It’s almost 2005 and I can tell you, right this second, most of the keystrokes to format a document in Wordstar. I could also navigate a DOS-based version of XTree in my sleep. Additionally, I could explain to you the color scheme I chose for Xtree and weigh the pros’n'cons of said color scheme against other schemes.
This is the crap that is in my brain after two decades of being a geek.
Of course, Wordstar and XTree are dead and gone, but that’s not the point. At their peak, they were the shit and by that I mean they were absolutely essential tools for me to get my job done… wait, I forgot Qmodem! ATDT-LORD-GOD-I’M-A-GEEK. These echos of tools gone by are called “Tool Cruft”… unique lightning fast keyboard/mouse combinations that you’ll never forget because they been burned into your brain by your NADD.
Tool cruft is created because, as software engineers, we love it when a tool just does it’s job to perfection. Go ahead, look at your desktop right now and pick out the tool that you just love. Maybe it’s an application or maybe it’s a utility, but I guarantee you have a something on your desktop that, you believe, makes you twice the engineer than that ignorant boob in the cube next door.
My current pick has gotta be LaunchBar. CMD-SPACE-BLISS. As I’ve mentioned far too often, I suck with the mouse and I rule with the keyboard which means I want to keep my hands over the keys as much as possible. LaunchBar does that without getting the way of my flying across my desktop. Twenty years from now when I’m sitting at my Mac G12, I’ll still type CMD-SPACE in empty space as I surf the web via my cranial plug.
Tool cruft, Rands? Sounds negative.
Yeah, well, it’s is.
Once we’ve found bliss with our respective tools/applications, we’ll go to extremes to keep them and when I say extremes, I mean over the board geek-like obsession-compulsive maniacal extremes. Some examples:
I haven’t seen DOS in a decade and there are folks with web-pages still spending time with these ancient tools.
“But I like ‘em, Rands”
So did I… but I moved on.
The question is this: What new tool are you missing out on because of your blind faith in old reliable? A better way of saying this is, what opportunity are you missing?
First, you gotta figure out if your tool is becoming crufty. Pick your suspect tool and ask:
- Do you have to explain to your engineers friends what the tool is?
- Have you rewritten the tool from the ground up just to have it on a different software platform?
- Do you spend more than thirty minutes configuring a similar tool to behave like the old one?
- Do you run an emulation package just so you can run this tool?
- Are you running an old version of an OS (say OS 9?) to run this tool?
A yes to any of these is a warning sign. Your tool may be getting crufty. If your tool is getting crufty, you’re getting crufty, too.
I LIKE MY TOOLS AND I GET MY JOB DONE AND RANDS YOU ARE WRONG AND I AM NOT LISTENING ANYMORE LA LA LA LA LA
Yeah, I forget another qualification question — do you find yourself defending your favorite tool? Loudly? To Everyone? Keep reading.
I gave away every cool trick in the book when I moved to Mac OS X and it pissed me off. I was angry about the Finder, font sizes, window management, keyboard layout… it was an endless amount of crankitude. It gave me a headache. I missed my Windows Start key. I missed my ability to triage common problems in Windows with my knowledge of the file system, the OS, and, most importantly, I missed my bag of tricks.
Gone. Empty. Sad.
Three years later and I’ve got a whole new set of tricks. Someone pointed lsof to me the other day and I was in heaven… LIST EVERY OPEN FILE… HELL YES I NEED THAT. Throw that on top of a every other Mac OS X tip and trick I’ve found in the past 36 months and I’m in bliss because my bag of tricks has doubled in size. I was delighted when a friend brought a cranky Windows box over and I’d diagnosed and fixed the problem in FIVE MINUTES. Hell, if I knew jack about Linux, I’d be a TRIPLE THREAT.
Your job as an engineer is to build stuff. Maybe you’re a user interface type… perhaps you’re a kernel guy… doesn’t matter. You will be judged by your ability to build stuff, but the problem is that while you’re busy building the latest hoozy-what, some smart-ass over at the University of Illinois is building a better hoozy-what… or even worse, he’s making hoozy-whats irrelevant by creating a whole new market for hibbity-jibbities… and he’s doing it for free… because he likes to build stuff.
No. I’m not saying that your love of an ancient editor is going to suddenly make you irrelevant… what I’m talking about is a state of mind. A crufty tool is a sign that the nimble thinking that made you a great engineer in the first place is fading. Yes, you need familiar tools to your job and XYZ editor is a fine tool, but there are different tools out there and some of them actually might be better than yours because we’re all being engineers… we’re all trying to make the job of being an engineer easier and faster. Let us help you.