BB #67: Friday Bubbles

I’ve been on something of a mission to crank out posts in an effort to reduce my backlog of drafts and notes. (What’s discouraging is that I just found a pile of notes I’d tucked away and forgotten about. With any luck, most of those ideas will have aged out, and I can trash them.)

Since it’s Friday, I thought I’d burn off a bunch of small ones in a Brain Bubble post. As usual, these are small seeds that never grew into a full post, but I hate to just toss the seedlings.

Today’s theme: Things that annoy me, but only slightly.

I’ve complained about the Season of the Zap before.

It’s part of winter around here due to how the cold freezes the moisture out of the air. The low humidity is the perfect environment for static; it takes very little fabric friction to generate a healthy voltage.

When I was hosting Bentley last February we had a nasty cold snap, and one result is that nearly every time I touched Bentley, she got a zap. Worst of all, often the first thing a dog touches you with… is their nose. Ouch!

I just hope she didn’t think it was deliberate, poor thing.

One nice thing about wireless keyboards, mice, and headphones, is that they’re free-floating electrically. They aren’t grounded, so you don’t get zapped by them. Much more importantly, they don’t send that zap over wires to your computer, TV, or sound system.

Remote controls mean you don’t have to even touch things like sound systems or TVs. (That CDs and DVDs have given way to streaming makes these systems even more touch-free.)

So that’s kind of cool. The damn zap is bad enough (although there’s a trick that removes the sting) but realizing you’re sending thousands of volts into your delicate electronics is one of those heart-sinking feelings.

I always wonder if they’ll even turn on after a zap!

(Wireless devices plugged into the charger are grounded, so touching them can zap you and them. 😮)


Now we’re getting into the Season of the Dripping Glass.

It’s the other side of the “oh, damn” coin, this one hits in summer when the humidity around here is pretty high (August especially).

And iced drink in a glass starts to sweat immediately and generates a good pool of water as the cold is rapidly sucked out of the drink by the humid air. It’s a double-whammy: The drink warms up really fast; and it dribbles water everywhere.

You end up with a big puddle around the glass, or so much clinging to the glass itself that when you disturb it by picking it up, it all drips off onto your leg.

I like drinking out of glasses, so I used to wrap them in paper towels held on with a rubber band. Which rather ruins the aesthetics of using the nice glass in the first place.

I finally got a big thermos mug, which solves both the problem of sweating glasses and losing the drink’s chill.

But I still insist on drinking beer out of a glass, so out come the paper towels in August.

§ §

Apple is such a funny combination of amazing and WTF?

The amazing is pretty obvious, but, for example, their keyboards don’t know about delete or escape keys. That right there is a such a huge WTF that I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s as dumb as a one-button mouse.

It seems Apple has a core philosophy of not providing too much functionality because it scares away users. (The extent to which that’s a good business call both terrifies and depresses me.)

An item that’s been on my list since I got my iPhone involves the ear buds included with the phone. I gotta say, the little cardboard carrier they come on is awesome. Apple just loves its clever packaging. Part of the style experience.

But what’s well known about Apple’s ear buds is that they use hard plastic; they don’t mold to conform to your ears. Which apparently works for a lot of people.

It doesn’t work at all for me. I have to keep pressing them back in every few seconds or so. It’s really annoying. (Since Apple eliminated the headphone jack, they’re the only ear buds I have until I find some third party who makes soft plastic ones.)

At home I just use a wireless speaker or wireless headphones, but when I’m on a walk, ear buds work best. Apple makes wireless ear buds, which sounds like a great way to lose ear buds, but those are hard plastic, too.

[Just tying this back to the last topic, to mention again how nice it is having a free-floating phone and free-floating speaker that lets me start up some tunes without any dangerous zaps. (Although, again, ‘ware the charger.)]

I’ve heard Apple’s latest line of wireless ear buds is, or will be, soft plastic, so maybe I can get some good ear buds from them. I’m still using my iPod classic on my walks, so I haven’t been motivated to pursue this.

But, man, those hard plastic ear buds are annoying!

§ §

A while back I was browsing the Walmart shoe section for a cheap pair of tennis shoes mainly for short trips outside.

Shoeless Joe has nothing on me: I’m barefoot whenever possible, although I’ll resort to socks if it’s cold. In the summer, it’s sandals pretty much everywhere that doesn’t require real shoes.

But in the winter a trip to the mailbox begs for shoes. Or a quick trip outside with the dog.

Anyway, looking at the collection at Walmart I found these:

The laces were elastic, which was a new trick to me. That sort of seemed like it wouldn’t work very well, and that’s true, it doesn’t.

They feature cord locks for tightening the laces (also new to me). Those are those black plastic assemblies on the far left and right above. They turn out to also be a bad idea.

(Do I need to make a point of mentioning that it’s not cord locks that are new to me, but using them on shoes instead of tying the laces? If so, consider it mentioned.)

What’s even weirder — and much more of a problem — is that the elastic is permanently fixed in, not just one, but two places:

Which, for one thing, means I can never replace the laces. At least not easily.

It also has a bad effect on the cord lock, since that’s one of the two spots the laces are fixed in place. That means the cord locks are fixed in place.

As you can see in the first photo, they’re canted to the outside of the shoe because they’re not fixed in the center. And they can’t be centered because the laces are fixed on the shoe, too.

They work, but the cord lock is way off-center, so there’s a much longer loop flopping around on one side. You can see the large loop especially on the shoe on the left.

Seemed like a cool system, but actually a big disappointment and annoyance. I don’t think the inability to replace the laces is going to be an issue, though:

After just a few weeks of light local use, the soles are seriously worn.

But maybe that’s not surprising when you buy $20 tennis shoes at Walmart. I kinda wondered how such cheap shoes were even possible.

§ §

If only all of life’s problems were only this slightly annoying.

But I guess that would be too easy.

Stay unzapped, my friends!

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

12 responses to “BB #67: Friday Bubbles

  • Wyrd Smythe

    For walking I bought some Skechers from Amazon, and those have worked out well. Decent shoes, good soles.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I hated the Apple ear buds too when I first started using them. It did constantly feel like they were about to fall out of my ear. However, they never did, and I gradually got used to the feeling, to the point that I hadn’t thought about that aspect of them in years until now.

    That said, Apple’s design philosophy irks me too. It’s why I moved away from using a Macbook Pro a few years ago and resisted getting too dependent on their content ecosystem. (Not that the Surface Book I’ve been using has been great by any measure.) I just got sick of being forced to do things the Apple way, instead of being given a list of options for me to do it my way.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      They do fall out of mine if I’m walking. (I have sweaty ears.) Even when they don’t actually fall out, they move far enough out of position that the sound isn’t good anymore. They have to be all the way in place for music to sound right.

      Yeah, it’s the Apple way or the highway. I stayed away from it for a long time, but finally bought an iPod for my tunes. But that plugged me into buying music from Apple, and so it began. Then it was an iPad for mobile browsing and videos. Finally it was an iPhone because I realized my iPod would die eventually, and I’d need a new tunes solution. And being deep into Apple music at this point, I’m kinda stuck.

      But I’ve never owned a Mac or any like that. Played with them at work is it. Too much of my own work and apps. I’m kinda locked into the Windows/Intel world in terms of what are now just my hobbies. Work was almost entirely Windows, although we had Apple and Unix segments.

      Apple claims their stuff is so intuitive, but I couldn’t intuit the thumb wheel on my iPod. Had to look at the (incredibly simplistic and totally graphic) “user manual” to realize you used sliding. Totally new concept to me at the time. Likewise, despite having used many computer systems over the years, when I sat down at a friends late model Mac, I couldn’t make head or tail of the O/S user interface. Given an hour or so, maybe, but certainly not right off.

      OTOH, I’ve realized I’m a counter-example to arguments based on the Copernican principle — I’m an anomaly in so many ways it makes my teeth hurt. It’s absolutely possible to view reality from an improbable angle; I’m living proof. The Doomsday argument, for instance, rests on the Copernican principle that it’s not likely we’re at the beginning of humanity. It’s most likely we’re in the middle. Most likely, sure, but everyone along the way can make the Copernican argument. Ultimately, only a small group will turn out to have been right.

      I finished Tegmark’s book. One view he’s sympathetic to is the improbability of our existence. He believes we’re alone in the galaxy, for sure, and, along with another scientist he cites, probably alone in the visible universe. (I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the argument is interesting.) Even if we’re alone in this galaxy, that’s still a rather Ptolemaic view after all. We may need to let go of some of that Copernican certainty.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I can see the earbud issue being more troublesome for someone with hearing issues. That’s the other issue with the Apple way. Preferences aside, we’re not all the same in terms of need.

        The Doomsday Argument has never made much sense to me. Backing it up a bit, it is true that 90% of humans will guess correctly that they’re not the first or last 5% of all humans. But so what. We’re also much more capable of destroying ourselves than our ancestors. I can’t see that the argument tells us anything meaningful about that danger.

        It does pay to remember that the Copernican principle is just a principle, a guideline. Still, it seems predictive in the vast majority of cases. And it also has to be applied correctly.

        I don’t recall Tegmark’s argument, but based on Earth’s case, I agree that intelligent life (defined as technological intelligence) is very rare. Although I also agree that alone in the whole observable universe seems a bit excessive. Of the millions of species on Earth, only one evolved a civilization producing intelligence. It involved numerous low probability contingencies, but not that many.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I don’t think my hearing issues are the problem; it’s the shape of my ears!

        “…we’re not all the same in terms of need.”

        A very good way to put it!

        “I can’t see that the [Doomsday] argument tells us anything meaningful about that danger.”

        I guess to be more careful? 😀

        It really seems an example of being “lost in math” (which I think applies to Tegmark’s MUH as well as MWI). That said, we are at a point in our million-year history where we could wipe ourselves out. That hasn’t been true until this century.

        “[The Coperican principle] seems predictive in the vast majority of cases.”

        Sabine Hossenfelder just did a post about predictive value in theories. These aren’t even theories, and we know they fail often enough to seriously undercut their predictive value. They might provide a starting point if needed, but otherwise I think it’s best to stick to observations, measurements, actual math,…

        “Of the millions of species on Earth, only one evolved a civilization producing intelligence.”

        Indeed. Consider the dinosaurs. Millions of years without developing intelligence, so it’s apparently not an evolutionary given.

        “It involved numerous low probability contingencies, but not that many.”

        The thing is, it doesn’t take that many to add up to serious odds against. A literal handful (five) of one-in-a-million chances gives:

        (106)5 = 1030

        One-in-a-million chances aren’t even that improbable, but five sequential ones give a one-in-a-nonillion chance.

        If a galaxy has a billion stars, and we consider a billion galaxies, that’s:

        109 × 109 = 1018

        And obviously:

        1018 ≪ 1030

        So even at those fairly mild odds, it’s possible we’re alone in a very large volume.

        This doesn’t factor in time, though. That complicates things, since it greatly expands the measure space. (The Drake Equation, for instance, has a term for star formation rate.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I just did a post on Hossenfelder’s post. On the Copernican principle, it doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to be useful. But I agree, it’s just a heuristic, a starting point.

        On low probabilities, I can see it. The problem is we don’t know what the probabilities were for things like oxygenation, the evolution of eukaryotes, sexual reproduction, or complex life with specialized tissues.

        In terms of intelligence, our story involves evolving within trees, then being forced to the grassy plains, leaving us surplus dexterity, and then whatever led us to sapient level intelligence. Which was dependent on dry yet hydrated land and the evolution of trees and grass. How likely is that sequence?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “I just did a post on Hossenfelder’s post.”

        I saw. Were you working on that when I mentioned it? Synchronicity!

        “The problem is we don’t know what the probabilities were for things like oxygenation,”

        True. We can make educated (conservative) guesses as a starting point. Positing a reasonable five events with one-in-a-million odds leads to startlingly high odds against. Being off even by several orders of magnitude won’t change the outcome significantly.

        “How likely is that sequence?”

        Probably pretty rare. Opposable thumbs seem significant. Living on dry land and using fire seems significant. Even so, only one primate species made it this far.

        It does seem like we might be rather rare.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        You actually reminded me about Hossenfelder’s post. (Thank you! I needed some kind of writing prompt today.)

        I think we are rare. Of course, we have to be careful. There are likely alternate paths to intelligence, most of which I suspect we’d have a hard time imagining. Unfortunately, it may be so rare that we’ll never get a good chance to study another one. If we ever do, it would likely be millions or billions of years from now. (Although we may get a chance to study alien species that are relatively intelligent, just not to the point of symbolic thought.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Tegmark mentions he hopes we do not find any life elsewhere in the Solar system, since that would bolster his idea that intelligent life is exceptionally rare in this universe (but common in the multiverse).

        But, if as many suspect, we find simple forms of life elsewhere, it indicates life is pretty common, which, in turn, suggests the possibility of other intelligent life. (I keep meaning to look into those deep sea vent worms. Is there a thought they evolved on their own, or was the initial seed from the same seed that all life came from? Do we think there are clear cases of life arising independently on Earth, or is it viewed as all from the same source.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Yeah, Tegmark wears his epistemic hopes on his sleeve. I personally hope we do find life somewhere in the solar system. I’d rather live in a universe teeming with life than one where it’s rare.

        From what I’ve read, no form of life on Earth has ever been found to be completely independent of other life. All life forms have common genetic elements. We’re all descendants of LUCA (last universal common ancestor) about 3.5 billion years ago.

        I think if we ever did find a completely independent branch of life on Earth, that would indicate a second (or third, or more) abiogenesis. It would almost be equivalent to finding extraterrestrial life. (Not completely equivalent, because the possibility that Earth itself is unique would still exist.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “From what I’ve read, no form of life on Earth has ever been found to be completely independent of other life.”

        Yeah, that’s what I figured. (I don’t pay that much attention to biology.) As you say, it would be a huge data point. (I’ve long viewed abiogenesis as one of the great unsolved mysteries — one of the “hard” problems. Tegmark even mentioned the chicken-and-egg problem ribosomes present.)

  • Friday Notes (Mar 12, 2021) | Logos con carne

    […] been using the Brain Bubbles series for those (for instance, this and this), but my intention was always that Brain Bubbles should be short one-thought posts (like […]

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