yak shaving : Java Glossary


yak shaving
You have probably noticed how the tiniest Java programming project, or home improvement project often grows seemingly without bound. You start to do something very simple. You need a tool to do that. You notice the tool need to be tuned a bit to do the job properly. So you set out to sharpen the tool. To do that, you need to read some documentation. In the process, you notice the documentation is obsolete. So you set out to update the documentation… This chain goes on and on. Eventually you can unwind your to-do stack.

The informal term yak shaving has seven related meanings:

  1. One of the fundamental properties of the universe, namely the way the time to complete a simple task seems to grow without bounds because to accomplish the goal you must complete a subgoal before you can complete the goal. But to complete the subgoal, you must complete yet another sub goal, recursively.
  2. The last step of a series of recursive sub goals you need to accomplish before you can finally accomplish what you set out to do.
  3. Any apparently useless, possibly non-recursive, activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.
  4. Stuck in the middle of a stack of stuff you're supposed to do? Sharpen your wool clippers and stop getting distracted by the pointless activities which surround any serious problem — unless you want to, that is.
  5. There’s a Hole in the Bucket-style procrastination excuses.
  6. Engaging in pointless and silly but traditional activities.
  7. Collecting wool from yaks to create garments. click to see photograph
Carlin Vieri coined the term based on the plot of an episode of a Ren and Stimpy animated cartoon. The characters prepare for a parody of Christmas called Yak Shaving Day, where they extol ridiculous hallowed customs like filling their boots with coleslaw.

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