September 27, 2017 – 21 Hours and beyond

So, I have spent the better part of today fighting with computers…and they are winning.  What should have been well defined and laid out it turns out is much more difficult and poorly documented.  This means we have entered hours 21 and beyond.  As I wrote yesterday, to become somewhat proficient in a new skill or talent takes about 20ish hours according to one well-done Ted talk and lots of backing research.  As with any major endeavor, I looked at that as a promise that after 20 hours, I’d be pretty proficient, rather than looking at it in the light of reality, which is, that within 20 hours, I’d be as proficient as the other guys struggling with the nuances of an updated operating environment.  Accordingly, I have had both an “I am invincible” and “I have no idea what these machines are doing” day.

With that, I have gone back to basics.  There are a few rules of working with computers that I have hesitated to enumerate because, frankly, knowledge is power, and there is a certain bit of wizardry in the electronic arts.  As an aside, I heard a comedian recently talking about finding gray hairs in his beard.  He was worried because that meant he was either getting older, a fact that he refused to accept, or, alternatively, he was becoming a….wizard.  Anyway, today, my wizardry is abandoning me and I am resorting to brute force (e.g., get a bigger hammer).  Granted, I am urging a device to do something that it was not necessarily designed to do, but as a sentient being on a higher plane than mere electrical charges, it should bend itself to my will…

Anyway, suffice it to say, technology and I are at odds with each other today, and I believe that is probably something that all of you out there can relate to.  Whether it is email refusing to sync, a TV that doesn’t want to record the right shows, or merely something as simple as a Raspberry Pi that refuses to be a dual-homed wireless VPN server, we all have run into technology challenges and we need an approach to defeating them.  (Okay, maybe the Raspberry Pi thing is just me….)  Here is my patent pending approach to how to solve tech problems, be an electronics whisperer, and force electrons to do your bidding….

Step one – take a deep breath.  I am not kidding.  The first problem with troubleshooting electronics is that we tend to rush an answer.  We want it solved and we want it now.  The best thing you can do is to get up, step away from the keyboard and get your head in a different place.  I am not saying forget about the issue, just force yourself to do something different for about 5 minutes.

Step two – Use Google liberally.  If you are running into a problem, the odds are someone else too.  They may not have the answer, but they might have other approaches you haven’t tried.  It can’t hurt to search for advice.

Step three – Exercise “Tactical Patience”.  Tactical patience is the ability to let the computer do dumb things until you bend it to your will.  It is hard to do, but think of the computer as a 2-year-old who can’t help but run down a path until it ends in disaster…then, you step in, reset, and let it run again…and again…and again.  Tactical patience is all about not throwing the computer across the room and trying one more time.

Step four – The IT Crowd – “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”  Yes it is a punchline, but it also works.  Sometimes the answer is to turn it off, remove the battery (if possible) and make the system start all over again.  We all need a fresh start sometimes, and that extends to machines as well.  Sometimes, they need the time to forget their past and start anew.

Step five – Technology is not so much “next generation” as toddler.  Computers and technology are really, really good at doing specific things and repetitive things, but they are not so good at taking incomplete direction.  Sometimes, they just don’t understand properly and so we have to, like parents, patiently and with great effort, teach them what we need them to do.  As with kids, this doesn’t make them bad or broken, merely inexperienced and lacking in additional knowledge.  This is hard to accept sometimes, especially with technology, because it does so much without having been taught, but, that doesn’t mean it can do everything.  My grandson can do amazing things, but I wouldn’t ask him or expect him to change the oil in my car.  Likewise, I can’t expect or ask my…ahem, Raspberry Pi, to function in a way it wasn’t intended to.

This is where 21 hours and beyond comes in.  After the first 20 hours, you generally have to start finding your way in learning.  There is no more predefined path and there aren’t many lessons out there to copy.  You have to cull through lots of mistakes and bad advice and learn to trust your instincts as you grow in your knowledge.  That is a good thing though.  It means that you are making the transition from path follower to trail blazer.  It is only then that you can begin to become a master of what you choose to learn.

I hope you all have a good rest of the week…I am off to tilt at the Raspberry Pi windmill one more time…

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