Evolution


Today, I managed to impress and possibly freak out one of my coworkers.

He’s a big fan of the author Junot Diaz and especially of his short stories. Before he could even tell me how good one anthology was, I had already downloaded it in front of him, indexed it into my e-book library, automatically downloaded metadata for it, and had an open copy sitting in front of us.

Hopefully this will convince one person that, at least anecdotally, customizing your computer is worth it.

There’s a lot of little things someone can do towards that. Today, I’ll start with one of the easiest and most useful ones.

Are you an angry YouTube commentator?

That was a redundant statement. All YouTube commentators are angry. The point is, you don’t need to type in ALL CAPS. It just looks like you’re shouting anyway.

The Caps Lock key is useless. And since our time is valuable, we cannot tolerate useless things. Use that saved time for something useful, like going bowling or hitting on attractive members of the whatever sex you find desirable.

So we’re going to fix this problem and remap Caps Lock.

More specifically, we’re going to remap it on Mac OSX, because that’s what I use and I’m sure Windows and Linux users can look at Google to figure this out. I doubt they make a significant percentage of my (currently almost nonexistent) user base anyway.

We are going to need 2 pieces of software. So go and download Karabiner and Seil. Yes, they have stupid names. All of software seems to have stupid names. Some are even named after the developer’s son’s toy elephant.

Here are the instructions, written to be as idiot-proof as possible. (Not for you, of course. You’re not an idiot. After all, you’re you. It’s the guy next to you. Screw that guy, right?)

  1. Download Karabiner and Seil. Grant these 2 pieces of software whatever permissions they need to run. They won’t kill your computer. I promise.

  2. Open up System Preferences.
  3. Click on “Keyboard”.
  4. Select the option “Keyboard”, next to “Text”.
  5. On the bottom right, notice there is a button called “Modifier Keys…”.
  6. Click on it.
  7. Click the options for Caps Lock and select “No Action”. This is just to be careful. Apple does some voodoo with the Caps Lock key that makes remapping it irritating.

  8. Open up the application Seil.
  9. The most prominent option is called “Change the Caps Lock key”. Expand it.
  10. Double click on the column that says “Keycode” and set it to the value 80. This corresponds to the F19 key for those who are curious. The reason we’re setting it to that is because you do not actually have an F19 key on your Mac, so it cannot conflict with any other key binding.

  11. Open up Karabiner.
  12. In its search box (which you must click and cannot hit Command-F on, oddly enough), paste in this exact phrase: f19 to escape and control

  13. Now check the only option that will show up. It should say the following:

“Tap F19 for escape, hold F19 for control. Works well with using Seil to remap Caps Lock to F19 (code 80).”

  1. Now there’s one other customization to perform in Karabiner to make this feel a little more natural. Next to the “Change Key” option, there is a “Key Repeat” option. Click on it, then look for a setting on the leftmost column called “Key Overlaid Modifier”.

  2. Expand that option, then change the “Timeout” value to 400 ms. Trust me on this one.

  3. You’re done.

It does what you would expect from the description. If you press the Caps Lock key by itself, it acts of the escape key. If you hold it and press another key, it’s like pressing control and the other key. (e.g. Caps Lock + A is Ctrl A).

You can customize this to a far greater degree than I have just described, but start with this. Even people who do not program have to use the escape key all the time. This is far healthier for your hands than pressing a tiny key in the top left of your keyboard. For those of you who use Emacs on a Mac, this will prevent you from getting the “Emacs Pinky”.

For those of you who think this is all voodoo, fair enough. However, there is a remapping of Caps Lock that you definitely would benefit from.

  1. Ignore all of the instructions above except for the one that tells you to download Seil.

  2. Download Seil.
  3. Go to the “Change Caps Lock key” option.
  4. Change the key code to 51.

Now your Caps Lock is delete. This improves typing speed quite a bit.

It makes sense, after all. You have to use the delete key all the time, but it’s all the way in the corner. Even (and maybe even especially) people who don’t use computers for programming need to use the delete key constantly.

To make sure the habit of using this new key sticks: 1. Do the steps immediately above 2. Go to “Other keys” in Seil

  1. Change the keycode for Delete to 53 (escape)
  2. Change the keycode to Escape to 57 (Caps Lock, for those who just refuse to evolve).

IMPORTANT: To everyone, don’t forget to actually check the box to the very left, otherwise you will only have changed the keycode without actually activating the change.

There are many other handy mappings like this, some of which I will discuss in a later post. For those of you who know XML, the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to this sort of thing.

It’s important to strike the right balance between fiddling around with things too much and not enough. On one side, you end up in a weird sort of decision paralysis, incapable of actually getting any real work done.

On the other side, you’re barely more effective than a middle schooler. And that’s pretty embarrassing. No one wants to be a middle schooler. It’s all the cocksureness of high school kids combined with the awkwardness of elementary schoolers.

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