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The Curse of Travel

My most effective learning environment is where I’m in a lurch, have no choice but to rely on myself or my knowledge, and it exercises that little bit of learned stuff under stress. I think that’s why I love to travel: I don’t know how to say in Portuguese “it feels like an alien rooting about in my colon, please take it out before he emerges to enslave the world!”, or “Dear god, do people actually eat that? voluntarily?” in Thai.

Sometimes, the things people will do to get-by day-to-day without the incentive of Reality-TV cameras is humbling, it reminds me how good it is where I grew up.

Unfortunately, too, I get to see how other cultures do things, and often how they have a different idea, a better idea.

This would normally be fortunate, but in returning back from this discovery, I return to people who have not seen anything but the one way, and that way is better, of course, or else they would have thought of the better way. You can call it the American Pride, or the Chinese referral to their valued 5000 years of history, or a 3-word put-down that a Brit will utter to show not only are they superior, but only the very stupid would think otherwise of the country that spawned both the Industrial Revolution and the Beatles.

OK, I made up the Beatles — they were real, but are not a critical part of British pride.

When an idea that is successful in many other countries is mentioned, many people simply cannot seem to accept that another country invented something better. Indeed, the craziest of excuses will be used, the latest being the medical industry in the US: “our system is expensive, but everything less expensive must be worse” — despite the fact that most countries have a lower mortality rate than the US. Indeed, the follow-on to that logic was “the mortality rate in the US is all because of immigrants”, which is the most unsubstantiated line of (un)reasoning I’ve heard since Palin’s Healthcare Deathcamps.

Thermostats. Brits continue to use these non-functional plumbing setups perhaps due to never traveling to another country and seeing a thermostat in a shower tap, or seeing how some places (except NYC) have thermostats for home heating-control. It’s not rocket-science, it’s a bi-metal coil that reacts to heat changes, coupled with a mercury bulb and carriage that twists to re-orient where “gravity” intersects the twisting or untwisting of the bimetal to get the mercury on the contacts.

OK, if you didn’t follow that, you may not be smart enough to build a thermostat, but dammit, you can recognize the difference between “keeps the room warm for you” vs “get up, turn the tap on until the room is unbearably hot, then turn it off until the room is frigid as a coal mine”

I know, it’s a subtle difference.

The resistance to recognize this can easily be passed off as “I don’t need silly luxuries like that” but the refusal to look outside at other solutions is crippling: the time spent on re-solving the same problem can be better spent taking a solution and enhancing it, or re-tasking innovation to the problems that are NOT already solved.

Britain, Thermostats were invented in 1883, did you think it was time to look at more recent problems yet?

That is why the Chinese will win: despite their 5000-yr-history, which obviously proves that they should know how to invent everything, they are willing to reach over and reuse the solution from another country (for example, TDS-CDMA) and move themselves forward.

Limiting oneself by patriotism implies that eventually, the only achievement to be proud of will be the loyalty to keep shouting “we are the best” despite the obvious truth. Just like Red Socks Fans.

One reply on “The Curse of Travel”

I have oft-wondered why Europe hasn’t figured out plumbing yet. It’s really not that hard.

Furthermore, if I had a euro for every time I’ve washed my a hands on this continent in a bathroom sink that didn’t have a hot water pipe running to it, I’d be able to buy you and me and all my friends in Berlin one big hot lunch right now. Why are we still living in the dark ages over here?

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