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June 19, 2004

I, Normal

Ed passed along a pair of links yesterday that got me all fired up:

The short version of the information presented:

Danny interviewed a bunch of prolific geeks and asked them how they do it: this is his distillation of the habits of the geeks who spew the most code, words and such.

For a few moments, that was really exciting stuff that any old-sk00l Unix dude is going to be right at home with: "trust text," "use a text editor for everything," "real nerds pick an app and live in it, even if it's Excel," etc. etc. etc. Then I realized Ed had just presented me with another one of his traps designed to make me go chasing off down the rabbithole of becoming MORE and BETTER and FASTER and CLEANER. It even worked momentarily... I went flying back to the LinuxToday archives to find an item I'd posted there several years ago that pointed, in turn, to a WIRED article that pointed in turn to "The Good Easy (How to Set Up a Mac)".

The Good Easy approach is about like WIRED put it:

Non-technical users can capture the productivity benefits of the Unix design philosophy without abandoning the standard desktop with graphic user interface.

To that end, the Good Easy document provides a series of purifying rituals new hires at the agency that originated it are to undergo when setting up their Macintosh computers so they'll be faced with a clean, efficient, text pipe workflow with a minimum of cruft.

Parts of the document are reasonable:

-open the Applications folder. anything you probably will never use (like Apple Video Player, or some bogus Apple Guide file), put into the Utilities folder. you should now have an Applications folder comprised of all the apps that you'll use commonly (or at least once every couple of months).

Parts are sort of Levitical in their specificity:

in BBEdit, make sure it's set to softwrap, window width, start up with nothing, searches wrap around, don't print headers or date stamp, don't show any toolbars and make veggie the default font.

and (for Netscape):

make sure the home page is set to the local file open start.html which should be in the info folder. Also, choose text only, no tool tips, no sound. Set fonts to times 14 courier 12.


in emailer make sure that toggle schedule quickey works and move column widths. make veggie default font.

What the hell is "veggie?" And what if Times gives me headaches? And what if I like the tool tips and icons in my toolbar? What becomes apparent after a bit is that the person going down the checklist of cleansing actions has fallen in with a text bigot who's determined to inflict his computing paradigm on everyone around him.

I did spend some time doing a sort of mental dry-run through the Good Easy setup (though there's some Apple OS 9 stuff in there that's sort of hard to imagine if you've never really used OS 9 very hard, and I never really have -- the G3 All-in-One I had when I worked at the high school always seemed to crash at weird times causing me to hate it) and I can see the advantages.

Then I read about how QuicKeys is a $99 program, and that was a little off-putting. There are alternatives like Keyboard Maestro and iKey, but the purity of the operation begins to fade as we pass, Amber-like, from pure Good Easy to a lesser shadow.

It was, in fact, while I was wallowing around in the ten or twelve reviews of QuicKeys I'd run down that more doubt began to creep in. I remembered all the other better, faster, cleaner paradigms:

etc. etc. etc.

Then I started thinking about Ed, eating sushi in some hangout in Michigan, laughing, laughing, laughing...

Then I thought back to the instigating document... the so-called "life hacks." I thought "who are these from?" It's right in there:

"a bunch of prolific geeks [...] who spew the most code, words and such."

And I thought about what they were saying:

"Power-users don't trust complicated apps. Every time power-geeks has had a crash, s/he moves away from it. You can't trust software unless you've written it -- and then you're just more forgiving"

While I was composing this, Ed happened along on IM and offered a few more insights:

"should you trust people with 27,000 lines of "todo" lists telling you how to organize your life?"


should we take seriously anyone who uses phrases like 'alpha geek' seriously?

Thanks, Ed... I'm feeling much more forgiving for being goaded into my monthly bout of wondering if it's time to Change Everything and become More Clean and Efficient.

I guess we also just have to pass on the irony of a bunch of "prolific geeks" who "spew the most code" telling us all that we shouldn't trust anything besides a text editor.

Posted by mph at June 19, 2004 10:02 PM