Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A related metaphor

I wrote recently about some of my life's current challenges and typified them with the occupational therapy I'm doing. It's been painful but I believe that because of it, my life will improve dramatically. I believe the same is true of my other struggles.

In the days since my visit to my occupational therapist, I've worked hard to make habitual the things she taught me. I've practiced my posture. I've paid attention to what feels good and what causes pain – and have evaluated carefully if the pain I experience is strengthening (muscles developing) or debilitating (damage to bones, cartilage, etc.).

I saw my occupational therapist briefly yesterday. She remarked at how quickly I was improving; in just a few days, the stance she taught me was much more natural for me than it had been. I hadn't noticed much change. And today, I noticed that I'm feeling much less pain than I did. It seems my muscles are already accommodating my new habit.

As my therapy was an appropriate metaphor for my struggles before, I've been musing today. It may be that I'm improving more quickly than I realize in other areas of my life, as well.

Being myself from day to day, it's difficult to see much change. It's easy to notice pain, as pain calls for attention. Improvement, however, has a tendency to sneak up on us.

So I believe there's cause for optimism. I'm grateful for the hope that I can improve and for the evidence that my improvement is happening faster than I anticipated. I'm also grateful for the support I have from so many people.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A metaphor

I spent the morning on Friday with an occupational therapist. I've been dealing with wrist pain for years and, although I mostly manage it, I don't want to continue with it. I've raised my desk so I can stand at it and am developing the ability to do so without hurting myself.

My visit to the therapist was interesting; besides releasing incredible amounts of tension that I've developed, much of it was training me to stand and walk properly. Having been standing and walking for some time, I thought I had a handle on it. And I've been dancing for years; I figured that if all of that standing and walking hadn't taught me good posture that dancing would have.

The truth is that I'm having to re-learn these most basic parts of life. And despite years of training and despite being in great shape, I'm developing muscles and coordination in addition to the habits I'm working to acquire. This process has been remarkably painful – especially because I can't just do without the muscles I'm using when they're tired. I have to stand; I have to walk.

In short, therapy hurts more than life did before I started it but I believe that, with time, things will be better than they were before therapy. This is proving to be an appropriate metaphor for my life.

In the span of one week, I learned that I did not get my dream job and that I won't graduate when I planned to. I don't know when I'll graduate and I know that I'm going to hit some red tape for having spent longer than I planned to spend in school. I don't know how it will affect my finances. I don't know what I'll do when I do graduate. As painful as this last little while has been, I believe that I'll be able to improve my life as a result of this experience. I do not mean that I'll be happy despite my frustrations; I mean that the challenges themselves are presenting me with opportunities to learn and develop that I would not have otherwise.

At this point, I don't have the perspective I'd need to point out how I'm being blessed by this experience. I can speculate. I think that I'll be a better professor (assuming I become a professor) because of my struggle to publish and to navigate a university bureaucracy. I certainly have the opportunity to increase in patience, faith, and humility. It's possible that I'll come to appreciate the positive aspects of the desperately broken publication system or that, as I become more disaffected, I'll see better ways to improve the system.

I can see that my life has already improved in one aspect: my relationships have deepened. As I've turned to friends for support, I've come to appreciate more fully how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who support me. Several people have made themselves available to talk with me just to make me feel better. I've also thought about some remarkable discounts friends gave me at their businesses simply because I'm a friend. I have a good life even with my challenges. I have, of course, also turned to my Father in Heaven in prayer and have been blessed with an assurance that all is in His hands.

Yes, I'm hurting. But I wouldn't stop the pain if I could. I'm going to keep up the occupational therapy and I'm going to press on through my spiritual therapy. All the while, I'll look ahead with the belief that the pains will subside and leave me stronger and happier than I was before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Apple blight

I work with computers, so people ask me if I prefer PCs or Macs with astonishing frequency. Usually, they mean to ask if I prefer Windows or Mac OS X. The answer to that question is that I use Linux (although my new laptop did come with Windows and I've been using it a bit). But people invest quite a bit of emotional energy in their preferences and they sometimes are looking for product recommendations. Since many of my friends use and love their Apple products, I've typically said something like, "Apple products aren't for me, but lots of people like them. That's fine with me."

Until now.

I recently talked on the phone with my mother, who was having very understandable trouble with an app on her iPad. The problem had to do with a cookie policy she didn't know about in Safari's settings (that is, in the settings for the browser that ships with iPads). I was instantly reminded of the fact that Microsoft called Internet Explorer settings "Internet Settings" (it might still do so). Except that Apple was actually breaking system-wide functionality in a setting that could only be found in its browser app.

In a burst of irony, the fix ended up being forcing the app to close and opening it again; Apple's default cookie policy is that only sites visited by the user could set cookies. In trying to fix the problem, my mother had gone to a FAQ page on the site in question, which meant that her app could now use cookies from the site.

She got most of the way there. But when she saw that the text on the FAQ page didn't match what her Safari settings said, she assumed that she'd done something wrong. I don't know if the website is out-of-date, if the iPad has an old version of iOS, or if some other weirdness caused the difference. It doesn't make much difference. My point isn't that Apple made a terrible design choice or that it failed to preserve backwards compatibility (although both are true). My point is that Apple thrives on confused people.

My mother didn't see the discrepancy and think that the website might be written incorrectly. She didn't think that, perhaps, Apple had changed the options it presented in its cookie policy. She didn't think that it was odd that the settings in one application would affect web traffic from all other applications. She didn't think that it might not be her fault.

She didn't think.

Apple thrives on people not thinking. When people don't want to think about how their computers work, they buy Apple products. Apple users' oft-repeated mantra is, "it just works." I hear it whenever I'm fixing an Apple product for someone. Apple has successfully established itself as the brand that makes user-friendly computers. And when things break, users can consult with "geniuses" in the Apple store. And people pay through the nose for it.

This whole situation is especially frustrating because my mother is so intelligent. There is no reason that she couldn't understand these things. But, as is the case for many people and mathematics (see this article and click through to the studies), many people believe that they can't understand computers. In the same way that people shut their minds down when they see an unfamiliar algebra problem, their minds shut down when their computer does something out of the ordinary. And Apple exploits the intimidation people feel for profit.

Yet more frustrating to me is that people naturally hide unpleasant things from themselves. It's unsettling to read through lots of unintelligible technical information. So Apple designs its products to hide relevant technical information to be easy on the emotions. It also removes choices that most users don't care to make. So their products work for most people most of the time but are incredibly frustrating to fix.

Ultimately, customers go to Apple because using technology they don't understand intimidates them. Since Apple hides the fact that they're completely uneducated about what they're doing, people like their products. We also allow people who have absolutely no idea what they're doing to legislate about technology. We're hiding our heads in the sand to avoid having to look reality in the face and admit that we don't know something.

It might be different if everything actually worked well. But Apple products don't always work as designed, despite meticulous attention to detail. Other products (with varying degrees of attention to design) also fail to work properly. When people have been shielded from these troubles with a patronizing user interface, they're both technically and emotionally unprepared to deal with bumps in the road.

I refuse to support a business model that manipulates and stultifies people. I do not condone a system that enables people to hide from their insecurities. From now on, I'll respond differently when people ask me what I prefer. I'll tell them I use Debian GNU/Linux because of its stability and flexibility. You never know; it could pique someone's interest.