Yak Shaving, or “How I Spent my Weekend”

My goals for the weekend were to get through the Codeschool Jquery course and add a new feature to our team project.

I was about half-way through the course and getting incredibly restless. One of the videos was taking a long time to load (long time = 3 milliseconds), so I thought, “I’ll just pop over to Twitter for a second while that loads.”


I just don’t understand why anyone would write a language with this many parenthesis.

Within about a half a millisecond, an account I’d never seen before, @JSDigest, retweeted me. It was scary how fast it happened. I was like, “What?! Were you just looking at my profile, waiting for me to click submit?”

Then I popped over to @JSDigest’s page, and saw that everything was just a retweet with #javascript. So I thought, “Okay, that makes sense. It’s a Tweet Bot.”

“Hmmmm…..I should probably test it just to be sure.”

Testing to see if JavaScript Digest is a robot that retweets everything with the hashtag

So I waited a whole 5 milliseconds, and it didn’t retweet me. I thought, “What?! Wait…what if it’s not a Tweet Bot? Let me test that.”

I tweeted something with #javascript, and again it didn’t retweet me. Then it retweeted something in Arabic!!!

What the hell, TweetBot?

@ passed my Turing test, but I’m still convinced it’s a clever Tweet-bot. It just retweeted Arabic.

And it retweeted me!

This makes no sense. I’d better run the test suite again.

Tweeted again, and again it immediately retweeted me.

Okay, that makes sense. It is a TweetBot. It was probably just down for maintenance when I ran the first test.

Convinced I’d correctly identified it as a TweetBot, I tweeted one more time:

Yes! retweeted my comment. If it’s human, it’s a very sarcastic human. I like you, TweetBot.

And it followed me!

What?!! How does it know to follow me?

Okay, keep calm. It’s probably just counting the number of tweets with @js_digest. 3 tweets = follow. Got it. My world makes sense again.

But wait….what if it is a sarcastic human?

New development: followed me. This thing’s got some complex logic!  

 Immediate retweet.

Okay, this is getting weird. I’ve got to design a better Turing test. Somebody has to have written a TweetBot Turing test that can distinguish between TweetBots and sarcastic humans. I should Google that.

I pop over to the other Google Chrome tab and see the CodeSchool course staring at me reproachfully.

Yeah, I’ve been here for about a half hour. I was wondering when you’d stop running Turing tests and come back.

I thought, “Man, I really need to do something productive. I don’t think I can concentrate on Codeschool right now. Maybe I’ll try to work on the team project.”

I worked for a few minutes, and then I had to google “has_and_belongs_to_many”. That led me to the docs, which led me to some more docs, which led me to an article, which led me to a blog post, which led me to another blog post.

That last blog post mentioned “yak shaving”, so I googled that:


Coined by Carlin Vieri in his time at the MIT AI Lab (1993-8)[1] after viewing[2] a 1991 episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show featuring “Yak Shaving Day,” a Christmas-like Holiday where participants hang diapers instead of stockings, stuff rubber boots with cole slaw, and watch for the shaven yak to float by in his enchanted canoe.


yak shaving

(idiomatic) Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.

“I was doing a bit of yak shaving this morning, and it looks like it might have paid off.”

I was tempted to correct the article (the holiday is actually “Yaksmas”), but I refrained, thinking “I really should get back to that CodeSchool video.”

Or….I could write a blog post about this.

3 thoughts on “Yak Shaving, or “How I Spent my Weekend”

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