Mickey on Magit 2.x

Back before the latest big upgrade, Mickey wrote a wonderful article on Magit that I covered here. Now Mickey is back with What is new in Magit 2.x. He covers the subject in more depth than Nathan Willis' short summary that I recently wrote about.

Mickey starts off urging everyone to read the manual on upgrading. It's not hard but there are definite steps you have to take for a successful installation. Then he moves on to what's new in Magit 2.x.

He covers the new parts and the changes to some of the key sequences in depth. If you've just installed the new Magit or you're planning on doing so, you should definitely read Mickey's post to get your bearings. If you aren't a Magit user, you should also read it to see why you should be. As usual for Mickey, it's a great post and very informative. Definitely recommended.

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Tip: Balance Your Windows

Samuel Tonini has a handy tip for those occasions when you find yourself with lots of Emacs windows of different sizes.

I have to say, though, I've never understood this key binding. Wouldn't【Ctrl+x =】make more sense? Has anyone here even used what-cursor-position interactively?

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Put a Fork in it.

Finally, there's a real push to get rid of one of the worst exploit vectors. Ever since Alex Stamos' tweet calling for an end-of-life for Flash there is accelerating agreement that it's time to kill flash.

The idea of Flash is a good one. A standard, ubiquitous app that all browsers can use to display video—sort of like PDF for video. It makes it easier on content providers, browser manufacturers, and users. Sadly, Flash is so riddled with security holes that it's unusable. Anyone with a clue has long since disabled it. I stopped using it over a year ago and probably waited too long.

Even though I seldom notice it's no longer installed, I occasionally run across some video that I would like to watch but that is available only in Flash. I just move on but maybe an official end-of-life for Flash will get content providers to stop publishing in it. We'll all be better off for it.

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Org Mode Cookbook

I've written about this before but it bears repeating

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Org Returns

Org mode can be a sort of odd beast when you're editing in one of its buffers. That's because even though it's plain text it's also providing a way of structuring text. Grant Rettke takes note of this fact and shows that there are four types of RETURN in Org mode.

For example, if you're working with a list, sometimes you want to start a new list item. Other times, you want to continue a current list item on the next line but with the correct indentation. There are a couple of other similar actions that you might want to tie to【Return】 as well.

Rettke binds each of the 【Return】 types to a key sequence that ends with 【Return】. If, like me, you do a lot of writing in Org mode, this can be a big time saver. Check out Rettke's post for the details.

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Emacs Redux on Avy

I've been a fan of ace-jump-mode ever since I saw Magnar Sveen's outstanding video on jumping around. Development on the package has gone dormant but abo-abo came to the rescue with avy. I've written about avy previously and agree with others writing on it that avy is a significant improvement on the original ace-jump-mode.

Bozhidar Batsov has a a few words to say about it too. Like the rest of us, he is celebrating the replacement of ace-jump-mode with avy and his post mentions something I didn't know. If you have to work with camel case identifiers, the avy-goto-word-or-subword-1 function will do the right thing. I'd sooner take a pencil in the eye than use camel case but not everyone feels that way or has an option. If you're one of those people, take a look at avy-goto-word-or-subword-1. It may be just what you need.

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Emacs Zen

Bryan Roberts over at Soul Physics has an interesting Githup repository, called Emacs Zen, that shows how to set up Emacs on OS X as a LaTeX/Markdown/HTML/CSS/JavaScript system. If you want an Emacs installation geared for writing, his repository has all you need. He also has directions for getting and installing Emacs and the necessary packages such as ACUTeX. He mentions the PDF viewer skim, which, he claims, makes syncing with Emacs particularly easy.

The only important thing he doesn't mention is Org mode. If you collaborate with colleagues who aren't Emacs users, markdown may make some sense but, really, if you want to do your writing with a lightweight markup language, Org can't be beat. Many researchers will automatically fire up LaTeX for their journal papers but as John Kitchin has shown, you can write in Org, import the journal style sheet, and export to journal-quality LaTeX.

Of course, you can use Roberts' setup and still use Org mode so if you're looking for an incredible writing system, his repository is worth taking a look at.

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Eric James Michael Ritz has an excellent post on another of abo-abo's great packages.

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Ubiquitous Encryption

Bruce Schneier has an update on the NSA's XKEYSCORE program. As usual with Schneier's writing, it's an interesting and informative read. What I liked most, though, was this observation at the end

Ubiquitous encryption is the bane of listeners worldwide, and it's the best thing we can deploy to make the world safer.

That's why it's important to get Aunt Millie and everyone else using encryption even when it's not needed: if everyone is encrypting everything, it's really hard to implement mass surveillance. This, I think, is the real reason the FBI and others are wetting their pants over the secure texting being offered by Apple and Android. They can and will use traditional investigatory methods to go after the real criminals just as they always have and are doing right now even when the criminals use secure texting. What they won't be able to do is go sifting through everyone's text messages looking for suspicious texts.

This is exactly why Moxie Marlinspike and his efforts are so disconcerting to the FBI and others who want to be able to read whatever we text or email. If the NSA or FBI knows that you're involved in criminal behavior or have terrorist sympathies, they can doubtlessly arrange to wiretap your communications no matter what you do. The point is that if everyone is encrypting their communications then

  1. They can no longer sift through everyone's communications looking for suspicious behavior.
  2. They can no longer use the fact that you are encrypting your communications as evidence that you might be a worthwhile target for additional surveillance.
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Moxie Marlinspike

I've written many times about the need to make email encryption accessible to Aunt Millie (see here, here, and here for example). Sadly, it's a really hard problem. Now, maybe there's some hope. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about Moxie Marlinspike, who, the WSJ says, is terrifying the FBI with software that holds the promise of universal encryption.

Marlinspike is producing encryption software that obviates the need for user key management, the really hard part of building a robust encryption framework. From what I can see, it works pretty much like iMessage to handle the keys and perhaps the messages go to a server to help mitigate leaking too much metadata. The server part doesn't matter because the encryption is end-to-end and the server never sees message content. Since the servers don't keep logs, third parties can't get at the metadata either, at least not directly.

Right now, there are secure phone and text messaging components but an email solution is underway. When that happens, governments are going to have to come clean, admit what they're doing, and pass laws trying to outlaw the services. It's not clear that they'll be able to do that.

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