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Some tips for learning Org Mode for Emacs

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series A Visual Guide to Emacs

When I learn something new, I always find myself wishing there was some kind of map to help me figure out where to start, how to track progress, and what to learn next. So now I’m making them. Here’s one for learning Org Mode, a popular outline/TODO/everything-else mode for the Emacs text editor. You can probably figure out the relevant manual sections to read based on the keywords, but feel free to ask in the comments if you need more help.

2014-01-07 Map for learning Org Mode for Emacs

Map for Learning Org Mode for Emacs

Here’s another short guide with suggestions for evolving your Org file organization:

2014-01-09 Tips for organizing your Org-mode files

Tips for organizing your Org-mode files

And here’s the one-page cheat sheet I made before helping someone dig into tracking time with Org. It’s a great way to measure your time on specific tasks.

2014-01-06 Tracking time with Org mode

Tracking time with Org Mode

Eventually I’ll get around to writing/drawing a book on thinking with Emacs. If you want it to happen, keep asking questions! =)

(Images are shared under the Creative Commons Attribution license, so reshare/reuse/remix away! Click on the images for larger versions.)

Planning a time-tracking workshop for Quantified Self Toronto

Quantified Self Toronto is organizing a conference on self-tracking in February. Whee! I’ve promised to put together a small workshop on time-tracking, since a number of people are interested in collecting and analyzing their time data.

Here are some rough plans for the time-tracking workshop:

2013-12-21 Plans for time-tracking workshop

I need to figure out what pieces people need to learn and what I can fit into the workshop time. Some of the pieces may have to be for follow-up or individually-paced study. Here are the pieces I probably need to put together. It still feels too large for a two-hour course, so I’ll need to trim it even more – maybe make iOS, Android, and RescueTime/ManicTime more cursory mentions than in-depth explorations.2013-12-21 Pieces wanted for time-tracking course

Here are some thoughts on one of the pieces, transforming your time data.

2013-12-21 Transforming your time data

 

More pieces: Easy ways to track time

2014-01-03 Easy ways to track time

Staying on the time-tracking wagon

2014-01-03 Staying on the time-tracking wagon

I was offline during most of our trip to the Philippines, so it was a good test of how I could track without a Web connection to QuantifiedAwesome.com. I tried writing timestamps and activities in a small notebook that I kept in my beltbag, and I also tried using a timestamping application on my smartphone. (KeepTrack on my Android phone, if you’re curious.) The smartphone was much more convenient and less obtrusive, oddly enough. When I wrote timestamps down on paper, people commented on that as an unusual activity, but people are used to people checking their screens. Since I could easily backdate entries, I could postpone pulling my phone out until I wasn’t worried about safety or distractedness. When I got back online, I simply used the batch entry interface to add several days of entries at once.

I don’t have any iOS devices, so I might have a bit of a challenge putting together recommendations for people with iPhones. I’ve also gotten spoiled by the time-crunching capabilities I built into QuantifiedAwesome, so I’ll work on fleshing out  spreadsheet-focused analyses instead.

I’d like to put together some resources to help people get started during the workshop, with follow-up materials. I’ll also turn the info into an online course (most likely free). Would you like to help me make it happen? I’d love to hear from people who are doing similar things and have workflow tips/observations, and I’m also happy to test the material and do Q&A with people who want to apply the ideas to their life.

Sharing Google Docs: One link to edit, one link to view

Lots of people posted tips in the Google Helpouts Discuss community, but the tips were getting lost in the stream of messages. I decided to pull out the tips, rewrite them for clarity, and organize them by topic. I didn’t want to be the keeper of the document, though – no sense in my being a bottleneck! So I started a new document in Google Docs, fleshed it out, and shared the link.

To share a link that lets anyone with the link edit the document:

  1. Click on File > Share…
  2. Under Who has access, change the first line to Anyone who has the link can edit.
  3. Copy the link.
  4. Click Done.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to publishing the document to the Web, you probably don’t want just anyone editing it. Here’s how to publish a separate read-only link:

  1. Click on File > Publish to the web…
  2. Publish the document
  3. Copy the link.

Since Google URLs are long and unwieldy, you may want to come up with custom short URLs for both the edit link and the read-only link.

Hope that helps!

Semi-custom messages with text expanders

The growing popularity of Google Helpouts mean that I often respond to requests from people who want to learn more about taking notes and learning more effectively. I want to make sure that people who book Helpouts with me (for the virtual equivalent of hot chocolate and a muffin!) think about specific questions, check for technical issues, and are otherwise prepared for the 15-minute conversation. That way, we can both get the most of the time.

Since I find myself sending people messages that are similar but not identical to others I’ve sent, I use text expanders instead of autoresponders to save myself time. My favourite automation program is AutoHotkey, which is rather geekily configured through plain text files. (Want a cleaner interface? Try Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows or Mac). I’ve defined a few hotstrings that expand to welcome messages for my different Helpouts, nudges about technical issues, and so on.

If you find yourself typing or copying and pasting a lot of text frequently, consider using a text expander. Typing a pre-defined shortcut is easier than finding a specific item in your snippets file, and you might even be able to do all sorts of other things with the tool. For example, I’ve used AutoHotkey to set a keyboard shortcut for copying something from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet row, switching to another application, pasting it in, reformatting it, and then moving on to the next row. Lots of good stuff. See my Autohotkey blog posts for more examples.

Be lazy and automate! =)

Automating bulk web stuff with iMacros

I found myself needing to download a whole bunch of JSON data from a server that had a weird authentication thing that Chrome could deal with but wget/curl/Ruby couldn’t. Since my Firefox was on the fritz, I couldn’t use Selenium IDE or the Selenium Webdriver. iMacros to the rescue! (Chrome, Firefox)

2013-11-21 Geek notes - automating bulk web stuff with iMacros

That plus lots of keyboard macros and text manipulation in Emacs, plus a little parsing and regexp substitution in Ruby, plus more Emacs munging got me the data I wanted. Hooray for bubblegum and string scripting!

Decision review: Clipboard managers, and why you should get one

I’d gotten spoiled by the way that Emacs can stash multiple clipboard items in its “kill ring” (kill being its idiosyncratic word for “cut”), so when I found myself juggling lots of text in the process of posting social media updates and publishing sketchnotes live during a fast-paced conference, I looked for a clipboard manager that could give me similar features in Microsoft Windows.

Clipboard managers turn out to be great time-savers for the easily distracted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve copied something with the intent of pasting it into a different window – and then getting distracted by something else, copying that, and smacking my forehead in frustration because that overwrote my previous clipboard selection which I would have to re-fetch (if possible). A clipboard manager not only solves that problem, it even lets you use your clipboard in new ways. For example, do you need to link to a lot of pages? Copy all the URLs and titles, and then go through them pasting each one–or even export them straight from the clipboard manager.

I tried a lot of clipboard managers when I was in the thick of conference season. I imagined that I would use the clipboard manager not only for preparing social media updates but also for stashing some quick drawing elements. All the clipboard managers I tried worked well with text, but Clipmate worked the best for saving images. I ended up not using images as much as I thought I would (it was easier to just redraw things) and I’m using a fraction of the features in Clipmate, but I’m still glad I got used to using a clipboard manager.

If you’re curious about clipboard managers, you can check out Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows clipboard managers, Macworld’s take on clipboard managers for Mac OS X, or these Linux links. They tend to run unobtrusively, so your usual copying/pasting will work the same way it always has – but you’ll have a backup in case you need it, and you can learn how to take advantage of that over time.

Hope that helps!