Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Emacs and have been using it
for most of my writing, coding and task-related activity for quite a while now.
Emacs is famously able to handle just about any kind of function, many of which
can be handled within a single mode: Org mode. However, just because you can do
it in Emacs, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. For example, I tried
out managing my personal email in Emacs using mu4e, and while I really enjoyed
writing and managing email in Emacs, I found having to constantly open HTML
emails in some form of browser (inside Emacs or outside) a chore. So now I have
reverted back to Mailmate for my email needs and am very happy with it.
I had also been usingorg-roam and the related ecosystem of tools
(org-roam-bibtex and org-roam-server) to handle my work notes on journal
articles, books, and ideas arising from them. I absolutely loved the ease of
linking between ideas, and the graph view which helped me to see what kinds of
broader topics were emerging organically from my research. However, I found
myself having frequent problems with the database needing to be cleared and
rebuilt, and org-roam-bibtex-mode needing to be reloaded. This — I am certain
— is some quirk of my own setup and configuration. I was syncing the note
files via Dropbox and it is likely that this was causing issues. Whatever the
cause, I couldn’t seem to fix it properly, and so I started to look around for
alternatives outside of Emacs. Eventually, I settled on Obsidian.
I have been a DEVONthink user for a long time. I’m not sure exactly when I
started using it, but my records suggest that it was at least as far back
as 2006. For many years, it held all my documents, notes, links, manuals,
receipts and other random snippets. However, at some point, I needed to sync at
least some of my databases between computers and to my phone for mobile use. The
early iterations of syncing were a bit clunky and eventually I threw in the
towel and looked around for something else. I told myself that I didn’t need all
the bells and whistles of DEVONthink, and that anything into which I could throw
my documents and which would sync them quickly and reliably would do the job.
For a while, I used KeepIt (formerly, Together) which is a great and easy to use
application, but (for whatever reason) I didn’t add items to it very often, and
was increasingly finding myself in a situation where I couldn’t remember where I
had put that snippet of information I needed. To cut a long story short, I’m
back with DEVONthink Pro 3, and couldn’t be happier about it.
When there’s a problem to be solved, I often try to improvise a solution.
Generally, I think that’s a good thing: better to try to make something yourself
with resources you already have than to go out and buy something new. However,
sometimes it leads to wasting time setting something up and then living with a
solution that comes with too many compromises. I’ve been trying to sort out a
compact, ergonomic desk arrangement for my home office for quite some time. I
started with an Ergotron WorkFit arm (5 years ago), which worked well for me for
some time. It allowed me to sit or stand to work, changing quickly between them.
It bounced a bit, as I mentioned in my article, but I more or less got used to
that. However, over time, things changed. My ‘home office’ is a small room which
has to serve many purposes. As my sewing hobby has grown, my desk has to share
the space with sewing machines and a fold-up cutting table, and the Ergotron
WorkFit jutted out enough to cause an awkward obstruction. More
importantly, the arrangement meant that I couldn’t write (with a notebook and
pen) comfortably at the desk, as the arm covered most of the desk surface, and
using the metal base meant leaning uncomfortably over the keyboard support.
Finally, a variety of other changes to my working evironment meant that I
started to think about whether I could improvise something else myself.
It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to realise that I am bad at juggling multiple projects. And when I say ‘bad’, I mean, really bad. My natural mode of working is to focus intensely on a single project at a time. This is unfortunate, because academic life mostly consists of juggling a large number of different projects simultaneously. I love (almost) everything else about academia, and I’m generally good at my job (I think), but I struggle constantly when having to switch between projects. Last year, I read about Shawn Blanc’s 8-week work cycles and was jealous. His ‘monk mode’ sounds like heaven to me. I do what I can with the wiggle room I have to carve out blocks of focused time on particular projects, but I still needed some way to — if you’ll forgive me for extending the juggling metaphor — avoid dropping any balls in the process. Since I’ve been using Emac’s org-mode a lot recently, I decided to see if I could help me.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with Emacs since I last wrote about it. I’m gradually starting to get comfortable with it, by doing as much as possible of my text editing (as well as other kinds of tasks) in Emacs. For example, I had to write some new lectures this Semester, and used Org mode to write them, using the built-in converter to make a Beamer PDF. I used the ability to include another file in the header to set up all the stuff needed to use the Metropolis Beamer theme, which I could then easily include in each lecture file. It was a delightful way to work. I split my frame into the org file for the lecture, a dired buffer showing the image files I wanted to include so that I could easily copy the filename into my lecture file (just move the cursor to the line in dired and hit w to copy the filename so you can yank it in your file), and a docview window showing the generated PDF file.
I feel like this post could be subtitled “For real this time”. Let’s just say
that it’s certainly not my first time down an Emacs rabbit hole. I’ve used
Spacemacs, then given up because I found it hard to maintain and fix small
issues that arose. Then I moved to Doom Emacs, and liked it a lot. It was more
compact and less monolithic than Spacemacs, but it still required more Emacs
knowledge than I had at the time to understand how all the working parts fitted
together. Then I went back to Neovim, and so the bouncing between Vim and Emacs
cycle began again. This time, something struck me: what if I was approaching
Emacs in the wrong way, trying to make it into something it isn’t, namely Vim?
What if I actually took the time to learn how to do things the Emacs Way, and
built up my configuration from scratch, adding only what I needed and
understood? It was a crazy idea, but it might just work…
I’m writing a theoretical paper for work at the moment with some colleagues, and am having a terrible time with it. The deadline is looming up as we speak, but because I’ve been busy with other things, and the topic is huge and difficult to get to grips with, I have been making very slow progress on it. One of the colleagues I am writing it with suggested that I try tackling it using a particular technique.
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