Things No One Tells You

by | May 23, 2012

You have to reach down to loosen the strap on clip-style bicycle pedals. Who knew. No one ever mentioned this to me – they either weren’t aware or didn’t know. “Google it” isn’t a helpful answer. It never even occurred to me to ask the question. I found out by accdident while reading an article about the various advantages of different pedal styles – not research, just a link I happened to click on in /r/bicycling.

So what are the things that everyone knows?

When I tried to teach my mom how to use iPhoto, giving her instructions via Facebook chat, I didn’t understand why it took her so long to follow my instructions. It turns out that she thought you had to close the web browser to get it off the screen, then open iPhoto, then do the thing, then close iPhoto, then reopen the browser…etc. My mind was sblown when I saw her doing it in person. This isn’t an “Old people do dumb things” problem, though. I come up to it all the time, and my OWN stupidity catches me by surprise quite often. Staring at a Java if statement for several hours:

before realizing that it should be:

I’ve been trying to get the CakePHP framework running on my computer, without much success. The docs contain this sentence:

“For some reason or another, you might have obtained a copy of CakePHP without the needed .htaccess files. This sometimes happens because some operating systems treat files that start with ‘.’ as hidden, and don’t copy them.”

This was exactly the problem I was having, but the doc didn’t tell me what do about it. I found the answer from some other obscure blog, after dozens of Google queries. The Cake doc, though clear, easy to read, and fairly complete, seemed to assume that I would know what to do if these files didn’t turn up.

Am I an idiot? Well, yes, obviously. But we’re all idiots when we’re doing something new. Too many instruction manuals skip vast swaths of information, because they assume you already know how to do the things they’re telling you to do. And these bits of info are so hard to track down, because you don’t know what question to ask. Ever tried starting a standard transmission car, and it just wouldn’t?

The first question to ask, is “Did you push the clutch in?”. But I made that mistake tons of times when I was learning to drive, and people would offer me booster cables and jerry cans. They assumed…   and that’s the problem.

Don’t assume someone knows something just because they’ve made it to the age of 23, or 63, or whatever, without dying of idiocy. When you encounter a person being dumb, think of the last blindlingly dumb thing you did (if you can’t think of any, you aren’t paying enough attention), have sympathy, and just fill in the missing information without judgement or ridicule. It’s classier, and hopefully they’ll return the favor.