Back in the saddle with Vim
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Back in the saddle with Vim

I’ve been a vi user for many, many years. In fact, I used to program in C on a MUD using ed (vi is the fancy version of ed). However, it’s been a long time since I used vi as my editor of choice for development work. I use it for hacking scripts, editing files on servers, and general purpose text editing in a terminal window, but most of the time I use Eclipse for Java and TextMate for pretty much everything else.

A lot of people in the Rails community have migrated over to vim (and MacVim) in recent years, and I know there’s a very active community of programmers who are working hard to make it a better tool for developers. Anyway, I wanted to try out the Solarized color scheme people were talking about and Vim looked like the best option, so I decided to dive in, at least for Rails development.

I’ve been really impressed. Tim Pope’s rails.vim library for Rails developers is really, really good. The navigations features in particular are worth the price of entry. Then there’s the inherent goodness of Vim itself. Vim is difficult to approach initially, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of someone who really knows how to use it. Even though I have been using it for a long time, I don’t really consider myself to be a Vim power user by any stretch of the imagination, because I’ve mainly used it to edit small files, one at a time.

Using Vim for project work is completely different, and that’s the area where my Vim skills need work. TextMate provides you with a file drawer with all of the files in your project, easy to use search across all the files in a project, and the ability to easily open multiple files in a tabbed editor and switch between them. The next step is to learn the tricks to accomplish the same things using Vim. Anyone seen a good tutorial?

Update: Just for fun, here’s my .vimrc.

Treat it as a four way stop
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Treat it as a four way stop

This weekend we had a significant weather event as a tornado blew through and caused a lot of damage. In a lot of areas, tornadoes caused power outages and a number of traffic lights were out, even after power was restored in some cases.

I was surprised to see that many, many drivers did not treat intersections with disabled traffic signals as four way stops. I don’t know whether people don’t know that’s the law, or they just don’t care, but I repeatedly saw people blowing through intersections without even slowing down.

Lanny GriffithWhen I lived in Houston, KLOL (now a Latin station, apparently, but for many years a classic rock mainstay) ran a traffic segment called “Traffic in Bondage,” reported by the TrafficMaster Lanny Griffith. Houston has lots of traffic, and Lanny Griffith was perhaps the greatest traffic reporter ever. How many traffic reporters do you know of who have a devoted fan base?

One of his signature bits was, “Traffic signals are out at Westheimer and Gessner. Treat it as a four way stop! Hwah!” Everyone who listened to KLOL heard that, usually multiple times per day. This, to me, will always be the essence of public service journalism. I wish someone had taken a poll at the time that compared the level of awareness of what to do when traffic signals are out among Houstonians to Americans in general.

We don’t have such a traffic reporter here, and very few people seem to know how to drive. When you arrive at an intersection with the traffic signals out, treat it as a four way stop.

On an unrelated note, in the photo, Lanny Griffith is biting a Key Map of Houston, which was the best navigation aide you could possess prior to the age of MapQuest and GPS receivers. Owning one was absolutely essential if you had a job that required driving around. The company that publishes them is still in business and still produces maps only of Houston and its surrounding areas.

Why not give people cash instead of health insurance?
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Why not give people cash instead of health insurance?

Tyler Cowen positions himself as pro-choice when it comes to health insurance. Here’s his basic proposal:

When people turn a certain age, allow them to trade in the current benefits package for a minimalistic package (set broken limbs and offer lots of potent painkillers), plus some of the rest in cash, doled out over the years if need be. For some people, medical tourism will fill the gap.

But if a person wishes, he or she can keep the extant benefit structure and forgo the cash altogether. No one is forced to take this deal.

It sounds fine in theory but I worry about it in practice. These sorts of deals are contingent on the idea that if you opt out of comprehensive care, we (as a society) let you die, or suffer. When happens when a senior who has opted out developers Alzheimer’s Disease, or Parkinson’s Disease, or ALS, or some other slow-developing terminal illness that is expensive to treat? What happens when they develop a chronic condition that isn’t going to kill them but is going to require constant care for the rest of their life? Unless we’re willing to put them on an ice floe, then everyone else is going to wind up paying their medical bills one way or another. Or perhaps their family will go broke trying to purchase medical care for them.

As a society, I don’t see us being willing to let people really suffer the consequences of their choices. Even people who make healthy lifestyle choices become ill and get into accidents all the time. My prediction is that people will regularly take on lots of “health risk” and that in the end, bailouts will be available, regardless of the choices they’ve made. Our public policy has to acknowledge that

Interestingly, a number of people raise this issue in the comments and Tyler responds glibly. I really am not sure how he accounts for this problem, putting me in the group of people he describes as irrational.

Against carping
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Against carping

Andre Torrez takes issue with the excessive carping about products we see on Twitter and in other outlets:

I think making the right choices when you face them is the best way to say how things should be done. Having empathy for people doing what you are doing is as important as having empathy for your own users.

Path dependence is as operative in software development as it is anywhere else. Most developers aren’t doing things that seem stupid or wrong because they themselves are stupid, but rather because decisions previously made reduce the options that are available to them.

Nearly every developer I know would love to work with better designers and spend more time on design. They’d like to do continuous deployment, spend time writing test suites for their code, do code reviews, and use the latest and greatest tools to get their work done. And yet they are stuck using antiquated tools and processes because that’s what their boss understands, or because their project has been around awhile and it’s too difficult to make time to migrate, or because it’s hard to reach consensus about change on their team.

To put it more simply, things rarely suck because nobody has come along and told them that they’re not good.

Why Facebook launched the Open Compute Project
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Why Facebook launched the Open Compute Project

Marco Arment’s theory on why Facebook “open sourced” their data center design via the Open Compute Project makes a lot of sense to me:

My best guess is that this is primarily for recruiting engineering talent. There’s no shortage of engineers, but there’s always a shortage of great ones, especially in Silicon Valley. Google has been a talent vacuum for a long time since it’s so appealing for most engineers to work there.

With this move, I think Facebook is telling the geek world that they’re just as big and serious of a tech company as Google, and if you want to work on large-scale, interesting engineering challenges that affect hundreds of millions of people, you should work at Facebook.

Democrats celebrate freeing the hostages
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Democrats celebrate freeing the hostages

This is all that needs to be said about the budget deal:

Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.

The other problem is that Democrats somehow think that cutting a bad deal to free the hostages is something to be proud of. Here’s Senator Claire McCaskill on Twitter:

Compromise. That wasn’t so bad was it?

Ugh.

Links for April 6
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Links for April 6

Our broken intellectual property regime
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Our broken intellectual property regime

It’s important to remember that the reason patents and copyright are included in the Constitution is to “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Keep that in mind when you read the following two blog posts. One, from Alex Tabarrok, looks at why DVDs of “WKRP in Cincinnati” can’t be released with the original music. The other, by Matthew Yglesias, looks at why Google would bid $900 million for Nortel’s patent portfolio.

Links for April 3
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Links for April 3

A few links that caught my eye:

  • Securing Arizona – If Arizona is a microcosm of America, we’re in big, big trouble. The state has huge financial problems brought on by the real estate bubble and recession, and the right wing government is looking for solutions in all the wrong places.
  • Music industry will force licenses on Amazon Cloud Player—or else – Jacqui Cheng explains why record companies aren’t going to accept Amazon’s new Cloud Player without a fight.
  • App Store Shenanigans – Chris Dixon looks at a few ways iOS App Store vendors game the review process and trick people into downloading their applications. Even with Apple’s restrictions on what gets published on the App Store, it’s amazing how much total crap makes it in.
  • Why Paying Bribes Should Be Legal – Kaushik Basu argues that bribes can be prevented if you legalize paying bribes. Then you can enlist people who are being solicited for bribes into the enforcement process. This reminds me of an old Bruce Schneier piece, Aligning Interest with Capability.
  • Number of the Week: PCs Make Americans $500 Billion Richer – Economists try to estimate the value delivered by personal computers.
  • Shooting an Elephant: Why GoDaddy’s CEO Was Wrong – You may have seen this on Twitter. Basically, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons wanted to shoot an elephant and found a loophole that would enable to do so. He made a video of his hunting trip I because he was so proud of himself.
  • TMI: Fear, Fukushima and Facts – Anil Dash with the one post you have to read about the risks of human exposure to radiation.
Will a library card lead me to read more?
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Will a library card lead me to read more?

Like many people who spend too much time online, read fewer books than I’d like. It’s not that I don’t read as many words as I once did. I read blog posts in Google Reader, updates on Twitter, message board posts in many places, email, and long articles in Instapaper. And my temptation is often to play a computer game, watch a TV show, or catch up on various online reading when I have leisure time. While I enjoy all that stuff, it’s just not the same as diving into an interesting nonfiction book or a gripping novel.

For years I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my incentives to align with my abstract desires and start reading more books. My new theory is that I’m more likely to read books if I check them out from the library. I am a deadline driven person, and when you check books out of the library they come with a deadline. You have to give them back whether you read them or not. The other difference is that buying a book is a commitment. You spend money on it, and so it’s worth looking into carefully to make sure you’re buying something that’s really good. Books are sacred. On the other hand, if you check out a book from the library and it’s not your cup of tea, you put it down and drop it off on the way home from work the next day. No pressure.

So today I went to the library and got a library card and checked out Rosecrans Baldwin’s novel from last year, You Lost Me There. I knew his name from The Morning News and I have enjoyed his commentary on Layer Tennis matches so I picked up his book on a whim and now I have until April 25 to read it. We’ll see how it turns out — first I have to finish reading this issue of National Geographic from last September.