• Help me learn new skills in 2017!

    After my very fulfilling 2016 of learning new things, I want to spend 2017 learning new skills. I’ve come up with a list, but I’m want your input on what I might do. I also want to see if you have better ideas.

    Ideally, I think that I’d like to dedicate two months each skill. I think that a month may not be enough for some of these, and I want to do them right. Some will also clearly require more than two months to “master”, but I think that’s enough to get me off the ground. Here are my thoughts so far:

    • Knitting
    • Meditation – I’ve tried before, but I really need to set aside time for this if I’m going to do it
    • Photoshop/Photography
    • A language (something like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone)
    • Drawing
    • An instrument – I played piano as a kid, but I’d be open to something new
    • Electronics – something like Arduino
    • Cooking – I know the basics, but I would like to get good at this without a cookbook
    • Baking – Again, I know the basics, but it would be cool to be able to make insane cakes, cookies, and pies

    What am I missing? What should I do? I’m going to leave comments here open for a while, and you can also tweet at me.



    • Rather than photoshop which is very complex and will take more time to learn than to do photographs I would concentrate on Lightroom, also from Adobe that will do 90% or more of Photoshops features in a more graphic intuitive way. I know both and Lightroom is far more accessible and therefore useful.

    • Good morning, Aaron!!

      Love your blog, have been receiving a daily feed for a couple of years (and have written to you previously), I frequently forward the feed to the Medical Director in our department and sometimes other docs in our hospital.

      I have a couple of ideas, hobbies I enjoy, one I have shared with my family!

      The easy to share one is making mosaics it can be simple: buy a small table at a yard sale or craft store, buy some ceramic tiles, take out your frustration with a hammer on the tiles, glue them to the table, apply grout. Bingo, a place to put plants in front of the window. Easy one for kids to share with you!

      Or you can buy bags of beautiful colored glass squares and a nipper tool ($20), transfer an image onto the table top or a custom cut piece of plywood, nip the glass tiles as needed, glue, grout. My family makes large animal or object shapes (in the 1.5 – 2 ft range): an elephant, parrot, sun, cat, etc., their Dad made a Last Supper including 24kt gold glass tiles for parts. Beautiful wall art! There are some simply gorgeous books of mosaics for inspiration and, as you know, mosaics last nearly forever! Here’s a site to show you glass tile options: https://mosaicartsupply.com/

      The other that is fun is metal work. Your local art/community college probably offers basic metalworking classes to get you started. You can’t mess up metal: cut, fold, hammer, bend, etch, paint, solder, melt, form, rivet, layer, pierce (that is making designs by cutting out bits), mount things on it, use it as frame for jewels or objects (photos, dominoes, whatever). If you like tools, metalwork is the ultimate, you can buy zillions of specialty tools. Yes, much more expensive and intense, more difficult to share with kids, but totally absorbing.

      I look forward to reading about your 2017 skills, whatever you choose!!

      Thank you and have a Happy New Year!


    • I’d call that a good list.

      Some tweaks on choices:

      avoid double-reeds for “instrument” (i.e., oboe, bassoon — I played oboe, my brother played bassoon. And bagpipes are too damn noisy; a childhood friend played those (and still does!)). There’s a lot to be said for a non-transposing instrument, not sure recorder makes the grade but that would get you soprano/tenor there, or flute, (or oboe). Apparently you can get a soprano sax in C, too.

      Electronics: for anti-static reasons, do that in the summer (when it is more humid) and I prefer to work barefoot (for anti-static reasons — the possibility of dripping a large blob of solder on your foot is tiny and the damage is bounded, as in, I have never done that). Be really careful about battery polarity when you go to power things up, you can cook them in a few milliseconds. (Real world electronics involves a fair amount of idiot- and stuff-happens-proofing) Arduino is a decent choice. Do you have particular projects in mind?

    • On electronics, get your HAM radio license and build a radio

    • For electronics (love the idea!!), you might consider using a Rasberry Pi in the place of Arduino:


      It is much cheaper and has an extensive online community (at least if you are a Linux guy)

    • Dear Aaron,

      You have left out a skill that seems to me particularly relevant and that is an athletic one that supports healthy aging. I think that averaging 8 hours a week in exercise is a good goal but that a sport which can be done for the rest of your life is also a worthwhile goal. Two sports that require skill and meet that requirement are indoor rock climbing and the martial art, Wing Chun. I am sure that there are others but many of the common one are ruled out as being too repetitive, subject to certain injuries, inconsistent with certain weaknesses (bad knees, etc.) or too strenuous for a lifelong activity. Some others such as walking do not have a skill component so they don’t meet your criteria.


    • As a knitter: Stop by Mass Ave Knit Shop, 862 Virginia Ave in Indy and get their advice. Get top quality needles and wool as this will facilitate your knitting — avoid acrylic and fancy yarns to start! Unlike pencils in kindergarten, fatter is not necessarily easier to manipulate. Some people are great knitters and find it relaxing; some people do not — if you don’t give it up without guilt. It needs to be about the process, not the project, so don’t push yourself to complete a project by a deadline but let it take the time it takes. http://www.yarnahrlot.ca is a very popular knitting blog. Also http://www.raverly.com is an online tool for knitters that is full of useful information, free or for-sale patterns, places to store your own knitting information, etc. Highly recommended for any knitter.

      healthjourneys.com has a short, free meditation download on their website that is helpful as well as an array of guided imagery meditations.

      Every Wednesday the NYTimes food newsletter includes a suggestion for cooking without a cookbook.

      You have compiled a challenging list! Good luck!

    • For a kick starter for meditation, you could try ugc.futurelearn.com. Their course, Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance, could easily be completed in two months. It’s taught by two professors and includes both discussion and practice. I completed it and have continued daily meditation for more than six months. It’s a regular offering at their site and is free.

    • A number of my electtrical-engineering friends have recommended Forrest Mim’s “Getting Started In Electronics” as a good guide. That book may be a bit too much on the analog side, though, if your heart is set on messing with an Arduino.

    • Dancing, but only if your wife will join you. Ballroom, country or Latin depending on your musical taste and availability of dance venues.

      Helps with the physical fitness stuff and also helps keep the mental strong.

      Where to start? Your school’s phys ed department might have classes or know reasonably priced studios. I don’t think you’re ready for senior citizen center, but they might be open to young fellows like you.

      Then again, this would probably be better as a side goal while working on a more bookish goal or two.

    • I like your list. But you are missing physical activity. How about tai chi or qi qong along with your meditation? Or maybe you are more of a ballroom dancer or square dancer?

    • What about a physical activity? For example skiing/snowboarding/stand up paddleboard/indoor rock climbing? It might be a good way to balance the two months of baking experimentation!

    • Why not learn cycling in the spring? Commuting to work by bike is a skill. So is taking a corner correctly, turning around in a small space, balancing, working on fitness, hydration and nutrition, maintainance, it could be a deep dive for the body and mind. You could even try to do a grand fondo. I bet you would love it.

    • You should learn to meditate, use taped guidance for visualization at first, it makes it easier. I have meditated all my life (40+ years). It will do much more than relax you, it will change your perspective on life if you stick with it.

      Since I have been reading daily for years but have never written, let me say since I am now writing thank you for all the great information over the years.

    • If you want a simple, inexpensive and highly enjoyable way to return to playing music, I recommend the recorder. It’s way more than the plastic sopranos you had in 3rd grade. A decent plastic recorder from Yamaha can get you started very nicely. There’s a huge repertoire, e.g. Telemann, Vivaldi, Albinoni and of course Bach. You can find amateur groups to play with, and better yet, inspire your family to join you.

    • Fascinating ideas-some things to consider. The recorder is a great instrument, relatively easy to learn and very easy to put ensembles together to play with other people which is the point of music anyway.

      Book worth considering for your cooking is “The food lab- better home cooking through science” by J. Kanji Lopez-Alt. Once you know the science you can figure the rest out…

      Resource regarding meditation is “Parami-ways to cross life’s floods” by Ajahn Suitto, free downloadable PDF.

      Looking forward to hearing how your year plays out.


    • I learned how to bake French bread from this site.

    • Learning a new skill often requires regular practice over a prolonged period of time. In particular, learning to knit, draw, speak a new language, and play an instrument will all be very time consuming; likely more than 2 months. And I’m not talking about mastery, but just having enough basic skills down to decide if you like the activity or not. I would include cooking as that’s something you’re probably doing regularly anyway so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice. You could make learning a language easier if you chose a constructed language that’s intended to be easy to learn such as Esperanto or Toki Pona, but otherwise plan on needing several hundred hours to know enough to be able to use the language. I think you should pick one between an instrument, knitting, and drawing. With respect to drawing, I would recommend that you consider using charcoal, paint, or a graphics tablet rather than just pencil and paper. Drawing textures with a pencil is very time consuming, but can often be done very quickly with any of the other options. Pencils are mainly useful for learning to quickly outline a person, animal, or object.

      “Based on my experience I would put the total hours necessary to reach a B2 level in most languages is around 400 to 600 hours.”

      If you decide to pick meditation and learning an instrument, then I would recommend studying meditation first as meditation will help you with independent motor control which will make it easier for you to avoid excess strain while playing which is a key skill in playing music.

    • For meditation you should try Headspacd.

    • Cooking is fairly easy once you know how long it takes to cook any given thing and what spices to use. I personally don’t like using just salt and pepper, and I enjoy different flavors so I just open the spice closet and pick out whatever at any given time.

      Some spices have very strong, particular flavors (like Dill, or Rosemary) and so you need to know what does what. Soy sauce is great for color and salt, so no need to add any seasoned salt or all-spice combinations with salt. Watch out on how much salt you use.

      Watching Food Network will give you some ideas, and it’s a great alternative to cable news which is really depressing. Sometimes I just search for recipes via ingredient and get some ideas. It’s no foul to follow a recipe, because you have to start somewhere! But learn from it and find inspiration to make other tasty things.

    • Santa brought our two year old a ukelele for Christmas, but I think he really meant it for me because I’m addicted to playing it. It is so easy and sounds so nice. They’re cheap and easily tuned with a tuner app.

    • If it’s been a while since you studied it, how about refreshing your knowledge of mathematics? It’s been 40 years since I studied calculus (not much use of it in otolaryngology) and now that I’m retired I’m using Khan Academy to learn some of the basics again..

    • Cooking gets my vote!!

      Done well (pun is not intentional ) & you won’t have to worry about finding time for meditation. Almost a two-for-one deal.

      Suggestion: get a crockpot and get started. Express yourself & enjoy!!

      Happy New Year

    • This summer try sailing! Many not-for-profit organizations in your area that can teach you! Enjoy!

    • Knitting: get a pattern for hats for the homeless through an organization that provides hats for people on the street. You get all the benefits of knitting and the satisfaction of finishing a small project and helping someone else at the same time. One year I made 24 knitted caps for the grounds keepers at my university. They were a big hit.

      Cooking: have some rules: for instance “no canned soup” as an ingredient; savory and flavorful vegetables in new ways; spices from world cuisines. I have recently expanded my repertoire by hosting “vegetarian dinners” in honor of some friends who are vegetarians. Some of the delicacies were eggplant tarte tatin, “meatloaf” in potato cups, and tortellini salad.

      Baking: baking bread can be very meditative; two birds, one stone. One of our favorite winter recipes is Nigella Lawson’s Clementine cake.

      Sounds like a great year!

    • For Cooking, I think you should look into America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School. It is online. The videos I have watched are excellent. The TV show is great too.

    • Juggling. A month is enough to master basic three-ball patterns; more advanced skills will only impress other jugglers.

    • Improv comedy – it’ll change the way you think about conversation and collaboration.

    • You could try programming. Programming for games of one sort or another could work.

    • For cooking/baking I recommend Cook’s Illustrated “The Science of Good Cooking.”

      Here’s a great series of YouTube videos to learn knitting: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCeNvY_XCBbswNkOwvuFYsQ

      Something I’ve been doing in 2016 is learning how to repair rather than replace household appliances and electronics – there’s a YouTube video for (almost) anything you want to learn!

    • Try Qi Gong. Caveats: Cannot be mastered in two months by any means. Requires daily practice. Cannot be really learned from books/dvd’s.

    • I highly recommend knitting as a great way to de-stress while also creating something useful. It’s a “slow” art however somone cant be in a hurry to complete something. The art itself ranges from simple stitches and patterns to infinitely complex stitching, colorwork and patterns. It uses the mind in creative, mathematical and Zen ways. So this isn’t a new suggestion but a confirmation of one of the posssibilites you mentioned.

    • For learning a language, check out Language Transfer. I did the Duolingo Spanish course and also picked up the Language Transfer course. LT is based on learning the structure of the language, rather than memorizing words and phrases, which I found really helpful. It’s more of a linguistics approach to language that takes advantage of similar structures among languages to help analyze and construct new sentences but does so in a very learner-friendly way that doesn’t use a lot of technical grammar vocabulary. I found listening to a couple of lessons on the way to or from work a pretty easy way to use it–maybe I’ll do the new German course in 2017.

      For baking, I don’t have any good suggestions for desserts, but if you want to make bread, I found Peter Rinehart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice very useful.

    • I’ve really enjoyed your Learn Something New posts, so much so that my partner and I are going to try something similar this year! Thank you for coming up with the idea and sharing your learning process in these posts.

      I’m a lifelong knitter and am really happy to hear you’ll be diving in! I’d recommend Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, alias The Yarn Harlot, who does a superb job both of explaining technical first principles for making hats, socks, scarves, etc. and communicating something bigger about the knitting community.
      -> For the technical first principles, I’d recommend chapters 3-8 of her book, Knitting Rules– probably something to go to later in the month, after you’ve learned the basic stitches.
      -> For insights on the knitting community/lifestyle (and a lot of laughter), her collection of essays, Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter, is wonderful.

      Best of luck in your writing, teaching, treating, and knitting!

    • I’ve been working my way through Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People with a friend and I’d recommend it, especially if you have some experience with piano but haven’t mastered theory. I figure out the exercises on a keyboard and then translate what I’ve learned to guitar (where the notes on the fretboard aren’t laid out as sensibly as on a piano). You don’t need to know much going into it to start using the tools the book gives you to get creative on your own. A study/jam buddy definitely helps!
      For cooking and baking, the book Ratio is great if you want to break free from following recipes all the time.
      Good luck!

    • If you are going to do a language via Rosetta Stone, you probably want one with relatively simple grammar. I tried Russian and the version my library offered (no book) offered no explanation for the grammar. Given that, in Russian, there are 3 genders, 6 cases, as well as singular and plural, there are lots of forms of nouns to use correctly — very hard to master without a book. The verbs are funky, too.

    • Brewing beer is an exciting skill. The basics of extract brewing is pretty simple, and it does not require significant capital to start. Many home-brewers enjoy decades of extract brewing and are able to continually make a wide variety of new and delicious beer styles.

      There is also something quite satisfying about relaxing with a cold beer you brewed yourself.

    • You are an inspiration, Aaron.

      I am using duolingo to improve my French. It’s great! But the time commitment is years, not months.

    • Most of those–perhaps not baking and I don’t know about knitting–will take more than two months of part-time effort. I can’t imagine trying to learn more than one of them at a time. And after mastering one, it’s hard to imagine going on to another one very soon. Sounds much too ambitious.

      I’m curious to know what you really want to do. Pick one as a goal for the year or learn many of these?

    • P.S. I just read your recap of what you learned last year. I don’t want to be the downer here, but if I had done all that last year, the amount I would still retain would probably be very small. How much of it have you retained?

    • You could try learning some very practical and easy to learn through practice math tricks. Begin by purchasing the Mathemagics App on iTunes. You should be able to blow your children’s and wife’s and colleague’s mind away in about a month…

    • for drawing – go with ZENTANGLE… a method where you learn how to draw little patterns step-by-step and then you can take off from there. It’s really fun and simple and addicting