The 5-hour first pancake

Image of a frying pan with a pancake being flipped, and a ticking clock

We all know the idiom A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And that’s so true. It applies in many areas, including programming.

But my version of the idiom is equally true:

A little knowledge is a time-consuming thing.

A very, very time-consuming thing. 

My sad story

This week I started my new pilot hybrid course, called “Jumpstart Python Programming”. I wanted to show my delegates how to set up a portable version of Python and a text editor before the course started. So I decided to create a YouTube video.

I have very little experience in creating videos. And when it comes to editing videos, I’m a complete beginner. But there’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you to learn something new. And this was my motivation to install and learn Da Vinci Resolve, which has a free Windows version.

I spent about an hour creating the video. It is a screen-capture video, and the result was adequate. Then I needed to edit it. I didn’t plan anything fancy. I wanted to cut out some parts, add a few images and a few textboxes.

Da Vinci Resolve is a sophisticated video editor. That means it has far too many options and windows and menu items for things I’ve never heard of. So I first watched (part of) a tutorial for beginners. That helped. Except for the actions that didn’t work, and the options I couldn’t find. And it didn’t help when I clicked on something and a new set of panels took over my workspace. It took me 10 minutes to find my way back.

After about 5 hours of editing, I decided it was good enough. One last playback, to make sure my cuts were sensible. Disaster! Somehow the audio and the video were completely out of sync! I don’t know how that happened. And I didn’t know how to fix it. (Once again, Google and YouTube did not come to my rescue.) Despondent, I chose to go to bed instead.

The next day I started from scratch. New video, new edits, new result. I kept it even simpler, and this time it only took me about 4 hours. So the end result, which is still only adequate, has taken about 10 hours. Someone with better skills would do a better job in a fraction of the time.

It’s not just me

Sadly, I’m not the only one with a story like this.

I remember presenting an XML course many years ago. After explaining a basic syntax principle during the first morning, one of the delegates sighed. He told me he had spent a week trying to figure out a problem with an XML file. I had just explained and solved his problem.

Think how much time he would have saved if he had been on course sooner.

The first pancake principle

There is (allegedly) a Russian proverb that translates as “the first pancake is always a blob”.

Charles suggested I consider my failed video as my first pancake.

I suspect that I’m going to have quite a few blobby pancakes as I learn to edit videos. Pancakes are, of course, much easier to make than videos. But it’s a comforting thought that I may eventually have better results.

How to reduce your stress

There are three important lessons to learn from this:

  1. If you don’t know what you are doing, you will waste an awful lot of time.
  2. It’s much easier to learn if you have someone to guide you. Google and YouTube are a poor substitute.
  3. It’s better to start learning before you have a deadline.

That last point is worth noting. Renier was only a little sympathetic about my plight. His approach has always been to learn and experiment with a technology just for fun. Unlike me, he doesn’t wait until he has an urgent need. I’ve made this mistake before, and I hope I won’t do it again. It’s way too stressful.

Are you waiting until a project has started before you learn the technologies it requires? Reduce your stress and book your spot on a course now.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with learning new things – or making pancakes.

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