Monday, February 22, 2010


For someone who thinks as much as I do, I am quite gullible. It seems my nature (if such a thing exists) to start all relationships with trust, not to require that trust be earned. I always start with the attitude that the other person knows what they're talking about and that they're honest about what they're saying.

Being gullible has served me quite well. It's allowed me to discard and change beliefs that I grew up with as truths. It's allowed me to learn skills that might otherwise have been inaccessible to me. It's allowed me to see past superficial signals and queues that might otherwise have caused me to dismiss the ideas and perspectives of various people from whom I've ended up learning much.

In some instances, being gullible has been a bit expensive. For example, the other day Iris and I decided to actually get me prescription glasses rather than the $8.99 reading glasses that occupy various nooks and crannies scattered about the house and the car. We walked into the Wal-Mart, got our eyes examined and then, with our prescriptions in hand, ventured into the display of frames to pick the ones that would work for each of us.

My prescription called for either bifocals or progressive lenses. As I talked with the salesman about which frames to pick and whether to go with bifocals or progressive lenses, I explained that I spend about 10 hours per day working on the computer. I wanted to make sure that whatever I selected would work for me.

The man assured me that both would work, but that I would have to spend at least a week getting used to the progressive lenses as they often throw people off initially. He explained how great the progressive lenses were and how they would be the most helpful to me given the diversity of my visual experience. I said, "Sounds great! Let's go with the progressive lenses."

He then continued to explain how the progressive lenses, being much more sophisticated, were significantly more expensive than plain lenses or bifocals.

Anyway, $450 later, we walked out of the store with our orders placed in eager anticipation of the arrival of our new glasses.

The Big Day
Nine days later, we walked back into the Wal-Mart to pick up our new glasses. Iris' straight lenses were great. Her frames looked great. She was all set.

I tried on my progressive lenses and was greeted with an experience that was a bit otherworldly. The progressive lenses essentially change from bottom to top. As you peer through the bottoms of the lenses at things closer, the lenses behave more like reading glasses (magnifying what you see). As you move your gaze upward towards the middle, the lenses provide less magnification to the point of providing no correction whatsoever; this allows you to look up from something close (say the menu at a restaurant) to something farther away (say the person with whom you're dining) and see both clearly.

As you move focus even higher, the lenses start providing correction for distance bring things far away into focus. So, if you stand still with say a menu in front of you, a person across the table and a sign of specials on the back wall of the restaurant, by moving your gaze from bottom to top, you can see all quite clearly. That is, if you're sitting still and not moving your head along with your eyes.

If on the other hand, you're a rather animated ADD type who moves his head quite frequently and whose driving style can be calibrated in lane-changes-per-second, the initial experience of progressive lenses can be a bit daunting, perhaps even nauseating.

The man who sold me the lenses told me, "Not to worry, you'll get used them. Before you know it, the lenses will seem normal. The important thing is that you wear them for a week non-stop to allow yourself to adjust."

So, being who I am, my immediate response (despite everything inside me screaming WTF) was to say, "OK!" and we walked out of the store with my glasses not to be removed until I went to bed.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Iris and I proceed to the local mall to procure lunch at the food court. As we sat at the table munching on hot dogs with chili and onions (for me) and fish & chips (for Iris), I started practicing using my sophisticated progressive lenses. Indeed, as I held my head relatively still (no mere feet), I noticed that I could see everything clearly (the labels on the side of the paper containers that held our food), Iris' face (which had mysteriously increased in the number of laugh-lines around her eyes) and the small text the various items listed on menu boards across the food court.

As I nodded my head to make slight adjustments and learned to turn my head so as to avoid using my peripheral vision, I was able to bring everything into focus. How cool!

So, I began practicing looking from this to that and then changing everything up and starting again. Slowly, it all started to come together. It seemed that the guy was right. I was confident that within a couple of days, let alone a week, I would have this progressive lens thing down.

The Moment of Truth
Confident now that this progressive lens thing worked, we marched over to the Starbucks for the moment of truth: using the glasses with my laptop. I pulled my Mac out of my messenger back, sat down with a latte and opened Firefox to get on line. All this before looking at the screen.

And then, the moment of truth. As I looked at the screen, I decided to take the same approach with my Mac that I had taken in food court: I would let my eyes do the navigating as I held my head relatively still.

I glanced up and down without nodding my head and let my head move back and forth to see from side to side, and voila!, of the 2,304,000 pixels on my 17 inch LCD only about 96,000 were in focus. I tried adjusting the position of my head, I tried adjusting the position of my glasses, I tried moving my Mac back and forth, but the only way I could actually bring any arbitrary section of the screen into focus was to move my head around and/or to move the Mac.

Hmmmm.... I must be doing something wrong.

Undaunted, I determined that I would continue until I figured it all out.

Two Days Later
Now I may be gullible, but I'm also extraordinarily confident (some might say over-confident) in my capacity to learn and acquire new skills. After two days full-time use of my progressive lenses, I had everything down, except for my Mac. Walking around the house, driving the car, sitting at a restaurant, watching a movie all went great without any problems whatsoever. Not so with my Mac which continued to refuse to conform to demands of my progressive lenses.

So, I opened myself to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, progressive lenses weren't going to work with my Mac. As soon as I did, the answer came tumbling down like thunder from heaven with the pristine clarity of post-thunderstorm, nitrogen-rich air, "Of course progressive lenses won't work with a computer screen!"

Applying a little Pythagorean Theorem we see clearly (so to speak) that the top of the computer screen is in fact always going to be as close if not closer than the bottom of the screen. If I place my Mac in front of me so that the top of the screen is about level with my eyes and about 20 inches away, then based on Pythagoras, the bottom of the screen (which is 10.5 inches high) will be 22.588714 inches away, i.e., the square root of 10.5 squared plus 20 squared.)

For progressive lenses to work under this scenario, they would have to be inverted magnifying more on top than on bottom. As soon as I dropped my gullibility, the answer was intuitive and easy to see, a definite "well, duh!" experience.

Of course, simply by tipping the screen back a bit, I can create an environment in which every portion of the screen is equidistant from my eyes, which makes the Mac's screen a great target for, well, plain old reading glasses. Hmmm...

To be Gullible or not to be Gullible...

A dictionary definition of gullible is, "marked by or showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile or worldly experience."

There's a lot to be said for approaching the world this way, you see things you wouldn't see were you to be affected or jaded, a lot of experiences are more enjoyable, and you open yourself to learning that might otherwise remain inaccessible to you.

On the other hand, you end up being, well, gullible which is also defined as "easily tricked because of being too trusting."

The tricky part is that it's hard to be both, as soon as you're not gullible or you start to question whether or not it's OK to be gullible, well, you've already thrown into place so many filters that it's really hard to turn on your gullibility. On the other hand, well, you might end up buying glasses that don't do what you want.

In my case, I'm thankful for the new progressive lenses because, even though I can't use them effectively for working with my Mac, I can see that Iris must smile and laugh a lot. Further, because I was so gullible and trusting, I was able to adapt to my progressive lenses in just a day or two. I can still use my $8.99 reading glasses with my Mac and my $450 progressive lens glasses for everything else. So, I see the whole experience as net positive.

What about you? Are you more naive and gullible or more worldly and jaded? Whichever you are, how does it serve you? How might being the other be useful?

Happy Monday!

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