Annnnd, we’re back. The power was restored this morning so things have returned to normal. I’ll be pushing today’s post directly.

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Org Mind Map

I don’t use mind mapping so I never paid much attention to org-mind-map, thinking it was a way of organizing mind maps. It is that, I suppose, but what makes it interesting to me is that it’s a handy way of generating Graphviz graphs. It’s really simple for quick graphs and just uses the structure of an Org document to build the graph. Take a look at the README to see some examples.


Irma is scheduled to arrive in about 4 hours so this will probably be my last post until things settle down again and the power comes back. I’ve been hearing disturbing rumors that getting power restored may take some time—weeks even—so I don’t know when things will be back to normal. See you at the other end.

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Jerry Pournelle, RIP

Jerry Pournelle, a well known Science Fiction writer and computer columnist died yesterday. For years, Pournelle wrote the popular Chaos Manor column for BYTE. The column considered computer software and hardware from the users’ perspective.

I’ve long been a fan of his SF, especially Lucifer’s Hammer and Oath of Fealty that he wrote with Larry Niven. Although he’s been in poor health due to a stroke in 2014, Pournelle continued writing and maintaining his blog.

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Happy Birthday Dennis Ritchie

Six years ago, one of my heroes, Dennis Ritchie, died. No one here needs to be told who dmr was or what he did. He’s no longer with us but it’s worth remembering his birthday and sparing a few minutes to think of him and all he did for us and our field.

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Possible Posting Hiatus

As many of you know, The Irreal International Headquarters is in Tampa, Florida. Hurricane Irma is currently bearing down on us although at the moment it doesn’t look as if we’ll get a direct hit. Nonetheless, it’s likely that we’ll at least lose power and be unable to post. If Irreal stops posting for a few days, that’s why.

UPDATE [2017-09-08 Fri 16:16]: is Tampa → is in Tampa.

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Reading EPUBs in Emacs

In yet another win for moving your digital life into Emacs, wasamasa has released nov.el, a package for reading EPUBs in Emacs. Until now, I have always opted to get digital content as PDFs rather than EPUBs or MOBIs because of the great tools in Emacs for reading and annotating PDFs.

Now, thanks to wasamasa, we have the ability to read EPUBs in Emacs too. This would be even better, of course, if publishers would give up DRM. Until that happy day, we’ll have to continue using proprietary apps for reading most books but wasamasa’s package is a great start.

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Org Mode 9.1 Released

I’ve already updated, of course, but Phil tells me I may have a bit of OCD. In any event, thanks to Bastien and the other contributors for their hard work in producing one of my most vital tools.

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Making a Case for Eshell

Over at the Emacs subreddit, ambrevar has an interesting post in which he makes the case for Eshell. One of the frequent complaints about Eshell is that it doesn’t work like a “normal” Unix shell. Ambrevar acknowledges that but says it’s a good thing. As he points out, even today we have terminal emulators that duplicate the behavior of ancient physical terminals and the standard shells are designed to work with them.

His post is interesting because he approaches the subject as one who has moved as much as possible into Emacs. He even uses Emacs as his window manager. What struck me was that I kept thinking, “Sure, that’s how I do it.” as he explained how he does tasks that are difficult in a Unix shell very easily in Eshell. I never really thought much about it because those ways of working are natural—being the standard Emacs way of doing things—in Eshell.

As ambrevar admits, Eshell is not perfect but it is improving as more folks adopt it as their standard shell and bug and feature requests filter back to the maintainers. I try to use Eshell exclusively although sometimes years of habit having me bringing up bash in the same old terminal emulator. Eshell is just another way of not having to leave Emacs and the comfort of working in the familiar Emacs way.

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Webster and Emacs

Yesterday, I mentioned that the 1913 + 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary that used to be hosted by the University of Chicago appears to be permanently offline. Back in January, I wrote that I had emailed the site asking whether they were planning on putting the dictionary up again. Sadly, I never heard back and the dictionary is still off-line so, as I said yesterday, we have to assume it’s gone for good.

Happily, as I also mentioned, Marcin Borkowski has a nice post on how to get a copy of the dictionary and make it accessible from Emacs. That was always the end goal for me anyway so I spent about 5 minutes following Borkowski’s steps and installed a local copy. I had hesitated before because I didn’t have all the build tools to compile sdcv but since I stopped being stubborn and embraced homebrew, that was no longer a problem.

If you liked McPhee’s method for improving his prose and you want your very own copy of the dictionary that you can access right from Emacs, it’s really easy to get it. Just follow the steps in Borkowski’s post. Even if you’re not an Emacs user, sdcv and the dictionary source will get you a local copy that you can query from the command line. Perhaps there’s a plugin for whatever editor you’re using that can integrate it for you.

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Draft #4, The Book

Those of you who read and enjoyed my post on Draft #4, about John McPhee and why you’re probably using the wrong dictionary, will be happy to know that McPhee has a new book, Draft No. 4, that discusses his writing process.

Speaking of the Draft #4 post, I’m sad to report that the 1913 + 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary discussed in the post is still off line and we can presume it’s not coming back. Happily, Marcin Borkowski (mbork) has figured out how to install it in Emacs so you can still get access to this wonderful resource.

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