I can’t cook.
Well, I suppose that’s not completely true. I can cook a bit, but only if I can follow a set of simple directions or a basic recipe. If I have to somehow deviate because I have a 9″x13″ casserole dish instead of an 8″x12″ casserole dish or because I can’t find the oregano I’m in trouble.
My wife, on the other hand, knows how to cook. She uses a recipe as more of a vague suggestion rather than as a detailed set of instructions. If she can’t find a specific ingredient she can simply substitute something else using logic like “It’s in the same family” or “It’ll work — they’re both red”.
When my wife looks into the pantry she sees a hundred different meals just waiting to be made. When I look into the pantry I see a bunch of ingredients without knowing how they could possibly combined to make anything.
I find this ironic because, when it comes to technology, I’m the cook. I can look at all of the “ingredients” that I have (hardware, software, network) and have no problem coming up with ways to combine them to make a technological meal. Sometimes I can even make a meal and a dessert.
When my wife looks at the technology around the house she sees a computer in the basement and an XBox hooked up to the TV. I see a content-delivery system that lets us watch YouTube videos on our television by using the computer to transcode the video on-the-fly from .flv to .wmv codecs and streaming the result to our XBox.
My wife knows that adding salt to water will lower its boiling point. I know that UDP is a more efficient protocol than TCP for streaming video. She can make Chicken Cacciatore. I can turn on the Christmas tree lights with the TV’s remote control.
You could assume that if I spent as much time learning about all of the nuances of the hundred spices in our spice rack as I do reading about the latest in high-definition delivery systems I’d know how to make Chicken Cacciatore, too. I’m not sure that’s the case, though I don’t know why. I’ve tried — over and over and over again — to learn how to make the most basic dishes. I can fumble, bumble, and stumble my way through a recipe but it never seems to turn out quite right. When the remote control suddenly is unable to turn on the Christmas tree lights I can immediately come up with a list of possible reasons and solutions. When my Chicken Cacciatore taste like cardboard I have no idea how to tell what went wrong.
I think that cooking in the kitchen and cooking with technology have one thing in common — they’re both as much art as they are science. And, like most things that have an artistic component, you have to possess at least a basic aptitude for something before you can become proficient at it. When it comes to understanding technology I have at least a bit of that aptitude. When it comes to cooking, not so much. But that’s OK — I still get a chance to do my own type of cooking.
Well, it’s time for me to grab something to eat. Now where’s that can of Spam?