Editor Wars

As a rule, I try hard not to get sucked into religious wars. You know, Coke vs Pepsi. C++ vs Java. Chrome vs Firefox. There are two I can’t help but jump into: PC vs Mac (although, now that Mac has turned into Unix, that’s almost more habit than anything else) and–the big one–Emacs vs vi.

If you use Linux, Unix, or anything similar, you are probably at least aware of the violence surrounding this argument. Windows users aren’t immune, although fewer of them know the details. If you aren’t familiar with these two programs, they are–in a way–text editors. However, that’s like calling a shopping mall “a store.” Technically, that’s correct, but the connotation is all wrong.

Like most religious wars, this one is partly based on history that might not be as relevant as it used to be. Full disclosure: I’m firmly in the Emacs camp. Many of my friends are fans of vi–I try not to hold it against them. I’ll try to be balanced and fair in my discussion, unless I’m talking about my preference. I don’t have to be fair when it comes to my opinions. Just to be clear: I know how to use vi. My preference isn’t based out of not wanting to learn something new.

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Building A True Unix Keyboard


compact keyboards that do away with a third of the keys you would usually find on a normal-sized keyboard are all the rage now, but for [jonhiggs], they weren’t good enough. There is a long tradition of Unix shortcuts these compact keyboards don’t pay attention to – CTRL-A being the Home key, and CTRL-D being the Page Down key. To fix this horrible oversight of Unix history, [jon] tore apart one of these compact keyboards, rewired the switch matrix, and made his own perfect keyboard.

The keyboard [jon] is using is a Filco Minila, a very nice and high quality keyboard in its own right.  After mapping out the switch matrix, [jon] wired all the switches up to a Teensy 2.0 loaded up with the TMK firmware. This is a pretty standard way of building a custom keyboard, and [jon] could have just cut a switch plate and installed panel-mount switches and wired up the matrix and diodes point to point. The case for the keyboard is constructed out of Lego.

Because this is a true, modern Unix keyboard, [jon] needed to connect this keyboard to a box running his *nix of choice. He’s doing this in the most future-retro way possible, with an Amazon EC2 instance. This project isn’t done yet, and [jon] is hoping to add an ARM dev board, an iPad Retina display, battery, and SSD, turning this into a completely homebrew laptop designed around [jon]’s needs.

Building a clutch for vim

Whether you’re using emacs, vi, or vim, your fingers will be performing acrobatics on your keyboard because of the mouseless interface. [alevchuk] thought his feet could be used as a way to reduce the amount of keystrokes, so he built the vim clutch. It’s a USB-enabled foot pedal that will insert characters before the cursor in vim.

Vim requires the user to type the letter ‘i’ to insert text before the cursor. [alevchuk] thought this function could be easily replicated by a foot pedal, so he found an extremely cheap USB foot pedal to serve as his vim clutch. Ideally, the pedal should send ‘i’ when it is pressed and Esc when it’s released. [alevchuk] took two pedals, programmed one to send ‘i’ and the other to send Esc, and put them in the same enclosure.

The result is a working clutch for inserting before the cursor in vim. [alevchuk] is looking into a three-pedal model to add inserting at the beginning and end of the line to his vim clutch, so we’ll keep an eye out for when he posts that build.

BAMF2011: Keyboards built from scratch

As the most direct interface between computer and programmer, keyboards can be a deeply personal, sometimes almost religious thing. Some find solace in their vintage IBM Model M, or luxurious leather keyboard, but maker [Carol Chen] took things into her own hands, quite literally. [Carol]’s Maker Faire exhibit has a half dozen specimens of interesting commercial tactile and ergonomic options…but [Chen]’s personal keyboard, where she commits to her work as a full-time coder, has been made to her own exacting specifications.

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As you can plainly see, we’re embracing International Caps Lock Day with full gusto. Go ahead, try it out in the comments. Caps lock is the cruise control for cool. Surprisingly, there are quite a few full time haters of the key running campaigns: CAPSoff and anticAPSLOCK actually united to form CAPSoff.org to further development of a caps lock free keyboard.

Once you’re tired of yelling at people online (like that’ll happen), you might attempt to do something useful with the key. In OSX, you can remap the caps lock key in System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse > Modifier Keys. You can make it an extra Command, Control, Option, or select No Action. If you want to map it to another key entirely, try a program like fKeys. You could map it to Esc to make Vim—THE BEST TEXT EDITOR EVER—easy to use. In Windows, try this handy guide from TechRepublic for remapping your keys.

If ease of use is not your goal, you could always make a random caps locker hardware dongle.

[photo: catcubed]