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  1. #1

    Default "OK, I have not idea what that is."

    Have you ever used that phrase, or had it used on you?

    What was going through your mind when you used it?

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," is a phrase I have heard way too often, in contexts I would not have ever expected in the past few days.

    Latest time:

    Someone asked me what I was getting my Master's in. I said, "Electrical Engineering," to which he responded with "OK, I have no idea what that is."

    I exclaimed, in shock, "Really!"
    He said, "What was that, again?"
    "Electrical Engineering," I repeated sheepishly.
    "Oh, I know what that is," he admitted.

    Another time:

    "Sorry, I overheard... you are staying up to work on a school project?" a Barista asked when I pick up a Vente sized caramel frap.

    "Yup. We're optimizing a particle simulation," I elaborated.

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," she said.

    "What?!", I thought to myself. "Optimize, Particle, simulation, all those words are understood by most people. Sure. There are a lot of details I left out. But they are irrelevant." Finally, I say "It doesn't matter. It is a computer program of some sorts."

    To which she said, "Oh, I thought it was something like that. Well, good look and have a good night."

    "You too," I replied as I left with my coffee.

    Yet Another Time

    Someone asked me, "So what do you do at <my company>?"

    I tried to be as "lay-person" as possible, while still keeping the content, and said, "I work on special chips used for probing parts of a computer."

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," he said.

    "Well, I could elaborate a lot more if given a chance, but I thought my first sentence made a little sense, at least," I thought to myself. I then say, "I work in R&D, Research & Development, for quality assurance."

    "OK. I guess, it's too smart for me to figure out," and he turned to someone else to continue talking.

    "Was I being pretentious or arrogant?," I think to myself. "I wasn't trying to put him down or anything by expanding R&D as an acronym for him. It just came out that way."

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #2
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    That's a pretty common phrase around here.

    Usually it's either a polite way of saying "please spare me the technical details/please summarize more briefly and simply" or an upfront declaration of ignorance in the topic, in the hope of being enlightened.

    In the circumstances you're describing, it sounds like people just wanting an easy category to put people in. Ie, they want you to say "i'm an electrical engineer" or whatever, not "I do X every day".

    It also sounds like you may be assuming that everyday people have a higher level of knowledge about your field than they actually do.

    I have no idea what you meant by "optimizing a particle simulation" (what kind of particle? what are you simulating? what needs optimizing? etc...) and I'm nearly done a BSc in science...you expected a barista working for minimum wage to know that offhand?

  3. #3

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    Have you used the phrase on someone?

    I actually find it very hurtful. To me, it feels like they were ready to say that phrase no matter what I said in response to their question. It's like they've written me off as "esoteric" before I even finish speaking. It feels very marginalizing.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    I have no idea what you meant by "optimizing a particle simulation" (what kind of particle? what are you simulating? what needs optimizing? etc...) and I'm nearly done a BSc in science...you expected a barista working for minimum wage to know that offhand?
    Well, like I said, I left out a lot of details. But I think most people, know what those three words mean. The three questions you asked are among the questions I would expect.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  5. #5
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Have you used the phrase on someone?

    I actually find it very hurtful. To me, it feels like they were ready to say that phrase no matter what I said in response to their question. It's like they've written me off as "esoteric" before I even finish speaking. It feels very marginalizing.
    Lots of times. I dunno, it never occurred to me that it would be offensive. I'm humbly expressing my own ignorance on the topic..it doesn't have anything to do with the other person. Besides, usually when I say it, I want the other person to explain what they mean so I'm not all confused.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    Lots of times. I dunno, it never occurred to me that it would be offensive. I'm humbly expressing my own ignorance on the topic..it doesn't have anything to do with the other person. Besides, usually when I say it, I want the other person to explain what they mean so I'm not all confused.
    I don't consider it offensive. Even though I know quite well that it is not meant to be, it is immensely hurtful.

    "No idea," really? Nothing I said got through? It makes me feel like some sort of freak who can't even communicate the simplest of things. (Consider, the "what is my degree in," example).

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  7. #7
    The Destroyer Colors's Avatar
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    Well, you kind of can't. I mean, in the nicest way possible, you have not adjusted your language to the right audience. I have no idea what you mean by "optimizing a particle simulation".

    People telling you "Ok, I have no idea what that means/is, etc." are showing a genuine interest in what you are saying- they just don't know what it is yet. If they didn't really care, they could just smile and nod and pretend they know what you're talking about to end this part of the conversation faster. Is there a less blunt way to ask you to clarify? Probably.

    (And the first guy who didn't understand probably just misheard you the first time you said "Electrical Engineering".)

  8. #8
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    I dunno what was up with that guy. Maybe he misheard, or didn't want to talk about it or something, or a million other possibilities.

    That's part of working in a technical field though, you'll probably get that a lot, because most people won't understand what you do and probably most of them have no interest in ever understanding it.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colors View Post
    Well, you kind of can't. I mean, in the nicest way possible, you have not adjusted your language to the right audience. I have no idea what you mean by "optimizing a particle simulation".
    I kind-of suspected that I could have said, "I am working on a computer program." But it came out the way that it did, because that was what was on my mind. I am impressed by people who can continually adjust their speech for their audience (haven't met many IRL). It takes a lot of work. I was just shocked that nothing got through. A lot of missing details, yes. From past interactions, I knew this particular barista to be fairly intelligent. Oh, well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Colors View Post
    People telling you "Ok, I have no idea what that means/is, etc." are showing a genuine interest in what you are saying- they just don't know what it is yet. If they didn't really care, they could just smile and nod and pretend they know what you're talking about to end this part of the conversation faster. Is there a less blunt way to ask you to clarify? Probably.

    (And the first guy who didn't understand probably just misheard you the first time you said "Electrical Engineering".)
    Really! Most of the time, I thought it meant that they had no idea what I said. So I figure, there is not even a starting point for me to elaborate. So I re-phrase in even more vague terms (and ironically, that works).

    Yeah, the guy probably misheard me. But that phrase has a way of cutting through me (I've heard it for most of my life). I wish he had just asked me to repeat it initially.

    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    I dunno what was up with that guy. Maybe he misheard, or didn't want to talk about it or something, or a million other possibilities.

    That's part of working in a technical field though, you'll probably get that a lot, because most people won't understand what you do and probably most of them have no interest in ever understanding it.
    I've been getting that phrase for a lot longer than when I worked in a technical field. It just happened in rapid succession recently.

    My theory is that people have categorized me in their mind as someone who is interested in things that no-one else cares/knows about. So when I speak, it automatically goes through that filter.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  10. #10
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Have you ever used that phrase, or had it used on you?

    What was going through your mind when you used it?
    No, I've never used it and rarely heard it, although I've had people just randomly tell me I was "smart," when I was talking, and irritatedly realized that they were probably just expressing that they didn't understand what I was talking about. To be safe, I tend to keep my vocabulary down to what I knew at age 7, and only discuss the tasks at hand unless they demonstrate interest in something I know about.

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," is a phrase I have heard way too often, in contexts I would not have ever expected in the past few days.

    Latest time:

    Someone asked me what I was getting my Master's in. I said, "Electrical Engineering," to which he responded with "OK, I have no idea what that is."

    I exclaimed, in shock, "Really!"
    He said, "What was that, again?"
    "Electrical Engineering," I repeated sheepishly.
    "Oh, I know what that is," he admitted.
    You know, that reminds me of a dream I had once... I referred to a character in a dream as an Electrician for some reason, and they corrected me and told me they were an Electrical Engineer. (They weren't wearing a helmet or overalls, and were wearing glasses, a couple of odd measuring tools, and a pocket protector.) I dream about weird things like that all the time.
    Another time:

    "Sorry, I overheard... you are staying up to work on a school project?" a Barista asked when I pick up a Vente sized caramel frap.

    "Yup. We're optimizing a particle simulation," I elaborated.

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," she said.

    "What?!", I thought to myself. "Optimize, Particle, simulation, all those words are understood by most people. Sure. There are a lot of details I left out. But they are irrelevant." Finally, I say "It doesn't matter. It is a computer program of some sorts."

    To which she said, "Oh, I thought it was something like that. Well, good look and have a good night."

    "You too," I replied as I left with my coffee.
    I probably would have asked what kind of particle(s) was/were being simulated, what was suboptimal about it, and why this made a difference?
    Yet Another Time

    Someone asked me, "So what do you do at <my company>?"

    I tried to be as "lay-person" as possible, while still keeping the content, and said, "I work on special chips used for probing parts of a computer."

    "OK, I have no idea what that is," he said.

    "Well, I could elaborate a lot more if given a chance, but I thought my first sentence made a little sense, at least," I thought to myself. I then say, "I work in R&D, Research & Development, for quality assurance."

    "OK. I guess, it's too smart for me to figure out," and he turned to someone else to continue talking.
    I probably would have asked if it had anything to do with car diagnostics, temperature sensors, the new hardware security being implemented in Vista, or something else altogether. That one I didn't quite get... it seems to depend on what part, and what kind of computer.
    "Was I being pretentious or arrogant?," I think to myself. "I wasn't trying to put him down or anything by expanding R&D as an acronym for him. It just came out that way."
    I didn't see anything wrong with what you said, it just seemed like they weren't interested because it was beyond their comprehension. You have to accept that most people don't want to understand any more than they have to in order to get by, because it's stressful for them. I guess they don't like to be reminded how little they know.

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