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Writing, Hard Drives, and Cars

Tim Bray’s How We Talk to Each Other is one of his longer posts, but it’s definitely worth a read. I especially liked what he had to say about the “The Writing-Skills Conundrum”. To quote liberally from that section:

“Not that writing is a gift from God. Anyone can learn to write competently and get the point across without offense. Unfortunately, this fact is blithely ignored by large institutions of higher education. I have personal experience with prestigious schools of Computer Science and Physics and so on that are happy to turn out exquisitely trained graduates who can neither write a coherent English sentence nor perceive why this is a shortcoming. How these institutions can do this and at the same time pretend that they’re preparing these kids for life in the real world is beyond me.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Moving right along
Did you know that you can purchase an 80gb hard drive for $200, that is filled with the complete course curriculum from ArsDigita University. I bet you didn’t.

DUni was a “startup university” that attempted to create the world’s best computer science education. (Just the tech stuff — I didn’t see any english writing courses listed). Unfortunately, they closed their physical doors, but still offer all their course materials online. If I wasn’t planning on going back to school this fall for a non-computer related degree, I’d seriously consider going through all this material, or even buying a hard drive. Who knows, I might do that anyway.

Switching Gears
I just came to a startling realization that my car is very much like my computer. Let me explain.

In the past 4 years, I’ve lifted the hood of my car maybe 5 times. I don’t know exactly “how it works”, I just know that when it doesn’t, I get upset and I pay a lot of money to someone else who fixes it.

My computer, on the other hand, is something that I do understand, and I can fix it myself if something ever does go wrong. I enjoy knowing everything I can about my computer, and computers in general. I don’t mind spending hours of my time performing regular maintenance and tweaking to get my computer running just right.

My epiphany of how similar the car and computer are came after the combination of taking my car to the shop last week, coming across this service schedule (PDF), and discussing ideas for a website we’re building at work.

I think a lot of people probably have an opposite senerio with their computer. They don’t know how it works. They don’t perform any regular maintenance. They get upset when it breaks and they pay someone like me to fix it. Maybe this is just the cycle of life in our technological world.

Originally published on Friday May 30, 2003 at 7:32 am

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