Friday, December the 9th, 2005

Come on, admit it. You’ll feel much better.

Warning: The following is a severe test of your attention span. You might want to grab a cup of coffee or whatever beverage it is that floats your boat before proceeding. Or just leave.

I try to be non-prejudiced and objective about most things, but sometimes, my clearly preconceived notions and biases on certain topics overwhelm my rational thought process. I proceed to flow with these elitist impulses, after which I end up feeling guilty. And I hate feeling guilty.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Maybe an example will help concretise ideas.

You know that I spend a bulk of my summers travelling, flitting from one place to the next, a large chunk of which is conference-hopping. Consequently, I’ve sat through far more than my fair share of talks; some of which have been good, some, not-so. But (and I don’t know if I am supposed to be blurting this out), while the rest of the world is probably pondering over how good the research is, or how engrossing the speaker is, my first (and most critical) judgement of the “coolness of a talk” is based entirely on how the fonts and symbols are rendered on the projection screen.

Yes, I am being entirely serious.

If the person on the podium is not using a TeXed-up PDF with everything looking “just right” (as in gorgeous), my first reaction is to assume they aren’t “techy”, so they don’t know what they’re talking about. It might be stellar work, but my brain is already beginning to shut off as it’s concentrating on something else, like poorly anti-aliased fonts. I know this is wrong, but it’s an involuntary (even if socially conditioned) response; one that I can’t always control. And doing this sort of thing always gnaws on my insides for a lot longer than it ought to.

For the longest time, I thought I was alone in feeling this way, but as it turns out, really cool people can be this way as well (“…now I can’t stand to read papers that still do use it”). And, of-late, as I’ve been conversing with a few very different people, it’s becoming more and more clear.


For instance, I was talking to the head chef at the university (of the calibre of the highly trained and skilled people who take part in those Iron Chef shows) during one of my baking expeditions. And guess what? He doesn’t eat tomatoes for over 8 months of the year. Apparently, they just don’t taste “right” when they’re off-season, and he can’t stand them.

Can you see?

Sure, it’s not in the same areas, but everyone has something that they honestly believe they’re so much better at, at which their understanding and skills are so much more refined at, … than the normal person, and clearly look down upon others from their high horses when they aren’t up to snuff in those regards.

But the thing I’ve realised is, once you’ve spent the time and gotten good at something, you probably are really more aware of what’s going on, and begin to understand the subtleties. That is just HOW IT IS. Just what is the big problem with rubbing this in the lesser mortal’s face from time to time?

Be it tomatoes, the anti-aliasing of fonts, rendering of symbols, fine wines, cheeses, quality of music recording/playback equipment, optics of the camera … anything. Deep down, everyone has something that they’re a snob about. Rather than feel guilty about it, realise that you’ve worked for it or are gifted, and this need to patronise the other folk is entirely normal; you’re almost entitled to it.

Like I keep saying, everyone’s a snob. Admit it. And let’s move on.

People around you have a problem with it?

Help them. Inform them. Show them what you know (flaunt it if need be), and they will either learn too or shut up.

It’s about time we stopped feeling guilty about the things we really should be proud of.

Addendum: My biggest issues in this regard (apart from the whole people-using-PowerPoint thing, that is) involve people using “crappy” equipment and lossy-formats (MP3) to listen to “crappy” music, and then mouthing-off about something trivial. Don’t know when a Mozart concerto transitions from an Adante to a Moderato? Well then, please shut up about the maximum bitrate of your IPod.

Out of curiosity, just what are those avenues you feel you’ve evolved to appreciate more than the average person? Food? Art? Punctuation? … Does it annoy you immensely when people constantly butcher what you hold so dear? Do you find yourself holding it against them, and regretting it later?

Feel free to chime in.

This is a printer-friendly version of the journal entry “Everyone’s a snob” from actuality.log. Visit to read the original entry and follow any responses to it.

13 Responses to “Everyone’s a snob”

  1. anonymiss says:


    I absolutely hate it when people don’t know the lyrics to a song…and make up some lyrics as they sing along…and do it confidently too…WRONG!!!
    That’s my snob story :)

    *strikes chimes*

  2. Anantha says:

    ” It might be stellar work, but my brain is already beginning to shut off as it’s concentrating on something else, like poorly anti-aliased fonts”

    A classic case of judging a book based on the cover.

  3. Manjunath says:

    I am not that big of a fan of using LaTeX for making presentation slides. All my Microsoft hatred aside, I think Powerpoint is a solid piece of software. Combined with Excel for making graphs, it takes a lot of pain out of making slides. I have tried more than one slide package for LaTeX, they are all good for simple slides with mostly text and pictures (but you have to use an external program for pictures, and I love Xfig). But anything to do with animations are trying out different ways of presenting a data set, Powerpoint/Excel combination is much better. You can use anti aliased fonts in Powerpoint, and you can get PDF slides from it.

  4. pUl| says:

    And where’s the fun (or whatever ‘said people’ seek by imparting wisdom) in everyone being ‘totally understanding’ and what not about things others are good at? It’s like you have people all around who know exactly what they and the person next to them are good at.

    Your skill/superiority/intellect comes to the forefront only because the person next to you stated/did something you knew was totally incorrect. But that is besides the point. More importantly, when you do correct these people, are you hoping that every such activity performed by every such person will ultimately result in perfection/’uniformity in opinion’ everywhere? I mean to what end? What is the objective here?

    I realize that I’m getting side-tracked here, but to people all over” Has anyone ever ever tried to understand why we are here (as in this world/universe/cosmos or whatever fancy name you have for this region of space) in the first place? Living a life, is sadly not the answer.

  5. wahgnube says:

    anonymiss: Glad you think so too! and thank you for sharing.

    And random-yet-confident lyrics substitution is very-very annoying.

  6. wahgnube says:

    Anantha: That is roughly what I am trying to say, but from a different point of view—The meticulous author probably does take the time to come up with an aesthetically pleasing cover for her book.

    And I’m not saying I’m right, I’m saying it is how I can be.

    Everyone has their own little internal biases in some form or the other. The trick is to be able to recognise them and be a bigger person if the need arises. At least, be open about it, because they’re usually there for a reason, valid or not.

  7. wahgnube says:

    Manjunath: And I am (a huge fan of using LaTeX for presentation slides, that is).

    I intrinsically avoid using non-Free software for most purposes (and do have some slight disdain toward those who do), and while the PowerPoint(CamelCase?)/Excel combination is probably very powerful, symbol rendering (and not just anti-aliasing) of a TeX derived document is just far superior. And I mean far far superior. I have numerous hardcore PowerPoint users around, and I’ve seen them go through great lengths (changing every symbol to be its own object, and what not) to get anti-aliasing and such done “right”. And it still never looks “just right”.

    Not to mention, I embed animations and such in my PDFs via LaTeX packages, so that’s not a clear point of separation either. And I seriously doubt there are plotting related things Excel can do that other programs like gnuplot cannot.

    I am being subjective. But that is what all this is about, and the crux of what I am trying to say. Whether it’s something trivial like this or something more devious, biases exist. They needn’t be valid, just that they exist.

  8. wahgnube says:

    pUl|: I’ve read what you’ve said quite a few times and I cannot understand what it is you’re trying to say. Would you mind rephrasing?

    (And people, I was waiting to parse this comment to reply to all comments together, which is why there was a delay.)

  9. pUl| says:

    I’m not going to re-iterate or elucidate the first half which I believe is quite understandable. What is really important is the last paragraph:

    Every day passes by and we do things we need to in order to ensure a decent life. Most of the things we do somehow boil down to basic necessities like food? (and other luxuries [which I’m not getting into for now]). Granted, some of us are trying our best to try and see things around us, and make sense out of it. But then, somehow, for some, there is this need (impatience if you will) to find out why things are the way they are. For people who base their observations on rational (as in explainable) phenomena, such a thought is sometimes akin to a mere (unproductive) time filler. No, we’re not talking supernatural-whatever-phenomena here. Why then, would one refute the possibility that such a question has already been answered? What reason does one have to believe that there is a long way to go before everything around us makes sense. Logic, would ‘by definition’ negate such a statement, but then, “What prevents this from happening?” doesn’t quite answer a question that goes, “Why does this happen?”.

    Yes, I know it’s abstruse and probably makes no sense to many.

    I believe that, if there is a question, either it has already been answered (as in we’ve simply shot past our target without noticing it) or there was no question in the first place.

    And yes, I’ll second wahgnube’s opinion on embedding animations into LaTeX presentations. Stuff out here serves as a very useful guide for starters.

  10. wahgnube says:

    pUl|: I didn’t understand the first half either, and maybe it’s just me, but this second comment made even less sense. But after reading this, I re-read your first comment, and here’s what I have to say.

    I find the first part interesting, and that is what I am going to respond to. That last paragraph, I think, is waay offtopic (but basically I fail to comprehend the point, or how it’s all related).

    And where’s the fun (or whatever ’said people’ seek by imparting wisdom) in everyone being ‘totally understanding’ and what not about things others are good at?

    … will ultimately result in perfection/’uniformity in opinion’ everywhere? I mean to what end? What is the objective here?

    It’s not about fun, it’s about realisation, and humility. You need to understand, I am an elitist (just as I am arguing we all are, in our own way). As in, certain people are inherently better at things than other people. That is how it is. When someone ‘superior’ to you in a certain regard mocks/derides/… you for your lack of skill/intelligence/knowledge … there’s no need for you to get all up in arms because they’re being a ‘snob’. They’re probably acting that way because they have every right to be. You shut up, heed their words and improve (or don’t, it’s beside the point).

    If I were wearing crappy rock climbing shoes and tried my hand at climbing a rock, and a much more seasoned friend of mine made fun of me struggling or my choice of footwear, I have to grin and bear it. I shouldn’t hate her or argue. If she mucks around with the wrong tools and can’t solve a differential equation, I look down on her.

    All I tried to say in this post, is that we all do things like this, and it’s probably OK, because that’s how we are. No need for guilt or anger.

  11. pUl| says:

    My apologies, I was quite carried away.

  12. Joni says:

    Grammar and punctuation properly used. By people with seven years’ (at least) more education than I have. Would be nice. But no. I live to correct their grammar, supply a “better” word (but not too good a word because the partner in charge of the brief won’t use it if he doesn’t himself know what it means).


  13. wahgnube says:

    Joni: Those sorts of things get on my nerves too. I count myself lucky to be around people who are usually very good (and sometimes even more hawk-eyed than I am) about keeping things proper.

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