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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I rarely try out other editors

This thread on the sas-l mailing list got me thinking on why I rarely try out other editors these days. Granted it is specific to the product but still, there are lessons worth learning from it.

If you see the litany of complaints in that thread, first off, you'd notice that in a code editor that is pretty much non graphical in its code presentation, you'd have few of the problems listed. Sure, you'd have to do a lot of pagination to paste and read code later on but you don't have to tear your hair out in doing so.

And if you were just that bit script savvy (not necessarily elisp), you'd be that much more productive and less error prone. The complaints listed are the ones that bug me too. I don't seem to know what is happening when the table structures are copied as graphical objects or some sort object is copied in these GUI heavy editors. And the dreaded mouse clicks drudgery in validating whether the structures are being copied correctly?

That'd kill me out of sheer boredom.

Partitioning the code, testing it in little pieces, assembling it in functional pieces are lost with these editors. Sure, you can do it but that comes with experience and I bet that you'd have to do the mappings and flows all over again while assembling it.

If it were left to an editor like vi or Emacs, cloning, copying and modifying large parts of code is easy with a bit of builtin functions or other Unix tools like sed, grep and bash shell. Notice that you are not forced to use the editors themselves if you want to? But with these new editors with their project folders and tracking, you'd have to hack it to figure out data structures and try figuring other means to edit the code. And it all goes awry in the next release of the editor.

The more you use the product editors, the more is the learning involved in relearning doing the same things because the menu options have changed. There is very little in applying what you've already learnt to be productive immediately.

That's partly the reason why people are pretty insane in sticking to Emacs or Vi. Compared to sheer frustration with a "smart" editor, these are plainly functional tools that are general purpose text editing applications that Just Do The Job.

You build on what you've already learnt with Emacs; the core functionality is always available in all the modes and you learn the mode specific behaviour as required. And being text oriented, you've got only yourself to blame for any "mysterious" bug that appears.....well, mostly.

Every new fangled editor comes with some new idea that makes it worthy in some respect but you seem to have to lose out a number of other features that makes you productive to use it.

I threw in the towel a long time.

Now, I just check out whether the same feature is available in Emacs in some form or the other.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Emacs 22.3 Pretest available

The second pretest of Emacs 22.3 is available here, that's for the windows version.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Understanding Emacs Mark and Point

Another terminology which brings some form of confusion to newbies is the term Mark and Point used in the manual and in descriptions of Emacs editing actions. Truth to be told, I too just had a fuzzy idea what mark was all about when I first started and took point to be where ever the cursor was currently.

Well, point is exactly that; it is the current position of the cursor on your Emacs buffer. And it's there in the Emacs Tutorial too.

The location of the cursor in the text is also called "point". To paraphrase, the cursor shows on the screen where point is located in the text.

So, what is mark, then?

Mark is the equivalent of dropping anchor or "marking" the start of a position in a buffer. One marks a position in the buffer and then moves the cursor to another point, delimiting a region. Thus, mark is primarily used to delineate a contiguous region of text in conjunction with point. The text between the mark and the point is the region where one can operate Emacs commands if needed.

Is there an order to mark and point?

No, from the manual

The ends of the region are always point and the mark. It doesn't matter which of them was put in its current place first, or which one comes earlier in the text--the region starts from point or the mark (whichever comes first), and ends at point or the mark (whichever comes last). Every time you move point, or set the mark in a new place, the region changes.

Now, I suggest you hit the manual link above to know everything one needs to know about mark, mark ring and traversing marks.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Emacs Frames and Windows

For those of you who are new to Emacs and it's terminology, here's something that you need to grasp.

A frame in Emacs is equivalent to your window in normal Windows terminology. Well, sort of. An Emacs invocation can instantiate any number of frames and you'd see it in your taskbar as individual application instances.

A window in Emacs is the one that holds a buffer. An Emacs frame can have any number of windows. At any instant, there will be one window that will have focus or be the "selected window".

In the above picture, there is one frame with three windows. Two of the windows are showing the same help screen and the third is the scratch buffer. So you could open any number of frames using C-x 5 2 and within each create any number of buffers with C-x 2 or C-x 3. Depending on your working style and screen real estate, you could do one file on one frame or one file per window in one frame or combination thereof.

For a more detailed, see the manual sections, frames and windows.

Monday, August 11, 2008

An interesting post on keyboards and use of certain keys

I'm pretty sure, this is going to be a normal thing in a few years if Microsoft disappears from the IT scene. There will be a whole bunch of keys on the keyboard that no one will know what they are for because no one ever heard of Microsoft. The explorer and windows keys will be vestigial artifacts of a different computing era.


Take a look at this interesting thread and take a look at this post. That should keep you thinking on how systems evolve and how people understand them in the long run. From OSes, hardware to application software, we will be saddled with weird artifacts that are from another computing era but have no useful application now. And if the rate of technology change increases, barring a big shift, this will only accelerate.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jpgfdraw: drawing PGF figures

If you find PGF too difficult to learn and use, then Jpgfdraw may be the tool for you. It exports the drawn picture as a file containing a pgfpicture environment which can then be included in your LaTeX document.

The drawback as I see it, it requires java 1.5 or later to run the application. That's way too much HDD storage needed for a bit of laziness in learning pgf. But if you already have it installed, then this should be ideal for those quick drawings that need to included into your LaTeX document.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Latest Builds of the PGF manual

The pgf package which is one of my favourite LaTeX packages for drawing pictures is released rather infrequently. Meaning, you get to wait a pretty long time for new features that are added, tested and then bundled for a release.

In case you want to the latest, you need to check out the CVS code and the prebuilt manual is available from Kjell's site.

Kjell recently posted on the pgf mailing list about the availability of the latest pgf manuals.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The SPAM's getting better but it's still getting binned

Every once in a while, I check my Spam folder on on my gmail mail account to see whether there has been any legitimate mail binned, as a result of a false positive match. So far I've rarely had any mail flagged apart from the marketing material sent in by the Mutual funds that I buy.

While scanning the folder, I noticed that the social engineering aspect of spam emails are getting better. If it had not been for the spam filter and my lack of interest in the same spam emails, I think there'd been a bunch of saps who'd got infected with malware or some dreck of some sort.

Take a look at the above screen shot. Topical, covering entertainment, Politics, Tech and Business, it should be enough to pique someone's interest. All he has to do is open the email to get infected with the attached payload or get directed to a website that will install some malware.
Spammers seemed to have moved on from the "inadequate body part/function" mails though there are lots of that too, in my spam folder.

Gmail seems to be doing a fairly good job at identifying and binning them, so that's one strike against the spammers.

But these scum will keep trying, you can bet on that. If only they spent their time on more productive enterprise.