I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that getting motivated to learn a new task or topic can be one of the hardest stages to tackle. It often goes something like this:
- Thinks: I really like the idea of knowing more about X
- A little online research to get the general feel for the topic
- Software downloads
- Possible investment is (tax-deductable) book
- Realisation that neither my client nor I have any problems to be solved by this
- Collapse into reclining chair, exhausted by ordeal
What is needed is some actual problem that can be solved, and that’s how I ended up learning shell scripting, SQL, Perl, PL/SQL … wel just about everything really.
To take an example a third-party tool was generating EDIFACT files for transmission to a client’s major customers. Sad to relate, the customers’ superior acceptance software would often reject the files due to some error in a totals line. Hence I researched, bought a book on Perl, and learned enough that in a couple of days we could scan the files for internal consistency before transmission. I bet that now I would not even recognise the code that I wrote back then, some nine or ten years ago, for I have had no use for Perl ever since.
I like to think of it as a beneficial character trait — it keeps me focussed on what I need to know right now in order to make Bad Things go away and not come back, yet allows me the flexibility of getting familiar enough with topics to hopefully be able to recognise situations where they can help. On the other hand, it is really irritating that I can’t follow through with these potentially educational experiences, and am condemned to live the life of a practical person. Yuk.
So speaking of which, what would be the worst possible job for me? It would be this: working on manned space flight at NASA.
Those with long and detailed memories may recall that the the space shuttle was needed to support the International Space Station, which was needed to support manned missions to Mars, which were needed because … erm … well let us not inquire too closely of that. The ISS has been occupied since November 2002, with a net contribution to science of precisely zero — if we can exclude the science of how to stay alive in Earth orbit, or the urine-based sciences, that is. Can anyone explain why it it helps to study astronaut urine in order to understand the formation of kidney stones? Or why you need to have an astronaut to take photos of the Earth in order to “… provide researchers on Earth with vital, continuous images needed to better understand the planet”?
And the purpose of the space shuttle now seems to be to research how to mend space shuttles so as to better avoid killing people with them.
Sending robots to Mars, or better yet to Europa, now there’s some interesting work. But not this manned-mission nonsense. How depressing it would all be.