How to Learn Technical Things

The people that know the concept you are learning went through the same process that you are going through – often multiple times – to get where they are today.

The actual mechanics of learning are the same for everyone: you poke around, you push the edges of what you know, you make mistakes, you do dumb things, you struggle to understand, you apply it to problems you are interested in, and knowledge grows over time.

Jamison Dance in How to Learn Technical Things.

Jamison Dance has some great points in his article on learning. He goes onto describe the techniques of a skilled learner. It’s a process of making mistakes, asking questions, getting rapid feedback, being uncomfortable, comparing what you know and continuing to learn. As we’re trying to learn, we often forget that learning doesn’t just happen at all once but over time. And during each step, learning happens… Give yourself credit for that too!

Apps vs. The Web

“Apps are a great intermediate play, a way to scale up functionality of a primitive Web, but over time they get outcompeted for all but the most complex platforms by simpler and more standardized alternatives. What will get complex will be the ‘artificial immune systems’ on local machines. What will get increasingly transparent and standardized will be the limited number of open Web platforms and protocols that all the leading desktop and mobile hardware and their immune systems will agree to use. The rest of the apps and their code will reside in the long tail of vertical and niche uses.”

Futurist John Smart, founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation in The Future of Apps and Web by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

One Month with the Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Advertisement
Courtesy of Amazon.com

If you had asked my co-workers before the holiday season which tablet I might buy, they would have all put money on the Apple iPad. After all, I’m the only one in the office with the iMac, and I’ve brought up Steve Jobs at a few staff meetings.

But I never considered an iPad. Two days after Christmas, I let go of my Apple bias and bought a Kindle Fire. Why? Several reasons:

  • I already have a laptop, so I couldn’t justify spending $500 for another, no matter how beautiful and useful it turned out to be.
  • The main reason I wanted a tablet was to read e-books, so I knew cheaper e-readers existed.
  • I knew I would use my tablet for content consumption above all else.

First Impressions

The Kindle Fire does one thing well – help you browse and consume content. The other thing it does better – direct you to buying that content from Amazon.

Liking This…

  • Easy to set up, and get going with access to your Amazon content.
  • Changing the appearance of type while reading books is nice.
  • The size is perfect.

Not a Fan of…

  • Silk: It’s slow, very slow. I turned the acceleration off and it sped things up.
  • App Store: Not even a Twitter or Facebook app, but glorified links to mobile sites. That’s ridiculous. Updates come to the Amazon App Store much slower than normal. Sometimes, it wants me to update an app, but won’t let me update the app – probably because the Amazon-approved version isn’t available.
  • Navigating the perils of converting e-book files back and forth proved to be a learning experience. Luckily, there’s Calibre.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Kindle Fire gives me what the iPad could not – a supercharged e-reader with a reasonable price tag. I can read and buy books all I want, and when I need to, check websites, blogs, etc. I’m excited to see how my reading habit will change this year. In the end through, if Apple made a $200 or even $250 iPad Lite, I would have bought it instead.

Steve Jobs on Content and Technology

“One of the things I learned at Pixar is that the technology industries and the content industries do not understand each other. In Silicon Valley and most technology companies, I swear most people still think the creative process is a bunch of guys in their early 30s, sitting around on an old couch, drinking beer and thinking up jokes. That’s how television is made, they think. That’s how movies are made. And I’ve seen at Pixar that that couldn’t be further from the truth. The folks on the creative side work as hard as any technology folks I’ve ever seen in my life; they’re just as disciplined; the process is just as difficult and disciplined as an engineering process is. The contrapositive is true, too. People in Hollywood and the content industries think technology is something that you just write a check for and buy. They don’t understand the creative element of technology. They don’t understand that this stuff is created by people working extraordinarily hard, and with passion, just like the creative talent that they have. These are like ships passing in the night. One of the greatest achievements at Pixar was that we brought these two cultures together and got them working side by side.”

Steve Jobs from a Wired.com story: “Without Jobs as CEO, Who Speaks for Arts at Apple”

I originally tweeted about this too. Hat tip to Felix. I liked it so much that I wanted to post it as well.

Steve Jobs Retires

“It’s a sad day,” Kevin Wenzel said.

Kevin works with me at The Arc as a web producer. We’re always talking tech, and today he was referring to Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s Chief Executive Officer.

It made me chuckle. Apple will keep chugging along, right? It had to happen sooner or later, especially with Jobs’ health issues. But once I started thinking about things – Jobs shouldn’t be known just as the visionary behind all things “i” – he’s given us more.

Matt Mullenweg thinks so. From an earlier essay, Matt points to Jobs’ willingness to step on the gas peddle, even when a product might not be ready.

“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.” -Matt Mullenweg

You have to always push and push hard. That’s a good lesson for anyone in the tech world to learn, and it’s a sad day when you forget it.

A Few More Predictions for the iPad

Green Apple

The blogosphere is lit up with talk of the iPad a day before it comes out.

Some believe it’s far from perfect while others anxiously await the iPad’s arrival. Only time will tell how well the iPad sells, how easily people can use it and how they use it.

Respect the User

Some four years ago, I bought a Palm Pilot. I had just landed my first job as a journalist and desperately wanted something to keep up with all my new contacts.

I think I used it four times. I ended up scribbling my contacts in my reporter’s notebook, and transferring them to a text document for easy electronic transporting.

Why?

It didn’t fit into my life. Palm failed in a way with its devices.

It was faster to just scribble the name when on location and in a rush. The text file proved easier to get to and navigate than my Palm device.

Is it just Hype?

I think the Apple iPad could suffer the same fate.

Here’s my thoughts on the iPad:

  • It could end up being a nice around-the-house kind of computer, perfect for checking email or browsing the web.
  • It could be too big for people to carry it with them everywhere.
  • As Cory Doctorow pointed out, Apple has made a killing on closed off devices and applications.
  • However, the iPad might fall short of expectations because it doesn’t embrace the free/open-source mentality that’s gathering steam on the web.
  • I don’t think it will save the news industry. The news is no longer a commodity. Anyone can distribute news these days, so journalists still have to figure out how to make the news they gather more valuable than most.

Final Word: No technology is perfect, so the iPad won’t be the be-all, end-all some may think. It will have its fans and detractors. I’ll give it chance, but would have to try one extensively before ever buying one.

Image by Leonardini.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the iPad and its release.