Price And Performance

March 2, 2023

A long retired friend of mine – fascinating guy, among other things a former hostage negotiator – used to say “sometimes people bring me emergencies… I always start by asking myself, ‘what if we do nothing’? Not because I’m lazy, though I am lazy. But because it’s a good benchmark. Nobody likes wasting their time or making things worse, so anything we decide to do has to have a good chance at giving us a better result than we could have had with no effort at all.”

In a similar vein, Mike Haertel, former Grep maintainer and not someone I know, once said that “the key to making programs fast is to make them do practically nothing”.

I think about both of those lines a lot.

A friend reminded me recently of a trick not a lot of people know: the combination of UBlock Origin and the “disable custom fonts” option in Firefox feels a lot like you’ve just bought new, much better computer.

On my own system, I’ve installed the Atkinson Hyperlegible font from the Braille Institute – it does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s unreasonably good – and then in Firefox, under settings -> general -> fonts -> advanced, set both the serif and sans-serif fonts to Atkinso, picked a font size of my own choice and unchecked the “let sites choose their own fonts” box.

(If you’re also looking fora a nice monospace font: Fira Code – a fork of Fira Mono, that includes a bunch of new work including “programmer’s ligatures” – is really nice!)

If your eyes are getting as old as mine, setting that minimum font size is gold. After that, get UBlock Origin here and let it work.

If you’re using Chrome, Bing or Safari, you can get the same results by visiting Mozilla, downloading and installing Firefox, and then going through the above steps.

It is striking what a difference it makes. My only caveats are that if you use any addons that modify your fonts for accessibility reasons, or anything else, this will definitely prevent those from working, and this approach can cause usability problems in some sites that use custom fonts for things like navigation arrows.

For my own purposes, considering how fast everything suddenly becomes – which borders on the ridiculous – it’s worth it.