vim tricks

vim is the best trick in tech and life—period. Education’s great. Reading for pleasure rocks. But if you’re sinking all your energy into video games for that level-seeking Dopamine rush, then you must know you could be having the same fun… but bettering your life—even as a kid. This isn’t just the adult boring stuff. This is the secret knowledge of an old magician from the magician’s own book. If this interests you, read on.

The magic trick that is vim sets you apart and above the crowd—instantly. Takes a room and fill it with people. Ask anyone to do anything involving ideas, thought or writing in any form. Only that person with the glowing magnetic personality who can work the room with their whiteboard-skills will marginally look better—but only at first, until people look around as they inevitably will and notice the firing-up of vim (presuming you have a screen large enough to see). Having a laptop and learning to touch-type will be key, but we’ll take about that later.

Sure, the room’s occupants will listen to the White-boarding Walrus (read The Walrus & The Carpenter from Through the Looking Glass), almost bullied into it as tends to occur—but they’ll take note that there’s a genuine wizard in the room. Nobody will miss the hallmark tappity-tap signature of somebody who doesn’t rely on a mouse or touchscreen to operate a computer. Recognizing such awesome is coded into us from movies like War Games, Hackers, The Matrix and TV shows like Mr. Robot.

Achieving this auditorialy advertisable awesomeness through practice is more powerful than actual natural ability. It’s more valuable than an undergraduate degree. It’s that arcane, forbidden, dead knowledge that just won’t die and keeps old-schoolers unfairly powerful in the modern world where rapid change is supposed to level the playing field for all the freshly minted YoungUn’s with their VSCode and latest JavaScript framework du jour, turning old fogies like me into obsolete dinosaurs.

We’ll, it just ain’t happening and that whiteboard attention-bore is going to know it… and hate you for it. They may proceed with their room-bullying, but rest assured you will be consulted days or even weeks later for your thoughts, you having been tagged as the bullshit detector.

Captain Whiteboard’s bombastic grab at the room’s focus through their marvelous skills are now questioned as you tappity-tap out your notes. What’s the Wizard thinking, the room wonders? Do they agree or are they just taking notes so they can serve up a healthy helping of Walrus stew later? Nobody knows.

The best part is you don’t even need to speak up or even do another thing but take notes, and you have completely shifted the power dynamic of the room. You have sent the message that anything of actual value spouted out by this room-worker has just been absorbed into the magician’s own workspace. The room and whiteboard themselves are of little consequence. What matters is the magician’s own headspace where the magic really must happen. Actual engaging with the room is now entirely optional, and probably not really worth it. Stick it in a vial 🧪 and toss that vial into the cupboard for later inspection.

Magicians don’t need validation from the room. They need valuable information. So allow that Whiteboard-Walrus to whack the Oysters with whitewashed wails of wisdom. Just sit there as the participants in the room look around at who else is doing what and their eyes will inevitably settle on the vim magician firing up the old ways of yore. Anyone can learn to talk the talk, but it takes someone special to walk the walk, mastering the ways of carpentry. Hard skills are better than soft skills. Soft skills like oration make you dependent on those you must convince to do your bidding. Hard skills lets you do your own bidding… puts fish on your plate!

The mastery of hard skills is most important by virtue of how it helps everything to follow. I don’t care if you have a degree or certification in your field. Even your experience pales in comparison to vim faculty. I don’t care if you’re a cliff-diving surgeon who feeds the poor in your spare time. He or she who fires-up vim and proceeds to productively use it, even for such simple tasks as note-taking has won the room.

All tech is text and all text (with sufficient read/write permissions) is under the control ov vim. But vim’s not on the machine, you say? Oh, I think it is. And thanks to the Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL), all those stubborn remaining proprietary holdouts will yield to the power of ubiquitous vim. Only eMacs is more powerful, but those wizards can’t sit down on just any machine and be productive.

vim won. You are either a Walrus who needs to manipulate vim-users or you are a Carpenter who uses vim.

Sure, there’s also the more lightweight neovim and the old-school vi that it’s all based on. But in any case, the point is that the vi-way won. vim won. vim won. vim won. Get used to saying it. In its form going back to vi, it’s about to celebrate its 50th birthday. The magic of vim that arose from low-bandwidth necessity in 1976. That turned it into a sort of timeless musical instrument that can allow “the flow” or “the zone” to occur while using.

Think VSCode’s going to be around in 50 years? Nope. The disruption to everything you know and are dependent upon is not a question of “if” but rather of “when”. And this is serious stuff because studies show it takes a full 10-years or 10,000 hours to re-acquire the sort of spontaneous mastery of “hard skills” that you lose when your software goes away. It’s all about muscle memory such as with surgery, pole vaulting or anything else where you train your body to the tools.

Microsoft doesn’t respect your muscle memory. They killed the GitHub Atom text-editor that inspired VSCode and they keep changing the location of the taskbar Start Menu. They use back-slashes in file paths when the rest of the world uses forward slashes. And did I mention the havoc Windows wreaks on git repos by adding an ancient carriage-return to every line, ruining software collaboration worldwide? Microsoft added the Linux subsystem to Windows because they had to. Even their might isn’t enough to stem the side of hemorrhaging credibility in an evermore nix-won world. Nix won.

Nix-won? Didn’t I say vim won? Yes, vim won because it’s the default text editor of the Unix and Linux platforms, collectively known as *nix or star-nix. I hate both variations, so I just use Nix. In a pinch, there’s always vim’s stripped down ancestor vi which is really the Nix standard and part of the definition of what a complete system actually is. You can’t have a Nix system without a de facto standard way of editing text files. vi is it.

Reality-check, folks. Would you rather another fly-by-night Micro$oft power-tool designed to lead you to to a fleecing and a shearing? Or would you rather master something that’s always there and will always set you apart at the most skilled in the room? Sometimes the old ways—the arcane magical incantations—are the best. You will recognize them because they never go away, and you see glimpses of them suggesting they’re still the hardcore best ways in TV shows like Mr. Robot (shows that “get it right”.

For years I advised against taking up vim first because of its steep learning curve. I no longer think that. I think that with Microsoft finally making it so easy to have a “real” Nix-Terminal (no, PowerShell does not qualify), the time has come the Carpenter said to get your butts on vim.