Quark Express

One time — I don’t know how I managed to do it — I enrolled myself in a calculus class with my math skills being advanced enough to recognize a whole number when I saw it with no other symbols, especially Greek, in the vicinity. For two weeks I went to this class in total wonder of the language the teacher was speaking. Now you know I love languages, but this was like a total-immersion or linguistic field-study experience where you purposefully place yourself in an socio-anthropological context in the wilds of the Amazon to decode and learn the local idiom. But, unlike an immersion class or field study, the pace and the natives were unforgiving. Or maybe they were forgiving, but didn’t recognize the degree of forgiveness I needed for deliverance.

I finally realized that I couldn’t just osmote the information without some basic principles with which to process this calculo-lingua. I hadn’t the fundamental elements of knowledge this class assumed. I arrogated something in order to think myself ready for calculus, but I’m not exactly sure what it could have been! Could it have been the thrill of seeing the Greek symbols? Typically with arrogance, there are circumstances around one that can be over-extrapolated to imagine skills, merit, value, whatever before the resulting canonized figment is attributed one’s self-perception as though it were actually attained. I did not have even those supposed seminal circumstances — this was the purest form of arrogance, one where an attainment is brought forth from nothing! Oh my gaud, now there’s a true act of divine creation.

I think I may have done something like it again, but this time the arrogance is slightly different. Instead of coming into a situation having arrogated unto myself a foundation I didn’t have, I have extrapolated unto myself a skillset not equal to learning a new e-commerce system at a pace upon which a business is depending. This time, I have at least started with a some bedrock on which to base my perception of attainment, but reality has highlighted the contrast between my current skillset and one I don’t obviously possess. It reminds me of the epistemology of the Quark in physics: they don’t really know what it is, but they know something is there by the way things around it are behaving. In this case the skillset I don’t have is the Quark, judging by how all the programmer types around it are behaving and the distances around a topic I have to travel to gain some insights.

I have dealt with e-commerce systems before, but mainly as the front-end designer of the logic, process, and decision-making influences, viz., the part the user experiences. For one of the last systems I worked on, though, I also built a prototype that mimicked having a database for products that really didn’t exist. To do that, I learned a language called PHP on the fly. It was massively fun, and I had a ton of time on my hands to do it. Time just flew by. Pretty soon, three months had passed without my even realizing it. But that amount of time was not an issue, so it didn’t register in my mind as being a substantive part in the experience. I did have to hire a programmer though to hook a real e-commerce system into my “front-end” code. And I did not emerge from this experience a seasoned, geek-level, diploma’ed programmer, but rather only a sophomore with an adequate acquaintance with the workings of a programming language and some meager practice in applying it.

With this new system I’m studying, I am familiar with all the concepts as concepts, but I have never gotten “below the hood,” so to speak. You see, in software, before the general public begins using a product, it typically starts off for Geek Use Only. That is to say that the way one works with the product is still to manipulate the code directly, and not via a polished user interface, like buttons, drag-and-drop, and other user-friendly devices. (Re: the book Crossing the Chasm.) This is still the stage that this open-source system is in: a morass of highly functional convolution whose mastery thrills the souls of the programmer- and geek-types but which means an early death to those who can’t navigate the interfacing eddies and programmatic sink holes.

I am an honorary geek — I’ve been thus knighted by the genuine article. I know I can learn this stuff. But time is a huge factor. I have to get it learned and well enough to actually set up a branded e-commerce entity in short order. I’m taking a break from studying it pending some input I need to guide my studies meaningfully, which break I’m using to explore some feelings here and now. I’m trying to figure out which one horn of a three-pronged beast I should be most concerned about: Skillset in learning? Skillset in programming? Skillset in speed of kluging (pronounced ‘kloo-jing’)? Since I don’t have three months to dabble, which one of these might offer me the most in terms of headway toward the goal of coming out with a fantastic, professional-looking and -operating e-commerce presence?

I had an in-law one time — smart as he could be — who met me as I was coming off the Back 40 after a morning of irrigating the pastures. He pointed at the door of the barn where I’d just parked my tractor and said: “Ronnie, I’d like you to widen this door 4 feet and heighten it 2 feet.” I replied, “How am I supposed to do that?” He answered that I was asking the wrong question: “What do I need to know to get the job done?” was a better choice of inquiry. Well, I definitely understand what it is I don’t know… I think. But the volume of what I need to know and the proficiency in knowing it daunts me with its size and scope, like looking up to consider battling Goliath and quaking at the gargantuan shadow of this colossus alone.

I have a an idea, but it will need the buy-in of my boss and best friend: work in small-but-functional steps. The simplest things can be as polished as the most sophisticated. If I can master two out of, say, a 1000 things, and these things are enough to present a professional presence, then we can get the e-commerce site started while I master the next two things that will take the presence’s immature and humble beginnings to a less-sophomoric/more-developed level.

That way, I can gracefully catch up to and supply substance for my sophomania-induced imaginings, thereby progressively reducing the degree of arrogance proportionate to an actual level of attainment.

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