How I Learn New Things

How I Learn New ThingsTom KiefhaberBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMay 31Photo by Mathew Schwartz on UnsplashTL;DR:If you want to learn something new, but are feeling overwhelmed by how large the subject is, pick a project to complete.

It keeps you focused on a subset of the subject matter to accomplish the task at hand.

Long VersionMy wonderfully patient and loving wife calls me “hobby man”.

She uses the term a bit pejoratively, but I kind of like it.

The negatives she sees in my hobbies are the time and money I will spend doing the research and picking up some new “toys” necessary for said hobby.

Most of the time the hobby doesn’t stick (mandolin, leather craft, badminton), the tools and supplies sit on a shelf in the garage, and they eventually find a new home with a friend or at the thrift shop.

I totally get that.

But I have a another perspective.

My hobby isn’t about learning mandolin, leather craft, or badminton, it’s about learning new things.

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn about building things with Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

I have read online about the machines themselves and all the types of sensors you can attach and use to mine data.

A lot of folks can learn by reading or watching a video.

While I can start to pick up the terminology and concepts like this, I find I don’t really learn anything until I actually get my hands on the thing.

I could talk about whether or not something was possible to do with an Arduino and some sensors, but I certainly couldn’t do it myself.

Photo by Nicolas Thomas on UnsplashPick a project!When it comes to actually learning something new, I find it overwhelming to start.

The subject matter feels like one huge stone you have to lift all at once.

What has helped me get out of this paralysis is to pick a project to complete.

By picking out a project you end up setting up boundaries around a subset of skills you need, and, therefore, reducing the weight of the stone you have to lift.

Let me walk you through an example.

Over the holidays last year, I saw a tweet that blew my mind.

This guy worked some voodoo and made a super cool jukebox.

I immediately wanted to figure out how he did that and why it all worked, but I didn’t even know where to begin.

It legit seemed like magic to me.

After a couple of months of inaction, I was still thinking about how cool this jukebox was.

So I started to break down what it would be like for me to create my own.

What are the boundaries I can draw to make it easier to get started?I decided there were 2 essential parts I would need to create:a card readera speakerGet startedI started with the card reader because that seemed like the biggest hurdle.

Turns out you can make these in a bunch of different ways.

And, luckily, it also turns out there are a lot of smart people who have already done it and shared their methods online!Following this great tutorial, along with a raspberry pi, a breadboard, some jump wires, a RFID reader and a few lines of python code, I was able to connect an RFID reader and respond to the tags that it scans.

This is pretty amazing considering several things:I have never built anything with electronicsI have never used a Raspberry PiI don’t know python** I am a professional developer, but have never used the python programming language for anything.

Another hour of googling later, and I was able to play different songs based on which tag was scanned.

Amazing, right?Experiment A LittleA few hours later with some forehead slaps and a little luck, I had something that worked!.That takes care of the card reader component of the jukebox, but I don’t really have any speakers laying around.

I do have Sonos throughout my house, though.

What if there was a way to tap into that system?Like I said above, there are a lot of smart people out there who share their smarts online.

Turns out, you can run this node app on your raspberry pi and it can control your Sonos with a little bit of configuration.

So, now we can slightly update our python code to not look for and play a local music file, but to create a URL and follow it.

Holy smokes it works!So what?Well, I spent several months wanting to learn how electronics are built but not knowing where to start.

There was too much I thought I had to know to even get the ball rolling.

But, then I picked a specific project.

There are a finite number of things you need to tackle in a project.

The scope of the things you need to know narrows significantly!.By setting my sights on one task, I was able to break through my mental barrier and take my first steps into learning something new.

Do I totally understand why you connect this pin to that pin or the complexities of electronic circuits?.No, not hardly and not yet.

This is simply the first step into learning about building with electronics.

Each new project will expand my knowledge both in breadth and depth, taking another chunk out of the massive rock.

This method works for me.

Hopefully it works for you, too!.

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