June 15th, 2004


Abandon all hope

Every five minutes, my machine goes "ping". It's out of "profile space", and it pops up an alert box to tell me so. There's nothing else I can delete to free up profile space; the culprits are Acrobat and NS7, both of which I need for my job. The Helpdesk can't give me more than 8MB profile space, and they said they were going to try to exclude NS7 from my roaming profile but when they said they'd done it there was no change.

So, every five minutes, my machine goes "ping", in that annoying Windowsy way. I went to turn the volume down (since I can't fix the problem, fix the symptom). No 'Settings'. No Control Panel. We are locked out of TURNING DOWN THE FUCKING VOLUME on our computers in case by doing so we Break The Internet.

Apparently the rationale is that if we have access to Settings, we could accidentally remove a program or something Bad like that. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to them that perhaps their role as a "Helpdesk" could be better fulfilled by, say, helping the people who need the help, the people who accidentally do dumb stuff (by, perhaps, fixing the problem for them, and maybe even teaching them how not to do it again) rather than by wilfully obstructing the people who don't need their 'help, the people who are actually capable of USING A BLOODY COMPUTER.

Rachel's comment says it all, really.

By the sword

Good martial arts lesson last night -- all sword work, though I hadn't brought my blade so we were only using wooden practice swords.

Sensei rarely introduces the lesson material with "Today we're going to do..." or any other explanations of what he's about to teach. Usually he just starts, with one easy to follow instruction, and I follow. This method works well for me, for a couple of reasons (which I suspect are really just different parts of the same reason):

1. I don't have a chance to try to take shortcuts -- if you don't know where you're going, you can't take a shortcut. You have to concentrate on the journey rather than the destination -- and after all, it's the journey that teaches, not the arriving.

2. Because I don't see the task, the objective (whether that's a sequence of moves to learn, or a technique to master, or a concept to assimilate) in its entirety, I can't be overwhelmed by the extent of it. Often, the reason I fail (in all kinds of things) is that I see the enormity of the thing I'm trying to achieve, and immediately my brain says I can't do that. It's like looking at the other side of the room and saying "I can't get there" when what I mean is "I can't be there without any intervening steps". Well, of course I can't. But I can take one step, and then another, and then another, and before I know it I'll be on the other side of the room.

I follow his instructions, performing the cuts and blocks as best I can, trying to follow the odd hand-position changes, and we're about halfway through the lesson before I have time to breathe and ask "Is this some sort of exercise for hand-position changes?" Sensei looks amused, and says "Not exactly." When we get to the bit where you have to throw the sword into the air, stepping forward to catch it before dropping into a kneeling cut, he finally gets round to telling me that what we're working through is the brown-belt sword kata. And of course, if he'd told me that at the beginning, I would have been disheartened by the difficulty of the thing ahead, but by the time I'm halfway through it, we've bypassed the chance for me to believe that I can't do it. By not trying to take impossible shortcuts, we've taken a shortcut past the most insurmountable obstacle of all.

I mentioned a while back wanting to write about "learning how not to learn", and this is the sort of thing I was talking about. If encouraged, small children will often learn quickly, hoovering up knowledge and skills with an ease that makes adults envious. But somewhere along the line, at some point in our formative years, we learn to look at the big picture and say "I can't do that". We learn how not to learn.

What is it we fear? Is it just a blind panic at the size of the task that faces us, the animal fear of Something Bigger Than Us? Or is it a fear of failure -- of the mockery of our peers when we fail -- of the other consequences of failure? Or more insidious fears -- the apparently rational fear of Wasting Time, or even Wasting Money, trying to learn things which are not useful, not "worthwhile", or things at which we may never excel?

The usually-unspoken principle (they don't foreground the philosophy unless you're interested in it or it seems that it will be helpful to you as a student, but it definitely informs the way they teach) behind the martial arts school I'm training with is that you don't so much "learn to do karate" or "learn to do sword work" as learn how to achieve your full potential -- learning to perform specific techniques to the best of your ability may be interesting and challenging paths towards that, but they're the means, not the end. I find it's a good way to look at the things I learn -- in all contexts; but of course, one person's way may not be another person's way, and probably the best way to work out if it's your way or not is to walk along it for a while.


[X] Phone Inland Revenue
[X] Make doctor's appointment
[X] Phone egg.com to sort out account
[X] Make balance transfer
[X] Send off things to people from ucam.adverts.giveaway

I am so organised. (Tchyeah.)

Bloody IR, though. I phoned them a few months ago and said "Help, I probably need to do tax returns". They said "Yes, you probably do, we'll send the forms." Then nothing, until I get a letter saying "Hello! You probably won't need to do tax returns again." I phone again this time and they said "No, you don't need to do tax-returns, you just need to write to us and declare how much you earned and then we'll send you a form which is a bit like a tax-return form where you can fill out all the same information you've just told us." Obviously that's so much simpler. Grrr.

And bloody Egg, too. I managed to lock myself out of my account by trying wrong passwords to test whether the spurious error message I was getting varied according to what I did (yeah, okay, I probably shouldn't have prodded it like that), so I had to phone up and reset my password. It now appears to work with NS7, which is nice, but they clearly haven't a clue what browsers their stuff runs on, or in fact what a web-browser is. Last time I was told it only works on IE6, this time they said "Well, it should work on everything... really... except AOL, we had some problems with that." Sigh.