When Different Understandings Cause Confusion
It’s easy for miscommunication and different understandings to cause quite a lot of confusion. I experienced that this morning.
Whether it’s 1. lack of correct information (my situation this morning) or 2. unclear information or 3. information that can be interpreted many ways, or 4. language and cultural differences, etc., it’s best to keep in mind that misunderstandings will happen.
A Non-technical Example
When I go to Portland, I generally don’t bother driving in town. They have this great public transportation system that is less expensive than paying for parking, and there is no hassle of traffic and driving. For one price, you can take light rail, bus or trolley, pretty much anywhere. I thought it was all the “Max” system.
To get to my meeting today, I looked up how to get from the hotel to Washington Park. Then I asked the hotel desk clerk where the Max station is. She said it’s 12 miles by car, but my phone said .1 mile. Well, it turns out that Max is just the rail part of the system and what I wanted was the bus stop.
A Technology Example
Sometimes, the incorrect use of words leads to a misunderstanding. For example, what is a “database”? For most people the database is the tool they use to see what’s inside the database. But, the data is stored in the database whether you can see the data or not. Many web hosts use a tool called PHPMyAdmin to provide access to the data in the database. Programmers write code that takes a copy of part of the data in a database to show on web pages.
I found out that Amazon’s AWS system doesn’t seem to have a tool to view the data that’s stored in databases on their system. The data is there, but they don’t have software in your account to let you see the data. You can use whatever tool you want, but you have to provide that tool, yourself. And, you have to hook your tool up to the AWS database. To understand that, you have to understand that the word database doesn’t mean a look at the data, it means there is a structure holding the data.
An Example from Mathematics
In high school Geometry, we learned about “endpoints”. In the computer world, an endpoint has a different meaning.
“An endpoint is a remote computing device that communicates back and forth with a network to which it is connected. Examples of endpoints include: Desktops. Laptops. Smartphones.”
In writing and in public speaking, they say to “know your audience”. This is good advice, but the truth is that even in what seems to be a fairly uniform crowd, people will have different understandings of terms. Even in a crowd of IT staff or programmers. No two of them have exactly the same body of knowledge. And, in the different technologies, the same word can mean many different things.
Consider the word “stack”. Stack has a general meaning, but different projects have different stacks of technologies. If your writing or speaking uses the word stack, it only takes a few moments to specify which stack you mean.
Using acronyms, without giving the full term at least once, is another source of misinformation. One time a client kept referring to CAFA without any further explanation. The environment with this client was that he generally had hostile relations with everyone around him, and asking for an explanation wasn’t worth the price of receiving it. So, one of his employees and I had a very interesting time looking up various uses of CAFA. The most interesting was Cremation and Funeral Alternatives! We found the answer with some laughter at his expense.
The moral is that those people who will tell you the confusions on your website or other communications are your friends, not someone to put down, like that client did!