The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Emacs, keyboard, mouse, lies, statistics

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There is a Woodnotes Guide to Emacs for Writers, also available as a PDF file. It’s an introductory thing; maybe I’ll skim over it someday to see if there’s something useful. There’s also Bram Moolenaar’s Seven habits of effective text editing, which I must read sometime. I’m sure the advice is just as valid for Emacs (or any worthy text editor) as it is for Vim.

There is Steve Yegge’s Effective Emacs, which is possibly an attempt to come close to the “7 habits” above, but most of the tips are either things I already know or relatively irrelevant. The “other things” list and the end, and some of the comments, are quite useful, though. Anyway, it appears that it ruffled some feathers, of someone claiming that using the mouse is always faster than the keyboard, referring to a study described on “Ask TOG” in Parts One, Two, and Three. The study claims that keyboard users forget the 2 seconds of cognitive effort they spend trying to remember which keys to use, and therefore it only feels faster, even though it isn’t. It is possibly true, but I doubt I really spend 2 seconds thinking about the keystrokes to use (for common tasks, at least). The number of times I hit C-x C-s when using something like gedit would certainly be an insignificant fraction of its current value if I spent even half a second thinking about it, I think. Besides, the study mentions the task they used to test:

Using Microsoft Word on a Macintosh, I typed in a paragraph of text, then replaced every instance of an “e” with a vertical bar (|). The test subject’s task was to replace every | with an “e.”

and says that

The average time for the cursor keys was 99.43 seconds, for the mouse, 50.22 seconds.

This task is something I can do in at most 4 seconds in Emacs with the keyboard (M-x replace-regexp, which I’ve bound to a single keystroke), and even in MS-Word with the mouse, in about 10 seconds, probably. (Navigate to the Search/Replace menu, type | and e, click Replace All.) If you make a study under artificial conditions, surely you’ll get artificial results?

Written by S

Mon, 2006-11-06 at 15:00:29

Posted in Uncategorized

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