Emacs in the real world – part 2
Forget Perl’s claims, Emacs really is the Swiss Army chainsaw of the *NIX world. Join Richard Smedley for the second of a three-part series revealing how you can do most of your day-to-day tasks without leaving Emacs – from contacts and appointments to GTD, there’s an Emacs way to productivity paradise…
You can find part 1 of Emacs in the real world here.
Here’s a quick start guide for those looking for a quick refresher:
We’re writing C-x C-s to mean simultaneously press the Ctrl and X keys, release, then simultaneously press the Ctrl and S keys (this saves the file in the current buffer). M-! means press the Meta and ! keys – Alt represents Meta on most modern keyboards. You can also press and release Esc, them press !. Oh yes, and as ! is Shift+1 on most keyboards, that’s a bit more stretching!
Start Emacs and type C-h t. This will bring you into the excellent interactive beginners’ tutorial. Run through it, then use your newfound knowledge on a couple of your documents. Print out one of the many crib sheets for Emacs keystrokes available on the web, then join us on these pages to discover Org-mode.
Most time spent on PCs and mobile devices that isn’t lost to passive consumption (eBooks, DVDs, MP3s) is spent either communicating (from email through microblogging to VoIP) or organising (contacts, project planning, wikis, TODO lists). We’ll look at communication next month: this month we show how to make Emacs the centre of your organised life. Org-mode in particular builds structured text and simple, wiki-like syntax into a comprehensive management tool for projects, schedules and workgroups, tightly integrated with diary and contacts.
A short while ago, you had to sync up Palm devices to tiresome productivity tools on your PC, but now that smartphones all seem to be based on GNU/Linux, you can run Emacs there too – and even when you can’t, the heart of Emacs’ magnificent Org-mode is simple text lists, so you can manage the most complex set of project tasks wherever you go, without having to forsake the finger-twisting but all-embracing comfort of Emacs.
However you organise, an important task is to get info into your system as painlessly as possible. Emacs Remember works with Planner or Org-mode. All you need is
(require ‘remember) in your .emacs file. Adding the following will bring more functionality:
(setq remember-annotation-functions ‘(org-remember-annotation)) (setq remember-handler-functions ‘(org-remember-handler)) (add-hook ‘remember-mode-hook ‘org-remember-apply-template)
Now ‘M-x remember’ will open the Remember buffer, and you can start inputting notes with /minimum/ structure, to be saved in whichever back end you choose – or ~/.notes by default. Once you’ve captured the information, then you can worry about organising it.
A favourite tool of many is Muse, an authoring and publishing environment. It combines an enhanced text mode for navigating projects and authoring new documents with a set of styles for publishing standards-compliant docs in various formats. Either may be used alone. Beyond this, Muse now integrates with Emacs’ planner.el, a personal information manager (PIM) bringing together all the necessary Emacs pieces, such as Bbdb-mode for addresses, and using Muse to link notes and items together – something Muse inherits from EmacsWiki, from which it is a fork.
The Insidious Big Brother Database (BBDB) is so-called because it silently gathers address details from Emacs’ news and mail readers, and makes them available when you need them. Planner can grab these details, as well as linking into diary, calendar and your choice of Emacs mail program, and building on Muse.
Muse will output everything from webpages and blog entries, through tutorials and UNIX man or info pages, to slides and lecture notes. Think of all the time you’ll save not having to move the mouse around in OpenOffice menus to produce simple documents!