Reasons vs excuses

Seth Godin’s post today on reasons and excuses for companies reminded me about something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
The terms reason and excuse are frequently used interchangeably, and the term “excuse” often has negative connotations to boot: “that’s just an excuse.” I think that’s wrong. An excuse should excuse you – it may also be a reason (and likely is), but the perception of it as a negative thing ought to be incorrect. A reason is just an explanation for why something happened.
This may be prescriptive grammar-GodwinsLaw-ing, but I think there’s some merit to the approach. There ought to be a distinction between a reason and an excuse, and I don’t believe that the English language as currently used really allows for that – which is ridiculous, given how many words we have.
(Today’s probably useless entry brought to you by a long put-off dist-upgrade on a group server from Ubuntu 5.10 to 6.06. Boring.)

Update on Mind Maps

Since making a very vague post regarding mind and concept mapping, I did very little to actually explore them, being rather busy with work and personal matters. However, I saw the perfect opportunity to jump in with both feet when I had to start writing some documentation – from scratch – regarding our clusters. Being cheap and still unsure of the utility of mind mapping, I grabbed a copy of FreeMind. It works quite nicely on my various Mac machines, and when I was one day forced to use my Linux box as my main workstation (my G5 was busy thrashing backing up a faculty member’s Powerbook) that machine ran it quite nicely as well. I played around with it a bit in order to learn a bit about its interface and how it liked to do things, then got to work actually using it.
However, being an old-fashioned and tactile kind of guy, I have a large blackboard in my office, so I started there first. FreeMind seems to like to start from a central node, so I wrote down Clusters and worked from there. Soon I had a list of the various “chapters” I wanted to cover roughed out on the board, and I transferred that to FreeMind. For a while I worked back and forth, duplicating effort on both mediums, until I was relatively satisfied with the concepts that I needed to cover.
FreeMind has an export to HTML option, which produces a fairly nice list – collapsed or not – of the various nodes. I expanded nodes one level deep, exported that, and printed it out (see above, I like reading dead trees). Working with the printout, I created a series of text files, each covering a single concept or group of concepts: Administration, Compilers, User Accounts, Hardware, and so on.
I’ve not yet completed the documentation, but I can say for sure that this sort of mind map was invaluable in getting it started and in keeping me organized during writing. User documentation lends itself well to this sort of thing, so work is rapid. I have yet to try writing an essay outline with it – oddly, while an undergrad I was never big on essay outlines before the fact – but I have one coming up Real Soon so I might give it a go there. I can also say that the map was useful when creating my cluster presentation, as it allowed me to see at a glance which bits were likely to be important to my users so that I could ensure they were all covered in detail – no more and no less than they deserved. Since the presentation seems to have gone well, I will praise mind mapping for allowing me to get the whole thing done up in far less time than I would have thought.
Individual mileage may vary, but I’m definitely enthusiastic about the utility of this class of program for myself.

Ethics of the infantryman

Mark Grimsley writes Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. He posted an entry linking to an SF Chronicle article that quoted him, regarding the American soldiers currently being considered for prosecution for raping and murdering civilians in Iraq.
Not to make light of it, but it makes the shenanigans our own Airborne got up to in Somalia look relatively tame by comparison. First, a personal story.

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I have some personal habits that I can attribute directly to others.
One is that I almost always have a writing implement or three (ideally, a couple of pencils, a ballpoint pen for carbon forms, and a pen for regular writing) atop my keyboard. I rarely use anything other than IBM Model M’s, so there’s considerable space. I picked this up from a high school/university friend who used to do the same. Of course, lately, I’ve had my Space Pen take over both pen roles. It’s not nasty to write with, although it could be better, and it does a lovely job on carbon forms.
Lately I’ve discovered a habit of saying “doo doo dooo” etc under my breath (and sometimes not under) when I’m doing sort of mindless things, or else thinking intensely about something (so everything else is sort of disconnected). I blame one of “my” grad students for this – he does the same thing. When I asked him about it, he said he finds it annoys people less than whistling. I never whistle though.
I emailed a prof recently to tell him I’ve taken his habit of saying “thanks much”. He claimed he didn’t remember where he first picked it up. I assume it’s a leftover of learning English as a second language, but I could be wrong. I’d never heard it before, although there’s a few others around the department who I’ve caught saying it as well.


The meme is making the rounds again. This reminded me of our own experience last year when we went looking at cars – we weren’t sure exactly what we wanted, and we didn’t know exactly how much it would cost us, but we had some pretty good ideas. So we saddled up with a couple of friends and went and hit dealerships.

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