pcm@mira.net posted somewhere in some time faraway that, “elegant (and relevant) tools inspire the user to create elegant solutions.”

That myth has been with me for over twenty years. And from time to time I would re-examine it before faithfully filing it away; somehow never questioning the underlying premise of the idea.

The thought of it popped up during my run today to which it began to turn over and over in my mind until it finally occurred to me that it was pure and utter crap.

Linking elegant tools and elegant solutions is a lovely sentiment but the fact is that tools, elegant or otherwise, do not inspire elegant solutions. Now a tool might inspire a solution; but an elegant solution? Balderdash.

Example. You see that box of screws and a screwdriver lying on your workbench that you initially purchased to put up a shelf in the laundry room. Until at some point where like after about the 100th time you walk past it finally dawns on you that there lies the solution to fixing the squeak in the basement step. Drive enough screws through the step and at some point it will stop squeaking. It might not look very pretty when you’re done but at least the annoying squeak is gone.

It is a caveman, brute force kind of thing. You spend hours squatting by the fire every evening and your eyes are lovingly drawn to those four handmade tools that are stacked in the corner and eventually you are going to come up with new uses for them. Not very elegant, but some new shit does finally in fact get done.

Might we consider a Mont Blanc writing-instrument to lend, “effortless sophistication and timeless elegance?” I think their pens are pretty damn elegant. But will that little star on the nob make a poor writer into a better and more successful writer? Probably not.

But what gives a tool elegance anyway? Is it about things like handmade German knives, custom crafted shotguns, garden utensils over constructed from hand-forged Japanese steel?

I remember the SR-71 to have been one damned fine elegant airplane. But it wasn’t really a tool as such. The SR-71 really was something more like a bunch of really elegant tools all fitted elegantly together under the same titanium skin.

Did the SR-71 inspire elegant solutions? No, sadly just the opposite. The air force scrapped them, tore up the plans, and destroyed all the custom tools that it took to build them. Then they replaced them with pilotless drones composed chiefly of commercial grade electronics and polymer composites – and that’s plastics to you my friend.

Now, throwing in the parenthesis – “and relevant” – was a real ass-saver wasn’t it? So it seems elegant tools also have to be relevant in order to create elegant solutions. And using relevant tools is kind of self-explanatory meaning if one is intending to drive screws then a hammer shouldn’t be your first choice of tools.

Someone wisely addressed this conundrum – albeit tangentially – when they said that ‘when the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem comes to resemble a nail.’

So tools should be relevant. And it follows on that the mere possession of more tools increases the likelihood that you’ll choose the most relevant tool. I like that. That elegant expression – posing as an axiom – is now making a little bit more sense.

I’ve heard it said that a skilled old-school carpenter can build a house – that’s any house, up to and including a palace – with just four tools: a hammer, a carpenter’s square, a handsaw, and a plumb bob. Those are all pretty simple tools and are all about as elegant as a shovel and a pickaxe. Oh shit, here we go again.

Maybe we should start over and ask just what constitutes an elegant solution and then work backwards.
But let’s save that for later, okay?

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