Emacs Weenie

UPDATE: Steve says in the comments that he wrote this when he was “hammered.” It should be taken in that spirit. :) Very understandable.

Effective Emacs

The key to understanding Emacs is that it’s all about _efficiency_, which includes economy of motion. Any trained musician will tell you that economy of motion is critical to becoming a world-class virtuoso. Any unnecessary motion is wasted energy and yields sloppy results.

Using the mouse is almost always the worst possible violation of economy of motion, because you have to pick your hand up and fumble around with it. The mouse is a clumsy instrument, and Emacs gurus consider it a cache miss when they have to resort to using it.

Compared to Emacs Wizards, graphical-IDE users are the equivalent of amateur musicians, pawing at their instrument with a sort of desperation. An IDE has blinking lights and pretty dialogs that you can’t interact with properly (see Item 6), and gives newbies a nice comfortable sense of control. But that control is extremely crude, and all serious programmers prefer something that gives them more power.

I love emacs, but I hate rants like this. If this guy really cared about efficiency, he would have learned what interface specialists like Tog have known for eons: that keyboard shortcuts *feel* faster, but mouse motion *is* faster, empirically. I started reading this hoping for cool emacs ideas and I got to this paragraph and thought, “guess this guy prefers advocacy to facts.” After all, if he was all about economy of motion, wouldn’t he be using vi? No triple buckys!

If there was any question of this guy doing anything but chest-thumping, you could just read on to:

You don’t need a menu bar. It’s just a crutch placed there for disoriented newbies. You also don’t need a toolbar with big happy icons, nor do you need a scrollbar. All of these things are for losers, and they are just taking up precious screen real-estate. Turn them all off with the following code in your .emacs file:

“For losers”?

I can’t believe this made it to the front page of Reddit. Must be the LISP wankers.

9 thoughts on “Emacs Weenie”

  1. For what it’s worth, I was pretty hammered when I wrote that rant, as might be expected from an entry in a blog called “Stevey’s Drunken Blog Rants”. I never expected more than about 5 people to read it.

    Your points are well-taken, although I’m more of a Ruby weenie these days.



  2. It’s o.k. I bet Ed was hammered when he mentioned the lisp wankers. Ever since they denied him Third Brain and took away his Feathered Cloak of Braces he’s been nursing a hardon for those people.

  3. I’m skeptical of the “mouse is actually faster” claim. Got anything to back that up?

    I love Emacs too and I think the things that Steve alluded to as future topics at the bottom of the post were much more interesting than the post itself, which was mostly about key bindings.

    One of these days I’m going to make a page with my favorite Emacs tips.

  4. Marc — this is where I got the “mouse is faster” stuff:

    “We’ve done a cool $50 million of R & D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts:

    * Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing.
    * The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding.

    This contradiction between user-experience and reality apparently forms the basis for many user/developers’ belief that the keyboard is faster.”


  5. to the author of the original blog post,

    english is a second language for me, and i don’t know what is meant by
    the expression “get on with your bad self”. my best guess, based on
    some web search results of which there were surprisingly few, is that
    it means the target of the phrase is paying more attention to a topic
    than the user of the phrase would like, and the user thinks the target
    should be moving on to other areas of interest. i did move on, as the
    apparent lack of well-constructed studies makes it impossible to learn
    new things in this area without extraordinary effort.

    i did not expect to follow up to my original comment, but your reply
    to it may indicate that it failed on some account, so this may be a
    valuable opportunity to learn about cultural differences or effective
    communication style. i would appreciate if you took the time to reply
    to this comment with a short summary of what in your opinion was wrong
    with my original comment. i would also like to point out that the
    comment was merely intended to be critical, and not smug or
    condescending, as i suspect you may have taken it to be based on your
    calling me “bad”. otherwise, have a good day.

  6. My apologies for the excessively idiomatic reply.

    Phrasing it straightforwardly, “you get on with your bad self” would be something like — “What you’ve told me about is obviously very important to you, I congratulate you on your accomplishment and encourage you to do more, though the congratulations and encouragement are accompanied with a lack of comprehension on my part of the importance you’ve put on it.” It does suggest condescension, although the word “bad” here carries a complimentary sense, as it does in “bad-ass.”

    My summary of what’s wrong with your post would be something like:

    “Steve Yegge himself commented on the post with the phrase ‘Your points are well taken.’ Which in itself was surprising since this was just a quick rant on a personal blog, and I wouldn’t have thought it important enough to bother replying to. I definitely don’t understand why someone would want to continue arguing after that point. I certainly am not interested enough in the topic to take it any further. But if it interests you, go for it. That’s what comments are for.”

    BTW, I don’t think vi is superior to emacs in general. Just in economy of finger motion for simple editing. I use emacs every day, and have tried switching to vi just as an experiment from time to time and I always come right back to my beloved emacs.

  7. “i was very positively surprised at the level of maturity you
    exhibited. my congratulations for that, and do consider keeping the
    good spirit alive.”

    Thanks — you too!

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