Bright, Shiny Tools for Writing

Sometimes the tools that you use shape the kinds of things that you create. If you work with a hammer, you will build things that need hammering. If you have a saw, you will build things by shaping them with your saw.

I am much more conversant with the tools of the writers trade than I am with the actual craft of writing. I know how to construct sentences. I am good at typing. I have even gotten fairly good at writing in longhand with a fountain pen.

I write my blog post with the in-app editor of WordPress. It is very functional. It helps me format my post without having to manually add all the html and css mark up. It even has specialized tools for creating tables and formatting snippets of code.

It makes it easy to tag my posts with hashtags indicating the topics that are talked about in them. That makes it easier for people to find my blog posts when they are looking for blogs they would enjoy reading. I hope my blog is something that some people would like to read.

I write my journal with a web site called It keeps track of my word count, it counts how many days in a row I’ve written more than 750 words a day, and it analyzes my prose for the tone of the words that I write. It is all very objective. It’s a program, not a human, after all.

I have used Scrivener to write on a couple of occasions. It has a lot of tools for such things as keeping track of your research, posting summary cards for each scene so that you can experiment with reorganizing your story by arranging the cards in a different order. I can see how it might help you think of variations on the story if you stall out while writing it.

I’ve also written with Atom and emacs, two different yet similar text editors that are used by lots of programmers. I’ve never written much prose with vim, another popular programmer’s editor. I can barely write code with it, much less regular prose.

I have written with both Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages. They both distract me too much. I tend to pay more attention to formatting what I’ve written and much less attention to what I am writing. I prefer a plain text editor any day.

I’ve taken notes with notepad++. I’ve written code with it. But, I haven’t ever written prose with it, aside from short snippets of comments in between the programming sections.

I used to draw pictures of my software designs. I often used Microsoft Word to keep my familiarity with it current. It is bound to serve some purpose in the future. I have also used Open Office and Office Libre. I don’t know if they are two different programs, two different frontends on a common backend, or if maybe one of them was forked from the other.

I am enjoying pen and paper a lot lately. It is a very free form medium. I need to start writing in a paper journal some of the time. Given how I struggle with thinking of things to write about, I’m not sure how successful that would be.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Love the One You’re With

Twenty five years ago the computer industry was fraught with religious wars. There was the OS war that purported to be about which OS was the best for a personal computer. Similarly there was the programming language war. And, last but most certainly not least, there was the text editor war over which was the best editor for entering text into a computer.

There are many more options in each of these categories now. And, people still have strong opinions about which option they prefer. The religious zealotry has largely subsided though. People are finally more focused on getting the job done than they are finding the absolute best way to do something on a computer.

I have my opinions, particularly when it comes to text editors. Text editing is my bread and butter. I write programs, documents, and stories with a text editor. For years I was an emacs snob. Actually, it was more a matter of muscle memory. I had used emacs for so long that I no longer had to consciously think of a command, my fingers just type it when I thought about wanting to execute it. I have joked about muscle memory but it is true, I am immediately more productive when I sit down to a machine with emacs installed on it.

But part of the job of a senior developer is to help more junior developers figure out ways to be more productive. I could have taken the time to get emacs installed on the lab machines. There is a process and I’ve been told to feel free to do it. But on further consideration I have decided that I push past my comfort zone and learn more about the vi editor, or more specifically the vim editor.

Vi has been around since soon after the rise of the unix operating system. It was written by Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems. It is notable if only for the fact that it is delivered on practically every unix distribution in the world. It has a reasonably rich command set. I wanted to get past the point of having to look each one up in order to use it so I started using it to develop the various test cases that I am responsible for verifying.

I have only been using it in this capacity for a couple of days but I can report that it is much more capable than I would have thought. Over the years all the major programming text editors have added features like intelligent code formatting and keyword highlighting. Code highlighting can be very useful for calling attention to inadvertent typographical editors in your program.

There are other editors in the running today. For instance, gedit is the graphical text editor bundled with Linux. Atom is a saucy little editor written in javascript, formatted with CSS, and capable of syntax highlighting with the best of them. It has recently been upgraded to ease integration with GitHub.

These days the choice has boiled down to the answer to these questions: What editor does everyone else use? What are most of the developers on the project use to? What features are you most familiar with and which ones fit the type of uses you intend to demonstrate?

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.