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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A remembrance of things present – Part 4

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2012

In the process of rediscovering, cleaning up and retuning my old Motobecane Grand Touring ten-speed road bike, I realize how my entire perspective has changed.

I previously viewed my bike as a step up from junk. My bike is old: it predates not only the iPod but the original Sony Walkman (I probably just lost half of you as you toggle over to Google to look that up). And in our disposable, consumerist society, old usually means obsolete or about to break.

But I discover that despite the lack of paint in areas, my old bike is quality. And with a little attention and care, this old bike soon becomes a machine that runs as smoothly and precisely as a Swiss watch.

After my tune up, I begin riding it everywhere. Almost immediately, I come to experience the same delight in riding that I had with the mountain bikes in Whistler. In fact, there’s a particular gear – it would be, I think, fourth gear – on my road bike that is pure bliss.

I still can’t tell you why, but it seems effortless to pedal from a stop in that gear, almost as if the bike propels itself. Riding in that gear makes me smile every time. It feels like the most natural form of movement you could ever imagine.

All this bike riding may be a passing fad that fades with the sunny weather. But I pray I do not lose the awareness of something induced by the riding: joy itself. That sounds funny, but how often are you acutely aware of experiencing joy as it occurs?

The wonder is that I know that this joy isn’t just about riding. Taking the bike for a spin is merely an expression of deeper associations. When I ride, I’m aware of movement and speed, but also of exercise and health, family and friends and connections to both the past and the future.

But most of all, I’m also aware of something that almost makes me gasp when I think of what it might mean.

What if rediscovering my old bike was no accident? What if an odd form of divine favor has come my way in the guise of my old Motobecane, in a package that initially seemed too dated, obsolete and beyond redemption?

What if God actually delights in delighting me…us?

I want to believe that’s true. I tell myself I believe it’s true. But too often I chalk up such ideas to wishful thinking. Doubt creeps in. I forget what I have learned in life of the unlikely nature of grace.

Then I ride my bike.

And I know.

I rediscover…


If you haven’t done so, coast on back and check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

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A remembrance of things present – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 19, 2012

My rediscovery of the value of my old Motobecane ten-speed bike came in part experientially from my riding in Whistler. But it also came conceptually through reading a book at the same time. In fact, with travel, reading about a place or activity and experiencing it simultaneously adds meaning to both. You have both theory and practice intersecting and informing the other.

Before our trip to Whistler, I had loaded a library book on my Kindle for reasons I still don’t quite understand. It was titled, It’s all about the bike: The pursuit of happiness on two wheels by Rob Penn.

The book chronicles Penn’s journey to build his dream bicycle. He travels the world to select the best components, from the custom-built frame he has designed in the UK to the world-class stem and wheels he finds in the US to the artful handlebar and derailleur he acquires in Italy.

Nice trip.

As he describes his odyssey, he also tells the story of the history of the bicycle. And in so doing, I came to learn several things.

  • The modern-day bike, despite improvements in materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, has not really changed since the first incarnation of the “safety bike” back in the 1890’s. Take a look at a photo from the turn of the last century and you’ll see how remarkably similar bikes are in their geometry and design to today’s bikes.
  • I wasn’t alone in my newly discovered enthrallment with the elemental act of staying upright on two wheels and going at great speed based solely on my own efforts. Others seem to be at a similar loss of words for their delight in such a seemingly simple (though actually quite complex) act. See Bruce’s comment to Part 2 of this series for an example of someone who is able to eloquently explain part of the joy of riding.
  • My new love of mountain biking didn’t replace any desire to ride my old road bike. It enhanced it. I discovered that many others enjoy both forms of riding and have multiple bikes.
  • My initial shock at the price of new bicycles became replaced by an appreciation for what it took to create the various components, many still made by hand. It’s still an expensive hobby if you buy new, but it is one I now understand better. It furthermore made me realize the value I had in my old bike.
  • My old French ten-speed may actually be as good a bike as many of the new modern ones. Good basics never go out of style. We merely change our labels from “old” to “classic.”

So when I returned home, I checked out books from the library on bike repair, picked up a few new tools and supplies, and within a week I had renovated my old Motobecane ten-speed road bike. And that is when I came to my greatest understanding about this whole journey with the bike…

To be continued…

Read Part 1 or Part 2 if you haven’t done so. Or go to Part 4 for the thrilling (well, maybe not thrilling, but at least meaningful) conclusion.

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A remembrance of things present – Part 1

by Steve Brock September 4, 2012

Rediscovering a joy from our youth can be as or more powerful than discovering something new, on a trip or even under a bed…

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