To do or to pay, that is the question

How much is it worth to learn new skills

Once again, technology is getting away from me, and it is my own fault, if anyone's. Software is something I'm interested in and like to understand, but it isn't my work, paid or otherwise. Which makes it just so hard to keep up. And that's frustrating.

The immediate problem is a slightly ill-thought-out attempt to "redesign" a couple of my websites. And the scare quotes are there because I didn't actually do much thinking about the design. Just looked at a bunch of templates and saw one that looked kind of what I wanted. So I paid for it, and it was indeed almost what I wanted. But not quite. I poked about under the hood, because I have a tiny bit of ability in that department, made a couple of adjustments and then, realising wearily that my abilities have once again been left in the dust, gave it up and resolved to make do with almost. For a while.

This has been happening to me with monotonous regularity, since the early 1980s, when, I swear, I wrote a word counter in assembler because Apple Writer couldn't do that simple thing. (It couldn't do word wrap or lowercase either, but a friend had already solved those problems, so I didn't need to). It took me two days, one to go up the road to find a book about 8086, the other to write the code. And I had to do it because a publisher, unused to the somewhat spaced-out typescript produced by a Radio Shack daisywheel printer, had said I needed to cut 20% from my book. I didn't need to do that, but I did need to build a word counter to find out.

And so it went, learning about the web and how to make a table deliver crude interactivity, about content management systems, about CSS, about hosting, driven only because I wanted to be just slightly ahead of the curve, wanted something just a teeny bit cooler. I don't think I had that much more time. Things were just a bit simpler, and so it didn't take forever to get to the point where I could start tinkering without the fear of breaking everything. I built my own templates in nucleuscms and later in the first incarnations of WordPress. Then that became too complex, so I tinkered with other people's themes and played around with their CSS and eventually child themes. Then I got fed up with the hassles of trying to make WordPress work quickly, so I switched to a static system with Octopress, and got that looking the way I wanted, although I confess I still don't really understand how it works, and I know that I blog here less often precisely because the workflow is more complicated.

Anyway, you think I'd be used to this sort of thing by now. So what to do? listening to Horace Dediu talk about open source software, I was struck by the not entirely novel idea that when something is good enough, you can't make much money by selling it. You can, however, make money by being better than someone else at doing something. So, I'm faced with a choice. I could attempt to get back up to speed with the nuts and bolts that display those two sites and bend them to my will. Or I could pay someone else to do it. To do that, however, I have to admit that this technology has indeed got away from me, which is hard indeed.

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