2023-04 Austin Emacs Meetup

There was another meeting a couple of weeks ago of EmacsATX, the Austin Emacs Meetup group. For this month we had no predetermined topic. However, as always, there was mention of new modes, packages, technologies and websites that I had never heard of, and some of this may be of interest to you as well.

#1 was one of the organizers; he used to live in Austin and now lives in East Texas.
#2 was the developer in north Texas.
#3 was not here. (I might give The Esteemed Gentleman of Oklahoma a permanent number.)
#4 was a hardware designer in north Texas near Dallas.
#5 a developer in Australia.
#6 did not speak much.
#7 was the other organizer, formerly working for the City of Austin.
#8 was the devops engineer from the company that makes quantum computers from lasers.
#9 was our professor in OKC.

In a change to the format, here is a list of the modes and packages that were mentioned (I will not list the big ones here, like Org, Doom, Spacemacs):

Non-Emacs Topics:

#1 got us started. He helped someone at his job with Base64 encoding and decoding for OAuth. He may have sold someone on trying Emacs. He does not evagelize too often since Emacs does require a commitment. However, #1 mentioned this person was a ham radio operator, so perhaps the Church of Emacs will save another soul.

#2 pointed out Emacs can convert text to Morse code and the NATO alphabet. As a non-native English speaker, he finds NATO alphabet useful.

You know you want it, so here are those previous two sentences in Morse code:

#..--- .--./---/../-./-/./-.. ---/..-/- ./--/.-/-.-./... -.-./.-/-. -.-./---/-./...-/./.-./- -/./-..-/- -/--- 
--/---/.-./.../. -.-./---/-../. .-/-./-.. -/..../. -./.-/-/--- .-/.-../.--./..../.-/-..././-/.-.-.- 
.-/... .- -./---/-./-....-/-./.-/-/../...-/. ./-./--./.-../../.../.... .../.--././.-/-.-/./.-./--..-- 
..../. ..-./../-./-../... -./.-/-/--- .-/.-../.--./..../.-/-..././- ..-/..././..-./..-/.-../.-.-.-

We looked at the “Games and Other Amusements” page in the Emacs documentation, and spent a few minutes trying some of them out. When people say Emacs is stuck in the 1970s, show them the built-in Tetris.

#4 asked about Hyperbole (Emacswiki link here, GNU link here). #4 cannot find a good use case for it since Org handles what he does.

I am surprised more people are not using Hyperbole. It is the best Emacs mode ever. It is so good, there is a Youtube channel for it. Really, the videos are just amazing. Hyperbole mode is totally top notch. I just cannot convey how great it is. High marks.

I am not the only one blown away by how excellent Hyperbole mode is. The critics have spoken:

..../-.--/.--././.-./-.../---/.-../. --/---/-../. .-/-.-/-.../.-/.-.
- Morse Code Allah

Try Hyerbole Mode. Think really hard. Write down how great Hyperbole Mode is.
- Richard Feynman

Zathras try Hyperbole. Hyperbole best thing happen to Zathras. 
Zathras must go tell Zathras.
- Zathras

I loved it. It was better than "Cats". I am going to use it again and again.
- Saucer-Eyed Tourist in NYC

But isn't vim better thaALL GLORY TO HYPERBOLE MODE.
- Resident of New New York, Year 2999

Much Lisp. Such Meta-X. Def wow.
- Dogechan

We also talked about Big Brother Database: ELPA page here, EmacsWiki page here.

#2 showed a Chat-GPT package. Apparently there are a lot. He asked for a prompt, and I told him to ask about a good use for Hyperbole. I am not sure which package #2 used. I think it was either gptel or gpt.el. #1 wants syntax highlighting in his GPT client. I have not used any of the GPT clients, so I was not aware there was no highlighting. #2 says you have to give Chap-GPR precise directions, and uses it for proofreading.

We got to know #4 a bit more. He is originally from Austin, and now lives North Texas near Dallas. He works for a semiconductor company based in Boise. He uses some Emacs in his job and uses Org to track tasks and his time. He mentioned Org Notion, which I assumes helps Org talk to the Notion mentioned at this link (I had never heard of it). He runs Emacs on Windows through WSL. His job is hardware design, but I do not think he uses Emacs for that specific task.

I googled “Emacs CAD”, and the best result I got was a Reddit thread from 2017. There is also an architecture firm in Nairobi called “Emacs CAD“, but I do not think it has anything to do with the Emacs we are all familiar with. The founder’s name is Emmanuel, so perhaps that is a factor in why the firm is called “Emacs”. However, their “About Us” page has a few statements I think we can all agree with:

With a passion to raise the standards, Emacs will satisfy and exceed your requirements.

Emacs values and recognises talent and variety from other professions and approaches its solutions provision using the consortium approach.

The Emacs Vision is to be an excellent provider of life enhancing solutions.

Then there was a lot of talk about configuration. #4 is a former Vim user, likes to tinker, made the switch to Emacs four years ago, and might declare Emacs bankruptcy. #2 uses Doom core with mostly his own modules. #2 talked about difference between Spacemacs and Doom. #2 showed us a few Doom macros for configuration: after! and map!. #4 makes a config per module and groups them into directories. This allows him to zero to a package to find out which is causing issues. He talked about wanting to use daemons to run multiple instances to debug problems.

#8 revealed that he is one of the maintainers of Spacemacs, and sees using a daemon connecting to different clients as an anti-pattern. One exception would be if he used a different daemon to run unit tests when he updates a repo; that way a failing test would not upset his workflow. #8 said there has been cross-pollination between Doom and Spacemacs.

#9 said he formerly used a config based on Daniel Higginbotham’s config for Clojure For the Brave and True. Now his is all in one file, which is easy to keep in version control. It is about 6K lines. He tried Org mode for his config, but could not get it to work. My Emacs config is also based on DH’s. At some point I will try to get it to work with use-package or as an Org file.

#2 has his config set to be lazily loaded, so it starts fast but he pays for it later. #8 declared Emacs bankruptcy. He went bankrupt two times in three years. Now with Spacemacs his config is 300 lines of Emacs Lisp. Before his config had 1000 pages. He said you can but page breaks into files and use a customized character for the page break, like a horizontal line. This can make a large file easier to parse visually. Here are a few links for my convenience: A page on Emacs wiki here, an old page at Indiana University here, page-break-lines.el on Github here, the Emacs manual’s page on Pages (getting meta with Meta-X) here. I will add this to my ever-growing to-do list. The stereotype is that Emacs users are always changing their config. I keep adding to a list of things I say I will add to my config someday.

#8 said there might be some changes coming to tree-sitter, but did not say too much else. That link says to use the built-in Emacs tree-sitter module for 29+.

Then we got back to AI. #8 talked about a study that was done for AI and chess. AI could beat a grandmaster. But if an AI gave an amateur a list of 10 possible moves and the amateur picked from that list, the amateur beat the AI. And if the AI gave a grandmaster options for the grandmaster to choose, they beat all everyone else. Perhaps that will be a model for software development going forward.

The conversation then shifted to ways of writing in general, not just software. A few participants talked about Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, and then the snowflake method of writing. Honestly it was a bit upsetting.

We talked a bit about Latex. I had a job working with Latex to prepare them for academic journals. #9 said he is only one on his campus that uses it. That surprised me.

Lastly, as people dropped off,#7 and I talked to #5. #5 was in Melbourne, Australia. Not a banana bender, crow eater, top ender, or sandgroper. (For some reason there is no slang term for people from New South Wales.) Another continent checked off. All we need is Africa and South America, and we have a complete set.

You’re welcome.

I give people numbers since I do not know if they want their names in this write-up. Think of it as the stoner’s version of the Chatham House Rule. I figured that numbers are a little clearer than “someone said this, and someone else said that, and a third person said something else”. Plus it gives participants some deniability. People’s numbers are based on the order they are listed on the call screen, and the same person may be referred to by different numbers in different months.

I am not the official spokesperson for the group. I just got into the habit of summarizing the meetings every month, and adding my own opinions about things. The participants may remember things differently, and may disagree with opinions expressed in this post. Nothing should be construed as views held by anyone’s employers past, present or future. That said, if you like something in this post, I will take credit; if you don’t, blame somebody else.

Image from Matenadaran MS 1568, a 12th-century Armenian manuscript housed at the Matenadaran Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan; image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under public domain.