Daniel Lemire's blog

, 8 min read

You are your tools

10 thoughts on “You are your tools”

  1. rhubarb says:

    A great example for a tool user is the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann who used a „Zettelkasten“ (slip box) to structure everything that he read and wrote. In total his Zettelkasten contained > 90.000 index card-sized slips of paper. He read in the morning and wrote slips in the afternoon (several hours). The Zettelkasten became his extended mind and gave him the superhuman capabilities to write scholarly books (> 70) and articles (400), many of which are highly cited (in the thousands and hundreds of citations). When writing, he “communicated” with his Zettelkasten (as he once wrote in an essay on his method). He could basically draw out a random slip and then followed links, went deeper into the details, jumped to related topics, etc. He said that he does not know what he has in his Zettelkasten, what it will come up with and that it surprised him.


  2. Nathan Kurz says:

    > When others get the same work done as you do, only much faster,
    > they are almost surely using better tools.

    While this sometimes the case, I’m not sure how universal “better tools” is as an explanation. I think it also arises when the returns are nonlinear to the skill of the participant, or when there is some threshold of talent that much be overcome before productivity is even possible. There are lots of examples, but I’ll present you with just this one: http://www.foddy.net/Athletics.html.

    1. Once, reading and writing must have looked like magic to most people and well beyond their reach…

      1. Zachary A Trant says:

        Woah, we have a time traveller here guys. Please tell us more about the thoughts and beliefs of people that were dead hundreds of years before your birth, and as requisite per the topic, unable to record such thoughts for posterity. What an amazing gift you have!

        Additionally, literacy is far from a given in any developed country, and as an educator I would expect you to know that. It’s around 86% in the US, and “the dumbest kids in highschool” are the very ones who never learn.

        You have some valid points, and obviously valuable insight to share. It’s a shame you insisted on burying the nuggets of what you know under a pile of the shit you don’t.

        1. Modern-day illiteracy is not defined as the inability to read and write. We do expect the dumbest high school kid to write his name and be able to read words. The dumbest high school kid may not be able to read and understand a set of instructions (say, a non-trivial recipe), but that’s a different problem.

          Early civilizations had professional “writers” (scribes). Of course, I am speculating when I write that it “must have looked like magic to most people and well beyond their reach…” I do not know how it looked and as you point out, we may never know. I do think that my speculation is warranted, however.

    2. Joe says:

      On the other hand, different styles of practice can lead to different results. If you think about it, Deliberate Practice is really a type of tool that can help you improve more quickly when compared to other


  3. jld says:

    LOL, this is only a hardcore lefty opinion.

    1. JGood says:

      How do you figure? One could argue that many on the “right” state that we have equal opportunity to everyone. By this theory, anyone can be anything. Author here states that tools make that possible.

      Seems like a right-wing ideal. Also, your thought didn’t really add anything to the discussion – maybe you need better tools..

  4. You make some good points. One of the challenges of learning new tools, though, is how much time you have to spend to learn them and whether or not they actually pay off in the end.

    Learning a new tool can burn a lot of your productivity until you’ve mastered it or at least gotten to the first plateau. I believe the most important part of the process–where you get the biggest win–is honing your ability to find and identify the right tools before investing a lot of time or effort in learning them.

  5. Moz says: