Robots Shall Fulfill: Vim CheatSheet 1.0 Print-to-Order

Here goes something! The original Vim CheatSheet is now available in print for the first time since the 2012 Kickstarter print run. Orders are printed and fulfilled by a somewhat mysterious automated fulfillment company called ScalablePress, who take a sizeable cut but provide decent shipping rates, sturdy poster stock and crisp print quality. Click below and fiddle with the magic number boxes to order a copy:

Print and digital preorders will be available soon! Preorders include a complementary copy of the digital download package, and a sneak peak at the final drafts of the update with a direct line of feedback for ideas, dreams, suggestions, complaints, encouragement, and Vim-related haiku poetry.

A particularly haunting page of concept sketches for ways to represent modifier keys on the updated design. Doubtful if any of these hare-brained ideas will make it into the final draft! Emacs joke included free of charge.

Umm… Vim and Autism?

Eventually, I intend to use this blog to talk about all kinds of ridiculous stuff, but I will definitely go on about autism for a while first. You might not think Vim and autism could be related, but you might read the rest of this blog post, too!

After realizing that I am autistic at the end of last year, I researched obsessively and compared my experiences with the available stories, statistics, and stereotypes.

One stereotype (or symptom) of autism that I initially struggled to reconcile with my story is the bit about “sameness and adherence to routines“. I never had anything like a routine. In fact, spontaneity and a willingness to adapt to sudden changes was a signature aspect of my personality.

Everyone likes a charismatic dilettante, and it was not an identity I was necessarily ready to let go of. It’s taken me most of this year to accept the cold truth: My spontaneity came from a place of fear, not joy and confidence. I adjusted readily for people because I was afraid of what would happen if I refused. I had tried to establish a routine several times, but setting boundaries was impossible for me before burnout. I simply never established the social tools required to pull it off on a regular basis. All it took was a friend wanting to talk late at night (which, for a connected extrovert like Past Max, was pretty much every night), and any attempt at routine would be dashed against the rocks of sleep deprivation.

The study authors found that Autistic people have every bit as much desire for friendship and human contact as non-autistic people and our UCLA loneliness scores were significantly higher than non-autistic people’s…

– Maxfield Sparrow, Autism and the Burden of Social Reciprocity

Eventually, I gave up on routines and habits entirely, and started referring to schedules derisively as “time bondage”! I drew on my bank of energy until it ran out. So much for that “sameness and routines” theory, right?


Here’s where Vim comes in.

An early attempt at working some typographical foundations into the update. This version has heart, I’m still kind of attached to it.

Looking back this year at the start of my long recovery, I begin to see patterns in my behavior that I had never bothered examining before: Every time I ate out (often, on a programmer’s salary), I would order from the same internal catalog of reliable dishes I had tried before, or that varied minimally between restaurants.  Sometimes I would listen to the same individual song on repeat for hours, even days at a time. And then, of course, there were my computing habits.

“Idiosyncratic” doesn’t begin to describe it, though “idio-” is definitely the right prefix. I was a pathological parser pedant. I interpreted scripts, configured shells, and lots of other ridiculous programmery jargon I don’t dare to reproduce in polite company.

A later layout concept for the update based on a “futuristic” remake of the Vim logo. Not sure if I’ll keep any of these major elements in the final draft.

Vim was the ultimate routine. Vim has been around in some form since the 70’s. That’s practically the middle ages in computing years. Its keyboard mappings, functions, and documentation have been combed through and evolved by teams of enthusiasts for decades. I got so used to navigating Vim that I barely went a day without trying to close an instant message by typing “:wq!” and hitting Enter. (Yes I know you can “ZZ” but it just feeeeels better to hit Enter. Don’t @ me!)

That’s why I’m both happy and proud to come back to this project. Vim users become Vim contributors, and this program became vital infrastructure in my life because of the labor and enthusiasm of the very same kind folks who have patronized this humble Internet shopping venue.

Finally, I have a real vision for the new design. It is not intended to replace the original, necessarily. Strictly speaking, it will probably have a smaller raw quantity of information than the original, but it will have many different kinds of information. I’ll be keeping the signature navigation cross, which everyone seems to love, and adding a row of portraits of several developers who drove the biggest steps in Vim’s evolution, starting with Ken Thompson’s ed 1.0 in 1969. I want a usage reference that also serves as an object of historical record, maybe even a conversation piece with non-Vim users beyond “Yeah, I have literally no idea what anything on that poster could possibly mean, but it does look kind of cool in a mesmerizing Oh-G_d-Why-Can’t-I-Look-Away kind of sense.”

The latest and most definitely greatest concept for the 2.0 layout. The caricature portraits will be hand-painted by yours truly!

I hope all of this has begun to provide some perspective on what’s been going on for me the last few years, at least as far as the Vim CheatSheet project is concerned. I’ll probably say this in every post, but it’s worth repeating: The patience and gentle encouragement from customers and enthusiasts alike is nothing short of a miracle. Every day I go on Twitter and read about “content creators” being treated ruthlessly. I hope every honest vendor gets to have patrons like mine someday soon!

The layout draft sketch for the original Vim CheatSheet design, scrawled on an unruled marble notebook page.

That’s all for now. If the oracle’s prophecies are true, the next update will bring preorder purchase buttons with it, and the actual, literal/physical, real-at-long-last 2.0 design soon after.


Return of Vim CheatSheet: Setting Up Shop, Finding My Voice

The original Vim CheatSheet is now available for purchase & download once again! The three PDFs included in the download ZIP are sized for letter (8.5″ x 11″), movie poster (39″ x 27″), and A3 (297mm × 420mm) sized paper. All versions include the exact same information.

You can buy it right here:

If you are interested in purchasing a full-sized print, stay tuned: I am working with a nifty company called Scalable Press to provide on-demand printing and shipping. Vim CheatSheet poster tubes will circulate the globe for the first time since the original print run of 500 copies was exhausted. The only changes planned from the original run will be some fixed typos.

Preorders for 2.0 will be available alongside the original as well. Everyone who has already preordered 2.0: Hold fast, you patient angels! I’ll be posting some teasers from the many years of revisions and rejected ideas and drafts here on this blog, but only preorder customers will get to preview the design and offer feedback before it goes live.

If you just want More Vim Stuff Now, take a peek at my funny and informative talk, How to Do 90% of What Plugins Do (With Just Vim). Don’t forget to check the comments! Plenty of questions I could not answer during the talk are thoroughly addressed there.

Some History

I first encountered Vim in 2004. As a budding professional programmer, I felt Vim supported a fundamental truth of computing: At some point, you just have to move bits around by hand, and GUIs tend heavily towards obfuscation. Vim felt like the best of both worlds: All the control and confidence of a native terminal application with the flexibility and (eventually) intuition to which GUI users are accustomed.

Well, that’s not what I thought at first. At first, I was simply baffled. But Vim’s idiosyncrasy is one of the things that got me so attached to it in the first place: There is a whole universe of helpful and powerful tools within the program, but you have to take the time to understand it to tap into that power. I did not realize it at the time, but my experience of autism and masking felt like a parallel: If only someone could take the time to see and  understand my realities, I could accomplish so much more. But I would not have the language for this connection until, well… now! Back then, I just understood that Vim was Special For Some Reason, and found myself defaulting to it for more and more computing tasks, peeking behind its anachronistic mask to glimpse the modular infrastructure that has sustained an entire family of Vim and vi-like text editors since before I was alive.

I launched the Kickstarter in 2012, after a brief yet abortive sabbatical at a certain dark-background alternative social network. I was feeling more disappointed than ever with my prospects in corporate America, so before I went in again, I decided to try a silly idea that I had come up with several years prior.

The project went bananas. Funded overnight, hundreds more backers than I expected by the end of the two-week funding period. It was not enough to live on, of course, and I did not know a thing about entrepreneurship back then. I managed to get a Shopify store setup to sell the remaining printed posters (the original print run was 500 copies), and once they ran out, the digital download kept my domains paid for.

However, in late 2017, I shut down the Shopify account. It is still hard to explain why, because I was going through something that is not well-understood. I’ll probably get into the gritty details of my own burnout someday, but for now I will say this much: this project means a lot to me, and taking it down was one of many peaks in a lifelong career of disorganized self-destruction.

Fortunately, I have friends who were there to pick up the pieces. The online adult autistic community has also been a font of self-knowledge, and I am finally taking the time, myself, to understand my own realities. Almost fifteen years after using it for the first time, I really still feel a weird kinship with this ubiquitous computer program from the 70’s!  Getting the original download available again is a milestone I am proud of, and I am so excited to get back to working with Vim and its wonderful worldwide community.

Thank you, so much, to everyone who has written and reached out. The past few years have been a constant wrestling match with depression, and the steady stream of inquiries over e-mail and social media reminded me that people are still interested in my work. I stopped being able to reply immediately several years ago, but I read and appreciate every single message.

‘Till next time… happy Vimming!

Business After Burnout: Vim CheatSheet’s 6-Year Anniversary


My name’s Max, and six years ago today, Kickstarter accepted my first ever crowdfunding campaign: Beautiful Vim CheatSheet. The tale of its outrageous initial success is one that I hope to record here soon. Since that fateful fortnight funding period, I have always eventually come back to this project. Even after burning out from my tech industry career for complex neurological/social reasons that I also hope to explore and record, I could not get it off my mind.

I thought I could get everything ready for a big dramatic release today (six year anniversary, woo!), but it turns out I am not quite there yet. That is okay, but I still want to light a beacon and let people know that I am here, and the project that so many of you have kindly e-mailed and asked about is very much alive.

Not only that, I intend to use this blog as a space for regular updates about the project, my mental health recovery, game design, and various related topics.

That’s all for now. If you came here from social media and you are not sure what Vim is, rest assured I am as confused as you are. Do not worry. Stay tuned and I will tell you all about it!