Archive for the Idiosyncracies Category

The Holy War

Posted in Idiosyncracies on May 22, 2010 by jkiparsky

So far, I’ve always been a vi guy. vi makes sense to me – the command set is a little wonky, since it’s actually a visual editor layered on top of a line editor, but that’s okay. Once you get past the insert/command mode scheme (and in modern implementations, that’s really all there is) it’s pretty much smooth sailing, and you can do a lot with a minimal command set. After a while, you wish for some feature, but you go ahead and do it the hard way, because you’re in a hurry. And then you do it the hard way a few more times because it’s a habit, and then you finally look up that command, and then everything goes a little quicker. It all works.
So why do I want to learn emacs? I can give all of the reasons to stay away from emacs – it’s ungainly, overloaded with stuff, every time I look at it funny it tries to do something helpful and I have to figure out how to get away from whatever feature it’s throwing at me. It’s basically the annoying Microsoft Paperclip, without the animation. With all of those features, nothing can be done easily. In vi, everything is one keystroke away, maybe two. In emacs, I have to know the ridiculous extended command name, plus all of the other command names in that command’s namespace, so I can type the appropriate number of strokes before hitting tab to “autocomplete” the command that SHOULD HAVE BEEN TWO STROKES IN THE FIRST PLACE.
But I promised myself i’d give emacs a fair go before I gave up on it entirely, so I’m doing that this summer. So far, it seems like it’s basically a lot of features that I don’t want, wrapped around a few features that I do want, that vi already has. But maybe I’ll find something useful in it.
The one feature I’m looking for, though, is hard to find. I’m not looking for syntax highlighting, or built in games, or the ability to launch a barrage of thermonuclear missiles if you accidentally hit the wrong control-key sequence. I’m looking for a word processor. If there’s a version of emacs that does that well, point me to it.

The Best Single Malt

Posted in General, Idiosyncracies on January 9, 2009 by jkiparsky

I don’t know why, but this came to my mind recently. I posted it to a “single malt whisky” forum a few years ago, in a fit of peeve at the level of discussion. There was, if you believe it, a thread about which single malt is the best one. And, if you believe it, there were about a hundred responses, all along the lines of “Talisker.” “Laphraoig.” “Glenfiddich”. And so forth. Discussion? Feh, this was a shopping list. So once I got a good head of steam up, this came boiling out: my response to the question, “Which single malt whisky is the best?”.

The best? Is Tommy Peoples better than Frankie Gavin? Is Borges better than Saramago? Is Hammet better than Chandler? The best? No, never the best for me – if I knew that there were such a beast, I’d run far from it! Give me only the next best – and the one after that, and the next, and the next. Is the first sip of a new bottle, trying to tease out what fine things lie within – is that “the best”? Or is it a drop from a favorite bottle at the end of a fine sort of day? Or is it spending an afternoon doing mortal damage to a bottle of Laphroaig, on the cuff, after playing a set of music early in St. Pat’s Week, listening to good tunes by good players not quite awake yet? (that’s pretty good, I recommend it)
The best? A fig for the best! A penny on its eyes and away with it! Give me very fine, and awfully nice, if a bit sharp, and too much smoke for me, but you might like it, and even the occasional abomination, but good in a pinch, but send your best around to the moneyed bars for people who drink Laphroaig because they heard it’s the best, and never taste it. Send your best to the businessman who’ll chain it with ice cubes and fetter it with soda. Send your best to the aesthete taster and re-taster who peels off every note of flavor, tags it, and pastes it into his collecting-book to wither and die, just don’t bring any best around here. The best, indeed. These people spend their lives putting moments into bottles, and you want to tell me whether lying tangled with your lover and the sheets is better than what came before?
That being said, I might add Glenkeith to the list of good bottles to have on your shelf. When it’s what you want, it’s exactly what you want.

Reading it over feels a little odd. I’m tempted to revise it, to address some of the stylistic quirks that I think I’ve lost in the last few years, but I think I should let it be. There it is.


Posted in Idiosyncracies on January 5, 2009 by jkiparsky

Ahem. I will say this once, and link back to this any time I need to.
The country I live in, which I like quite well, thank you very much, despite the best efforts of certain forces of pure evil (marketing types and real estate developers and so forth), this country is called the United States of America. It would be sensible enough to derive adjectival forms from the shortened form, “America” except for one thing: there are two continents that go by the names North and South America, and the people who live on those continents are, all of them, Americans, just as the people residing on the continent of Europe are Europeans, regardless of their home nation’s status vis-a-vis the European Union. So when an citizen of the USA refers to things “American” meaning things particular to the USA, to me that sounds like some combination of arrogance and ignorance: either we don’t know that there is a lot of “American” stuff that has nothing to do with our country, or we know and don’t care. I imagine the rest of the world is used to this by now, and probably doesn’t even really notice any more, but still, it annoys me.

This is why I have taken to using, in a different sense than it was originally coined, Frank Lloyd Wright’s term “USonian” to refer to my fellow citizens and things pertaining to them. I have no shred of belief that changing our language affects our view of the world in some Whorfian manner, it’s just a matter of politeness, which our nation has not shown to the rest of the world in rather a while.

This is not, I should say, a public campaign to ask others to follow me in this somewhat odd usage – it’s just an explanation of why I use this word that nobody else seems to…