Benjamin Esham

Road work, next few miles

Ways of writing “two and a half” on highway signage
Notation What it means to a mathematician How often is it used on highway signage?
2 1/2 10.5 All the time
2–1/2 1.5 Pretty often
21/2 1.414… Occasionally
2 + 1/2 2.5 Never ever

Wikipedia curiosity of the day

The Vim text editor can run scripts written in several programming languages: Python, Ruby, and Lua, to name just three, and MzScheme, to name one more. I got curious about this last one. I assumed from the name that MzScheme is a dialect of Lisp, but I’ve never seen evidence of anyone actually writing a Vim script in this language. I popped open LaunchBar (whose ability to search Wikipedia I’ve mentioned before), selected Wikipedia, and typed in “mzscheme,” which gave me these results:

A screenshot of LaunchBar showing two search results: the articles on the Racket programming language and Abraham M. Schermerhorn.

That wasn’t what I expected. Okay, apparently “MzScheme” is an older name for the programming language and environment that are now called Racket. But Abraham M. Scher­mer­horn was… the mayor of Rochester, New York? The city I used to live in? And he died in 1855, preceding even ancient Lisp by over a century. What the hell was he doing in the search results for “mzscheme”? It took me a lot of squinting to realize that “M. Scher­mer­horn” does sort of, a little bit, look like “mzscheme.”1

One mystery still remains: why are Vim users so uninterested in writing scripts in Lisp? Snarky Emacs-related answers aside, I think the answer at this point may just be that many distributions ship a Vim that’s been compiled without support for Racket.2 This issue thread suggests that you can’t build a Racket-enabled Vim under Ubuntu unless you compile Racket yourself. Homebrew doesn’t include Racket support in its formula for Vim, and even the flexibility-obsessed Nix doesn’t offer Racket support in its vim_configurable derivation. This leads to a chicken-and-egg problem where people don’t script Vim with Racket because their copy of Vim doesn’t support that, and packagers don’t build in Racket support because no one is asking for it.

  1. Wikipedia has an article called “A. M. Schemerhorn”—note the missing “r”—that redirects to “Abraham M. Scher­mer­horn.” I don’t think the search algorithm would have even identified a match had this redirect not existed.↩︎

  2. If only Vim had supported the GNU flavor of Scheme instead, we could call these builds guileless.↩︎


Jason Kottke recently linked to an essay on climate change by George Monbiot. This paragraph that Kottke quoted also grabbed me:

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union—Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More—systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the disintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system—characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing—will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

(As Muse put it in 2012, “an economy based on endless growth is unsustainable.”)

For generations now our planet has been suffering large-scale depredation at the hands of a few who care only about themselves and the short term. Well, the short term is almost up.

How to restore autocompleting search results in LaunchBar

I’ve been using LaunchBar for many years, both on my own laptop and on my work machines. At some point I noticed that my work LaunchBar installations—which started over with a fresh configuration every few years—were showing me autocomplete suggestions as I typed in queries for Wikipedia and Google:

A screenshot of LaunchBar’s search suggestions interface. The text “list of game” is in the search field and below that is a list of Wikipedia articles whose titles start with those words.

My home LaunchBar installation, which I’ve been migrating from computer to computer since version 4, did not give suggestions like this. I tried various times to re-add the list of “factory search templates,” which I assumed held the magical versions of the search templates that supported autocomplete, but to no avail—the new list of search templates didn’t even include Wikipedia or Google.

Yesterday I discovered that it is possible to get the autocompleting templates back; LaunchBar just calls them “actions,” not “search templates.” To add them to your configuration,

  1. Activate LaunchBar.
  2. Open the Index by typing Command-Option-I (that’s the letter “eye”).
  3. Click on the Add button in the top left of the window.
  4. Select Actions → Actions from the menu that opens.

This will add a long list of actions to your index, which you can then rename or disable as you please. (Note that you’ll only be able to add these default actions back into your index if you had previously removed them.)

A screenshot of the LaunchBar index, showing some of the actions that come enabled by default.

The actions for Google, Wikipedia, Wikiquote, and Wiktionary (and possibly others) offer live, autocompleting search results. I’m sure that these were added to my index automatically when I upgraded to whichever version of LaunchBar introduced them… I probably assumed “I don’t want any of this!” and got rid of them. Now I’m glad I managed to get them back.