Instant gratification is not a right

My cousin and his wife just welcomed their first child into the world today. Or maybe late last night–I don’t know for sure.

I know this only because I saw my cousin’s sister (also my cousin, but I figured I’d clarify) posted on Facebook about meeting the little one for the first time and never having seen a baby under a day old.

2 of the 3 comments that quickly followed demanded pictures. Like, now.

I, too, am curious to see what this little bundle of joy looks like. But really, I don’t expect pictures first thing. First thing is making sure mom and baby (and dad and possibly siblings) are doing okay. Second thing is saying congrats. (Okay, those first two are more or less interchangeable if one is posting on social media.) Third is understanding that new parents, especially first-time ones, might not be having an easy time.

As of posting, the baby is less than 48 hours old. My cousin and his wife are still probably tired and trying to adjust to there suddenly being three where there was once two. Maybe something minor has happened. (I doubt my cousin’s sister would have posted if something majorly bad had gone down.) Maybe they forgot their camera. Maybe their phones died (or don’t take pictures–such phones still do exist). Maybe they just, oh, I dunno… WANT SOME BLESSED PRIVACY.

Whatever their reasons, I am fully willing to be patient. I’m just happy the baby is out and about in this big, crazy world. I don’t expect pictures first thing, and I more or less grew up in an age where “pix now!” (with some sort of “please” tacked on if you’re lucky) has become the norm. And honestly, I’ve seen pictures of very newborn babies. In my opinion, they’re generally not all that cute; not in a typical way, at least. It’s more the miracle of the thing, I guess, that makes me want to see. (That, and, in this case, I don’t see these cousins all that often.)

The point is, this is about the newly-expanded family, and what they’re happy and comfortable with; not about pictures. Those pictures, if and when they come, are a privilege, not a right. But, like a lot of privileges technology presents us with, it is taken for granted as a right, and I’m not okay with that. (I also protest some… AT&T commercial, I think, that has the narrator say “I have the need–no, I have the right to be unlimited.” My response to both cases? No you bloody well do not. Learn to get by the way your cave-dwelling ancestors did for a bit and go learn to fish or something.)

Whatever the reason that pictures haven’t been posted yet, this new family, just like everyone else, deserves my respect for their privacy and their shifting responsibilities. And their sleep and sanity. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but my family’s well-being is worth more to me than a thousand pictures.

Computers Confound Me

I’m a computer scientist.

I will be a certified (well, Bachelor of Science’d) computer scientist in 3.5 weeks, God willing and the creek don’t rise (or rather, my grades don’t fall…).

As such, you’d think I’d be… oh, what’s the phrase… computer savvy?

I am, to an extent. I mean, I can do your basic install/uninstall, run most programs, and, well, program. I don’t really do hardware; it confuses me. I get how it works on a high level, but there’s something about circuits that just doesn’t work for me. I’m savvy enough, anyway.

Until I got the new laptop; the learning curve shot way the heck up there.

Whereas my old laptop had me press the function key in order to use the f1-12 buttons as they were intended, this new laptop (rightly, I think) has me press the function key in order to do the other functions those keys provide. This is supposed to make things a lot easier. Usually, it does. The only thing that’s difficult is hitting f11 and f12 with one hand.

The fact that I can actually hit through f10 should have clued me in, though. The sensitivity of the touchpad and keyboard on this thing is kind of insane. I’ve unintentionally hit keys that have resulted in all kinds of funny behavior, but never until today, did it result in the disappearance of my cursor, or rather, the functionality of my touchpad in general.

I gather that the f9 key’s special function is meant to turn off the touchpad now, but at 2:30 today, that was not the case.

I was in class, trying to take notes, and I knew I’d hit a jumble of keys. But suddenly, my cursor froze and then disappeared. This was not good. I tried frantically to make it reappear by tapping and clicking my touchpad, but no such luck. Since my computer had just started up after an update, I wondered if one had screwed things up. (Wouldn’t be the first time…) After several restarts and a lot of mental swearing, I started looking up why my touchpad was nonresponsive. (I somehow managed to figure out how to navigate through everything without my cursor.) One site suggested that I hit f9.

I looked at the key, and a very, very profane thought went through my head. The little icon with a slash through it was the (censored) touchpad! I must have hit it along with the function key and there it went.

Times like these, I’m really not sure how I made it through the last 4 years. Really. But I guess we all do stupid things, and it’s what, if anything, we learn from them that matters.

I learned what the f9 key does today. What about you?

Relative Risk: Life’s Full of Choices

Life, as the title of this post says, can be thought of as a series of choices; of risks, and our responses to them. There’s always a chance that something could go wrong, as we are made painfully aware of day in and day out by sensationalism in the media telling us every little thing that goes wrong, and then making it seem like it could happen to anyone else at any time. It’s true: my cookies could spontaneously combust in the oven, or I could get salmonella from eating the raw cookie dough. Something could suddenly get into the water supply. I could have an adverse reaction to a vaccine, or contract a disease that I’m not vaccinated against. However, I still bake and eat the cookie dough. I still drink the water. I still get my recommended vaccines and I go outside and have contact with actual people who might have germs whose names I’ve never heard of. The point is, I’m still alive and healthy and happy, and my cookies are still delicious. Except when they burn.

I’m not saying that we should go out and take stupid risks; rather, we need to learn how to accurately assess the risks we take. Too strict, and we confine ourselves to existing in bubbles. Too lax, and we don’t exist much longer at all, or if we do, it’s from sheer luck. I do put a good deal of trust in modern technology that pasteurizes my food and filters my water and creates the vaccines I get, but I also do rely heavily on my own intuition, and think about what I’m doing before I do it. I don’t take risks whose possible negative consequences would be things I couldn’t cope with.

So, I don’t eat cookie dough (or anything uncooked) that has farm fresh eggs or raw meat. I wash my hands regularly, but I also play in the mud a little. I don’t smoke or do drugs, and I have one drink or less when I choose to imbibe. I go to the dentist twice a year and get a yearly physical exam. I don’t drive when I’m not awake enough. I stick to sidewalks and well-lit areas. I don’t leave drinks unattended when I go out. I take my vitamins and drink my (soy–I’m lactose intolerant) milk. I don’t play with knives, or with fire in uncontrolled environments. (I have to qualify there because I use a gas stove/oven when I can—I prefer them.) If there were ever to be a water boil advisory, I’d heed it. I’m still shaky on flying in airplanes because I have issues when heights and enclosed spaces are mixed, but I know that’s all in my head and I’m working on it.

My dad works for my state’s department of health, drinking water section. He’s the one who really hammered this philosophy in, but even at that, we do have different preferences for the risks we take. For instance, he loves riding his bike to and from work up and down a crazy hill that I’m not really even fond of driving in a car. He’s been in two accidents, and each time, his helmet probably saved his life. He also came out of the more recent accident with more ugly injuries, and I really wish he wouldn’t take that risk, but he does. As for me, I stick to mostly clear residential roads with nothing too gnarly when I ride my bike. We each know the risks we’re taking, and we don’t accept more than we want to.

As a side note, people are often shocked that we don’t have a water filter or something at home, especially given my dad’s profession. The reaction is often something along the lines of, “But if anyone knows how dangerous the water is, he would, right?” Well, yeah. That’s why we don’t have a filter. Our water is not dangerous. It also tastes just fine, which is something a lot of people around here filter for. I don’t quite understand it, since I can never taste the difference, but hey, whatever works. Just don’t expect us to have a nice filter in our fridge or on our tap when you come over.

I’ve also been asked how I can eat cookie dough with no issue but would never in a million years eat raw meat. First, I think the texture and taste would be gross. Second, from what I’ve gathered, raw eggs are by and large safer than raw meat. So, tell me I can get salmonella from eating raw cookie dough all you like; believe me, I’m aware of it. Unless I get salmonella, though, I’ll keep eating it. If I do get sick, I’ll reconsider the relative risk. Until that day, I will happily gobble down my unbaked bliss, and if you don’t like it, more cookie dough for me!

The Information Age Held Hostage

It seems like any information you could possibly want to find out is available somewhere these days. We are so connected by beams and wires and electronics and technology that nothing seems impossible. However, this does have a downside. Information is dangerous. I’d argue that misinformation, which seems even more widely available than correct information sometimes, is even more dangerous. Power corrupts, as they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And those who have power over what information is and is not disseminated often do so with their own personal interests in mind, presenting opinion as fact, or worse, deliberately leaving fact out of it altogether.

Witness, for instance, immediate news reports. Often, when something big happens, especially a crime, the information first dispersed is more often than not incorrect in some way, shape, or form, including simply being incomplete. (In my opinion, incompleteness in this case is incorrect.) While this is not an anomaly in and of itself, it is confusing to those trying to understand how to respond to the incident, and tying the area up with reporters helps nothing and, I’d argue, hinders a lot. What is this even for? Emergency responders know well enough how to caution people to stay out of the area, so why should reporters get a pass? Ratings? Money? Those seem like pretty poor reasons to me, especially when a person has perpetrated a crime. The criminal usually gets their 15 minutes of fame and more, which helps nothing and serves only to glamorize crime. Meanwhile, any victims are either ignored or have questions shoved at them that most can’t handle at the moment. Do we need to know the important points? Yes. But one important point in any sort of emergency is (without fail, as far as I know) STAY OUT OF THE AREA. Let the responders do their work, and you can report in more depth afterward.

Politics is an offshoot of this topic. People are so quick to pounce on one word or phrase that they miss the whole point of a speech. They also fail to take into account that politicians are human, and so they will slip up on a word sometimes. While these people are used to being in the spotlight and should have their topics well-researched beforehand if they can, this isn’t always something that can/does happen, but the world is apparently an unforgiving place. Special interest groups are all too happy to shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and then complain when there are consequences for what they say, as though they don’t understand that the right to free speech does not mean that there are no consequences. I’m one of those people who will defend your right to free speech, even if I disagree with you, but only if you realize that there are consequences to being allowed to say what you want, and that not everyone will be swayed at all by what you say. (And, in a rather more cynical moment, I like to let people stick their feet in their mouths all by themselves.)

Even in the general case, misinformation does tend to lead to attacks (verbal and otherwise) on others, which accomplish nothing in the long run but making people angry with each other. It’s not productive because the point isn’t that there is a correct answer; it’s that someone was wrong and how could they be so stupid and… you get the point. It’s distasteful and sad. We’re more concerned over the fact that someone is misinformed than we are over what the correct information is that we lose sight of that information until someone brings it up, if they ever do.

Sexual biology is another common arena for this phenomenon. I understand the argument that a parent should reserve the right to teach their children about sex in a way that fits with their beliefs, but when middle- and high-schoolers are getting STDs/STIs and getting pregnant and dropping out at some very discouraging rates simply because of what they did not know, something’s gotta give! At least when kids this age were getting pregnant a couple centuries ago, they knew what they were doing was starting a family, and it was done simply because people did not live as long back then. Now that we are living longer, getting childbearing done before we run out of time is not necessary. And there is a wealth of misinformation out there, from what creates a pregnancy to how not to create one in the first place. While a lot of this is probably trolling (I’d hope nobody over the age of about 9 believes holding hands with someone of the opposite biological gender can make you pregnant), it can be hard to distinguish that from those who really believe that their misinformation is true.

I’d like to also take a minute to talk about the scare tactics that are used in a misguided attempt to delay sexual activity. Telling young adults that birth control doesn’t work does not disincline them towards having sex; it just makes them much less likely to use it if/when they do. And telling a rebellious teen that pregnancy will ruin their lives just makes them want to prove you wrong even more. While I never got into that sort of trouble as a teen, I get how wanting to prove the adults wrong and yourself right goes, and it can lead to some really stupid choices. (Also, going back to an earlier post of mine, the prefrontal cortex does not develop fully until the mid-twenties—there are scientific reasons kids are good at making bad choices, so I figure removing as much misinformation that leads them to it, even if only in part, is one of the better things we can do.)

As much as being a jack-of-all-trades is useful, having people who specialize in a certain area is useful, but sadly, in today’s society, being very good at only one or two things is interpreted as “I can’t do anything else”. Add in anonymity to being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about simply because they say it in a loud voice without backing it up is not the best choice of person to put in charge. Those who can do their research while remaining at least mostly unbiased are the best picks, but, sadly, because they don’t necessarily align with one popular ideology, they seem wishy-washy, when most elected leaders are chosen based on their ability to please people at what might be the cost of their own comfort or morals. Is the truth uncomfortable? Sometimes, yes. But if you ask me, I’d rather take the truth any day and being able to grow intellectually over having all my opinions and possibly incorrect ideas about how things work reaffirmed.