Hardware vs. software

by Steve Brock on August 4, 2014

Fishing the Deschutes

My friend John and I used to discuss what to ask for when it comes to birthday and Christmas presents. We both enjoy woodworking (him, professionally; me, for fun). I once mentioned asking for woodworking supplies – sandpaper, glue, finish – for a present because, well, I needed them for an upcoming project. “You never want to use precious gifts on ‘software’,” he’d replied.

What he meant was, invest the “special” money (i.e. gifts from others you want to remember) on ‘hardware:’ tools and things that will last. That way, every time you use the tool, you’re reminded of the giver and if you get good tools, you can pass them down to your kids. Spend the gift on supplies or even wood and you’ll never build up your tool collection or have memorable associations.

It’s a wise way to think about giving and receiving well.

So I tried to apply this to fly fishing. Only it didn’t fully line up. Here’s why. I had inherited a reel from my dad and I bought a decent but not-too-expensive fly rod recently (“not-too-expensive” in almost all my hobby areas these days – woodworking tools, cameras and lenses, surfing equipment, mountain bike components and now fly fishing gear – is a relative concept. I’ll save my thoughts on the economics of hobbies for a later entry). I knew that if I wanted to be serious about this sport/hobby, I’d need to invest in better “hardware.” But the more I talked to fly fishing friends and read books, the more everyone pointed toward another form of investment: going out with a guide to learn the basics.

But the price of guides isn’t cheap. You could get a decent set-up of rod, reel, line and flies for less than a day with a guide.

The guide seemed to me like “software,” something that didn’t last longer than the time you were out together. But here’s where my thinking has changed.

With travel, which is more important: The places you’re going or the gear you have that goes with you there? You need a certain level of quality with your stuff – suitcases that fly open during baggage handling don’t make for a fun trip. But for the most part with travel, I’ve found that it’s better to invest in the experience than in the stuff.

And so it seems with fly fishing as well. All the best equipment won’t help me catch fish if I don’t know how to cast, retrieve or even know where to look for the fish. Thus, on that recent trip to Oregon, we splurged and hired the guide.

It was horrible.

Not the guide. He was great. Incredibly patient with both my son and me. Supportive, funny, encouraging and never dismissive. But I didn’t catch a single fish and by the end of the day, I was ready to give up on the whole idea of fly-fishing.

What I later came to realize was that the investment in “software,” in hiring the guide, did pay off. Just not at the time any more than great tools – hardware – will help you immediately if you don’t know how to use them properly.

What I came to appreciate from my “software investment” is that not only does learning take time – I can’t become a master angler in just one day – but that how we learn can matter as much or more than our hardware or software.

Over the next several entries, I’ll be sharing some principles gleaned from that day with the guide. These are principles for learning something new that most of us may have known but we all too easily forget. These “rules of thumb” will dramatically increase your ability to acquire a new language, play a new instrument, develop a new skill or navigate your way around a new city.

Or maybe even fly fish…


If you haven’t already, you might want to check out other entries in this series on lessons on learning through fly fishing: Gone Fishin’Knowing and DoingLearning in Small Bites and Eliminate Your Variables

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Meaningful Travel Basics: Traveling Expectantly Part 1

by Steve Brock on October 25, 2010

When you travel with expectations, places like Ephesus can seem like just a pile of rocks. But when you travel expectantly, you never know what you will find…

In the last entry, we explored how expectations can inadvertently lead us to an unwanted destination: the land of disappointment. But I have discovered another way to journey, one that minimizes expectations. It’s an approach that has revolutionized how I travel. 

The alternative to traveling with expectations is to travel expectantly. Semantic difference? A clever twist of words? Perhaps. But traveling expectantly is as different from traveling with expectations as a dogfish is from a doghouse. 

When we travel with expectations, the focus is on us. We’ve created the scenarios in our heads, projected the outcomes, mentally mapped out the experience – often in exquisite detail. But it is all based on us and on our own imagination. 

Traveling expectantly flips that notion and puts the emphasis on God. In this form of travel, we venture forth looking expectantly for God to show up or at the very least, to reveal to us what we need on any given day or trip. Internally, we shift from an unconscious demand from our situation to satisfy our expectations to a hopeful, almost childlike request of God to lead the way and surprise us. 

When we travel expectantly, we travel open, looking to receive what God will bring to us. Traveling expectantly becomes one vast spiritual treasure hunt lived out in the gritty physicality of a new place with no expectations of what we will find, only the anticipation that it comes from Someone who loves us and knows what most delights us.
 I’ll tell you a story about traveling expectantly in the next entry, but before we go there, take a moment and ask yourself these questions:
  •  How much do expectations play a role in your life? One way to tell is to look at how often you get disappointed by people, events or places. Disappointment is a key indicator of high expectations.
  •  Have you ever done a God hunt? You can do this at home. Take a day or even a few hours, and look intentionally for God in everything you do. Look for “divine appointments” or curious encounters. Chances are, you’ll notice more “coincidences” and be more attuned to small surprises. This is really what traveling expectantly is all about.
  •  Do you really believe that God will show up? No, this isn’t a trick question. We believe a lot of things in our heads but don’t live them out. Do you actually believe that God can enter the here and now and orchestrate events in your day or on your trip? The more you truly believe that, the more you’ll be able to travel expectantly and trust that God will come through.

Ultimately, it’s all about trust and that’s not easy for most of us.

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Meaningful Travel Basics: Expectations

by Steve Brock on October 18, 2010

What would you expect to encounter on a trip to the ancient Library of Celsus in Ephesus?

I’ve often thought about expectations in the same way people quip about the opposite sex: You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em. We raise our expectations, lower them, adjust them and just plain have them of ourselves, God, others, events, the weather and other things we can’t control. But one thing is sure: rarely do our expectations align with our actual experiences.

Part of the reason for this is that expectations often sneak up on us. We’re about as aware of forming expectations as we are of say, growing our eyebrows. Both come and go and just sort of show up, sometimes in ways and places we don’t really appreciate.  

With eyebrows, however, we can at least look in the mirror and pluck that unibrow into some manageable, aesthetically congruent hedge. With expectations, we rarely consciously acknowledge we have them until suddenly we’re surprised to find them lying crushed and contorted in that pile we call disappointment. And nowhere does this show up more than when we travel.

Travel to new places often disappoints because we usually have no basis of comparison with our own experience. Thus, we create expectations based on what we’ve heard or read from others. If the reports are good – and travel magazines sell because they focus on the favorable stuff – our expectations get raised higher than the aforementioned eyebrows at a bible study when the new couple starts talking about their sex life.

If what we hear or read is negative, we may rightly lower our expectations. Curiously, however, instead we often write off the author’s words as their opinion, their trip. Ours, we’re convinced, will be much better. And so once again, our expectations head the direction of the mercury on a summer day in Phoenix.

I remember one particularly bad case of expectations T-boning into reality and leaving some emotional casualties.

Ephesus did lead some people to pause and reflect (or maybe just rest in the shade)...

My family was visiting Turkey. We knew we were going to travel to ancient Ephesus, so we scoured our guidebook and re-read the letter to the Ephesians and the appropriate passages in the Book of Acts. We talked among ourselves about the cultural, historical and biblical significance of Ephesus. We prepared ourselves for a personal intersection with history and maybe even with God.

Instead we encountered tourists. And more tourists. On a really, really hot day. Moreover, our guide had a gift. She could take any of the intriguing historic points throughout the ancient ruins and find the most minute and least interesting aspects to explain in a singsong pattern that has left me with a periodic twitch in my right eye to this day.

I’m sure in other circumstances the ruins of Ephesus would be fascinating, even moving. But my son Connor, who was nine at the time, summarized it best later that evening: “Dad,” he said, “I wanted Ephesus to be special. But instead it just seemed like a big pile of rocks.”

On another day, with different expectations, even these marble fragments might have cried out with deeper meaning. But today they seemed like "just a pile of rocks."

Oh how true. We so wanted it to be meaningful but our experience did not compare to our expectations. It rarely does. So what can we do?

I can tell you that just being aware that you have expectations is half the battle. Or I can remind you that expectations are merely a form of your imagination. They may be founded on facts, but expectations are projections into the future, imaginative wonderings and nothing more. Or perhaps I can note that expectations (which often disappoint) differ from anticipation (which often excites and gives us hope) because with the former, we’re projecting a specific outcome or scenario but with the latter, we look forward without a set prescription for how things should occur.

I can tell you all that, but even better, I can show you a more meaningful way to travel. It’s an approach that may not avoid expectations completely but that minimizes their effect on us and our trips.

If you’re expecting me to tell that to you right now, you’ll be disappointed. The alternative to traveling with expectations requires more space than I have here. Thus, you will have to wait until the next entry. And when you do read it, my guess is that it probably won’t be what you expect.

Things rarely are.

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