Thursday, November 3, 2011

20 Years of VIM

VIM has now been out for 20 years. Ars has a nice article on it. It is my editor of choice on *nix based systems, but things weren't always that way. I remember when I first used vim (it may have even been an earlier clone, but probably not vi itself) , I hated it - it didn't make any sense. I was in highschool at the time, probably 14 years old. At the time I used pico since it was similar to MSDOS' EDIT.

It wasn't until I was in college that I truly got an appreciation for vim. I saw one of my professors using it to write code, and he was so incredibly fast it amazed me. It got me interested in how to use vim. Once you take the time to learn a few things about how it works, it's very useful. I still am a vim novice, I know enough to "miss" certain features when I am not using vim, but not enough to be a jedi master of vim (I'm a long ways away from that).

I'm going to take this anniversary as an opportunity to learn some new tricks in VIM. I wouldn't be surprised if I sum up some of the most frequent commands I use in a future post.

While I don't think software should generally have a steep learning curve, in the context of an editor for highly technical users, it makes sense to invest your time really learning an editor. The Pragmatic Programmer tells us to Use A Single Editor Well for a reason - there are real productivity benefits. I'm curious how many users take the time to learn an advanced editor like vim, emacs, or the ins and outs of something like Textmate. 

I think being under active development after 20 years is a pretty awesome accomplishment in software. How many projects have that kind of life span these days? A toast to you, VIM! To another 20 years of active development!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's PragProWriMo again

It's November 1st. That means it's Pragmatic Programmer Writing Month (PragProWriMo) time again. Itself a spin off of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).This will be my third year trying to participate in my own way.

My goal for the month is not to write a book. I take this as an opportunity to encourage myself to blog about technical topics every day for the month. Over time, my blog has become at the very least a resource for myself to find solutions or answers to simple problems I've encountered previously. I find writing every day for a month is both challenging and rewarding.

I lot has happened since last year. My job role has changed, my whole life has been changing (thanks to Jesus Christ), and I just got married last month. I've yet to determine what I will write about this month.

For tonight, I will just state a simple piece of technology that improves my world. Technology often advances just for the sake of advancement, and I'm not always sure a given new technology noticeably improves my life. Occasionally, I'll see something and go wow - why didn't this happen earlier. Why isn't this a feature of every widget? What's one of those things? The dripless pour spout on my new electric kettle. How many times have liquids (hot or otherwise) been spilled on countertops, on hands, everywhere, because a container has a spout that's prone to dripping everywhere? Somebody took the time to design one that DOES NOT DRIP regardless of how slow you tilt it. No messes because you poured too slow, or poured too fast to avoid a drip from pouring too slow.

And where is it on the features list? Not even listed on the vendor's website. It was listed on the box somewhere, though. (but isn't why I bought it - I wanted the programmable temperatures as I'm an avid tea drinker and boiling isn't enough flexibility)

Why doesn't every pitcher-like container have a no-drip spout? How many years do you think it will be until every new product has it? It saddens me that it may be quite some time. (5 years, 10 years, more?)

I find this "small touch" feature that is easily overlooked since the user can just deal with having to tread carefully and pour exactly right, or drip and spill liquids, maps over fairly well into the software world. Too often we let the user just deal with stupid, simple, easily fixable problems. We could fix them, but we don't spend the time. These type of problems agitate me more and more as I work with technology. Focusing on the small stuff MATTERS. It makes an IMPACT. This no-drip spout pitcher impresses me more than any other piece of technology I've seen this year - even more than Siri (which is really, really cool). I think more companies need to focus on the small details - it's something I believe Apple does quite well. Focus on no-drip pour spouts. Delight users with that simple, saves-you-10-seconds every day type of boring feature. Nothing frustrates me more than wasting my time on something easily fixed or automated.

I bet not a lot of people get excited about no-drip pour spouts - but I do. That's how I roll.