What I Have Been Doing On My Vacation.

While IT consulting (where the particular scope and method of execution I tend to pursue is as a sort of Freelance Sysadmin For Hire) is an essential service, I’m finding that things are… quiet on the job front. When your business is largely composed of helping other businesses design, implement and maintain their Apple IT infrastructure and those businesses are either on hiatus or just plain twiddling their thumbs, then you find your workload substantially reduced.

Which, actually, is fine by me; like most people in my particular nook and cranny of the industry I work by appointment and very flexible hours, and have been doing it long enough and well enough that work is always there. That’s great, but the downside is that one rarely has time to go and do new things, or branch out and try something new. Still, now I have more free time while the world descends deeper into lockdown, so I’m using that time to learn something more about Swift via the miracle of Swift Playgrounds.

Swift Playgrounds is squarely pitched at kids, but as a forty-six year old it’s not insulting or too dreadful, and if you have nothing else to do and a passing interest then I urge you to take a look. I’ve spent the last week or so working through a lot of lessons that require you to guide a weird little cartoon guy through mazes and picking up jewels and toggling switches, and once that’s done I’m going to have a crack at the 100 Days of Swift thing. I’m great at knocking out some quick and dirty bash scripts, but I have an Anthropology degree and plunged straight out of college into working in 1994 and have never really stopped since; ergo I have zero formal coding experience and have had to kind of reverse-engineer things and self-teach in odd trajectories as I’ve gone along.

So far it’s been a bit of an eye-opener for exactly how rusty I am in all kinds of areas. I’ve managed to get through the first module with moderate ease, but the second module is a mite more challenging because it falls squarely into the trap of all Coding-For-Idiots type things; that it’s clearly written by people who know what they’re doing.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You want to learn about a thing, so you buy a book that purports to teach you about it in thirty days, or twenty-four hours or something equivalent. The subject matter is immaterial; it could be C++, brain surgery, or washing machine repair. Let’s say it’s washing machine repair because that’s more fun. At any rate, the first couple of lessons are helpful and practical; they explain the broad strokes of what a washing machine is and a high-level view of its operation and fundamental purpose (ergo, dirty pants and hot water and soap go in one end and clean pants come out of the other), and then they detail the major bits of the washing machine – the drum, hoses, knobs and switches and whatnot.

And then they blindfold you and throw you into the deep end of a swimming pool with chains and weights around your feet by launching into, I don’t know, spindle torque ratio and foot-pounds per inch of water filtration, because it doesn’t occur to the jerk who wrote the thing that you have at best a passing level of experience at the operation of the WashMatic 9000™, didn’t do much physics or math in school, and that the little you remember about those things is buried beneath the better part of thirty years’ worth of other stuff that turns out to be considerably more pressing on a day-to-day basis. You’re a moron, is what I’m trying to get across here. You’re a moron and the book is probably written for what an expert thinks constitutes a moron, which is in actuality a person who is a less-qualified expert.

Anyway, a lot of the bits of the second module so far are in the mold of “This is an open-ended challenge that you can address any way you like using the things you’ve learned,” and you look at that little cartoon chap and his gems and switches and profound lack of spatial awareness and elementary common sense and shake your head wearily.

Further, it’s clear that whoever wrote this thing subsists on a diet of lies, and does in fact have a very particular way that they want you to solve the puzzle, despite their protestations to the contrary. You can feel the silent judgment.

Still. I have a very good friend from back in the UK who has taken to calling this current moment an “Unexpected Holiday,” which I think is a wonderfully optimistic way of looking at things. This is time out from our regularly scheduled lives, and it’s best to look at it as an opportunity and not a curse. We can’t go to the gym (because gyms are plague houses) and we can’t see our friends except as tiny, blocky images on Zoom, and staring at the walls – while fun – has a definite shelf life, so we might as well try and do something useful with the time. If anyone needs me then you’ll know where to find me, but until then I’ll be trying to work out why none of my code works while a little cartoon man on my screen glares at me, radiating mild disappointment.