October 24, 2005

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Aha! moment — 43 Emacsen — feel free to steal this idea! =)

Feel free to Make This Happen, or get in touch with me if you want to
hack on this with a Ruby/Rails newbie. =)

You know how geeks do _really_ crazy things with their favorite
applications? Like the way I practically live in Emacs? And the way
some people practically live in Microsoft Excel? We use applications
for _far_ more than they were originally imagined to do.

So let’s help people think out of the box. Let’s show them what geeks
push their applications to do.

What would be ultracool?

Think of the way 43things lets you say
you’ve either done something or you plan to do something. Add a
software context and support screenshots. For example, you could add
“Do mail” to your list of things, set “Emacs” as your software, and
post a screenshot (optional) of Gnus (or even Rmail). Tick a little
checkbox if you don’t mind if people to ask you for help, and add a
short note about your experience if you want… Oooh, and throw
tagging in there somewhere.

Why is this ubercool?

– You see what other people do with a certain application. (And you

will begin to appreciate the insane flexibility of the Emacs text

– You see how other people do something, and maybe even how popular

something is.

– You see what friends and similar people use. =)

I want this. I think it would totally rock. I’m crazier about it than
the Eclipse snippets project my research supervisor wants me to
consider. I think we might get all sorts of useful data about geek
program usage, if we can get people to do this. For example, I’d
_love_ to find out what other crazy geek things people who have
similar usage patterns for Emacs might be doing, or what other
applications they’re crazy about… For example, I’m crazy about
Mozilla Firefox—but I know people out there are doing even cooler
things with it!

Steal this idea. Run with it. Make it happen. If I can use it for free
and I can copy my data easily, I’ll be one of your first users and evangelists! =)

Tracing the thoughtpath for fun: how did I get to thinking about that?

  1. Well, I was thinking about Google and how I want to be an evangelist
    more than I want to be an engineer.
  2. Then I thought about evangelism and what I usually get excited about.
  3. Which naturally made me think about Emacs.
  4. So I thought about all the crazy stuff you can do with Emacs.
  5. And then I thought about Danny O’ Brien’s lifehacks talk and how
    power users do crazy things with applications.
  6. Which made me wonder what other people are doing with Emacs.
  7. Which made me want to start a blog (or revive emacstidbits).
  8. … but then I wanted to see _other_ people’s stories…
  9. … and although some stories are on http://www.emacswiki.org , they’re still
    buried in technical information…
  10. … so wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring those stories out and make them

    easy to capture and browse?

  11. Which made me think of other services that did that, like 43things.
  12. Which gave me that aha! moment!

N degrees of Sacha Chua’s mind. Emacs is my Kevin Bacon. ;)

In the arms of a stranger

On a whim, I decided to drop by the tango class at the International
Student Centre. Although I’d never danced the tango before, it was
surprisingly easy to pick up. All I had to do was follow where my feet
felt like going.

It felt so good to dance again.

I like dancing.

I like being able to walk backwards without looking, confident that my
partner won’t let me walk into obstacles. I like finding myself
turning in response to the slightest push. I like listening,

I guess that’s why I enjoy social dance more than any other form of
dance. Social dance is a conversation between two bodies. A good dance
allows me to feel that I’ve truly listened to someone, that someone
knew how to talk to me and I knew how to understand him. How wonderful
it is to be able to completely listen to someone without worrying that
he’ll take it the wrong way!

How much more wonderful would it be if the dance was just the
background for another conversation? I think it would be nice to dance
with someone I know. (And a _particular_ someone I know, at that… ;)

Tango will probably be easier to pick up than swing. Tango’s slower,
and it’s less about memorized steps than it is about flow. Or maybe a
nice waltz…

Ah, waltzes. I remember Terry-sama and her husband, silver-haired but
still spry, gliding across the special dancing floor in their
basement. In their carefree dancing, I saw years and years of
listening to each other. Wow.

I want to learn how to dance like that. It isn’t about memorizing
patterns. It isn’t about moving quickly. Heck, it isn’t even about
getting the rhythm. It’s about leading and following, speaking and
listening… I want that. I want to learn how to _dance._

Getting along with other geeks

It’s so much fun to hang out with other geeks. (Yes, Marcelle, that
includes you. ;) )

Diane Gonzales asks: how do you find and hang out with other geeks?

It can be tough getting started, particularly when you feel everyone
else is geekier than you are. I’ve hung out with people with crazy
geek powers, like reciting more than a hundred digits of pi. (Weirdos!
;) ) I’ve met kernel tweakers and book authors, embedded programmers
and math wizards. Almost all the geeks I know are geekier than I am in
at least one thing. Then again, I totally freak them out with my
devotion to Emacs… <grin>

So, how do you start hanging out with other geeks?

Challenge geeks on their home turfs and you’ll get a lot of
information but very little connection. You can spend hours talking
about Linux or PHP, but that could degenerate into just talking _at_
each other in a one-upmanship contest of geekiness. Discussions of
computer history or programming languages are particularly bad things
to talk about, because it’s so tempting to try and establish a geek
pecking order. (“My other computer was a VAX.”) I get _so_ turned off
by intellectual snobbishness.

You’re better off introducing _non-geek_ interests and activities.
Geeks feel particularly well-understood when you talk to them about
how geekiness leaks over into other aspects of life. What’s the
geekiest thing you’ve ever done? Don’t give stale answers like staying
up until 5 hacking on a project. Everyone’s done that. Talk about
things that aren’t normally geeky. Explain something normal in a geeky
way. For example, just last night a couple of geeks and I were talking
about ballroom dancing, and I compared it to computer science… =)
Geek get-togethers are more enjoyable when you stop thinking you need
to know everything and you start thinking that you’re there to have

Clever wordplay, geeky observations, geeky jokes—that’s how you
loosen geeks up and get them to feel comfortable around you. Then it
becomes much easier to talk about technical stuff. (One of the coolest
things about having a geeky boyfriend is how conversations can go from
sappy to technical so easily—and how technical stuff can sound _sooo_

Diane: You’re also going to have to learn to deal with people who try
to hit on you. Geeks tend to not be very good at dealing with girls.
Once they find out you’re respectably geeky (that is, your eyes don’t
glaze over when they talk about operating systems, and you understand
their need to just hack), many of them will set their sights on you.
They’ll try to impress you with their l33t hacking skillz. They’ll try
to teach you something new or give you too much attention. Gently but
firmly steer the conversation away from their Linux-powered alarm
clock and back to whatever you want to talk about.

On the plus side, your attention can be a powerful thing. Learn how to
listen attentively so that you can make people feel listened to and
appreciated. Smile. Laugh at people’s jokes if they’re a bit funny.
Make eye contact, but don’t stare, and turn every now and then to
include someone else in the conversation. People’s attention will be
drawn to whoever you’re paying attention to, which is also good for
nudging conversations the way you want them. Read books on body
language to learn how to use your face and posture to show interest or

If there are post-event parties, go to them. If you’re new to the
group, you’ll fade out of conversations longer than normal, but you’ll
probably catch enough to make it useful. ‘course, make sure you’re
going to a reasonably secure place. =) I did that when I was in Osaka
for an open source convention. I talked to a few Debian developers
there because I needed to get my key signed. They decided to go for
food and drinks at a nearby bar. I tagged along even though I barely
knew anyone and I was having trouble keeping up with Japanese. I
understood maybe 10% of the conversation (and that 10% was
Emacs-related!), but it was definitely a lot of fun.

Look for people who know a lot of other people. They can introduce you
to other people with compatible interests or personalities. You can
also do a good deed by helping other wallflowers become comfortable.
Find out what they’re interested in and come up with a connection
between that and what you’re interested in.

You might start off with just interacting one-on-one with people, but
it pays to get people to get to know each other. Then you can hang out
with more people at a time, and you get to see how they interact with
each other. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself with a geeky barkada! =)

(… ack, did I just recommend _small talk_?! Umm. Small talk with a
geeky flavor!)

Let other people help

Said by Benjamin Franklin, quoted by Michael Motta, blogged by Seth Godin:

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you
another, than whom you yourself have obliged.”


So get up the courage to ask people for help. It can be very good for you.