Emacs Chat: Sacha Chua (with Bastien Guerry)

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

UPDATE 2013/07/08: Now with very long transcript! (Read the full blog post to find it.)

After I chatted with Bastien Guerry about Emacs, he asked me if he could interview me for the same series. =) So here it is!


Just want the audio? http://archive.org/details/EmacsChatSachaChuawithBastienGuerry

Find the rest of the Emacs chats at https://sachachua.com/emacs-chat

TRANSCRIPTION: Emacs Chat Sacha Chua with Bastien Guerry

DURATION: 00:44:27


Sacha:                   This is an Emacs chat. I’m Sacha Chua being interviewed by Bastien Guerry. Thanks again Bastien, for doing that chat with me last time. People really liked it and they were surprised to find that you weren’t actually a computer science geek, you’re humanities. Wow. [Laughter]

Bastien:               Not sure there is something as a computer science geek. Maybe it’s overrated, somehow. So let’s begin the discussion. How did you meet Emacs first?

Sacha:                   Well I was in high school and I was trying to read as many interesting books from the computer section of the library as I could – small library, maybe four shelves or something like that – and one of the books there was UNIX Power Tools. UNIX Power Tools has a chapter on Emacs that includes–was that mentions of Doctor and other weird things. One chapter in Emacs and you’ve got to put in things like Yow and Zippy or whatever. So I thought it was very, very strange and interesting. So I tried out Emacs and I actually flipped between Emacs and Vi for a while, but once I started learning Emacs Lisp and playing around with configuring it–that’s how I fell in love with Emacs.

Bastien:               And did you have friends learning Emacs with you or were you alone?

Sacha:                   Not really. Mostly the other people who were interested in computers were using Vi or they were using something like Notepad++ or whatever it was back then. Then in university, a lot of people used Eclipse, because we started off with Java development … So Emacs has always been one of those things that it’s hard to find people face to face to talk about Emacs with. Most people just look at you like, “What? How old is that?” [Laughter]

Bastien:               So there’s this bit of dandyism kind of… I’ve found that many people using Emacs are kind of proud of using something different and I myself was not with all the developers so I was not proud of using something different. This was just something like that. Do you feel it was something that made you go deeper into Emacs and Emacs Lisp?

Sacha:                   Well…

Bastien:               You have some exotic tool.

Sacha:                   Early on–I think it was in 2002 or 2001–I’d gotten to know – actually 2001 or so – I’d gotten to know the open source community, especially in Emacs with Planner Mode and things like that, so the early experience for me—sure, I didn’t see a lot of people in real life who used Emacs, but I was in touch with this community which was amazing and they used Emacs (of course, because this was an Emacs user community)… So I felt, within that, “Actually, this is pretty normal.” And so it never was really a, “oh, I’m going to use something just to be different from other people.” It’s more of like, “Hey, look at all this cool stuff that so many other people have built, have added to,” and I really like the community part of it.

Bastien:               And do you still have – because it looks like you are testing many different softwares, very open minded about what you can use and what you can try – do you still spend a lot of time testing softwares at all, editors especially, or are you stuck?

Sacha:                   Editors, not so much. It’s really difficult to compete with the things that I’ve already got set up. Occasionally –for example, I’ve been trying out Scrivener as a way to organize blog posts, because people really like this ability to have all these index cards with stuff on them and you can link them together and compile stuff. But then as I use it, I think, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I could just hack Emacs into this thing instead,” and then I go off and I write Emacs Lisp code, and then I’m back in Emacs. So even when I experiment with new things, it’s often with an eye to stealing ideas and then putting them into my Emacs configuration.

Bastien:               So I will come back to this question about this writing, especially because you are really into drawings, too, right? So I’m curious about how a visual person can be happy within the text editor. But my first question would be about Planner. So when did it start and what was the relationship between the Planner and the blogging activity that you have?

Sacha:                   [Laughter] Now there’s a funny story there. Okay. So I came across Planner in my search of interesting things that are Emacs-related and I started using it to keep track of my tasks and my notes. I was a university student back then so I had a lot of notes from class, from projects, from things that I was learning about. Because Planner had export capabilities, I figured, okay, why not? Let’s export my plans, my personal text files and make those static HTML pages on the internet and so I put that up there as one of those things. It was my first website. Actually, no, it was my second website. My first website was something on Geocities, so it didn’t really count. Anyway, so I have this Planner site. Back then I was starting to read about RSS and this idea of like a weblog. I had become the maintainer of Planner after I emailed John Wiegley and said, “Hey, this is super awesome. If you ever need any help tracking down bugs, I volunteer to do the first pass and then turn it over to you for fixing things.” And then he was like, “That’s all right. You are now the maintainer.” So then I was the maintainer of Planner  and I was looking for interesting things to add to it. Since RSS was coming out, I figured, let’s take the remember feature in Planner and change it so that you could not only upload it as a webpage but you could also publish it as a RSS feed. So very technical people could then subscribe to this website, but hey, it was there.

Bastien:               Yeah. So I hope somehow… Because I hack together an exporter for Org Mode about RSS feed, so somehow maybe I’m going to start blogging once this is ready for production mode. Then you had this activity – was it a general blog or was it especially about Emacs, and then the diversity came later on?

Sacha:                   In the beginning, it was just really a raw brain dump of my notes from class, from life, from the time that we rescued a kitten from our bathroom walls – anything that I wanted to capture in Planner. It was just actually a side effect that I was using it to also test Planner RSS and publishing. So my blog was really just my personal planner. It had my to-do list, it had all these other notes in it and then as I… One of those years I shifted to using WordPress because I got really annoyed with having to hack in commenting support and all these other little things in Planner. So I shifted to WordPress and I just wrote some code that went and extracted all of my posts from Planner and put them into WordPress. So that’s how my blog evolved out of it. It’s always been… Because it’s always been this collection of text files and notes for whatever I wanted to remember, that’s what it ended up being.

Bastien:               Okay. So now, what are the main tools that you’re using for Emacs and what are the ones that you want and still don’t have?

Sacha:                   Org is the main thing that I spend a lot of time in, because it runs my life, so I’ve got it set up for my agenda and many of my notes. I use Evernote for a lot of the web clippings and other things I want to capture, but in Emacs, Org still helps me see what my week is going to look like and remember different things. So there’s Org, I do a lot of Rails development. So I’ve been playing around with Ruby Mode, but also Rinari and a couple of tools for quickly jumping from files to another, and of course, magit – however you pronounce that. I use Emacs Lisp a lot so I just open up a scratch buffer. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of either Smart Parens or Paredit, so that’s still in my to-do list.

                                I guess in terms of what else I would like in Emacs, I’d like to get the hang of Org attachments so that I can manage more of my images within it and I’d like… I probably should look into getting the hang of Paredit or Smart Parens or all these little tools to make Emacs development better. [Laughter]

Bastien:               Yeah. I don’t use Paredit yet. I know I should train myself, but there’s a small learning curve and then it’s very efficient and powerful, but I don’t know. My first impression, my feeling was that it’s a bit rigid. I don’t like anything rigid when I need to start writing and so my question – I remember Carson talked about the fun, about writing Emacs Lisp, somehow I… It’s even relaxing. Do you feel like that?

Sacha:                   Yes. Oh absolutely. It’s very tempting to just keep on hacking away at something, because it is really interesting to say, “All right. Hey, I’ve got this idea. How do I get closer to it? How do I play around with it?” For example, when you’re researching functions to use for this or you’re looking at other people’s code to see if you can build on their ideas, because there’s so much code out there, you can get really distracted looking at all the cool things that are possible.

                                I find it to be pretty relaxing. I’m comfortable with Edebug and stepping through the code and all of that. I find it relaxing because it’s a way of getting what I want done. And then because my Emacs configuration file is public and I also occasionally write blog posts related to the Emacs functionality that I’m customizing, I get lots of value out of it, too, because I get blog posts and I get more conversations and ideas.

Bastien:               Yeah. And somehow I feel like the Emacs is a nice tool for doing small, cheap prototyping. Are you using it for that? If you have something in Ruby that you know is big, do you start prototyping with Emacs with small functions or even for web development with bigger constraints?

Sacha:                   For personal use, definitely. I have a lot of these scripts that start off as Emacs Lisp functions, because I like being able to use buffers and regular expressions, search forward, and all these other little things. Sometimes I never end up turning them into a shell script or something else. I’ll use keyboard macros or write small Emacs functions just to do something. Sometimes if I’ve got a good idea and it works out, then I’ll go and write it up as an actual script that other people can use.

Bastien:               All right. Cool. And so now the big question – can you show us your Emacs screen? I mean, it’s going to be a big revelation.

Sacha:                   It’s not that scary. Hang on a second. Let me switch to sharing my screen here and then I can conf–ooh, funny effect there—can you see my screen?

Bastien:               Yeah.

Sacha:                   Yeah. So it’s basically an Org agenda. “Talk to Bastien Guerry about Emacs” is in progress.  I think it’ll take an hour. And that’s basically life. As you can see, my Org habits say that I’ve actually not been very good at taking my vitamins or telling Org that I’ve taken my vitamins. I did that the other time, so that’s okay, too. But that’s basically my life. I also use Emacs on quite a few… in another environment as well. I’ve got a local virtual machine for my Rails development and that one’s got a different Emacs configuration just for my Rails work. Since my base system is Windows, there are a lot of all these little conveniences that I got used to in Linux and that aren’t really available because Cygwin isn’t quite there or whatever else and that’s why I have… sure, my main Org setup, but I also have development environments and virtual machines.

Bastien:               All right. I think many people will feel quite relieved to see your habits, because when I started using habits, I was so bad because I stopped because it was painful to see all those red colors. Maybe we should just switch red and green. [Laughter] It’d be better.

Sacha:                   I use Org, because I use the variable scheduling a fair bit, so for example… go to [inaudible] weekly. There are a couple things like strength workouts that I wanted to do every two or three days so I really like the fact that Org will keep track of that for you. So Org Habits comes along as a nice bonus, but I don’t really obsess about the red so much.

Bastien:               So the word “library” makes me wonder – you seem to be reading a lot, so reading blog posts, books, or whatever – do you feel like Emacs is changing the way you read–and of course, it’s changing the way you take notes, but do you read the web on Emacs? Do you read the blog posts on NNTP or Gwene or something like that?

Sacha:                   I used to. I used to read a lot of NNTP and also NNTPRSS and Gmane of course will give you an interface for that. Mostly, because I’ve come to really like the way that Evernote clips things and searches through stuff, I use that instead for most of my notetaking, but I do use Org a lot for taking notes on books because I like its outline form. I like being able to quickly search through things and organize things and say I want to schedule this book for review three months from now. So that’s very nice, in terms of using Org to support my reading and my learning.

In addition, I also keep – if I can remember where it is. I also keep these–every so often I make this list of things that I would like to learn. Again, Org is excellent for that, because I can outline things, I can turn… I can use the list’s indentation to break things down further and so on.

Bastien:               Yeah. And my feeling… I’m taking a lot of notes about books as well with the hope of turning this into a blog entry at some point or just some web page. I’m doing these from time to time. What I discovered was that it lowers the barriers that you can have before publishing. If I use something else, I feel like publishing is a big step, and when I use Org, it’s just a small step so it’s easier to publish stuff I write. Even if I know it’s not well-written, I have less barriers about this. Do you feel like this?

Sacha:                   I deal with that by not being too worried about posting things. So my barriers for publishing are pretty low, but I do post a lot from Emacs as well. Org2blog is super helpful for that. For example, when I came back from the Emacs trip in – sorry – Emacs conference in London, I basically just started writing this – let me turn off truncate-lines  again – I started writing this long blog post about what worked well, what didn’t work well. It made sense to keep it in Emacs, because it was there and had all my links and whatever. But then to publish it, all I had to do was org2blog/wp-post-sub-tree and it’s off to WordPress.

Bastien:               All right. Cool. And about the visual stuff – because you’re doing nice drawing and you fiddled—when you mentioned Evernote and the way you can clip IDs and so on. Do you miss that in Emacs, which is very linear and which is very textual? Or is it something that you’ve…?

Sacha:                   Well, you can actually inline images in Emacs, and I did install the library so I could actually – hang on a second, let me break out one of these sketchnotes… I think I can actually pull out some of these… There’s my “How to learn Emacs”. So you can open images in Emacs, they’re just not very good. I wish Emacs would let me keep track of more of that stuff, and in particular, I really like Evernote’s ability to search within images. I don’t think that’s going to make it into Emacs anytime soon, but if it does, that would be fantastic.

                                In the meantime, I find that the combination of using Evernote from my multimedia notetaking and then using Org for all those quick capture or outline more structured talks or blog posts works really well for me. It means I have two places to look for things– several places actually, because lots of places inside Emacs as well–but it works.

Bastien:               Okay. And so I don’t know if you read the Emacs blog mailing list, but Lars from Gnus fame started a new browser for Emacs. It’s called – I don’t know how to pronounce it – but it’s spelled eww.

Sacha:                   Oh yes. I’ve heard about that.

Bastien:               Yeah? Thanks to this new way to browse web pages on Emacs, I guess there is a lot of work about rendering images and changing the size on the fly, which you can already do, right? In Org Mode, you can decide about the size of the pictures, in-line pictures, by giving some attributes to the images or globally to the file, but I guess that there is room for lots of improvement there, and I hope this new browser will boost this development about images being able to – I don’t know – even have floating pictures on the top right of the screen or… I don’t know.

Sacha:                   Yeah. Well, because actually a lot of my work and a lot of the things I focus on is still in text, there’s so much to learn and do in terms of getting Emacs to be even better for that. And then in terms of the images, well, I’m looking forward to playing around with maybe using Emacs to help organize a visual vocabulary. I’m using Evernote for most of it at the moment, but it would be fascinating to see if I can use Dired perhaps to start putting that together.

Bastien:               Yeah. So the missing tool that would be something about this, but searching through pictures and stuff like that.

Sacha:                   Yeah. I think that might look more like a command line tool that someone else is going to write, that does handwriting recognition (which is tough!), but hey, you know, if I could dream, that would be an interesting utility to have. In the meantime, however, I like the fact that text works pretty well. I’m starting to get the hang of using org-jump to – or whatever is C-c C-j is – ah, org-goto is the command to go around my increasingly enormous Org file. There’s just so much that I have yet to learn about Org and Emacs and all these things.

Bastien:               So about this Emacs conference, can you tell us a bit more where it started, what was it, what did you learn, and what’s next for this real life meetings?

Sacha:                   Yeah. That was interesting and surprisingly quickly arranged – let me dig up my… So the Emacs conference was held in March in London and it was really… This one guy said, “Okay. We’ve been talking about having an Emacs conference for a while, let’s go ahead and do it.” He found a venue—Aleksander Simic, he found a venue. He got people to volunteer as speakers, everyone flew in or drove over if they were close by, and it was a completely free conference. So super thanks to the venue for making it possible. It was a lot of fun, because–80 to 100 Emacs geeks in one room! I’d never been in something like that. It was incredible just seeing everyone for the first time. I’d never seen John Wiegley – well, I’d talked to him on Skype, but I’d never seen him before despite all the years of correspondence. And so it was good to have everyone in one room. At the meeting, people were like, “All right. Maybe we should have a London Emacs users group meeting,” and I think someone went and organized one in – where is that as well? There’s another one started up somewhere in the U.S. People are really looking to connect. I would love to see more of these real life meetings, but also because I don’t travel so much, I’d like to see more virtual meet-ups as well.

Bastien:               Yeah. Yeah. You’re doing a great job at boosting this. I mean, it’s fantastic. The concrete outcome is more meet-ups between Emacs user groups and local groups and if there are any code produced out of the conference, or out of this group… or maybe it’s too hard to track?

Sacha:                   Yeah. No one’s quite… I haven’t heard of any hackathons yet, but that would be super cool. I love helping people with their Emacs stuff, so I’m always willing to hang out and help people with their configs or with Emacs Lisp. The main thing that came out of the conference is all these videos and I drew my notes for them as well. But really it was all about, “Hey, look at the cool things that people are working on. I had no idea Emacs could do that and hey, let’s… This is a nice community. People are wonderful.”

Bastien:               Yeah. What I like is it’s a very diverse community with all these crazy people having passions for something else, too. I remember there was a discussion about playing piano versus playing accordion, remember? And the comparison between playing accordion is better because it’s more like touch typing than piano where it’s heavy typing and stuff like that. So it was funny to have this various passions and discussion about that. It’s more easy to speak about this kind of activities when you’re meeting for lunch in an Emacs informal conference than online where it’s bit off-topic on the mailing list. So the next step, if I understand well, is to have some kind of Emacs hackathon on a virtual meet-up online somewhere. Would that work?

Sacha:                   I’d like that. I’d like that very much. In fact, I would be up for having regular Emacs webinars or whatever where we can just do a show and tell session, “Hey, look at this cool thing that I’m doing.” So Emacsrocks is fantastic and I’m delighted to see even more screencast series coming up, but there are all these people with fascinating things in their configuration or ideas who might not have a screen cast or might not have a blog or might not feel comfortable doing that, but they’ll happily talk to a couple of people about what they’re doing with Emacs. So that’s one of the things that I’d love to help make happen.

                                You mentioned the incredible diversity of Emacs users… that’s something that I really, really love as well. You  might think, oh Emacs, right? It’s like the stereotype of computer science, geeky, programming and system development… But because people are coming into it for Org or for statistics or for all these other modules that people have built into Emacs, you really get such a wide range of people. I can see the… Yeah. Go ahead.

Bastien:               I guess it’s also because the Emacs has such a long history so it helps gather in people from various backgrounds, from university or for people learning by themselves and so on and so on. So…

Sacha:                   Yeah. I really like that. I remember when I was in Japan and I was trying to learn the characters–the kanji—I had a flashcard program. Actually, I used the flashcard.el from the Emacs wiki, because that’s where you used to get everything back then. I modified the flashcard program to show me cute pictures of kittens or tell me a joke every time I got things right, which is what you can do when you’ve got this flashcard program that’s very programmable because it’s built into your editor. One of my friends and co-trainees was like, “Hey, what’s that? How are you doing that?” And although he had never used Emacs before, I set him up with a flashcard setup just so he could give it a try. So it’s all these little bits of functionality that can help draw people in.

Bastien:               Okay. So that’s cool. I have another question. It’s a bit personal and it’s about me – my own therapy about not being the maintainer anymore. So you stepped down as the maintainer of Planner and Muse, right? Or are you still the maintainer?

Sacha:                   Yeah. No. I handed them over to – I think it was Michael Olson and Michael handed it over to someone else, I think. It’s actually great, because it’s fantastic to see what directions other people will take stuff. Then also when I was watching Org’s meteoric rise to fame, I was like, “Oh hey, Planner does this really interesting thing for example with reading dates–the relative ‘Oh that’s plus two days from now or it’s plus three Fridays from today.’” So I was like, “Here. This is a really cool idea. You should totally take it.” It’s great seeing other people come up with ideas for something you’ve maintained before, and it’s also great being able to help with other projects that are related.

Bastien:               Yeah. But how did you feel? How did you – because I feel bad. I mean, I miss the calling. I miss the… And so I feel useless. I had something to do….

Sacha:                   Nothing stops you from continuing to look at the list and writing patches and exploring code and all of that stuff. I did find that now that I’m no longer on the hook for anything, I don’t write as much Emacs Lisp for other people. I tend to write Emacs Lisp for my config and then if other people find those things to be good ideas, they are certainly welcome to merge them into the code. Sometimes I’ll still hang out on the Emacs Lisp channel, or check out the mailing lists or StackOverflow or whatever, just to see what kinds of Emacs questions people have, and if it’s something I’m curious about as well, then I get to write code for it.

Bastien:               Yeah. That’s cool. I do have some bugs to fix on Org, so it’s not as if I have nothing to do, but I was surprised to have this kind of let down feeling as if I was retiring. But and also this feeling that… There was this new to-do mode on Emacs, I just discovered. It was there for years and there is this to-do model and Stephen Bagman, the maintainer just wrote the new version and I can find the link back again and he just wrote the new version, so I was like, “hey I want to try something new.”

Sacha:                   Oh yes, yes.

Bastien:               So I was really just right… feeling away from Org Mode. So this is it. Exactly. You have it on the screen. I don’t know if it’s on the video, too, but…

Sacha:                   Yeah. That would be there, right? I had to go find it and see what it does, and especilaly what it does differently, right? So that’s what I’m going to take a look at. There’s always stuff that’s coming out.

Bastien:               Yeah. And coming out from the past, because this one was there even before Org was, so the new ideas and so it’s great.

Sacha:                   Yeah. One of the things I love about Emacs is that all these bits of configuration and all these packages give you a window into the way that somebody else works, right? So they manage their to-do’s this way. When you read the code or you look at the examples or you look at the mailing list messages, you get a sense of all these other different ways to work, and then you get ideas. The way that I’ve organized my life has changed so much. When I started using Planner, it was, “Okay. This is great.” I started doing a lot more of the Stephen Covey quadrants sort of thing because that was baked into it. Then when I shifted to using Org, it was like, “Okay. I’ll use tags and contexts more. I’ll use the weekly agenda or whatever, because it’s so much easier to make that now.” And so the tools that I used shaped the way that I work, and when I look at the ways that other people work, I pick up even more ideas, more things to experiment with.

Bastien:               And this… I think it captures the paradox of Emacs quite well. From the outside, from people who don’t know Emacs, it looks so rigid, and from within Emacs and the flexibility you have with coding and text and writing at the same time and exchanging with other people, it opens new possibilities. It’s the opposite of rigidity, as you say. You experiment with new ways of working and so on… I guess we like fiddling, we love fiddling, and fiddling comes with experimenting something new and discovering what’s inside the machine and so on.

Sacha:                   Yeah. I guess the way that I’ve seen Emacs… it’s really like a conversation, this huge conversation that I’m having with all these developers and all these contributors – both the ones that are working on it now and the ones that have contributed and posted stuff in the past – and it’s… we’re all trying to figure out interesting ways of working and changing the tool, changing – it’s a platform, really – to fit that. So it doesn’t feel at all fixed. In fact, it feels like it’s changing so quickly that it’s hard to catch up sometimes and I look at list-packages and I’m like, “Okay…” I tried reading–I’ve actually read through the entire list a couple of times. Every time I do so I come across all these new things and even when I was trying to write that book on Emacs, which unfortunately got procrastinated, because of this very thing I’m about to tell you–because I was writing about stuff that people could work on and improve, as soon as I posted my draft and people were like, “Oh, that’s a great idea. We should make that part of the main package,” that meant my draft blog post was then obsolete, but it meant that everything was better. And to have something with such an established history also have that kind of flexibility and vitality… it’s incredible.

Bastien:               Yeah. Yeah. Especially… And so my last question before talking about this book you may want to talk about. It’s just a small story about Walter Bender—do you know, he’s the one behind Sugar?

Sacha:                   No. What’s that?

Bastien:               Sugar. It’s the name of the platform running on the One Laptop per Child project.

Sacha:                   Oh yes.

Bastien:               And Walter Bender is the guy leading the developers community all over the world. He told once that his first idea for this constructivist environment for kids was Emacs. So I was a bit shocked, because you don’t think about putting Emacs in the hands of six or seven year old child, but the idea – I think it’s really what you’re talking about. The idea was that in Emacs you have – for example, the documentation’s very close to you, the writing is close to you and the distance between writing and developing is small. So this is the very spirit of the conversation between you and the machine and you and your friends around… I think that was the core idea behind having a constructivist environment that drives you to the code and to all the people around you to build something together. So just wanted to mention that, because I think it’s interesting. So this book – what’s the story behind the book?

Sacha:                   Well, because I… So back in 2000-and-something, because I was learning so much and blogging so much about Emacs, it was like, “Oh, there’s probably a book in here.” And so I sent in a proposal to No Starch Press and they were like, “Oh, that sounds really cool. We should have a book called Wicked Cool Emacs.” They have a lot of other books in the series, so there’s still stuff to model it on. I started with the chapters that I wanted to write the most about, because I really wanted people to try out Emacs for personal information management.

                                So I wrote about managing your tasks, and I think I wrote about reading your mail or something of the sort, too. But when I drafted the three chapters that I really liked the most, I realized, hey as soon as I posted these scripts that people can put in their configuration, because they were often good ideas, Org would then take those ideas, put them in, so you wouldn’t have to do all that configuration. You just set a flag or whatever else and it would do all of that for you. I was like, “Hm. This book is going to be very short,” because everything I add something, then the code keeps getting shorter and shorter, because everything gets replaced by just a setq whatever whatever whatever. Which is nice, but well… If the alternative had been to not share it and to wait until it was a printed book… and to have it be obsolete two days after it was published… right? It was better that the ideas got out there.

Anyway, the end result was I wrote what I wanted to write, which was basically how to use Emacs to run your life and then it was like, okay I don’t think this is going to work out. So since then, I’ve basically just been posting Emacs blog posts whenever I hack around something interesting in my configuration or whenever I need to answer somebody else’s question. But because I’m experimenting with semi-retirement and people seem to like this drawing, writing, blogging thing a fair bit, I’m very curious about the idea of putting together these resources to help people learn more about Emacs. Whether it’s working with the stuff that’s already out there or configuring things or making their own modules and packages… there’s so much to learn and if I can help put together things like that one page guide to learning Emacs or make something like that for Org and other popular modules or say, “All right, if you want to learn Emacs Lisp, it’s intimidating, but here’s a map for things that you can learn so that you can gradually learn it.” Right? Because Emacs and Emacs Lisp are so overwhelmingly large. There are so many possibilities. But if you learn a little bit at a time, that helps. However if you’re new to it, then you don’t know which little parts at a time can be most useful, so I’d love to help put those resources and guides together.

Bastien:               Also I’ve got now two ideas that… The first one is the map of events from this new communities out of Emacs conferences all over the world, and maybe we can have more online hackathons about Emacs Lisp. I would love to help about that. And the other is this nice map about how do you learn Emacs, because there is a lot of topics – how you can go from one topic to another topic, from just small customization about this module to learning macros and so on, so on.

Sacha:                   Right. Right. It’s the… People often need to see why this matters. What are they going to get out of it. For example, if you’re reading about keyword macros, if you’re reading through the Emacs info manual – which is a great read and I recommend doing this for everyone, but it can be a bit of a reference, so hard to get through sometimes–anyway, so you’re reading through this manual and you come across keyword macros and so then like, okay let’s play around with this… what if people could discover this because they can see it in action… This is where those screencasts come in. Or they can get the story of where this saves people time, why this matters, and how you get started with it. First, you start off doing keyword macros. You start the keyword macro, you type in whatever, you close the macro, you execute. Then you graduate to using registers, right? You graduate to using the arithmetic operations, so you’re incrementing your registers. Then you’re doing all these cool things. So there’s a path that doesn’t scare people.

Bastien:               Yeah. I like this idea, because we’re always talking just by reflex about Emacs’ learning curve, but it’s not a mountain to climb, it’s just various paths that you can explore and that’s what we like. And the last idea – I think it’s fantastic – like you’re not making your book out of dead trees, but you are making this big conversation about Emacs alive and that’s even better, I feel like. It’s better than a book and I’m really glad you started all this, and I hope you’ll have many followers doing this. Even small conversations like we do with friends and starting to have many conferences or hackathons and maybe some mentoring from people who are more seasoned Emacs developers or users to have younglings under their wings. That’s a nice idea for the future and I think it might be a nice conclusion for this chat. I’m really glad we… How was it like fifty minutes?

Sacha:                   Yeah. Forty-five minutes, because–sorry about the mix up about the time, but yes.

Bastien:               Okay. Okay.

Sacha:                   Time flies. But I really like talking to other Emacs geeks about all these cool things we can do with the community, so I’m up for more conversations like this if people want. It’s been such a fantastic experience. I find it hard to believe that I’ve been playing around with Emacs for the past ten years and I still feel so new and so excited about all of it.

Bastien:               So maybe one last word about… Do you speak other functional languages other than Emacs Lisp?

Sacha:                   Well I’ve played around with some of them, but Emacs Lisp is actually the main thing that I use. However, what it has done is Lisp has totally warped my brain, because now when I’m writing things like Ruby code, because Ruby has maps and all of that as well, I think in lists. The code that I write has changed because of the code that I’m reading, the code that I’m working with Emacs. So when I’m stuck using a language like Java, for example, like… Why can’t I just do this thing?

Bastien:               Yeah. So it helps learning Lisp and Emacs Lisp even for other languages?

Sacha:                   Oh yeah. And also because I use Emacs a lot when I’m – for example, when I’m analyzing data. Sometimes I’ll just yank something into a scratch buffer and then do my keyboard macro search and replace and all that stuff, maybe write a function that cleans things up if I’m doing this regularly. Then I’ll take that and I’ll use that as an input for something else. It’s such a useful general tool and it’s awesome.

Bastien:               All right. Great. So I think we can stop here. We have many ideas, and so you gave me energy to work on some of them.

Sacha:                   Yay!

Bastien:               And that’s really nice. I think the mailing for the Emacs conf is always on, because I started with the mailing list. It’s always available so we can discuss for those activities. My schedule is completely full until December, but I’ve discussed with some French people, so hello French developers, we are putting together something about an Emacs small conference in Paris at some point, and maybe there is Richard Stallman traveling a lot in France, so maybe we can catch Richard and have him explain what is the history or maybe the prehistory of Emacs and stories that nobody’s heard so far. I don’t know. That would be cool, too.

Sacha:                   Yeah. And virtual meet-ups. Again, I’m up for figuring out what those look like, how those work, just more ways to connect.

Bastien:               I’m up for it. Paris is completely rainy for the last two years, so virtual meet-ups are perfect, sunny and bright. It’s good.

Sacha:                   All right. Thank you so much, Bastien.

Bastien:               Thank you, Sacha. Hope to see all the comments from people, more questions and more ideas about how to move things forward.

Sacha:                   For sure. All right! Talk to you soon!

Bastien:               Bye bye.


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