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

Ember 1.8.3 - Versatile digital scrapboo...
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
Apple iTunes 12.1 - Manage your music, m...
Apple iTunes lets you organize and play digital music and video on your computer. It can automatically download new music, app, and book purchases across all your devices and computers. And it's a... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.3 - Free, open-source of...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
FoldersSynchronizer 4.2.1 - Synchronize...
FoldersSynchronizer is a popular and useful utility that synchronizes and backs-up files, folders, disks and boot disks. On each session you can apply special options like Timers, Multiple Folders,... Read more
Simon 4.0.2 - Monitor changes and crashe...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
Cocktail 8.1.2 - General maintenance and...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6.4 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Herald 5.0.2 - Notification plugin for M...
Note: Versions 2.1.3 (for OS X 10.7), 3.0.6 (for OS X 10.8), and 4.0.8 (for OS X 10.9) are no longer supported by the developer. Herald is a notification plugin for Mail.app, Apple's Mac OS X email... Read more
DEVONthink Pro 2.8.3 - Knowledge base, i...
Save 10% with our exclusive coupon code: MACUPDATE10 DEVONthink Pro is your essential assistant for today's world, where almost everything is digital. From shopping receipts to important research... Read more
Boom 2 1.0.1 - System-wide pro audio app...
Boom 2 is a system-wide volume booster and equalizer app that is designed especially for OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It comes with a smart interface, self-calibrates itself according to your Mac, offers... Read more

Playworld Superheroes Review
Playworld Superheroes Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: HERO CRAFTINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s all about the imagination, fighting bad creatures — and looking good while doing so.   | Read more »
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this...
Join the SpongeBob Bubble Party in this New Match 3 Bubble Poppin’ Frenzy Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Handpick Review
Handpick Review By Jennifer Allen on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: TANTALIZING SUGGESTIONSiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Handpick will make you hungry, as well as inspire you to cook something... | Read more »
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First St...
Storm the Halls of Echo Base in First Star Wars: Galactic Defense Event Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 30th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Contradiction Review
Contradiction Review By Tre Lawrence on January 30th, 2015 Our Rating: :: SPOT THE LIEiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Contradiction is a live action point and click adventure that’s pretty engaging.   Developer: Tim Follin... | Read more »
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with th...
Unlock Sunshine Girl in Ironkill with this special 148Apps code Posted by Rob Rich on January 29th, 2015 [ permalink ] Robo-fighter Ironkill has been out on iOS a | Read more »
Crossroad Zombies Review
Crossroad Zombies Review By Jordan Minor on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: CROSSWALKING DEADiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Crossroad Zombies is a rough draft of a cool genre mash-up.   | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 – Tips, Cheats, and Str...
War is hell: Is it the kind of hell you want to check out? Read our Blood Brothers 2 review to find out! Blood Brothers 2, DeNA’s follow-up to the original Blood Brothers, is an intriguing card collecting / role-playing / strategy hybrid. There’s... | Read more »
Blood Brothers 2 Review
Blood Brothers 2 Review By Nadia Oxford on January 29th, 2015 Our Rating: :: AN AGGRAVATING RELATIVEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Blood Brothers 2 is built on a simple, solid foundation, but its free-to-play system... | Read more »
I AM BREAD, the Toast of the Town, is Ro...
Have you ever dreamt of being deliciously gluten-y? Do you feel passionate about Rye and Wheat? The guys at Bossa Studios do and that is why they are bringing I AM BREAD to iOS soon. The loafy app will feature all the new content that is being... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Intel Aims to Transform Workplace With 5th-Ge...
Intel Corporation today announced the availability of its 5th generation Intel Core vPro processor family that provides cutting-edge features to enable a new and rapidly shifting workplace. To meet... Read more
iOS App Sharalike Introduces New Instant Smar...
Sharalike slideshow and photo management software for iOS, is making it easier than ever to create shareable meaningful moments with its new instant SmartShow technology. Staying organized is a goal... Read more
Apple Becomes World’s Largest Smartphone Vend...
According to the latest research data from Strategy Analytics, as global smartphone shipments grew 31 percent annually to reach a record 380 million units in the fourth quarter of 2014. Apple became... Read more
Cut the Cord: OtterBox Resurgence Power Case...
Dead batteries and broken phones are two of the biggest issues for smartphone users today. Otterbox addresses both with the new Resurgence Power Case for Apple iPhone 6, promising to make those panic... Read more
13-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1199.99 save $100 - 13″ 2.6GHz/... Read more
15-inch 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
 B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $2319.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $180 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Back in stock: Refurbished iPod nanos for $99...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 16GB iPod nanos available for $99 including free shipping and Apple’s standard one-year warranty. That’s $50 off the cost of new nanos. Most colors are... Read more
Apple lowers price on refurbished 256GB MacBo...
The Apple Store has lowered prices on Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Airs with 256GB SSDs, now available for up to $200 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included... Read more
New Good Management Suite Simplifies Enterpri...
Good Technology has announced the availability of the Good Management Suite, a comprehensive cross-platform solution for organizations getting started with mobile business initiatives. Built on the... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1489 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant- Retail Sales (...
**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
Event Director, *Apple* Retail Marketing -...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global engagement strategy and team. Delivering an overarching brand Read more
At-Home Chat Specialist- *Apple* Online Stor...
**Job Summary** At Apple , we believe in hard work, a fun environment, and the kind of creativity and innovation that only comes about when talented people from diverse Read more
SW QA Engineer - *Apple* TV - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple TV team is looking for experienced Quality Assurance Engineers with a passion for delivering first in class home entertainment solutions. **Key Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions(US) - Ap...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you re also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.