The Rubber Duck

Rubber Duck

One day after a family outing, I returned to the parking lot to find a little rubber duck on my Jeep’s door handle. There was nobody else around, so I thought perhaps a child set it there, got distracted, and forgot about it. My wife suspected there was more to it though, so she did a quick web search and it turns out the duck was definitely left there on purpose.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is an actual thing among Jeep owners (mine was new, so I had no idea). It was started in 2020 by someone in Canada named Allison Parliament at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since taken a life of its own among Jeep owners.

If you drive a Jeep, other owners may leave a rubber duck on your car just for the simple purpose of “brightening your day” and acknowleging your like-minded taste in vehicles. The “ducker” doesn’t get anything from it, because they are long gone before the recipient finds the rubber duck. A simple act of kindness from a complete stranger, which is increasingly rare these days. It may sound corny (and really is), but it makes me smile whenever I return to my vehicle to find a new duck waiting (it’s a rare enough occurrence that it never gets annoying).

This little discovery and the subsequent finding of its meaning was kind of like uncovering an easter egg in a game or app, but in real life. Since my first encounter, I’ve left a few ducks myself.

Which brings me to a strange coincidence…

There’s a concept known to programmers called rubber duck debugging, which entails explaining a problem to a rubber duck and—like magic—the solution presents itself. It sounds crazy, but it really works! By getting the problem out of your head and explaining it coherently to another person (or duck), the solution often becomes apparent.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a duck (or rubber), but the idea has caught on well enough that the rubber duck has become somewhat of a whimsical mascot for some developers around the world.

As for myself, there’s been many times I found a solution just by speaking the problem out loud, or typing it out to someone via chat. I might ask someone a question on Slack and before I hit Send, the process of explaining the issue has already brought the solution to mind. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s helped enough for it to become a viable step in the debugging process whenever I get stuck. And thanks to my Jeep, I always have a rubber duck on hand.

The rubber duck being a helpful aid and friendly symbol intended to bring joy to others (even in just a small way) is the perfect analogue to my goals for this site. Because of that, and the fact that the rubber duck seems insistent on making its way into my life, I went ahead and gave it prominent little place at the top of my website.

Quack, quack (or squeak?).