Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Tao Te Ching

I've been reading through this translation of Tao Te Ching which I really enjoyed. Like this, on the trouble of inner mud:


The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it;

all we can describe is their appearance.


They were careful

as someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.


Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?


The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting,

she is present, and can welcome all things.


Friday, August 26, 2022

On problem-based learning in primary school

I watched a passionate TED talk about problem-based learning in primary schools.

The university I went to followed this model religiously. 2/3 of our time was spent on semester-long projects. It works. The average time to complete a comp.sci. master's degree at this university was 5.0 years, where the average in other traditional universities in Denmark was > 8 years when I last looked at the numbers.

Besides the benefits mentioned by the speaker in the above video, there can also be a strong social aspect in being divided into small, tightly-knit groups where people would help, motivate and look after each other - and learn how to forget their egos in the name of making the project work.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bicycle pedal care

I mostly get around on bicycle. I'm a bicyclist in the sense that it is my primary means of transportation, but I'm definitely not an enthusiastic bicyclist in the sense that I want to spend time on my bicycle. I want my bicycle to be as care-free and as cheap as possible. Yes, these two can easily be at odds, but they can also go together. For instance, some of the low-weight, high-speed bicycle gear is definitely not care-free.

Now when it comes to the pedals, there are a couple of things I've learned from 20 years of maintenance.

Which ones to buy

First, there are two kinds of cheap pedals. There are the ultra cheap ones that claim to be completely sealed, hence needing no maintenance.

This turns out to be a lie. The sealing means that it is really difficult to maintain them, but it does not stop water from leaking in and ruining the oiling of the ball bearings.

It took me some years to understand how, but I think it's simply a basic physical property of the metal that when you apply pressure to it, it will flex just a tiny amount, and that tiny amount is enough to let water in when you're bicycling in wet weather.

So eventually, the drive train starts creaking, and it turns out it's the pedals, and then it is really difficult to get any kind of greasing into them, so you end up having to buy new ones. I thought for some years that this was okay, due to the low price. But for me it's really just cumbersome (buying stuff takes time) and distasteful to have to discard a big lump of metal each year.

And it turns out there is another kind of cheap, just slightly less cheap, pedal which allows you to remove the end cap that faces outwards so you can easily get to the ball bearings. That end cap is not under pressure, so I don't think it makes the pedal more leaky, but it does make it trivial to get the ball bearings re-oiled. So these pedals last a lot longer.

Preventive maintenance

One thing I did learn is that pedals is a wear part. In retrospect that should not be surprising, after all it's the main interface for transferring power from your body to the bicycle. So you need to be able to take pedals off, even if it's just for oiling.

Unfortunately, pedals can get stuck pretty hard on the pedal arms. It probably does not help that many pedal arms are made of aluminium while the cheap pedals are steel, so they tend to grow fond of each other.

So, first, when you screw in pedals, give the thread a bit of oil to try to prevent the metals from exchanging electrons.

Then, and here comes the repetitive part, each time you fix something unrelated on the bicycle, take a wrench, give the pedal a nudge so it is no longer tight, and tighten it up again.

You don't need to tighten it hard. So if you are a strong, independent, fair-skinned, but not pale, okay, perhaps somewhat pale, computer scientist like me, and do this a couple of times a year, it should untighten with a little nudge, no trouble at all. The whole procedure takes 10 seconds per pedal plus two minutes to find the wrench and put it back.

Wrenching pedals

The fun thing about pedals is that they turn around as you pedal. And if you think about it, they don't turn the same way with respect to their axle, since one axle is pointing to the right and the other to the left.

Now someone, and I suspect this happened early in the history of the pedalled bicycle, figured out that the spinning motion is great on the right side as it will tend to tighten in the pedal screw. At least when you pedal forwards, which I think we sort of standardized on.

But on the left side, the spinning motion will tend to unscrew the pedal. So on the left side, the thread is flipped so that it also gets to enjoy this tightening goodness. As a consequence you need to wrench the pedal the opposite direction on the left pedal - it has a links (left) thread, not a right one.

So this is why you don't need to tighten the pedals more than a gentle nudge, despite the forces involved in pedaling.

It also means that left and right pedals are not interchangeable. They are usually marked with L(eft) and R(ight). If you don't pay attention to this, you can easily destroy the thread on a soft aluminium pedal arm.

As for the wrench itself, back in the day, there used to be very little space between the pedal and the pedal arm so people would have special, thin pedal wrenches. Combine that with stuck pedals, and you would be sure to have a sad experience.

But all the cheap pedals I've bought over the past 15 years have had plenty of space for a standard 15 mm wrench/spanner, which I also use for the bolts on the back wheel axle. So no need for special equipment.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Daniel Schmachtenberger and civilization

I recently came across this interview with Daniel Schmachtenberger which I really enjoyed, partly because it concerns something I find myself spending more time thinking about, partly because of the absolutely attractive view of human that he is show casing through his attitude.

There are things in our modern life which we should be proud of, things that have been developed over centuries by us and the people before us. The internet is one example. Another is our governance structures, the refinement of which has prevented much suffering.

But there are also things that are dark. The are things that cause people suffering in new ways. Loss of meaning of life itself, replaced with void or empty consumerism, and loss of even the meaning of work. Corruption of the information that feeds our governance structures. Appraisal of comfort over long-term planning. Self-centered competition over compassion.

Daniel Schmachtenberger has the interesting take that our culture makes a difference to who we are. And even if we find it difficult to control ourselves and our emotions, we can change our culture and our environment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Consumerism and alienation

Came across this quote, which is really one of the reasons my children are in the Waldorf kindergarten and school system:
“The relatively new trouble with mass society is perhaps even more serious, but not because of the masses themselves, but because this society is essentially a consumers’ society where leisure time is used no longer for self-perfection or acquisition of more social status, but for more and more consumption and more and more entertainment…To believe that such a society will become more “cultured” as time goes on and education has done its work, is, I think, a fatal mistake. The point is that a consumers’ society cannot possibly know how to take care of a world and the things which belong exclusively to the space of worldly appearances, because its central attitude toward all objects, the attitude of consumption, spells ruin to everything it touches.”
― Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future
I don't think consumption itself is a problem. The problem is the attitude - if there is no thoughts about production, no consideration at all, then the result is a complete alienation towards the world. It is like existing in a prison, getting everything spoon-fed.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Danish blog

I finally got around to dusting off some notes I have taken over the past year or so and got my Danish blog published. I intend to use it for Danish things that just seem pointless to blog about in English, but it is currently mostly about the local Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner School that my oldest son attends.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

What a dumb thing to say

Have you ever witnessed a stranger remark something and thought it to be a dumb thing to say?

I sometimes ponder that kind of sayings years later and realize that I was wrong: I was in fact the dumb one.

I couldn't see why it made sense at the time, either because I was not experienced enough, or because I was stuck in a certain mindset, or just didn't give it enough thought.

The world is beautiful
These days, realizations like these make me incredibly happy - the world suddenly grows more beautiful. 

And it can off-hand remarks, not intended to be deep, but just a reflection of a large sum of experiences.

For instance, one of the adults in the kindergarten my children attend once explained to me that you cannot really change the children in the kindergarten. They are who they are. But you can help them be the best version of themselves.

That really stuck with me. I think it sums up how to approach other people - we should always help them be the best version of themselves. Imagine a world where your partner, colleagues, managers, customers, students, shop assistants, everyone had the aim of helping you be the best version you could be in a given situation.

That's beautiful.

And the ability to see this is truly one of the gifts of growing older. I can understand things I couldn't understand before.

And when I get surprised by people who I believe should think better saying something that does not seem right, I try to spend my brain cycles on why they'd reach that conclusion rather than how wrong they are.

I'm finding that works really well when trying to come to terms with politics. Today I'm more interested in the politician than the party.

Internet culture
I love reading, I guess I am really a curious person. The internet is full of forums with people discussing all sorts of things, in great detail, donating their personal time to illuminate the rest of the world with their arguments and experiences, from a point of view that is hard to reproduce. For instance, I don't know how it's like to be an 18 year old girl. Or an investment banker.

But seeing things from their perspective is valuable. And I have participated myself too. Over the years, I must have written several thousands of posts here and there.

The interesting thing is that for me, replying makes the man-that's-dumb mistake harder. I don't like being wrong, so once I start a reply, somewhere an unconscious part of me starts wondering if I am really right, or whether there could perhaps be meaning somewhere in the words that seem so dumb.

In the end I often end up not clicking the submit button.

In some cases I have gone ahead, only to realize months later, to my great agony, that I was in fact the dumb one.

But when I then go back and look at the discussion thread again, I can see that often, it's not really a case of two people being stupid to each other, but more a resolvable failure of communication.

As I grow older and start condensing hard-earned truths myself, I'm starting to experience it from the other end - people who obviously think what I say is dumb because they do not appreciate the context. It can be really annoying if it's people I care about.

I need to work on my communication.

The reverse situation
In some sense, the reverse situation is much worse. I and everyone else think something sounds profound and correct and smart, only to realize, years later, that it is in fact pretty dumb.

When I do that myself, I'm somewhat happy that I can now see my mistake. But honestly, seeing other people do it makes me depressed.