Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hurry! Fetch the 2×4 stretcher.

The mythical 2×4 stretcher analogy.

When I was in high school I worked with the school maintenance crew. This was in the late 1970s when schools were growing and therefore tearing down old buildings to construct new modern building on the site. Given that construction of the new building would take several years the problem of where to house classrooms durning the destruction/construction years was typically solved by building classrooms in the gym and auditorium. The first summer I worked with the crew we were constructing one of these temporary classrooms in a gym. I was the gopher for Ike, and old codger who was always up to something. One fellow was measuring and calling out dimensions and Ike and I were cutting 2×4s to length, as fast as we could go. I would hold the 2×4 on the saw horses and Ike would measure, mark, and cut, then I would run the piece over to a pair that would nail it in place. We were all working fast, a well functioning team. When Ike, exclaimed, “$#!T, I cut it too short, Koontz run get the 2×4 stretcher in the back tool box of my truck – hurry! You’ll know it when you see it.” So, off I run to find the stretcher. I pull out every tool in the truck’s toolbox, but the stretcher wasn’t there. So back in to tell Ike and he said “maybe I was using it at home and didn’t put it back, go get Jim’s, hurry! So out to Jim’s truck to rummage through his toolbox I went like a flash.

Well if you have every been played for the fool by a master craftsman such as Ike, you know that he can keep it up all day long, as long as you are hooked and on the string he is intense and serious, and has another place to look. After I finally wised up and “spit out the hook”, the whole crew fell on the floor laughing for 20 minutes. I joined in after about 15 minutes, of being mad and extremely embarrassed. That was the first of many exploits that Ike would lead us on that summer. He worked hard and played hard, all at the same time!

I don’t know of any 2×4 stretcher stories in the software industry, but everyone that has been the young apprentice on a construction site has been asked to go fetch the stretcher. So why are there no good fish tales in software? Well for one reason a 2×4 stretcher is possible in software – it is called a refactoring, for example: Extract Interface. Software is soft and malleable, the rest of the world is not. Therefore a 2×4 stretcher is funny on a construction site, but a real possibility in software.

This doesn’t mean we cannot have fun, however! Why I remember just starting out and having an upper-classmate help me with a sorting algorithm, he took my punch cards and dropped them on the floor.

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