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Re: [O] emacs & org mode for scholars questions

From: Thomas S . Dye
Subject: Re: [O] emacs & org mode for scholars questions
Date: Tue, 25 Aug 2015 06:48:13 -1000

Aloha Erik,

Erik Hetzner <address@hidden> writes:

> Hi all,
> I am going to be giving a talk on how Emacs can help support scholars,
> especially those who are using plain text and doing reproducible
> research, at “Emacsconf 2015” in San Francisco this Saturday (the
> 29th).
> I have done some work on managing references using Emacs & pandoc, but
> what I’d like to focus on in this talk is why Emacs is a great tool
> for scholarly writers (both scientists and humanists) and what Emacs
> developers should be concentrating on to make it an even better tool
> for the scholarly community.
> I’m wondering if you any of you might have any suggestions about what
> you would like to see Emacs do better to support the scholarly writing
> community.

If you'll be talking to Emacs developers, then my advice would be to
thank them for their good work.  The stable platform they've developed
supports the most congenial scholarly writing environment I can

>From my point of view, most of the development action that directly
affects scholarly writers takes place outside of Emacs proper in the
various modes and packages that run on top of it, especially Org mode.
The shifting community of volunteers that regularly congregates around
Org mode development is open to and interested in the needs of the
scholarly writing community.  This is one of the lasting legacies
established by Org mode's creator, Carsten Dominik, a scholar and writer
himself. Early on, he recognized the potential of Babel and the support
and guidance he offered Eric Shulte and Dan Davison were integral to the
success of that audacious project.  When Nicolas Goaziou rebuilt the
export framework a few years ago, the last piece of the puzzle was in
place.  Now, a single plain text computer file on my computer regularly
contains reading notes, a laboratory notebook, work schedules, data
sets, computer code designed to analyze the data, and one or more
scholarly papers ready to be exported to publishers' specs.  How
incredible is that!

>From the end-user's perspective, the Achilles' heel is the staggering
complexity right at the surface.  Of course, this is part of what makes
Emacs a great development platform.  But for the scholarly writer the
complexity can be daunting, and it is here that I think Emacs
development might give more help to mode and package developers.  The
customization facilities of Emacs are fine if you're willing to spend
time trying to grasp the fine-grained structure of the Emacs
environment, and want your customization to apply globally, but in my
experience this is a consistent source of frustration.  When I set a
variable I'm reasonably confident that my setting will solve a
particular issue I'm having, but I lack the ability to understand what
other effects it might have when I'm working later on another task with
other issues.  Over the years I've come to set most variables locally,
either individually and directly or indirectly in batches by executing
code I keep in the library of Babel.  It would be great to have a
customization tool whose effects are buffer local, sensitive to the
task at hand, and easily accessed by the user. 

But, really, I can't imagine doing my scholarly writing outside of

All the best,

Thomas S. Dye

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