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Design Tragedies.

Lighthearted stuff this morning.

This is the view from my front window:

It’s gorgeous. I live on one of the nicest streets in Pittsburgh. The neighbors are nice, except for the church lady Trump Nazi next door, but we ignore her if we can.

Every year, I have this loveliness to look at through my front window except I really can’t look at it from my front window. Why? It’s because the previous owners put this behemoth bay window on the front of the house. This problem has plagued me since the days of the traffic cone orange countertops. (I fixed the kitchen. It’s always going to be a bowling alley but the Orange is now cost effective and nicer looking butcher block.)

Here’s the problem with this window and why it breaks my heart from both sides of the wall:

1.) It doesn’t match the era when the house was built. My house is mid century. That was the era of flat picture windows. So what?, you may ask. What’s wrong with a bay window?

2.) It’s disproportionally large for my house. I mean, it’s YUGE. Don’t get me wrong, I love natural light. But because it is a bay, it needs its own roof and the one that’s built onto the front of this house is also big and takes up a good chunk of the front exterior of this house. It’s not a giant McMansion. It’s a modest 3 bedroom. (Plenty big for a family of 4 but still not Versailles) Basically, this window looks like a giant wart hanging on the front of my house. It gives me a sad everytime I drive up to it.

3.) (and this is the stupidest part) Whoever picked out this window got the one with the blinds built into the glass. BUT the blinds can only be tilt adjusted to let light in. They can’t be retracted in any way. I can’t make the blinds go away. So I’ve been living here with days like today, looking out – through blinds. Short of breaking the glass (I’ve considered it) the blinds are a permanent feature. Who does that?? Oh, yeah, probably the person who picked the Orange laminate countertops.

4.) The frames are unpaintable. I mean the grilles are unpaintable. Someone must have been thinking, “oh, this wood grille looks so expensive (it doesn’t). Let’s not get painted grilles”. I’ve seen design noobs on YouTube who get apoplexy whenever someone paints wood. This is what I imagine happened with this window’s former owners. But now I’m stuck because unless I paint the grilles, which I can’t do without breaking the glass because they are also between the panes, no other color painted wood is going to look right from the interior or exterior. Painting the interior trim white will make the grilles looks kind of dingy. To prevent that, I have to leave everything else unfinished which looks, well, unfinished.

I’m assuming the original window owners discovered this too late as they painted every other trim surface in the living room but the window sash and frame. I hope they took a moment to appreciate how stupid it looks.

I’ve gotten some windows companies to give me quotes. I’m thinking of three simple double hungs with grilles and no internal blinds. The prices aren’t too crazy though with a retention wall to fix, it’s going to hurt (there goes replacing my laptop this year)

But every time I get one of these companies to give me a quote, they make a BFD about how much they LOVE the bay window. That’s because they have no design taste and can’t get past the fact that the previous owner spent about $14K on this ONE window. Oh, and the seal is broken. Gotta fix that. Great! Can you fix it by, you know, removing the window and replacing it with something more reasonable?? Then they look at me like I have two heads.

Then I want to get all Karen on their asses and shriek that the person who put the damn window in had more money than taste, no interest in the historical style of the house, bought blinds that can’t be retracted and I want to speak to your managers because I absolutely do not want another {{expletive deleted}} $14k bay window to replace it.

Meanwhile, the years go by with me staring out at the lovely street in a partial vision seat.

I’m ready to take a sledgehammer to it to force a replacement.

It’s going to happen one of these days. {{insert image of RD with goggles and sledgehammer going at it and screaming “DIE! DIE! DIE!” as wood splinters, roof shingles and glass fly into the air in a fountain of glittering shards. It will be my performance art piece.)

Will take pics.

The Search For Attributions

The social psychology theory known as Attribution Theory was developed by Bernard Weiner, around 1980. I got to take a graduate class from Dr. Weiner several years after that. He was good-natured and unpretentious, and I enjoyed the class, which covered his own Attribution Theory, and other related topics.

I like this theory so much, because it is intuitive, and is very applicable to real world situations. When I was first delving into social psychology, something I had never studied as an undergraduate, and I was learning about all these theories, one of my professors ruefully admitted that “these are never really replicated outside of the lab.” They do not provide sure-fire or shortcut guides to understanding behavior. And they usually relate to perceptual and subjective matters, not subject to rigorous scientific validation. But the best theories, like Cognitive Dissonance, and Attribution Theory, are insightful, and have import.

The basic concept of Attribution Theory is that attributions that people make as to the reasons for something happening, will have a great influence on how they will approach future situations. Attributions, in this context, are simply the cause that we attribute to a result; the “why did this happen?” that humans are always trying to discern.

I believe that Dr. Weiner briefly said that the two parts of the newspaper where you most see attributions, are the stock market pages, and the sports pages. We know how the network and sites which closely follow the stock market, seem compelled to provide “a reason” for why the market went up or down. And sometimes there well may be that reason, but there usually are other reasons, too.

But we hear that “the market went up today, on hopes of a business acquisition.” But then if the market goes down the next day, we are told that there was a new matter that caused the decline. Or the old, “Buy the rumor, sell the news,” which says that the market goes up on rumors ; and then when the deal or merger does happen, they have already priced it in, so it goes down again. Or–and this is the most obvious, but rarely gets the headlines–sometimes billion dollar hedge funds buy stocks, they go up, and then they sell them back at a quick profit, and they go down. Thus the traders make the movement, not the events that the trades are attributed to.

Those of us who follow sports are always hearing players or coaches make attributions to preparation or attitude after a win. “We approached this game differently, we told each player to take the responsibility; we told them that this was a clean slate, a new start.” It sounds great, but often the team loses the game after that; what happened to the new resolve? It may well be that after the fact–the big win–the coaches and players want to make an attribution to how they practiced, what was said in the locker room, but that was basically the wish to believe that the approach led to the different level of performance., because they won this game.

Sometimes, a team’s ups and downs, or the stock market gyrations, can be looked at as “regression to the mean,’ where an undue up or down is often followed by a result closer to the established mean, assuming there is one. That sort of goes along with “the law of averages.” If there is a baseball player whose batting average over the last five seasons is always within a few points of.280, and then he starts the first half of the next season batting .320, he is likely to slump a bit and end up close to his mean. It does not always happen, but it often does. And all the other attributions as to why he went up, and now down, might really just be overreactions, the human need to find reasons for everything.

Here is a social example of where Attribution Theory is significant, and you can see the impact of attributions. I hope that no one will somehow be offended by the example; one has to be careful these days. Imagine that a man meets a woman, in some fashion, and he thinks she is attractive, and wants to ask her out on a date. So he calls her up, and asks if she would like to have dinner with him on Friday. And she says, “I can’t on Friday, but thank you for asking.’

So what does he make of that? What does he attribute her “no” to? Maybe she has a date with someone else. Maybe it is a casual date, or maybe an ongoing relationship. Maybe she is involved with someone. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to go out with our protagonist. He could ask about such things, but that is very awkward and ego-risking. So he thinks about whether he should ask her out the next week. Or whether he should wait a few weeks, so as not to appear overeager. Or whether he should just give up on going out with her. Or maybe he is wildly hypothesizing, and he should not make much of her declining his invitation.

The attributions he makes are crucial as to how he proceeds. But there is a deeper level. What if he decides that she doesn’t find him attractive ‘in that way.” And he worries that maybe this is an ongoing issue. Maybe this will keep happening. So maybe he will decide to not ask any more women on dates. That seems extreme, but it can occur, depending on the attributions he makes. Is her “no ” only specific to her, or is it more generic? And his sense of self-esteem, and past occurrences before going into this interaction, are obviously important factors as to how much he might generalize from this one situation.

Now, hopefully most people have enough self-confidence to take a “no” as not being a general indictment of them. But it can happen. Not just with dates, but with job interviews which do not result in an offer; or a couple of auditions which result in, “Next!” Or a book or song you write which does not sell like you had hoped. Do you attribute such disappointments to “one of those things,” or, “tastes will vary,” or do you at some point decide that ‘it’s not them, it’s you,”; or at least that what you are offering, is not what the public wants?

Going back to the dating example, what if a friend of this man hears about this, and he tells him that he had also asked her out, and she turned him down; and he knows three other men in the office department (or school, or political group) who asked her out, too, and she did not go out with any of them, either That would be apt to make the protagonist feel better about himself. But what if his friend just made that up, to try to help him to feel better? Was that a good or bad thing he did?

When I took this class, Attribution Theory had just been developed, so there was not much in the way of practical examples. There was a story about how some prestigious academic university back East, had tried something involving first-year students whose grades were below average. A group of them were then required to attend an event where people came in, said that they were upperclassmen, and that they also had done poorly their first year, but they had learned from that, developed better study habits, and then made Honor Roll after that. “You can do it, too!” And supposedly this group of first-year students did better the next year than those which had no such intervention. But the presenters were not what they described themselves to be; they were students there, but they had not done poorly the first year, as they had pretended for the desired effect.

Then I read that maybe this was an apocryphal story. Or maybe it is true, but their improvement could be attributed to the so-called “Hawthorne Effect,” where just the fact that someone showed an interest in helping them, improved their performance. But whatever the case, it does highlight the interest in learning whether changing people’s negative attributions might cause them to have more optimism and confidence, which by itself could lead to better results. And if so, is this a good thing, if the person or group dedicated to changing your attributions is making up facts?

I think that it is a very compelling subject. The attributions we make come from various sources. Our self esteem. Our past experiences . What other people have told us about ourselves. What our parents have told us. We rarely know exactly why something happened, and of course there may be more than one reason, intertwined with others What we take from it, may be more crucial to us than the actual fact of an event.

The media thrives on making attributions. “This happened because.” Someone lost an election. A party lost a number of elections. There are people from Mexico coming up to the border. Gas prices are higher. There are demonstrations. Someone’s poll numbers are going up or down. Economic numbers are moving. So they say that it is because of this or that. Who gave the media the power to make attributions? No one, but they are the media, we watch their stations, and they feel compelled to make them.

People in their daily life make attributions all the time with regard to a variety of things. The media makes them every day, as well, but theirs are directed outward, to other people. I do not have the sense that media reporters and executives are scrupulous in doing this, they seem to think that they have carte blanche, and that they are almost required to toss in their attributions, which are of course not stated to be such, but are often presented as truths.

And the general attributions made by media types can take hold, almost become accepted wisdom. They become cornerstones which other related attributions are built upon. “This public official is doing the same kind of thing he did before, showing the same stubbornness,” or ” he exhibits the same inability to make a clear decision.” It becomes a theme, simply based upon media’s original attributions as why some person or political party chose this or that course of action. and then their eagerness to validate their original assessment.

The media is not composed of brilliant analytical minds. And even the most brilliant analysts will vary in their insights and attributions as to why something was said, or something happened. But the media are the conduit for attributions.

Imagine if there were some outside figure, or Greek Chorus, which would always interpret events for you, tell you why they happened. In the Greek plays, the chorus usually seems to be the voice of wisdom. But that is a literary device.

We are having attributions provided for us by the entities whose original job was to cover and describe events. Reporting and commentary now merge. Some people ignore this, and are capable of making up their own minds; others want to be told what attributions to make. And we should never forget that the vast empire of right wing media is always ready, often ahead of the fact, to provide their own attributions, often known as “spin,’ but nonetheless powerful in shaping the reactions they are trying to obtain.

It is something to think about, the next time you hear someone making attributions as to what caused a particular event for you, or in the society at large. They may be true, or partially true, one of several causes. They may be inaccurate, based on incomplete facts. They could be the result of preconceived biases, or reflexive reactions. They may just be the most facile responses, the ones that we are most comfortable with relying on in when we are searching for explanations. Realizing that they are just attributions, maybe insightful, maybe not, but not validated truths, is important to at least keep in mind.

To unfortunately end on a darker note, every time there is a mass shooting, there is the search for attribution of cause, called “motive.” Not to necessarily imply that it is a rational motive, but to try to find out, “Why?” The media usually drops this topic within a few days, they have other stories to cover; but they certainly dwell on it right after the event.

Sometimes I think that looking for a motive for these events is some kind of collective quest for sanity. As if, if we could only find a proximate cause, attribute it to drink or drugs or stress at work, or a violent political group, we would gain some kind of understanding which would not frighten us so much To consider that this is simply part of a societal sickness in America: no rhyme nor reason, outside of the perpetrator’s head, and the gun, and the people to shoot at; that there is no understanding, just the horror of it, and the likelihood that different but identical people, each with their own psyches and stories, will repeat it, would evoke the line from “King Lear.” “That way madness lies.” So people seek for attributions, instead.