Chibimagic's Weblog

Can’t sleep, learning Ruby

Posted on: November 16, 2010

I’m behind on trendy languages. Some days it feels like I’m the only person in the world that doesn’t know Lisp or Haskell. But hey, Ruby is new enough to still be trendy, and mainstream enough that it could have practical uses. Plus I’ve been feeling unmotivated and slackery lately, like I need to learn something new. So I read Ruby in Twenty Minutes. And I irb’ed my way through the examples. And it reminded me of all the goodness I saw in Perl and Java and Objective-C when I first started working with them. That’s one more language, then.

Earlier today I decided to brush up on PHP syntax by brute forcing the xkcd light bulbs puzzle. I got the answer but not the why. I didn’t bother figuring out the why for myself; I just looked at the discussions page. It wouldn’t have given me any sense of accomplishment to do it on my own. But I love the heady tremor of elation when you realize your code is doing exactly what it’s supposed to, whether it’s something deceptively simple that ends up taking hours, or opening up brand new worlds you never thought possible. I live for that brief ephemeral rush, lust for it, crave it. It’s the only thing that keeps me writing any code at all. Tiny jolts of dopamine like a drug.

A friend told me about an interview recently where he was asked the difference between 3 different keywords in a certain language. “Why wouldn’t I just look it up?” he replied. His school really stressed theory over application, he explained, and the interview turned into a discussion of the merits of each. That school was my school.

I graduated from a school that should have given me a solid foundation for mathematics and problem solving, but I derive no pleasure from it. I delight instead in the mundane: the first succesful call of a poorly documented API; the next tiny incremental piece of functionality; finally getting the the drop shadow pixel perfect. Tiny repetitive tasks that make a life a ritual. My nagging suspicion is that I’m just not smart enough to enjoy hard problems. Shouldn’t only the unskilled be doing the same thing over and over? Why do I keep gravitating towards situations that require hard work instead of a flash of genius? What’s the point of learning another language to implement things in, when it’s just more of the same?

People keep praising my intelligence and awesomeness, but I’m nothing compared to my friends. The one thing my school taught me is that I’m below average. When it comes up in conversation, I’m quietly embarassed that I managed to get in there, but I still look down on anyone that went to a worse school. I feel like a fraud.

Some of it is just last week’s Glee, an episode about loneliness. It left me feeling vaguely unfulfilled. I’m about to start an awesome new job… but then what? Time to start making babies? I miss the ecstasy and dread of not quite knowing, the pining and rapture and despair of the pain from an old wound. A twinge in my heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

Or possibly I’m watching too much Draper.

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