The Northern Spy: tools and the Fourth Civilization
TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The Northern Spy: tools and the Fourth Civilization

By Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy’s tools provide this month's entertainment, both for his consistency and their diversity. You see, his two sons recently had their birthdays, and predictably, they got tools.

After all the well-equipped householder needs his drills, saws, screwdrivers, hammers, power strips, sockets, the box to organize it all, a good work bench and proper ladders. Now, no matter that one is a software engineer, and the other a high school math and history teacher -- how else can they get jobs done around the house?

The Spy himself has built two houses for his family, helped construct a church, and assisted said sons and others in reno projects on various scales, particularly with electrical work. He's also done not a little auto and tractor maintenance. So he's acquired hand tools, power tools, air tools, and mechanic's tools; tools for building, wrecking, and repairing, for house, car, lawn, and garden; tools for plumbing, electrical, framing, finish carpentry, drywall, siding, brick laying, floor installation, shelves, and woodwork.

His parts drawers number in the hundreds, yet most projects do seem to require at least one trip to the hardware department. Buy a few extra of that oddball machine screw why not, just in case. But at that, his shop is modest, even for a hobbiest. Home made router table -- yes. Saper and planer -- no. Small compressor -- yes. Framing nail gun -- no. Compound sliding mitre saw -- yes. Floor mounted drill press -- no. Portable table saw --yes. Professional cabinet maker's version -- no. Small tractor and tiller -- yes. Front end loader and harrower -- no.

Now, to the point. Why does he have seven kinds of hammer, five staple guns, four drills, a dozen or more saws in both hand and power, numerous chisels, and more screwdrivers than you can count? Because in tools, simplicity and specialization matter. A good professional's tool does one or two jobs better than any known alternative. If you want to do something else, use another tool.

You don't use a ball peen hammer for framing, a staple gun to loosen bolts, a reciprocating saw to make fine cuts in mouldings, a quarter inch drive socket on wheel nuts, a large propane torch for soldering a circuit board, welder's pliers to press ethernet outlets, a garden rake for grass, a chain saw on gyprock, a Robertson bit in a torx screw, or a fine knife as a screwdriver or prybar.

A hammer drill has a different problem domain than a brace and bit, an impact driver, or a wood drill. Ditto a laser level and a bullet level, a wood chisel and a cold chisel, a machine screw, gyprock screw, deck screw, and indoor wood screw, interior and exterior paint (and stain), a putty knife and a taping knife, a notched flooring mastic trowel and a bricklayer’s trowel, a finishing nail, spiral nail, ring nail and a common spike (bright or galvanized)--never mind that a half inch number eight wood screw and a number seven metric five centimetre machine screw ain't the same wee beastie as a self drilling cap-style sheet metal screw or a set screw, and a lag bolt is a screw that isn't even called a screw.

Yes and there are dozens of types and grits of sandpaper, nearly a hundred varieties of screwdriver bit, and more than that of sockets, the latter coming in metric and SAE for numerous bolt head measurements, four drive sizes, at least four different points, two or more lengths, and both impact and non-impact rated. Throw in articulators, hex style bits, stars, extenders, adapters, half a dozen ratchet handles and a breaker bar or two, and you've overflowed the largest roller chest drawer. Moreover, there are many other kinds of wrenches, not to mention pliers. In his parts drawers, the Spy must have at least thirty kinds each of roll bar, key, cotter pin, and o-ring, and half a dozen spray heads for his pressure washer.

It should be obvious that by contrast to the simple speciality tool, bit, or part that is best at its one (sub-)job, general-purpose multi-tools are things you slip in your pocket or glove compartment for quick-and-dirty work in emergencies or going camping. They don't rate precious space in your tool belt or box for serious projects.

Equally obvious ought to be that having multiple programming languages does serve a purpose, despite appearing like a zoo to the historian of such matters. Fortran still has a following, if for no other reason than its extensive numerical analysis, linear algebra, and other mathematical libraries. Likewise APL/J for its plethora of built in operators. Despite the diminishing problem domain, PROLOG is still useful in AI, and simple languages like Pascal, Modula-2 and Java for teaching. There may be more functioning lines of code in COBOL than any other language, and people still use JCL and RPG.

Ada failed not because it came out of the military establishment, but for the same reason as PL/1. By trying to be all things to all people, it failed the test of a focused, and therefore useful tool. C++ has a similar problem, and is today used only because of its enormous installed base and because it grew into its unmanageable complexity. Had it begun where it is now, it wouldn't have been accepted. Even a general purpose language ought to be simple to learn, teach, and use. It should at minimum be reasonably orthogonal, reasonably context free--for the lack of which VBA earns honours as the least well-defined notation of them all.

The same is true for our computing hardware and software tools. In the long run, the Swiss-army-officer's knife approach to computing can only be taken so far before it is doomed to failure. On the hardware side, this means that, despite some convergence and overlap, there will always be different uses for pocket devices, under the arm slates, portable computers, and larger iron desktops. Where we keep and use these different devices in part predetermines the problem domain for which they are capable of being useful.

One might tinker away at some writing on the airplane and in the hotel room, but for day after day serious writing of 10K words or more, the comfortable desk chair, ergonomic keyboard, large trackball, and the biggest, highest resolution monitor one can afford are so incomparably better they put the mobile little brother in the shade.

On the other hand, web browsing shouldn't even be done as work. Catching up on the news via a collection of RSS feeds into a reader is an ideal occupation to redeem a pot stirring, bus wait or train ride. And, a pad or pod is a perfect container for those twenty English Bible translations, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew with notes, and half a hundred references commentaries with which you dissect the sermon on the fly, instead of having to wait till you're home and done Sunday dinner. Adding another hundred volumes weighs nothing in the briefcase, and if you're on vacation, throw in a few dozen novels to while away the time while soaking up some rays. Who takes a desktop to either venue?

A medical professional making rounds in a hospital needs something bigger than a pod/phone, and the iPad (no other slates are worth mentioning) is the perfect replacement for the bound notebook, for it can connect to the hospital database, whose memory, unlike the human -- another specialization) is at least usually more consistent, even if it may not always be correct if not updated properly by all involved.

Thus, there will also always be differences between pocket and professional operating systems and applications, and between varieties of applications for purposes that are only loosely similar. Writing letters, memos, and small documents ain't the same problem domain as writing novels, or creating code, and its not likely that a text processor optimized for one will be comfortable for practitioners of another. It is even less likely that anyone could produce an application to do all three even passably well.

Indeed, this is why the Spy uses BBEdit for code production and web sites, NisusWriter Pro for the bulk of his general purpose documents, including this column, and Scrivener to write novels -- and unless traveling to a board meeting, does all these things on a desk, not with an iDevice (yet performs much of his browsing on the latter). It goes to the heart of why he regards Excel as best in its speciality class, but cannot abide Word for its bloated and confusing attempts to be all things to all writers that render it mediocre at best for anything.

It probably explains (in part) the genius of Steve Jobs, who though he ostensibly dictated closed box one-size fits-all devices, actually differentiated his product line so that one size targeted all parts of a specific problem domain, but not every problem domain.

An iPhone isn't an iPad isn't a portable Mac, isn't a desktop. Ditto apps. Converge features all you want, but there are several tools there, each with their own uses. Buy the ones useful for the kind of problems you want to solve, and leave the others on the store shelf.

The Fourth Civilization (wo)man is that semi-mythical someone the Spy has talked about many times before, most notably in his September 2004 column and in the article on the compleat human being at the Sheaves URL mentioned below. (Caution: the latter site contains graphic and explicit Christian language of a kind some readers may deem offensive. If in that category, rely on your memory of Heinlein's discourse on the human being elsewhere and skip the Spy's elaboration to the Christian Human being.)

In brief, Heinlein at some length described the Human being as a generalist, and concluded "Specialization is for insects." The Spy offers a new version (now to be the Spy's eleventh law) adapted for technology, whether low or high.

Effective fourth civilization professionals are educated as generalists. They train and specialize via their appropriate choice of tools.

Intentionality is assumed in tool choice--one reason why the Spy sides with Penrose rather than Minsky of the issue of artificial intelligence (computing tools will always be just as dumb as a bag of hammers). Note also the part on education. In general, this means a Liberal Arts education so the citizen of this age is a broadly literate, informed, and capable problem solver. In the specific instance of a programmer, it means that the one-language hacker who learned his skills at Joe's computing school (meeting Tuesday nights above his garage and machine shop) may be able to work as low-level code slingers in the industry for a time, but will never perform like, promote so easily, or even outlast the liberal arts university graduate with a broad problem solving and software engineering mindset and a degree in computing science.

That's why the Spy plies his day job as professor of computing science and mathematics at Trinity Western University. Hey folks. It's not too late to sign up for the fall.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several organizations, including in the corporate sector, and participated in industry standards at the national and international level.

He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and six novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:
Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
opundo : http://opundo.com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com
Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

URLs for items mentioned in this column
Heinlein and Sutcliffe: http://sheaves.org/sheavings/thecompleatchristian.html
BBEdit: http://www.bbedit.com
Scrivener: http://literatureandlatte.com
Word: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

calibre 2.17 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
OmniGraffle Pro 6.1.2 - Create diagrams,...
OmniGraffle Pro helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use... Read more
OmniGraffle 6.1.2 - Create diagrams, flo...
OmniGraffle helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use Graffle to... Read more
RoboForm 2.0.2 - Password manager; syncs...
RoboForm is a password manager that offers one-click login, mobile syncing, easy form filling, and reliable security. Password Manager. RoboForm remembers your passwords so you don't have to! Just... Read more
Apple MainStage 3.1 - Live performance t...
Love the sound you got on your recording? MainStage 3 makes it easy to bring all the same instruments and effects to the stage. Everything from the Sound Library and Smart Controls you're familiar... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0.2 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.44 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
Stacks 2.6.9 - New way to create pages i...
Stacks is a new way to create pages in RapidWeaver. It's a plugin designed to combine drag-and-drop simplicity with the power of fluid layout. Features: Fluid Layout: Stacks lets you build pages... Read more
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Ea...
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is a new science-fiction-themed entry into the award-winning Civilization series. Set in the future, global events have destabilized the world leading to a... Read more
Logic Pro X 10.1 - Music creation and au...
Apple Logic Pro X is the most advanced version of Logic ever. Sophisticated new tools for professional songwriting, editing, and mixing are built around a modern interface that's designed to get... Read more

Choice Provisions is Set to Launch Destr...
Choice Provisions is Set to Launch Destructamundo on iOS This Month Posted by Tre Lawrence on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] Choice Provisions – home stable to | Read more »
King of Thieves – An Interview With Zept...
Ahead of the release of ZeptoLab’s King of Thieves, we were able to ask ZeptoLab’s co-founder, Semyon Voinov, a few questions about the inspiration behind the game and what that means for the Cut the Rope franchise. | Read more »
Handle Review
Handle Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: SPEEDY ORGANIZINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Handle is a very convenient way of juggling your emails, To Do list, and Calendar all through one... | Read more »
The New Disney Inquizitive App Offers a...
The New Disney Inquizitive App Offers a Place for Fans to Take Disney Quizzes Posted by Tre Lawrence on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Hands-On With Cut the Rope Developer Zep...
Marking quite a departure from ZeptoLab’s past successes, namely the Cut The Rope series, King of Thieves is shaping up to be quite promising. Due for release in February, we were lucky enough to have some time with a preview build to see exactly... | Read more »
Fast Fishing Review
Fast Fishing Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: LIVES UP TO ITS NAMEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fishing is far from relaxing in Fast Fishing, but it is fun.   | Read more »
The LEGO Movie Video Game is Available N...
The LEGO Movie Video Game is Available Now for iOS Posted by Ellis Spice on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Satellina Review
Satellina Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: TWITCHY BUT TACTICALUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Satellina requires quick thinking and twitchy fingers, and it’s pretty fun.   | Read more »
Tail Drift, the Crazy 360 Degree Flyer,...
Tail Drift, the Crazy 360 Degree Flyer, Has Gone Free-to-Play in a New Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 22nd, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
PureSkate 2 Review
PureSkate 2 Review By Tre Lawrence on January 22nd, 2015 Our Rating: :: ALMOST ALL AIRUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad PureSkate 2 lets one’s fingers do the skateboarding.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus GIve Apple Half Of US Mob...
Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, LLC (CIRP) have released analysis of the results of its research on mobile phone manufacturers for the calendar quarter that ended December 31,... Read more
Save $100 on MacBook Airs with 256GB of stora...
B&H Photo has 256GB MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook... Read more
21-inch 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179, save $...
B&H Photo has the 21″ 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model from any... Read more
iPhone Usage Rates by State Correlate With Ed...
Chitika Insights notes that despite iPhones being the largest source of smartphone Internet traffic in North America, their latest study finds a relatively high degree of variation of iPhone usage... Read more
ProGearX Extendable Pole “Pov/Selfie Stick” M...
There’s something inescapably narcissistic about the concept of selfies as they’ve developed as a smartphone-driven social (particularly social media) phenomenon that rubs me the wrong way. However,... Read more
iPad Air 2 on sale for up to $100 off MSRP, 2...
 Best Buy has iPad Air 2s on sale for up to $100 off MSRP on their online store for the next two days. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices available for online... Read more
Roundup of Apple refurbished MacBook Pros and...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Sale! 13-inch 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro for $...
 B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1599 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model... Read more
Next OS X/iOS Version Upgrades Should Concent...
On stage at Apple’s World Wide Developers’ Conference in June 2009, Bertrand Serlet, the company’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at the time, announced that the forthcoming OS X... Read more
First National Bank to Offer Apple Pay Adds I...
First National Bank will make Apple Pay available to customers beginning in the first quarter of 2015. Apple Pay will enable customers to easily make secure mobile payments with their First National... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
*Apple* Lead Operator, GSOC - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Apple is seeking an exceptional, customer service oriented and experienced persons to fulfill the role of Apple Lead Operator (ALO) as part of the Read more
Order Support Supervisor- *Apple* Online Sto...
**Job Summary** The Apple Online Store (AOS) Order Administration team is looking for an Order Support Supervisor to manage and lead a team of Specialists through the Read more
Senior Program Manager, *Apple* Online Supp...
**Job Summary** The Apple Online Support Planning team is looking for an experienced Senior Project Manager to lead key Quality program initiatives across the Online Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.