Motivated by laziness

Wed 22 January 2014

Computers are the greatest inventions for lazy people ever. Just today, my wife ordered dinner while lying in bed. Awesome!

I’m a big fan of laziness through ingenuity. This means clever design resulting in great reward for minimal effort. One way I measure effort is how many keystrokes I need to fulfill a certain task over my lifetime. So if I do a task that takes ~300 keystrokes, but I’ll probably only do it once in my life, then I just do it and get it over with. However, once it becomes apparent that a task will be done several times in my life (or week, or day), it’s time to script.

As an example, here’s the evolution of how I check DNS records.

  • Originally, it involved cd’ing to the directory (e.g. cd ~/src/chef/cookbooks/dns/). I’ll use git grep to find the record, but I’ll do a git checkout master; git pull upstream master to make sure I’ve got the latest records.
  • Given the frequency I run git checkout master and git pull upstream master, it makes sense to use git’s alias functionality to shorten them to git com and git pum. Bonus - this makes other parts of my workflow faster.
  • Another part that takes a bunch of keystrokes is changing to the DNS cookbook directory. I alias dns_cookbook to cd ~/src/chef/cookbooks/dns. This is much shorter and easier to remember, and I get tab completion as well. Bonus - this also makes it quicker to get to the directory for other DNS tasks.
  • There’s 4 separate steps so far: changing directory, checking out master, pulling the upstream master, and running git grep. Seems ripe for a script, right? I create a little shell script called dnsgrep, which passes its argument to git grep. Bonus - I can tab complete dnsgrep with "dnsg<tab>", so it’s really only 5 keystrokes

So in summary:

cd ~/src/chef/cookbooks/dns; git checkout master; git pull upstream master; git grep <thing>

vs.

dnsgrep <thing>

I save 77 keystrokes every time I want to do this. Assuming I do this at least 250 times a year (at least), that’s 19250 keystrokes saved (after the initial scripting).

The important part in this win isn’t the keystrokes saved, though. It’s the amount of mental exertion required.

  • "I want to grep DNS records"
  • "I change directories"
  • "I check out master"
  • "I pull upstream master"
  • "I grep DNS records"

vs.

  • "I want to grep DNS records"
  • "I grep DNS records"

I’ve removed the steps between "I want" and "I do". I get to be lazy, I get results faster, and drastically reduced the possibility of typing error.

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