December 29, 2003
On doing nothing – and on what cookies are

I have recently had another of those episodes known in the USA as a learning experience.

For some mysterious reason, after Michael Jennings had logged into Samizdata and done a posting under the heading of "Samizdata Illuminatus", when I later logged in as myself, what I then posted also appeared under the moniker of Illuminatus. I didn't realise this, but Michael spotted it, changed the heading to me, and informed me of the oddity.

I then broke one of the cardinal rules of computer use, which goes: if you have a problem which you do not understand, do not try to unleash a solution which you do not understand. (I'm sure that many far wiser heads than I have formulated this as a Law and given it a name.)

Despite being baffled by what was going on, I tried to correct matters.

It doesn't matter how. Suffice it to say that I made the situation a lot worse, and not just for myself. Whether I have now truly learned this lesson remains to be seen. We will only know for sure next time I have a puzzling problem with my computer, and either create more havoc, or make the wise decision to do nothing and seek help. Would that I had done the latter this time around. I "knew" this Law already. But I didn't know it well enough, I now realise. When I most needed to pay attention to it, it wasn't there at the front of my mind, shouting at me to stop. (See also comment number one here.)

The second thing I learned is something of the meaning of the word "cookie" in a computing context. I didn't learn very much, just something. This learning experience took place by talking to Michael about what was wrong, at any rate as far as me posting stuff on Samizdata was concerned, and then watching him correct that when he kindly visited me this morning.

I find it hard to learn anything about computers unless I have to, either to get something very good done, or, as in this case, to correct something very bad. There's just too much of a general, you-never-know-when-it-might-come-in-handy nature to ever be able to learn, without a carrot in front of you or a stick up your backside. That's what I find anyway. But I get enough good stuff from my computer, and into enough difficulties from time to time, to learn lots anyway. Too bad that the latter process sometimes also involves learning what I should not have done.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:25 PM
Category: BloggingLearning by doingRelevance