Blogging with Org Mode and Nikola

I've written before about using Jekyll as a blogging engine (1, 2). It's a nice solution but it's not the only one. Mike Zamansky was using Jekyll but didn't like that he had to maintain a Ruby development environment on all his machines. He doesn't use Ruby except for blogging with Jekyll so he started looking for another solution.

Since he's a Python programmer, Nikola seemed like a good choice. He says it's more complicated than Jekyll but also more powerful. Being a Python programmer, he felt comfortable with the additional complexity. Zamansky is also an Org mode user and wrote his Jekyll posts with it. In this post, he describes how he leverages Org to blog with Nikola.

That turns out to be easier than it was with Jekyll. Head on over to his site to get the details. If you don't want the trouble of dealing with a CMS like WordPress, his solution may meet your needs.

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How to Keep Emacs Running Across an X Crash

If you're running a Linux system and sometimes experience an X crash, Sacha has some advice on how to keep Emacs running. Emacs is notoriously slow to start, of course, and that alone is reason enough to be annoyed when an X crash causes it to quit. Even more annoying is losing data. Sacha was having this problem so of course she set out to solve it.

Her method rests on starting Emacs in daemon mode. That keeps things running even if X quits. By starting Emacs at boot time, all she has to do is connect to the Emacs server with

emacsclient -c

when she logs into X. After that, everything is just like before but Emacs keeps running even if X dies.

There's a couple of gotchas so be sure to read Sacha's post for the details. She also discusses how to get Emacs to start at boot time, which isn't as trivial as one might hope.

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Which Key

Recently, I came across this reddit post on which-key. I think Sacha mentioned it in one of her weekly Emacs News posts too. The post reminded me that Kaushal Modi had recommended that I try it out after I'd mentioned that I was using guide-key for the same thing.

I finally got around to installing it from Melpa and giving it a spin. Right now I'm using the default install without any customization. The first thing you notice is that you don't have to specify which keys to pop up help for; it gives you a prompt for any key sequence if you don't finish typing it within a second.

The second thing you notice is that the display is nicer looking than guide-key's. If things like that matter to you, you should take a look at screen shots from which-key's GitHub page. Notice that you can configure both the placement and the font faces of the pop up.

I was happy with guide-key but I also like which-key and will probably leave it installed. It seems a bit snappier than guide-key but that might just be a matter of the idle delay time. If you aren't using either, I encourage you to try them out.They're perfect for bindings like 【Ctrl+x r】 which have lots of seldom used completions.

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European Quotation Marks

I know about the French guillemets but being from North America I had no idea how varied punctuation marks are. Here's an interesting summary of European quotation marks.

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A Hyper Key on Any USB Keyboard

Grant Rettke over at Wisdom and Wonder has a useful post on how to get a 【Hyper】 key on any USB keyboard. As Rettke says, the 【Hyper】 key is the last modifier that's available almost exclusively for users.

My Emacs life has been much better since I implemented a binding for 【Hyper】 on my Macs. To do that, I use the 【fn】 key that's on all (the modern, at least) Mac keyboards. I learned how to do that from Magnar Sveen and wrote about it a few years ago. Rettke is also using a Mac but his solution is more general because it doesn't depend on having a 【fn】 key. In particular, if you're on a Linux or Windows machine, Rettke's solution will work for you although you'll need to change the binding for hyper to whatever is appropriate for your architecture.

If you're an Emacs user and don't already have some key mapped to【Hyper】 you should head on over to Rettke's site and learn how to do it. Believe me, it will make your life better. And, you'll get to see Wisdom and Wonder's nifty new theme.

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The Demise of Midrange Computers

Eric Raymond (ESR) has an interesting post on the death of midrange computers. Some time ago he predicted that in the future we would all carry around smartphone-derived computers in our pockets and plug them into stationary keyboard/screen/pointer devices that can't be miniaturized because their size is scaled to their human users. Now, he says, we have reached a midpoint in that journey.

Specifically, stationary computers—basically computers that aren't laptops—are evolving into two subspecies: large, powerful systems for specialized work such as big data manipulation or animation or video processing and small, fanless, low powered systems that perform duties such as mail servers, firewalls, and DNS servers.

The small systems are a win because they're quiet and don't draw much power. They're perfect for the types of small networks that many of us maintain at home. I used to hand build tower PCs to handle the mail/firewall/DNS chores but sometimes it felt like I was in the middle of a wind storm when I sat in my office. Having small quiet machines do these chores mean you can work in relative silence. I'll definitely be looking into following ESR's lead in moving to these small, quiet systems.

If you have a story to share about using such systems or if you have some recommendations on particular systems, leave a comment. I'm sure all of us would be interested.

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Fingerprint Sensors Really Do Improve Security

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a ProgrammableWeb article positing that biometric sensors decrease security. I made the case that unless you were a criminal with incriminating information on your phone, that was incorrect. I went on to speculate that it was most likely that the fingerprint sensors actually increased security because people who couldn't be bothered to enter a 4-digit code to unlock their phones might find the the fingerprint sensor convenient enough to secure their phones.

That turns out to be true, at least for iPhones. The The Verge reports that Apple says that before TouchID about 50% of iPhone users locked their devices. After TouchID, that rose to nearly 90%. Actually, the whole article is interesting and worth a read if you have any interest in iPhone security.

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Why You Should Never Listen to the Media About Security

Irreal, as you probably know, how a dim view of the effectiveness, among other things, of the media. This is particularly true of the technical press, of course, but also holds for the more main stream traditional press.

Case in point: you would think that if one were going to write about security they would actually know something about it. Yet here's the The New York Post decrying the sale of NYC “1620” keys by some rogue locksmiths and the implications this has for security and terrorism and God knows what else. The problem is that along with the article they published a large picture of the key. Now everyone can have one even without paying the $15.50 the locksmiths were asking.

None of this is news. Remember when the TSA allowed The Washington Post to publish pictures of their luggage master keys and the widespread ridicule of many in the press? You'd think that someone at the Post—a large and sophisticated paper—would have heard about that. Apparently not. And why didn't the reporter who was, after all, writing about security know this? No one expects reporters to be able to explain, say, the intricacies of RSA encryption but they should know by now that if you publish a picture of a key it's trivial to make a copy.

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Some Comment-DWIM Tricks

Raimon Grau over at puntoblogspot has a really useful quick tip on a couple of comment-dwim features that I didn't know about. He shows how to

  1. Comment out a blank line.
  2. Remove an inline comment.

If you use comment-dwim (bound to 【Meta+;】), and you should, you should head over to puntoblogspot and take a look. It will take you less than a minute to read it but might save you some time and effort down the line.

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Debugging

Via Jean-Philippe Paradis.

So true. I remember debugging a problem that disappeared as soon as I put a printf in the code to see what was happening.

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