Terminal History

Learning to Live in the Shell

25 Aug 2022

I’m a terminal enthusiast. At this point, I’ve got a pretty nifty shell setup. My workflow revolves around the command line, tmux, and Neovim. And I love it.

wsl, nvim, tmux

But it wasn’t always this way. My dotfiles have been a work in progress since I was first introduced to the terminal in University.

Intro to C

I studied electrical engineering at UC Irvine. I get the feeling that non technical people think EE and CS are closely related but in practice this is far from the truth. Overall, I took just 2 programming courses over my entire four years (not counting Hardware Description Languages like Systems Verilog or VHDL).

Every engineering student at UC Irvine must take an introductory programming course. Mine was EECS10: Intro to C. On our first day, our professor gave us two choices:

  1. Code Blocks
  2. Vim on the University Servers

I looked briefly at Code Blocks but decided against it. IDE’s are a bit intimidating for newbies. Too many bells and whistles. I don’t need bells and whistles to confuse me when I don’t know what’s going on in the first place.

So SSH and Vim it is. Being on Windows, I used PuTTY.


And coded up my first assignment.

first assignment in vim

It really doesn’t get any more simple than a ‘hello world’.

Today, I logged into the servers for the first time in a long time and this was my vimrc (Vim config file). But I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a vimrc was at this point, or at any point during these early years.

uci server terminal session

I was navigating in Vim using the arrow keys. I didn’t even know you could open more than one file at a time. Looking back, I have no idea how I finished these assignments without a linter and LSP telling me what to do. Modern development tools have really spoiled me.

Eventually, I discovered MobaXTerm and used that in place of PuTTY. MobaXTerm has a built in FTP client so I switched from Vim to Atom and uploaded my assignments using FTP.

Atom and the Arduino IDE (god bless that abomination) were my preferred text editors for the rest of University, but eventually I came back to Vim.

Coffee Grams

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, I had moved back home and needed desperately for something to fill my time. I decided I wanted to learn web development with the LAMP stack. Well, actually, I thought the only language you could use for servers was PHP. PHP is a good language for learning web development, but to be fair, I wouldn’t want to write it anymore today.

Having just returned from Spring break in Seattle, I was really getting into coffee. I wanted a web app that could track and share my coffee gram ratios and tasting notes.

All the LAMP stack web dev guides were for Linux (sorry, GNU/Linux) but I wasn’t exactly thrilled to use Desktop Linux at this point in life. With a couple of old desktops sitting unused at home, I figured, why not run my own home server. So that’s exactly what I did. I setup an Ubuntu server in the adjacent room and would SSH into it to do web development. And with SSH comes Vim.

So I was back to Vim.

What really inspired me to get good at Vim were some older videos by chris@machine where he turns Neovim into a more usable editor.

I drilled myself to learn the proper key binds. Gone were the days of arrow key navigation. Hello hjkl. Every day, I’d pick a new key binding from the cheatsheet and try to use it as much as possible. After a few weeks, I’d learned most of the important navigation and editing techniques. That’s not to say I became a master. I still learn new things about Vim to this day.

The College Dropout and Software Engineering

After my undergrad, I was slated to go to graduate school at UC Irvine for a Masters in Embedded and Cyper-physical Systems. I did go to graduate school for about a quarter. But god damn I hated that shit.

Yeah, that’s me. The college dropout.

Closing one door inevitably leads to getting lost in a maze. I dunno, this isn’t supposed to a good metaphor. This was not a happy time in my life.

But one thing I knew: I love to code. So let’s code some things.

My brother was in the tail end of a coding bootcamp so I had someone who could guide me through some of the basics. YouTube filled me in on the rest.

Web development is easy to learn. Not that the material is easy, but there’s just so many resources online. There’s like five thousand tutorials on how to setup an Express app. If you don’t like the sound of this dudes voice, well, there’s like 5 other dudes with tutorials just as good.

I finally found out about WSL and that was a game changer. No longer would I have to spin up my own home server or use Desktop Linux.

I was still using the terminal but I had switched off Neovim to VSCode. I did toy around with CoC for a bit but ultimately, it was just too challenging. It’s hard to setup Neovim to the same level of productivity that you get with VSCode for free.

VSCode was my IDE for awhile. Of course, I used the Vim extension but any real terminal enthusiast will tell you that emulation just isn’t the same as the real thing.


Unfortunately, I have to briefly mention VSCode because that was my terminal and IDE for awhile. I used VSCode’s embedded terminal all through my self taught bootcamp and into my first job as a Software Engineer.

VSCode is a massively innovative piece of open source software. Protocols such as LSP and DAP both originated from VSCode and were later turned into open standards that were ported to other editors. Additionally, CoC, Neovim’s earliest language server implementation, was essentially a bridge between VSCode extensions and Vim. While I don’t use VSCode anymore, I still appreciate what it’s done for Editors and the JavaScript community.

Who would have thought Microsoft would ever embrace open source as it has today.

JavaScript is Slow

When I started at Gatsby, I was given a 13inch i5 MacBook. Well, I wasn’t really given it. More like MZ had left it with Nate when he moved and I just happened to be able to pick it up that day instead of waiting a week for a different machine. That mother fucker MZ took the charger with him too. And of course they were sold out at the Apple store.

I had to wait a full 3 days without a charger for Amazon to send me one. I used a fucking 12W phone charger for 3 days. Do you know how fucking slow a 12W charger is??

Okay anyways.

I used this i5 laptop for awhile but eventually, VSCode was just too slow. Running 5 Chrome tabs, VSCode, 10 NodeJS services, Mongo, and Redis locally was just too much for this little machine. By the way, that’s like 16+ instances of V8 munching on my RAM.

So I bit the bullet. I doubled down on iTerm2, Neovim, and CoC and it had never felt better to type on my NK Silk Black switches lubed with Krytox 205g0 (if you know, you know). I used this setup for awhile until Neovim 0.5 dropped and the hype shifted to the native LSP client.

The Present

I am a hype beast. Where the hype goes I follow. When the hype is to use Lua plugins for Neovim, I use Lua plugins. When the hype is to use the native LSP client for Neovim, I use the native LSP client.

Is your terminal slow? Well hop on the hype train to Alacritty town where we got the fastest terminals on this side of the Mississippi.

Oh fuck, Alacritty doesn’t have tabs or splits. Yeah… that’s basically how I ended up using tmux.

Tmux on MacOS

That brings us to today. I got a smanging setup that’s fast, keyboard centric, and a joy to use.

Sometimes I forget about the joy of programming but everyday I get to tinker with my dotfiles is another day I remember why I love computers so much. Stay alive in the TTY.