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Programming, Baseball And Car Repairs

June 2, 2016

System.out.println(“Hello World”);

Paxton(L, 0-1) IP:3.2 H:10 R:8 ER:3 BB:1 SO:7 HR:2 PC-ST: 103-67 ERA:7.36

Cylinder head bolts: Torque: 39 N-m (400 kgf*cm, 29 ft*lbf)

Chances are there is at least one line above that is completely foreign to you. Maybe they all are. At different times, they have all been foreign to me. I realized recently that I need to stop complaining about my car. And I need to stop because of my love of baseball. 

My car (Iron Man) is broken again. 

He’s carrying over 270,000 miles. It’s an old car. It breaks. I used to grumble and complain as I scoured junk yards for rear struts or scoured web sites for videos on how to replace the thermostat. But, the truth is, I enjoy it. That realization was a surprise to me. The knowledge shouldn’t have surprised me. But, I like to think I’m pretty self-aware. I was surprised that I hadn’t realized how much I’ve come to enjoy tinkering on my car. 

And the lines above are illustrations of why. I’ll explain what each of them mean in just a minute. First, I want to talk about baseball. I love baseball. It’s sometimes embarrassing how big of a fan I am. I can tell you which team has gone the longest since winning a World Series (No, not the Cubs. The Seattle Mariners have NEVER won a championship. FOREVER trumps 107 years.) I can tell you that Ken Griffey Jr, is the first player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner and he was elected with the highest percentage in history. (99.3% Who were those three guys who didn’t vote him in on the first ballot?) 

Anyway, the point is that I’m a baseball nut. And yet, it wasn’t always that way. At one point I thought baseball was the most boring sport in the world. “No hitter”? How does that sound exciting? “Perfect game” means no one gets on base? Ughh, shoot me now!

But, then a funny thing happened. I started watching the games. (They were really boring.) Then, I started reading the sports page about the games. (They became slightly less boring.) And I started to understand the game. And then I got hooked. The science and strategy of the game started to come into focus. Once I got over the learning curve I found it was the most enjoyable sport I’d ever watched. Even a bad baseball game is good to watch. 

I learned and then I could appreciate it. 

My job doesn’t require me to write programming code. But, I’ve taken plenty of programming classes. I studied computer science in college. I’ve programmed in C, C#, Java and Visual Basic. And yet, when you are starting out learning to code, it’s just so much gibberish. A misplaced comma? Your program will fail to compile. Forget a semi-colon? Your code will fail to compile. Miss one single character in a program with hundreds of lines of code and your program can fail to compile. Worse still is if your program compiles but then fails to properly run. At least when the compiler compains it hands you the line number of the problem. 

Programming can be the most frustrating exercise in the world. And yet, I found that I really look forward to opportunities to brush off my coding skills. “Hey, I’ll bet I can get this spreadsheet to calculate the missed percentage depending on the number of days in the month!” 

If you ask a programmer if she can write a program to accomplish a particular task, they will sometimes look at you with a blank stare. You might as well ask if you can use a car to drive to Montana. Of course, you can, it’s just software. But, until you get over the learning curve, programming is a challenging and sometimes aggravating exercise. Many people avoid it entirely because they don’t understand it. 

My car was overheating. And, it was drinking anti-freeze. I spent weeks trying different things to avoid the reality that I had blown a head gasket. Last weekend we had a BBQ. My uncle and my cousin came over. They poked their head under the hood, listened to the description of the problem, helped me remove the spark plugs and announced, “You have a blown head gasket.” 

Replacing the head gasket is a moderately involved task. You have to drain the oil. Drain the anti-freeze, and then literally disassemble a good portion of the engine. Next, you take the pieces you pulled off (called heads) to a machine shop and have them plane the edges so they are absolutely flat. Then, you put on new head gaskets, new valve cover gaskets, reassemble the engine, refill it with oil and coolant and then hope that you did it all right. If you missed a step or didn’t get it sealed just right, you have to take it apart and start over. 

Sound fun?

Yeah, it does to me too. Wait, you didn’t say yes? (I know some of you did.) But for the rest of you, it. Probably sounds like a really, really boring couple of days. 

That’s when it hit me. I used to feel about baseball and programming the way I felt about car repairs. But, as I learned more, and let myself get involved, I started to enjoy it. I don’t complain about the length of baseball games. I complain about the fact that I don’t have enough time to listen to more games. I don’t complain about “having” to write a program. I get excited that I have a chance to get my programming hands dirty again. Why should I complain about car repairs? 

I shouldn’t. I appreciate the chance to get my hands dirty and play with the collections of wrenches, sockets and other tools in my shop. 

I was the marathon runner complaining that my feet hurt. 

No more. Embrace your interests. No one wants to hear you complain anyway. 

If you are interested, here are the explanations for the three lines I started with:

System.out.println(“Hello World”);

This is a Java programming command to print the line “Hello World.” It’s a tradition in programming to create a “Hello World” application for your first program in a new language.

Paxton(L, 0-1) IP:3.2 H:10 R:8 ER:3 BB:1 SO:7 HR:2 PC-ST: 103-67 ERA:7.36

This is the “pitcher’s line” for James Paxton, a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. The line indicates that he was the losing pitcher of this game and his current season record is zero wins and one loss. He pitched (IP) three and 2/3 innings of the game. During that time he gave up ten (H)its and eight (R)uns. Of those runs, eight of them were “earned (ER.)” Unearned runs are runs scored during an error, or as the result of a walk, or hit batsman. He walked (BB) one batter. He struck out (SO) seven. He threw 103 pitches, of those 67 were strikes. His season earned run average (ERA) is 7.36. BTW, this was a TERRIBLE line. Paxton got rocked. The Mariners lost 14-6.

Cylinder head bolts: Torque: 39 N-m (400 kgf*cm, 29 ft*lbf)

This is the specification for how tightly to turn the bolts on the cylinder head for a Lexus ES300.. (My Iron Man car) This line is somewhat misleading. It actually gives the same number three times. You need to “torque” the bolts to 39 Newton-meters, which is equivalent to 400 kilogram-centimeters, which is the same as 29 foot-pounds. All of those are a setting on a torque wrench that measures how tightly a bolt is turned.

We learn to appreciate what we understand. And we should seek to understand what we appreciate. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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