Chapter 7: Managing Your Notes in Emacs – done!

By golly, it’s starting to look like a book.

I just finished putting together my third chapter, which is really chapter 7 in the book: managing your notes and Emacs. This chapter is about taking notes in Emacs, focusing on Remember, Org, Planner, and blogs. At 38 pages, it’s a little over my planned 35 pages, and I haven’t even covered all the things that I wanted to like random information management with Howm, blogging to Blosxom, and customizing Planner templates. Maybe after some really fierce copy-editing, I’ll have some space.

I sent a copy off to my editor, and I just finished uploading a PDF and document that you can download and read. There’s also an HTML version, but the formatting is a little wonky. I hope you find this useful! I didn’t blog as much of this as I did last time, so I missed out on all the wonderful feedback people could’ve given me. I’ll do that next chapter.

I formatted most of the chapter this afternoon, hanging out with Leigh Honeywell, Seth Hardy, and a few other geeks at the Linux Caffe. Leigh’s working on a book proposal, and we’re thinking of organizing a writing group for technical authors. We’ll start by meeting this Thursday at Leigh’s apartment. iI enjoyed chatting with them as I worked on my book, drifting in and out of conversations. I think it would be a good idea to work somewhere quieter, with plenty of table room for assorted gadgets, but this was a good start.

Next chapter: contact management in Emacs. I’ve got a lot of fun hacks that I want to share here, so coming up with material shouldn’t be hard. I’ll keep you posted!

(UPDATE: Fixed links. Thanks to Leschinsky Oleg for pointing that out!)

  • OOo link points to HTML version and vice versa.

  • JLV

    If you’re going to mention blosxom, you might want to let your readers know it’s no longer being developed (and has been abandoned for some time). It’s rock stable, but the project was killed in the midst of a much-needed rewrite.

  • Oh! I didn’t know that. I’m sorry to hear that…

  • Erik Colson

    Hello Sacha,

    I’ve been reading those 38 pages with a lot of pleasure. I’m using planner for years now and recently tried out the org-mode. The one reason I have for trying org-mode is the hierarchical outline of tasks which is missing in planner. (However I hate the interface of orgmode and some instabilities right now…)
    As I’m still considering the move towards orgmode, I missed a comparison between these modes in chapter 7. I know it might be out of the topic of your book but such a comparison (especially coming from you) would be very helpfull in my evaluation.

    I’m looking forward to the publication of the book which I will definitely pre-order (if possible)

    • Carsten Dominik

      Hi Erik,

      strong words about the org-mode interface. I would be interested to hear a more specific description of what you hate about it and why. Not that I think that I can d much about it, but I am strongly interested in constructive criticism.

      – Carsten

      • Erik Colson

        Hello Carsten,

        Hmmm… when reading your comment I realized those words are very _stong_. They should not have been. Well, I mean they do, but not the way they are ;-)

        I remember the time I learned planner and planner-wiki. In those days, there was planner and planner was good. All other ways I tried to bring some organized disorder in my life were doomed. So planner it was and planner I learned… day by day… week by week… month by month… And I was happy with it !
        Well happyness is good… but someday everybody goes lurking in the neighbours garden looking if the grass might be greener out there. So did I.
        So here I am in org-mode garden! Grass looked green, hierarchy rocks – repeating tasks is supported nicely, deadlines and appointments too. so I guess if I was not used to planner I might be very optimistic. Well I’m not and this is why :
        – I struggle with the default key-bindings. I hate that my left and right arrows bring me to previous/next week in agenda mode. Well I can change those in lisp, but I won’t. At least not before I’m correctly understanding the whole org-concept.
        – Agenda-mode is read-only. Agenda-mode is read-only. Agenda-mode is read-only… This is what I’m telling my brain every time I start org-mode. My brain still keeps answering me: why ? Agenda-mode should be editable !
        – I had a crash when changing some data in a data file from which an item was shown in the current agenda-mode buffer and the updating the agenda-buffer. But I can’t repoduce so I might have done other stuff too (although only org-buffers were open in that emacs session).
        – I miss. I REALLY MISS A LOT ! the links between tasks and data files. For example (in planner) I have a file for each project. I also have a file containing things I have to buy. Well there are things I have to buy for a specific project… that’s a link. that’s what I’m missing. Tags could help but not really… Sometimes I need to buy stuff which are needed for 2 or more projects. Can’t figure out how to do this in org-mode.

        I am wrong and I know. I should not try to learn org-mode by trying to use it as I am using planner. I should try org-mode from scratch, as I did with planner years ago. But that’s hard. That’s something which I try hard also. That’s why I did not delete org-mode already. I try, really I do ! And I won’t stop until I do understand the whole thing behind org-mode. Why ? Well, lot’s of people do say org-mode is excellent, and I remember Sacha wrote something like that also. Sacha is someone I’ve been following for years now and she seems to understand what a well organized disorder should be. Actually she does far better than I. And if Sacha says org-mode is definitely something to look at then I should certainly take some time to do that ;-)

        Note to Sacha… I did not receive the comment from Carsten by email although I did subscribe to this via the ‘subscribe to comments via email’ button. Something I missed ?


        • Buying stuff for more than one project:

          If you find that most of your work doesn’t fit into a hierarchy neatly, you could give up on the hierarchy and use tags to organize your project-related work. =)

        • Carsten Dominik

          Hello Eric, thank you for taking the time to formulate some of the
          issues you have with org-mode.

          Well, the good thing about planner and org-mode is that they are both
          there. One neigh ours garden is for playing golf, the other one for
          growing flowers (no, I am *not* going to assign garden type to org-mode
          or planner… – just mean that there are differences).

          You are not the first person to have problems with Org-modes model of
          the agenda buffer, and in particular people coming from planner have
          this issue. You are used to have you daily page as a playing field,
          where you can arrange things any way you like, add notes, even tell
          the world about your day. And I can totally see how you get
          frustrated when this is taken from you. I guess that the issues you
          have with key bindings (in the agenda?) are actually mostly the same as
          the issue that you cannot edit the day page.

          Org-mode assumes that the question “what did I do on day xxx” in not
          an interesting one, but puts all its attention to projects and tasks,
          not to the day. That’s why it thinks all notes, additions, pushing
          around belongs into the project context and in the general task list,
          not onto the day agenda. It thinks that a done task should disappear
          from your list to keep confusion and distraction at a minimum. It
          thinks that any changes you make in the project context should
          transparently and dynamically filter through to the task list.

          Of course we would easily make something like a day page, where the
          current agenda is copied each morning. In fact, you *can* use the
          diary in combination with the `org-diary’ function in order to get
          tasks that are generated by Org-mode files inserted into your daily
          page, just like diary entries from the Emacs diary, and even with
          working links. However, the links back to the org-mode files live only
          during the Emacs session, so I am not sure this would work for you.

          If you experiences instabilities and crashes, that is uncommon, and
          with a good report we usually fix issues within days.

          About the stuff to buy, here you are at the core of the difference.
          In Org-mode, when you need to buy something, you write that down in
          the project file and nowhere else. You tag it with :buy:, maybe even
          with the specific store, and it will be on your list whenever you
          choose to look at it. No link necessary.

          Stuff needed for two projects? Yes, there is no clean solution for
          this in the sense that you have a shopping list with links from/two
          projects. However, once you stop thinking about the shopping list
          because it is dynamic (I’d prefer term this to “read-only”), the
          solution that presents itself is to simply write it in one of the two
          projects, make the item a target and link to it from the other
          project, like

          * Project one: Cut the tree in the garden
          ** TODO Get the right <> :BUY:
          * Project two: Cut the Roses in front of the house
          For this I need that [[cutting tool]] as well.

          which will link from project two to project one for the item to buy.

          Anyway, I am not trying to convince you. I can see how the planner
          way of doing things can work as well, and it is perfect like this.
          The world is big enough for both planner and Org-mode, and the best
          thing that can happen is that we all learn from discussions like this.


          – Carsten

    • Yes, I should look into how to make it easy for people to preorder! =) That would be awesome. (And motivating, too–I really have to work on the book because I’ll make X people happy!)

      I didn’t do the comparison in chapter 7 because the split between outline and day-oriented is pretty straightforward. You can do outline notes in Planner, though. Carsten made the org outline navigation available as a minor mode. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should work.

      Chapter 8 (managing tasks) has a bit of a comparison. That chapter focuses more on Org, though.

      From your other comments, it looks like the free-form nature of Planner is a good fit for you. You can use orgstruct-mode or allout as a minor mode that’ll help you work with outlines. Use headlines (*, **, ***) to organize your tasks, and use Planner tasks (#A, #B, #C) for your next actions. That should get you most of the way to what you want, and then you can use a couple of custom functions to do more complex things.

      Hope that helps!

      (Subscribing to comments to check that other error… I wonder what’s happening…)

  • Stephan

    Hi Sasha,

    just a typo: pdf-page 4, Make a habit of typing C-c C-r or C-u C-c C-r (remember)...

    I think you meant C-c r or C-u C-c r


  • Okay, comment subscription should work now, if we’re lucky… =)

    • Erik Colson

      comment subscription is great.

  • raymond

    the links don’t seem to work anymore. :-(

  • Should work again. Thanks!

  • raymond

    awesome, thanks! this chapter looks really really good!

  • Prashant

    The links seem to be broken.

    • Fixed! Please note that this post is old (2008 – 5 years ago!), so the code may no longer be relevant.