Impedance Mismatch

buffalo herdI find myself in an increasing funk the last few weeks. By now I’m feeling maximally funky, but unfortunately not in the good way. Funky often refers to smell, and in this case the increasing stink is mental. I’m just … fed up, halfway between tired and disgusted, many miles south of annoyed.

Work accounts for much of that, perhaps all of it. Yet another week of literally zero progress. In fact there was a setback: vendor work that didn’t, and the vendor is being difficult about dealing with it. I seem to be on the IT project equivalent of the Titanic (and there are a scary number of parallels).

And for a variety of reasons I’m feeling a strong sense of impedance mismatch with the world.

impedance analyserAn impedance mismatch is a term common in worlds of audio gear and power lines. It refers to what we might call the “equality” of the connection between two systems. One system’s ability to give its signal to another requires a matched connection. One measure of a connection’s compatibility is that the source and destination impedance match.

Impedance is essentially a measure of resistance to signal (or power). The higher the impedance, the less signal flows. If the destination has low impedance, lots of signal can flow into it if provided. If a source has too much impedance to provide enough, the signal can be degraded.

Mismatched the other way around, the source can provide all the signal the destination can take, which usually doesn’t degrade the signal, but it does cause power to be reflected back at the source, which can cause echos or signal cancellations. At the least, the transfer is inefficient.

bad signalAn impedance mismatch is a bad connection is my point.

[I suppose it’s only natural a geek envisions his alienation in a highly geeky way!]

It’s bad enough that I’m at an age where the world has to some extent moved on from my generation. So much of what is current now is directed at people young enough to be my kids or grand-kids. I’ve read the posts of others in my age group, and I suspect we all feel some of this disconnect.

What seems to make it worse for me is that I’ve never really connected with many of the common value systems of my peers. There has always been a disconnect between what I value and what others seem to value.

When it seems clear you relate well to only a small fraction of your peers, well, that’s the impedance mismatch. Somehow the goal of being genuinely unique put me so far out on the bell curve, I’ve gone out of sight of shore. I find myself alone at sea.

Carl Sagan 2You know the old saying, come on in, the water’s great? I feel that way about this patch of sea. I cannot fathom (sorry) why almost no one else does.

Recently I posted some quotes by Carl Sagan, the first of which speaks to the disconnect between this highly scientific and technological world versus the (low) amount of knowledge and understanding shared by most.

It isn’t that science is actually incredibly interesting. It’s that it has a direct effect on our day-to-day lives. Something as basic as math is viewed with trepidation, and some science books tout the fact that they won’t subject the reader to any math.

And so you hear Steven Seagal brag recently that he has ‘hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours’ of weapons training, and no one laughs or blinks an eye. No one does the math!  (I know the guy is old, but he’s not that old!)

Here’s a hint: a year doesn’t even have ten-thousand hours in it!

I’m not suggesting everyone should pursue a life of science and math. I am saying it’s a shame that most people seem to have no science and math. That is especially a shame in this modern world. There has long been a growing gap between the rich and the not-rich. There is also a growing gap between those with a grasp of science and those with none.

And that’s a gap we can fix!

technophobiaThis has always been true, though. My parents are technophobes; they have a deep belief they can never learn these things.

It’s a kind of mental block; it truly is not based on a lack of interest. It’s like how we program girls that they can’t understand math, and so many never try (what an awful thing to do to a young mind).

But this is old news, and I long ago accepted it (with great regret). What’s making me sad these days is the realization that an oasis from my past no longer exists. I blame this mostly on the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) and Bill Gates. They went and ruined the world for computer geeks by letting in the whole damned world.

(On the other hand, they kind of set us up to have life-long careers, so mixed blessings.)

Jobs and WozniakIt used to be that it required a certain degree of technical savvy to play on the internet.

And while the assholes have always been part of things (they do exist in just about any group), at least they were assholes with a certain degree of smarts. They could be wrong or misguided or of a different opinion, but they were rarely deluded or ignorant. In fact, many of them managed to be very interesting assholes and actually kind of fun.

Now days you get a lot of people just working out their personal rage or insecurity. The size and anonymity of the ‘net has always given people room to act in ways that would quickly earn them a punch on the nose in the real world. Factor in the frustrations of modern living along with the daily violence in which we steep ourselves, a growing lack of any sense of politeness or courtesy, and things can quickly get ugly out there.

Still, what’s making me a little depressed is not those sharp, pointy bits so much as just the fact that “our” internet has become everyone’s internet. It’s no longer the Geek’s Cave. It’s no longer a place to escape from the masses, it is the masses.

Which is wonderful for the masses, and there is so much good that comes from easy access to computing and communicating. For as low opinion as I have of Facebore and TWITter, I cannot deny that there is value there in some cases. (I do think the signal/noise ratio is abominable.)

lonely buffaloIt’s like before the white man showed up, and the plains were black with the thundering herds of buffalo. This was a wide open vastness that was all ours: the golden fields, the green forests, the wild life and rivers.

And the buffalo.

Now it’s all shopping malls and parking lots. They paved paradise.

And, yeah, maybe it wasn’t exactly paradise, but it was ours.

And I’m wondering were all the buffalo went.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “Impedance Mismatch

  • Wyrd Smythe

    If you like the tune, there’s also this live version:

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And this nice cover by Counting Crows:

  • reocochran

    I have to tell you that some things are of intrinsic value. I think my father tried valiantly to explain math and science to me. My brother Rich went on in science at Cornell, U of NC for teaching and Kent for further teaching. Randy understood it ALL! Brilliant! But chose art and its form of expression to make sense of his world, so to speak. He is still moody… I think that I have learned through my experiences with my grandchildren, anything can be fascinating when explained simply. But, that being said, I still unfortunately am not too thrilled with higher levels of thinking. Thus a former middle school language arts teacher, then a preschool special ed teacher and now, a distribution center worker. I get annoyed with my coworkers APATHY more than their ignorance! Great and clear explanation about impedance mismatch means and impedance match means.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! I’ve always thought that knowledge, particularly technical/science knowledge, has huge intrinsic value! (It’s certainly insured my career all these years.) But I realize I’m kind of a lone buffalo when it comes to that, and that it’s not a point of view widely shared.

      But look, you were a teacher! You were part of the solution, so kudos for udos!

  • Jennifer S

    Interesting. This is how I feel as a journalist, as well. There was a time when people earned degrees, studied investigative and interview techniques, became scholars of current events… all in order to present the news. Now everyone’s reporting information online all the time… but with no set of common standards, ethics, knowledge, or even (in many cases) a complete understanding of language. Impedance mismatch is not something I’d heard of before, but it’s a perfect description.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s a real shame what’s happened to journalism in the modern age. (And I’m amazed to see the quality of journalistic writing decrease. Some of the grammar errors and typos I see just make my jaw drop.)

      One of those Carl Sagan quotes I posted talks about how the Founding Fathers were highly educated, very literate men with a good grasp of world affairs and a deep understanding of true human nature. I’m pretty sure if those politicians saw our politicians, they’d be reaching for their muskets.

  • The Green Study

    Love both the Mitchell and Counting Crows version of that song. And I like the terminology “impedance mismatch”. I imagine there are a lot of people that feel like you do. Not sure if I do – it doesn’t seem to matter how eccentric I get, I manage to find people who are just as strange!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Her original recording is an old, old favorite, but that Counting Crows version really has some pop, doesn’t it! I found a more recent live Mitchell version, but sadly her voice just isn’t up to that song anymore.

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