Emacs Windows Setup

Installing Emacs on Windows

  1. Download a copy of Emacs for Windows from here: http://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/emacs/windows/  Emacs comes as a zip file looking something like this:  emacs-24.3-bin-i386.zip         18-Mar-2013 22:43   47M 
  2. Unzip the folder to a suitable location, e.g. C:/Program Files
  3. That’s it.  There is no other installation required.
  4. To launch Emacs, run the runemacs.exe file in the emacs-XX.X\bin\ folder
  5. You will now have a functioning copy of Emacs.

Follow this link to my Emacs Tutorial

…You’ll probably find, however, that not all features are present.  Follow the steps below to add the remaining features.

If you’re looking for how to get Ediff or the spell checker to work in Windows, you’ve come to the right place.

Ispell (Spell Checker) on Windows Emacs

  1. Download Ispell: http://www.filewatcher.com/m/ispell.zip.352502-0.html
  2. M-x customize-variable and enter exec-path to include the path to ispell.exe
  3. Copy english.hash to emacs home folder. (You can find the path to your home folder by pasting the following into Emacs: (getenv “HOME”)  and pressing C-x C-e after the final bracket.)

M-x flyspell to turn on flyspell mode, which underlines misspelled words. Click with the centre mouse button on the misspelled word for a menu suggested changes.

I like to add the following to my .emacs file.  It maps the menu select option to the right mouse button.

(eval-after-load "flyspell" '(define-key flyspell-mode-map [down-mouse-3] 'flyspell-correct-word))

Install Cygwin

Cygwin is “a collection of tools which provide a Linux look and feel environment for Windows.”

Installing Cygwin is the easiest way to enable all those extra features in Emacs

  1. Go to http://cygwin.com/ and run the setup.exe file on the website
  2. Install the default set of packages
  3. If you want to be able to use org-mode to export to ODT documents in Windows, you’ll need to install zip and unzip from the archive package.
  4. On Emacs, set exec-path to c:\cygwin\bin (or to wherever you installed Cygwin) (If you don’t know how to set exec-path, the easiest way is M-x customize-variable, enter exec-path and then insert the path in one of the fields.  Don’t forget to save the changes)
  5. Add c:\cygwin\bin to your Windows path and restart the machine

Done.  Emacs should now by fully working on your Windows machine.

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1 GTD Example: Clear your inbox

Here’s a simple introduction to the principles behind GTD.

Is your email inbox full?  If so, the reason isn’t what you might expect.  It’s not that you’re not processing and deleting them as fast as you might.  Modern email systems can hold an indefinite number of emails, there’s no reason to delete anything you don’t want to.

The real reason your inbox is full is because it’s a mixture of different sorts of emails:   emails left as a reminder you have a job to do, emails you’ve left there for reference, emails you might need in the future, emails you might read later on.  Your inbox is confused because you don’t know which email is which.
Here’s the GTD solution: create some additional folders

  • Action
  • Bacn
  • Reference
  • To Read

Go down your inbox, processing each email one at a time.  Start at the top and don’t move onto the next email until you’ve processed the current one.
Process the emails as follows

  • If you don’t need the email, delete it.
  • If it will take less than 2 minutes to deal with, deal with it.
  • If you need to keep the email for reference, put it in the email folder called Reference (or in a more suitable folder you’ve already created)
  • If it’s something you want to read at leisure. put it in the To Read folder
  • If it’s an email list you’ve subscribed to, like a pizza deal or a voucher site, put it in the Bacn folder.  Bacn is like spam, except you asked for it.  It’s nice to have, but too much is bad for you.

Work your way down the list until you have an empty inbox.  Once it’s empty, it will probably stay that way.

It might seem that all you’ve done is move your list elsewhere, but what you’ve really done is separated things out. You’ve separated reference materials from the actions, and eliminated the chaff.  That’s GTD, simple but effective.

Related Links

Regexp Builder

Emacs has an interactive regex mode that shows matches as you type.

To go into the mode, M-x regexp-builder.  Type C-c C-q to exit the mode.

Watch out for escape characters.  Emacs requires you to escape \, so type \b for \b

Copy the following text into emacs and then M-x regexp-builder

Lots of Grey things
50 shades of Grey
Earl Grey Tea
Lady Grey
Graybeard the pirate
Greyhound buses
"You're looking grey," he said.
"That's the greyest greyhound I ever saw," said Earl Grey.
Grey1: Dark Gray
Grey35: Mid grey
Grey44: Battleship grey
Grey100: The colour of TV tuned to a dead channel

In regexp-builder, type…

Grey to find all the Greys
Gray to find all the Grays
Gr[ae]y to find all the Greys and Grays
\\bGray\\b to find Gray on its on and not part of another word
^Gray to find lines beginning with Gray
grey$ to find lines ending in grey
grey\\(hound\\)? to find all appearances of grey and greyhound
grey[0-9] to find all the shades of grey ending with a digit
grey[0-9]\\{2\\} to find all the shades of grey with exactly two digits

Follow the link for some Regexp Exercises to try out

Read more about Regexps at the Emacs Wiki

Ctrl-Alt-Delete Task Manager

One of the things I really missed when I moved to Linux was hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete and bringing up the Task Manager. Okay, maybe I didn’t miss it so much, programs don’t hang anywhere near as often on Linux, but when they did I found hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete brought up the log out message on my distro.

If all you are looking for is the Task Manager, then open the System Monitor. You can end processes from there.  If you want to know a little bit more, read on…

What is a process? A process is the execution of a command by the Linux kernel. The parent process is called init. Type pstree in the terminal and you’ll see something like the following:

You’re more likely to use the ps command to see processes.

Typing ps in its own will show the processes associated with the user in the current terminal.

Here the only processes running are terminal and the ps command itself.  Notice each process has a PID or Process Identification number associated with it.

ps -e will show every process running. This will produce a long list, so you’ll probably want to use grep to find the process you’re looking for.  Suppose you were looking for nautilus –

ps -e | grep naut
2103   ?   00:00:04     nautilus

You can see from above that the nautilus PID is 2103.  Suppose you want to kill the process.  A little research might suggest that

kill 2103

will kill the process.  Actually, it won’t.  The kill command doesn’t kill a process: it sends a SIGTERM signal to the process asking it to terminate itself.  This gives the process time to clear up behind itself before it goes.

kill -9 2103
will send a SIGKILL signal, terminating the process immediately.


I never use the rectangle commands as often as I should.

Here’s my shopping list:

  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt

I want to make the above into a list. There are all sorts of ways I could so this, one way is to use the string-rectangle command. Set (or highlight) the region to zero width in front of the list and then C-x r t – to insert a dash before each of the words.

You can use the kill-rectangle command to remove unwanted bullet points (particularly useful when importing text from PDFs)

Set the region to cover the bullet symbols and then C-x r k to kill the rectangle. Don’t forget you can C-x r y yank that rectangle back.

C-x r o or open-rectangle is a quick way to indent a block of text to where you want it, especially if you can’t remember the other commands.

And lastly C-x r c will clear a rectangular space. I can’t remember ever using that one, to be honest…

If you find pressing C-x r a keystroke too far, read this post on remapping C-x r  to C-`

Summary of Commands

C-x r k    Kill rectangle
C-x r y     yank last killed rectangle
C-x r c     Clear rectangle
C-x r o     open rectangle and shift text right
C-x r t spoons  fill rectangle with spoons
C-x r r q   Copy rectangle to register q
C-x r i q   Insert rectangle from register q

Steps to Learning Programming

There are lots of programming languages designed to make learning programming easier. In my experience they are a waste of time for most students. Many of the languages will allow students to make apparent progress and to produce what appear to be impressive applications, but if students don’t understand what they’re doing, they’ll quickly lose interest.

Here are the things that students need to learn, and the rough order in which they need to learn them.

  • Imperative commands such as PRINT “hello”
  • Variables and types, particularly the difference between strings and numbers
  • Simple arithmetical operations e.g. a = 3, b =4, c = a+b
  • Branch commands such as IF answer = “Paris” THEN PRINT “Correct”
  • More complicated branch commands – IF THEN ELSE
  • For loops or equivalent
  • While loops or equivalent
  • Nested branch commands
  • Nested loop commands
  • Arrays
  • Traversing Arrays using for loops and while loops
  • Functions and Procedures, or equivalent

And that’s it. Everything else in programming can be achieved using the above. The rest is just readability, convenience and elegance

The problem with some languages, particularly the visual ones, is that students produce results without understanding the above. If students don’t understand the above, they don’t understand programming.

Python allows you to teach all of the above. And then once the student has learned, they can build on what they know, replacing the pieces of their Python toolkit with more advanced constructs as they learn. And as programmers, they’re always learning…

Dired Trick #1

Many people say that once you get the hang of Dired, you never use anything else. How true is this?

From a personal perspective I’d say that was true, but the key is in the first part of the sentence once you’ve got used to using Dired…

Here’s real world use for Dired.

C-x d to start Dired and navigate to a directory.

Here’s a directory into which a CD has been ripped. The track names haven’t been recognised.

/home/*****/Music/Ludwig van Beethoven/Beethoven- Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2:
total used in directory 108088 available 32870008
drwxrwxrwx 2 ***** ***** 4096 Jun 8 2009 .
drwxrwxrwx 4 ***** ***** 4096 Jan 10 2009 ..
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 19510080 Sep 21 2010 01 Track 1.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 12268125 Sep 21 2010 02 Track 2.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 7567075 Sep 21 2010 03 Track 3.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 11410580 Sep 21 2010 04 Track 4.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 20195615 Sep 21 2010 05 Track 5.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 19836565 Sep 21 2010 06 Track 6.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 7501945 Sep 21 2010 07 Track 7.mp3
-rwxr--r-- 1 ***** ***** 12329080 Sep 21 2010 08 Track 8.mp3

I could rename each track using a GUI by right clicking on each one and changing the name. Dired mode is faster

C-x C-q to toggle read only. Now simply type the new names of the tracks directly into the buffer. C-c C-c when you’ve finished.

If you want to be more efficient, move the point to the T in Track 1 and press M-z 1 to zap-to-char 1, deleting everything up to including the 1, leaving the .mp3 intact. Now type in the new track name.

If you want to be really efficient, of course, you could use search and replace…

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Dired Tricks #2

Emacs Snooker

The key to snooker isn’t where the coloured balls go, it’s where your white ball stops. You should always be thinking about setting up your next shot. Something similar holds when using Emacs. Where will the point (cursor) be when you’ve completed your current operation?

Consider the following commands:
M-u Convert to uppercase to the end of the word
M-l Convert to lowercase to the end of the word
M-c Capitalize word

Note that the point jumps to the end of the word when each command is called. This makes it easy to jump through a string of words, changing case or capitalizing as you wish.

Now consider the following

M– M-u Convert previous word to uppercase
M– M-l Convert previous word to lowercase
M– M-c Capitalize previous word
M– means (Alt) and –

Note that the point remains where it is, at the end of the word you’ve just converted. You can’t jump back through a series of words converting as you go.

It’s like the difference between hitting C-o and hitting Enter. At first glance they both appear to do the same thing, but look at the point…
(image: www.freeimages.co.uk)