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Learn by blogging about it

To say the internet provides a revolutionary amount of information quickly and easily is a tremendous understatement. When I sit back and look at how I acquire information now compared to how I did it back in the pre-internet days the changes are profound. What is interesting for me is that fully half of the guidance I obtain these days comes from the tips, rants and raves of people that simply use products the way I do. They just happened to get there before me and were kind enough to write it all down.

When I started this blog a part of me was motivated by a need to add to that collective of information. Basically I wanted to give a little back to that giant interwebs resource. My thought was that I would share the experience from the very beginning of adopting a Macintosh as a new platform. I would write about it as my experience with the machine unfolded, giving people a play by play as I went.

A funny thing happened...
I have several friends that switched to Macs well before I did. What was interesting to me is that many of them would come to me and say "Wow, I didn't know that!" when I discover a feature, product or tip. In the past when I learned a new technology I had a tendency to get to a level where it accomplished just what I needed and then I would stop striving to learn more. All too often I have used only 50% of the capabilities of some powerful tool or device because I only learned enough on the surface level to get by for the task at hand.

I wasn't really advancing my use of technology - I was merely adapting a different technology to the way I always did things. I would look to something and simply say "I used to perform this action with the old stuff - how do I do that with my new stuff"? I learned on a need to know basis.

This blog changed that model for me. Suddenly the blog was all the motivation I needed to dig a little deeper, to find that little tidbit of information that would help me embrace the technology a little better. Once my blog started to become a little more popular I suddenly found lots of people that would read what I wrote and offer up some deeper information on the area I was exploring. Here I am only 3 1/2 months into owning Macs instead of Windows machines and I feel like I have an incredibly detailed understanding of how the machine works and how I can best leverage it. I still have a lot to learn but I'm significantly further along than I would be if I just approached it as a 1 for 1 replacement challenge.

Overcoming Fear
One of the concerns I had about writing this blog and sharing my n00bish learning experiences was how much of my life I really wanted to make public. I've always had an overdose of self-confidence (I am an entrepreneur after all) and writing about something I knew little about was going to be a challenge. Did I really want to expose how dumb I could be?

While I have taken a few hits from the usual people that populate the interwebs and spew crap at will, they have been few and far between. Instead I have been lucky enough to get some really nice people to participate and provide information that has helped me tremendously and add to that collective of data for others to leverage.

Blogging isn't for everyone
It does require a commitment to stay engaged to the people that read your blog. I try to respond to any comments people leave and always reply to e-mails sent to me. It's really not all that much work. You also have to be able to write clearly, though as you may have noticed with my blog, my writing is very informal and conversational. I find it easier for people to read that way and a lot easier for me to create.

If you do want to learn a new technology really, really well try blogging about it. Blogger accounts like the one I use for this blog are free and you can create one pretty quickly. Not only will you learn a lot about the topic you write about you will also be giving back to the great knowledge store that is the interwebs.

Scott Hanselman is one of my favorite bloggers. Though he writes primarily about developing using Microsoft .NET products his posts on blogging are pure gold for anyone that is interested in starting up a blog. If you develop using Microsoft tools he is a must read - add him to your RSS feed ASAP if he's not already there.

If someone told me six months ago that I would be blogging on nearly a daily basis and really enjoying it I would have laughed in their faces. Then again, I probably would have laughed even harder if they would have told me then that I would also soon be leaving Windows for Macintosh.

9 comments:

Chris S said...

I want to applaud you for taking the leap into the Mac and blogging about it. I have enjoyed your blog since the beginning and love seeing the journey you have been making with your Mac and the transition from Windows. I too have made the transition around the same time you have, but I have always been a 60% Mac/40% Windows person since 1988. Unfortunately, I have never had the money to buy a Mac until about 2 months ago. I have always built my PC's and upgraded them myself. I really don't want to do that anymore since my Mac works so well.

Keep up the good work and you've definitely have an audience.

David Alison said...

@Chris S: Thanks for the kind words man - I really appreciate that.

Paul said...

I'm enjoying the blog very much, thanks for writing it.

I particularly enjoyed the early posts as you tipped your toe into the Mac world. As a switcher of 1 year, I encountered many of the same moments of frustration, confusion and wonderment.

RASTERMAN said...

David,

Here's a question for you and your readers...

After using the Mac for these past few months, how do you rate the accuracy of the "Hi, I'm a Mac" television ads?

I realize many folks don't watch that much TV... I'm one of them.

I do manage to "Time shift" a few hours of TV per week and seem to catch the ads regularly.

Normally I would just fast forward thru them, but if it's an Apple ad I've not seen, I'll play it out for curiosity sake.

For those that don't watch much or any TV, here's a link if you're curious.

http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/

Apologies if this post is too off topic for this particular blog entry.

Look forward to your observations!

Cheers!

---RASTER

David Alison said...

@Raster: I love the ads but only because I think John Hodgman (the guy that plays PC) is a comedic genius. From an accuracy standpoint it's hard to say - few of the ads hit concrete issues and quite honestly I find the way they portray the Mac guy as pretty pretentious.

One ad in particular struck me as bogus. It's the one where the Japanese girl walk in representing a new camera and only the Mac can "speak her language". The irony to that was I have a Sony digital Handycam that my Windows machine recognized without installing any software and the Mac had trouble talking to.

Still, I do enjoy watching them. If you want to see something amusing watch the UK versions of them.

Jacob Saaby Nielsen said...

Well the thing is David, and I think this is a mistake that WAY too many people make:

To be able to learn anything, you have to be able to expose the things you don't know.

Take me, for example. I'm the kind of guy that can read a tech book, but will fall asleep from it after 20 minutes tops.

MY way of learning, is participating in the community around a given technology (if possible), and discuss things.

That means I have to expose a lot of the stuff I don't know. But it's all good.

Because, it's a personal attitude that I have. I don't mind exposing my lack of knowledge, as long as I learn from it.

Cause in the end, it'll be the mockingbird that remains at his level, and me who evolves.

And I can take (or ignore rather ;) ) a good mocking, especially when I can see that I surpass the one that mocks me.

It's like that at my work place too. We all (I work in an IT department, relatively small, server to it guy ratio is about 100:1) realize that we don't know it all - and that we can't possibly know it all.

So we ask. Each other, other people, and are up front with it.

Honesty is a very good way to disarm malicious people.

"No, I don't know X, but on the other hand... I don't really care what you think about me not knowing X. Teach me or get da steppin'..." ;)

I'm like that on my blog too, if there's stuff I don't know.

So here's from the partly stupid guy, that thankfully doesn't remain as stupid as yesterday... ;D

Anonymous said...

Are there good resources for those who want to learn about blogging but want to stay Mac centric in that solution and avoid Microsoft technology?

David Alison said...

@Anon: My blog doesn't employ any MS technologies. I use Blogger, which is free. All I need to write is Safari - all my editing takes place within the editing surface in the Blogger editor. It really is as simple as it gets. Hope this helps...

Jacob Saaby Nielsen said...

@anonymous: There are several. Here's a simplified list of the models:

1. Use a service like David does on blogger.com, wordpress.com, and so forth.

This requires nothing of you, except for creating an account with that blogging service, which is usualy free.

Pro: It's fast, it's free, and usually well integrated into an already established blogging community.

Cons: It's simple. Too simple for some.

2. Get a domain, a webhotel, and use browserbased software like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal etc.

This will cost you the fee for the domain, the cost of the webhotel, and will require you to know how to setup the blogging software (some hotel providers have the install available through a control panel).

Pros: It's very (the most, I think) flexible solution. You can host an e-mail addresses (often lots, actually) on your domain, you decide how things should be on the webhotel. You can blog from anywhere, as long as you have a browser and an internet connection.

Cons: It costs a little, and requires technical knowledge of what you're doing.

3. Get a webhotel, a domain, and use blogging software like RapidWeaver.

Pros: RapidWeaver (and probably its counterparts too), is extremely easy to use. All you need to publish from it, is FTP access. You can customize the looks and behaviour very easily. Publishing is very easy, and the results are remarkable, even for a completely non-techie.

Cons: RapidWeaver costs about $60 I think. So it'll set you back a bit, on top of the fee for the domain and the webhotel.

You can ONLY blog from your own Mac. Which I think kind of defies the whole concept of blogging. I do it from work, from friends places, from my iPhone, from home. I bought RapidWeaver, but I quickly found it too limiting for my taste, since I blog from everywhere.

Feel free to add to the list, everyone. These are the 3 basic models I think exist, and that I always see.