Coding in Notepad

August 25, 2014

Vim is my code editor of choice. But lately I do more and more code writing in Notepad.1

I find it useful to keep a dated, stream-of-consciousness “project log” for each codebase I’m working on. Last year, I published a few of these (example), written in Markdown. These days, they’re unpublished and plain text, which means I can be even more casual and sloppy in them.

The project log is as much a whiteboard as a journal. In the project log for Gentest, I:

What I find remarkable about project logs is how often I end up actually running the pseudocode in them. For example, in a recent day’s notes, I wrote:

I think we need some lower-level thing for forAll to sort of desugar to that’s fully programmable.

And maybe what it is is like,

function forAll(args, name, prop) {
  _props.push({
    prop: prop,
    name: name,
    gen: Array.isArray(args) ? gentest.types.tuple(args) :
                               gentest.types.tuple(gentest.types.shape(args))
  });
}

This was just to illustrate a possible solution to a problem. _props didn’t exist; I made it up. There was no module to put this in, no code calling this forAll function. And yet, I copy-pasted this into Vim, made a few changes, and it’s now part of the v0.1.0 release of Gentest.

Writing in a notes file is low pressure. I can go straight from prose to code and back, shrugging off the precise demands of the computer. Using a lightweight editor emphasizes the difference. When I code in Notepad, I’m in a realm of pure thought just as if I were hand-writing in a physical notepad. The computing in computer science fades away and the “science” takes the foreground.

  1. Or rather, the equally simple-minded clone Mousepad.

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