Yak Shaving

Every once in a while someone hears me use the phrase “yak shaving” to describe some activity and asks what I mean. Here is a superb example from my recent life:

  1. I want to lower the interest rate on my mortgage.
  2. So I start an application to refinance.
  3. During the application, I discover that my credit score is lower than I expect.
  4. So I pull my credit reports, and find an error.
  5. In order to dispute the error, I must supply supporting documents, including statements from the relevant credit card.
  6. I go to the web site of the credit card processor to download the statements.
  7. The problem happened because of a change of credit card processors, so the new one doesn’t have an online copy of the statement before the change, which I want to include in my dispute packet.
  8. The old processor doesn’t have the statement either, so I have to scan the paper copy from my records.
  9. I don’t have a scanner, so I photograph the pages one by one with my phone.
  10. They come out as separate jpegs, but I want to convert them to pdf to re-collate them into documents with pages.
  11. But when I run imagemagick to do that, it says “Not authorized”, which turns out to be due to a security vulnerability in GhostScript 9.24.
  12. The vulnerability has since been patched, but the over-careful imagemagick configuration remains, so I must edit my imagemagick config file to authorize converting jpegs to pdf.
  13. The location of this configuration file is tattooed on the hide of a Bedouin yak, and the only way to discover it is to guess the correct yak and remove enough of its hair.
  14. So here I am in the desert, razor in hand, diligently shaving yaks, because I wanted to lower the interest rate on my mortgage.

Doing this kind of task for this kind of reason is called “yak shaving”.