One Feature too Few

I spent a small part of CyberMonday on the edge of spending $1700 on an electric bicycle. There were lots of good reasons to like the bicycle I was looking at, but one really big reason I ended up passing on the sale: no service information. None. Zero information on how to repair or maintain this relatively expensive (by my standards) vehicle.

imagesThe kiddies who buy, modify, and farkel-up this particular brand of eBike are convinced “the future is internet based” and YouTube is the “wave of the future.” Obviously, YouTube is today and will most likely not even exist in the near future. Everything gets replaced by the next thing and YouTube is barely this century technology. We’ve gone through at least a dozen iterations of the “next new thing” that will replace decent service manuals and we keep coming back to the one way humans have learned to transfer complicated information: writing and technical illustrations.

In the 1940’s, television was the great educational hope. Television’s promoters spent a small fortune convincing the government that television would be the educational wave of the future. It wasn’t. However, the con job worked and television’s promoters got some powerful monopoly protection in the form of FCC regulation under the guise that something about television would be “public service.” For almost 40 years, the only public service provided by television (and radio) was forced by the Fairness Doctrine, but Reagan eliminated that in 1987. For-profit “education” companies are really spending big bucks trying revive television and on-line media as educational tools because it is incredibly cheap to provide. Cheap and good are not often comfortable bedfellows.

Of course those early video training films weren’t cheap, because film and unions were involved, but they also weren’t effective. I remember watching a Burroughs Corporation film training program on cassette tape head alignment in 1975. The presenter had to stop the projector multiple times to explain what we’d just seen because the complicated task of getting azimuth and zenith exactly right was barely mentioned in the video and, with the heads used and the tape speed, that was critical for both data acquisition and storage and head and tape life. Some Burroughs word processing machines couldn’t make it through a day without wreaking a tape or two and losing a day’s work when the tape broke during backup. The video, typically, dwelled on easy shit like installing a tape drive or cassette, magnetic tape theory, and Burroughs’ corporate history and blew past the actual information like it was some sort of contagious virus. A month later, Burroughs flew me from Omaha to Hauppauge, New York to teach a class on cassette head alignment to their in-house techs. A year or so later and Burroughs was out of the mini-computer and dedicated office machine education-teaching-adult_class-adult_learning-gadget-website-upload-aban1537_lowbusiness.

Over the next 40 years, I have had several equally disappointing (if you take training seriously) or hilarious (if you don’t take humans seriously) video training experiences. For the last 25 years of my career, I taught industrial technology in medical devices and, later, music technology at a music college. In that time, I experienced a whole “video revolution” in training; from VHS (far cheaper than film) to digital video and non-linear editing to PowerPoint with a little of everything included. I used both video and PowerPoint in my own presentations, but I never relied on either for conveying complicated information. For that, I had reading assignments, homework, and labwork. After I retired, I took a couple of on-line courses through my local community college; because they were cheap and I was curious. Both classes were, by design and out of necessity, remedial. The instructors were remote and barely technically qualified to instruct in their subjects and the video material used was . . . freakin’ terrible. Obviously, I am infected with confirmation bias, but I doubt that you could present evidence that would make me doubt my opinion even slightly.

So, when I criticized the short-term and lazy thinking of an eBike manufacturer’s simplistic and mostly-useless video “manuals,” I got this response, “Funny you think you are correct because you are in the older generation and your years of experience tell you this FACT. Realistically the future will all be YouTube. The headlight LED kits I buy are all online links to installation (for my truck). My generation prefers online links to learn from watching vs reading. Its all opinion and your views vs others. The difference is your generation thinks your way is better when mine thinks our way is different and works for us. Get off your high horse. The future is internet based.” We’ll see, kiddy. I have been there and done that and while you live in luxury in your mommy’s basement watching YouTube and convincing yourself you’re learning something, I doubt that you’ll have a 55 year career doing anything that requires skill or knowledge.

In the end, I let the lack of product support make the decision for me. I let the sale price pass and decided to stick with repairing (on my own) the used bike in my basement. Nearly $2k for an unsupported product (last year’s model) with an undetermined life-expectancy and no useful repair information is beyond my personal and economic means.


Men’s Lives Matter?

stop-male-suicide-International-Mens-day-Nov-19-2017tI’m on a mail list with a few local guys. Mostly, the point of the mail list is about motorcycles, but one of the guys is growing some kind of facial hair for the Movember organization. Supposedly, this organization is looking for the magic bullet to slow up the rate of deaths by male suicides (white men are 70% of the 35,000 suicides in the US) and prostate and testicular cancer. I can only say, “Good luck.”

Humorously, the organization claims to "know what works for men" and somehow they expect to reduce male suicides by 25% in 2030. I prowled the organization's website following all of the "how we're going to win the fight" links to the expected proclamations of doing something and I didn't see any evidence that Movember knows more about what they are doing than do the so-called healthcare and mental health "professionals." In fact, as WebMD reports "One doctor commits suicide in the U.S. every day -- the highest suicide rate of any profession. And the number of doctor suicides -- 28 to 40 per 100,000 -- is more than twice that of the general population . . ." And, as you’d expect, for every female doctor who commits suicide there are seven men offing themselves. "Male anesthesiologists are at highest risk," for some reason. If doctors don’t have access to solutions to depression mental healthcare, how will Movember manage to reach everyone else? They won’t. As for Movember, H.L. Menken once said something like “For every complex problem there is a simple solution . . . that won’t work.” I didn’t see anything on the Movember website that looked like they even had a simple solution to propose.

The problem is not just a US-thing, either. Men and doctors and male doctors kill themselves at a higher-than-average rate all over the world. If there isn’t a solution, at least there ought to be some attempt to find the reasons for suicides. One of the most interesting insights I heard recently, when a European psychologist was responding to an American right wing pundit crowing about how societies with the highest quality of life and general satisfaction are also among the countries with the highest suicide rate; again, particularly high among men. The response was that there seems to be some connection to the fact that, in a generally happy society, people who are depressed feel particularly miserable about not being part of all that joy. The distance between the average person living their lives and someone with mental illness may feel exaggerated in a country where the average person is more-than-typically happy.

lucy-van-pelt-psychiatristIn the US, mental “healthcare” is pretty much getting a drug prescription for anxiety, depression, or “tiredness” from your doctor. All of the available health insurance plans pay more for pills than for therapy; if they pay for therapy at all. For starters, there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals in the US. The reason is that insurance companies don’t cover that kind of “healthcare.” For example, in my home area, Goodhue County, Minnesota, there is one psychiatrist for every 15,000 residents. Since estimates of the country’s mental health assume about 7% of US citizens have suffered depression at some time and 3-4% suffer long term depression and another 18% suffer from some form of anxiety, that leaves a lot of people out in the cold; even if they were inclined to put themselves on a decades-long waiting list to see a mental health professional. So, the answer is “take a pill” and call me in a year or two if you aren’t feeling better about yourself; if you are still alive.”

Men and boys are in heavy denial, insisting that the problem with us isn't from the outside. Wrong. It's us and our cultural training. There is a video on YouTube from a trans-guy who commented on how he hadn't realized how inhumane male culture is until he became one. There wasn’t much information in his speech, but the comments were informative. There was a crowd of guys pretending “inhumane” means “inhuman” and lots of nitwits imagining that being a macho bully has a place in normal, rational society. My takeaway from the comments was that the people who comment on YouTube videos are not very insightful.  

40 years ago, a friend and I were swimming out to scuba dive on San Clemente reef on a stormy day with 8' waves and 2' visibility and he wondered what we'd be doing with our lives; since we'd clearly outlived our design parameters. His thought was that guys like us were evolved to die with an axe in our skulls or a sword in our guts at about 22. At that moment, we were both in our early 30’s. Since we’d failed in our evolutionary purpose, his question was “What the hell are we supposed to do with the 30-50 years evolution has unprepared us for?” Obviously suicide is the answer about 30,000 US men pick. It is pretty obvious that there is an oversupply of men on the planet and war just isn't doing the job it used to do with rectifying that imbalance. The overwhelming majority of terrrorists and suicide bombers are men and they are just following nature’s coding to try to take themselves out of the gene pool.

Society provides plenty of cues, too. There wouldn't be OSHA labor laws if those rules were only intended to protect men from work injury and death. The whole concept began when women ended up in factories during WWII. As part of researching noise-induced hearing damage for material in one of my Acoustics classes, I found more information about how quickly work noise rule enforcement vanished once women were back out of the munitions factories. The whining from companies about OSHA's rarely-enforced or obeyed hearing protection rules is pretty hilarious when you learn that those guidelines came from 1944 and they are so obsolete (useless when it comes to protecting your hearing for a lifetime) that the rest of the industrialized world (outside of China) has a whole different set of standards and objectives. Again, if the point is in protecting men, it’s pointless to worry about it.

Likewise, a big reason men die from prostate cancer is men don't see doctors nearly as often as women. When we do we just want to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. I know I do. Many men (and women ) live those lives of "quiet desperation" and just want to get it over with as soon as possible.

nra_protectionAs for men and mental health, forget about it. This country decided long ago that the wealth of a few is far more important than the health and quality of life of the many. It's one of the many awful things we adopted from the UK. I don't see that ever changing. It was something Alexis de Tocqueville commented on in "Democracy in America" in 1835. The rich will have all the healthcare they can choke down and everyone else will be victims of our "wealth extraction" healthcare practical joke. All of that adds up to the obvious fact that we don’t care about any of this, as a nation. The only time mental health gets into the national conversation is after some idiot has shot up a school, church, restaurant, or some other public place. Then, it's just to distract us from wondering why gun manufacturers are so well-insulated from product liability. And we are one really easily distracted public. The NRA and their gangster-owned politicians and pundits quickly go into a “don’t regulate guns, regulate crazy people” song-and-dance that is increasingly ineffective at distracting the majority of Americans. So far, it’s working well enough, though. It will always be true that “you can fool some of the people all of the time.”