Other Reflections

Troubleshooting, History, Language-Learning

I was never really good at troubleshooting. Probably because the way I learned math was less to think through the problem and figure out the solution as to learn the method to solve problems, practice that method a billion times, and then apply it on tests.

This mentality may sound horrific to some of you, but it is useful when taking tests learning languages. Most languages cannot be satisfactorily translated based on the rules of grammar alone (the “grammar-translation method”), but must be “assimilated”(i.e. learn how Japanese people say things in this situation and imitate them rather than trying to piece together vocab and grammar yourself). Successful language-learners employ both methods, but I would argue that the ratio of assimilation to grammar-translation to learn any human language is at least 60:40, going up to 90:10 for languages that are the least-related to yours (e.g. Japanese for Anglophones). Unless you want to sound like a robot, of course.


My mother recently had a problem syncing certain tracks from iTunes onto her iPod Touch. Restoring the device to factory settings didn’t help. I compared the information on the tracks that weren’t syncing to those that were in order to see if there were any differences in “bitrate,” whatever that meant. They were the same.

So, I started to look for solutions on the internet from randos who’d also had similar problems. After a year of working at a walk-in tech help center, I’ve learned to Google my way through most people’s problems: wifi not working when the computer isn’t plugged in? how to reduce the mysterious “other” storage on Macs? external drive not the right format? Instinctively, I turned to Google. But this time looking for a solution based on the situation, i.e. checked songs not syncing, didn’t work. This situation could be triggered by too many possible factors to have a simple fix.

Sigh. I would need to buckle down for some actually troubleshooting. I began by reasoning that the problem could lie with any of the following:

  • the iPod
  • the laptop
  • iTunes
  • the tracks

Woah, did I just break down the problem?? I thought to myself. When I was preparing for a consulting interview my junior year, I was fascinated with the “frameworks” used to comprehensively think through business problems by breaking them down into their parts. The only thing is, I knew I could solve hypothetical business problems, but tech problems? Definitely not. Computers were a black box to me. It would never have occurred to me to break down a computer-related issue in the same way. But that is what I learned to do!

Anyways, back to the iPod. Since the iPod was working, the computer was not malfunctioning, and all other tracks were syncing, the problem most likely lay with the tracks, right? I was about to rule out all other options, when a voice in the back of my mind whispered, “but you could be wrong.”

And this is where my history training comes in. I used to think of history as simply what happened, but this past year, I saw that the discipline of history is concerned with explaining why things happened. Huh, sounds like troubleshooting. Further, everything I learned in a history class at Yale showed me how what I had previously taken for granted was either wrong or only partially true. Realizing how ignorant I was and, conversely, how complicated the world actually is, taught me to constantly challenge my beliefs and assumptions.I still forget to do this sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. But I have gotten much better at it, and have a better understanding of how important it is to “leave no stone unturned.” (At least I think I’ve gotten better at this. We can never be too sure of ourselves…)

As physicist Richard Muller said on Quora,

A non-scientist is easily fooled, and even worse, readily fools himself.

In contrast, a scientist is easily fooled, and even worse, readily fools himself, but knows those facts, and takes extensive measures to compensate.

Similarly, I was about to fool myself into thinking that the problem lay with the tracks, when I remembered that I might be fooling myself. Time for some “extensive measures to compensate.” So I transferred one of the problematic tracks onto the iTunes on my laptop and tried syncing it to my mom’s iPod. It worked! Since the track synced to the device, the problem (most likely) did not lie with the track… or with the iPod. Must be a problem of my mom’s iTunes, I thought. She always clicks “no” when prompted to update to a newer version.

But even after updating her iTunes to the latest version, the same tracks still would not sync to her iPod. So it wasn’t iTunes’ fault after all… Could it be that the problem lay with her computer even though that was the least likely source of the issue?

I still don’t know what on her computer could have possibly been preventing iTunes from loading certain tracks onto her iPod. In retrospect, I could have tested with another software that allows you to sync, e.g. CopyTrans, but I didn’t feel like paying for one or signing up for a free trial. Or maybe I could have totally uninstalled iTunes and tried again. At any rate, the tracks synced successfully on her other laptop, so I ended up just moving all her music files onto it and telling her to use that computer for iTunes from now on.


It irks me that I found a workaround solution rather than solving the problem on her original laptop. (If you know why this might have happened, please do share!) For now, though, I am happy that I am able to bring all of the different mindsets I’ve learned to solve a problem, even a little one. Working as a student tech my senior year was a great way for me to branch out from my normal stuff (history, language-learning) to learn a different way of thinking and integrate them all. Thanks to everyone who helped and mentored me along the way!

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