When using software tools, hardware devices, and mechanical contraptions, do you always follow a certain sequence of operations on the basis that you know this sequence works?
I was entering an article into the EETimes content management system (CMS) the other day when I started to ponder the order in which I performed certain actions. This led me to ruminate on the reasons why...
But first let me say that one of my favorite science fiction stories when I was a teenager was Mindswap by Robert Sheckley. This is set some time in the future. The human race has made contact with many alien worlds, but interstellar travel in the traditional form -- physically moving one's body from one planet to another on a spaceship -- is extremely expensive.
The alternative is to use a low-cost service called "MindSwap," which temporarily switches your consciousness with that of an alien being who wishes to visit your world. This way, both of you can inhabit a new body and experience new surroundings while still maintaining your own personality and memories.
This is what our hero -- a young lad named Marvin -- determines to do, so he uses the Mindswap service to exchange minds with a being from Mars. Soon after he (or his mind) arrives, however, his problems start. It turns out the body he is currently inhabiting was rented to multiple creatures. Unfortunately, Marvin was not the first to sign the agreement, so the judge informs Marvin that he has only a few hours to evacuate the body he is in. Even worse, the consciousness of the alien who swapped with Marvin has run off with his original body. Marvin's only recourse is to go to the Open Market, where smaller, independent operators provide a Mindswap service of a more dubious quality.
Not surprisingly, our hero ends up having a lot of interesting adventures. In the course of his travels, Marvin ends up in the body of a Melden with the task of hunting Ganzer eggs, which, he is informed, find many uses as aphrodisiacs and love objects on various planets. Marvin is somewhat surprised to find that he himself is being hunted by an adult Ganzer, because, it turns out, Melden hides also find use (after curing and tanning) "as imperial vestments on Triana II, for good luck charms on Nemo, and for seat covers on Chrysler XXX."
I don’t mind saying that things are starting to look just a tad bleak until Marvin is introduced to "The Hermit." Initially, the Hermit talks only in rhyme, and he won’t respond to Marvin unless he does likewise. Sometime later, they end up in the Hermit's hut, at which point he reverts to a more regular speech pattern. When Marvin queries this, the Hermit informs him that the reason he speaks in verse outside is to protect himself.
There then follows a lively debate, in which Marvin argues that speaking in verse cannot protect anyone from anything. Eventually, Marvin responds to one of the Hermit's thrusts by saying: "I don’t try to walk on water because I've seen men drown." In turn, the hermit responds: "And I do not speak a prose language outside because I have seen too many men killed while speaking it; but I have not seen one single verse-speaker killed."
As you can imagine, it's hard to argue with logic like that. All of which leads us to the point of my trip down memory lane (yes, there really is a point, try to keep up with me). In the case of the EE Times CMS, there are multiple routes one might choose to enter a column. I could perform one action first and then another, or I could -- theoretically -- perform the second action before the first. The thing is that I always do things in exactly the same way because I know that way works. I could try doing things another way, but to what end?
And then I started wondering... Is it just me? Am I crazy? Or does everyone do this sort of thing? Consider the software tools and hardware devices and mechanical contraptions with which you interact each day. Do you use them willy-nilly as the whim takes you, or do you follow a certain sequence of operations on the basis that you know this sequence works and you don’t wish to tempt the fates?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting