[xplorer˛] — The efficiency bug
home » blog » 28 January 2007 [philosophical]

"Scrutinize the mosquito and devour the camel wholesome" — The Bible(?)

The other day Raymond Chen gave a little lecture on how they made windows explorer so efficient by tending to little details like not updating the toolbar state for the Paste button. Raymond is a good egg and has given loads of help to the developer community, but surely "explorer" and "efficient" in the same sentence is a contradiction in terms. Whatever trifle of improvement he achieves with the Paste button the team next door at microsoft will find a way to overturn, giving us the resource hog that we all know as explorer.

Today, happily reminescing over the affair while preparing morning coffee, I cought myself in a somewhat similar situation. I drink so much coffee every day that the whole procedure is super optimized. First the water in the kettle (always put in the exact quantity for a single cup to avoid unnecessary delays) and then multitask getting coffee grounds in cup, milk out of the fridge, unscrew milk cap but leave in place (so that it is going to be quick to pour without risking infection from passing flies or other kitchen nasties). When the water is ready quickly pour it in, replace kettle, pour milk, screw bottle top, back in the fridge with you, stir with spoon, quick rinse of spoon (no soap required unless you lick it :) and you're there dude! Coffee #1 out of 30 under way.

So I saved myself a few milliseconds by super-optimizing the coffee making procedure. Multiply that x30 a day and you have nearly a second of extra time. Is it worth the effort and stress? Surely, if you add all the seconds saved over your lifetime, why, you can have yourself a whole extra hour in bed. But isn't it like the Paste button update in the end? Too much fuss about next to nothing.

Now that we've established that there is no actual advantage to be made by being super efficient coffee maker, how can we explain the pleasure I get out of saving those milliseconds? Unless you are an incurable sceptic you have to concede that it must be an "optimization gene" (or bug?) hard wired that makes us feel very happy and complete when we manage to trim down daily repetitive actions to their bare essentials.

In the UK we have these super-fast kettles that can boil a cupful of water in something like under 1 minute. Horror of horrors whenever we have to travel somewhere with traditional boiling equipment... is that thing broken? I'm not getting younger here. Help, somebody! :)

Perhaps you'll understand the feeling if you put yourself in the situation where you are using a new PC, perhaps helping a friend, and the damn thing only has windows explorer on. OMG! No, I said I want detailed view like the other folder, hear? Can we have the status bar on please? Who made this? (I know you tried your best Raymond). But if you think about it in actual terms, how much is in it? Say that you have to waste 1 second for each folder visited to turn it into detailed view in spite of explorer's insistence on large icons. Is that the end of the world? Not really. That's why so many people still find explorer adequate. They must be lacking the optimization gene.

So there you have it, your addiction to xplorer˛ scientifically explained :)

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