Thursday, June 21, 2012

Suckage

There's an old joke: If a vacuum cleaner sucks, is that a good thing? That's kind of funny.
There's an old saying: Life sucks. Then you die. That's not so funny.
I am not good at a lot of things. Some things I try to do, and it takes so long for me to do a bad job of it that I get frustrated and think there's something wrong with me. But there isn't. Learning to do a new thing follows a learning curve, a steep suckage scale, so to speak. Quite often I forget this, and just get depressed at my total lack of abilities.
Yesterday I caught a pretty good article where Thorin Klosowski explained how he handles the suck barrier when learning a new skill. The article made me feel less alone in the great big dark and scary world of new skill suckage. I recommend the article to everyone, and sent it to my two youngest, who suffer from the same self-deprecating malady I do.
Thorin (I am going to guess we are on a first-name basis unless he calls to correct me) gives some good tips for handling the learning curve.
Try another Expert Source or Manual - I know all about this one, but maybe from the wrong perspective. Years ago when I was teaching Windows in a Continuing Education class at a local community college I had a student who was struggling with everything I taught. He stuck it out, but it was painful for him. When I taught my next class, there he was. I told him he already took it, and he sort of hung his head. "I was hoping for a different teacher," he said. We went to the Registrar's office to get him into the same class with a different instructor. Occasionally the source material just isn't right. Find another one.
Take a Break - I do this all the time. He suggests a break every ninety minutes. My only caveat on Thorin's advice for this one is don't let the break last too long, or you may not come back to it. I recall one particularly difficult physics problem a friend and I struggled with in college. We gave up on it and I went running. When I got back I wrote the entire solution on the little message board on her dorm room door. I have to admit, that felt good.
Sleep on It and Try to Find New Solutions - I do this all the time. Once in a while my new solution is to demolish the entire thing. I do this often with problems that stump me and it works well, but we're talking about new skill learning, so I'll stick to that.
Know When to Quit and Learn from Your Mistakes - that's a two-part bit of advice and the second part is key. Accepting defeat is okay sometimes, but if you don't learn from it, you're doomed to repeat it.
Try a Smaller Project - I'll break down large, complicated projects that I don't know how to do into small chunks that I do know how to do. It certainly makes it all more manageable.
Keep Practicing - If you really want to master the skill, you need to keep at it. Malcolm Gladwell says in his excellent book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. My youngest son disagrees, with some validation; he mastered Diablo III in a just a few hundred hours. However, that might be considered a subset skill; he has spent thousands of hours mastering computer gaming skills.
Thorin (what an awesome name) makes some good points, and the article is worth a read. That's not the end of the story, though.
My youngest daughter read the article and liked it. She then sent me her summation of
The Levels of Sucking
(1) When you're first learning something, you suck like a vacuum cleaner, gathering up every useful (and some useless) bits of information.
(2) Then you suck like a straw, gathering up more and more data about a small pocket of information without much power or room to learn.
(3) Then you just suck.
Eventually, if you love it more than food, you may become a Black Hole of Sucking, in which case no bit of knowledge escapes your awesome powers. But this happens rarely to very few people. We call them "demigods."

That just made my day.

Sometimes it is just too painful to learn a new skill

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