The War On Competence

There is a war on.  People who can do things, even just the things our parents could do, or less, are losing.

I noticed it first in elementary school.  Not MY elementary school, with a tiny class and an 70 year old teacher who always seemed faintly surprised when someone wasn’t learning.  And who backed her surprise with a wooden ruler when she thought someone was WILLFULLY not learning.  (Yeah, she sometimes misfired on that.  There were obvious disabilities, like the mentally slow girl to whom she was very gentle, but dyslexia and transposing of letters she was sure was a prank someone was playing on her. It didn’t go well for the dyslexics.  I managed my number thing almost imperceptibly, but the friend who just scrambled letters was number one target for a while.)

No, I noticed it in the kids’ public school, when they entered.  Both boys — in retrospect — went to school knowing how to read. (We didn’t know how well the younger read, but well enough to fetch me my book as in “I left my book somewhere, it’s Death on the Nile.  Go find” and bring me the right one in a household carpeted and littered with books. The older, we first spotted he could read before his brother was born, when he was not quite yet 3.  And he was reading middle grade books, then.  By six when he entered school we often discussed Roman history or Heinlein juveniles over breakfast.

A few weeks into the school year, I noticed something odd.  I’d gotten used to the convenience of having him fetch my book, but suddenly books brought back just had a couple of letters in the title in common.  Or when we were somewhere like a museum I’d notice him “guessing”  comparable became compared, say. Also, he stopped reading as much and went into comics.

I finally lost it and asked him if he’d been hit on the head and forgot how to read.  “We’re not supposed to read.  We’re supposed to look at the word and guess.”

I descended on the school like the wrath of me and was informed they weren’t teaching him whole word, oh, no.  That technique didn’t work.  They were teaching WHOLE LANGUAGE.  But yep.  No sounding out, nothing like that.  That was boring.  They had them guess both what the word was and what it meant.

I realized I couldn’t change the school and for various reasons I thought I couldn’t homeschool.  So years of shouting “READ THE DAMN WORD, DON’T GUESS.” started.

The older son recovered almost immediately.  The younger son, being stubborn and really wanting to fit in still has moments — usually when very tired — when he guesses.  And then I shout “Stop sounding illiterate.  READ.”

A friend told me the purpose of this was to have all the kids start at the same level, but what sense does it make?  Kid comes in already doing what you’re supposed to tell him?  Let him do it.

Then comes foreign language teaching.  “Immersion” is a dirty word.  Oh, it works fine (sort of) if you’re really immersed.  I.e. everyone tells me that’s how the secret service does it.  What, two hours a day and never any grammar?  Bullsh*t. Days of immersion and then grammar and translation of some words to correct the patois you’ll pick up?  Sure.

If total immersion worked auto-magically, then Mexicans working here would be absolutely fluent and perfect at it within months.

I hear everywhere Americans just don’t learn other languages.  But that’s not true.  Americans aren’t TAUGHT other languages.  Not in a way anyone can learn.  After four years of watching my son hit his head against the wall of French (which NO ONE EVER in my family had trouble learning) I took his summer away to learn it the way I did it: lists of vocabulary, books of verbs, endless grammar drills, and reading the Three Musketeers in French.  By the end of summer he was fluent.  (We don’t do it much now.  Well, he doesn’t live at home.  But when we made runs to the hardware store or whatever we often spoke in French to each other, (mostly in the car) to keep in practice.)

But there is worse.  Lately I’ve been running into a new category “people who can’t do their jobs.”  And these aren’t just our manual labor imports, I mean, people who supposedly are trained and certified and either can’t or won’t do their jobs.

I know everyone was very impatient with me last year when I was fixing the house for sale, but honestly, there is a reason I do all the manual labor I can.  The reason is the tile wall I paid someone 1500 to fix (it had fallen.  Long story) and which fell in the night, the day after he put it up.  He’d mixed the adhesive wrong.  So he came back and fixed it.  It fell again.  The third time I got a book (this was before youtube) figured how to do it and did it.  This wasn’t an isolated incident.  It just keeps happening when someone comes over to fix something.  So if I can, I do it.

But there’s more serious cases, like the guy who replaced our brakes but didn’t replace the brake cables. Leading to us losing brake power 15 minutes later.  (Thank G-d someone was looking out for us.  We lost it a) when Dan was driving.  I’d have panicked.  Well, he did too, but… he works even panicked.  b) we were JUST outside a garage c) we’d been going very slowly.)  Or the doctor who convinced himself my 13 year old had an STD and wouldn’t listen to the kid when he insisted he was a virgin.  If I hadn’t gone over his head to a urologist, and told the boy to stop taking the antibiotic that was making him ill, my son would probably have died within months.  (Of the problem, which was rare, but not unheard of particularly in early teens.  As in the urologist identified it on symptoms alone.)

I’ve been given completely wrong instructions by someone selling me a machine or a product.  I’ve had ghastly things done to garments or objects taken in for repair because the person who was supposedly an expert on this just couldn’t do it.

And I’ve heard of “programmers” who steal code from sites on line, and cannot actually tell what it does, leading to spaghetti coding that makes no sense.  (A friend of mine is a QA person for such code.  Two friends, actually.  Both have lost a considerable quantity of hair and have dents in their forehead.)

Publishing… well, there’s a reason the houses are floundering. And it’s not just the innovation, the end of push marketing, or the fact they can’t wrap heads around Amazon. That’s all I’ll say.  Every time someone tells me they can’t go indie because how do they know the book is good if no professional has read it, I remember when I was sitting in a panel with the editor of my friend’s book, (professional, one of the big five) and it became clear not only hadn’t she read the book, but she had only skimmed the proposal.  I later watched for the tells and (other than Baen) most of my books were published without anyone but the copyeditor even looking at them.  And the copyeditor often sounded like she (it was always a she) had a high school education, even the ones editing history books.

Movie making.  Director’s cuts are illuminating.  “I filmed that scene, then it didn’t work. I don’t know why” — usually the reason is a gross error in basic storytelling.  One anyone who had read a couples of plotting books could fix.  But billionaires in Hollywood have no clue.  They were never trained.

So, what is going on?

Lots of things.  Look, I’m a science fiction writer.  It’s easy for me to say “There is a conspiracy by aliens, to make sure we never get to the stars.  They infiltrated our education establishment and are destroying competence from within.

Except it’s not just education, and I don’t believe in aliens or that ALL of this is done on purpose.

But Sarah, you’ll say, some of it is, like Bill Ayers redesigning education as a means to bring about a biddable proletariat.

Oh, sure, that might have been how the dumbass conceived it.  It’s not why it’s applied though.  And dumbass?  Yep.  Bill Ayers, like most progressives is a clever fool who thinks society spins on words and theories, and not on basic “can do”.  This is one of the reasons communist societies QUICKLY become hell on Earth. Because you can’t get rid of everyone who is competent without the rest of society collapsing.  The ceiling doesn’t stay up when you remove the walls.  People who’ve been educated beyond their competence, don’t see that, though.

Still, most people who APPLY his poisonous ideas aren’t frankly competent enough to know what they’re doing.  No.  They’re doing it for other reasons.

  • Stupidity – the most powerful force on Earth.
    There are any number of people who’ll do whatever without thinking because someone in authority tells them not only that they should, but that “it’s the new way of doing things.  All the smart people follow it.” And frankly they’re not competent enough to evaluate the “new way of doing things” so they settle for APPEARING smart.
  • Rapid change.
    Even in the village, the teacher often floundered.  They’d added pre-history to the curriculum, and she’d never studied it.  So… her idea of pre-history was the Flintstones.  I came home talking about cars made of stone (I wish I’d had a camera to take  picture of dad’s face.) Mom and dad corrected it.  NO BIG.
    If my kids are maleducated in the same way say, about computers, I can’t fix it.  What’s more, I’m not alone.  H*ll I found out the model of the atom I learned was superseded and that the physics I learned was not at all like what the kids learned (they thought I was nuts.)  AND when Robert came home and told me “We’re sequencing DNA in lab.  When you sequenced DNA–”
    No, it’s not a complete excuse, no matter what they tell you, but it is PART of it.  Not in teachers not being able to keep up, but in parents or even grandparents no longer being able to fill in those deficiencies.
    The same applies to just about any type of work, btw, because the methods are so different now that the old codger who walked to the shop and corrected the new hires?  He no longer can teach them anything.
  • A belief in “natural” things and “natural” learning and that if it’s not fun, it’s not right.  This apparently is the flowering of the student revolts in the sixties.  It is certainly what is destroying marriage as an institution.
    You see, every marriage goes through rough patches.  I probably have one of the happiest marriages in the world, but yeah, there were days, evenings, and sometimes entire months when I’d have traded the whole thing for ten cents and a pack of chewing gum.  It’s just I knew it had been good and would be again.
    The same applies to learning.  I don’t care how “gifted” you are at math or languages or even writing, you are not gifted enough to intuit the whole thing at our present level.  NO MATTER HOW GIFTED YOU ARE, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO RECONSTITUTE AN ENTIRE SCIENCE OR ART WITHOUT LEARNING.  And learning means some tedium, some memorizing and the inevitable patch that is difficult, even though everything else came easily.
    When the entire establishment goes over for “should be fun” you’re going to fail.
  • Fear.
    People who are mal-educated and conscious of it don’t hire people who know more than they do.  Okay, so some do, but not many and those people are exceptional.  This is why the whole “The president can be a dumbass if he hires good advisors” always fails, as we have proof daily.  People don’t want their subordinates to upstage them.  Any of you who EVER corrected a boss knows exactly what I’m talking about.
    So, let’s imagine that this started with the student revolts (it started a little earlier, with the busy parents who came back from WWII not passing things on.)
    Those people hit the market place and hired people my generation who were LESS prepared than they were.  They were AFRAID of being exposed. Then my generation hired people less prepared and then…

So what to do about it?

Some of us, and from the comments I suspect a lot of people here, are stubborn cusses who insisted on learning and being competent. We’re doers. Yeah, a lot of it when we tried to learn it was like trying to decipher arcane scrawls on cave walls. Among the things I’ve taught myself are stuff like ironing and how to actually clean a house, not just sort of pretend to. Also, tiling, painting walls, building porches. And it could be argued I taught myself writing. Yes, there are tons of books on it. Most are of the “if it feels good, do it” persuasion. I’m still learning. And while I understand every writer do this, I feel as though I not only didn’t get the basics in school, but I was actively lied to. This is why I TRY to counter some of my learning, like the notion to character is good or clean.

Don’t be afraid of competence.  Correct, clean up, learn.  (The more you learn the more you’ll spot errors.)  Teach the kids.  Work.  Be competent yourself, even if it means being your own mentor.

We’re reaching a critical point where everyone is running on make-believe competency, certainly in any large organization.  This cannot go on.  What can’t go on, won’t.

And when it collapses, we’ll need competent people.

An abundant society can survive incompetents.  A lean society, living close to the bone, can’t.

Are there enough of us to keep things up when the walls collapse?  I don’t know.  Impossible to tell.  Though the proliferation and popularity of youtube videos on how to do stuff from basic to complex would seem to indicate so, as would the maker movement, as would a lot of millenials who can detect bullsh*t a mile away and who want to learn to DO.  And then there’s the fact the human animal is infinitely adaptable and when adaption is learning, it will learn.

Maybe even in time.
Teach your children well and build under, build around, build beside.  Our makeshift structures just might end up uplifting a crushing load.  Maybe not tomorrow, but certainly not far off now.

And the ceiling must stay up.

680 thoughts on “The War On Competence

  1. I think you missed one more factor: Prosperity. A prosperous society can afford incompetence. Can afford to correct larger mistakes. In a poor society, incompetence kills much faster, and people learn not to tolerate it.

    Let us hope we do not relearn this lesson any time soon.

  2. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Sarah nails it here. especially the spiral down to general incompetence. The fact that the US has been more or less prosperous and at peace for the last 70 years has allowed the rot to develop and the antifragile systems to be larded over with layers of incompetence.

      1. Early on, Dan, who learns because he enjoys learning, found some bosses took concerted hits on him to stop him getting the things done that he was supposed to do.
        Kate has had reviews that boil down to “Stop being good at this.”
        So, I believe you.

        1. “Stop being good at this.”

          Ouch. I boggle, but then I am trying to convince some folks that they ought to be good at some rather simple things. And then I think of some school stuff where those around me… alright, ox slow, yes? Some even slower than ox. And not from clear and obvious problem/issue. Just… dunno… severe case of doangivadam?

          1. If everyone is slow, then more people will be hired. If one worker shows that work can be done quickly and efficiently, then all have higher standards to meet.
            Competence and enthusiasm are punished by your peers.

            1. Competence will be punished by your bosses as well as by your peers.
              Some years back, after being a stay-at-home mom for 7 years, I got a job in at Sprint United Telecom. Part of my job was billing for commercial customers. There were about 25 of us who did the billing.

              I worked hard, because I wanted to prove myself (they made much of hiring someone who had stayed at home for 7 years, after all, they were taking a huge chance on me)

              After about 6 months, I was pulled into a room of my peers by my supervisor. They each took turns telling me that I made them feel bad about themselves because I did too much work and I understood how to do it so easily.

              Yes, I made my co-workers feel bad about themselves because I was too good at my job.

              I was told that I needed to shape up and do a mediocre job so they would feel better about their abilities.

              So I stood up, to leave the room, and my supervisor pushed me back down to my chair.

              I left anyway, and went to the manager of the department, who told me that I had irritated people since the beginning when we were all in training and I learned everything so quickly.

              We had breaks where we played Trivial Pursuit, and my manager told me that I knew too many answers, and that is why no one liked me.

              So I went to the director. He realized that everything that had been done to me was horrible, but his answer was to offer to let me not work yet pay me.

              I was lucky enough to be able to transfer to the helpdesk, where I was happy and did well for some years, until some other supervisor got pissed off that I knew more than he did.

              God. When did it become a bad thing to do a good job?

              How can people teach their children to have a good work ethic when people in management don’t want to get too much done too quickly.

              1. Pushed you back down to your chair? I’m not one to lightly pull the law suit trigger; but had that happened to me or to someone in my presence, someone would lose their job THAT DAY. And if it were me to lose my job, the lawsuit would be on their desk the day after.

                  1. I’ve had rather boring jobs before where the only way to stay sane was to daydream… er multitask. Plot out a story or plan my weekend while pulling pipe out of a well.

              2. I’ve been told more than once that I’m too efficient. No one was crass enough to actually tell me to slow down, but I was directed, in a pointed manner, to be more thorough.

                When I found out others in the office thought I was a ‘guru’ on a particular piece of software I was appalled, because my level of knowledge was barely better than ‘trained monkey’. The idea that such minimal knowledge was sufficient to mark someone a ‘guru’ was deeply frightening to me.

                  1. I don’t know if “competent” is the right word– maybe “workmanlike”?

                    It might be an introvert thing; I have an abject horror of embarrassment, of doing things badly. So if I have to do them, then I will do the best job that I can– even if it’s making *looks over at kitchen* Linguine with tomato and broccoli spaghetti sauce, and Texas Toast garlic bread.
                    (Added some old bay spice to the water for the noodles; turned out very nicely, although I can’t actually taste it on the noodles– just taste the different interaction in contrast to taste-testing the sauce.)

                    1. Hubby and I both cook (somewhat–we use a lot of precooked food that just to be reheated.) I use a Fasta Pasta that cooks pasta in the microwave. It’s faster than boiling doesn’t require as much liquid. I cook my pasta in chicken broth. It adds a lot of flavor to the pasta. We use store-bought sauce. I may try to make my own sauce in the future because I have a very low tolerance for spice and or pepper. I tolerate pepper as well as some people tolerate gluten.

                      I love kitchen gadgets! They make cooking so much easier! Crock pots are life savers. You dump meat, veggies and whatever and you’re done! Bread machines are great that way too. Food can be cooked in the toaster oven not just toast. Not to mention the George Foreman grill.

                      If you lived near me I’d lend you some of my kitchen toys.

                    2. If something is worth doing, it is especially worth doing barely competently if that is as good as it gets. It takes a certain bravery to go out and do something hard. What is hard is totally personal.

                    3. to emily61
                      pasta/chicken sauce, great idea, i’m stealing it. ok how about a trade
                      instant rice. use chicken broth instead of water. (and if you already know/do this … i’m still stealing your idea

                    4. feel free to use anything I mention. I don’t make rice any more, it’s too binding on me.

                    5. I don’t know if “competent” is the right word– maybe “workmanlike”?

                      “Don’t stop to talk. I don’t care if you talk, but keep moving. That’s the ‘secret’ to getting things done. Really. Just keep moving.”

                      And yet, oh the ‘and yet’.

                1. My first Government job was to take a limited amount of work and stretch it to the available time. I was so much happier to move to a position where the reward for good work was even more workload. Staying busy is much easier than looking busy.
                  I was labeled the Alpha-Geek, but often, it was less of what you knew than it was knowing to ask when you needed the expert.

                  1. I’m thankful I’m a temp there. My queue is empty most of the time but I also try and do it right. The issue comes when getting paid requires you to be actively working and your list of jobs is empty (How I got temped over here).

                2. Later, at the same company, only somehow I managed to get into the IT dept. via being on the help desk, I got a fancy award for being so efficient from one boss to have the next boss despise me because I made him look bad. Go figure.

                  Again, goats are better to work with than most people.

                3. I efficiencied myself out of a temp position once. It was supposed to be several weeks long, and on Thursday of the first week I and the temp agency were informed that they wouldn’t need me anymore as there was nothing left for me to do. What really pissed me off about this was that I’d been pulled out of another long term gig for this one because the temp agency needed someone mature enough to avoid being pulled into the office politics. So after 4 days I didn’t have either position. Grrrr.

                  1. Did something similar, during the first big refi rush of ’90- We had to file all these appraisals and other paperwork… so i took an empty spot of floor where two desks had been removed and put post it notes a-z on them, then sorted several boxes of folders, then put them back in the boxes and sorted all the As, etc,,, so rather than having an armful of folders and walking back and forth and back and forth filing them, I presorted them and was filing them away a box at a time.

                4. I get that. Most places I’ve been, it’s either the boss who is happy to throw problems my way, then gets suspicious and fells threatened when I actually solve them or (rarely, and best of all) the ones that say “I want to see ‘X’ done. I don’t care how you do it, but I do care how quickly and how well. Here’s how I do it. Now, you’ll probably only see me again at the company picnic or when you screw up…”

                  1. The greatest compliment a boss ever gave me was when he told me “you’re the kind of tech I can send down to cover a job being watched by Naval Reactors or a job that just needs to get done. You know the rules, you know which rules you can break, and you know when you can break the rules.”

                5. Guru: person one page ahead in the manual.

                  Worse, once you get the label, you can’t shake it.

              3. I ran into that a lot when I worked “menial” jobs (before going back to school and getting my degree). Since then I’ve only worked one place (for the past 19 years–has it really been that long?) and my boss actually appreciates when I do good work. 😉

                1. You are very lucky! There are plenty of bosses in all fields, (mine ended up being IT Consulting) who demonstrate the Peter Principle.

                2. I worked a number of menial jobs my first few years out of school, and while I had the ‘overcompetence’ issue with a couple fellow employees, I never had it from a boss. Then I went to work for an outfit I really enjoyed working for. It wasn’t a work environment everybody could handle, if you screwed up where it came to the boss’s attention, he would throw a rigging fit (screaming, yelling, cussing, possibly throwing and likely kicking stuff)… but you always knew where you stood with him, you could scream and yell right back, he wasn’t going to fire or threaten to fire you for ‘insubordination’ and when he was done throwing a fit, that was the end of it, he didn’t hold a grudge. He was all about competence, and production. He rewarded people that produced, and gave those that didn’t the ax. Many of the employees had been trained by the same guy who trained the boss, and coincidentally most of the crews were ran the same way. Our company got as much work as five other companies in the same field and netted about twice what any of those five companies netted. When I became a crew chief I ran my crew the same way. I first had a Mormon boy just out of high school to train, good hard worker, I had him for a year until he went on his mission, and I didn’t realize what I had. I was working out of town, and only coming home on the weekends, when he left I went through five guys in five weeks. When I sent them home on Friday I would tell the boss, “don’t bother to send them back up next week.” Finally I got a little better quality, I think the next one lasted over a month. And three or four more down the road I got one who to the best of my knowledge is still working there. Dumber than a stump, but a hard worker, and trainable… even if you did have to explain things in small words and multiple times.
                  I just thought that was the way things should be ran, production was the bottom line, employees produce or they hit the road. I mean why keep dead wood? Then I quit that job and moved. Boy was I in for a shock at my new place of employment. Let’s just say you did things the way they had always been done, not the most efficient way, you weren’t allowed to improve on them, you did NOT increase production over what the boss said it should be (minimal underproduction was acceptable, but overproduction better be extremely rare) and you most certainly did not tell the boss he was an idiot, even when he was being one. There is a reason I am primarily self employed, and an even bigger reason I seldom hire anybody. That one job (that I held for considerably less than ten years) heavily reinforced what I was taught growing up, and I haven’t got over that. I have no patience for either laziness or stupidity. And of the two I would much rather have stupid, with enough loss of hair, I can probably train stupidity (if it is subordinate to me, stupidity in superiors is considerably harder to train) but I simply do not COMPREHEND employers continueing to employ the lazy.

                  1. I used to work on oilwell maintenance rigs. A three or four man crew depending on the type of job. Nasty, dirty work. Company did not care who you were as long as you could handle the job. Met and worked with many ex-cons. Most were OK, just had abysmal impulse control. Anyway, I quit one crew because the other two were smoking pot on the job. Got nothing against it off the job, but ‘big iron can kill a body’.

                    The only opening was on a crew run by a man with a rep like bearcat’s. He was famous for running guys off. The dispatcher apologized but said if I wanted hours, it was on rig 12. Anyway, we start the day and the third man is being chewed out for every little mistake. I was just doing my job and he didn’t say anything to me. Later we’d pulled rods and were rigging up to pull tubing and he started screaming at me to do something else. I stopped and yelled “Shut the F*ck up! I know what needs to be done. I’m doing this first. That was second on my list. You keep screaming at me and I’ll shut your mouth for you!” He just stood there and finally said. “Well damn! They finally sent me a man instead of a useless p*ssy.” We got along great for the next two years.

                    I alternately loved and hated that time. Steel is strong but bends, You run pipe in a deep hole and the rig squats down when the driller lowers the brake. When the slips grab the pipe you unlatch the elevators and the rig stand up straight again. The blocks race up and the derrick hand throws the pipe and latches the elevators while the driller lowers the brake again. A good driller lifts the pipe just high enough for the floor hand to stab the pipe. Then you pull on the hydraulic tongs to spin the pipe tight then back the tongs up until the door opens and you throw them off. The driller pops the pipe up and drops that stand of pipe down the hole. With a good crew, it can be a dance for three men and a rig. Good times. Then again I don’t miss cleaning up with a rag and a diesel bucket.

                    Seeing the broken down old guys is why I finally went to college 15 years out of high school.

                    1. I quit one crew because the other two were smoking pot on the job. Got nothing against it off the job, but ‘big iron can kill a body’.

                      Given how THC builds up in the brain over time, to the point that long-term pot smokers start exhibiting mild amounts of “stoned” behavior even when they haven’t smoked anything (yet) that day, I’d probably quit that crew even if they were only smoking off the job.

                      I’m generally in favor of marijuana legalization, since it causes less damage than alcohol and we all know how alcohol prohibition went, but with one exception. I would only support marijuana-legalization legislation if it included a provision that long-term use permanently disqualified you from having a driver’s license and operating heavy machinery. Basically, past a certain level of long-term use, you’re never NOT under the influence, and thus are disqualified from driving because your reflexes aren’t good enough to be safe. (How you’d measure and define that would have to be carefully worked out, of course.)

                      Later we’d pulled rods and were rigging up to pull tubing and he started screaming at me to do something else. I stopped and yelled “Shut the F*ck up! I know what needs to be done. I’m doing this first. That was second on my list. You keep screaming at me and I’ll shut your mouth for you!” He just stood there and finally said. “Well damn! They finally sent me a man instead of a useless p*ssy.” We got along great for the next two years.

                      Love that story. Thanks for telling it. With so many bad examples being mentioned in this discussion, it’s nice to have a reminder of what a GOOD relationship with your boss can look like.

              4. Have you never read The Peter Principle? In a hierarchy, supercompetence is vastly more objectionable than incompetence. The incompetent are an annoyance at worst and often a valuable resource when you need to justify a greater budget and more resources. The supercompetent threaten the whole organization.

                1. Yes, I read it years and years and years ago. Probably 2/3 of my bosses had reached their particular levels of incompetence.

                  I did not want to be a boss, and that’s what screwed my career at a couple of companies. I was just happy doing what I did. I did it well, my customers, internal and external were very happy with me, but the big bosses wanted to see movement up onto the precarious ladder of management, and I declined.

                  1. I much prefer managing ideas and machines. A much less stressful career choice.

              5. One of the first jobs I was at was call center CS for a major bank in Australia. I was good at it – I could understand accents, even when mixed in with other country accents (I had this one guy who was mixing deep Scottish brogue with Australian and NOBODY ELSE could understand the poor man*) I tended to get the jobs where someone old or foreign-but-moved-to Australia and trying to speak English was on the phone. And while my call handling time was crap (Old people are sweet, but most of them were very confused by new phones, and you wanted to somehow hug them because most of the time they were nearly in tears and terrified they were wasting my time. Seriously.) So while I had crap call handling time, my customer reviews were awesome.

                The female floor managers absolutely hated me because the handsome trainer they were all trying to seduce praised me for handling difficult customers. They came up with ways to try disgrace me in front of the Australian trainers (it didn’t work; it was too transparent) and one of them made the mistake of trying to yell at me about my wearing black clothes when someone from upper management was walking by and stopped and said “There’s nothing wrong with what she’s wearing, it’s within the dress code.” They couldn’t take me to task for my work performance so they picked on me for petty shit.

                Toxic, that kind of environment. I eventually left because the early flatscreen monitors were giving me problems, coupled with the lighting. But I never wanted to work with people in a corporate again since then. I did my best to be one of the faceless, but I seem to have too strong a personality to do that. I don’t have to talk, I just stand there and people feel intimidated.

                1. *There was this one guy, who insisted being called doctor (followed by unpronounceable name that sounded like Mblwblwblehblew) who was doing his level best to keep using both some sub-Saharan African tribal accent and mixing it in with both Upper Class Brit AND the most bogan ‘strine you could get. That man stands out in my head for both being ridiculously insecure (30 minutes of the call was him lecturing me on how to get his name right, which I could not because of the mix of accents, and ranting on racism) and when I finally got a word in edgewise, it was to threaten to cut the call because obviously the problem was not a banking issue and that wasn’t something I could help him with. At which point there was this girly shriek and “No, I have a banking issue! But I want you to say my name right!”

                  I said “If you want me to fix your banking issue, I will call you ‘sir’ and leave it at that so I can actually fix your problem. But if it is your name that is more important, I am being required by my supervisor to terminate the call. Which shall it be?”

                  “…you wanted my account number?”

                  The supervisor in question was this guy with long dreds, and he said “Those guys always have a huge fucking chip in their shoulder that nobody outside of Africa can get their names right. The ones that leave Africa and actually want to get things done make like the Chinese and pick up a Western name as an alias, legally. The fuck was up with that accent though?” He gave me a ten minute break.

        2. “Stop being good at this.”

          That’s… disheartening.

          I am going to take a minute here to appreciate that the people my husband and I are working for don’t DO that.

          1. I have quipped many a time that I should have gone into raising donkeys.
            “Raising donkeys? Why?!”
            “I’d be dealing with fewer jackasses.” (and better quality!)

            1. I’ve been known to say I wish I’d been a plumber; I might still be dealing with crap but the pay is better and my job couldn’t be sent to Bangalore.

              1. Our plumber was an accountant until he realized at age 48 that he really wanted to know plumbing, so he managed to get a local plumbing firm hire him as an apprentice. He is now making probably 3 times what he made as a CPA, and he’s much happier.

          2. *grin*

            That’s why I raised and trained dogs for a long time. I’ve told someone more than once that I preferred dogs to people, as my dogs were smarter, more personable, better behaved, and more enthusiastic and more competent at their jobs than the majority of people I’ve known.

            I was told on more than one occasion that that made me a horrible person. But not by dog people. Every dog person I’ve ever known, including every breeder and trainer, not only agreed with me but felt the same way.

            Guess we were all horrible people. *grin*

            1. The way I see it, I’m much nicer to people because I spend so much time with animals than when I was in a cubicle farm all day every day.

              People exhaust me. Animals recharge me.

              I think that means I’m an introvert.

          3. Yes, goats appreciate what you do for them! I grew up on a small farm and we raised dairy goats.

        3. Oh, my, yes. (And I was the guy that wrote code that worked the first time and kept on working – Kate and I in the same company would have been… interesting.)

          Note on the copying of code – the competent also do that, when there is no sense in reinventing the wheel. I had one co-“worker” though who did that – but removed all of the comments from the code that he copied. My theory is that, if challenged, he would have been unable to explain the explanation of how it worked.

          Shrug. He was very good at the politics. I, on the other hand, am constitutionally unable to stop being good at something (the things that I am good at). Which is why I am trying to change professions these days…

            1. I had programmers reporting to me who did this. My theory was they were trying to become indispensable: the comments were often more unique and distinctive than the code, and if only they knew where the original code came from they were less likely to be laid off.

              In code reviews I used to try and stomp on this pretty hard, and in at least one particularly egregious case I remember finding the original code chunk and pasting it in over the uncommented stuff with an “updated code re-use source” TIFYFY comment added before we went live.

              And I would also explain to them that their grand and clever plan was doomed to fail: Layoffs were decided by HR and execs who had never seen their code, with the only technical input being any notes in their annual reviews that the HR fools didn’t skim over, in the end the only result would be that any layoff-surviving coworkers, cursed with supporting their undecipherable code, would spread the word far and wide throughout the relatively closed Silicon Valley coding community about the departed coders lack of skills and consideration, and that that reputaion would absolutely impact landing their next job.

          1. I once worked with a woman who deliberately kept the stockroom and stocking procedures confusing and obscure so that she would be the only one who knew how to do them.

            Claimed it made her indispensable to the company. Didn’t really have a good answer for what would happen when she was out sick or left the company for another job.

            After that, I was exceedingly glad to find a job at a place where SOP was to have written instruction for every job function, to be edited by the job doer, whenever the job procedure changed, so that changes in staffing caused minimal disruption to the daily operations.

            1. After that, I was exceedingly glad to find a job at a place where SOP was to have written instruction for every job function, to be edited by the job doer, whenever the job procedure changed, so that changes in staffing caused minimal disruption to the daily operations.

              Husband’s prior job he kept getting moved into new jobs about every 3 months because he’s really good at simplifying and writing usable instructions. 😀

              1. Sounds like he’s worth his weight in gold to his company. It helps to have simple written instructions when teaching someone or yourself how to do a new job/task.

                  1. And Exhibit A on why the occasional proposal not to let government contractors vote won’t fly: they won’t take the jobs and the government (including the essential parts) can’t function without them.

          2. stolen code…

            There was a story Aff related to me. A feminist was trying to infiltrate a local coding group, which was pretty much a free, friendly study group that was being provided at a local community hall, for learning how to either use Debian, or code in Debian, as well as teaching old people how to use computers. She had downloaded a portfolio’s worth of scripts and was trying to pass them off as hers, and got into an argument with one of the other women in the group (who was telling her there was no way that the scripts were hers because the feminist couldn’t even TELL them what they were for.) As she was arguing, one of the other folks leaned over, typed in a command that brought up the signature of the person who authored the code, at which point the feminist very quietly left, having been proven that she stole the scripts.

            One of Aff’s friends couldn’t resist telling Aff it was his scripts being stolen, and that they’d recognized the scripts.

        4. Just go into linked in and see the kind of things they talk about. I wish I could say that I was exaggerating when I say that the system seems determined to wipe out competence and ability but I can’t think that it can be doing anything else. Yet the people in HR don’t seem to see what is happening and keep putting more and more devices, excuses and systems to attack competence and insure that good people never get hired. Then they are complaining about the percentage of “bad hires.”

          1. I’m told that Linked In is essential to being hired in a lot of jobs these days.

            1. I’ve been stalked on LinkedIn (idiot who followed me here last year). LinkedIn didn’t seem to care. They also give me very weird job recommendations. I worked as a medical librarian. I’m not sure how this is supposed to qualify my as a Director of Nursing.

            2. I too was told it was essential. Yet somehow I managed to get my new job in spite of having a LinkdIn profile rather than because of it.

          2. Gresham’s Law applies to more than money. Once you get a critical mass of bad hires they will chase good hires off unless you start purging them.

            Minimum wage increases at regular intervals have really done that to the service industry. Your good employees want raises and deserve them. However, since you must give everyone a raise there is nothing left to give the good employees wages that differentiate them from the mediocre ones. Over time they learn competence is a bad deal and decide to give up on it.

            1. Or, as has happened to me, old-hire salaries stay close to what they hired in with, while new-hire salaries are 20% or more larger.

              Then they wonder why morale tanks…

              In a lot of places the only way to get a raise it to quit and get re-hired at a higher salary.

              And sometimes due to employee and management turnover, there is often no actual advancement path to follow; nobody has been there long enough for it to be an issue.

              1. Generally, If a congratulate so-and-so on their promotion email comes out, but they still report to the same boss, so-and-so just got a raise.

                Job title tweaks c=can be worth real money.

                1. The title controls what line in “the book” your range comes from. Jumping titles can mean a very much higher pay ceiling.

              2. Smart companies occasionally do salary reviews where they survey the salaries of people in your field with your experience and make sure that they aren’t underpaying someone critical to the point where they are looking to job-hop.

                I said ‘smart companies.’ I have had great fortune to work for some smart companies.

              1. I have GOT to read Parkinson’s book. I have his biography of Horatio Hornblower someplace, but not the book on bureaucracy.

            2. The thing here is that “bad hire” in this case doesn’t mean that the hire is incapable, it means that the hire quits or doesn’t “fit into the corporate culture” meaning that they wouldn’t put up with the BS.

          3. HR, the bane of efficiency in Western Civilization. My problem with them is they felt they were ‘qualified’ to determine the skill level of other fields. They didn’t do well with carpenters or pipe fitters, and when it got to Engineers, it was so sick it wasn’t even funny.

              1. Up to a point. In the shops I’ve worked in, it translates to: One guy who knows his arse from a hole in the ground to twenty thumb fingered screaming monkeys who are (at best) lazy or (at worst) actively trying to sabotage the one one guy they’re trying to work to death.

                Greater ratios usually result in the company failing. The bar is even lower for small businesses.

            1. Oh ghods… I ended up running into a problem where HR would give a new hire an existing account ID because they had the same name as the existing ID. I.e., new hire Bob Jones gets assigned userID abc1234, but that is being used by another Bob Jones who has been with the company for the past five years and if HR did some checking they might have noticed this.

              1. My cousin in law has run into the opposite solution– which is superior, but has funny effects. He’s firstname.lastname one through six, because he gets a new one each time he gets a different job title, plus his reserve work!

          4. HR is more concerned with making sure all the employees are getting all of their diversity classes than they are with making sure that the employees know WTF they are doing.

            1. Div. training the HR admins can go to a class and easily understand. What the employees need to know and do to be competent, not so much.

          5. I think things started to go to Heck in a Handbasket when they decided on “Human Resources” instead of “Personnel”.

            Resources are things which you use up or wear out and then replace. It doesn’t really help company morale to be thought of that way. Nor does it help “HR” do a good job when they start viewing all the other employees as simply widgets to use up and throw away like used tissues.

            1. I made good money being a resource at a company. I hated management, though – because they were quite sure that one resource was completely equal to another resource, no matter how much experience one might have compared to the other. Looking back on it, I suppose HR was pushing the whole SJW thing – it’s not fair for an employee with 17 years experience and great customer service skills to make more money than that H1-B visa holder from Pakistan, so we’ll replace the old person with the young Pakistani. That’s only fair.

              1. My Dad thought Catbert the Evil HR director was overdone. Then he watched Mom’s paperwork hoops to be able to do a part-time, fill-in job at Not Owned Here Med-R-Us Inc. Now he things Catbert is too competent.

        5. The danger is when you are the squeaky wheel. There is a project that is trying to keep ahead of the hubris that founded it that I try and stay off (I have asked management not to assign me to major tasks because of distrust). When someone said that the method they had was questionable and tried to get simpler options available, a reason to fire was found by management. Reason I stopped doing any volunteering or interacting with coworkers outside of work.

          1. So, let them visit the no ability doctors, nurses, dentists, and auto mechanics.

            The problem will then be self correcting.

          2. In a way, I wish he had not obscured the name of the moron who wrote the tweet, but the comeback tweet was priceless…..

      1. Is that why on Star Trek: the Next Generation they had the blind guy driving the spaceship?

        1. Let’s be fair, Geordi La Forge had a visor that allowed him to see.

          Thus he wasn’t a “blind man” flying a Starship. 😉

          1. Well, he got transferred anyway, and the Enterprise turned into Starfleet’s driver’s ed car when the kid got behind the wheel. 😉

            1. Well, what do you think about a warship that carries the families of the crew? 👿

              Sent from my ASUS Pad

              According To Hoyt wrote:

              > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ Randy Wilde commented: “Well, he got transferred anyway, and the Enterprise turned into Starfleet’s driver’s ed car when the kid got behind the wheel. ;)”

              1. Except that Federation starships were warships only in the sense that Coast Guard cutters are: it’s something they can do but not the primary mission per Roddenberry . And I suspect that the whole families thing would get a lot more practical on a mission five years long.

                1. Another reason Roddenberry was a nutcase. [Frown]

                  Yes, I could see the families being on-board a long term exploration ship.

                  However, with the neighbors that the Federation had, there would be a need for dedicated war-ships which would be required to “go into harm’s way”.

                  Families would have no place on dedicated war-ships but more likely would be on dedicated “star bases” that would hopefully be outside the “line of fire”.

                  The problem with the Enterprise (both original series & Next Gen) was that she wasn’t shown as being “just an exploration ship”.

                  The writers often used the Enterprise in roles other than “just an exploration ship”.

                  Sure, an exploration ship would need to be “armed for battle” but the writers put the Enterprise near places like the Romulan Neutral Zone where the only Federation ships should be a true war-ships.

                  Sorry but a ship that is put in a position where only war-ships should be, then it is a war-ship not “just an exploration ship”.

                  ::Hey! Where Did This Soapbox Come From!:: 😈

                  1. I don’t believe Roddenberry had a well thought out Federation. The whole series has an ad hoc feel to it. Looking for consistency is a way to go nuts

                    1. Yep and Roddenberry’s insistence that the “Good Guys Don’t Use Cloaking Devices” was part of his nuttiness.

                      The “in-universe” reason for the Federation not having Cloaking Devices was completely stupid. [Frown]

                    2. Eh, the treaty with the Romulans– which only the Federation bothered to even pretend to uphold– was a lot more ridiculous when I was a kid, before I watched us going above and beyond to give Geneva Convention treatment to people who not only weren’t signatories, but even if they were would not have been covered by it because they’re illegal combatants.

                    3. Nobody “signs” a treaty that gives the other side a permanent advantage unless the other side “has a gun to their head”.

                      Of course, with Picard’s “weird” idea about the “sacredness” of a treaty, he mostly likely would have decided that the Enterprise should have allowed itself to be destroyed in order to “protect the Honor of the Federation”.

                      After all, the “illegal” work on a “Cloaking Device” gave the Federation a “major advantage” and “we couldn’t have that”. :Sarcasm:

                    4. IIRC, the Romulans were an extremely powerful enemy; a peace treaty that allowed them an advantage that they couldn’t use to hurt you anyways (because peace treaty) but made them feel better (because then the Federation couldn’t sneak around them) and let them defend themselves (Klingons were still fighting them) isn’t that bad of a deal.

                      The problem comes in the Federation not holding them to the treaty…..

                    5. “Trust but verify”,

                      Saw no evidence of the Federation doing any verification. 😦

                    6. Remember that the big reveal that the Romulans looked like Spock was a huge deal– the Romulans were Super Scary Doods.

                    7. Even more reason to verify that the Romulans were “keeping their side” of the agreement. 😦

  3. I would add Lazy, but that might fall under prosperous as well. If you don’t have to be competent because someone else will come along and fix it for you, why put in the work yourself when you can do it quick and move onto something more interesting? It requires having someone else available who’s actually competent though. Otherwise you end up dead awfully quick.

      1. Then your future self calls down imprecations and curses on you while trying to get the thing done at the last minute.

  4. i blame a lot on “teaching to the test” where kids dont DO anything, they memorize stuff to spit back onto a test, and then immediately forget it to memorize new stuff. there is NO connection of this stuff to… doing anything.

    it started back in the 80s, for me, when i asked “why do i need this? what’s it for?” and was told point blank by a teacher that i would NEVER use it again outside of high school.
    for the record? the class, and the teacher, was for algebra. a topic that you need to know, and know COLD to progress in any science or math feild ever at all.
    but i promptly lost interest because of math issues (dyscalculia, it was really hard for me) and “you will never use this”.

    1. I’ll admit to an uncommon turn of mind; I took to algebra because solving the equations was equivalent to solving puzzles to me. When I was in the army I used to check algebra textbooks out of the base library and do the problems just for the fun of solving them. I suspect that kind of thinking was what made computer programming (at least the data manipulation part–desiging the user interface was never much more than a necessary chore) fun too.

      1. I have to wonder if this frame of mind is related to troubleshooting/ problem solving ability. I get so frustrated at work sometimes when I look around. I once had a supervisor arrange to have a piece of equipment taken out of service and plan to pay for another company to provide the needed product over a weekend until it could be fixed.

        I just swapped out the dead light bulb that was supposed to come on when the equipment was working, and everything was fine.

      2. We were never taught how to solve most equations. Most of the time we were just assigned pages of problems and then graded on the curve.

        Any *normal* person would have suspected a problem when 45 out of 50 students could only answer five or six out of 100 questions. But due to the magic of curve grading the teacher’s competence avoided question.

        I ran into the same thing in college, where the professor actually *bragged* about his failure rate. Just before mentioning he ran special tutoring classes on the side for a modest additional fee.

        No, dude. If your dropout rate is 25% per grading period, it’s not because your students are dummies. It’s because you suck as a teacher.

        1. That actually sounds like an extortion scheme to me. “I won’t teach you everything you need to know to pass unless you fork over some extra dough.”

        2. Being taught to solve was a huge ‘problem’ for me later on, when I got teachers who told me to simply memorize and apply equations without understanding them. For me, maths were logic problems that had to make sense to solve, but I kept ending up with the same teacher all through freaking college. It was what killed my love for mathematics to the point my brain datadumped everything related to it (it’s interesting how the mind works to preserve oneself) and I’m not great at maths now. But I used to adore algebra and solving math problems.

      3. Interesting–my love of math took off when I realized it was really like the code and cipher breaking that fascinated me from a very young age. Once I knew it was me against the Universe it all took off 😀

        And I was fortunate in math teachers who knew their material and WHY you should know it in life. My statistics professor loved his job…

    2. One of Feynman’s books mentioned a class someplace in South America where it was read that light reflected some conditions (at an angle) would be polarized, and the students could recite it back verbatim – but couldn’t predict that a polarizing filter would cut glare. I fear that the USA has “caught up” in this, at least partly.

      1. I have read that that is exactly why competent American engineers dislike working with equally “degreed” Indian (as in India) trained engineers. That’s the way they are taught. In any engineering field.

        1. I don’t know about engineers, but every time I see an Indian name pop up in a programming-questions website, they seem to be good at facts and bad at broad concepts. This is probably a slander on a few Indian coders who are truly good and have managed to improve their skills despite the handicap their schools left them with, but it’s probably NOT a slander on the schools that train those coders.

      2. I fear that the USA has “caught up” in this, at least partly.

        We were already there then. He reported seeing the same thing in his local schools when he returned from that sabbatical.

    3. i blame a lot on “teaching to the test” where kids dont DO anything, they memorize stuff to spit back onto a test, and then immediately forget it to memorize new stuff.

      It’s meant to condition unthinking obedience, not actually teach skills. The point is to get the kids obeying nonsense early so that they would continue to obey nonsense as adults.

      1. The other main problem, though, is that they have taken out the memorization where it is actually needed.

        Things like the arithmetic tables – or the basic phonemes. Those are essential memorization. (Later on, there is still some – like “the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides.” Although you even later learn the bit about “in the special case of the flat plane”…)

        Without the basics memorized – you cannot learn the higher level functions; when you do not have the tools you need, you cannot learn the harder job of when and how to apply them.

        1. When the kid is struggling to figure out 7×9, it is indeed hard to get them to remember the parts about symbolic logic. I use algebra practically daily. Now I admit that geometry and calculus are a little less necessary skills, but I would NEVER say never.
          I learned Latin in High School. No greater way to understand the English language exists. Immersion is insane; I want nouns and the gender forms of their cases. I want verbs with the proper form of their tenses, especially for irregular verbs. I tried to do an immersion Spanish, but was annoyed because I had to guess the gender and then try to infer the rules for definite/indefinite articles.

          1. Immersion works…IF you have had a fairly thorough grounding in verbs/lists of words/grammatical structure and so on.

            Yes, I became fluent in Romanian in a bit under three months while living there. *But* that was coming hard on the heels of six weeks of six days, 9 hours a day in a classroom learning the nuts and bolts of the language AND the fact that I have a natural bent for languages anyhow. But without the nuts-and-bolts-classroom stuff, my ‘gift’ for language would have been pretty much useless, because I wouldn’t have had the tools/structure to make sense of it.

            1. Ditto me and German. I’d had Spanish (a little) and Latin (four years plus reading on my own). German grammar came relatively easily. Memorizing all the exceptions and forms took a while, though.

            2. No, immersion as done in our schools means “you never translate anything, and you make the kids memorize nothing.” It’s something else flying under that flag.

              1. So, it’s kind of like the Ordeal of Cold Water?

                The schools immerse them in the language and if they actually manage to learn anything, they’re a witch?

              2. The stupidity they are trying to pass of as education in public schools never ceases to astound me.

                And they wonder why homeschooling is skyrocketing in the US…

          2. When I came home from elementary and informed dad that the teacher said we were doing new math, and that rote memorization was bad, I was pretty happy: memorizing stuff was boring.

            Dad was not happy.

            Dad dragged me to the local track that Saturday morning, where he ran to keep up his PT times, and made me run with him, staggering on my little legs as I gasped out with him “1×1=1, 1×2=2…”

            To this day, I have the tables memorized up to 12×12, which has made all of my jobs much easier.

        2. When I was in grade school, we had to memorize huge long poems, like Evangeline. I can just see parents these days having fits over making Johnny or Susie spend so much time memorizing something these days.

          But really, memorization has its place in learning. Heck, the only way I could get through Latin was memorizing all the vocabulary and declensions and conjugations. It was hard, but now, school is supposed to be fun and you don’t see much Latin taught in grade school and high school..

          1. Yeah – for many of the people who are most productive, a major part of their edge is a good memory, which memorization assignments can help build.

          2. I learned to love poetry because I’d go through the lit book for the class in the first week or so before the teacher could make me hate it. (Nothing would have saved Lord of the Flies).

            Years later, I’d still wait on friends to get off work with a book of poetry open memorizing them. Still can recite Ozymandias, Kubla Khan, and Jabberwocky from memory.

        3. Very true. Before you can do anything fancy, you must know the fundamentals. There is no quick route to a high level of skill.

      2. Teaching to the test to memorize stuff… is confused with memorizing stuff. Teaching the test, memorize and forget, clearly does nothing for anyone. But memorizing has been in the dog house for a very long time and memorizing isn’t bad, it’s good and necessary. Learning “skills” is confused with helping kids learn to reinvent arithmetic or algebra or do what Historians do… which they don’t have the tools for, because those *tools* are all the memorization that they should have done in elementary and high school so that they’ve acquired a knowledge base to use to evaluate new information.

        What I’m getting very concerned about is that our society seems to have entirely given up even on the conceit of teaching kids how to think… now it’s all teaching them how to feel.

        1. Yes. And when they are 13-14, trying to get them to think again is . . . not quite the bane of my existence, but ye gads, getting students to put pieces together mentally is harder than pulling teeth some days.

        2. But memorizing has been in the dog house for a very long time and memorizing isn’t bad, it’s good and necessary.

          Yes. Memorization and constant practice are the only ways to learn something.

          What I’m getting very concerned about is that our society seems to have entirely given up even on the conceit of teaching kids how to think… now it’s all teaching them how to feel.

          And it’s absolutely infuriating.

          1. Guh … and this may be applicable to several other branch discussions on this thread; I had a sixth grade teacher who as part of his curricula — had us memorize poetry. Huge blocks of poetry and had us recite in chorus every morning.
            It was a wonderful exercise and reading this whole thread, I am certain that Mr. Terranova was on to something.

            1. I often see people crap on “rote memorization” like it’s this horrible thing. If it helps you master the basics, I don’t see the issue at all.

              1. Neither do I – being able to do it is a useful skill, dammit ….
                And I am remembering reading in one of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoirs about his experiences in WWII on German-occupied Crete. He was a British SOE officer then – and he went to sleep in one of their hide-out caves on Crete, listening to one of their contacts — an illiterate shepherd and resistance fighter — recite some epic Greek heroic poem … and waking up, hours later, to hear the shepherd still in full spate. On the same poem.

                1. I astounded a wagon-load (long story) of grad students by reciting “The Man from Snowy River” and big chunks of “Gunga Din” and “The Ballad of East and West” one evening. Well, how else are you going to take them with you if you don’t memorize them? (This was before iThings became commoner than crabgrass.)

                  1. Years ago I read this story about an Irish Bard visiting Roman Britain.

                    One of the Romans asked if he knew some Greek play or story and the Bard responded that he’d have to get somebody to read it to him so that he’d know it.

                    The Roman sneered about the Bard not knowing how to read Greek and the Bard made a comment about Romans being unable to remember a story/play without having a written copy.

                    The Bard then proceeded to recite The Aeneid from memory. 😀

                2. And I am remembering reading in one of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoirs about his experiences in WWII on German-occupied Crete. He was a British SOE officer then – and he went to sleep in one of their hide-out caves on Crete, listening to one of their contacts — an illiterate shepherd and resistance fighter — recite some epic Greek heroic poem … and waking up, hours later, to hear the shepherd still in full spate. On the same poem.

                  It’s pretty amazing what people can do with dedicated practice. They outdo those with a natural talent for it by a country mile.

                3. when my mother told her high school chemistry students they had to memorize a list of ions, they would often ask how.

              2. I’ve met many people educated in Asia (south Asia, east Asia, and southeast Asia alike) who seemed to have been trained on rote memorization ONLY. That ONLY is the problem. Memorization is highly useful, but teaching via memorization ONLY is how you get the engineers that Orvan Taurus mentioned. They can recite the conditions under which light polarizes, but don’t know that putting a polarization filter on will reduce glare. They have knowledge but lack understanding.

                Of course, in the effort to avoid that problem, most people just go “rote memorization bad, four legs good” and run straight to the opposite problem.

        3. I remember in sixth grade having to memorize a 12×12 multiplication table result that I still use from time to time. (I.e, everything from 1×1 to 12×12 and in-between.)

          My nephew, OTOH, never had to do that. Though he gets to play with robots so I’m jealous.

          1. I fought with my eldest since she was four trying to get her to memorize “one times one is…..” up to 12; finally decided about six weeks ago to teach her to memorize the “count by x” method instead.

            She now has twos, threes, fives and tens down cold, and is working on fours. Her mother is about half a step ahead of her on memorizing them, since she was part of the “memorizing is bad” educated group…. 😀

      1. I’ve been wondering, Sarah. I’ve noticed both the young Hoyts write by printing beautiful, legible letters one by one. I don’t know how long it takes them. Do schools no longer teach Cursive handwriting? I know that cursive had deteriorated in schools, my cursive used to be illegible till I taught myself Modern Italic, an improved cursive. But do schools just not teach any speedy method of writing at all, it’s up to the students to get by in handwriting as best they can?

        1. I don’t think many schools do teach cursive any more. I know they did when I was in school, but being hard headed, I learned to write cursive (although I have since forgotten all the capital letters, as something I never use) but refused to use it in later grades. In my defense I could write around a hundred words a minute, printed. Of course reading what I wrote was another story.
          Later I worked at a job where all notes were required to be taken in capital block letters, because this almost invariably made the notes legible to practically anybody. Also we were taught in that job to write our 8’s as two circles one atop the other, something I was explicitly forbidden to do in grade school and to not make our 2’s with a curly loop on the bottom. Those lessons took, and to this day when I handwrite practically anything except signing my name I print in block capitals, and even when I am writing fast and sloppy, it is readable.

          1. Later I worked at a job where all notes were required to be taken in capital block letters, because this almost invariably made the notes legible to practically anybody. Also we were taught in that job to write our 8’s as two circles one atop the other, something I was explicitly forbidden to do in grade school and to not make our 2’s with a curly loop on the bottom.

            Navy quarter deck watch?

          2. I learned cursive, but I learned to print first — letters that looked more like the magnet-letters and printed letters in books that I learned to read on, instead of looplooploop. I then dutifully shaped the cursive letters so-carefully for the penmanship exercises and thank-you notes, but I thought of it as formal, not as fast, and I never got fast at it.

            1. This. Then, in seventh grade, my dad said engineers always print because their words HAD to be readable.

              1. It was a surveying job (and both licensed surveyors and engineers were reading/using the notes) where I learned to print in capital letters. 🙂

    4. The design of tests that verify real-world-applicable skills is, apparently, really hard. Particularly if the test designer doesn’t have any real-world-application experience or knowledge.

    5. Teaching to the test, however is over maligned. Actually testing on the critical outcomes of a grade should be simple for 90% of populace. It is the assumption that children are too stupid to understand word problems or ideas that they are unfamiliar with in testing and the overemphasis on extraneous factors.

      Say you leave Grade X and are expected to understand fractions, unit conversions and long division. Test the students on the three with an average grade expected to be 70. If they cannot reach competency, they fail. Not too hard.

      1. The problem I’ve seen there, usually in word problems:
        the person writing the test doesn’t understand the thing being tested.

        Washington State had a test that was going to be required for graduating the next year. It required a five-paragraph type of essay…. in one paragraph.

      2. “If they cannot reach competency, they fail. Not too hard.”

        Except for a) if too many of the kids who fail are in an official GVG, the cries of raaaaacism, sexism, etc. will start, b) if you fail the kids too often, they’ll drop out, and that sweet state and federal cash is based on butts in chairs, not if they’re taught anything, and c) there aren’t enough chairs to keep back that many kids. So you get the situation my mom hit, where she wasn’t allowed to fail those who deserved it.

        1. Oh I understand how it works in real world. Just as most of these tests are not designed to test skills but to sell books

    6. When I was putting up my ham antennas at a former residence I was amused by the “cut and try” instructions to get the desired resonance. My method? Go by the formula, put things up temporary, measure the actual resonance, recompute the alleged constant needed, recompute the length for desired resonance, adjust antenna. Double check. Finalize installation. This meant a few seconds of math meant doing things only twice (or even once, eventually) rather than multiple successive-approximation attempts. I still don’t get the ‘many re-retries’ approach when, unless things are quite odd, much manual labor can be bypassed with not much mental effort.

      1. Yes, math is good. Last time I set up a station (Realistic HTX-100 10 M rig, $99.00 at Radio Shack) I homebrewed a straight dipole using the old 468/freq. in MHz, tossed it up in a tree outside my bedroom window, and fired up. At 25 watts, my first contact was in Sao Tome and Principe off the West coast of Africa. Kowabunga!! This was in the mid-80s, and propagation was *really* good, but still . . .

  5. The war is not directly on competence. It is on bad consequences for incompetence. The rest is just the natural result.

  6. Be wary of companies bragging about their 40 years of experience. The old experienced engineers have retired. The new, fresh from school, engineers arrogantly disdain advice from shop people who actually build things. Some things look elegant in the CAD program and bug nuts stupid in reality. Be especially cautious of engineers that don’t know how to use tools and build things.

    Smart people discriminate against incompetence. Discrimination is essential.

    1. Frankly, any engineer without uncleanable dirt in the lines of his hands and at least the remnants of calluses on them isn’t to be trusted.

        1. Then he’s a chemist, even if they call it “chemical engineer.”

          Chemists are among the least popular of professionals. At least, after people get tired of the smell and the occasional visits from the fire department…

          1. Nah, the old man was a chemical engineer (people laugh when I tell them I’m not the smart one, he was).

            From what I could gather it’s like majoring in mechanical engineering (at least the fluid and thermodynamic parts) and chemistry (with concentrations in organic and physical chemistry) at the same time.

            And he had a hard hat, google, acid burned gloves, and could help bring up and down most of the units and do all the lab tests. I’ll be lucky to be half as competent one day.

          2. second least popular professional. … I believe that lawyers still hold the top slot

        2. Then he’s a chemical engineer and those aren’t dirt lines they’re acid burns.

            1. You KNOW that with a challenge like that, someone here is going to design an acidic soap.

        3. There are the signs there, too. Strong acids and bases definitely leave their marks…

      1. Back during my mechanic days, I had the softest, smoothest hands- washing with Lava soap multiple times tends to do that.
        Then again, my knuckles were a mass of constant cuts, scratches, nicks, and burns in various stages of healing.

        1. When I was starting out as an aircraft mechanic, I had one hiring person tell me, “You can’t be a mechanic, your hands look too nice.” If only she could see me now . . .

    2. Some things look elegant in the CAD program and bug nuts stupid in reality.

      Those are the ones that put screws in places but leave no opening through which the screw can be turned, yeah?

      We’re running into that in architecture too – students who have used Revit exclusively have no idea how big every day objects are, because Revit is a scale-less environment, so when they try hand drafting, their door swings intersect the front to the toilet and their stair treads are 6 inches deep.

      Thankfully, because of the hand-drafting, they are now realizing that these things are a problem. ^_^

      1. Or in a plant design context, position things such that you can’t open manholes, panels, etc. on equipment because a wall, column, beam, pipe, duct, etc. is in the way. There are features in some systems such as collision detection which should be able to detect such things, assuming you properly model the space swept by the opening/removal of the door/manhole/access panel. (Why yes, my cubicle is close to CAD support folks.)

        1. The P&ID for one plant I worked on called for isolation valves on either end of a long pipe. The as built piping had the two valves right next to each other in the center of the pipe. This was the only location that was ‘convenient’ for the operators to open and close.

        2. Running into some of this with the new location. What? Some of the stuff freezes at 60f or even 70f? Lets use uninsulated stainless lines and put the whole works next to two ten foot tall doors that open to the SUB FREEZING, and often sub zero, outside temps.
          Don’t get me started on possible cross contamination.

        3. I remember reading somewhere that Kelly Johnson of Lockheed “Skunkworks” fame was able to produce such “miracles” as producing the U-2 spyplane in 18 months and under budget because he started out as a toolmaker, and therefore had an intimate knowledge of exactly what it took to actually make the stuff he was designing.

    3. There are some engineering programs which require a great deal of hands on experience, but they tend to be increasingly rare. I spent over a year as an engineer cadet on various ships, getting dirty and crawling in unpleasant areas on ships. Learned a lot from it. Same for my time in the Army. Common sense is what you get from the real world smacking you around a bit.

    4. The problems aren’t always with the engineers. A friend of mine did some engineering work designing a processing skid for a mine. His design for the drain points had their tailpieces canted out at an angle, but when it was actually built the tailpieces pointed straight down so that the cap was only 1/4″ from the floor of the skid.

    5. My Dad, an automotive engineer, got sick of all the new engineers fresh from college who couldn’t even thread a nut onto a bolt.
      Oh, and if your company doesn’t use the same programs they were taught to use in college, you’re out of luck.

    6. My first job actually had an employment test (I’m only 27). In it, we had to explain how we would make a blind tapped hole from the inside of the pipe (Among other stuff). My UG had us in the machine shop within 2 weeks of semester start and doing airborne tests within 2 years. You learn quickly that the machine shop guys are often great resources for understanding how to thread the needle. Heck, even where I am we call on the senior mechanics for ideas as to how to play in the ‘you need a four jointed arm’ areas of the birds today.

      And I can use manual knee mills and lathes as well as CNC.

      1. The first (a regional) airline I applied to for a job as an aircraft mechanic had a pre-employment test as well – a one-sheet test of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. As I watched the hiring person grade my test I became concerned because I noticed her repeatedly glancing at me. When she finished, she called me over and told me I was the first person she’d ever seen get all of the answers correct. I did not hire on at that airline.

      2. How big a pipe? If it’s a big pipe and not too long you can get a guy inther with a tool to do the hole. If it were me I would make a tapped hole plug and weld it in.

        1. Thick wall tube. The answer was either welded plug or to cut the tube, tap hole and weld tube and polish.

  7. “I’ve heard of “programmers” who steal code from sites on line, and cannot actually tell what it does”
    I really wish you were joking but I know you’re not. This one blows my mind. If you don’t know what it does or how it does it, how can you tell if it is actually doing what you want it to do? Or if you are giving it the right inputs?
    Yes, Stackoverflow is my friend. I believe that anything I can think of coding-wise someone has probably already done. But that doesn’t mean you just slap it in there and hope.
    If most people understood how most coding gets done, they’d never trust the internet with anything financial or important.

    1. One poor kid was given a set of code and couldn’t make it work.

      The “programmer” who gave him the code wasn’t any help as he was in “of course it works” mode.

      Oh, the compiler had “marked” that set of code as “un-executable” and the kid was told to “ignore” that because “the code works”.

      Note, to work the code needed values put into a variable but the kid hadn’t been told to put a value into that variable.

      Obviously I didn’t think much of the “programmer” who gave the kid the code. 😦

        1. Nope, I was a developer and really understood my coding.

          The idiot “programmer” didn’t understand coding so fell back on “it worked elsewhere so it’ll work here”.

          A Real Developer knows to error-check his code including paying attention to any compiler warning messages.

          Note, when testing my programs, I loved to use production data files as inputs in order to “break” my programs.

          My rule was “better to break it in testing than to have to come in at 2 am to fix the production run”.

          1. My rule was “better to break it in testing than to have to come in at 2 am to fix the production run”.

            This is why we have a few testing machines at home; and also why I feel a muscle on my face twitch when I hear Aff go “I wonder if this will work.”

            I also have the misfortune of being asked every now and again “Hey, do you remember how I made (crazy thing) work?” – and if I was not told, there’s a good chance it went sailing over my head.

        2. Require the developer to unit test his code, but have someone else integration test it and a non-technical person user test it.

          1. Which is how it’s supposed to work, and usually does… but all too often the deadlines don’t allow for much more than testing the happy path.

            This is my day job, BTW; I have waayyyy too much experience with it.

            1. Been there, done that and then the customers took the path less followed and were very unhappy.

    2. If you’re going to take code from online, at least figure out how it works.

      I only program as a hobby, but I always try to code my own solutions for that exact reason. I only go online to find the general algorithm or steps to solving a problem, not for actual code.

      1. Exactly. How do I solve a particular problem or why am I getting this really obscure oracle exception. Oddly enough, I picked up an interesting use of a trinary operator in the Daily WTF this morning.

    3. That’s because “open source” has been overhyped for the last freaking decade. “Someone’s already written it; therefore we can compress our development schedule by swiping it. And they wouldn’t put it up if someone hadn’t tested it! So we can cut that out too.”

      Never mind that the stuff is all too often undocumented, without test cases, so that when some developer has to use it and file it down to fit, they’re not entirely sure of what it actually did and don’t know if it was correct before or after they used it.

      1. Best commentary on designing “reusable code” I’ve seen suggests it’ll cost 3x as much to develop, because of the additional exception-handling, documentation, and testing you’ll have to do to make it a truly reusable-by-almost-anyone code chunk.

        1. I found the 3x estimate to be pretty accurate. Also, code that hasn’t been reused at least once is NOT reusable (regardless of what the original coder claimed). At the height of the 90s reusable code fad, I explained the economics to my boss, offering to write all code in this way if he was willing to pay for it and take the schedule hits. He declined. Simple economics killed the faddish aspects of this. Smart coders write the code that NEEDS to be reused to be reusable – just not ALL the code.

        2. I use *5 to estimate “deliverable tool” / “may get an answer for its author if the moon is in Aquarius”

          1. Snicker. I once had a colleague who, when asked to schedule software releases, would consult his calendar for changes in moon phases. The smarter managers realized that (1) he was refusing to be rushed by unrealistic schedules (2) he was trying to get them to understand that forecasting exact dates for completion was an exercise in futility.

            1. There was a joke in one of the Star Trek movies about Scotty always giving a longer time to “fix” something than he thought he could fix it.

              The joke was that “this is why Scotty was considered the best engineer in Star Fleet”. IE He always beat the time he *claimed* it would take.

              However, I thought it was basic “cover your rear” stuff. IE It’s always safer to overestimate the time a job would take than to underestimate the time a job would take. [Sad Smile]

                1. No sh*t, that was my standard operating procedure when operating the video library at a certain base, in which office I had charge of ordering and delivering duplicate video copies of various materials usually needed and requested by usually slightly panicky unit representatives who desperately needed so many copies if a certain briefing or training tape. Yes, estimating a day or two longer covered my own and the engineering section. Having the job done and ready a day or two earlier than estimated covered everyone with glory.

                  Do the same with the Tiny Publishing Bidness – estimate over, produce under = happy customer and a reputation for honesty and genius. Estimate under, produce late = unhappiness all around.

              1. Once had a co-worker tell a new manager that I padded my schedule in order to look good. The thing was – the bugs where I fixed faster than scheduled were the ones where someone else — probably him — had set the time.

    4. What’s *really* annoying is that documentation on how things work is starting to disappear. Since *everyone* uses mumblelib, documentation about the APIs that mumblelib tickles disappears, because *no one* would ever need to know about *that*; just use mumblelib and everything’ll be fine!

      1. I see a lot of that in “home electronics” equipment. No manual, or at least nothing useful. No text on the device, just meaningless icons. Apparently it works more or less like some other device, which I’ve never seen or heard of, but they expect that everyone is familiar with.

        1. I liked the old Heathkits. I built a stereo receiver as my biggest ‘kit’. If the manual didn’t cover it, pop the cover and start taking voltage readings at the test points… problem solved.

          1. Man, I wish I had had the money for their stuff in the late 70s. I used to droll over their catalog in junior high school.

    5. If you read up how the banking EFT system works the hair would stand up on your neck.

      The reason I only keep a token amount of money in my bank account isn’t because I’m a paranoid, it’s because I’ve seen what’s under the hood.

        1. XP embedded is/was on a different security patch thread and is actually still supported.

    6. I’ve had to do that sort of thing a few times dealing with some obscure old file formats. For example, a file format had all its floating point numbers encoded in an ancient VAX floating point format, and I found an example algorithm that did a bunch of bit fiddling and arithmetic I didn’t quite follow to do the conversion to IEEE floating point. I could verify correctness using some test files with known data, so even if I never quite figured what all was going on I knew it was producing the right output. I think Radix 50 to ASCII text was another area where I ported and used the algorithm without ever understanding exactly what was going on, but again I had test files that I could confirm conversion correctness with.

      1. I would contend that there’s a granularity, a level, where copy-paste-tweak coding is good enough. Yours is a good example. If you can grab a routine, treat it as a black box, and verify that it works, that’s not significantly different from using a commercial library or the operating system. It’s still a good idea to read it over and walk through it, but it needs little attention.

        It’s when the borrowed code either A) Grows larger; B) Gets reused in multiple places; or C) becomes critical path that you run into trouble.

        1. It’s a matter of test coverage. To use something as a black box component, that you’re going to eventually use in many places because you’ve grown to trust it, you need a LOT of test cases, both positive and negative. ‘Cause trust me, you’ll eventually use it where the bug you didn’t find gets exposed!

        2. I think a very important step on that continuum is usage. Using a canned routine I can quickly verify on known data to do a one time conversion of a mass of data probably isn’t worth spending a day grokking.

          However, the day you get a second batch to mass covert figure out what is going on.

          1. 20 or so years ago the buzzphrase was “re-useable code.” The programming magazines would sing its paeans as the latest and greatest. I never did understand what made it different from ordinary modular programming, or for that matter, any implemented language’s runtime library…

          2. If I want to convert between inches and centimeters, I don’t “need” to know why the conversion is 2.54 cm/in as long as it works. Same with lots of black box items. If I tell VBA to move an excel cell from A1 to D4 I don’t need to see the machine code. I just need to be able to verify the results.

            1. It depends on how accurate your conversion needs to be. The conversion between centimeters (which are fortunately still centimeters and haven’t been changed to a named unit yet (I suggest the “Petain”) – and US inches is only 2.54 de jure, a simplification for use in commerce. The real conversion is 2.39xxxx. You don’t need to shave that fine “in commerce”, but in scientific measurement it can be important.

              1. 2.39? I don’t think so. 2.54 is the defined conversion number, no additional significant figures. When you are dealing in thousands of inches or microns, keeping that straight gets important when going between the two.

                1. The US legal definition of the inch is 2.54cm. That means US calibration is based on SI standards.

      2. I did the same converting EBCDIC to ASCII and back again. I knew it worked, I knew why it worked and I knew how to verify but coding it would have given me a headache I didn’t need.

  8. There’s another corollary to all this: book knowledge is seldom put into practice. I remember when I decided I wanted to learn to drive manual, so I could have the muscle car I wanted. I read how to do it, and watched Youtube instructional videos.

    While those helped, nothing replaced just *doing* it. A few weeks of practice cured all of my ills.

    Today, a great many of our supposed best and brightest are taught things out of a book and then never called to put them into practice. Just as I could theoretically drive stick (but really couldn’t), so can they theoretically do any number of things, but really can’t.

    Reading is good and well, and I’d be lying if I said that learning the theory of driving stick first wasn’t helpful in learning to *actually* do it. But nothing replaces practical application.

    For me, it was the same way throughout most of my life. I’d do some studying, some tutorials or some theoretical work. Then I would put the theory into practice, and learn those areas which the theory just didn’t cover.

    By day, I do front-end development. CSS is the language used to construct stylesheets for websites and web applications. Books can be helpful in learning the basics. But you need *years* of experience learning all of the areas in which the books are WRONG or at least grossly misleading. Browsers and browser versions don’t render CSS the same. No one has fully implemented correct CSS spec. Then you introduce mobile devices and responsive design into this mix, and the waters are even more muddied.

    People don’t study. They don’t even read the book, a lot of the time. But even when they do, they often fail to put any of it into practice, and then wonder why they fail.

    1. The old line, “You! And your ‘education’!” is from the application of theory without regard to reality. It’s not anti-intellect as some would claim, but pro-practical. I had a great Economic teacher who related hos he had figured that doubling the daily wage (paid daily) on his father’s farm would increase worker productivity. Instead, nobody showed up the next day. What for? They had that day’s pay already. And a lesson was learned – and passed on.

      1. That line reminds me of something once said to me – I’d fallen ill at the start of a trip to England, and the NHS doctor took my temperature, listened to my description of the symptoms, then told me I had gastroenteritis and gave me a prescription. When I asked if he was going to do any tests, he said, “You Americans and your evidence-based medicine!”

      2. There was a Russian farmer who was having trouble with his horses. His brother was a professor at Moscow University, so he called for help. His brother wrangled up a bunch of professors to come visit the farm. They came out, measured everything, took samples, etc…

        A few days later, one of the professors calls the farmer. “We have solved your problem!” The farmer is excited and asks for the solution. The professor explains it. The farmer expresses some doubt. The professor says, “Well, it works for spherical stallions in a vacuum!”

        This is not a solely American problem. All Russians are familiar with that expression.

    2. “Today, a great many of our supposed best and brightest are taught things out of a book and then never called to put them into practice.”

      We found this to be true of a sizable fraction of newly-hired engineers who had received most of their education in India, China, Japan, and to a lesser extent, Korea.

      They tended to be well versed in theory, very good in some things, like math. And lost at sea when given a problem to solve that didn’t come from a textbook. They’d never done anything beyond theory for the most part, and had never gotten their hands greasy. Fortunately, most of them could come up to speed in time, but some of them never did make the transition.

      But they all had good grades through school.

      1. How often have foreign trained engineers called for specialists when they come across a problem one tenth of a percent outside of their degree specialty? Way too often. Problem solving as an attitude and process is not covered in many engineering schools.

      2. You should hear my father rant about the difference between mechanics and technicians. If you go to an auto repair shop these days, they never have mechanics, they have automotive technicians. My fathers definition (which I haven’t seen disproven) of a technician is someone who can plug a car into the diagnostic computer, and if the computer doesn’t tell them what is wrong, they have no clue how to diagnose the problem.

  9. I’ve heard of managers who actively encourage this behavior.

    No, scratch “heard of”, substitute “worked for”. “Why are you taking so long? Here, I found this code online. Use this.”

    No, I’m not kidding. A manager who couldn’t write code was handing me the “solution” code and demanding I have it implemented that day.

    1. “And why should we test it? It obviously works for everyone else! What’s YOUR problem?”

        1. “Trust no one,” is one of the catchphrases I hear from him. Or “Trust, but verify.”

          As a form of relaxation, he’s trying to make an Amstrad … play an MP3 I think? Why? “Because.” It seems to be a Thing with some of his friends, to see how far they can push old tech.

          1. I didn’t use much “Off The Shelf Code”, but since I didn’t always trust my code, why should I trust somebody else’s code. 😈

            1. Hahhahahaha, I was telling Aff about this convo and he said “I don’t even trust my own code. I don’t trust anyone’s.”

              And apparently he also does most of his own coding. So he’s oldschool in that respect even though he supports the free information of the OSS acts.

  10. And it’s so hard to find a competent plumber!
    I KNOW how to do what needs being done, but CAN’T do it anymore. And can’t find anyone willing to do it to my instructions.

    1. ‘Professionals’ know how to do it ‘good enough’ quickly. They often have little interest in doing it RIGHT. Motivated amateurs sometimes do masterwork. Journeymen don’t have the time.

      1. Almost anyone can do perfection. Professionals do it before heat death of the universe.

    2. We had a wonderful plumber/writer/civil war enactor. The last two are relevant because he loved coming to our house. There he’d be taking apart the toilet and going “So, I’m stuck on this chapter.” Or “If you need to fire that rifle, I have three.”
      And he charged us the standard, not the extra time. And he UNDERSTOOD the principles to fix a Victorian wiht nothing standard.
      He retired.

      1. He RETIRED? Why? I think our plumber is eighty. You just get some kids to move the heavy stuff. And have YOUR kids manage the business and do the jobs you like. And don’t do jobs in the winter. If you are a plumber, you don’t need to retire.

          1. That sounds like my former vet, his wife (a secretary) got the veterinary clinic in the divorce. She actually had the gall to ask him to continue working for her in the veterinary clinic he had built from the ground up. His exact words to me were, “I’ve given her enough money.” Which were considerably kinder than I would have said.

  11. I was maybe twelve or thirteen when I read EE Smith’s “Spacehounds of IPC.” In the story, a guy is stranded in a crashed spaceship, and he mines ore, pulls wire, winds his own electric motors, builds a dam, makes gunpowder and guns… I thought “I want to be able to do that.” And for the most part, I have, or at least know how, without needing a book or the internet.

    I certainly couldn’t do it as fast as Smith’s character, who apparently needed no sleep and existed in some fast-forward time warp, but I could get the job done eventually.

    Being able to do things hasn’t actually made me much money, but it sure has saved some…

    1. When Heinlein mentioned to Smith that that scene was absurd, smith pointed out that HE could actually do most of that. What people don’t understand in our credential driven culture, there was a time when you could get cheap info on how to do just about anything and make incredible stuff from essentially nothing. And people started doing that earlier in their lives, especially boys, who started out at about age ten or so.

      1. Reading between the lines, RAH pretty much came to the conclusion that Doc was a Lensman in disguise. (That would certainly explain his technique in used-card shopping.)

        1. If you recall, RAH actually had Lensman Ted Smith referred to in To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

      2. Mandatory schooling and child labor laws pushed out some good education in areas that really cannot be covered by public schools as currently run.

      3. This is exactly why even though I can afford the tools I’m more interested in following Gingery in building a machine shop (still assembling parts for the furnace and enough aluminium scrap but expect to cast in April/May for the first time).

        Reading TRX and then you I’m wondering if this is another place where Heinlein is my third grandfather (both highly competent and competence admiring men as was my father): in admiring competence and considering competence in multiple things a mark of adulthood.

        There has been times when I’ve wanted to start a private boarding high school (with a walled in campus for defensive needs) where the ciriculium in no small part was a mix of wide classical reading (a HS version of Saint Johns), structured mathematics and basic science, the traditional and modern pentathlon (skills of an ancient and modern soldier respectively), and that list Heinlein put in Lazarus Long’s mouth of what an adult human should be able to do.

        1. Herb, I’ve thought about “Prepper-U” focused on “do you actually know the things necessary to rebuild civilization from scratch?” For example: Practical chemistry, learn the basics… start with baking powder and baking soda. Gun powder, even. Metal working involves ionic bonded atoms and the whole left side of the periodic table is practically ignored in school. Etc., Lots of really cool stuff that actually requires understanding chemistry.

            1. Kindle charges at 5w DC. As long as you’ve got the cable, or know how to input to mini USB, putting out 5w isn’t all that tough… Though I’d have to look up how many potatoes I’d need for a decent charging system, and maybe some resistors to even out the voltage. *grin*

              1. What’s that magazine for the modern homesteader movement…drawing a blank, but they had plans for a bicycle wheel based windmill that could easily keep a Kindle/Nook/etc charged along with a bank of card batteries to charge it on low power days.

                1. Mother Earth News…crunchy sounding title and sometimes hippy semi-political stuff (like starting your own script currency) but in general an interesting and useful magazine in my experience.

                  1. You might want to give Backwoods Home or Backwoodsman a try. The politics are more comfortable.

                2. Yup. Until the lead-free solder grows tin whiskers across important joints and the device dies.

                  The EU rammed a ruling for lead-free solder through, and then most of the rest of the world followed. But the joints have a lifetime of a decade or two before trouble hits.

                  It’s not planned obsolescence. It’s for your health and safety. They wouldn’t lie, would they?

                  1. It’s not planned obsolescence. It’s for your health and safety. They wouldn’t lie, would they?

                    It truly isn’t planned obsolescence at all. They never realized that would happen.

                    They’re politicians, after all: the Law of Unintended Consequences is the only law they ever follow.

                3. Wouldn’t be Mother Earth News, would it? I used to get that regular, back when it was chock full of practical advice. Nowadays, it’s about half and half, with one half being taken over by the environmental (read: redder than Stalin) movement.

                  1. Oh, I haven’t read it since late 80s or early 90s. I’m said to hear the politics have gone from more than an aside here and there and an article every now and then but I’m not surprised.

              2. All the no-battery (actually recharable, but I’m tellin’ ya how to find’em) emergency radios that I’ve been looking at on Amazon have USB ports, now. Outgoing, not incoming. 😀

                  1. And most of the splitters sold for cigarette ligh___ I’m sorry, 12v power points.

        2. I never finished my Gingery lathe… but I learned enough from his books to bluff my way into a job in a machine shop. Did darned well there until I ran into the union organizers…

          In retrospect, quoting Marx on trade unions at them was probably a bad idea.

      4. I was talking to a young man who grew up on a ranch around here someplace and he was just spinning a story about getting a car out of a ditch and it was peppered with matter-of-fact references to heavy machinery and leverage and whatnot. I’ve no doubt that he could pull wire, fix an electric, diesel, or gas motor, roof a house, build a barn, wire the barn, run every tractor, backhoe, and other farm implement, and manage livestock. He was probably 20.

        It’s not unlikely that a kid growing up on a spaceship could run, and repair, all the systems. I will admit, though, that I often read science fiction where the crew or pilots crawl under the hood (so to speak) and I never quite believe it. I wonder if there is some trick to pulling that off.

        1. One of our mission’s pilots fixed a faulty oil pressure gauge in flight a few years back.

        2. Let’s put it this way. On a car, you can know how to change all the filters, replace lines and sensors and do stuff without popping anything off the block and fix a lot of issues. And today on aircraft most everything that can (should) fail is modular. Can definitely know enough or have diagnostics good enough to know the combobulator is affecting the combustulator.

          1. yes but the combobulator was made by Frackcorp on Cestus III and the Vr’dingi took that planet in the last war…

            1. Part source failure. If you have something that’s only made in only one place you have a problem. I think caused a search for /manufacture of substitutes in WWII.

              1. And we’re drifting in interstellar space and that Raider ship is going to detect us any second…

      5. When Time Enough for Love came out, a fellow student (a major in THC consumption) complained that Heinlein’s “Competent Man” philosophy was BS because reasons. That should have been my first clue that we were living/going to live the Crazy Years.

        1. I think that’s one of those binary things, either you see it and think it is BS or you see it and think it is a goal worth striving for.

          I think even RAH would have said he had more respect for those who actively strived towards and never achieved it than someone who could have achieved it but never bothered.

      6. I still use the Doc Smith tips on how to buy a used car that I learned from a RAH essay.

          1. Expanded Universe is where I know it from. Don’t know if it’s available on Kindle or not.

      7. Urg. jccarlton, you and TRX just hit on something that a lot of “Disaster X hits and civilization crashes and life goes back to preindustrial/19th century/fill-in-the-blank because all of our interconnected technology is too complex” post apocalypse or post-EMP fiction bugs the hell out of me on. (Raises eyebrow and looks at run on sentence, decides that it’s intelligible enough for government work.)

        It seems like so many authors forget, or don’t think to realize that at some point, we didn’t have all that stuff – someone had to invent, design, and build it in the first place. From scratch. (The automobile and the vacuum tube didn’t suddenly spring forth fully grown, yanked from the mind of Zeus where nothing had been before.)

        As long as we don’t lose the books describing and showing how they did it, then someone else can rebuild it – and they can skip a lot of the “invent it from scratch and design it” phase because other people already did that and wrote it down.

        Sure, a modern technological civilization is more fragile, but we won’t drop back irrevocably to grunting and living in caves just because some wanker dumps an EMP device on us.

        Well, at least other than those of us that grunt and live in man-caves and eat meat cooked over fire with sticks as a matter of habit. *grin*

        1. My “favorite” one now days is “Of course, we won’t have guns”. 😦

          Maybe we’d lose the tech to make “smokeless powder” but plenty of people know how to make gunpowder and would know how to make weapons to use it. 😀

          1. Oh yeah. You can make a working AK-47 with a forge and hand tools from any reasonable piece of sheet steel. (Video on making an AK from a shovel on YouTube is a case in point.) Barrels are a bit harder, but they can be did: there’s a lot of black powder guys I’ve known in re-enactments that have made their own Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Hawken rifles from scratch.

            Smokeless powder is not insurmountable. Neither are brass cartridge cases. Neither are primers.

            Any reasonable machine shop with a lathe and a milling machine (and a generator if needed) can turn into a working gunsmith’s shop in a hurry. Just needed a decent machinist to do it.

            You don’t put the technological genie back in the bottle easily. At worst, sometimes you can drive him off for a little while.

            1. They have some cool exhibits at the JM Davis gun museum in Claremore OK. Low tech gunsmiths used to be everywhere across America. Can’t keep guns away from people who make their own.

            2. That ass that sent bombs through the mail made a functional gun from scraps in an auto yard.

              Without instructions.

        2. Oh, and don’t tell me that the “rebuilt society” has religious reasons against re-introducing guns.

          Sure, one group might do that but any groups that don’t would have the military advantage.

          So one guess for “who would win”. 😈 😈 😈 😈

        3. +1 +1 +1

          Not only are the books around, but I can think of a half-dozen folks who have the library I want to have with those books, and friends of friends who do a lot of that stuff as a hobby!

          1. I used to *have* that reference library. I really miss my home library. I currently have replaced a lot of them in ebook form now, but it’s not a substitute for being able to turn to a shelf and pull down a physical volume with illustrations.

        4. I’ve been collecting books, many originally from the 19th Century on how to make just about anything including smokeless powder and much, much bigger booms. As for EMP, I think that aside from some electronics outside, it won’t even be noticed. A lot of stuff gets shielded anyway and the power grid has stuff in it already to take huge hits. Things like spark gaps on tower so that lightning hits don’t get fed down the lines. The thing about HV is you have to plan for arcy sparky.

          1. The impression I get is that it’s kind of Y2K– it’s a problem, people know it’s a problem, there’s a bit of a fad for it right now and MOST of the important stuff is already “hardened,” but nobody is going to talk TOO much about it because of operational security. Tell folks that you hardened something, and they know where to look to find out other information.

            1. Had no one talked about Y2K then crappy stuff would have happened. Then the main stream media saw an opportunity to push up circulation. They pushed the danger way past sanity. I think the EMP danger is now at the point where the responsible parties are looking into it. As you say, keeping things low key is a good thing. There were probably many vulnerable SCADA systems in the US before Stuxnet.

              I think a fair chunk of the global warming thing is a combination of the MSM drumming up disasters to sell their product, politicians scaring low information voters into granting them more power and research whores looking for the easiest grants to farm. No big conspiracy. Just greedy people chasing easy success.

              1. Had no one talked about Y2K then crappy stuff would have happened.

                Very true, but going off of that pattern– people talk, it gets on Coast to Coast AM’s more rarefied guest list, seriously folks pay attention, then it gets cool and the guys who talk about your aura on Coast to Coast AM start talking about it, and then people start selling cures for the problem to folks who don’t need it– we should be OK.

                We’re pretty lucky– because of nukes, they’ve already been thinking about this stuff for a long time.

                How long? Well, it’s part of the basic indoc class for Navy ships, at least since ’05 or so. A mention for stuff that was not inside of the ship’s skin, if we had a really close hit.

                I know that at least some folks in San Diego and Seattle (civilian side) already gamed out the “what if someone floated a nuke right THERE” thing, with attention paid to the EMP issues.

              2. Not a fair chance, a 100% chance that all of it is a scam. The data support none of their conclusions, and their response is to alter the data to fit their conclusions, and call people names when called on it.

              3. The problems with Y2K had been known about for years in programming circles but management hadn’t wanted to do anything about the problems until the “last minute”.

                One thing to mention, in early programming memory to store data was expense so it made sense to store years in two digit fields.

                Final comment, in 1980s I wrote a conversion routine in a situation where the specs called for printing a four digit year that allowed for the Y2K situation.

                1. And yet Microsoft still managed to get it wrong in Office: every product that stored dates picked a different year to decide whether it was 1915 or 2015….

                  1. Not saying that the change-over was “done right”. Just saying that it was known about long before Y2K.

  12. What bothers me is the death of apprenticeship. I dropped out of high school, and I learned locksmithing by working in a shop for a couple of years answering the phone and sweeping the floor. I cut keys and tried to figure out the work that came in the door. After a while I learned enough to go out on the road and start making decent money. What’s more, that’s how everyone I know in the business learned the trade.

    These days young people who are willing to do that are rare. They are told that six months of subsidized training will let them start at the top.

    A lot of skills in the manual trades are being lost because no one is willing to learn them and the old masters are dying without passing on what they know to the next generation.

    1. Related to that is the disinclination of high schools to accept that not everyone is college materiel, and in fact, there are a fair number of teenagers who would be happier, more fulfilled, and better paid … if they were just routed into a suitable apprenticeship program.

        1. Yep. For better or worse, Mike is a great example of what ‘mere’ work can accomplish.

      1. Some of the college professionals are concerned about how well students are being prepared to study the necessary material in college.

      2. Which is why I was very careful when the son had enthusiasm for electrical type work.

        I’m from the generation that was pushed to get a college degree – but all I am doing with him is pushing him to take enough business courses that he will not be totally lost when he goes out on his own (that is his eventual goal).

        1. The SJWs have made the sheepskin a mandatory credential for a lot of jobs. The local library had an entry-level opening; clerk and shelving books. It required a degree in “Library Science.”

          The mind, she boggle.

          I expect McD’s will require a degree in “Fast Food Counter Service” eventually. Which will be about as worthless as a high school diploma, but mandatory to actually get a job.

            1. Our high school and junior high did, 0ldgriz. It was called a work program – you signed up for it and then got released a few hours early in the afternoons so you could work a part time job. (Usually fast food, but I also worked, variously, at a carpet store, hardware store, BBQ joint, hobby shop, and riding stable at various points through my high school years.)

              I take it that that’s no longer a thing these days?

              1. Point. I don’t know. Certainly not talked about in my circle. I hope it is available.

                1. I suspect that if we don’t, it’s because Child Labor Laws and CPS and the education industry made schools remove those because, uh… reasons.

                  I was in high school in the ’70s, and after school jobs were how most of us got extra spending money for everything from gas for the hot rod to paying for dates. (Yes, I was an atypical geek: I had a car – a 440 Challenger – and dates. I strongly suspect the former had a lot to do with the latter: nothing ups your popularity in HS like a car.)

          1. How can you keep them as wage slaves instead of entrepreneurs if you don’t keep them in debt. What better way to keep them in debt than by making them borrow to get a job in the first place.

            Skips having to let the proles own homes like the special people as a side benefit.

          2. That is nuts. You don’t even need an MLS for most librarian work.

            Unless… Is the job unionized? PEUs bring a whole lit of crazy to the table base on what gets negotiatedinto the contract.

            And you have to get a food handler’s license to so much as make popcorn at the local Fourth ofvJuly event even if you’re giving it away. The which means paying for a class(es) and sitting exam(s). There’s even a reasonable rationale for it.

            It’s the common sense / know-how version of “a law in every heart or a policeman on every street corner.”

            1. Depends on where you are, I expect. When I had a part time fast food job back in high school you had to have a “health card.” It proved that you’d shown clean on their hepatitis test.

              1. Admittedly Hep is a bitch and persistent (More dangerous than HIV when persistence taken into account), but disturbing that they have to assume that you will bleed or otherwise drop bodily fluids on the food.

          3. The sheepskin is currently a guarentee that the holder is not illiterate (although not for much longer). The employer may not test this directly due to disparate impact.

            1. Ya. After the disparate impact stuff, actual job tests seem to have disappeared in favor of the flavor of the week HR stuff. Admittedly I have been lucky that my two positions have been with interviewers interested in my abilities and interests, but there are too many of the stupid HR flavored questions as to “What is your weakness”, “Tell me a story where you solved a problem” etc

              1. The flip side is those companies who modularize their code requirements, then parcel the bits out as “tests” to hopeful applicants. With a reasonable specification and testing program in place, they get programmers for free.

                In a way, it’s a stroke of genius… but it’s industrial-grade scumbaggery.

          4. I expect McD’s will require a degree in “Fast Food Counter Service” eventually.

            Just an Associate’s degree, once free community college for all! is in place.

          5. The local library had an entry-level opening; clerk and shelving books. It required a degree in “Library Science.”

            I was told this when I inquired how to apply for a job just as a casual part-time book shelver. I went and asked a local TAFE about the library science course, and the puzzled person on the other line said “You only need that if you plan to manage the library as a whole as a career. Is that what you want?”

            We concluded that the woman at the counter saw me as a threat and lied to drive me away from ‘taking her job’ – especially since I found out the information is readily available online.

    2. > start at the top

      A friend’s daughter works at a fast-food place. She became an assistant manager after a month. When I said something about that being an accomplishment, I found out that all employees became “assistant managers” when they moved out of their probationary period.

      I remembered one place I’d worked where at least half of the people were “vice presidents.”

      We used to laugh about janitors calling themselves “sanitation engineers”, but it’s worse now.

      1. In the early 80s my brother had graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Refining just as the bottom fell out of the market. He busted tires and pumped gas for a while and referred to himself (jokingly) as a Petroleum Distillate Transfer Technician.

        1. If he had been willing to go either somewhere else or get a engineering job in another industry, he would have found work almost immediately. We had several Chem E’s/Petro E’s working at Comanche Peak who could not get jobs in the petrochem industry in 1983.

    3. Another problem (someone else mentioned Gresham’s law), imagine you do not want plastic plumbing in your house and want good old copper tubing. Good luck finding that plumber that can silver solder.

        1. ??? Black iron for natural gas. NEVER GALVANIZED! I’ve never seen copper used, though apparently it can be in some areas. Copper with flared fittings for propane, though black iron is also acceptable. Copper is far easier to run than black iron.

          There are now flexible metal lines available for natural gas. If I were house hunting and saw it piped with flexible lines- I’d be on my way to the next house. That’s just my own opinion.

          Heat welded plastic (don’t know what type) is now being used in NG distribution pipes. Special tools and training needed for it. The average plumber is going to have neither. 1/2″ and 3/4 CTS also available for use inside houses. Again, if I saw it- I’d be looking at other houses.

          1. You have to be careful; copper is only suitable for “low sulfur” natural gas. The local Code Gestapo wanted black iron pipe or CSST. The gas company took so long to respond to my enquiry that I went ahead with the CSST, which proved to be a mistake. It’s easily kinked, and you have to have everything juuuuust right to get the O-rings to seal. And while the tube is cheap enough, you need a ton of fittings, and they bend you over a barrel for those. I pressure-tested everything, but I’m still not all that confident with the system.

            1. I’d go cast iron if possible. No idea what the local code is, besides [redacted] beyond my comprehension. We have to jury-rig a little something at Redquarters when the city code guy comes to sign off on work on the hot water heater or main heater because code says X. When we did X, it almost burned up the heater blower motor. So much for X.

    4. Well, that and the fact that with modern equipment, steam plants and the like no longer need power plant helpers and apprentices. With #6 oil and coal, you needed the wipers and helpers just to keep the place clean enough to work in. Along the way, they’d pick up the skills to run the plant. And the smarter ones would take the time to learn the theory as well as the operation.

      Today, with natural gas and #2 oil, better gaskets and seals, and more then a century of experience building things, and lots more automation, there is no need for helpers. Whenever there’s a job opening, companies/governments want to hire someone already experienced. Which means for the last few years, steam plants have been poaching employees from each other. No company wants to hire a trainee with no experience and pay him (or the rare her in the field) to get it.

      Those of us with knowledge and experience are looking at everyone else in the field- all the same age and getting older- and we can see the big crunch coming down the road as we retire. In human resources, they see a bunch of old guys without college degrees, therefore interchangeable widgets, and even though they’re already having a hard time filling positions, they continue to see us as interchangeable widgets. Who should be making less money then them because we’re not degreed professionals.

      1. HR thinks every workman is an intechangeable widget. Management, however, is comprised entirely of special snowflakes.

        1. Ugh. No. Part of the problem is the idea that management is a skill in and of itself. Too many managers have no clue of the groups they oversee and thus the widget mindset vs Skill A vs Skill B.

    5. All the “apprentice” type stuff that I was offered was more like “work here, for free, and maybe we’ll look into paying you if you teach yourself to do the work that you’re not allowed to touch. Oh, and here’s the address for the school we want you to put yourself through.”


      I don’t mind working, and working hard; I do mind not being allowed to do a good job at what I’m supposed to be doing!

      1. Yes, in a lot of fields that’s true–apprenticeship is used interchangeably with internship and both of them mean working for free. I see a LOT of ads for internship programs around the university. I wonder what the conversion rate from intern to paid employee is–I suspect it’s pretty low.

        It’s like the brass ring of tenure being dangled in front of adjunct faculty members to get them to put up with the horrible conditions. I know some adjunct faculty members who teach one class each at four or five different universities, getting benefits from none of them, and spend their lives driving from campus to campus. They all know the odds of being picked up as a full professor at any of the universities is slight, but what else can they do?

        1. From what I’ve heard, the real point isn’t to get your foot in the door– it’s to do what college use to do, and get you into knowing the right people. Only a trust-fund baby, or someone with REALLY indulgent and rich parents, is able to pull them off.

          That would might why you saw REAL apprenticeships/introduction terms being treated like they’re supposed to make someone a Big Guy overnight.

  13. Sometime in or just after elementary school (one Summer) I went through an old high school chemistry book – doing as many of the included problems as I could. It took all Summer, and was often set aside as things seemed hard or such – but returned to. It wasn’t ‘easy’. Ox just stubborn. (And ox had heckuvan issue with acetate ion that Summer…) But that work paid off. Alas, it meant that while later chemistry classes were fairly easy, they were also terribly, terribly dull. Old text. “Descriptive chemistry” so there was a ‘feel’ for things before most theory explained it and it “Aha!” rather than “What’s _this_ for?” Also, it was 1950’s text, so the section on nitrates was very interesting and had warnings on the order of “don’t be stupid.” The sort of interesting sections now carefully omitted/expunged.

    1. I moved and had to transfer schools in the middle of the second semester my sophomore year in high school (I can’t describe how great it is to start a new school just as midterms are given).

      My last chem lab at the old school was “here are two samples. Tell me what’s in them by the end of the class”. A lot of lab partner pairs only got 50% on the lab because of poor division of labor.

      My first lab in the new school was “is there iron in hot dogs?”

      1. ‘Qualitative Analysis’ was what my High School called it. Great fun. Now, second semester was quantitative analysis, where you had to determine the concentrations in the samples. I took Linear Algebra/Probability instead of that one.

      2. That depends on whether you are using a wooden or a metal wiener roasting stick.

    2. I have a collection of engineering and physics textbooks going back to the 1800s. The difference between the old books and new ones is striking.

      Somewhere in the 1960s they started dropping the “teaching” part from textbooks; the teacher was apparently supposed to do that from their teacher guide. And the student books just became dibs and dabs of information, but mostly lists of problems.

      Having sat through some of those classes, the “degreed educational professionals” who taught the classes might have been hell on wheels for English Lit or PE, but a degree in “education” didn’t help them teach physics…

      1. There are so many things I’d love to have a “1950’s” textbook for, but are too new for that. Digital Signal Processing? I think I could understand it, if it was explained in a way that didn’t assume I already knew it.

        It seems there are three classes of books. My example is microwaves:
        Class I: “Microwaves are part of the spectrum, in radio, but shorter waves than your DJ talks over – and a bit longer than Infra-red.” and “Don’t put metal things in a microwave oven.”

        Class II: Gets you from Class I to potentially Class III. This is where 1950’s High School/Tech School texts generally fall. No example, due to not knowing of one for this.

        Class III: Before page 10, “We solve this triple integral to determine the cavity size of the magnetron…”

        There are not enough (readily available/findable) Class II books.

        1. Many of the older books operated under the assumption that you were reasonably intelligent, just ignorant of the subject. Then they proceeded to tell you what you needed to know.

          Many modern books are building blocks designed to fit into a pattern of structured prerequisites, and often not intended to be useful of themselves, but to provide background for further courses.

          Some of those books are… strange.

          “When your only hammer is calculus, all your problems look like integrals.”

          1. Yes… but not a school or library-sized one.

            Older books presented most things as “what it is food for” or “use this to solve that kind of problem.” Modern textbooks want their theory untainted by any hint of practice.

            1. So do a lot of people – something to do with getting their hands dirty, I imagine. I’m reminded of a short story from back in the 1980s or thereabouts, in which an American and a Russian crash on a primitive planet where conditions are appropriate for personal flying devices similar to hang gliders. They were, IIRC, the last surviving members of rival diplomatic expeditions sent to try to get the locals to sign on to their factions, but the Russian was a linguist attached to the actual Russian mission, and the American was just one of his spaceship’s engineering staff.

              By the end of the story, the Russian was fluent in the local language, but was isolated with the local academics and making no progress. The American, on the other hand, had difficulties with the language, but had involved himself with improving their flying machines and various other things, and was more involved with the local “movers and shakers.” The punch line of the story was on the order of, “In order to communicate, you have to have something to say.”

      2. In high school I started borrowing the teacher’s textbook, after they’d done the teaching and I’d turned in my work. (usually before they finished teaching….)

        Another reason I became sure I could teach my kids myself. 😀

    3. And if you tried most of those experiments today, you’d be thrown in jail, or at least placed on the ‘suspected of being suspiciously like a suspicious terrorist suspect’ list.

      1. It wasn’t me. There are no witnesses. Holes get burned through manhole covers by gremlins all the time. I want a lawyer.

  14. I was just discussing ways of carrying out supplemental education last night. The value of this education mainly being because current education doesn’t prepare students well enough.

    1. I got some of that in high school. “We’re not actually going to teach you anything. We’re just going to teach you how to learn, for when you go to college.”

      “Teach you how to learn” mostly involved endless make-down drills, which sometimes weren’t even graded, or copying stuff off the blackboard into notebooks, where we were graded for penmanship.


      1. I maintain that there is a reason that three of the best teachers I have had (Catholic school) were the ones that were products of the 80’s at the latest. I could have easily tested out of pretty much every non engineering class in my freshman fall semeseter.

    2. One of the homeschoolers on our usenet group ages ago was a Physics proffessor someplace or other. He insisted that his kids memorize times tables up to 25’s. In his opinion the ability to have all of that conceptually at hand, automatic and reflexive and entirely thoughtless (because it was memorized and drilled) meant that attention could be given to the concepts and study that mattered.

      I know we’ve all got calculators now but darned if almost all of my math traumas involve arithmetic.

      1. I can’t speak to 25 but getting to 12 or 13 and being able to break stuff apart (25*20 = 5*5*5*4 = 100*5, etc) makes it all a lot easier. Especially when you learn to recognize errors by sight alone.

  15. Sarah, there’s also the “crutch” factor. You probably see it more than I do, but we’ve got a whole generation of people who can’t spell or do grammar and think the spell checker is all they need. Resulting in a document I read that had vile substituted for vial.

    1. oh, boy, yes. I mean, I can make that kind of typo VERY easily and far weirder ones like instead of file examining I caught myself typing “going to” CLUE zero why. BUT I do know how to do it, if I’m paying attention.

      1. And some of us spell and grammer the blue blazes out of it, but auto-correct and touch screens kick us in the written-word goolies every time.

        If / when a truly clean copy matters I have to print out and work with the hard copy.

        And there’s an element of not-caring that works its way into one’s mental furniture from letting the interface-enabled errors slide in(like in the comments section of a blog)

        The tablet and cell-phone generation are stewing in this.

          1. brain sees what it expects to see.

            Hrm. Purchase marker. Go to grocery store. Find a half-dozen eggs. Mark the eggs: 1 2 3 and 5 6 7. Purchase. Hopefully checker opens carton for inspection – and actually looks.

            1. If it’s marked half a dozen rather then 6, they may not note anything wrong. I no longer say I want 4 or 8 ozs of sliced stuff at the deli if the counterperson is young. The first misunderstood time the young lady told me 4 ozs wasn’t enough for anything. I said it was enough for a sandwich. She said no, I said yes, so she promptly sliced me a very thin slice that came out to .04 lbs. I looked at the scale and said, “I want .25 of those.” “Well, Why didn’t you say so?” “I did.” Those conversations get old quick.

              My wife was talking to an Amish lady at the local farmers market last summer. Their kids are still taught in school quarts, pecks, bushels and barrels and other “archaic” measurements, because in their life, they’re still in everyday use. Probably have to memorize their times tables too. As well as learn fractions for carpentry.

              1. I still remember my junior high school math teacher ranting one day about how people didn’t understand numbers. His example was some cashier telling him he owed “a buck eighty-five” and his insistence that he was going to give her “one point eight five dollars”, which she did not understand was the same thing.

                1. If someone was insisting that they didn’t owe me X, but instead owed a different term for exactly the same thing, reluctance on my part to agree with them isn’t a sign of “not understanding”– it’s a sign of a healthy suspicion of someone who makes a big point of using a different term that describes the exact same thing.

                  Like if someone said “I am not buying laundry soap, it’s detergent” — “laundry soap” is the common term for the detergents used for clothing– then I would also be expecting a trick.

                2. Enh, that sounds more like a dislike of using different terminology. A better tale would be some I’ve heard of cashiers being confused when you give them an amount of money that allows you to get, say, a quarter in change. Like handing over $2.10 for the $1.85 price in your example.

                  1. The confusion might be real, but that example does work, though it has an explanation: automation. The clerk no longer needs to do any real computation beyond simple counting to give change. The expectation is therefore exact change or a coin round-up, or preferably the next dollar or bill amount.

                    The register has (soft) buttons for exact change, next dollar amount, and all the bills larger than the amount. The checker, at least younger checkers, are apt to be bewildered by this strange choice of amount that needs to be further keyed in rather than single-press. Exact change sounds good, but is liked less than a round-up. $29.95? That means dealing with 95 cents worth of coins. $30 means only one coin, so is less hassle.

                    Now, for those paying cash, if you want on a checker’s good side, pay (when reasonable to do so) in $10 bills. Those run out the fastest, and some systems don’t even dispense them.

                    Some ‘Observations from a Convenience Store’ might be an amusing or informative diversion:

                    1. Actually, I find it easier myself which is why I use it. I don’t care for ‘white hot’ backgrounds on screens, despite the terrible tendency to treat emissive screens as if they were reflective paper.

                  2. I paid $22.16 for a $6.66 meal once and the cashier freaked. The manger told her to just punch the amount in because it probably meant easy change. The cashier asked how I did that and the manager said I don’t know. Don’t let it bother you.

                    It was like I’d used black magic or something.

                    1. I also used to confuse some cashiers because I could figure out the total in my head, with sales tax, faster than they could type it in… usually at a place where I was ordering a combo meal so there was only one price.

                      Sales tax was 5%. That was supposed to be difficult?

                    2. If you never played with fractions, it is. You have to be comfortable with them to go “Oh, chop the lowest digit off, half that is five percent.”

                    3. It was like I’d used black magic or something.

                      That would explain the 666.

                    4. They probably never got to do math with “show your work” enough to get comfortable with it– it takes different times for different folks, after all, and I was enough of a twerp that I refused until my mom explained that the teacher needed to see what I was thinking to make sure I used the method she was trying to teach.

                      Pretty sure we’re all readers, here, so I’d guess we have a much easier time of going “well, it’s sixty-six, more than fifty so take five from that first six and that’s sixteen, gotta bump the next one up to cover it, I got a twenty and some ones, the six means one more add that to the other…twenty two.”

                      Typing that out, I can see it in my head, like on paper; our eldest has a habit of “writing” the stuff in the air.

                    5. Being 60+, I was told when doing Math to show my work and was told that there would be partial credit if the teacher could see “where I made the mistake”.

                      IE I did the correct method but made a mistake along the way.

                    6. My daughter has a horrible habit of getting distracted in the middle of a problem and forgetting that she carried the one– same thing.

                    7. I can still do long-division but prefer to use the calc. 😉

              2. I still don’t really know what my daughter weighed at birth, because there were two kinds of scales at that hospital– straight up digital (X.Y lb) and translating (X lb N oz) and I saw nurses writing the “.y” into the “oz” part on forms.

              3. As a peace officer of the great state of Texas was heard to rather emphatically reply to a woman shilling for more education funding, “Lady, the kids can do math just fine. Ask young T-Bone to convert grams of cocaine to fractions of an ounce, and he can do that in his head, on the fly. He’s got the conversion tables memorized. Ray-Ray can add, divide, subtract, and multiply fractions of an ounce in his head while making change and handing over the baggie. They may not excel at your standardized testing, but they got math down cold!”

        1. Yeah, that’s one reason why I avoid auto-correct when I can. I’ll take something that flags a word as something that might be incorrect (like Firefox’s little red-underline system that will flag things like “incurrect” when I type it) but I’d rather manually correct the error. Especially since sometimes I end up looking up some words and finding that the spelling is correct and the spellcheck is liking an alternate spelling more.

      2. There’s a difference between typos and just hammering random gibberish for people to puzzle over.

        And then there’s WordPress, which I’m certain changes my messages between “send” and when they reappear on the screen…

    2. Not just crutch. Some of them are outright proud of typing like a cat just walked on their keyboard.

      I made some of them angry in the office. “If what you had to say wasn’t important enough for you to put it into intelligible English, it’s not important enough for me to waste my time decoding it.” And that was *before* “texting”.

      “Well, that’s just how I write. You’ll have to deal with it.” [+badfeelz]

      “Not me, bub.”

      1. I will admit to having used what is now ‘txtspk’ but it was understood that one translated it into proper English if a message was passed along to someone who wasn’t using a key/keyer. I was astonished when I was told I had “a good fist” since at that time I had almost no proper practice or experience. And I was using a straight key. It’s been a while.

      2. I’ve told all my daughter’s teachers that if they find it difficult to read her handwriting on anything she turned in they could and should label it rough draft, mark it off for being turned in late, send it home, and I would stand over her until the entire worksheet, or what-have you was completely rewritten.

        Kid is now the fastest, most accurate keyboarder in her class. Heh.

      3. I was told I couldn’t insist that the people working for me write procedures in upper and lower case. I left that job shortly thereafter. If I’m a supervisor, and my people can go around my back to my supervisor and get a simple commonsense directive like that overturned- I’m not a supervisor.

        I hadn’t yet gotten around to correct terminology.

      4. I once had a coworker who was dyslexic. Highly competent, but his emails were the hardest to read I’ve ever seen. I cut him lots of slack and didn’t get annoyed, because he had a darn good reason for writing hard-to-decipher text.

        Someone who just isn’t bothering, OTOH, just gets my goat.

    3. But done right, it can be an art form. Look up “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” and “Anguish Languish.”

  16. I look back at all my experience as a machinist / moldmaker. The industry went from manual machines to computer numerical control during that time. The problem is the kids who know how to program a machine to cut a shape often could not do the same thing on a manual machine. Several times I was handed a job after all the hours were used up and any profit past saving. Once I was given a job after the programmer had failed to make a good part in three tries. There was no benefit to doing the job on a CNC machine except that was the only way they knew to do it.
    There is also a tendency for management to look down on blue collar. Even though they couldn’t do the job. I once worked for a man who stopped the whole shop and told us lies about how it wasn’t making any money every week – using up 30 man hours for nothing weekly. When he asked what we could do to improve things I suggested he stop the stupid meetings because nobody smart enough to do the work believed he wasn’t making any money when he was buying a half million dollars of machinery every six months. And the only benefit was he felt that every time somebody asked for a wage increase he could say “Well as I’ve been telling you we aren’t making any money.” – Well, 30 hours a week more work and less bullshit would help the bottom line. He laid me off.
    The really stupid part was I was the only guy in the shop who could do one General Motors job that generated somewhere around 20 to 30% of all the income for the shop.
    After getting rid of me and offending and chasing off the only good grinder hand he had the shop lost a whole bunch of critical contracts. It went under and the owner had a mental break down and went in the psych ward for a couple months. I later saw him in a drug store in town and he stammered and halfway tried to apologize and told me he’d found Jesus. I guess finding Jesus is easier than not being a jackass.
    People will destroy their own livelihood before respecting competence. It is threatening to their control and self image.

    1. Oh, yes. I actually went back to one company like that – they had gone through a complete reorganization and began pursuing me at conferences. Made them jump through a lot of hoops before I went back; and only did because I had a crappy job at the time.

      Of course, four years of decent work later, the company got bought out by a big German GMBH consortium (probably out of their coffee can money). Back on the street again… Had to find an interpreter several years later to get my work history out of the main offices.

    2. The gap between “3-D modeling” and what happens at the tool is profound. But G-code is only one step above a power feed.

      I do stuff in G-code because most of the CAD world is inaccessible to me; too much stuff depends on colors I can’t see, and the rest of it is bass-ackwards from the real world and annoys me.

    3. > There was no benefit to doing the job on a CNC machine except that was the only way they knew to do it.

      A lot of those shops don’t have any real machinists; they just have one or two CAM guys and a bunch of “operators” who babysit the machines and maybe deburr some parts. And those kinds of shops seldom do the little onesey-twosey jobs where knowing your equipment and setups can make the difference between making and losing money.

      1. Then there is the difference between what the specifications of what the machine says it can do and what is physically possible don’t match. Experience counts.

        1. And the trick is knowing where the specs are less than what the machine can actually do and where the specs are overstating.

    4. My first job as a field tech was for a contractor running computer tech support for an aeronautical research facility (multiple buildings on a campus). 18 months after being hired, the contract was renegotiated and I was laid off — along with nine or ten others. About a month later, I got a call from my old supervisor — who’d been on vacation when the layoff occurred — asking me if I’d come back as a temp if he tried to find me something permanent with the client. Turned out the contractor, in order to keep the contract, had bid so low they were having trouble staying in budget. They had laid off the techs with the best service records to avoid having to pay any raises. The supervisor had come back from his first vacation in two years to find his field staff cut in half and his best people gone. The contractor went out of business about a year later, and I still get invitations to join class action suits against them.

  17. Among the things I’ve taught myself are stuff like ironing and how to actually clean a house, not just sort of pretend to.

    I’ve pointed out more than once to people that over half the classes aimed at submissions at S&M cons, workshops, and retreats are essentailly home economics. I have come to realize how little of the basics of running a household, not just cleaning and cooking but planning, scheduling, training and supervising help, maintaining critical information, and so on just isn’t taught.

    Forget complex stuff like calculus or ancient history, we’re not teaching basics such as how to function as an adult.

    1. I’ve had rather boring jobs before where the only way to stay sane was to daydream… er multitask. Plot out a story or plan my weekend while pulling pipe out of a well.

      1. How did this reply end up here?

        Preparing students for life. What a revolutionary concept. I thought school was for turning individuals into programmable robots.

      2. When I was at school – one summer job was in a factory packing boxes, where the factory workers spent the whole day doing quizzes. The amount of knowledge they had amazed me. Taught me to never underestimate anyone. Since then, over the years I’ve met many farmers and factory workers who are secret intellectuals. While doing the boring jobs they’ve spent free time on book-learning then using the boring time to really think about what they’d learned. I know a lot of academics and a lot of manual workers – and I’ve found that the amount of knowledge each has is similar – just that their individual knowledge is either confined to their areas of expertise or broad and generalised (applies to both sets), but the academic set have their knowledge compromised by a lack of real world experience… and the worst thing is they don’t realise it. They assume they are competent because they a certificate that says so.

      3. Heh. I came up with a major scene for the novel that I have to edit on the drive to and from work. I wrote a lot of it while at work/school (The school paid me to work) waiting for programs to run

    2. “[$SOME HUGE PERCENTAGE] of students graduate high school without learning how to balance a checkbook!”

      “We don’t expect Congressmen to be able to do that when doing the national budget, why should we expect children to be able to?”

      1. First class I taught at SJW (our SJW: Submissive Journey Weekend) was in basic household budgeting with cash flow management via the envelope system.

        Had over half the attendees come through that class. Given several of them were already household managers for medium sized leather families I was very flattered.

            1. I think he was seeking clarification as to whether or not that’s an actual term (and if so, what is the meaning) or a typo. 🙂

              1. Yes. That. I know about the association of leather and BDSM.
                But is a “leather family” some kind of polyamorous thingamajig, or a term for a colloquy?

                1. It can be a poly thingie but by my observation an SCA belted family or household is a better comparison if you are familiar with the SCA.

                    1. From without getting too out there:

                      • The Households – There are many of us who live together in a household and as a family. In my case, it is I and my slaves. We are a household and a family. Other households in the Leather Community are integrated by three or more people who are partners among themselves. Several years ago, there was an International Mr Leather titleholder from Florida who lived with his two partners. And they are family. Sometimes there is a couple that brings in a third person as part of their household and family. Sometimes there are two Masters with several slaves. A household can be built in many ways. Each person does it in a way that works for him or her. And there is nothing that will not allow just a couple to consider themselves a Leather Family.

                      • Back-patch Leather Family – This is something that is seen more and more recently. This is where I have evolved in the past few years. My family is now integrated by members in addition to my three live-in slaves. Currently I have a female Senior Master, and two straight and one gay Junior Masters. These members do not live with me, but in different cities like Arlington, Virginia; New York City, Virginia Beach and Indianapolis. They all wear a leather vest with our family crest patch on the back. Not all of these types of families have or wears patches but there is a trend in that direction.

                      Using my own family and many others as an example, we see many of our families crossing the sexual orientation and gender barriers. As I mentioned above, my Leather Family is now integrated by a female Senior Master and two heterosexual male Masters. In the past, I had a straight female slave as well. One of my slaves is bisexual. I have many friends who own slaves of different sexual orientation or gender, or have such individuals in their families.

                      A pretty good outline…no pictures (on that page) but I still wouldn’t open it at work…the writer runs one of the biggest leather conferences in the country (Master/Slave Conference in DC Labor Day weekend). Hopefully it gives an idea of why I think seeing it as a poly thingie is limited as he clearly he describes points where there is no sexual attraction or activity between members in the orientation part.

                      The author’s site ( has a picture of his leather family (work safe although again I wouldn’t open it there).

                      That’s about as detailed as I want to get in the comments here.

                    2. From

                      • Our closest friends – It is very common for us to refer to our closest Leather or Kinky friends as “our Leather Family” as well. I have many of those. People who have been with me alongside my journey and whom I consider brothers and sisters but they do not belong to my formal Leather Family. When we are with our closest kinky friends, we are in family.

                      • The Households – There are many of us who live together in a household and as a family. In my case, it is I and my slaves. We are a household and a family. Other households in the Leather Community are integrated by three or more people who are partners among themselves. Several years ago, there was an International Mr Leather titleholder from Florida who lived with his two partners. And they are family. Sometimes there is a couple that brings in a third person as part of their household and family. Sometimes there are two Masters with several slaves. A household can be built in many ways. Each person does it in a way that works for him or her. And there is nothing that will not allow just a couple to consider themselves a Leather Family.

                      • Back-patch Leather Family – This is something that is seen more and more recently. This is where I have evolved in the past few years. My family is now integrated by members in addition to my three live-in slaves. Currently I have a female Senior Master, and two straight and one gay Junior Masters. These members do not live with me, but in different cities like Arlington, Virginia; New York City, Virginia Beach and Indianapolis. They all wear a leather vest with our family crest patch on the back. Not all of these types of families have or wears patches but there is a trend in that direction.

                      Using my own family and many others as an example, we see many of our families crossing the sexual orientation and gender barriers. As I mentioned above, my Leather Family is now integrated by a female Senior Master and two heterosexual male Masters. In the past, I had a straight female slave as well. One of my slaves is bisexual. I have many friends who own slaves of different sexual orientation or gender, or have such individuals in their families.

                      It is important to know that there is not a blueprint on how to form a Leather Family. I always advise people to build their families in a way that works for them. We can always learn new ideas from other families, but we have to do it our way, the way we envision it, the way we want it to work, the kind of members we want, the protocols we care about, etc.

                    3. Sorry about the double post…thought WP had eaten the first (wasn’t seeing it and it wasn’t cached) and didn’t want to write it again so I did the abbreviated portion.

                      As for not frightening the horses and privacy fences among most people who would identify leather (as opposed to other identities within the bigger one) that is actually a pretty big deal: keep it to our space and don’t push it in other people’s faces. As in, at one conference which was across from Turner Field we hadn’t sold out and to our horror it was a multiple game weekend. I can promise you people dressed for evening events were horrified to find themselves getting on elevators with families (as much as the families were) and as word spread adjustments were made. The conference no longer uses that hotel.

                    4. In 2000, one of DragonCon’s hotels was partially booked by the Eastern Command of the Salvation Army…..

                    5. Heh. I did Scholars’ Bowl back in high school. Nationals were held in a hotel in Chicago.
                      Then there was the weekend that the hotel booked ShibariCon at the same time…
                      They stayed in the basement, but the elevators could be a little strange…

          1. From his comments, HerbN rolls with the BDSM… I’ve never liked the word “lifestyle”, but that seems to be a common descriptor nowadays. “Leather” is one of the subsets of BDSM.

            BDSM relationships tend to be much more formalized than “vanilla” romantic relationships. While the vanillas tend to assume that things will work out given time, BDSMers are likely to lay out exactly each partner’s responsibilities, duties, and privileges before committing to a relationship.

            It takes a lot of work on both sides to make any relationship work. Taking the guesswork out makes things easier for everyone involved.

            1. Not a big fan of “lifestyle” either. Then again I’m not a fan of BDSM being an old fart who just calls it S&M . The book is SM101 not BDSM101 after all or for the medium old (I mean, the truly old school didn’t have how to books) it’s Pat Califia’s Lesbian S/M Safety Manual (yes, bitd even straights were buying it).

              While the vanillas tend to assume that things will work out given time, BDSMers are likely to lay out exactly each partner’s responsibilities, duties, and privileges before committing to a relationship.

              Yep…you’ll see formal contracts, books, all kinds of things.

              When you start getting a household you get into all kinds of fun with things like alpha-slave and poly like arrangements on whose night and such. Also, remember, when you start talking formal D/s the interactions are often non-sexual. Certainly when you’re up in a bootblack (think shoeshine) stand the interaction can be very erotic but non-sexual.

              A parallel to my above comment about classes aimed at subs, classes with a general or partners aim are probably 30-50% relationship classes: communication, negotiation, reading thing, re-ignited things after a break, etc. I think these are often skills we used to learn by observation but with broken home and single parents we don’t.

              One interesting observation I’ve made is who is more into the formal D/s. While it cuts age ranges it seems people I see coming into the scene in their mid-30s or later are much more sex focused and spend a good period as “kinky swingers” (for lack of a better) term more often than not. It is the younger people who seem to head for D/s very early with the formality and rules governing the relationship. It seems to be filling a void.

              A few threads back Foxfier (I think) suggested that the higher incidents of autism spectrum diagnosis correlate well to purging manners. I often wonder if the higher initial interest in the formal D/s side of things compared to the sex side in people under 30 is due to our purging so much gender role and standards of dating. These kids are encourage to do what sounds fun (I know more 21 year olds sexually jaded than I do 50 year olds and that bugs me) and they are rudderless. The ones who hit the scene seem to be latching onto something to give a structure to their relationships. I’m glad if it is helping them but I don’t like that we’ve abandoned them so much they need it or, to be honest, how many young (sub-25) people we get…seems like you should not mostly being getting into that young.

              1. OMG! Think of the old “rules are evil” Hippie’s heads exploding when their children do this. But then many things youngins do is to gross out their parents.

                1. “Dharma, honey, why do you have a chain locked around your neck?”

                  “Well, mom, it is like this… Greg isn’t just my bf, he’s my Master and this is my slave collar.”

                  Yeah, I’d like to see that one too 🙂

            1. Part of me wishes there was an anonymous listing somewhere of all the oddities that the diverciples worship that this group encompasses.

              1. I know we’ve got the highest percent of religion geeks that I’ve ever run into– the folks who may or may not be religious, but think that the subject is cool.

                1. I sometimes wonder if fiery Pastor Schulz had any idea how much his fervor pushed me AWAY from his cause. The best reason/defense I’ve ever seen for religion, is one I saw here: If one believes in a superior G-d, at least one does not believe oneself IS G-d.

              2. Well, I’m pretty sure we have race covered even more finely then they divide it.

                We have binary gender covered. Not sure about non-binary gradients but I am pretty sure we have at least one person who experiments with gender blending.

                I seem to remember at least one gay poster and we obviously have at least one kinky one (and they aren’t one of those icky Male dominant/female submissive hyper patriarchal types).

                Politics seems fairly diverse although I don’t remember any regular open communists.

                Af Foxfier points out we have diversity religiously both in terms of theology and interest in discussing theology as a serious topic. I’m not sure if either category extends much beyond Judaism and Christianity but given the progtard insistence on discussing any religion, if they do at all, on the most childish theological level we are winning there.

                What other categories are there?

                1. I believe we don’t have either any Muslims or the childish sort of atheist– you know, the ones who are utter bores about how much they hate a God that doesn’t exist, and get triggered by so much as the word ‘dog’ because it’s too close?– and I think we’re also lacking the “paganism is gee-wizz cooolzors ‘cus I watched Thor” type neopagan. Too serious minded, not emotional enough, I guess.

                  I’m pretty loose on the Eastern religions, but I’m pretty sure we have a couple of Buddhists, I think at least one Hindu (???), several different flavors of neopagan, and some atheists. Lots of agnostics (duh), several flavors of Catholic from normal practicing through Former Don’t Bug Me About It, and a good mix of the various non-Catholic Christians both brew your own and more organized. I know we’ve got Lutheran, and I think we’ve got…dang it, blanking on the group that’s the Church of England… Several Jews, of course, in the same range as the Catholics….

                  *shrug* It’s hard to tell, because this group is friendly enough to not pick fights- real fights, not arguments– so you’re only going to see the folks who find it cool or interesting for general talk, talking about it.

                    1. I’ll pray for her. Not sure what the status of an offshoot of the wrong side of that brotherly spat bugging Himself would be, but it’s all I can offer. 😀

                  1. We actually believe that reasonable people can have different opinions and faiths. Freedom of religion. What a concept.

                  2. Statistically and from talking with you lot in pms and emails, we 20% mixed protestant sects/pagans/atheists/stranger stuff, then of the 80% we have one third Catholics, one third Mormons, one Third Jews. There’s been an uptick in Eastern orthodox recently. Until the Mormons acquired force after Sad Puppies, I used to joke that this was like my (old) house being the dividing point for the Jewish and the Catholic neighborhoods (both sets of grandmothers yelled at my kids when they got out of line): proof G-d has a sense of humor.

                    1. I would have said a higher percentage of Protestants, and agnostics, but then that is just WAG and I have no idea what any number of commenters are, because they don’t comment on it. Without spending any time thinking about it, I can name six Protestants (including myself), four Catholics (including Eastern Orthodox as Catholic, even though I know there are differences), four Mormons, two Pagans, two Atheists, three Jews, and one Buddhist. I just assume that a large percentage of those who don’t participate in religious discussions, or don’t specific their own, are agnostic, because that has been my experience in meat space.

            2. Well, I do have a very narrow view of what I think is proper when it comes to sex.

              The folks here whose tastes differ from mine often strike me as more in agreement with my ‘unwise to have intercourse without trust, especially when trust is not warranted’ than the drunken college sex sorts whose tastes might appear more similar to my own.

              My personal opinions are not their business, and their personal opinions are not my business. We maintain our mental health enough that we do not need to care about incidental matters of other people’s business.

              Trump or Cruz weighs more heavily in my sentiment.

        1. Dave Ramsey’s budget system is very practical and will work fine if its users don’t cheat.

  18. I think that the “not cleaning house” thing (yeah, that’s what I latched onto)… okay, I was going to say “feminism” but it might have been the motivation, but now that I think about it, the direction of movement was probably just the general “lets not be so uptight about stuff” direction of schooling and everything else… because “rote” is bad bad bad. So much cultural disdain for “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” and, well, I can clean if I don’t have to think about it, but the value and social… evolution… was that nothing should be done thoughtlessly, or learned by rote, or conform to some 1950’s notion of proper order. This, of course, is complete hell for anyone who is ADD to any degree. I’ve done no better teaching my kids either, because parenting has gone the same direction and… well… hindsight.

    So now there are bunches of self-help books, uncluttering gurus, and daily email clubs, to try to help people like me learn not to be slobs by helping you learn new habits. What gets me though, are the times I’ve heard someone say that if someone can’t keep their house clean it’s simply because they don’t want a clean house. As if simply *wanting* something will reverse the lack of learned structure and non-existent habits that were never taught because “teaching” those confining rules was so frowned upon by forward thinking people.

    But what “rote” gives you, and what learning those confining rules gives you, (and learning grammar and learning multiplication tables and learning historical dates, and learning “how to fold clothes”), is that NONE of it any longer takes up any brain processing space.

    Which hurts those with extra brain processing space or comfortable life margins not at all. Anyone under stress or in a marginal situation or wanting to climb up the social ladder because they find themselves near the bottom, is screwed.

    1. It used to confound my (now 25-year-old) son when I would look at his multiplication problems and give him answers in a few seconds without writing anything down. Like this:

      98 X 52 = ?
      I’d look at it for a moment and then say, “5096.” He’d say, “How did you do that?” I’d reply, “Don’t they teach you about estimating and rounding?” to which he’d respond (predictably), “No.” Soo…”Well, 98 is close to 100. 100 X 52 is easy; it’s 5200. But since 98 is 2 less than 100, the answer is twice 52 less than 5200. Twice 52 is 104, so 5200 – 104 is 5096. This is easy–how can they not be teaching it?”

      1. As best I can figure it, the new ‘Common Core’ math does indeed rely on this idea, but, like anything educators do, they have loaded it up with non-essential process and intermediate steps to make it incomprehensible.

        1. Common core tries to eat the elephant in one bite. As opposed to making sure that the student understands the failsafe method in lieu of the easy one. Same with whole word vs Phonics

        2. They try to teach you that short-cut without teaching you the foundation, and before you can get it solidified they’re teaching you another shortcut. 😦

          Makes buying practice books for my daughter a pain; thank goodness for’s auto-generated math problems.

      2. Yep. I insisted on my daughter learning her times tables when she was young, because I can do those types of things as well (although not as well as when I was young), and wanted her to have the capability. I saw no reason that anyone shouldn’t at least be exposed to that sort of thing, but she’s the only one I had any control over.

        When I was in high school, the University of Texas ran something called the University Interscholastic League for statewide high school competitions in non-athletic fields. I competed in Number Sense, which was mental arithmetic. You’d be given a folded piece of paper, on which you’d write your name. They’d give a start signal, and you’d unfold the paper and start answering problems, writing down only the answer. Erasures, strikeouts, and skipped problems were counted as wrong. There were 80 problems per test, and about every tenth one would be marked with an asterisk, meaning that answers correct within about 5% would be accepted (“Calculate 2^10” would be an example – after about 35 years as a programmer, I’d find that one much easier today). Ten minutes later, they’d have everyone stop, and they’d grade the papers.

        Fun stuff, but I’m no longer that good, and I’ve no idea if they’re still doing that sort of thing.

        1. Maybe it was “calculate 4^10” instead of 2. I remember that 1000000 was near enough correct, and 2^10 just doesn’t make it.

        2. Go UIL…I was on our Ready Writing team. You got two essay to read and an hour to write a response to one.

          1. UIL English Lit. JCL Greek Derivatives, Greek life and thought, Latin Derivatives. *pats nerd card with front paw*

          2. UIL: mostly speech and debate (best was prose interp, but most of us went through most things, so I ended up doing poetry and Extemp Speaking or standard or cross-ex debate fairly often).

            Also did math and science competitions when they didn’t interfere with speech tournaments.

            Moved a few times in high school, as my father had to move to new jobs. Speech tournaments kept me reasonably sane, since I’d probably know a few people from the new school at least in passing, and I’d see friends from my old school at tournaments.

        3. CALCULATE 2^10? Why would one want to calculate it? You memorized it, didn’t you?

          (Fellow programmer here. I lose track after 2^16.)

          1. I did Number Sense and science in UIL competitions. One Act play is another big competition.

        4. <I.I competed in Number Sense, which was mental arithmetic.

          I did, too… I was usually good enough to be sent to tournaments, but never good enough to place once I got there.

          Kind of got me in semi-trouble when I started trigonometry… I used something on the first day that I knew from competition but that hadn’t been covered in class yet, so the teacher told me to redo it. So, using what she had covered, I proved what I had used to be true, so she had to let me use it. Her response was something like “oh, you’re one of those?”

          1. I did, too… I was usually good enough to be sent to tournaments, but never good enough to place once I got there.

            I managed to place 7th in state for 3A schools my senior year.

      3. Asimov wrote a kid’s book on how to do arithmetic in your head. A bunch of tricks and shortcuts that worked on even fairly complex problems.

        Some people denigrate that sort of thing, “Why should I learn to do it in my head when a calculator is always handy?” True, but by the time you’ve keyed it in, the in-his-head guy has written down the answer and has moved on…

        1. Exactly. And that “always handy” calculator has to be found (not always easy) or called up on the phone, then the calculation entered, and the number transferred to wherever it’s needed. As you say, it’s usually quite a bit faster just to do it in your head.

          1. And when the batteries die . . . I used to do that to my flight students. Half-way through a leg of the cross-country, I’d announce “the batteries in your electronic E-6B just died.” And pet the large aluminium wiz-wheel tucked into my door’s stuff-holder.

            1. Odd, I have an old battery-operated calculator that I’ve had for at least 20 years and it still hasn’t run out of power. I don’t activate it too much, though, usually to just double-check something.

              1. I’ve replaced a couple of calculators because it was cheaper to buy an entire working replacement calculator than it was to replace the batteries in the one I had.

                That shows you the markup on batteries, I guess…

                I’m often reminded of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s at a lumber mill. A machine turns a giant log into a tiny toothpick, and a mechanical arm reaches over and delicately places it in the waiting box…

                  1. I’ve done that– especially if you get the printer on sale, and they offer a credit for turning in your old printer, it works. Especially if you only print maybe half a ream of paper a year.

                    We finally had enough money about four years back and I snagged a really good printer that uses the high yield printer cartilages, and that there are generics offered for– I knew that I’d be printing a lot to homeschool the kids. (We’ve averaged about three reams a year, and have replaced the ink…two or three times, can’t remember.)

                    1. My first thought here was “Nicely done, I should try to do the same!” and then I remembered that while my printing needs may increase if I homeschool, our current problem is that we don’t print enough and the ink keeps drying out.

                      Still a good call though.

                    2. If you do homeschool, get a free (or at most, basic yearly) membership for , and then buy the lifetime one when they send out the 50%-75% discount email. It’s still something like a hundred bucks, but absolutely worth it if you have a printer.

          1. There were incredible mechanical calculators before electronics. Of course they were expensive business machines.

            1. My dad was the comptroller for a company back in the early 60s – they had a computer. It took up an entire floor of the building and took at least 15 to 20 people to keep it happy.

              I’m pretty sure the Texas Instruments calculator I got my senior year in HS could do almost everything that monstrosity could do.

              1. I work on drawings done before I was born. Now we have computer programs that in theory let you build the whole thing in cyberspace. Sometimes the old school drafting is a lot easier to understand and draw than the overprecise CAD methods.

                And I can proudly say I have released (to the paperwork custodians chagrin) old school drafts and mylars.

          2. I think I saw one of the first of the hand-calculators just out of High School (Summer of 1972).

            It was at the bookstore of Rose-Hulman (don’t remember if it was named that yet) engineering college.

            It was an engineering calculator with all the special functions an engineer would need.

            $500 (in 1972 dollars).

            I think you can purchase that type now for much less and a simple calculator for under $20 now.

            Yes, I feel old. 😉

            1. My dad bought a 4 function electronic calculator for $109.99 in ’72. It replaced a mechanical that took up a quarter of his desk.

                1. Dad had this one with a 10 key pad on one side then a 10×10 grid then function keys.

            2. Oh son, I remember the first 4-function calculator I ever saw. It took up a desktop, and the display was nixie tubes. Never asked the price; there was no point.

            3. And my first computer was an IBM 1620, that the local community college let us play with after they replaced it with an IBM 7040 (I think). It was loads stupider than pretty much any appliance in your house today, but we had a lot of fun with the keypunch, collator/decollator, etc. I tried to run a Fortran program to solve cubic equations, but it usually hit memory overflow by the second or third data set. Still, the first one or two proved that the program worked. 🙂

            1. I have made quill pens from turkey feathers. I need to get more turkeys. They were most entertaining pets. It is hard, though, to cut the quill at just the right angle.

      4. They don’t teach kids to actually understand numbers. Select a random sample of 100 recent High School graduates. Ask them, if x + y = z then y + x = z. Why? How many do you think can give a coherent answer?

          1. What? addition is communist?

            hey, its early and i was scanning the email notices….

    2. Rote-only learning is really bad for the creative-intuitive types. It makes them associate school with screaming boredom. Learning without any rote components is bad too, since sometimes internalizing basics is a real timesaver as others have pointed out. Then there are differences in learning style–I prefer to learn new coding languages by playing around with them and only reading or going to Stack Overflow when I get stuck. Of course many teachers can’t handle that many variables well. They just want One True Answer, whatever it is, and for students to sit in their nice little boxes.

      1. It’s a corruption of what I learned from my mother (retired teacher), who learned it from her teacher, etc., etc.: the learning pyramid.

        Basically, at the bottom you have rote memorization. Vocabulary, verbs, declension, for languages. Multiplication tables and so on for maths. For any learning I can think of, the foundation is rote memorization. If you don’t have a few basic concepts, things everything else depends on you knowing, you are lost (at least I am).

        Above that is *using* the basics to work simple problems. C-A-T spells cat, once you have the alphabet. Or plugging numbers into formulae.

        Way up at the top is integration and synthesis. That’s putting all the memorized knowledge, all the formulae and process, all of it together and making it work. It’s knowing everything from the atomic structure all the way up to compounds and chemical interaction in chemistry.

        This is the major problem I have with common core, maths especially: it skips all the way to the top without covering any of the layers in between. It makes learning far more difficult.

        You’re at the point where you are integrating and synthesizing all the little bits you know, and using them to make code work. Folks like me, who only have a little bit of C and html don’t have the basic knowledge to do what you do. Your teachers probably don’t have near the breadth of your basic knowledge in *their* job (coding, sub-classification: teacher). Folks who want the “One True Answer” generally don’t have all the learning layers filled in to the point that they can see what you’re doing accurately- let alone why and how.

        1. Mastering the base levels ingrains the knowledge deeply so that it is easy to draw upon when learning the higher levels.

        2. This. Common Core appears to be trying to teach models and abstractions without having to teach what is being modeled. It’s the “having to deal with the real world” part they don’t seem to like – models and abstractions are clean and pretty, while doing things by rote is tedious, and perhaps beneath them.

        3. When reading, and truly understanding, Elements of Radio the formula for inductive reactance and capacitive reactance were preety much ‘presented’ (might not be the case for sure – it’s been many years now) but when it got to the point of resonance? Setting the reactances equal and deriving the LC resonance formula? That stopped me. Not from difficulty, but from appreciation. A lot of seeming complexity vaporized, leaving elegant beauty. I repeated that ‘derivation’ many times, in awe.

          I liked Elements of Radio, despite its ‘ancient’ content of tubes and such, because it started off assuming you knew very little but could learn quite a lot. “This is a wave…” “These are metric prefixes..” And by the end of the first section (first was more ‘practical’, second more ‘theory’) you could pick a spot at random on the diagram of the 5-tube superheterodyne and know what that part was and why it was there – and what would happen if it failed. And by the time you got there, the ‘big scary diagram in the middle of the book’ had become a marvel of if not simplicity, reduced complexity. ‘Pentagrid converter’ still sounds like it could be a futuristic device, rather than an ‘obsolete’ one.

          1. > metric prefixes

            I learned kilocycles, which make perfect sense. It’s a self-defining unit. Heinrich Hertz was probably a great guy, but sticking his name on a unit didn’t help anyone at all.

            I gave up on the metric system entirely when they dumped kg/cm^3 for Pascals. What’s a Pascal? Who can tell without looking it up…

            1. I gave up on the metric system entirely when they dumped kg/cm^3 for Pascals. What’s a Pascal? Who can tell without looking it up…

              Um, you’re mixing up two entirely different measurements here. kg/cm^3 is density and those units…well 1 kg/cm^3 is about 90 times denser than lead.

              Pascals are units of pressure. One Pascal is 1 Newton per square meter. It’s a very small unit. 1 psi is just under 6900 Pascals (and I either derive or look up the conversion when I need it–it’s not one I keep in my head).

                1. A ml of distilled water at 2 degrees C, as I recall. You have to be specific to be precise. 🙂

                  1. A cc is a ml is a cc, regardless of the temperature. Now a ml of distilled water at 4 deg. C is a gram.

                    1. To be completely accurate, a liter was defined as the volume occupied by 1 kilogram of pure water at 4°C and 760 millimeters of mercury. So for a milliliter to equal a cubic centimeter the same conditions would need to apply as that’s where the definition of a liter comes from.

                    2. You actually have that backwards. The volume unit was based on linear measure. A liter was defined as one cubic decimeter. the gram was defined in terms of one cubic centimeter of water at the temperature of melting ice. This works out that a liter of water would then mass a kg. But liter, and by extension milliliter volume is constant regardless of the temperature. It’s the volume that was used to define mass (originally, now The metre is defined as the distance travelled by light in a specific fraction (1/299 792 458) of a second and the kg is defined as the mass of the “international prototype of the kg” a platinum iridium cylinder kept in Paris), not the other way around. And CC and ml are just two different ways of stating the same thing.

            1. That’s the one. A copy of that book, with that cover, is on a shelf a few feet (er, less than 2 meters) to my right. That image on the cover? Pre-comsat, over-the-horizon scatter communications.

  19. Yes. The true measure of having learned something is being able to perform competently while on autopilot. Repetition trains burns pathways into the brain that persist.

  20. Frustratingly, it’s gotten into the customer bases as well. Though that’s probably age old in the ‘cutting corners to save money’ arena. My husband has lost a few contracts because he insisted that a job needed to be done right… the guy who did it claimed to have done it right, but it’s done sufficiently wrong that my husband can’t do the masonry, legally, until it’s fixed. They find a mason willing to bend the law rather than make the guy who did the first job wrong do it right. (He also caught an error in the plans on one of them and they still decided to believe the guy who screwed it all up to start with.)

    1. I passed on building an add on bathroom for a Bangaladeshi here in Reno. He hired some cheap Mexican labor who ran the water pipes on the outside of the house. He was shocked! Totally flabbergasted that mere water had broken the pipes come winter.

      1. Yeah, my husband anticipates a lot of business in 5 years when the cheap Mexican masonry company’s stuff starts needing massive repairs.

    2. *laughing* Aff got a very irate call recently, from one of his old customers. “Why did you move away? I don’t have anyone who can fix my stuff!” “Stuff” being very old computers that run irrigation systems for large farms.

      And a customer of ours is freighting his computer to us, so Aff can fix it and upgrade. He does not trust a single tech in Townsville.

  21. This applies to auto mechanics too. I’m at the point where I took an odd job of rebuilding a forty-plus-year-old German car as a side job because I’ve spent THAT much time rebuilding and repairing my own cars. It no longer scares me; what REALLY scares me is the thought of someone ELSE touching my cars. I’m probably going to start a part-time job as a machinist, too, in the near future, because the more experience I get fixing things, the less willing I am to risk problems and money on someone else touching any part of the repair process at all. Long run, I’ll start a machine shop in my garage.

    1. Not being an auto mechanic, I made sure to find a competent one (by asking people I trusted to know), and I’ve stayed with him for about 30 years now. I hope his staff keeps the business going when he retires.

      Personally, I tell people that the older I get, the more willing I am to pay other people to do things for me (finances permitting), even simple things like changing my oil. Then again, in that case, disposal is more of a concern than it was 40 years ago. I do run into the competency issues, but there’s not enough time for me to learn how to do everything I need done, as well as to do them. And my body conspires against me from time to time, as well.

      1. A good mechanic is worth his weight in gold, primarily because that’s how much more a bad mechanic will cost you. 😉

        Maybe I just need to learn to fabricate pistons for said Teutonic automotive marvels; with the prices they charge, I could almost buy a brand new car every half-decade if I sold 100 sets per annum. [EVIL GRIN]

        Perhaps when one gets competent to the point of being a threat to the people around one, it’s simply time to quote Bill Murray:

        Dr. Peter Venkman: For whatever reasons, Ray, call it… fate, call it luck, call it karma, I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that we were destined to get thrown outta this dump.

        Dr. Raymond Stantz: For what purpose?

        Dr. Peter Venkman: To go into business for ourselves. [Takes a swig of schnapps]

      1. It’s a serious need. There are dozens of older machinists and toolmakers (read: master machinist) working beyond retirement age in my neck of the woods, because there ain’t a soul to replace them.

        What worries me almost as much is the engineers that supply the design have gotten… how to put it? Dumber than a box of hammers? I mean, I know our design engineers are special people, but the guy over the department when I was hired on, he knew not only his job but how to do everything from the guy who swept the floor on up. Our current engineers might know CAD, but beyond that? *shakes head*

        1. My FIL was called back from retirement twice. He had payed his way through engineering school working as a machinist.

          He ended up working at a company that built stators for jet engines. When a request for bid came in, he could see all the little places that were difficult to machine. He would redline the drawing and respectfully ask if the tolerances could be relaxed at a few critical locations. The design engineer would make the changes and all would be good.

          First contract after he retired resulted in an 80% reject rate. He was hired back at double his salary. He eventually got a master machinist installed on a bid review team as he just couldn’t get the new engineers up to speed.

    2. 90% of the time, the value of the mechanic is not that they can do the job but that they are liable. Right now I have a car under warranty so it all goes to the shop. Previously it was brakes and engine work so there was some warranty.

      1. Yeah, I can climb up into the attic and put out mouse traps…. but I let the Orkin guy do it so that when he slipped and fell through the ceiling between the rafters, Orkin got to call (and pay) someone to repair it.


    “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

    Give them back their giants to stand on.

    1. “Newton said he could see so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

      Programmers, on the other hand, are like midgets, standing on the toes of other midgets.”

      (usually credited to Dykstra)

      1. Programmers have come up with several variants. Hal Abelson is supposed to have said “if I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders.”

  23. Hal Abelson, the diminutive prof. at MIT who finally approved my undergrad project (a tiny Scheme interpreter for 64K CP/M machines that could run the problem sets for his course, 6.001) had this on his office door: “If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders.”

    As for the topic, the tipping point occurred a few decades back when failure was deemed less important than self-esteem. Modern public school graduates are often illiterate and innumerate. Their teachers come from the lower third of the college entrants. While it was always true unions and workplaces where management was disconnected from quality discouraged working more efficiently than others, it’s now much worse — incompetents are placed in key roles in critical government and financial institutions (now much the same thing) by diversity hiring and HR policies. Managers striving for the best teams are blocked and give up. Incompetents are promoted, and the strings of regulation in business and Title IX and government funding in education tie down those who try to change anything. As a civil servant or teacher, it is almost impossible to get fired (unless a lynch mob of SJWs come after you for saying the wrong word in class.)

    Working on a book about it starting here: – we haven’t noticed how bad it’s gotten because we have been so lucky. But those days of easy survival may not last much longer.

    1. Yes, Griggs is at the root of it all. When I am president, I will address the disparate impact of requiring athletic talent to play in the NBA.

  24. “We’re not supposed to read. We’re supposed to look at the word and guess.”

    I had this experience in 3rd grade. I remember it well. The teacher wrote out a story on her white pad with the “difficult” words covered up, and we were supposed to guess what they were based on context. For example, “The princess had [blank] clothing.” Pretty much any adjective fits in that blank (well, okay, not things like “Pythagorean,” but you know what I mean). Even doing a “partial sound-out” and noticing that the word starts with an “e” still doesn’t help much. We spent about 10 minutes on each blank, and I don’t think anyone ever correctly guessed a single word.

    Looking back, the exercise was so stupid and such a waste of time, I almost wonder if the teacher was deliberately trying to sabotage the lesson so the district would stop making her teach this way and let her get back to phonics.

  25. You could write whole series of books from this post.

    Other titles in those series would be “The War on Responsibility”, “The War on Accountability”, “The War on Common Sense”, and on and on and on…

    I don’t know for sure, but I think there is case for two responses to this case that Sarah is laying out, both of which I could make good arguments for: One would be “Yeah, it’s always been like this…” and the other would be “This is now worse than it has ever been…”.

    Both are true. Question is, which is more true, and are we still able to renew ourselves from where we’re at, today?

    The problem, I fear, is that we really lack perspective. We can extrapolate, from what has happened historically, and what others have written about, but… Without having lived through the years leading up to the Fall of Rome, who the hell could really say we’re recapitulating the whole thing over in real time? I’d give a couple metaphorical limbs to be able to interview that figure of historical fantasy, the Wandering Jew. Although, it’s possible that his viewpoint on the issue might not be of any real value.

    Incompetency has always been with us. So has sheer stupidity, and all the rest of the human vices. I think the critical thing is, where we’re at in the race between competency and incompetency. There’s always been an arms race, between the two–In societies like Imperial China, and Imperial Rome, the side of status quo incompetence is what won out. In more successful societies, innovation, realism, and competence won out, for at least long enough to improve things.

    In a traditional Western capitalist society, the incompetent get weeded the hell out by competition and going bankrupt. It’s only in societies like the ones built by the Communists and other status-quo types that the incompetent become institutionalized and wind up in positions of unassailable power, locking everyone else down to their piss-poor levels of performance. For examples, see the above-mentioned bastions of the status quo, and Communist-dominated regimes the world over. Socialism equals the death of innovation and change, which are two things such societies regard as abomination.

    Ah, well… It’s amusing to watch, as it all plays out. Lately, I feel like one of the band members on the deck of the Titanic, watching the idiots run us into icebergs and then drag the rest of us down with them on a sinking ship…

    1. Communism is based on fairness. Fairness is an admirable goal in games. There are rules that should be obeyed in games. Play by the rules and let the best man win. Life, however, is not a game. It is inherently unfair. Any creative type can change the rules. Invent a new product or process and the rules change. Socialism can only work if you lock down the rules at gun point. Moslems believe that any rule change implemented after the death of the pedophile prophet is null and void. The multi-culti, everyone is special, politically correct game plan that the Left is trying to ram down our throats is in the process of wrecking Western Civilization.

      The free market and rule of law in a representative republic has been the most successful game plan yet tried. That game plan is enshrined in the Constitution. Let’s go back to the winning plan.

      1. Fairness is an admirable goal in games. There are rules that should be obeyed in games. Play by the rules and let the best man win. Life, however, is not a game. It is inherently unfair.

        Life is *complicated.*
        “Fairness” in life is called “justice.” It’s something to be sought, but it’s not as simple as “fair” in a game.

        Like Sarah has pointed out before, there’s a big group of folks that confuse cause and effect; they keep trying to change the map to make the land look different, and “fair” being substituted for “just” is part of that. 😦

  26. A major problem with schools today is that they have been captured by the Education Industry. If you simply teach reading, math, etc using known best methods (eg: phonics), you cannot justify PhDs in Education, administrators in charge of curricular development, multi-million $ courseware from for-profit companies to teach Johnny to read, new textbooks, etc. If you think about it, there is no reason for a basic algebra text to have been updated in the last century – and yet they are. Common Core is little more than a money grab for education administrators and those who sell products to them.

    After getting pi**ed off by poor quality work, I also do all the manual labor I can. If I have to hire someone, I make it a point to hang around and help with the fetching and carrying. I try to learn something about a trade each time I do. Often tradesmen will throw in some free work or give me money-saving or DIY tips just because I treated them like an equal (ie: like a human being and not a slave).

    With regard to programming, I believe that many of the software horror stories are caused because (as in many industries) we have replaced training with credentials. A computer science degree demonstrates little more than an ability to warm a chair in front of a keyboard. I find it takes about 2 years of experience before a college hire knows enough to write even marginally competent code. Many never get that far. If we taught coding as an apprenticeship for high school graduates, I believe a rigorous 6 month ‘boot camp’ could get students to the same level of competence at a fraction of the cost. At the very least, you would attrit those with no aptitude quickly and inexpensively.

    1. If we taught coding as an apprenticeship for high school graduates, I believe a rigorous 6 month ‘boot camp’ could get students to the same level of competence at a fraction of the cost.

      Been saying this for years.

      A BS in CS prepares you to earn an MS and a PhD in CS not write software for a living. Yes, some of the stuff you learn is useful down the line but you never learn the basic skills like source code control, basic testing, etc.

      I’d rather get a HS graduate apprentice to work for two years then send him to college part time. He’d be better off in terms of money and starting earlier and a better programmer and I’d benefit from his greater productivity and not having an unlearning period.

      1. Bang! HerbN scores!

        > A BS in CS prepares you to earn an MS and
        > a PhD in CS not write software for a living.

        The purpose of a college degree in *anything* isn’t to teach you a skill, it’s to fill a prerequisite for for leveling-up in the academic game.

        If you manage to apply what you learned to the real world, well, that’s nice…

        I just realized how much the American collegiate system resembles The Religion That Likes To Sue People.

      2. Another benefit is that if either the employer or apprentice decides this is not working out, you can part ways with little time or money lost. Sadly, I have not seen anyone in industry interested in adopting this model.

      3. There are a couple of outfits (Didn’t Charlie Martin briefly work for one?) who are pitching this deal to new graduates with degrees that have no market value: Give us time and money, and we’ll teach you to code so you’re employable. I think the time was 6 months and the money was $10,000. It was advertised as a way to get employed in a field where you could pay off those expensive college loans.

        To which my response was: Why don’t you skip the $60,000 in loans for comparative religion classes, go straight to these outfits (if they really can teach), and get the programming job at a younger age with more financial stability? It makes a lot more sense to me.

        1. The good news is this already works sorta, under the covers. I have no official accreditation as a coder even though I work as one. I do have a degree, but in physics. This both reassures HR and reassures the development org–but I never took a single CS course. So yeah, it kinda does exist. Now to make it official… Where I work now, they don’t care as much about the degree, but you can’t even get in the door for a dev position interview without doing some sample code.

        2. They still won’t be employed, of course, because it’s still cheaper to bring in H1B types.

          1. It’s only cheaper in the short run. My experience with coders from India (where most of America’s H1B coders come from) is that they’re reasonably okay at writing to a design that someone else has come up with, but most of them are completely incapable of coming up with good design themselves. Which means that in the long run, you end up with code that’s an unmaintainable mess, and you have to hire a dozen H1B coders to keep it running when just one skilled coder would have been able to handle it. Even if that coder is getting paid 5x as much as an H1B coder, that’s still a long-term gain for the company. But to understand that, you have to actually be able to recognize good code when you see it, meaning you have to be a decent coder yourself — which rules out any HR person by definition. Because if that person in HR were a good coder, they’d be doing that (much better-paying) work themselves, rather than working in HR.

            1. My husband dealt with outsourced code to run fire alarm systems, because some bright lights high up in his firm “knew” it would save the company money. Every one of those outsourced jobs needed to be rewritten. It was hideously more expensive than just doing it themselves. It took someone noticing that they overseas coders were missing some required certification or other to make the idiocy stop.

              1. A visual effects company that is now out of business decided to open a division in India to offload simpler shots and theoretically make their workflow faster. They could pay ten animators in India for what they paid one in the US.
                So eight months later they are running a feature film project and the shots from India- well, the Indian workers don’t actually work as fast as the American ones, so they aren’t getting ten workers for their money, they are getting the equivalent of five. Add to that, a more experiences artist in their workflow (i.e. an American animator) had to go over the shots and fix them. It ended up being a net draw, and their India office was kicked down to doing largely paint and roto.

            2. This has been my experience as well. A couple of observations (1) 25 years of importing H1B coders has re-set expectations. Crapware (totally an engineering term) is the norm, is expected, and is tolerated. The assumption being that code resembling the Augean stables can be put right by hiring even MORE cheap folks with pitchforks. Keep in mind that any manager with memories of the Days Before H1Bs would be over 50 years old. The industry is actually forgetting that there IS an alternative approach. (2) Most of the HR folks I have dealt with are NOT the culprits. Software managers and higher ups are the ones choosing cheap, relatively unskilled labor because they either do not recognize that there is an alternative, or simply don’t want to make the investment in time and training.

    2. Enlisted Naval Nuclear Power School is 6 months. Then 6 months at prototype to learn how to apply what you learned to reactor operation. The equivalent civilian training is 2 years. Followed by Ghu knows how long as a trainee before you’re allowed to touch anything. Never found that out.

      Day one of NPS the instructor wrote “1 + 1 = 2” on the board, turned to us and said, “We’re starting here. In 6 months, you’ll know calculus.” For anyone who wants to work it out, the last problem on the last test was, “the integral of 1/e to e of 1/X dX”. I laughed when I finished the problem, the only one in my class who found it funny. Not everyone got to the last problem.

    3. The issue with credentialism is almost universal. Outside of a few fields (Hard sciences, Medicine, Engineering) you need a lot more OJT than just that sheepskin. And when you have courses that are focused on last decade’s languages (Justifiably since it takes time to get stuff into the rotation) its even more difficult.

      Admittedly I’m a young pup in my field but even with my education it took a year for me to be comfortable with decisions in some cases (between the ‘where the hell is this documentation’ to ‘Am I missing something or should I have engineer Y drug tested for this design’). I still know I am learning but I can get a valid, usable solution at this time. The OJT aspect of any job is understated and misunderstood by management widget movers.

  27. Given all the talk about computers and machining, this mechanical computer seems appropriate (although wildly off the original topic):

    I’m thinking about designing one for something simple, just to see if I can. I have no hope of ever building one.

  28. Then comes foreign language teaching. “Immersion” is a dirty word. Oh, it works fine (sort of) if you’re really immersed. I.e. everyone tells me that’s how the secret service does it. What, two hours a day and never any grammar? Bullsh*t. Days of immersion and then grammar and translation of some words to correct the patois you’ll pick up? Sure.

    Comic support!

    The author is a lady doing English classes in Japan. Got there with…um…. “I’m an anime fan” level Japanese.

    If total immersion worked auto-magically, then Mexicans working here would be absolutely fluent and perfect at it within months.

    They don’t get total immersion– they have their home culture where they sleep, at the store, most of the foremen speak enough to be understood, and Americans for all the rep of us being horrible “say it louder and slower, they’ll figure it out” folks will use pantomime and drawings and pointing to get what we’re there for. They’re not dropped into “everyone speaks English and only that” land. (Don’t get me started on the mangled Mexican-English-holy-crick what thread of Spanish are you speaking thing that happens at schools.)

      1. Okay, I need to thank you for ANOTHER recommendation that I loved. First Embers, now Daughter of the Lilies. I was happily reading along, liking the characters, and making mental notes on the setting (e.g., the guy in a swords-and-sorcery world who’s selling “relics of an age gone by” — that look like iPhones, iiiiinteresting implications there). And then there was the mention of “book-thumpers”, and this guy:

        … and I started to think, “Hmmm. What DOES the author think about religion, anyway? Is this going to be another Christianity-bashing comic with an evil religion, or is it going to be treated with respect?”

        And then, well, since I’m completely caught up on the comic now, you know what page I just read recently. No link or description since I don’t want to spoil anyone else on it, but… wow. I wasn’t expecting that, and yet, it makes SO MUCH sense. Though on closer examination of the page, it’s not coming FROM the character reaching down, it’s BEHIND her. Which has different implications from what I thought it had when I thought it was coming FROM that character.

        Okay, that’s about enough gushing without making sense (I could make sense, but it would involve spoilers). To anyone who hasn’t read this comic, I enthusiastically second Foxfier’s recommendation of Daughter of the Lilies. Just… go read it.

    1. I had a head cold and thought the construction workers were asking me where the restrooms were. It turned out that they were after the restaurants, and I was confused because I hadn’t heard the word for so long.

    2. Exactly right, there is no English immersion for Mexicans, or any Spanish speakers, in the US. Here in Shaky Town vast stretches of the megalopolis have been colonized by various minorities, and especially the hispano varieties, so they never have to go far to find people with whom they can easily communicate. As these enclaves become larger and larger there is less and less reason for them to learn English. Plus American government offices bend over backwards to provide services in as many languages as possible. As the kids go to public schools and learn some English there, the parents depend on the kids to do their interpreting for them. English as a principal language is no longer necessary in the United States.

      1. As the joke says, LA is the 2nd largest city in Mexico. I remember wanting more water in a restaurant there 35 years ago. Waitresses were busy so I was trying to get the attention of the busboy. But he totally ignored me until I said “Mas agua. Por favor.”. Suddenly he filled my glass with a big smile. A week later my favorite radio station went Spanish. I was losing the California that igrew up in.

    3. not to mention that most Mexicans understand a lot more English than they let on. No habla inglesh is a very handy excuse to not understand anything they don’t wish to understand.

      1. Oh, I’ve run into that, but I’ve also run into the guys who…well, are TRYING to be competent, and are even legal citizens. Their folks got here legally, and they had ESL inflicted on them.

        They’re borderline incoherent in both languages.

        One guy probably could have been an engineer, and dad ended up having to teach him basic vocabulary like “sprinkler head,” “threading” and “death camis.” (His pantomime for “sprinkler head” was awesome, though; he troubleshot what was wrong when he’d never even seen one before, and was trying to explain what he’d done to fix it.)

        1. “but I’ve also run into the guys who…well, are TRYING to be competent, and are even legal citizens”

          Most of those I’ve ran into could understand me…. Which only makes it twice as frustrating when trying to understand them.

        2. Oh, by the way, there probably aren’t three people on this site who would consider “death camas” basic vocabulary. 🙂

          1. True, but it’s at LEAST as important as “sprinkler head.” 😀

            (This stuff is nasty– my mom once got sick because she wore work gloves to pull it up all morning, washed her hands normally, and started to eat a sandwich. The residual on her dry hands touching the bread was enough to make her light headed enough to admit it.)

            1. I consider it basic, but I’m wondering how many here had to google it to figure out what we were talking about.

                1. *pales*
                  I really hope it was one of the very similar species– maybe wild onion– or somebody in your local weed control area needs to be out of a job, and maybe in jail.

                  That stuff is freaking terrifying, and they’re supposed to interact with locals to get it cleaned up. Yeah, it’s native, but it’s deadly.

  29. All true, but there’s also another factor in play here. Back in the day, when companies needed managers in technical fields, they would seek out folks with leadership skills amongst the staff. The problem with this approach was the constant shortage of managers; leadership skills tend to be completely orthogonal to technical skills, plus a lot of potential recruits didn’t want the headache. Then somebody, and I believe this started in the early 80s, came up with the brilliant notion that domain knowledge was not an essential prerequisite, so you could make do with pure people managers, which the plethora of MBA programs was all to happy to provide in herds. The results were all too predictable. The Western world is now stuck with ostensibly technology focused organizations whose leaders have no clue what a competent technologist in their field looks like.

    1. An engineering manager does not need to be a good engineer. The manager needs just enough engineering to be able to discriminate between good engineering work and bad.

      1. The engineering manager needs to be a domain expert. Whether he picks it up from engineering or some related discipline doesn’t really matter. But the “domain expert” part is non-negotiable if you want to “be able to discriminate between good engineering work and bad.”

        1. I’ll buy that. Domain expertise does not necessarily translate to a new industry. This makes finding engineering managers difficult in niche industries.

          1. Exactly. And the solution we (The English speaking portion of the Western world, at the very least. I’ve seen this in US, Canada, Australia and GB) came up with was to hire people who are purely people managers into those roles. Since this type of manager lacks the expertise to evaluate his reports by their output, he’s reduced to evaluating them by how well they adhere to the process. Which is the clinical definition of incompetence.

          2. Even general industries, though. Too many managers are swayed by a slick story or a storied history. Get someone that says they can do it cheaply and easily and most managers will trust them. And when the manager does not realize that their job is not just to mentor and assist their subordinates but to also push back and make sure all the t’s are dotted and i’s are crossed it is too easy to fall down the rabbit hole. And then you run the risk of personalization of failure.

            1. But that’s the thing, though. The manager physically can’t do his job because he’s not qualified to make the calls he’s making. And then you hear things like, “Team, I’ve promised the executives that we’ll have the baby done in 3 months. Now, I know that making a baby is a 9 woman-month project, so I’m bringing in 6 women on board. That gives us a whole month margin, so we should have no problems, right?”

              1. Brooks’ Mythical Man-Month (from which Inkstain’s example derives) was published the year I was born. I encountered it when I was 18, and it decided me on going into IT. I still try to read it once a year, then look around the IT industry and shake my head at how much the problems it describes are still unsolved.

                1. I have often suggested that co-workers read Brook’s “MM Month” and “No Silver Bullet”. Most of the time, I get baffled looks – they are not even aware of Brooks and his writings. Makes me despair.

              2. Oh I know. And we shift management fetishes every few years and screw everything up

    2. It started a lot earlier than that. Robert McNamara and the “bright young men” in the early 1960s, if I’m remembering correctly.

    1. Don’t apologize please. Reading comments here is a large part of my entertainment. Also most of the people I know post here.

      1. I’m an engineer with teacher relatives that sees the education Establishment as worthless. Poor Orvan’s about to lose relatives

        1. My BIL is a school superintendent. Anything discussion past sports or family quickly goes nuclear.

          1. My father and I are not supposed to speak at family gatherings…I always bring my own vehicle.

        2. I’ve got clean hands with no callouses, and even if that weren’t the case, as I’m not a PE, I legally cannot call myself an engineer in public. We do have a fair amount of engineers here and posting today. Many of us in general are not impressed with the education rent farming system.

          1. Heh. Ya. I know. Part of why I am posting more here. Unlike a lot of my life it’s not amazing when I say that I’m a degreed rocket scientist. Even if I need to start reading more. I’ve lapsed since hell…err…grad school.

            And ya. Not a PE but I’m not in a field where it is a necessity. I’m still young enough that I only sign as the designer not the engineer.

            1. Many engineers at my company but very few P.E. What bothers me a bit are the many field service technicians that call themselves field service engineers. They may be excellent mechanics but they don’t necessarily understand how and why our machines work.

              1. Ya. PE is useful for civil engineers or those doing plans on their own for the public. Not as much with us although I do not understand all the legality stuff

                1. The rationale is this: Engineering and science are specialized. You can only have a reflexive understanding of the safety implications for the narrow area you do all the time. The further away you get, the more you need to slow down, research and think things through. Far enough away, you are ignorant enough that you cannot do engineering quality work.

                  The public doesn’t understand this. The default in media is that a scientist or engineer is competent in every discipline. Like all violinists can play piano, flute, accordion and bagpipes. The public may even find technocracy plausible; the belief that scientific and engineering expertise can solve problems of human character.

                  Licensure as a PE in a state means the State Board has given you permission to make certain claims about your ability to the general public of that state. Each state has its own rules, and enforces different things.

                  If you sign off on a public sector contract, you are making claims to the public. Private sector business is a more complicated question.

                  1. Look up your state board of licensure.
                  2. Look up local engineering professional societies. Some of them may hold an ethics meeting, which can cover what the state board considers wise.

  30. Don’t be afraid of competence. Correct, clean up, learn. (The more you learn the more you’ll spot errors.) Teach the kids. Work. Be competent yourself, even if it means being your own mentor.

    We’re reaching a critical point where everyone is running on make-believe competency, certainly in any large organization. This cannot go on. What can’t go on, won’t.

    FWIW, there have always been folks who are at best barely competent.
    That’s why things can keep rollin’ for so long, and I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the appearance of a critical mass of incompetence is at least partly an illusion. Kind of like how the 60s had lot less sucky music…until you get on a station that really does play ALL of the top 50 for a year!

    1. great comment. Hope you include partially competent. I do (and did) a bunch of things good enough but not great. There’re other things I can learn by following directions. I think my best skill is willingness to work as hard as I can. Also my cheerful disposition which is functional at least half the time.

      1. I figure that “barely competent” counts. 😉 Heaven knows that my cooking went from that to my husband almost never having to drown his food in ranch dressing. (His tactic to make anything above “warm gravel” edible.)

        1. If you have yet to burn down the kitchen it counts. I may enjoy the excitement of pulling on an SCBA and turnouts and such but you don’t have to do it just for me…

        2. I’m not sure that even warm gravel wouldn’t be improved by carefully rinsing all the ranch dressing off. 🙂

      2. I’ve found myself depressed at how simple the things I knew about computers and various programs (like Outlook) are and how many people didn’t know it. I mean, if you have a bunch of important e-mails in your .pst files it’s usually a good idea to remember where you put the file in question.

        I don’t consider myself particularly competent. I have no formal training in a lot of these things. Just years of opening the program and look and I’m able to figure it out. Or reading the instructions, since sometimes it gives useful information. Oh and I show up on time and answer the phone when it rings.

        1. I don’t consider myself particularly competent

          I’ve explained, alas repeatedly, at work that I am actually not that good at job X. What I do is set up conditions to make doing job X trivial, so a simple ox like me can deal with it. Amazingly, this gets ignored time and time again. Even when it’s as simple as stacking boxes on a pallet. Simple way: as you deal with boxes, put those of same size together, keep stacks in size order. But they get mixed up unless I work alone. WTH? Make layers of same size. When possible, reverse layout so there is overlap/interlock. And it’s not just new hires and those who are barely functional, either. It’s frustrating. “Stop thinking this is Advanced Geometry. This is just playing with blocks.”

          1. Yes, but Legos stick together by themselves. Kids don’t play with old time blocks. What could anyone learn from something so low tech as blocks?

  31. Creeping incompetence is why I tell kids to get their welding ticket. There are some things that can’t be done by incompetents, and welding is one of them. If it doesn’t pass x-ray, it doesn’t pass.

    If you are the one guy in town who can reliably weld stainless and aluminum, you will never ever ever lack for work.

    If you are the one girl in town who can weld stainless and aluminum, you will become a millionaire.

  32. On language learning and “immersion” (the kind that doesn’t work), it’s reminding me of Stephen Krashen’s first demonstration in this video:

    He’s a bit too unfair to studying vocab and grammar — they are necessary to learn a language well, and studying vocabulary lets you understand more of what you read and hear. But vocab and grammar are not sufficient; my own experience with language learning suggests that he’s totally right about comprehensible input being necessary. If I didn’t know any German, Krashen’s first demo wouldn’t have taught me a thing — but his second demo would have taught me not just the nouns he was demonstrating, but also the words for one, two, yes, no, and understand.

    It’s also been shown, as I understand it, that if kids grow up just watching the TV and not interacting much with their parents, they don’t learn their own native language very well. But the interaction with other adults, who correct the child when he/she makes a mistake (“No, it’s ‘I am hungry’, not ‘I is hungry’ “), will end up teaching the child FAR better grammar than simply hearing good grammar on TV but not getting interaction. Which is the problem with immersion as it’s often done, because there isn’t any real interaction: it’s just the equivalent of watching TV.

    1. I have learned French in the school and then some, and was kind of good at it. Now can remember 3-4 words.
      I never, ever was formally taught English. First there were simple technical texts (help pages and documentation) and a dictionary. Then whatever AD&D materials we could get and more technical texts. Then whatever books could be found in internet (including Carroll and Kipling), more complex technical texts and music for “spoken” language.
      In my experience, such as it is, the second method worked somewhat better. And why wouldn’t it? Most people learn their own languages purely from practice, after all.

  33. We had a chat today about this. I’m training a couple apprentices, and one described how hard it was to accept that he didn’t have a clue and that the learning came very hard. We are in a technical trade. If what we do doesn’t work, we don’t get paid, so we have to be competent.

    There are lots of competent people. They simply are too busy already.

    It takes 10 years experience for someone to be competent in what we do, meaning that any project or repair can be done. There are no shortcuts, and schooling usually teaches them that they know more than they do.

    There is some nonsense about it taking 20 hours to learn something. maybe something simple.

    1. There is some nonsense about it taking 20 hours to learn something. maybe something simple.

      I think that was the “expert” maker guy’s theory– something like you read the top X texts on the subject and spend Y hours messing with it and that makes you an expert.

      Why, yes, I have run into a lot of these kind of lesser-than-google experts, and they annoy the piss out of me. Their barely educated biases do not overpower the laws of nature or of the location they are at, and they have a nasty habit of being shocked when I don’t do what they demand.

      1. Not quite. As I recall, it was in response to the “10000 hours makes an expert” assertion. The guy took the position that 20 hours of proper study allowed you to do at least a minimal something that was sufficient to act as a basis for continuing, and demonstrated it by learning enough ukulele from scratch to play one song and sing along with it.

        As for the assertion of becoming an expert in 10000 hours, I once ran across the question, “Do you have 20 years of experience, or one year of experience repeated 20 times?”

        1. The 20 hours guy was from a TED talk and he was focusing on the negative incentive on th 10k rule and what that was really measuring. 10K rules is talking about being Eddie Van Halen, not a guy who played guitar for fun.

          The read top three text and make three presentations rule for being an expert was Tim Ferris, the 4 Hour work week guy, and even he acknolwedges where he wrote about it that it is a cynical manipulation of how things work socially and not real knowledge.

  34. I’ve had ghastly things done to garments or objects taken in for repair because the person who was supposedly an expert on this just couldn’t do it.

    We had a chainsaw that needed repair, and it was more than my very mechanical husband could do so we farmed it out to an “expert” for some work. Mind you, the chainsaw sort of worked; it just needed something annoying tweaked.

    What we got back was a box of ruined parts and a note that it was “unfixable.” And a bill for $30, for their expert mechanic’s time.

    What my husband calls this sort of person is a “Parts Swapper.” No problem-solving skills, no understanding of how systems work – just replace the modular parts and hope for the best.

    1. Bill MacNelly, in one of the Sunday “Shoe” strips, had Professor Fishhawk take his toaster to Irving for repair, and asked him how he knew what to do to fix things. Irving told him that you had to take it completely apart, lay out all the parts on the bench, and then “pray to the god of toasters.”

      I used to have a copy of that strip that I’d clipped. I don’t have it anymore, and few comic strips that are online are indexed by keywords, unfortunately.

  35. Apologies for being late to the discussion: got hope from work yesterday (I’m employed again! WOOHOO!) so tired that I could barely think straight.

    I was “blessed” [Insert Snickering Here] to work in a place where competence wasn’t actively discouraged or punished, primarily because management at The Supermarket, along with our Corporate Overlords, had just enough brains to realize that without at least a small number of competent employees, the store (hell, the entire chain) would be completely unable to function and would quickly go out of business.

    That didn’t mean competence was rewarded, mind. See, in management’s eye, us competent workers were deemed “too valuable to the department to lose,” which meant that if we wanted to put in for a promotion or a transfer to another department, we were scheisse out of luck. Our lazy and incompetent coworkers got pretty much any transfer or promotion they wanted, especially if they were from a Protected Class and/or good at ass-kissing the managers, while we were stuck where we were because our department quite literally could not function without us. So us competents stayed on just long enough to find work outside of the company, and we were inevitably replaced by completely incompetent new hires that were brought on solely because they allowed HR to check off one or more boxes in the Diversity Roster.

    I manned a separate counter in our department (Kosher Deli, part of the regular Deli) that required special training in order to work. I was one of three employees trained to work the counter when I left the supermarket, and I swear I was the only one of the trio who could find my arse with my hands super-glued into my back pockets let alone run the place. A good chunk of every shift was spent fixing the mistakes the other two made and/or covering for said mistakes since that Management seemed determine to make me responsible for the other two yo-yos’ screwups. The one time I actually went off on my boss was the day I’d returned from a week-long out-of-state-vacation and I’d just barely started setting up and Ol Boss came by demanding to know why Kosher was a complete shambles and then started giving me grief when I said I had no idea.

    Also, for whatever reason, Management never ever trained anybody new for Kosher: only three people, which was just barely enough to cover all of the required shifts. The only time a new person was (just barely) trained was when somebody else quit or transferred. Made for some Chinese-curse-type interesting times whenever someone called out sick or took a vacation.

    I don’t feel too bad about leaving the company because I knew leaving that the counter was finally(!) being closed down and removed. Speaking of Corporate and Management disconnect: Kosher Counter had been hemorrhaging money for years, but Corporate refused to shut it down because “a customer might complain.”

      1. Thanks! One day down (started Friday, got the weekend off, go figure) hopefully a couple thousand more to go.

        Fortunately, my new manager seems thrilled that I’m competent, hardworking, and experienced. I think this is going to work out quite well.

    1. The last years before I retired were the most fun in my working life. I had finally perfected a process I called: “Forcing the Decision to the Decision Maker.”

      I too found that bosses loved to hand their responsibilities for directing, training, scheduling, overseeing, correcting ,and disciplining their employees to the most competent of their underlings. Without, of course, any authority. And then screaming at the effective underling about the results. (Which leads to another technique I perfected: “It Sometimes Takes a Major Disaster to Get Management’s Attention.”

      My principle approach was to become very aware and diligent in following the chain of command. When Joey Doofus was late, I said nothing — I just diligently worked on my job. By the time the boss caught on and came charging in, demanding to know Joey’s whereabouts and demanding I do Joey’s job until he showed up, at least a small disaster was well underway. I would reply, “Gee, Mr Manager. I have no idea where Joey might be, Sir. Since you’re his boss, you probably have his contact information. Because I have no idea how to get in touch with him.” Then the boss would direct me to find a way to find Joey, tell him to get his butt into work, and for me to train him on being on time.

      I would do absolutely nothing. Except to abandon my job and, as directed, do Joey’s. Meanwhile letting my responsibilities drop like a rock. When and if Joey showed up, I’d wait a couple of hours and tell him that Mr Manager had been and and wanted to talk to him. Joey, of course, usually ignored me. When the boss next saw me, he would demand an accounting and ask why my duties were now a major mess. I’d say, “Gee, Mr Manager. I contacted Joey and told him about your concerns. Meanwhile, I worked really, really hard on Joey’s job … just like to told me to in front of my co-worker witnesses and as documented in the email I sent you informing you that my job wasn’t being done per your direction. Since you’re his boss, I’m sure you want to speak with Joey directly. Excuse me, I have a pressing task to complete. Do you have a preference whether that task is mine or Joey’s?.” I was positive and earnest and agreeable in all aspects. So, whether Joey went in to see the boss, the results were typically spectacular. It made the job much more enjoyable.

  36. I think part of this loss of competence was brought about by schools no longer holding students back. I’m not talking about “No Child Left Behind,” mind, but rather the act of forcing students who failed a grade or course to repeat the course until they either passed it or dropped out of school. I don’t know why that changed, as it happened before my time, but let me tell you (even though y’all probably already know) it certainly wasn’t for the better.

    Back in The Supermarket, I had coworkers behind the deli counter who could not convert fractions to decimals. Now I absolutely stink at math, but even I can do that kind of thing in my head, at least on a basic level. But we had new hires fresh out of college that did not know that when a customer asked for, say, a quarter-pound of cheese, they were supposed to slice said cheese and pile it on the scale until the display read “0.25 lbs.” Myself and other competent employees had to explain it using the ol’ “Four quarters to a dollar” comparison, and the new hires reacted, without fail, by exclaiming, “That’s why they call it a quarter?!” If, that is, they were able to make the connection at all.

    Ye Gods, Holy Carp, and other assorted little fishes! These people had made it through twelve years of grade school, and usually at least four more years of college on top of that, without learning basic math!

    1. But they were probably very good at claiming victim status.

      I was picking up donuts one morning for work, and it was clear that the store manager and the young woman out front had just had a spat. I asked what had happened and the young woman, about 20 years old, said, “She just doesn’t understand that there are some mornings when I can’t get to work on time.”

      Oh, the horror!

      1. Fewer than you think, actually. Most did want to work (enough to avoid getting fired, at least) but were honestly clueless. We did have a couple though….

        One, I’ll call her Ghetto Queen (don’t know if she was actually from the ghetto, but she certainly acted the part, and she thought she was queen of the whole [BLEEP!]ing world) refused to do anything other than sweep floors and clean crumbs off the slicer, and any time anyone told her to do anything, be it help customers, take temps in the cases, or even change her gloves after touching something, would go running to HR claiming that we was harrassing her an’ discriminatin’ ‘gainst her ’cause she be black! She lasted for about eight months then stopped coming into work. Didn’t quit, didn’t give two weeks, just stopped showing up one day. She was duly terminated under the state’s “job abandonment” law, and last I heard was attempting to sue the company for unemployment.

        Then there was The Spook, so named because he claimed to be an ex-SAS sniper turned CIA computer analyst. He called out sick literally every single shift for six months, by which I mean if he was scheduled to start at 3 PM, he’d call up at 10 AM and say he wasn’t coming it. First it was because he was in a car accident and had a concussion (which may have been legitimate), then it was because he had to go down to Virginia for “CIA training,” then he was “out of the country for a few weeks,” then he was sick again, etc. ad nauseum. But apparently he was a member of a Protected Class, because not only did we not can him, HR said we had to keep giving him hours, and payroll said we couldn’t schedule anyone else to cover that shift even though everyone knew he wouldn’t show up because “we were scheduling too many man-hours that shift.” And he was a dedicated closer too, which meant that whoever was closing with him was flarked. After just about everyone in the department (including the one good manager we ever had) threatened to quit unless something was done about him, HR finally, get this, persuaded him that The Company really wasn’t a good fit for him and convinced him to resign.

    2. I can think of a whole bunch of reasons.

      1) Being held back would lower a kid’s self-esteem.
      2) If kids have to repeat the same class, that raises expenditures per student.
      3) If more kids drop out, it makes the school’s numbers look bad.

      I recall there was an episode of Beavis and Butt-head that dealt with exactly this topic. The two titular heroes were tested on their knowledge and soon enough demoted back to first grade. Then all the teachers asked themselves, “Do we really want to deal with these two for another year?” and they were promptly kicked back to high school.

      1. “Social promotion.”

        Believe it happened about the same time they stopped letting people skip grades. Remember how in the early 90s there was a rash of 12 year olds graduating high school?

        1. It still happens on occasion, believe it or not. I actually went through college with a pair of siblings who pretty much completely skipped high school because they’d already completed every offered math and science class. I think the youngest was only 13 or 14 when he started. They commuted, and he and his sister had to commute to class together because he was too young for a driver’s license.

          Fortunately, they’ve both grown up to be an extremely well-adjusted adults (despite my best efforts, lol). I know that doesn’t often happen to kids in similar situations.

          1. Most of the folks I run into these days that do that, they were technically in college. There’s even a program for it– “head start.”

            Just not offered to everyone, and it’s only specific classes. Tend to get their GEDs, not a high school graduation, too.

      2. 4) Parents threaten to sue the school district if their kid fails.

        I [BLEEP!] you not, that happened routinely in my school disctrict because parent’s refused to risk their Speshul Snowflake children not qualifying for an Ivy League College.

        There was one middle school gym teacher who actually quit in the middle of the year over that. He had a kid in his class who refused to do anything. Would not participate in any activity of any kind: just sat on the bleachers. And the teacher gave him a zero.

        Well, report cards rolled around, and this kids parents went ballistic. Not at the kid, naturally, but at the teacher. They went all the way up to the district superintendent and threatened to sue because, since their boy was the only one in the class with a zero, clearly he was being singled out and bullied by the teacher. Teacher was called into the principal’s office and ordered by the principlal and the superintendent not just to pass this kid, but to give him an ‘A.’ The teacher provided copious amounts of documentation and other evidence proving the kid deserved a zero, and was told by the superintendent basically, “I don’t care; give the kid an ‘A’ or else.” “Or else” meant that the super would make the teacher’s life a living hell until the teacher gave up and quit. It was the districts unwritten policy for any teacher or faculty member who got the district sued.

        Gym teacher walked down to his office, typed up a letter of recommendation, walked back to the principal’s office, put the letter in the superintendent’s hand, and walked out the door.

        Us students, of course, were told that the teacher had a sudden health problem and would be out for the rest of the year. I didn’t find out the truth until years later, and only then because Mama Raptor worked for the district.

        Unfortunately, that teacher was the only one with the backbone or cajones to take such action. Everybody else kowtowed to the parents and the superintendent and gave the undeserving little [BLEEP!]s high marks that everyone knew they didn’t deserve. Because God forbid the Darling Little Angels didn’t get into Harvard or Yale.

  37. On summer when my older was in college, he had a job with a contractor which unloaded, moved, and loaded cargo aircraft at the local airport … for UPS, FedEX, and such. He arrived home early one day, clearly distraught. It took about three hours for him to reveal he had been fired. He was especially upset because, the day before, his boss had told him he was being moved up to driving the little tractors that haul stuff around the cargo area.

    That day, he had been loading a plane and noticed that a parcel was addressed to a different destination than the one the plane was going to. He told his boss, and the boss told him to load it anyway. He ignored his boss, walked over to the proper plane and loaded the parcel. His boss chewed him out for not following instructions.

    Later, there was a big push to load a plane that was already late. About eight guys were jammed around a small access door, trying to cram parcels into the cargo bay. The boss yelled at my son to grab a parcel and get with the program. My son grabbed a parcel and stood awaiting a chance to squirm into the crowd with his parcel. The boss demanded to know why he hadn’t loaded his parcel. My son pointed out that it was physically impossible for him to fit into the scrum — he is a big guy. Then, my boy suggested that getting organized, going slower, and having fewer people blocking the access door would result in faster loading. He was called into the office and fired.

    Seems there was an inspection team arriving because the contractor was the worst performer at all the airports the contractor served. My son thought that he was fired, not because he ignored counterproductive instructions, but because the local contractor managers wanted to show that they were acting to improve performance, citing firing a problem employee. In short, they fired a high performing employee to cover their asses.

    I told my son that he had received a priceless lesson at very little cost. He learned he should not waste his effort and his reputation pulling idiots out of the dung heaps they had diligently crafted for themselves. He should move on to a situation where his efforts and commitment would be recognized. His employer for his next summer job asked him to stay on as a full-time employee. It helped his ego recover.

    He is now a military helicopter pilot selected for a very competitive graduate degree program. He isn’t loading Amazon parcels anymore.

    1. I was a field operator for Unocal in my youth. All they wanted at that level were reliable, obedient, trained monkeys. Using your brain got you in trouble.

      1. You got it. My son said that chimps could have done the job better and management would have been much happier. Of course, God knows where the shipments would have ended up…but that wasn’t really important.

        1. Wasn’t important right up until Amazon notified them that they were too inefficient, and it has its own sorting centers, own fleet of airplanes, and uber drivers to deliver at the far end…

          And then they’ll still never quite figure out that their inefficiency and “who cares where the package goes” was what drove Amazon to create its own infrastructure and remove them entirely.

  38. Even adjusting for our possibly very different ideas of “high school education”, it sounds like your copyeditor should have been at least fully literate. And then there’s this:

    1. Not the young ones. I had to fight this with my kids, and the older still makes astonishing spelling mistakes occasionally (not often) because NO ONE EVER TAUGHT THEM GRAMMAR OR SPELLING. They were supposed to acquire this by osmosis from “fun stuff.” It doesn’t happen. With younger son I was prepared. With older it was third grade before I realized he’d invented his own system of spelling and intervened.

      1. It is more important to encourage writing. Constantly correcting spelling and grammar might discourage the poor young things. Correction might hurt their self esteem. We just can’t take the chance!


        1. We had “positive reinforcement” for spelling– we had weekly spelling tests, and if you did well or were willing to publicly spell out everything on the list, verbally, you could get prizes.

          Chance of public failure if you don’t manage to do something you were never taught to do, ie memorize a list of words….

          Yeah, flick no!

        2. writing is writing if the grammar and spelling are incorrect. It might also be a first draft. focusing on self-esteem is the stupidest thing.

    1. Replace the “[” and “]” with the “greater than” and “lesser than”.

      IIRC the “I” should be “i”.

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