Hardscrabble 🍫

By Max Jacobson

playing with emacs for the first time

01 Mar 2015

Today I’m playing with emacs. There has been a confluence of events which have led me to this moment:

  1. First, the other night I bumped into Harry Schwartz at a programming meetup, and he gave me a sticker from his meetup group, New York Emacs. I put it in my wallet.
  2. Second, yesterday I bumped into Andrew Leung, and somehow we got to talking about Emacs. He’s been using it for many, many years. I gave him the sticker from my wallet because I thought he would have more use for it than I would.
  3. Today I’m kind of bored.

To my non-surprise, the version of Emacs which came installed on my Mac is a few major versions behind. To my surprise, the version of emacs on Homebrew is also a bit old. Neither version has syntax highlighting for Ruby, which was provided by default in the newest version. Installing the newer version wasn’t that bad. I downloaded the code from their ftp server (emacs-24.4.tar.gz), unarchived it, and followed the instructions in the INSTALL file. Then, sweet, ruby files were colorful. That makes a huge difference for me.

I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel like I should learn more about emacs if I’m going to recommend people learn Vim, which I generally use and recommend, so today I took a little while to play with it and I’ve learned enough to do the super basic things. Here’s everything I know how to do:


something like C-x can be read as “press the control key, and then press the x key while still holding down the control key”

something like C-x C-f can be read as “press the control key, and then press the x key while still holding down the control key; then keep holding down the control key, and press the f key, and then feel free to go get a coffee, you’re done”)

And that’s it. Things I’d like to learn:

That’s really all that’s blocking me from actually using it to do work. I’m using it to write this post, and I’m totally surviving.

If I were to go down the rabbit hole, I’d probably want to learn the whole Emacs Lisp thing. Richard Stallman, the creator of Emacs, says this:

The most powerful programming language is Lisp. If you don’t know Lisp (or its variant, Scheme), you don’t know what it means for a programming language to be powerful and elegant. Once you learn Lisp, you will understand what is lacking in most other languages.

It’s hard to read that and not get some programming FOMO.

I attended this talk from Harry called “An Introduction to Emacs Lisp”, which I may need to rewatch.