Reading “Mein Kampf”

Hitler’s seven-hundred-page screed […] is so unreadable that, despite its ubiquity during the Third Reich—more than twelve million copies, often given as wedding presents, sometimes in gold-leaf editions, were sold—it is unlikely that most Germans actually cracked the book open.

– Sally McGrane, Diffusing ‘Mein Kampf’


Apple could put the entire text of ‘Mein Kampf’ inside the iTunes User Agreement and you’d just click agree.
– John Oliver (source)

The Perils of Unicode

Discussing some Unicode issues at work, I recalled something that happened to me in 2000:

I had just landed my first programming job, converting a software from storing bi-directional texts in visual order, to storing them in a mostly Unicode-compatible logical ordering.

To assist this immense task, my boss, who was big on printouts, made sure we had a printed version of the Unicode specifications. It was a behemoth of a hardcover, rivaling the Encyclopædia Britannica in size.

I ceremonially placed the specifications on some noisy server, and left it there, never to be opened.

One morning, I noticed the above mentioned server to be even noisier than usual, an issue I tried to solve by gently kicking it.

Off fell the Unicode tome, missing my leg by a centimeter. I then noticed it dented the server’s case, which made it touch the hard drive mounted inside.

Upon examination, that hard drive was found to be no longer functioning. It was also found we had no recent backups of it. Luckily, no one knew what that server was doing in the first place.

tl;dr: Unicode kills hard drives.

Why I Use Emacs

(This post was discussed on Hacker News and Reddit)

I became an Emacs user at HUJI. The CS school IT group were fond of Emacs, and set it as the default editor in the computer labs.

And I kept using it since, until I decided I’m too young to be a retrogrouch, bought a license for the highly praised Sublime Text, and made it my default editor.

I tried to like Sublime, and used it exclusively for four months, before accepting it won’t work, and going back to using Emacs.

This wasn’t because of any major issue with Sublime: it is a very well made editor, and easy to extend. But it only extends so far, while Emacs is infinitely extensible.

Or rather, as any Emacs veteran would tell you, Emacs isn’t an editor, but a system that can handle text buffers and windows, and run LISP code to manipulate those. Therefore, it can do everything, and you can practically live in Emacs, as some do, using the underline OS just for bootstrapping it.

But I myself am not that much of an Emacs wizard — I wish I was, but I hardly know any Elisp, and can never find the time to learn — Yet I can (with no more than moderate effort) get Emacs to do most of what I want, but had a long list of things I couldn’t make Sublime do.
Most were trivial, but they added up. And one was grave: I couldn’t get it keybindings to be compatible enough with Emacs’, which are now so worn into my brain, I don’t think I could learn another set this side of the river Styx.

As Kieran Healy describes in beautiful prose:

But even if TextMate 2 drops from the sky fully-formed and marveled at by all, Emacs will still be there, waiting. It will be there when the icecaps melt and the cities drown, when humanity destroys itself in fire and zombies, when the roaches finally achieve sentience, take over, and begin using computers themselves — at which point its various Ctrl-Meta key-chords will seem not merely satisfyingly ergonomic for the typical arthropod, but also direct evidence for the universe’s Intelligent Design by some six-legged, multi-jointed God.