You pick the right tool

 

As you can see, it is sometimes crucial to select a right tool. Even to stick to it, regardless on how awkward and painful it might feel. I just had to open with this scene, it is anyhow from one of my all time favorite movies. The book it is based on, is definitely one of my top 5:s.

We’ve all been there. It’s late night, we’re out in the park, having fun and all we have left is bottle of wine. And of course the corkscrew is nowhere to be found. So you start using your imagination. You might have a normal screw and a screwdriver, maybe a pair of tongs, too, you might be carrying a multi-tool, for what I know. Or not. The cork stays in the bottle.

You go through your pockets again, ask your friends, someone says that all he’g got is a pen, other one offers you a rock.

You see where I’m going here? A pen is mightier than a rock? Well, at least now it is.

Now you could open the bottle by smashing the head to a rock. Or smashing the rock to the head of the bottle. That might work, too. In the other hand, there’s always risks of getting bottle broken so, that the glass gets inside the bottle. Besides, that will create a mess in the grass and I a devoted dog owner and animal lover hate when people break bottles or other glass and leave the stuff there. Besides, people can get hurt too, for real.

So that leaves you the pen, right. You could write a letter – I know, it’s old school, but it’s nice sometimes, for real – to someone with a corkscrew to drop by. What’s there to loose? You got the whole weekend ahead of you (Did I mention it is a Friday night?) Or you could rob a corkscrew store with it, not the world’s best idea, though, giving it to be late night and the stores are all closed.

You could also take the pen and push the cork inside the bottle. That actually does work. You might get to spill some, but then again, at least there isn’t going to be shattered glass anywhere for the paws of the two to four legged friends. Notice I left a place for three legged dogs or cats, even squirrels.

So, you take the pen and grab the bottle. Your hands are getting a bit sweaty so you what your sleeve around the bottle. It keeps it in its place. Not completely, but firm enough. You take a breath.

You push the pen against the cork and push. Nothing happens, except the veins in your temples seems to be exploding, your face turns to red and the pen hurts your palm. A lot. You let go for awhile, and try again. No change to the situation. Cork is till on and you seem to be screwed.

A friend of yours, the one that has taken one more than you, mumbles something and offers you the stone from his hand. You look at him and smile and are about to shake your head, but change your mind and take the stone.

It is smooth on the other side, the side agains your palms has some edges and it feels, if not cold, then at least cool. You take the stone, push the bottle against the ground and hold it between your feet and hold the pen on your other hand against the cork. Then you slowly but firmly hammer the pen inside the bottle with the stone and finally, you’re done. Everything’s fine again, you drink the wine, get in to the night and wake up next morning with a hangover and some blurry memories. You might even end up having fun, who knows.

What I mean here is that you should choose your tools, for real. First of all you need to know that you have a need for a tool, then you need to check what requirements you have for it, then you need to find it. Thanks to the interwebs, it is fairly easy nowadays. After finding the tools, take several, and use them for awhile in the situation needed. So to say, evaluate them.

If you run into problems with the tool (you should, for real, even a sledgehammer needs some maintenance), try to find out if anybody has had the same issues. Most likely you’re not alone.

Check the maintenance costs. If you use more time maintaining the tool than the flaky tests, you probably have the wrong tool. Regardless on how good it looks, sounds or feels.

And once and for all; don’t get stuck with the first evaluation, don’t get stuck with your evaluation choice, either. In case the tool loses its focus and usability, make sure you can move away from it.

I myself are at the moment in that kind of situation: using a multitool with a gentle learning curve, but the maintenance and the license is starting to feel bad. It was a tool I was familiar with, a tool I’ve used for years in the previous companies, and it used to be an open source tool. They ended the open source path last year (if I remember correctly) and otherwise turned the usability a bit more worse, too.

So I’m considering moving the tests to another multitool, an open source based tool with steeper learning curve, but a considerably larger user group. Actually, I’ve done my consideration, all I need to do now is to transfer and modify the current tests from the first tool to the second one.

When all else fails, do it yourself?

8_30_11_-_1In the real life – that’s the weird place outside, away from keyboard – there’s a saying “When all else fails, read the fucking manual”. At least I’ve been told that much. Actually that’s how I’m used to work. One could say I’m the local businessmen -dream.

Let’s say my bike needs the rear derailleur to be changed. Or at least adjusted. No big deal. I take my screwgie and start turning. I almost get it done. Almost. Then I readjust it. And finally look at the youtube -video where the guy puts it in order in like 15 seconds. So, how hard can it be? I continue minging around. Finally after few hours I got the rear derailleur so misplaced that I get max 4 gears changed on the 9 -gear shift and everytime I’m worried I’ll break the cable while changing the gear. So all I can do then is to take the bike to ‘The Guy’. Who then will fix it in approx 45 seconds and give me a bill of half an hours work. Nice.

That seems not to be, however, the case when you work with software. At least not for me. It is more or less limited knowledge plus tons of googling and other supporting tools that gets me around the problems I face in my everyday work. That’s at least how it works when dealing with open source applications. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m a big fan of the whole open software -movement.

With paid applications you get to have the support more or less easily available. With the free ones you get to be stuck for whatever tools and knowledge you have and can get all by yourself. Some of the open software vendors do actually provide the possibility to pay for the support, and that is more or less great.

But then that comes to the collision with my ego. I don’t know why it is so, but I still do have problems to swallow my pride and make the request for help. Unless I’ve been bangin my head to the wall for few days or so. And that is always few days of wasted time. Needless to say that it would be ok to do so at home, but at work it’s not only my time; it’s also company time I’m wasting.

So what should be done? Should I admit that I don’t know a bit earlier, swallow my pride and make the call? Or should I find the solution all by myself (Which is actually one of the best ways to learn.)? Or is there a ‘best of both worlds’ -solution available? What I mean is where’s the actual tipping point here? When should I realize I’ve gone too far? After 3 repetitions that leads to nowhere? Or after 10? I suppose that, as always, it depends.

I’ll have to admit here that I actually did not take the bike to the guy because of the rear derailleur, that’s something I got fixed together with manual, a video from youtube and few days practice at home. But as said, the time was spent, even though now I can adjust my gears without any problems at all. With the fork with suspension, however, I realized that the lack of knowledge together with lack of tools would’ve ruined my self confidence together with my economy, so that I took to the guy. Who did excellent job, by the way. And only charged me one third of the forks price for mounting it 😀