Desperate How-Tos


I commonly find myself in the position of wanting to know how to do what everyone else apparently knows how to do. Sometimes the particular skill is so obvious, common, or ingrained that I cannot find anyone who understands my specific queries about it. To avoid that awkwardness and occasionally because I don’t think it’s the best idea to let people think you are completely retarded, I’ll search for online guides instead. Sometimes there’s helpful resources, sometimes there’s a scarcity of information, sometimes there’s literally nothing because it must just be too obvious, and then there’s the scenario that drives me to question whether I am in fact mentally challenged:

When every single guide, even those labelled as beginner’s guides, seems to be written for veterans.

That’s so… irritating! I mean, it’s quite common to not understand how people don’t understand something you take for granted, or to forget/lose the ability to empathize with not understanding. Many lecturers who have taught the same topic for decades start to forget what people find so challenging even though it would have taken them many years to reach their own level of familiarity. (Ugh, especially reasoning with frequency domain topics…) Some people don’t know how to explain beyond “you do the thing by the way that you do it.” And then, the worst but not uncommon form of a ‘beginner’s guide’ is this:

  • Step 1: Do the thing like normal.
  • Step 2: You should modify this one aspect to make things better, and now you are a pro!

Ignorant people and fellow beginners sometimes give the best explanation

Personally, I deeply empathize with the blank state of ignorance. As an adult I still have not been able to learn and remember how to tie my shoes the ‘normal’ way. I study a foreign language as a hobby and I can sympathize with the troubles of learning English as a second language, given the complexities of English grammar and what we take for granted and the knowledge that was mostly not consciously learned. I’m resistant to learning and have a terrible long-term memory. For me, learning is a cycle of learning for the first time, forgetting, relearning, and forgetting. Sometimes I have to look up a word over a dozen times before I remember its meaning, and that’s just for words that I decide not to give up on sooner. There’s almost nothing that I’m incapable of forgetting eventually, except my name and date of birth. I guess, ironically, this also means that I’ll never forget what it feels like to be a beginner.

You should never resort to my advice unless all other alternatives don’t work for you

Well, if you believe my last paragraph, then it’s obvious I’ll never be able to give expert advice/instruction on anything practical. But, if anyone can relate to my position of ignorance, and should happen to face similar struggles, maybe these guides might be useful after all.

Why not just ask your family/friends for guidance?

You should. Unless you’re too embarrassed to. Or if you don’t have reliable family/friends. Or they don’t know how either. Seriously though, you can also try your luck asking in online forums specifically designated for asking stupid questions.

Desperate How-To Guides

The theme of this ‘column’ is guides for beginners, especially (but not exclusively) for situations where I found the most prominent resources too difficult for me, or there were no online guides in English at all for whatever reason. Yes, I’ll have attempted to try other guides unsuccessfully, finally having no choice but to learn through my own trial and error. I’ll omit the rants about how many people seems to think their guide is perfect while failing to introduce the basic steps. Let’s just hope I don’t make the same mistakes as everyone else and that I’m really as familiar with ignorance as I say I am.


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