In the old days – say, pre-1992 – if you wanted to improve yourself you pretty much had to sign up for a woodshop class at your local community college, or climb a tall Himalayan peak and spend a few years parsing inscrutable koans from an old bald dude with a beard. But now we have Google. We also have LifeHacker, Udemy, WikiHow, Mashable, the Khan Academy, free online courses from M.I.T., Berkley, Harvard, Princeton, and cooking instructions by Gorden Ramsey, Mark Bittman and a hundred others.
I could, and probably will, go on. The above list leaves off all the technical resources for programmers. I’m a reasonably good technician in my narrow area of programming, but when I step outside that area I often need help. And yet I haven’t bought a programming book in 5 years or more because I haven’t had a question about a programming language that I couldn’t find the answer to from StackOverflow, W3C, MSDN, Apple or any number of support forums.
If you’re not learning something these days, you’re willfully turning your back on the flood of information that’s pressing on you from every wireless router and cell tower the world over. Imagine you’re a radio receiver: The waves of knowledge are rushing at you, around you and through you in a ceaseless, infinitely dense and yet weightless wash of encoded information. You just have to flick the receive on and tune in.There’s another source of learning, which is your Friends and Relations. Amongst my friends, the amazing Béatrice taught me a few years ago how to make choux pastry. I remembered it was easy but hadn’t used the recipe (probably, again, because I’m intimidated by that silent French ‘x’). Today I dug it out because Mark Bittman mentioned it in the NY Times. His recipe works, but Béatrice’s had a few extra secrets, including using a high-sided pan to cook off the excess moisture, because the high sides help keep the dough from drying out too quickly. At least I remembered that part, even if I hadn’t used the recipe. Used it tonight and it’s amazing: you can do this recipe in about 10 minutes, tops, and have fresh gougères sitting in the oven almost as fast as you think of it. Even without practice!