The Technology Gap or Why I Should Not Email My Parents (and a Bit About How Little I Like Phone Calls)

My parents are not technophobes. They’re not technophiles either. They’re somewhere in between.

We had our first computer in 1985 or so. We actually went through two computers, the first with green letters on black, the second orange on black before we got our first all colors Windows computer.

I distinctly remember one program where you could enter a combination of letters and numbers and you would get beautiful patterns painted on the screen. That was the green computer. If someone could identify this program (or the computer) for me, I would be much obliged.

I also remember our printer with TWO different fonts and you could buy some kind of extension to get an additional FOUR more fonts. (We never got the extension. It was very sad.)

I do remember navigating through the file system with only the keyboard, using arrows and function keys to write stuff or play games where the monsters were Hs that you needed to crush between square blocks. It was kinda awesome. And hell, I created my first database of the CDs I owned (Or was it taped videos? Whatever.) with Quattro Pro. Yeah, you heard right. Quattro Pro. At some point in my life I knew how to work with that.

So as far as I was concerned there was always a computer in the house. My mother was less interested, but she would always hold the high score in both Solitaire and Moorhuhn. (She was crazy good at Moorhuhn.) Once she found something that she liked she would learn the exact steps she needed to get it to run and then she was happy.

I tell you all this to explain that both my parents view on computers is mostly that it’s something that helps them do something they like or need to do anyway and that’s it. My father uses it to save and listen to the recordings he makes of bats (no kidding!), my mom uses it to research antique stuff, and from what I hear (and have witnessed myself) my father spends a lot of time browsing YouTube for music videos.

A couple of months ago we got to talk about communication and social networks. Apparently my cousin had showed them my Facebook page, and though my mother has no real objections she really doesn’t see the need for something like Facebook. For her putting your personal stuff on the internet is somewhat strange and I guess she just doesn’t see the point.

My parents seem to be phone and meet people. What I mean by that is that they seem to prefer phone calls and meeting in person to email or anything socially networky. Communication via email, chat or whatever else there is on the web is a very unnatural means of communication for them.

My father does have an email address – he has two actually, but I’m not sure if he’s ever used the second one -, my mother has none. Sometimes I sent them little mails with links or just a short message about what I have been up to. I’ve learned that they don’t regularly check their mail, so whenever I sent something I am well aware that it could be a week or so before they actually read it.

What I wasn’t aware of was that the emotional reasons for the phone versus email thing would be so different from what I would have expected.

I don’t particular enjoy phone calls. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I don’t specifically like to be called or to call someone. That is not to say that I hate it with a passion, it’s just that I don’t enjoy it. I can enjoy a specific phone call and I don’t despise you for calling me. But I am not someone who calls someone up just to talk (except for my husband, my parents and my grandmother). In fact, I don’t even have a mailbox because I don’t want people to be able to leave me messages making me feel forced to call them back. Ugh. Never.

When I want to just say hello, how are you, what have you been up to, I would probably write a mail. Or post something on Facebook. Or whatever. For me that’s saying: „Hello, thought it was time to say hi again. Nothing urgent. Let’s get in touch. How are you? Reply when you find the time. Thanks. Bye.“

I thought that was the normal conception: Phone is immediate. Talk to me now. I called you. Pick up. Email is relaxed. Just thought I’d say hi. Don’t hurry. No rush.

For my parents somehow the emotion is reversed. When they get an email they feel pressured. They think they are somehow required to reply with a carefully put together mail. They feel like it’s something at least partly official or at least formal. Especially my mother, who still needs a lot of time typing, feels pushed into doing something that she doesn’t really like to do. An email, for her, is time-consuming as well. Not quite the five minutes I take to write a quick reply.

There was no special point to the discussion, but it was interesting to hear such a completely different take on way to communicate than what I feel myself. I’m not saying either of us is right or wrong. We’re both right, because it’s just a personal experience and preference of how to communicate with other people. I tried at least to make my parents understand that I was pretty sure that when someone was sending them an email it wasn’t meant to make them feel pressured for a response, probably rather the opposite.

I’m calling this the technology gap because I’m pretty sure that it’s not a generation gap. I know a lot of geeky people on the internet who are as old or older than my parents and who probably use the internet as well and heftily or even more so than I do. And I’m bad. I think it’s a technology gap. It’s a question of interest and whether you feel comfortable with delayed and somehow removed communication or if you prefer talking to someone directly. The gap will probably get closer but I’m not sure if it will go away completely. It’s probably a good thing if it doesn’t.

At least now I know a little bit more about what my parents think about communication and it actually really helps to know why they feel the way they do and why I shouldn’t expect my mother to write me a mail. It’s okay. I can call.

One other thing: My mother now has an Android phone and while she’s not thrilled with the touchscreen („I always touch something that I didn’t intend to touch“), she said that she planned on keeping it. She even signs up for a limited data plan whenever they’re not at home to be able to access the internet when she needs to. So I’m curious to see how that works out for her.

And another thing: I’m apparently not alone in this. I once read a blog post somewhere (I really don’t remember where) on the web, comparing phone calls to someone just walking into your living room and expecting you to interrupt whatever it was you were doing and TALK TO THEM NOW! And I was thinking, YES, YES! That’s exactly it. I guess I am just not really a phone person.

This is the original quote and below are two links (one to the quote source and one to an article of someone who shares the feeling). Enjoy.

I am one of those people. But let me explain something to you. The telephone was an aberration in human development. It was a 70 year or so period where for some reason humans decided it was socially acceptable to ring a loud bell in someone else’s life and they were expected to come running, like dogs. This was the equivalent of thinking it was okay to walk into someone’s living room and start shouting. it was never okay. It’s less okay now. Telephone calls are rude. They are interruptive. Technology has solved this brief aberration in human behavior. We have a thing now called THE TEXT MESSAGE. It is magical, non-intrusive, optional, and, just like human speech originally was meant to be, is turn based and two way. You talk. I talk next. Then you talk. And we do it when it’s convenient for both of us.

Original quote

Response on Prickly Goo

(Low-Maintenance) Content Pushing Strategies

A very long time ago when I was pretty new to Twitter I tweeted something along the lines of „You’re allowed to shoot me if I ever announce blog posts on Twitter.“


I would like to point out that this was really a long time ago, especially in internet time where last week is ages ago. Anyway, it seems like I have changed my content pushing strategies, and yes, I will gladly admit that I’ve been announcing new blog posts on Twitter for a little while now. And it works for me.

I started announcing blog posts on Google+ first. It works fine with linking to an article. Google+ will automatically try to find any images in the blog post and I can add a little synopsis which might or might not help others decide whether they are interested in reading what I wrote.

This has worked remarkably well and I’ve noticed quite a bit of traffic coming over to my blog whenever I publish a short blog announcement. After the Lean Kanban Conference I started to do the same on Twitter. This was mostly motivated by the fact that I had gathered quite a bunch of new followers and thought it would be the easiest to share any news about the conference or other agile blog posts via the platform where I knew the chance of reaching the target group would possibly be the greatest.

This, too, worked really well. So I’m keeping that strategy. I will happily link to new blog posts on this blog or my other one via Twitter and Google+. Twitter crossposts to Facebook automatically, so basically I have all my networks covered.

And why am I doing that? When I think about it I am sometimes afraid that it might seem that I’m desperately trying to drive traffic to my blog by advertising new posts aggressively on every platform.

And you know what? Exactly. That’s what I’m doing. It might not be exactly desperately, but yes, it is a bit aggressively and why the hell not. I try to take care when I write articles. I’m putting thought into them. I edit them and then I edit some more. Sometimes I add pictures. Sometimes I add links that I have to look up. In short, the average blog post seems to take at least one hour from starting the first words until hitting the save button for the last time. Often it takes longer.

And yes, I really want people to read it. I also want people to comment and maybe subscribe to my blog. And if there are little things that I can do to get a few more people to come here and read what I wrote and say what they think about it, then I am going to do it. I’m trying not to be obnoxious, so if you’re one of the few following me on more than one platform, this is my apology for you.

See, I’m guessing that most people are only following me on one platform. And especially Twitter is a very fickle thing where something that I wrote last night will most likely be lost in the depths of everyone’s timeline. This goes for Google+, too, whose attention span is not quite as short, but where a single post will still always run the risk of being overlooked in the mass of other posts.

So far I’m happy with  the results and I’m not planning to add any new ways of pushing content. I am  – after all – a little attention whore. I guess you were aware of that, weren’t you? I wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t do the things I do and have done the things I have done if I weren’t. But I’m also trying to be interesting enough and not annoy you more than I have to. I hope I am doing okay.

(And just in case you were wondering: Yes, this low maintenance method of linking to a new article really works. I run a statistics tool on all of my blogs and traffic usually increases after a tweet or Google+ post goes out. I’m trying to tell myself that most of you who come here also read what I wrote and don’t think too bad of it. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to tell me so. If it’s not, just shut up and let me live in my happy little dream world, willya?)

An Evening with Jasper Fforde

P1010878I haven’t been to a reading in a very very long time. In fact, the only reading I remember going to was about 15 years ago when I saw Matt Ruff reading from Sewer, Gas and Electric with a (back then) unknown German actress named Franka Potente reading the German translation.

I do remember how funny that reading was. Which makes me wonder why I’m not going to these things more often. Sure, my favorite authors all come from the United Kingdom, the United States or Japan (despite one German author who seems to avoid public performances like the plague), so it’s not that often that I see a reading scheduled here with someone I really want to see.

Jasper Fforde is one of those guys. He is an author who fascinates me in that he writes stories that are more or less impossible. The Thursday Next books were crazy enough with all the people jumping in and out of books and characters being kidnapped from their stories and a world obsessed with literature and still kind of a scary police state. It was maybe an epiphany book in that I read it and some lightbulb went on inside when I realized: „Oh my god, authors can do that?!?“ Yes, they can! It may be the book that started my obsession with weird books. And I mean a good weird.

It made me realize that my favorite kinds of books are those that should not make sense. Because they have conceptual sharks (The Raw Shark Texts) or ninjas and mimes (The Gone-Away World) or scary giraffes (Un Lun Dun) or a society based on color perception (Shades of Grey). It’s the books that make me go „Whoa!“ every couple of pages because the author does something unexpected and totally outrageous and it shouldn’t make sense, but it does.

I guess I would have stumbled over these books eventually but I still feel thankful for Jasper Fforde for making me realize that these are my books. And I feel thankful for Caitlin for recommending it back in 2005 when I asked my blog readers ‚What Shall I Read Next?‘ and she said ‚Well, The Eyre Affair, OBVIOUSLY‘. Yes. Exactly. Obviously.

So, imagine my joy when I saw that not only was Jasper Fforde coming to Germany. He was coming to a town near where I lived and he was bringing one of my favorite voice actors, Oliver Rohrbeck. So the very next chance I got I went to Frankfurt and bought myself a ticket.

Let me just start with it was so worth it. Every minute – I kid you not – was great.

It started off with Jasper Fforde reading a part from ‚Shades of Grey‘. Then Oliver Rohrbeck read a part of the German translation with such great enthusiasm that I am seriously considering getting the German audio book. Very untypical for me since I usually either have the audiobook or the book and I usually don’t buy translations of English books.

Then they read a dialogue together jumping back and forth between German and English with Jasper Fforde playing the part of the Apocryphical Man and Oliver Rohrbeck doing the part of Eddie Russett. And yes, it was definitely strange, but surprisingly enough it worked. It worked pretty well, actually.

My favorite part though was when Jasper Fforde was talking about how he started writing and how he created writing challenges and dares for himself by thinking up a completely strange situation and telling himself „Now, you write yourself out of THAT!“ and constantly walking the fine line between silly (good) and stupid (bad). „What if…. a man turned into a banana… Now try to write a story around that without being it borderline stupid.“

He also talked about how we started to write the Nursery Crime novels (which he completely rewrote before they were published) because he was really questioning the stories behind fairytales and nursery rhymes. „So Mama Bear and Papa Bear are sleeping in separate beds? WAIT A MINUTE! That can’t be right. Something’s not okay with their marriage.“ Or questioning the physics of porridge. „The whole book is about trying to explain the porridge.“

So, do you see? When I say it was awesome, this is what I mean. It was a great time with a witty and extremely funny author who threatened to not let us leave UNTIL SOMEONE ASKED A QUESTION. (Eventually quite a few people asked questions, so I guess we just needed that initial scare.)

After the actual reading, talking and Q&A I hung back a while talking to other people while realizing that I definitely have to read the Thursday Next books again. And then the Nursery Crimes. And then probably the Dragonslayer books. When the line for book signings was nearly gone, I got up and into the line and after a bit of joking around about signing my Kindle I realized that yes, nothing would be cooler than a Jasper Fforde signature on my Kindle. Why the hell wouldn’t I want to have that? It’s even better than a signed book because I have my Kindle with me always. How could I ever not want that?


I also took a cute dorky photo with me very obviously being the dork and Jasper Fforde being the amazing author that he is.

So. If you ever have the chance to see Jasper Fforde talk, GO! I mean it. Go! And if you haven’t read any of his books I recommend you do so. I don’t care what you choose, just start with one – although I know that The Eyre Affair is the typical Fforde Addiction Starter, so if you’re unsure, start with this one.

And of course a big thank you goes out to the Buchhandlung Schutt for organizing the evening.

And here are the rest of the pictures I took (and had taken by friendly strangers).

A German Post: My „Grimm“ Review

Once again a German post and again it’s for Isabella’s Great New Show Review Project. After seeing the pilot episodes of both Once Upon a Time and Grimm, I like the former somewhat better. Its approach to the whole fairytale meets reality is at the very least more original than Grimm’s which reminded me a bit too much of Supernatural. Not that I don’t like Supernatural, but I don’t necessarily need another show like that. Or maybe I do. Once Upon a Time also is a bit more colorful and prettier, which I enjoyed a lot – I mean, come on, it’s about fairytales, some color and prettiness has to be expected.

As always I won’t judge a show by its pilot alone. Both shows were good enough to keep on the schedule for now.

Regarding how little time I seem to have and how many unwritten articles are in my head and the books I want to read and the shows I want to watch and all the other things on my free-time plate, I doubt that I’ll come around to translate these reviews into Englisch.

So, just the gist. Liked both. Prefer Once Upon a Time. On a scale from 1 to 10, both would probably get a 7, but since I liked Once Upon a Time more, it’s either 6.5 for Grimm or 7.5 for Once Upon a Time. You choose.

So. Grimm jetzt also. Nach Once Upon a Time Märchenserie Nummer zwei, für die ich mich zu einer Review bereit erklärt habe. Wenn schon, dann auch thematisch zueinander passende Serien, hab ich mir gedacht.

Auch diesmal geht es darum, wie die Märchenwelt sich mit unserer Realität vermischt und natürlich haben wir einen Protagonisten, der recht ahnunglos in diese Parallelwelt reinstiefelt.

Diesmal ist es Nick Burkhardt, der beim Morddezernat arbeitet (im Englischen ist er „homicide detective“, ich habe mal versucht, dass dem Deutschen irgendwie anzupassen), und auf einmal sieht, wie sich ganz normale Menschen auf der Straße kurz in furchtbare Monster verwandeln. Also schon mal genau das Richtige für so Leute wie mich, die sich bei jedem Scheiß erschrecken und dann gerne mit der Hand vor den Augen vorm Fernseher sitzen und nur zwischen den Fingern durchblinzeln.

(Auch für diesen Bericht gilt wieder: Spoiler-Alert! Ich kann halt nicht vernünftig drüber schreiben, wenn ich nichts verraten darf.)

Aber fangen wir mal am Anfang an. Da läuft eine junge Frau – u.a. mit einem roten Jäckchen bekleidet, na, schon was gemerkt? – durch den Wald und sieht am Weg eine kleine Figur stehen. Etwas verwirrt bleibt sie stehen, nimmt das Ding in die Hand… und zack! Angefallen. Von irgendwas. Nichts Gutem. Vermutlich etwas Wolfsartigen. Ich sag ja nur.

Also zurück zu Detective Nick. Der wird an den Tatort gerufen und findet dort zunächst mal seltsame Spuren. Und zurück im Präsidium schon wieder so ein Monster. Nur ganz kurz verzieht sich das Gesicht eines Mannes zu einer hässlichen Fratze, als Nick an ihm vorbeigeht.

Zu Hause ist überraschend seine Tante Marie, bei der er auch aufgewachsen ist, seit seine Eltern bei einem Unfall ums Leben kamen, zu Besuch gekommen. Der geht’s gesundheitlich eher nicht so gut, und bevor es endgültig zu Ende geht, will sie ihn noch schnell über sein eigentliches Schicksal aufklären.

Long story short: Nick ist ein Grimm, ein Nachfahre der Grimms, ihres Zeichens Jäger übernatürlicher Wesen (Wait, what?), was jetzt auch erklärt, warum er auf einmal Monster sieht, wo andere nur normale Menschen sehen. Und weil so ein Leben als Jäger auch eher anstrengend und weitestgehend spaßfrei ist, werden Marie und Nick erstmal von irgendwas angegriffen, wobei Marie schwer verletzt wird und ins Krankenhaus kommt.

Im weiteren Verlauf setzt Nick sein neues Wissen ein, um ein zweites verschwundenes Mädchen zu finden, das ebenfalls mit einem roten Jäckchen ausgestattet auf dem Weg zur Schule verschwunden ist. Hilfe bekommt er dabei von Eddie Monroe, einer Art Wolfsmensch, der sich nach kurzer Zeit als zumindest tendenziell Verbündeter erweist. (Was mich sehr gefreut hat, denn die Rolle ist schön ausbaufähig und Silas Weir Mitchell hat hier eine der wenigen – wenn nicht die einzige – fast komischen Szenen der Serie.)

Wie’s genau ausgeht, dazu sag ich jetzt sogar mal nix, denn es tut für das Gesamtverständnis und die Bewertung des Piloten gar nicht so viel zur Sache.

Insgesamt ein recht ordentlicher Einstieg, allerdings mit zwei Makeln:

  1. Mir gefiel Once Upon a Time eine Spur besser, da die Serie in Punkto Originalität ein bisschen mehr bieten konnte (und vielleicht auch, weil ich ein Mädchen bin und OUaT ein bisschen bunter und hübscher ist). Was spontan zu Makel Nummer 2 überleitet…
  2. Ein bisschen erinnert das Ganze schon an Supernatural. Auch wenn man über die ganzen Unterschiede hinwegsieht, es bleibt dabei, dass die Grundidee der Serie in Richtung „Wir jagen was Übernatürliches und das ist böse“ geht und das gibt’s halt so schon bei Supernatural. Zwar ist die Beschränkung auf Märchenmotive ganz amüsant und sicher sollte man Grimm auch die Chance geben zu zeigen, was sie so kann, aber die Ähnlichkeit bleibt.

Was übrig bleibt ist ein nettes Supernatural-Crime-Drama mit ein paar Horror-Einschlägen, zwei Schauspielern, von denen ich gerne mehr sehen würde, nämlich Silas Weir Mitchell und Sasha Roiz (letzterer u.a. bekannt aus Caprica und Warehouse 13) und einer Idee, die zwar nicht neu ist, aber zumindest gut genug umgesetzt wurde, um nicht gleich abzuschalten.

Und ja, ich werde erstmal weitergucken. Das mach ich sowieso immer, denn Serien müssen sich bekanntlich entwickeln, und schlecht war’s allemal nicht. Und wer weiß, nachdem ich bei Supernatural so langsam den Überblick verlieren, vielleicht ist da Grimm die angenehmere Alternative.

(Und nur für die Bewertungswütigen, auch Grimm würde ich vermutlich so 7 von 10 Punkten geben, aber um an der Stelle meiner Aussage, Once Upon a Time hätte mir besser gefallen, gerecht zu werden, sind’s vielleicht eher so 6,5 Punkte. Oder ich muss Once Upon a Time um einen halben Punkt hochstufen. Sei’s drum. Ihr versteht schon, was ich meine.)

Complex vs. Complicated

Recently there were some tweets going back and forth in my Twitter timeline regarding the difference between complicated and complex. Let me start by saying that I have an opinion on that. I actually have an averagely strong opinion, meaning that I am pretty sure that I’m right, but I reserve some doubt just in case someone has mighty good arguments to convince me of their view.

Let me continue by saying that this opinion has in no way been influenced by literature, the study of complexity theory or any lengthy discussions with friends, colleagues or other people. It’s an opinion that seems to have formed over the years and is mostly a gut feeling that I have when I hear either of these words. It’s a natural reaction to what I’ve learned in the last 31 years of my life and I understand both words based on that life-long experience.

(I have also – on purpose – not tried to read up on existing definitions. I want to do that after I finished this post, but for now I thought it would be better to get my science-untainted view written down first before I can go ahead and let it be influenced by whatever is out there.)

From what I could gather in the tweets that were going around there are other opinions on what means what which is why I felt compelled to write about this in something that is more than 140 character (minus what it takes to add at least two persons‘ twitter handles).

To start with let me compare the two words in a few variations:

  • Complex is fine, complicated is bad.
  • Complex is inherent to the system, complicated is man-made.
  • The opposite of complex is simple, the opposite of complicated is simple.

Wait, what?

Before I get to that last statement which for me somehow explains why it’s so easy to get the two words mixed up and confused, I want to start explaining what I mean with the second statement. Mostly this is what I believe the main difference between complex and complicated is.

Or, put in another way: Complex describes a system and complicated is a description of a system.

Take a beehive for example. From what I know beehives are pretty complex systems with how jobs are distributed, how communication is handled, how reproduction works. There are a lot of little details that we may have trouble understanding or even realizing especially considering the fact that we are not bees.

Anyway, let’s assume a beehive is a complex system. There’s nothing you can change about that. A beehive will always be a complex system because that’s what it is. You can’t have a decent talk with the bees and convince then to devise a simpler system.

This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad system, though. First of all it means that explaining a beehive may not be an easy task. So, what do you do? You paint pictures. You write a description. You come with analogies, metaphors or whatever suits your needs. You draw a model. Or a chart. Or whatever. And this whatever-you-come-up-with to explain a beehive can be either simple or complicated. And whether it’s one or the other depends mostly on you. It may also depend on the difficulty of the task, but you are the deciding factor. Sorry.

Complex is the system, complicated is how we describe it. If we’re doing it wrong. What I’m saying is that you should always try for simplicity when you are describing or defining a system. Complicated hardly ever works. It mostly confuses people. And it is often unnecessary.

Complicated is a device often used by people who want to display their intellectual superiority by making things look hard. What they do not realize is that the real challenge is not to come up with a complicated model of a complex system. It’s coming up with a simple and understandable model of a complex system.

I know that you can only dumb down things to a certain level without running the risk of leaving out important parts. But in any case striving for simplicity instead of complication should be the goal.

So, once again I would argue that complexity lies within a nature of a system. For some systems this can be changed, but not for all of them and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that a system consists of a lot of things which interweave and depend on each other.

Complicated is how we structure or describe things. A model or an explanation can be complicated. The organization chart of a company can be complicated. And complicated is something that we should be able to do something about. It’s not good. It’s making things harder to understand – sometimes on purpose, sometimes because we’re lazy and sometimes because we just don’t know how to do it better. But it’s not the nature of the system it’s the nature of the whatever model we use to explain it.

Which brings me back to the first statement. Complex is fine. If you can, make it simpler, but if you really can’t then that’s how it is. Complicated is not fine. Try to find a better way to do it. Complicated is adding details where we don’t need them or constructing detours where there’s a simple short cut or using big words when small words would totally suffice.

And as for the third statement. Yes, the opposite of complex is simple and the opposite of complicated is also simple. Maybe we need a different word for one of the simples to make the difference between the two clearer. And, to add to the confusion I would like to throw in another statement: The opposite of complex is complicated. How about that?

I guess what we end up with is that the difference between complex and complicated is a complex matter. I tried to explain my view on the matter as simple as possible. Did it work? Or was this too complicated. (Damn.)

Special thanks go out to @jurgenappelo, @alshalloway, @markusandrazek, @tastapod and whoever else joined in the discussion for giving me the motivation to try to put these jumbled thoughts into sort of coherent sentences.

Favorite Tweet October 2011

It’s that time of the month. I like how the tweets look like on my blog, but I only get the links when you read my blog in a feed reader. So, not good, basically. 

Does anyone know of a tool that lets me embed tweets in a Squarespace blog which will actually show up nicely in a feed reader. The internet keeps pointing me to BlackBird Pie but that seems to have been discontinued for the general audience and is only available for WordPress users (unless I’m missing something). So… anyone?