Finally trying a text expander

Being a code monkey, I can type pretty fast. More importantly, I can type naturally, just expressing my thoughts without thinking so much about where my fingers go. It’s the same as when you get good enough at driving that you don’t think about turning the wheel or pushing pedals, you just drive. Martial artists develop the same union with weaponry; the sword becomes an extension of themselves, connected to their center and not a separate entity.

Anyway … I’ve gotten to the point where I prefer to retype something than to try to save keystrokes by retrieving it from, say, my shell history, or by copying and pasting. It interrupts the flow, makes me think about the tool again. By the time I’d mentally work out the “more efficient” method, I could just have retyped it, wasting keystrokes but staying in the flow.

I use a set of software to help keep me flowing and efficient, stuff like Quicksilver and Fluid. But I haven’t used another time saver, a text expander, until the past couple of weeks. A text expander watches what you type and replaces it on the fly, so you can just type “tyvm” and presto, it turns into “thank you very much”. Sounds like a no-brainer to add to my toolset, but I was reluctant to bother since I could just type instead.

So what changed? I think it has been working on Accumulo. That is a tough word to type. Even after these few months with it, it can still tangle my fingers. So, after consulting Lifehacker I gave aText a shot. So, now when I type “accm” I get “accumulo” substituted. “Accm” becomes “Accumulo” and “ACCM” becomes “ACCUMULO”. Yes, I need all three cases. As a bonus, I configured it to make a satisfying pop whenever it expands. a-c-c-m *pop*

Just yesterday I added “SNPS” for SNAPSHOT, since I work with Maven all the time. I suppose that now that I have the tool on hand I’ll start to notice more and more places where it makes sense to use it. I intend to use it only in narrow circumstances, and rely on more traditional – and portable – shortcuts like shell aliases and code editor snippets (ah, Sublime Text) for the majority of cases.

There’s an art to defining expansions. Your abbreviated form has to be something unique and unambiguous, or else you’ll get the expansion when you don’t want it. If I just used “acc” for “accumulo”, I couldn’t write “accept” or “accelerate”.

There is still the extra thought involved right now, remembering that I have the option to type less. Still, I can just write the words out and not worry about it. With time and practice, I expect that I’ll remember to use the tool more often, and the mental speed bump will fade away.

One thing I worry about is that I’ll get too used to the tool, and when I’m on a machine without it, I’ll have to un-remember to use it, and work through another mental speed bump. We’ll see if that becomes an issue. For now, I’ve ponied up the five bucks and added it to the family.

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