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Re: What's your favourite *under_publicized* editing feature ofEmacs?

From: Tim X
Subject: Re: What's your favourite *under_publicized* editing feature ofEmacs?
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2011 18:07:09 +1100
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/24.0.50 (gnu/linux)

Cthun <address@hidden> writes:

> On 22/02/2011 9:33 PM, Rafe Kettler wrote:
>> On Feb 22, 9:06 pm, Cthun<address@hidden>  wrote:
>>> On 22/02/2011 2:47 PM, Alan Mackenzie wrote:
>>>> There seems to be a contradiction between those last two paragraphs.
>>>> Saving buffers and finding files are relatively rare operations which
>>>> thus shouldn't be given very easy to press key sequences like C-s and
>>>> C-o.
>>> Where do you live where software never crashes and the electricity never
>>> goes out? Most of us learn to save very frequently to limit how much
>>> we'll have to do over again if the power goes out or whatever.
>> Emacs is really, really stable. My computer hasn't crashed in the past
>> 6 months, either. The power hasn't gone out in 3 months or so here
>> (eastern US).
>> Save and open are relatively infrequent command relative to others
>> (actual typing, cursor movement, etc.).
> Yeah, but for "actual typing" you only need the normal alphanumeric/symbol 
> keys
> (no ctrl- or alt- combos) and for cursor movement, the arrow/home/end/etc. key
> group to the right of the main keyboard area. You've got loads and loads of
> ctrl-letter and ctrl-number combinations still after exhausting all of these
> more-frequent actions.

Unless you are a power keyboard user, in which case, lifting your hands
from the keyboard to the arrow keys et. al. or to use the mouse to
access menus, is annoying and slows you down. Having C-n/C-p/C-a/C-e/C-o/C-j etc
plus many other frequently used editing commands on single depth
bindings is far more useful and used more frequently than save file or
find file. When you consider all of these bindings, there are not many
free single depth key bindings available at all. You can increase the
number by using the 'extra' super and hyper modifiers, but as not all
keyboards have easy access to these modifiers, they are not good defaults.

> And then not everyone lives somewhere where the power is that reliable.

Then a UPS would be the right solution, especially as you can pick up
small UPS units for very little cost that give you enough time to save
and shutdown, plus the added benefit of most UPS units is 'conditioning'
of your power supply and providing some protection from surges and
brown-outs etc.

> And then not everyone is daft enough not to fork their file before doing
> something truly drastic to it, especially large elisions.

Well, if their not using a version control system, especially when they
are so readily available and cost so little, they probably get what they
deserve. Of course, if they are using a good editor, it will
automatically create a backup file for them. We should not restrict or
constrain things to cater for a few who use bad workflows at the cost of
benefits for the majority who do the right thing. 

> And then, of course, there's the tendency of operating systems to blue-screen,
> laptops to overheat and hang, etc. no matter how stable the editor application
> is.

I guess that depends on your OS. I rarely see such problems - the last
time was due to a hard disk failure and these days with RAID, even this
is rare. If you are forced to use such unreliable setups, then you need
better solutions than just hitting save every few minutes.  

Of course, even if you have an unreliable OS, at least with emacs you
know your files are auto-saved regularly and you can configure things to
automatically create backups. 

There is little justification for wasting valuable single depth key
bindings for saving and opening files. I also suspect that those who use
unreliable systems with unreliable power supplies and adopt poor
practices are also likely the type of person who doesn't bother learning
key stroke short-cuts and uses the menu to save/open files. Using
scarce single depth bindings would be wasted on them. 

It should also be noted that the selection of key bindings in emacs is
not as arbitrary as it may seem. There is a pattern and the single depth
bindings have been worked out over many years based on user experience.
While many people may find them alien because of what they have used
before, their efficiency is very good. Yes, we here reports of people
who have developed RSI using emacs, but I know many (including myself)
who have used it for many years who have never suffered any ill effects
(I've used it pretty much daily for over 18 years). I often wonder if
those who are affected would have found any system which used as many
key bindings, regardless of what style, would have suffered the ill
effects anyway i.e. they have a predisposition for getting rsi. At the
end of the day, emacs, like any other bit of software is good for some
and not for others. If enough find it good, it will stand the test of
time, otherwise it will fade away and be forgotten. At the end of the
day, it isn't that important. 

The good news of course is that nobody is forced to use emacs and for
those who do want to use it and don't like the bindings or want to bind
save-file to a single depth binding, then they can free up the binding
they want and use it. This is the real power of emacs - its not how it
comes 'out of the box' but the extent you can make it what you want and
not be forced to adopt an arbitrary workflow imposed by someone else.


tcross (at) rapttech dot com dot au

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