Emacs in the real world – part 2

Forget Perl’s claims, Emacs really is the Swiss Army chainsaw of the *NIX world. Join Richard Smedley for the second of a three-part series revealing how you can do most of your day-to-day tasks without leaving Emacs – from contacts and appointments to GTD, there’s an Emacs way to productivity

In sync
It’s easy to get Emacs to output all sorts of formats, but sometimes the rest of the world is not so obliging. Next month we’ll be looking at Gmail under Emacs, but here we’ll note that Google Calendar can be synced with Emacs in various ways. The most comprehensive solution is provided with Emacspeak, the Emacs-based environment for visually impaired users, which ships with a full suite of tools to sync to Google APIs. Google for Bill Clementson’s post on Emacs and Google Calendars, which provides the best way of using the code to sync calendars.

The simplest alternative is emacs-google-calendarsync, found here – this script will add new or updated Emacs diary entries to Google Calendar and vice versa. Travis B Hartwell took over maintenance of the code this summer and promises updates soon.

Muse on this
To just publish from Muse to HTML for now, add this to your .emacs to start with:

(add-to-list ‘load-path “<path to Muse>”)
(require ‘muse-mode) ; load authoring mode
(require ‘muse-html) ; load publishing styles I use
(require ‘muse-project) ; publish files in projects

Muse uses a simple, wiki-like syntax. Indented paragraphs are treated as quotes. Six tabs or spaces of indent give a centred paragraph. Paragraphs must be separated by blank lines. Asterisks give different levels of heading:

* First level
** Second level
*** Third level

At the other end, M-x footnote-mode automatically adds in the footnotes and ensures they’re output in the right place. Lists, tables, links, images and colourised source code can also be produced with easy markup. If you’ve used a wiki before, you’ll soon adapt to Muse.

Org-mode is powerful out of the box, but put an org-config.el in your ~/.emacs.d/ and you can tune it to do just what you want. There are some great example files online to start you off

More power comes to Muse when you combine it with BBDB and Planner. However, despite Muse’s superiority when it comes to blog publishing, for example, it has now been superseded by Org-mode for most applications, so if you’re not solely a wiki devotee or blogger, consider turning straight to Org-mode instead.
Org-mode is about ordered lists and is the heart of any system of organisation. At its most basic, Org-mode enables you to organise your life in plain text: to-do lists, notes, project planning and document authoring. Successful complex systems are usually built on successful simple systems and so it is with Org-mode, which is built upon outline mode, adding extra dimensions with calendar integration (giving timestamps, deadlines and other agenda or diary functionality) and URL-like links to database and wiki entries as well as websites or messages (email or news).

Getting started

Let’s get started. Here’s the beginning of a TODO list that a budding entrepreneur might have:

* Start-up company
** TODO Recruit Finance Director – someone with a firm grip.
 DEADLINE: <2010-09-04 Thu>
** TODO Think of a product to sell, something plausible.
 DEADLINE: <2010-09-09 Mon>

Note the structural information. Asterisks give headline levels, while dates in big-endian format (year first) in angle brackets are timestamps, automatically add to Org’s Agenda. Click on one to see.

Continue to page 3…

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