Posts org-mode


I’ve been an emacs user since 1992. Back then I was a chemist… and taking notes meant having a physical lab notebook with a specific page format. The notebook was always away from the experiments… which ensured that in case of an accident those who remain could see what I did wrong by reading my notebook.

Using a computer for those notes was not allowed back then. (Fear of not easily being able to access the notes I guess…)

But I’ve been a full-time programmer since ‘96. I’d keep notes online whenever possible. (Easier to search, index, etc) but I pretty much kept everything in text form. Grep was my best friend to find stuff. Maybe I’d format it a bit. Moving forward in time, I’ve tried evernote, random online doc services including drive… but never really liked having my notes out of my control. Evernote’s push to limit the ability to use it for free drew me deeper into my own file cocoon. Which honestly, was just a text file.

During the years, I’d play with org-mode… maybe for a week at the most. I always bailed out because I couldn’t be bothered finding a format that worked for me; a document structure that kept me happy. As long as I kept grep happy, I could search for anything in my notes I wanted. Why change? Well, honestly, because finding what I was working on kinda sucked. It was easier to search than it was to keep track of what I was doing. Weird as that is.

So the pandemic happened… and when you’re home bored you look to fill the time. YouTube was my go-to distraction device. I ended looking at 2 videos which provided some insights into org-mode. This video and a google one are good sub-hour introductions into org mode. The first was from ‘some guy’ going over how they used org-mode, and the later was a presentation at google. I liked the first one better because it actually showed where the guy struggled with org-mode even though they were effectively a well-seasoned user.

What was important from the video that got me to change my mind and start putting effort into org-mode was how to structure the data for longevity. You may have found a script you wanted to store just for reference… he showed how to structure the file to contain (and test!) your scripts and code samples. Document your current projects, and archive notes for later usage as well. It was after that video I realized that org-mode was something between hypercard and google-wave. A predecessor to the data-scientists notebooks that interact with the data they document. This got to me… it’s really what I wanted. Not my pages of randomness that required grep to binary search through the documentation archive to find meaning. But something that bridged the gap between my verbosity, examples, and the live data I so desperately wanted to document.

I’m still a newbie when it comes to org-mode… I’ve been using it for the past month just to get myself comfortable; making sure the syntax and key commands I’ve memorized effectively. This weekend I’ll be setting up my new docs and based on what I’ve learned and practiced, setup the structure of my data going forward. I’ll not be refactoring my previous notes anytime soon… that would be painful. But no time to start something new like the present.

Afterthought: I’m actually trying to structure my docs with ‘agenda’ internal to org-mode… and a bit of the GTD format. I’ll end up posting my ‘new’ ,emacs file on github. I burned my old one to the ground at the start of the pandemic… realizing my 25+ year file didn’t take advantage of newish emacs features and other ‘modes’ that popped up over the years.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.
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