Forward into the land of Emacs

 A few months ago I reported about my advancement in my use of Emacs. This post will be a report of my further progress. Quick reminder: I started using emacs for project management and working on web sites. I still do that today, even though I spent much less time editing websites and these are very much side projects I do for and with friends. These days however, I use Emacs for the following reasons:

  • CSS & HTML editing
  • Family and project management:I do this with Org-mode and I must emphasize that Org-mode is a great tool to help you “run” your family, such as shopping lists, doctor’s appointment and various tasks and reminder.
  • Note taking: with Org-mode mostly, but sometimes with other modes such as Markdown
  • Blogging: I do that either by editing html files or through Org-mode. I am aware there are about ten different blogging mode and emacs packages out there, but I fail to see how one can seriously become more productive with these unless you run your blog on a custom framework (and not on, say, WordPress).
  • Email : with mu4e
  • reading feeds
  • file management
  • learning elisp

I will highlight a few of these use cases and explain how I’m progressively digging deeper into Emacs.

1.1 Project and family management

It may surprise many of my readers but Org-mode is an excellent family management. In between the household chores and the various appointments to the pediatrician as well as some specific lists of things to do or persons to call for any reason, I have come to realize that one is well inspired to maintain an ever-growing org file on which all these informations are tracked and listed.carbon-emacs-icon
Just like with an online shared calendar, these tools improve the circulation of information as well as its clarity which can sometimes be as important as the former! More broadly, I use org-mode for managing projects of all kind, not just family. I do not claim I use all of its features, far from that. I mostly use it to keep track of things to do, appointments, expenses, and to gain a better visibility on whatever situation or ongoing tasks there are.

1.2 Note taking

I do use org-mode as well for note taking, as it gives you the flexibility to organize your note not just as random texts, but already as an ensemble of structured thoughts, discourses or even conversations. I must admit I never quite got comfortable with org-capture; I’m not so sure it fits my needs, and I plan on using Deft much more. Deft and org-capture are not tools to take notes, they are tools that complement org-mode’s ability to note taking. Deft for instance could be understood as some sort of searchable and customizable front end for your notes.
Another effective way to use org-mode and take notes is to use it through tables, as these may come in handy during a lecture for instance. I don’t use tables in all my org-files but I enjoy the added fexibility they offer.

1.3 Blogging

I usually do blog directly through the WordPress editor; when I don’t I simply compose an html page inside Emacs. I was intrigued by the possibility of using Org-mode to blog, but it ended up being a rather frustrating experience. Setting up Emacs and whatever Org tool seems rather time consuming in itself; it only really makes sense if you run a self-hosted, custom designed weblog. For people using WordPress I fail to see why going through all this pain would be useful. Some people seem to rely on org-mode to blog and to archive their blog but I feel that there are fairly good exports tools for WordPress users.

1.4 Email

I finally did this. I now do handle my emails via Emacs, more specifically via mu4e, a tool I had already discussed in a previous post. Of course depending on my machine I either only use Claws-Mail, or a mix between mu4e and Evolution, as I rely on Evolution for my Caldav calendars: Emacs does not seem to have an effective tool to handle calendars aside the Google and OwnCloud calendars (org-caldav is buggy for me).
I have spent quite a long time figuring the proper configuration but I should point out that the hardest part wasn’t mu4e itself. Configuring multiple SMTP accounts was; I learned that using the default smtp stack on emacs is a credible solution to commit suicide and that msmtp is a better workable choice. In the process I did learn a lot and I got in touch with a nice community of mu and mu4e users.
Mu4e is very fast, extremely searchable (it beats any graphical client!) and to my surprise handles html mails rather well when the proper options are selected. I still have some issues with encryption but these are rather peripheral and are related to Emacs itself. I don’t plan to switch entirely to Emacs for emails, but I can safely estimate that I have used it for 50% of my mail processing and handling since about 2 months.

1.5 Reading feeds

I thought reading feeds inside Emacs would increase my time spent doing just that but it didn’t. There’s a nifty package called elfeed that does a great job importing your opml file; after that you need to configure elfeed to your own choices and tastes. But I must say that feed reading is not an important part of my use of Emacs.

1.6 File Management

I’m increasingly relying on the famous Dired to manage and browse my files. Not just the ones produced on Emacs though; I increasingly rely on Emacs’s ability to view documents (ODF, PDF, MSWord docs) as it simply makes me gain time. I don’t edit these documents, I read them on the fly and then turn back to the other buffers of Emacs.

1.7 Learning elisp

You’ve read this correctly: I am learning elisp. There aren’t that many manuals out there; but the reference ones are just fine, from the introduction to elisp to the reference manual of the Free Software Foundation.

All in all, I am happy to say that using Emacs has quickly become more than a text editor I started using with a narrowly specified set of uses and intent: it has become an exciting intellectual challenge – remember I’m no developer – and something to open my mind to other horizons: programming languages, enhanced productivity…
In a sense it is unbelievable that a tool born in the seventies could still be that popular in 2015 and attract people like me. There’s no age limit to learn and it seems this is true when it comes to text editors of the seventies.

Author: Charles-H. Schulz

Created: 2015-06-28 dim. 23:04

Emacs 24.5.1 (Org mode 8.2.10)


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