Email in Emacs

I really did try mu4e. Really. But the setup required a custom emacs build on macos, and I am unfortunately constrained to Macs for work at the moment, so it was kind of a non-starter to jump through so many hoops to get it working. And of course, I also highly value resilience, and nothing says unresilient than not being able to successfully build a crucial feature like mail handling into your editor of choice.

So that occassioned a turn towards notmuch. Oh my, how delightful. At it’s simplest, notmuch is just a xapian-powered tag database for your email. Imagine that, no crazy indexers or long-polling to check for new email. Notmuch just tags and allows you to search your email.

Combined with isync’s mbsync and msmtp, I now have a really functional and resilient email seutp in Emacs. Even more delightful is looking through my tag database and realizing that if I tag things effectively, finding all those board agenda emails for church are just a tag search away.

Of course, such things were always available in Gmail or a mail client. But I was always unimpressed with how slow Thunderbird or Mail.app got with lots of messages. And Google is reading all my messages, so that sucks too.

Combine the ease of syncing and tagging messages, and the fact that they exist in a directory on my computer, synced via Dropbox to all my other computers and my email suddenly mine again, not living on an IMAP server that I hope doesn’t fail me.

The Fifth Risk

A review of The Fifth Risk by Micheal Lewis

This is not Micheal Lewis’ best book. While I realize a lot of his books are spun out of short form pieces, this one seemed pretty transparently to have been drawn out of an article in a magazine. All of Lewis’ strengths as a writer are on display, but the narrative arc is lacking the elegance of something like The Undoing Project.

Walking us through how hilariously unprepared to govern the Trump transition team was, and then through the thankless work of the Dept. of Agriculture, Commerce and Energy, Lewis entertains, even without his usual depth.

The reality that the Dept. of Commerce would be more accurately named the Dept of Data and Weather, or that Agriculture administers small business loans in rural communities where anti-big gov’t politicians ask them to stay quiet about the origins of their community loans is all facinating.

And the effective raping of public data acquisition in Commerce under Trump’s administration is shocking. The idea of putting somone with commercial interest in keeping public data away from the public seems like there should be laws around it. It’s morally dubious ground, for sure.

And yet, at the end of the day, the book feels more like a rush job to capture what may be a fleeting market of trying to explain just how horrible the Trump Adminsitration is. There are a lot of exposés with a simliar bent, and while Lewis is remarkably calm in disdain, it’s still comes across as a look how absurd this administration is piece.

Doomed Emacs

After a year or so of dedicating myself to getting Spacemacs setup just right, I made a pretty substanial jump a few weeks ago. I’m now running doom-emacs which provides fewer nice surprises (missing evil-surround shortcuts by default) than spacemacs, but loads much … much faster. The other day I found myself coding while sharing my screen on Zoom and is was painfully obvious what price I was paying for spacemacs not cleaning up after itself and generally lazy loading things leading to less than fast context switching.

I was willing to struggle through some the slower operations for my own sake, but getting caught with other people watching as my editor on a brand new computer struggled to do basic things like searching for symbols in the codebase was embarrassing.

I’m not done with Spacemacs. I still love the idea, and I also believe that half the problem was likely the way I was using it and configuring it. But part of the appeal of spacemacs are the defaults. And it was the defaults that was making it hard to use it on a daily basis.

Another nice aspect of Doom Emacs is that aside from a handful of evil-mode shortcuts, a lot of what you’re encouraged to use are stock emacs keystrokes. That means that I’m not learning some cryptic layer on org mode when I use emacs, I using the default keystrokes that I will find in vanilla emacs. That’s very useful and will hopefully make me a more respectable member of the emacs community, rather than a vim outcast.

Continuous Tool Improvement

I was reviewing the feeds I subscribe to in elfeed this evening when it occurred to me that a lot of my feeds have to do with Emacs. I will often blow through updates on feeds, making sure to only pickup things that are truly useful. But I discovered an amazingly high signal to noise ratio regarding tips for using Emacs more effectively. This got me thinking about how I couldn’t possible remember all this stuff, so I tossed some of the things I was learning in my learnings.org file to review later. At that point, it dawned on my how important tool choice is, and how important it is to learn how to use your tools effectively and be receptive to learning new things about them.

This could apply equally to any well made tool for any discipline (woodworking, drawing, research), but for me that means Emacs. Not everyone is going to ever need to touch Emacs. For me, I can’t imagine not having it, and everytime I learn something new, I get a little more effective with it.

For reference, tonight I learned how to make all URLs, regardless of buffer, clickable I also learned how to break an org-mode block in two with a single keystroke to insert a comment.

Reading Lists

Oh Goodreads. Your website is a cluttered mess. Your UX hasn’t been improved in years. The only value I derive from keeping my reading list on you is that my friends can see what I’m reading. Which is a neat trick, but since I’ve mostly given up on Facebook too, it not really enough to keep me.

I was an early adopter of Goodreads, but my life has taken a turn towards the personal and the text-based. I use Emacs (via spacemacs) as much as I can. Org-mode might be the single most impressive IDEA rendered into software I’ve ever seen. It simply makes the things I use on a regular basis more powerful and expressive, which is not something I can say for Word, Twitter, or Chrome. Those are merely tools. They don’t amplify my ability to document and create.

Really the post Leaving Goodreads is what convinced me to go, one more time, back to my reading list in org mode. But the killer feature this time around was ox-hugo, which allows me to easily dump Org-mode subtrees into a hugo-powered blog directory. A simple rsync later and I can publish random subtrees, including book reviews!

The whole thing is so elegant, I couldn’t have dreamed up the process if I had tried. The whole thing was truly an evolution of tools, and one that was only possible because each tool, Emacs, spacemacs, org-mode, hugo, ox-hugo, does it’s job so elegantly.