Radios Out of Coconuts

I salute the DIY spirit. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that is quintessentially American, from the start-ups to cowboy engineering to indie record labels. However, there’s a difference between DIY and using the wrong tool for the task when better tools are available to you at no cost. I see this repeatedly in my working experience.

For instance, why would you use Powerpoint when you had InDesign on your desktop? I hear excuses all the time – it’s the tool I know! It’s faster! It’s easier! Yet all of these phrases are just rationales people give for not learning a new tool and for remaining comfortable with what they know.

Likewise, you can use Word to do layout. I have when I had no other tools. However, that doesn’t change the fact that layout is not what Word was designed to do, and it does it extremely poorly. Yes, yes, I know that your grandmother uses Word to print out her recipies with backgrounds, but that is not what I mean by layout.

The funny thing is that while people generate excuses for using the wrong tool, they will also spend their time complaining about it. It is one of my flaws, that I have very little patience for that. JUST LEARN THE RIGHT TOOL ALREADY! I really empathize with the geek/hacker shirts like this one from ThinkGeek right about then.

There’s something perverse in people. Rather than admit that tools are designed for different functions, they refuse to believe anyone that tells them that. To which, I have to shrug and walk away. If you don’t understand the reason for a tool’s existence, then you’re broadcasting your ignorance of what you’re doing, point blank. So they continue to shout their ignorance and then they curse the tool they’re using, instead. *bangs head* *bangs head* *bangs head*

Yes, while it is kind of amazing that you can create animations in Powerpoint, doing that is like making a radio out of coconuts, a la the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. It’s like the geeks that spend all their time maintaining their jerry-rigged best-of-breed homegrown server, but no time actually USING it. It’s like people that create anything Rube Goldberg. Congratulations. I am impressed that you’ve done something, but I’m also stunned that you’ve spent so much time barking up the wrong tree.

Of course, nobody bothers to ask such wunderkin, “How GOOD is what you’ve actually created at what it’s supposed to be?” The Professor’s radio worked – that was the amazing part, not that it advanced the field of electronics, not that it led to breakthroughs in how we think of electricity. Likewise, the geeks. They’ve created something functional but of little value except to be able to brag that they did it. In the past, people called this “learning”, and that’s a waypoint, not a destination. Too many people, I think, are satisfied with simply learning how to force one thing into doing something it does not well, which is a huge waste of resources, effort, time, and frankly intellect. It is a category mistake. It is, barking up the wrong tree.

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