One for the techno-geeks

Phil: Things you don’t expect to read in an interview with author Tony Ballantyne, “One big change I’ve made in the past year or so is to switch to emacs for writing.”

Really ?

Obviously most of you are wondering what the hell emacs is and why I should feel strongly enough to write a blog post about it.

The first answer is, emacs is a text editor. Not a word processor with all those buttons and functions and things but a bog standard text editor with very little in the way of “features”. I was first introduced to it many years ago when editing some C++ code for some reason or other. You’ll probably have it on your computer if you write in a strange language that requires a semicolon at the end of every line and a large collection of Star Wars memoribilia. All I remember was that compared to the alternative, an editor called Vi (presumably an acronym for “editor from hell”) it was a joy to use. OK, so I would have much prefered to use something else such as Windows Notepad, but I managed. A shudder of horror at ever having to use either again is my excuse for a post.

But maybe there is something in this. After all, if you want to get some serious work done there is a lot to be said for switching off the Internet. As a time water, it’s second to none. A will of iron is required to eschew dipping in every now and again. After all, BBC News is always worth a quick look and it’s important to keep up to date with breaking news…

On the other hand, I’ve never found the various options in MS Word to have the same appeal. Quite the contrary, I’ve known many a user manage to show absolutely no interest in learning any of them at all. Why bother when you can just ring up the IT Helpdesk and demand to be told how to use them immediately rather than bother to recall the two-day course you were sent on at the companies expense, or that you claimed to be an expert at your interview ?

So, it’s a proper wordy processor for me. I can’t write without one to be honest. It doesn’t need all the gizmos but some ability to move text around and perhaps the squiggly line thing to show me my spelling mistakes and typos is nice. Cut’n’paste obviously, paragraph formatting, page breaks, Bold, Italics etc. Different fonts are useful too for emphasising bits of the text. We’ve included some e-mails in our story that appear on the page in a mono-type form so they stand out a bit.

In fact, if I have to use emacs to be a writer, I’m going to become a brickie.

On the other hand, if you fancy a go, click here.

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