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3 minute read / Dec 27, 2022 /

My Quest for Speed - Learning to Use My Computer the Fastest Way Possible

Sometime in the winter of 2020, I read Dan Luu’s article on latency.

“I’ve had this nagging feeling that the computers I use today feel slower than the computers I used as a kid.”

So he measured different computers using a high-speed camera & he found a modern Macbook had about 3x the latency of an Apple 2e, a computer from 1983.

Dan wrote a subsequent post on terminal latency : the fastest application on your computer is likely the terminal or the command prompt.

Those posts inspired me to learn how to use the terminal : mutt for email, neovim for taking notes, ripgrep for searching a computer; sed for text replacement; there are thousands - maybe tens of thousands.

Two years later, here’s what I’ve learned :

First, it’s true. The terminal leaves the browser gasping for breath. Terminal latency tops out in the tens of milliseconds compared to the typical web page, which dawdles for 10 seconds to load the average web page - 100x slower. The computer waits for me, not the other way around.

Second, many of the UI affordances of modern apps trace their lineage to the command line. Create a file with neovim, write the name of another file, type the letters gf with your cursor over the file & you’ll be transported to it, just like that. No need for a fancy notetaking app.

Third, I work faster now because I can do many things from a single screen. When I take notes during pitch meetings, I trigger actions with function keys (never used those before!). F2 opens the startup’s website in a browser. F3 searches LinkedIn for the founder. F4 pastes a questions template. F5 shows me the list of employees who subscribe to this blog.

Fourth, I can chain things together. I can save a to-do while writing an email without leaving my email. I pull up notes from a pitch meeting, create a new entry in a CRM, or do any of the things above while replying to a founder, without having to create a new tab or switch applications.

Instead, all those seconds saved I’ve spent soldiering up daunting learning curves & text-based manual pages - a trade I’ve been willing to make but an unappealing adventure for most.

Apple’s visual operating system & the dawn of Netscape transmogrified the command line from a wall of text into a canvas so billions of people could use a computer without having to learn syntax.

Even if visual UIs take a bit more time load, for most people, the experience is worth the wait.

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