Org Mode for PhD Students

It's pretty much conventional wisdom that Org Mode is the killer app for Emacs. Even people who don't use Emacs seem to be aware of that and, of course, there are various efforts underway to port Org to other editors.

Matthieu Caneill considers how Org Mode can be leveraged by PhD students to organize their work and research. He discusses his file setup and how he uses each one in his workflow. It's a nice way of organizing things and exactly what you'd expect an Org mode beginner to have. Lots of people, including me, use similar organizations but it's not the only strategy available. Another possibility—and one that is arguably more Org like—is to have a single file for all your long term activities. The use of tags and advanced searching functionality make this an ideal solution.

My journal file is pretty much like that but I have a few others for things like managing my blog and recording medical/exercise data. If I were starting over, I'd consider combining everything—or almost everything—into a single journal file. In any event, if you're starting your PhD—regardless of your area—you should consider organizing things in Org. It's all plain text so you're not stuck and can move to something else if you find it suits your needs better.

Over and over again, you hear people saying how much Org mode increased their efficiency and productivity. If you're starting work on a PhD, your going to need all the help you can get so it's worth spending a little time coming up to speed with Emacs and Org mode.

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Public Service Announcement

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Irreal's quest for world domination has been temporarily suspended due to the DDoS attack on Dyn. While we wait for the issue to get resolved, here's a very nice offering from mbork (Marcin Borkowski).

I use recenter-top-bottom (bound to Ctrl+l) all the time time but didn't know about reposition-window. The effect is similar but reposition-window tries to get the current function definition—for various values of “function definition”—or the associated comment onto the screen where it will be visible to the maximum extent. The behavior's a bit complicated so you should read the docstring to see exactly what happens.

The situation that reposition-window is designed to handle happens often enough that it's worth remembering the command. The fact that it's bound to almost the same sequence as recenter-top-bottom makes it easy to remember how to invoke it, at least if you use recenter-top-bottom a lot like I do.

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Redirecting eshell Output to Another Buffer


is kind of cute but, of course, there are more direct ways of getting an external command's output into an Emacs buffer. Still, one can imagine where something like this might be useful. It shows, once again, how powerful the Emacs environment is and serves as an another example of why many of us never want to leave Emacs.

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Setting a Prefix Argument

Here's a nice quickie from Grant Rettke. You probably won't need this often but when you do, it's just what you need.

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Merging with smerge

I don't often have occasion to resolve git merge conflicts so I never remember the details and end up changing things by hand. This tweet

caught my attention so I followed the link and read about smerge. It's a lighter weight solution than ediff and thus easier to use. I hardly ever use ediff so I always have to figure things out when I do. That's not really what you want to be doing in the middle of resolving a merge conflict so smerge is perfect for me because there's not much to remember. All you have to do is press Return while the point is on an unresolved file and you enter smerge-mode.

I really should take the time to get proficient with ediff but until I do, smerge is an easy way to resolve conflicts without invoking the heavy machinery of ediff.

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Emacs 25.2 Coming Soon

One of the things John Wiegley said he'd like to do when he took over leadership of Emacs development was to have more frequent releases. It looks as if things are on track:

Thanks to John and Eli and the other developers for making it happen.

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comment-dwim vs. comment-line

A few days ago I wrote about Artur Malabarba's comment-line. That's now in Emacs core and very useful. Xah Lee has an excellent post that compares comment-line and comment-dwim. That's useful because the commands are very similar and it's nice to have an exposition of how they differ.

Lee also offers a bit of Elisp that merges the two commands so that the resulting command will do what you probably want based on the context. You may or may not want to add his code to your configuration but his comparison is worth reading even if you don't.

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Animation of Using eshell to cd into Another Machine

Last month I wrote about using cd to ssh into a remote machine. Today, I came across this animated Gif from Bodil that shows the process in action

Notice how easy it is to log out: just type cd and you're back in your home directory on the local machine. Also notice how easy it is to use Magit remotely.

A really nice and informative animation and it takes less than two minutes to watch.

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Joel Spolsky on Open Offices

If you've been around here for awhile, you know my feelings about open offices: despite the self-serving cant from management, they're really about saving money. Everyone who does creative work knows how devastating the constant interruptions can be on productivity and focus.

Joel Spolsky—whose company, Fog Creek Software, is famous for providing developers with private offices—has a few words to say about this and the effect Facebook's infamous 8-acre open office has on productivity. He makes a point that is often not appreciated by management imagining that they will save money by having an open office. Spolsky says that Facebook is paying its engineers 40–50 percent more than other companies and that is usually an indication that people don't want to work there.

Of course they don't. Who would? Facebook is doing interesting work and solving serious problems so you'd think it would be a great place to work. That is until they show you your 8-acre office shared by every other engineer in the company. Facebook can talk all it wants about synergy and communication but the fact is no one wants to work in conditions that would make the food court at a typical mall seem appealing. So they don't. At least not until you bribe them with a salary 50% above normal.

Be sure to read the comments too. Open offices don't have very many supporters among those who have to work in them.

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