The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Visual Studio Code

Atom for finite time

A text editor.

VS Code is Microsoft’s competitor to Atom, with a similar technology stack, but somewhat cleaner and faster.

I am not clear on its relationship to the flabby Visual Studio. Some shared branding without any particular shared code? I don’t care enough to ever find out.[^“Flabby” in the sense of being busy with features I don’t want, not in the sense of wasting hard disk space and RAM. As a javascript desktop app VS Code is a gigantic RAM waster, like all the other javascript apps.]

Anyway, VS Code is OK, it turns out.

Important keyboard shortcuts

Tab switching is not obvious. There are a lot of tweaks you could do, but short story

Ctrl PageDown (Windows) or ⌘ ⌥ → (Mac).


Roll your own snippets. You invoke them using Ctrl space <prefix> tab, where you get to define <prefix>.

Here is a example set that works good for markdown math

    "Inline_Math": {
        "prefix": "$",
        "scope": "markdown,latex",
        "body": [
        "description": "inline math"
    "Display_Math": {
        "prefix": "$$",
        "scope": "markdown,latex",
        "body": [
        "description": "display math"
    "Display_Math_Markdown": {
        "prefix": "align",
        "scope": "markdown",
        "body": [
        "description": "display math"

Or for a short-ish snippet you can assign direct keyboard shortcuts in the keybindings.json file (Preferences: Open Keyboard Shortcuts File)

        "key": "ctrl+shift+4",
        "command": "editor.action.insertSnippet",
        "when": "editorTextFocus",
        "args": {
            "snippet": "\\($1\\)$0"
        "key": "cmd+shift+4",
        "command": "editor.action.insertSnippet",
        "when": "editorTextFocus",
        "args": {
            "snippet": "\\($1\\)$0"

Searching and selecting

Almost obvious but to get maximum value you have to learn a couple of extra things.

Mutliline search expressions require you to type ⇧-⏎/Shift-Enter. That’s for vanilla string matching. For regex matching if you want to match multiline search you need to explicitly add newline characters to your character classes, i.e. [\s\S\r]+.

To replace regex groups you do the usual thing - $1 is the first group etc and $$ is a dollar sign.

Putting this together, if you wish to replace latex bracket syntax with latex dollar syntax, you replace \\\[ *([\s\S\r]+?) *\\\] with $$$$$1$$$$.

VS code does ordinary javascript regex. If you want fancy lookaround or backref you can enable the setting search.usePCRE2.

Multi cursors interact with search usefully. General multiple cursors are made by Alt+Click/ Option+click. There are many keyboard shortcuts to use them to automate menial chores.

Needful extensions

“Remote” editing

Remote edits code in particular environments - including spinning up containers or SSH sessions, so that your editor and execution environments can be different. The remotes in the former case can be local “remotes”.

Markdown mathematics

It comes with a built-in markdown preview, but you want mathematics support, no? Yeah you do.

You can make Markdown more legible with dark themes by using Markdown Theme Kit, bitbucket styles or github styles.

I personally use Markdown + Math, which is far from perfect, but the cons are not showstoppers. Choose your poison.

Option 1: native “Markdown + Math”

You can augment native markdown preview with maths support via Markdown + Math a.k.a. mdmath.



Option 2: Markdown preview enhanced

Replace native markdown preview with the revamped Markdown Preview Enhanced.


Cons (at least when using MathJax):

Spell checking

Spellright seems to be the best one, in terms of being fast and well-integrated into the OS. Developer Bartosz Antosik is incredibly responsive. I should send him money.

It is too aggressive with spellchecking latex maths in markdown documents. Here is a workaround I whipped up, to put in the settings file:

    "spellright.ignoreRegExpsByClass": {
        "markdown": [

Pro-tip: make sure that your spelling language is set to a supported dictionary, or you will miss things.

Linux and spellright

On Ubuntu you need hunspell dictionaries installed. NB it is not sufficient to install hunspell; you need to download or link the files into the right place for the extension to find them, in the correct character encoding.

To use it a pair of Dictionary (*.dic) and Affixes (*.aff) files with UTF-8 encoding have to be downloaded … and placed in Dictionaries subfolder of VSCode’s user global configuration directory, located at $HOME/.config/Code/Dictionaries/.

Hunspell dictionaries are not obvious, entailing e.g. character set weirdness. You can create your own langauge if you want, so that’s nice I suppose. More usefully for most of us, can create your own user dictionary, or add to it using hunspell commands but it’s not clear to me if VS Code will pick these up.

Various config one needs

You config is in a JSON file, which is quaintly retro but does mean that 3rd party config is at least not purely abysmal. The path location is the following:

But you can coordinate across OSes by using settings sync.

Hover/tooltip/hint/autocompletion things are too intrusive

There are a lot of features which huddle under the opaque umbrella of intellisense, because they let someone in marketing get too near the product. But they all need tweaking, so you have to work out which is which. First, which is hover, which is hints etc? At least it’s less overhead than learning elisp.

The thing that appears when you mouse over a character is hover. It probably does something useful in statically-typed languages, but ends up just being annoying in, e.g. javascript/python.

You want

    "editor.hover.delay": 3000,


Possibly also

    "editor.hover.sticky": false,

The hints are probably also being annoying, right? because instead of letting you finish a line it wants to to insert some wacky argument?

    "editor.acceptSuggestionOnEnter": false,

That can be toned down by language for e.g. markdown.

How about bracket closing? (brrrrr) If you are like me and you are offended by every implementation of bracket closing you have yet seen, you want, in your config:

    "editor.autoClosingBrackets": false,

Aaaaahhhh that’s better.

Alternatively, you might want to use AI-assisted IntelliSense.

Outline view in python is mostly imports

If you are using the (deprecated) code outline extension, Alex Gvozden’s solution:

    "symbolOutline.topLevel": [

AFAICT the built-in one doesn’t do this.

Which language is that file?

Want to associate file types to certain languages?

    "files.associations": {
        "*.thor": "ruby",
        "*.jsx": "javascript"


Want to disable reporting your habits to Microsoft?

    "telemetry.enableTelemetry": false


You can use VS Code as an alternative client to talk to jupyter kernels

VS code Juptyer Nifty examples.

Bonus gotchas

Command line not working

You want it to work from the command line for fish shell on macOS?

set -U fish_user_paths \
    "/Applications/Visual Studio" \


Go to symbol doesn’t work

Go to definition? Go to symbol? idk; there are a lot of similar features here for code navigation It turns out go to symbol is somewhat broken generally, and totally arsed for python.


Bookmarks extension