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Author Topic: Keep organized with Emacs! Try org-mode for notes/tasks + gnus for mail!  (Read 5910 times)
gardellawg
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« on: December 02, 2008, 02:50:57 AM »

If anybody here likes Emacs--or if you're not that familiar with Emacs, but you're unsatisfied with the features of note-taking tools available in Pardus, like BasKet, KNotes, FreeMind, etc.--I recommend you give org-mode a try.  Version 6.05a comes with the Emacs 23.0.60 package in the Pardus 2008 repo, and if you like it, you can download the current, full org-mode package (version 6.13a right now) from the project website at http://orgmode.org/.

I was never that much of an Emacs person--in fact, a couple of months ago I hardly knew the commands to do basic editing on a text file--but it only took me a few days to adapt to org-mode.  Just start up emacs and run M-x (that's Alt+X) org-mode to give it a try.  The basics are very simple to learn:  things like Alt-Enter (or M-RET in Emacs-speak  Tongue ) to turn the current line into a heading of an outline, Alt plus the arrow keys to promote/demote headlines, Tab to reveal or hide subheadings, etc.  With a few simple commands, you can build a well-structured outline for your notes in a text file, complete with internal and external links (including to other Emacs applications, like searching for a person in the Big Brother Database or linking to an email you received in Gnus or RMAIL) and built-in, very fast support for making to-do notes and adding deadlines, schedules, and other timestamps without going into a separate calendar app.  Better yet, you can have it display an agenda based on any notes associated with dates/tasks--across multiple org files!  And export your notes to HTML (and easily make tables) or LaTeX (and easily write formulas)!  There are also tags and lots of other features that I'll let you try for yourself, plus the ability to use most of the cooler features of org-mode as minor modes within other parts of Emacs.

A while after I started using org-mode to take notes in law school, I realized I would have an even more useful note-taking/organizer/PIM system if I was using one of those Emacs mail applications.  I decided to set up Gnus.  At first, I managed to intimidate myself by going straight to the Gnus website and trying to read the considerably overcomplicated Gnus manual, as well as some confusing Gnus-related blog entries.  Then, I followed this straightforward tutorial at the EmacsWiki for setting up Gnus for Gmail.  After setting up Gmail IMAP and SMTP in Gnus, it was pretty simple to add my university IMAP mail account as a "secondary select method" following the same procedure.

Then, to make things even cooler, I added the Insidious Big Brother Database (bbdb)--Emacs' very clever, very fast automated address book, featuring regexp record lookup, automatic or semi-automatic "noticing" of new contacs from email/newsgroup messages, and completion of email addresses.  I downloaded BBDB, followed the instructions right out of the BBDB manual, and everything worked fine. 

While settling in to my new PIM setup, of course, I Customized org-mode, Gnus, and BBDB to make everything work together just like I wanted.  Give some or all of these great Emacs apps a try and get organized!

P.S.  Carsten Dominik, a Dutch astrophysicist and the main org-mode developer, gave an interesting Google tech talk about some of the cool features of his program.

* orgcard.pdf (58.67 KB - downloaded 160 times.)
« Last Edit: December 06, 2008, 16:42:57 PM by gardellawg » Logged
Mourningdove
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2008, 03:34:40 AM »

Thanks for that. I use Emacs for my job, and I got so far as to install the org-mode eLisp files, but I haven't tried it yet. I do some fairly intensive text processing at work, and Emacs is just incredible.

As for Gnus, I'll look at that link. I agree that some Emacs/Gn* documentation reads like a direct translation from ancient Coptic brain surgery reports. I actually like Stallman's _GNU Emacs Manual_ and I'm starting to work my way through the eLisp book, but some of the docs for the ancillary modes makes me feel like a dope.

I don't know if you've had time to figure this out yet, but does BBDB create a single-file address book that I could move from one computer to another, for instance work computer to laptop on a flash drive?
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gardellawg
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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2008, 15:27:50 PM »

BBDB does create a single file, the default location of which is ~/.bbdb.  The format is some kind of eLisp gobbledygook, but it is [somewhat] human-readable!

"ancient Coptic brain surgery reports"

This is exactly what the official Gnus manual looks like!  Is this what being an emacs mode developer does to one's brain?

Don't let it get to you too much, though, as these days you can actually do most of the work of setting up mail/news accounts through the Customize interface without writing eLisp by hand.

P.S.  If you're interested in org-mode files discussing how people use Org, check out the Org-mode "worg" (wiki-type thingy driven by org-mode and some clever Lisp hacks) that lives at http://orgmode.org/worg/
« Last Edit: December 06, 2008, 16:04:55 PM by gardellawg » Logged
Mourningdove
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« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2008, 03:57:28 AM »

Is this what being an emacs mode developer does to one's brain?

Yeah. I think it's fumes from spray-painting meta all over their Alt keys. That arcane dialect known as Emacspeak was fine back when Emacs was young and there really wasn't a standard lexicon for anything, but at this point it's got to be scaring off generations of users who think Emacs is one of those weird things old guys do, like Edlin.

Thanks for the heads-up on .bbdb and the Worg. Sounds like something to keep me occupied in between shoveling the snow.
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lashni
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« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2008, 16:39:00 PM »

You're forcing me to relieve a traumatic experience... I was beaten mercilessly once at a LUG after admitting I use nano.
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gardellawg
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« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2008, 20:31:19 PM »

You're forcing me to relieve a traumatic experience... I was beaten mercilessly once at a LUG after admitting I use nano.

There's nothing wrong with nano--I use it whenever a Pardus update eats something I've done to fstab.  Wink  Nano is an editor, while Emacs is a mini-operating system that lacks an editor that works normally!

Like Lisp itself, Emacs is just a cool environment for consuming mass quantities of [usually text] input and doing strange but useful things to that input, like the outline and agenda views org-mode provides for note-taking.  If my computer just exploded and I need to use a LiveCD of some kind to pick up the pieces, I'll usually turn to Nano unless I need to edit a file much larger than a typical *.conf for some reason, or I need to diff something I'm editing.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2008, 21:04:46 PM by gardellawg » Logged
gardellawg
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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2008, 07:38:33 AM »

Update:  I recently added howm-mode to my Emacs setup.  It's a Wiki-like tool that uses a minor mode and a very simple markup for recognizing its links, so it combines easily with larger Emacs writing/note-taking tools like org-mode.  I'm new to what exactly it can do, but right now I use it for storing small snippets of info that don't fit well into my Org files:  things like definitions of new legal terms, Russian vocabulary I want to learn, quick notes about interesting but non-critical news articles, etc.

Since it's a minor mode, it was simple to hook org-mode to run howm-mode when it starts up, and to invoke org-mode when viewing howm-mode's notes files.  What does this mean?  It means that terms or phrases in my outlines that match links from a howm file are automatically treated as links to more information on that term, and that my howm notes can take advantage of Org's formatting and ability to link to esoteric types of information (like my IMAP email messages in Gnus).

Here's the code in my ~/.emacs file that the howm-mode developer suggested adding for connecting org-mode and howm-mode:

Code:
(setq howm-view-title-header "*") ;; *BEFORE* loading howm!

This line makes howm notes start with an asterisk, which is also the default character for org outlines.  This way, when viewing a howm note's title, howm-mode will recognize one of its Wiki notes and org-mode will recognize the beginning of an outline, and your Wiki notes will be ready to drop into a larger outline at any time.  As the comment suggests, it needs to happen before the howm library is loaded to have any effect, which happens in the next line:
Code:
(require 'howm)

Code:
(add-hook 'org-mode-hook 'howm-mode)

This line just adds a simple "hook" to make sure that howm-mode is run whenever org-mode is run in a given buffer.  This allows me to see links to Wiki notes for further information in my Org outlines without manually enabling howm-mode, use howm's key shortcuts inside org-mode, etc.

Code:
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.howm$" . org-mode))
This automatically runs org-mode when viewing a *.howm file (the standard extension for howm-mode's notes, obviously).  Since howm is a minor mode whose simple markup doesn't interfere with Org-mode's, this works beautifully, and my quick Wiki notes are mini org-mode files, ready for quick addition to one of my larger outlines, like the ones I keep for course work or major projects.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2008, 07:41:33 AM by gardellawg » Logged
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