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Surprise!

Surprise!

my snake surprise

    Yesterday after a reasonably productive morning, I jauntily packed my gym bag, went downstairs to the garage and reached in to hit the garage door opener, started walking to my car and nearly stepped on a three foot long coiled snake.

    I do not like snakes.

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    Cats are better than people, dogs are great, fish are fine. Snakes? Not fine. Definitely not fine in my garage. Definitely, positively, utterly not fine when I practically step on one wearing sandals and shorts. I didn’t know it was possible to jump backward three feet, open a door in mid air slam it and scream bloody murder all at the same time. Now I do.

    Now this is not a post about snakes. I’ve seen all I want of snakes to last me a very long time. It’s about surprise. And how well – or not well – you’re prepared to handle surprise because surprises are things that you don’t get to organize, process, plan, review, add to your master task list and prioritize. They just jump out (or in this case, to be fair, you walk into) at you.

    How prepared are you for both predictable and unpredictable bad surprises? Predictable surprises like earthquakes in California and hurricanes in Florida. Unpredictable bad things like getting mugged on your way to your car, or tripping and breaking your wrist.

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    There’s a long list of web sites for the former (starting with this one), and having a backup paper copy of your identity and at least a passing familiarity with voice recognition (Vista comes with it, and it works) will help you deal with the latter, but above all else dealing with potentially nasty surprises is a mindset, an emergency mode you get into when that first burst of adrenaline hits your nervous system.

    After my close encounter of a reptile kind, I came up with this acronym to remind myself of what to do next time I find myself in a one of life’s little unplanned dramas. JUMP.

    • Jettison your plans and your need to protect possessions. I had my whole rest of the day planned out – a plan that went straight out the garage window when Mr. Snake decided he liked it just fine between me and my car. People sometimes would rather lose their lives than lose their plans – witness the depressingly regular news stories of the person drowned because they just had to drive across that flooded intersection and the water couldn’t possibly be too deep – until it was.

      As for possessions, 99.9999 percent of the time, it’s perfectly right to want to keep what you have – but that .0001 percent of the time like when there’s some punk with a knife in your face is a different story.

    • Are YOU or your loved ones in danger- real, actual danger this exact minute? We live in a world where everything is a priority, a crisis, a danger – from screaming bosses to screaming headlines to no disaster however remote being as close as your TV or PC screen. We are adrenaline junkies looking for our next computer game, sports or political fix. But these are not in the same league as being in a major earthquake or finding yourself face to fang with a possibly venomous reptile in your own home. There is a difference.
    • Move out of danger. It’s just that simple and just that hard. Simple, because while you pondering for a whole second or two the above point, your body went from 0 to 100 in about 3 milliseconds – it’s knows what real danger is and has a billion year old solution that works: fight if you must, run if you can. Hard, because fear can paralyze you if you let it.
    • Plan of Action Now. After you are out of immediate danger, then make a plan. A simple plan. Sometimes, the difference between living and dying is whether you can get your brain back online and come up with a simple plan (Be respectful calming. Drop wallet and run.) or not.

    There are a hundred factors that can influence whether you can JUMP or not when and if the time comes. This is where spending a few dollars and a few hours on training available to anyone and everyone can make the difference. Basic disaster, first aid and self defense training can make a huge difference. Relying on the kindness of the universe is not a good survival plan.

    As for the snake, it turned out to be neither the deadly cobra of my imagination or a venomous rattlesnake quite common this time of year in Sonoma County, California. It was a King snake that eats rats and rattlers, a good snake to have around I was told by my local animal control hotline, a snake some people have as pets that they walk in the public with wrapped around their shoulders and necks (shudder).

    After some protracted territorial negotiation carried out with a walking stick and a mop, Mr. Good Snake went back to eating bad snakes outside my garage and I went on with the rest of my afternoon. I think we both got a reminder we both needed. :)

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    Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes,
    podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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