Friday, October 26, 2012

Finding the Answers

So far in this blog we've covered my philosophies, preparing a garden, and hunting big game with a muzzleloader.  A lot of people ask me the same questions.  How do you know so much?  The real answer that I have to give them is, I don't.  I don't really know much about a lot of things.  But I love to learn.  I think this love of learning is what really has set the renaissance men apart from their neighbors. 

Leonardo Da Vinci is known as the renaissance man.  He had a love of learning.  Don't believe me, read more about him.  He dissected human corpses to learn anatomy.  He was a famous painter and sculptor.  He first postulated the theory of plate tectonics.  He was an inventor.  He drew so many prototypes of things that we hardly know half of what he invented.  And he did all of this at a time when books were rare, there was no internet, and no television.  Do you know why he did all of this, yes he was probably very intelligent, but he had a love of learning. 

In this day and age, human knowledge is growing at an exponential rate.  At no time in the history of the world has it been easier to acquire new skills.  People can learn anything they want in this day and age, and it's only getting easier. 

For instance, take a recent project of mine.  I needed to change the serpentine belt in my car.  A serpentine belt may be the most fragile and yet important part of what makes your car run.  Without it, you can't drive your car.  It runs the power steering pump, the alternator, and several other peripheral devices that make your car work.  To get this belt replaced, it would cost you somewhere between about $100 and $150 at a mechanic's shop.  Why should I pay 10 to 15 times what the belt costs.  This just doesn't make logical sense to me.  So what's a 21st century renaissance man to do?

The first step: fire up your favorite web browser, steer to your favorite search engine, and begin to research. Type in your car model, and type in replace serpentine belt.  When I do this for my car, the first thing I realize is that the belt costs a lot more than $10.  That's okay though, that still just increases what the mechanic is going to charge me.  The first two results are also videos hosted on a popular video sharing website.  All I have to do is watch a couple of these, check out a few of the articles below it, and verify that a majority of them have the same steps. 

That's the only problem with using the internet as an authority.  Anybody can post anything on the internet.  You have to use a little common sense and attempt to verify the information first.  This usually isn't too hard.  If you look at three sources, and two sources corroborate each other.  You're probably good.  Sometimes it's a little harder to find what you're looking for.

The next step: An internet search engine will only get you so far.  You have to know what question to ask.  I will often rearrange words when I'm looking for information.  This will change you're search results enough, that you can get new information.  But sometimes this is not good enough.

Third step:  Find a good book.  Used to be back in the day, you had to drive to the library, search the card catalog for the information you wanted, go look on the shelves and hope the library had the book you wanted.  This is still a good method, but there is an even better method.  Go to your local library's website, and search from there.  At least this way, you haven't had to waste valuable time to drive to and from the library and still not get the book you want.

Sometimes, though you want a book, and you'd rather have a copy you can keep with forever.  Things are even easier.  I bet almost everyone reading this blog has a smartphone, and I know you are at a computer right now.  Fire up your favorite online bookseller (I know I'm not promoting any products today, but I'm trying to be unbiased).  Type what you're looking for, and voila you'll have several to several hundred books just waiting to be bought.  Another thing I like about buying books online, is that you get to read reviews.  All ways read the reviews.  Take them with a grain of salt, but if they all come back as one star, I would stay away from that book.  And if you find a book you like, give it a good review, so that others will know it's worth their hard earned money to spend on it. 

Now you can have the book shipped to you, or if you have a smartphone, tablet or computer.  You can just download the book instantly.  I can't sing the praises of ebooks enough.  I read a lot.  I always have.  I've read around 6500 pages since about March.  (I didn't start keeping track until then).  Some have been books, a lot has been magazines.  This is not counting any webpages or news articles I've read.  If you count those, I've probably read double that this year.  In my day job, I'm a computer programmer, and I love to be able to carry around a half-dozen reference books in the palm of my hand.  It's made life a lot easier.  If you read a lot, I would highly recommend any number of cheap ebook readers, or more expensive tablets.  Depends on what you're reading and what you need. 

Fourth step:  Find some online forums.  I belong to half a dozen different online forums.  Some I don't read unless I have a specific question, some I check everyday.  There are forums out there for just about anything you can think of.  Ford Forums, Hunting Forums, Toyota forums, self-reliant forums.  SHTF forums.  If you have a specific question, find a forum, join up.  Learn the rules of the road for that particular forum, and ask you're questions.  One of the programming forums I belong to, will re-write any program for you, but you have to take the initiative to show that you are trying hard to solve the problem first.  If you just come looking for pre-written answers, they won't give you the time of the day. The most important thing about online forums is to respect the protocols the other members have in place.  Forums are a community, and if you want to have any respect and get real help, you have to respect the other members. 

Final step: Make friends.  As I stated above, I don't really know much, but I have a lot of friends with a varied skill set.  They have a lot of friends with an even more varied skill set.  I've got friends that are programming geeks, I've got friends that are IT geeks (there is a difference), I've got friends that love to hunt, and I've got friends that love to work on cars.  I like to do a little bit of it all, but I couldn't do any of it without good friends to help pave the way.