Thursday, November 15, 2012

A new adventure

(This is a long overdue post).

I remember when I used to have homework, then for a few years in college I had no work. Last month, after a 4 month vacation, I began ‘grown-up life’. Unlike other giant leaps, mine didn’t start with a small step. It started with a 13000km trip to Silicon Valley.

I am very happy to have started a new (and first!) job at Mozilla. After last year’s incredible internship, it feels just like home. I have joined the Platform team and begun working on some upcoming APIs which I’ll blog about as they shape up. Being able to work with extremely talented people and to work on a class of problems that very few engineers in the world get to toy with is very satisfying. It does come with its share of problems, like having to get to grips with a decade old, sparsely documented code-base, but damn, when that code executes correctly after hundreds of iterations, there are so many snacks to celebrate with :) But seriously, joining Mozilla at a time when Web architecture and APIs are undergoing massive upgrades, and we get ready to launch a mobile operating system, is very exciting. Oh and employees get to be guinea pigs test it.

Couple this with managing your whole life for the first time. No longer do parents or the dorm automatically pay electricity bills or ensure your Internet connection is working. House hunting, paying rents, moving, buying furniture, managing finances, cooking, everything has been a first. Smooth for the most part, but far too salty sometimes.

Couple this with the constant technical, cultural and recreational melange that is the Bay Area and the regret about not having enough hours in the day and it’s overwhelming. In a month I’ve discovered rock climbing, seen a trapeze act, won second prize in a hackathon and gone to various meetups. Every day when I snuggle into my comforter-sleeping bag combo (you see, I still haven’t bought a mattress) get into bed, I’m exhausted, but every day is also a very satisfying adventure. I can’t wait to have more of them.

P. S. The libuv book has suffered due to this, but I’ll get back to it soon.

Friday, November 09, 2012

A poor man's Notational Velocity on Linux

I use Notational Velocity on my Mac all the time. It holds all my notes, lists and any other snippet of text. I love the interface and simplicity, and most of all I love the simple use of text files in Dropbox as a store. This way I can access my notes anywhere, without needing NV to be installed. I also love the global key binding feature so that I can quickly raise it with Cmd+Shift+N.

At work (more on this soon) I started using a Thinkpad x230 running Archlinux. But I sorely missed NV. I experimented with nvpy, but it didn't cut it for me at all. The tkinter UI looks bad in a Qt/GTK desktop, notes are saved in JSON by default, and the text file option is a sort of hack which stores the title in the first line, messing up the notes in NV. So rather than write my own version, I got an almost as nice, and definitely more powerful NV equivalent in Linux.

I am going to assume you use a standard desktop environment like KDE or that your window manager is EWMH compatible. You'll need:

  • To know how to define custom global shortcuts to run a command. For KDE this is System Settings -> Shortcuts and Gestures -> Edit -> New -> Global Shortcut -> Command/URL
  • gvim
  • wmctrl (available in Arch community repo).

Create a new shortcut which should launch the following command string

gvim --remote-silent +':lcd %:p:h | :au FocusLost * :wa' \
'/home/nikhil/Dropbox/Notational Data' && wmctrl -a 'GVIM'

You should edit the path to point to your Dropbox/NV directory. Now whenever you press the global shortcut combination you should see gvim with a list of all files (notes). Press Enter on a file to open it.

We use remote-silent to make sure that gvim uses an existing window if it is already open. The :lcd %:p:h option sets vim's current working directory to the NV directory. This will be useful later. We use the autocommand FocusLost to save the file whenever the gvim window loses focus (simulating NV's autosave feature). Finally wmctrl raises the window to the top by matching the string to the title. If you use gvim on a regular basis (I use terminal vim) and have other windows open, you'll have to tweak this.

So this setup is completely like NV, except for one divergence. Whereas NV searchs the note title and content together, our system will treat it as two flows. To search note titles/file names use / when in the main view. As part of my standard vim plugin set I have ctrlp and ack.vim* which will serve us well here. To always have access to note titles use ctrlp. I map it to sf so that I get quick fuzzy find. Similarly to search note contents I map sd to trigger ack.vim. This is where setting vim's current directory is important. Both plugins will use it as the base search directory.

This NV approximation is fast and works almost as well as the original, although without a slick interface. But nice fonts and a good vim colour scheme come pretty close.

* You'll need ack installed to use ack.vim. ack does not include text files by default. Put --text in ~/.ackrc to do so.