Grok'ing the Ah-ha Moment

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One of the most satisfying experiences a technoluster can have is becoming proficient with a new technology, especially one that's not easy to master. Geeks sometimes use the word » GROK, which basically means you 'get it'.

The term was coined by Robert Heinlein in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land (SciFi, 1961). The martian word implies you understand something (such as how a particular technology works) .. on an intuitive level, in a satorial kind of way.

Stranger in a Strange LandThe difference between possessing a working knowledge of a particular technology and 'grokking' it is difficult to describe. Grokking impies a deeper understanding .. that surpasses mere facts & figures.

It suggests you can 'see into' the inner workings and comprehend how the different elements interact.

I've been studying CSS (off-n-on) for months, applying the concepts I learned (.. cuz that's how I learn best). And today I finally 'got it'. It came in a flash .. known as the » ah-ha moment.

[ Hmmm. That's interesting » I was looking for a good article to link to the phrase » 'ah-ha moment,' when my Google search returned a page referencing CSS. Surprisingly coincidental, no? Seeing that I didn't query the term 'CSS' (only » 'ah-ha moment').

What are the odds of that occurring? Of those two concepts being found grouped together so prominently (link #2)? Of all the possible topics in the world, CSS comes up. Maybe it means something. ]

It's not like I didn't understand CSS before. I'd long been reading about and felt comfortable wielding the technology .. using it to whip up sophisticated layouts. But now it seems my insights were superficial .. that I was merely applying recipes, cookbook style, mechanically.

Today's insight came so dramatically that it felt like I'd swallowed a ball of CSS enlightenment. "I finally get it," I muttered. Incredibly satisfying experience. Accompanied by a feeling of arrival, completion, mastery.

Of course, this doesn't mean I know everything there is to know about CSS. Far from it. Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to master a skill. But I now 'see' how it works .. on an intuitive level.

I would love to be able to plug a cable into my brain and upload a whole slew of other cool technologies (.. like they do in the Matrix). Unfortunately, that ain't how it works. Nor can you grok something by sheer force of will. (If we could, I'd be grunting loudly.) You 'get it' when you get it and not a moment before.

Tho I'm curious about what happens at that moment. I mean, I knew everything I did about CSS now in the moments before I 'got it'. I've also been studying Programming. Maybe that helped yield insight, cuz CSS in some ways resembles programming.

The experience, in retrospect, could be described as a 'breaking thru,' or a 'crashing thru,' or a 'falling thru,'. The thing you 'break thru' seems like a semi-translucent crystalline membrane .. that obscures your vision .. from seeing deeply .. into the inner-workings.

The distance traveled (knowledge-wise) was very small, yet the resulting effect was dramatic .. sort of like the view you get when cresting a big hill. The straw that broke the camel's crystalline back, you might say.

 ••• today's entry continues here below •••

I now have a deep 'knowing' about CSS I didn't have before. And this knowing came as a result of 'breaking thru' this 'thing' .. that prevented me from seeing clearly how CSS works. And this 'knowing' brought about a confidence regarding my ability to wield that technology effectively.

A desire to understand sophisticated technologies is what drove me into the nuclear industry (after high school). Perhaps my lust for technology was handed down (genetically) from our ancestors, who learned to craft spears & whatnot, and used that (crude) technology to kill the wooly mammoth or sabertooth tiger, or even an unruly Neanderthal.

The Navy ensures you know everything about everything before they let you do anything. Yet they will let you run a reactor plant without 'grokking' how it works. You merely need to demonstrate adequate head-knowledge. Tho the more head-knowledge you acquire on a particular subject, the more likely (it would seem) you are to develop an intuitive understanding.

Signs of the RoadSignposts on the Road to Grokdom

Many signposts line the road to Grokdom. The first of which seems to be » simple AWARENESS. Recall the first time you heard the term » MP3. You can know 'about' technologies without knowing them. Awareness is important because you can't take advantage of, or employ a technology that you don't know exists.

One of the more advanced weigh stations en route seems to be where you develop an understanding of the PRO's & CON's (of various techniques) .. determining where & when one method is better than another, and the reasons for selecting each option. Because every alternative has its pro's & con's.

FAMILIARITY is another signpost. When studying a new technology, I enjoy recognizing familiar terms & concepts .. cuz that's a sign that Newbiesville is behind, and my destination approaches. Oh, I know that, and I've seen that before, are comforting recognitions that signal I'm making progress with a new technology.

But the initial stages can be slow-going, as you hack your way thru the heavy (unfamiliar) jungle of terms & concepts (yuk!) .. such as yesterday, when I decided to get my feet wet with SQL. Interesting that I can ace the W3S SQL quiz without understanding much about the underlying technology. This way, when I return to SQL in the future, the terrain won't seem so foreign.

All this talk of grokking makes me wanna read » Stranger in a Strange Land. Maybe a mermaid will swim down and gently plant a kiss on my forehead while I read.

UPDATE: Received the following note:

That's not a mermaid. It's actually a picture of Jillian Boardman retrieving Valentine Michael Smith (the title character) from the bottom of a pool. Smith can slow his metabolism and is therefore able to hold his breath a very long time. He was hiding there. Good book. THIS submarine nuke liked it.

Speaking of learning to wield cool, new technologies .. the Bug rode a skateboard for the first time this week. I used to hold his hands and help him roll along. But this week he took off by himself. (Yes, wearing a helmet.) He has also been bugging me about taking him fishing. On Thanksgiving, we rode our bikes down to the beach at the Balboa Peninsula and flew a dragon-kite. (He's 4.)

Hmmm. That note got me thinking » Why was VMS hiding down there?

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This page contains a single entry by Rad published on November 29, 2009 2:53 PM.

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