastic bag it came in only to find that the instructions I would surely need were printed on the bag, the most important part rent illegibly in twain. I felt a little solace in the fact that had I had the information on how to proceed, it would have been good, because it would have helped me. (Although, what would have really helped was READ THIS BEFORE NOT READING AND SUBSEQUENTLY DESTROYING being printed on the bag.)

Following my application of forensic typography, I gathered that all the instructions told me to do was to make the broken thing not broken any more. This was when I first realized that all the package contained was a piece of rope and a handle  which would be impossible to attach to it: a parlor puzzle with tautological instructions.

In the end, I fixed the mower in about 20 minutes, only a wrench and a screwdriver, not ninth-degree microfiche, involved. The moral of the story: if your lawn mower starter cord breaks, it’s not that hard to fix; this is good information because it is helpful.

the four laws

  1. Remember the Four Laws.
  2. Remember the Order of the Four Laws.
  3. This is the Third Law.
  4. Never forget the Four Laws.

Please note that this list does not include the apocryphal Fifth Law, which states, “There are only Four Laws.”

advance backward

simulated image of adam being amazed at the capacity of the new zip disks
simulated image of adam being amazed at the capacity of the new zip disks

In 1998, I bought a Diamond Rio for $200. My life changed. I could take almost half an hour of high-quality, digital music with me anywhere. I had so much fun creating the ultimate 30-minute playlist every morning. I could walk to class or do shopping listening to music. After a few weeks, I sewed the device and my headphones into my jacket, so I would always have my personal soundtrack. Even though I couldn’t fit all of [amazon_link id=”B000006MTX” target=”_blank” ]Shostakovich’s 24 preludes and fugues[/amazon_link] on my Rio, I was patient. I mean, do I really need to carry around more than 30 minutes of audio?

After a while of this kind of behavior, I got over it.

In 2001, I set up my computer to serve an text file to my website, so when I had my computer on, the text adam is currently sitting at his computer would appear on the footer of every page.

And then I realized no one cared about status updates.

In 2005, I bought a Treo 650. I could now synchronize my iCal with my phone, work on Excel files wherever I wanted, and best of all, send rich text messages, with photos or video. I sent messages to everyone I could, and photos and videos to people who could receive them.

And then it just got old.

Wouldn’t you know it, but 3 things I really hate are:

  1. people constantly plugged in to headphones
  2. people constantly updating their status
  3. people constantly sending text messages

I feel justified that I binged when I did, because I was trying to get a handle on how these new things might affect my life. They were novel. So I binged, reflected, and backed off.

Notice the common term in my list above: constantly. Do people not realize that all these things are incredibly narcissistic? I never before wanted to smack someone upside the head because they weren’t listening to music in public. Do people hate silence? Do people just hate one another more now than they used to? They are certainly now more enabled to exhibit behavior that leads me to believe so.

(For this post I’m leaving out the blog I made in 1995 and got over, since I’m finally in to blogging. And, queue sad trombone.)

the dark path of Boggle™

boggle cube spelling out the title of this postHere is some advice. Scenario: you’re playing Boggle™ and you’re able to come up with ‘bird.’ Congratulations. You must have read a lot of Highlights as a kid. But wait, what’s that? A suffix…for a noun. ‘-er.’ So now you have ‘birder.’ You have now begun your journey down the dark path of Boggle™, and your gaming partners give you that half-lidded Jon stare from Garfield.

garfield: july 22, 1999
look at those eyes

They mentally consider any number of arguable points perhaps including the following:

  1. A falcon is birder than a sparrow.
  2. An emperor penguin is birder than a non-emperor penguin.
  3. An ostrich is birder than a kiwi.

…and so on. But you were thinking of ‘birder’ as in ‘bird-watcher.’ You are now requested to give account for the difference between ‘birder’ and ‘ornithologist.’ The answer?
Money / education.

  1. farmer vs agriculturalist
  2. singer vs vocalist
  3. painter vs artist

Basically, ‘-er’ means amateur and ‘-ist’ means professional. However, you can’t just slap either ending on just any occupational description. After all, how far would you trust someone who claimed to be a gynecologer? Armed with the knowledge that the occupations described by the lowbrow / -er words can be carried out by anyone, what noun can not be a verb which can then be turned back into a noun? Floor – floorer, water – waterer, chronicle – chronicler… Okay, there are a few, like ‘cat,’ but you just add another ‘-er’ and you’ve got ‘caterer,’ the less professional version of group-gastronomist.
However, what is a racist, but one who competitively drives automobiles? Sure, there might be multiple meanings for that word, but that’s what linguists are for. (Or, depending on your resources, dictionariers.)
The point here? Don’t be tempted by the the dark path of Boggle™. Once you open the game up to this kind of insanity, your partners will trust you less. In other words, your fellow Bogglists will view you as a mere speller, a worder, an amateur…er.