Saturday, December 31, 2005

Essentials

So it turns out my life isn't exciting enough for this blog to be event driven so I'm going to have to fill some of it with random essays that fall out of my head. This one is more of a list than an essay, but likewise, not directly connected to anything that has been happening in my life.

So these are some essential skills, effectively universal. If you can't do these it is probably worth your while to put a bit of attention into it. That is to say next time you find yourself watching FOX turn it off and practice.

Mental Math

You know reasons why you should learn this one but I probably have another: They teach it in elementary school and there is no honor in being shown up by an 8 year old. If you have fallen into the pocket calculator comfort zone it's not that hard to get out.

-Practice on your own time. You don't want to try it for the first time in a room full of your daddy's golf buddies. You won't get the reinforcement to try again.
-When you find yourself reaching for the calculator use it as a validator. Try it in your head first and when you get an answer use the calculator to see if it is right. If not try an easier question, or try it on paper. When you start to work out problems on paper you can see patterns you wouldn't get to know if you did it on a calculator.
-There is no reason to push yourself to frustration. Discomfort means you are trying something new; frustration means you've gone too far. This is your project. There isn't a test waiting for you at the end of the chapter. Take you time.

Touch Typing

The thing about a keyboard is that most of the keys tend to stay in the same spot. So once you learn where they are, they are going to stay there for a long time.. probably ever. Usually when you are typing on a computer you are slightly out of your comfort zone. Researching something you dont know about, asking questions from strangers, or trying to answer a question for somebody who doesn't get it. The point is there is enough to demand your attention without worrying about where the keys are. An up front investment will pay off for most.

-Find you home. There are nubs on most F and J keys so your index fingers can find them, and the rest of your fingers fall in line.
-When you want a key that you don't know where it is find it and find it from home. Try it again and match the movement to the letter. Soon you may find common words and letter patterns come with one motion.

Legibility

Grocery lists, post-it notes, Chrismas cards.. The old fasioned pencil is not going anywhere for quite some time. Like the others above, take your time. When you are doing self-directed self-improvement there is no schedule to keep up with. Practice on your time. If you write a note to yourself and it looks sloppy try writing it again. It doesn't have to be perfect, though hopefully it looks better than the one before. As with life, discomfort is your friend; frustration and boredom are the enemy. They tell you when to move on and wait for the next opportunity to practice.

Spelling

Yes, I said it. I admit it. Spelling is an essential skill that I suck at. I usually have a pocket dictionary in reach and I have shortcuts all over the web for spell checkers. Read 'Mental Math' again and replace 'calculator' with 'spell check'. Use the tools to enhance your skills instead of letting them be excuses to let them atrophy.

Metaphore

This one is a little more experimental but I stand behind it. Metaphore is an essential skill. Metaphore is not just for coffee house poetry and short stories. It is about comparing things. Using ideas that are known and applying them to the unknown to make them more familiar. Biological taxonomy and many other classification type sciences are powered by metaphore. So it helps with organization. When you can organize things they tend to start making sense. You can start to predict things.

Getting good at this is not quite like the others. A metaphore is only as effective as the person using it so it is not really something you can practice on your own. Try looking for patterns. Does a picture look like another you have seen before? Does the stranger in front of you remind you of somebody else but you don't know why? If things seem connect mention it to somebody and see if they saw it too.

Community

The best place to store extra food is in somebody else's stomach.
This is BIG. People who can do this right are the ones who seem to get what they want very easily even if they don't have the ginormous bank account behind them. But if that is what is important to you I'm sure you could use it to build a ginormous bank account. I don't mean to belittle the idea of community here, but for now I mean the sharing of resources.

The basics are that you have things that are almost useless to you that are invaluable to somebody else. The current idea seems to be that when this happens you sell it to them for a price more than what it is worth to you and less than what it is worth to them. That way everybody comes out ahead, right? Maybe. The x-factor in here is the accounting. It takes attention to find the common price and redistribute according to this common understanding. This process can put you at a loss even if the numbers say you came out ahead.

What is the alternative you ask? Give it to them. Screw the accounting. Well, the tradional accounting any how. Give it to them and consider it a favour that will be repaid $sometime $somehow. The specifics don't matter because it didn't cost you anything.

But there are ways to screw this up so note the following:
-Start small. Give things you don't want to people you know who do want them. If you don't want it there is no reason for resentment on seeing it go. If they don't return the favour little is lost but people you know will have more chances to do things for you.
-Return the returned favour. If they seem to know the game and find something to do for you that costs them little and helps you alot then do it again. Over time you can come to trust each other with more valuable and more intimate things.
-Don't return unreturned favours. If they don't know the game you can't play it with them. You can try again later but you can't force them into this one.
-Don't keep score. Don't write stuff down, don't make mental notes. Believe it or not you already have a system that does this for you. You will find yourself liking the people who play this well with you. When the score starts slipping to far to one side things will start to feel different and you can take corrective action then. To actively keep track defeats the purpose of the game.

Another benefit of this over accounting is you can trade things you can't easily account for. What would you trade for an hour of compasionate listening? How much is good advice worth? To try and put a price on these things only diminishes their value.

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