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Don't Try to Learn Everything about Your New Device Right Away

by Keith Gatling | 9 days ago

Wax on, wax off.

If you're of a certain age...and I'm that age...that line brings back memories of the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, where Mr. Miyagi is trying to teach an impatient Danny LaRusso the skills of karate through muscle memory...and mundane chores around his house.

It's also a line I use with patrons of that same certain age who are impatient about learning how to do everything on their smartphones or tablets right now.

"Wax on, wax off," I tell them, advising them to take it slow, and not try to do everything at once. Learn the two or three things you really need to do right now, now. Then learn other things once you've got the first ones down as you need them. There's no sense in trying to cram everything into your brain all at once, and then having it all fall out through the other ear.

Well, believe it or not, I don't just give this advice, I follow it myself. I know that if I take on too much too soon, I won't be able to do any of it. This can be absolutely maddening to some people I've worked with, who've expected me to just soak up new stuff like a sponge; but it really is a case of "wax on, wax off." Let me get the basics down first, and then I'll start adding on the advanced stuff...and will be able to do that in my sleep.

This is also the case with my camera.

A couple of years ago I decided to buy myself a fancy-schmancy digital camera. Now I already had a digital camera, which I preferred to use over my iPhone. I've always said that when it came to taking pictures, I wanted a camera that was designed to be a camera, and not a Swiss Army Knife that also took pictures. I had a nice digital camera that would fit in my pocket and took decent pictures...at least they were better than what my iPhone could do. But there was one thing it couldn't do...decent shots from a distance. So a couple of years ago I bought myself a fancy-schmancy digital camera with a 40x optical zoom lens.

Now in case that doesn't mean anything to you, Galileo's telescope was only 20x.

I couldn't fit this new camera in my pocket anymore, but I was happy that I was able to get decent pictures of things that were way far away. There were lots of other things it could do...but that I didn't need to learn how to do at the moment. I could sync photos with my laptop wirelessly, I could set a timer so I could run and get into the picture, I could change the shutter speed, and these are just a few of the things that made my brain explode when I looked at the owner's manual.

And each of these was a case of "wax on, wax off." If I didn't need to do it now, it could wait until I understood the other things that I regularly needed to do.

When I got tired of not being in family photos because I was the one taking the pictures, I bought a tripod and learned how to use the timer. That was the one new thing I learned how to do at that point. And after I'd done it a few times, it became something I could do almost without thinking. But had I tried learning that at the same time as everything else, then everything would've fallen out of my brain.

When I got tired of having problems with the syncing cable, I finally decided to look into how the WiFi transfer worked. I still haven't gotten that right yet, and decided to walk away from it for a while. Instead, I just take the SD card out and plug it into my laptop. Maybe I'll try the WiFi thing again someday...when I have to...or when my very patient amateur photographer friend in Pennsylvania has time to sit down with me and explain it in very small words.

But my most recent "wax on, wax off" moment was changing the shutter speed.

I had taken a number of photos that had digital signs in the background, but when I looked that the photos, the signs didn't look right. They were only partially lit, and had stripes through them. I found out that that's because LED bulbs have a "refresh rate" that's faster than the standard shutter speed. Our eyes don't notice it because of a thing called "persistence of vision" (it's what makes movies work), but if the shutter speed is too fast, it only captures part of the LED display. I needed to be able to slow down my shutter speed to catch a couple of cycles of refresh, and imitate that persistence of vision.

Oh boy...this meant I had to learn something new, and something that might be complicated.

But I already knew the basics of the camera, and I'd mastered the timer thing, so if the instructions were clear enough, I should be able to figure out how to change the shutter speed.

Well guess what? It was really easy! But it was only easy because of what I already knew after three or so years of using this camera. Had I tried this from the very beginning, I might have torn what little hair I have left out.

But the important lesson here is that sometimes even I have to remember "wax on, wax off," and not try to take on learning a lot at one time.