The Programmer’s Folly: Simple is best

First, let me get this out in the open: I am not a marketer. I am not a content-organizer. I am a programmer. I like writing code, and I like creating new ways to do things. I like making things because it helps me see how they work — out-of-the-box-solutions bore me.

And that’s where I screw up

On Monday it was a national holiday here in Japan (勤労感謝の日) and I had about 4 hours to kill while the wife was out on her daily walk. I decided to work on my site — and what I needed more than anything was a nice heatmap to log user clicks.

I used the amazing ClickHeat which is a free heat-mapping application written in PHP. It works right out of the box, is amazingly configurable, and runs quickly thanks to it being written in clear PHP.

Wouldn’t this be great as a CakePHP Plugin!

This is where things start to get messy.

I love CakePHP. It makes development easy, is rather fast, and is highly extensible. So, I decided to wrap the ClickHeat application in a cake plugin, make it “easy to integrate” and put it in the CakePHP Bakery, instantly receiving fame, fortune and the accolades of my peers!

4 hours later

I had a mostly-working prototype that logged the data beautifully (although I couldn’t decide how to group the data on a dynamic site),  but didn’t have any of the nifty functions of the ClickHeat software such as sorting by date, admin panels, etc. because I hadn’t built those views yet. But I was hopeful!

Then my wife came home and I stopped programming for the day.

The next day, in 10 minutes

I decided to install ClickHeat on one of my corporate sites at work.

  1. Copy ClickHeat folder
  2. Set Cache & Log permissions
  3. Turn on Japanese Interface
  4. Done

10 minutes. In ten minutes I had accomplished what I couldn’t complete in 4 hours, because I was prepared to use an out-of-the-box solution instead of trying the be the programming bad-ass and integrate it with CakePHP.

So this morning, I copied the folder to my CakePHP dir, made one change to the .htaccess file:

RewriteRule    clickheat/(.*)   -   [L]

And now I have working heatmaps on my site. (I also put them on my wordpress blog, so that you can see them in action for yourself).

See the amazing Japanese Programming Heatmaps! (User: demo / Password: demo)

The final Score

So, what’s the final score?

Being a “bad-ass” programmer

  1. 4 Hours Development
  2. 1 extra hour of planning before sleep
  3. No Viewing Functionality
  4. Installation NOT user friendly
  5. Call time of 300ms per click for spinning up the cake processor
  6. Logging Works

Being a smart programmer

  1. 1 Change in my htaccess file
  2. 10 minutes to install/configure
  3. Call time of 150ms / click
  4. Not following “best practices” for cakephp

I think it’s pretty obvious what the best choice here is.

While I adore CakePHP and the things it lets you do simply by following convention — it’s very easy to get sucked into the “Best Practice” mindset, and waste a lot of time working on something that honestly doesn’t need to be tinkered with.

Don’t re-invent the wheel

It’s amazing how many times you can read that phrase and still find yourself re-inventing wheel after wheel after wheel. If you have a tool that does a job — use it. Do not worry about your fiddly code, and your “it’s not made here” mentality.

If the application is LACKING you can always edit it. But it makes no sense to start with something that does everything that you want, and then try to hack it apart just because you can. (Although I have to admit, it can be fun)

With those four hours, I could have

  • written 1 article for my site,
  • uploaded around 10 flashcard packs
  • added 2 tests to the site
  • read a book
  • played a lot of video games
  • watched a movie
  • watched four (4) episodes of Doctor Who or The Green Wing.

So Keith, this is a message to you:

  • Don’t be a tool
  • Use your time wisely
  • If something works, do NOT break it just because you want to see how it works.
  • (Eat your veggies — love mom)