June 24, 2009

Emacs Registers and Bookmarks

Filed under: blogging,emacs,usability — jonEbird @ 5:02 pm

Every once and a while I like to re-read manuals about pieces of software which I already feel quite comfortable in using in hopes to learn a new trick or two. Today, I was browsing the freely available GNU Emacs Manual and was breezing through it until I hit the registers section.

Have you every copied a region of text in plans to yank it back in multiple locations within your current buffer but in between this work, you realize you need to do some intermediate killing and yanking and therefore have overwritten your original region of text you had copied? Well, using registers is one way in solving that problem.

Bookmarks have a similar function as with registers within emacs. I am actually grouping them together in this weblog because their key sequences are so very similar. Bookmarks are, like the name implies, a way to keep track of position within a buffer. They can be saved and later referenced to not only re-open the particular file you were editing but take you back to the position within that file as well.

I can not seem to remember anything, from emacs commands or keystrokes to basic shell commands, without coming up with some mnemonic for memorizing it. I have just came up with one such mnemonic for using Registers and Bookmarks and I thought I’d share it with my bots (machines which read this weblog).

Register and Bookmark Mnemonics

Each key sequence starts with:
C-x r – Think “r” for register.
The general pattern is:
C-x r <key> <register> – “register” is any single digit or letter.

“key” is what I’m calling each category of register usage. Let’s explore them:

  • “<space>” – mark – Just like C-spc to set the mark, this asks that the mark be set in our register.
  • “s” – save – save the region’s text into the register.
  • “n” – number – save a particular number into the register.
  • “m” – bookmark – We’ll explore bookmarks further, but notice how you set bookmarks with what I consider the register key sequence.

Those are some of the basic storing actions, but with the same C-x r prefix you can perform other actions with the contents of the registers:

  • “+” – increment – When the register is a number, this increments it’s value. Convenient to use with macros.
  • “i” – insert – This action can be used for numbers, regions of text and even marks!
  • “j” – jump – jump to a mark. This assumes you have already stored a mark in the particular register.

We’ll shift a bit into bookmarks but stay succinct within the mnemonics section here.

  • “m” – bookmark – Repeated from above. Note that this is a interactive function which allows you to name your bookmark with an intelligent name. The default will be the basename of your current buffer’s filename. So, if you’re editing /path/to/emacs_notes.txt it will default to store the bookmark under “emacs_notes.txt” but maybe you want it to be called “emacs notes”. If so, go ahead and type that out and hit RET.
  • “l” – list bookmarks – This opens a new pseudo buffer with the list of all of your bookmarks.
  • “b” – bookmark jump – Jump to the named bookmark. This is a interactive function as well.

Bringing it Together – Examples

Save current mark to register “l”:
C-x r <space> l
Move to mark saved in register “l”:
C-x r j l
Save number in register “n”:
C-x r n n
Now, increment that number and then insert it:
C-x r + n C-x r i n

Love the emacs notes you’re editing, bookmark it:
C-x r m emacsnotes RET
Buried into multiple install READMEs for a particular product and want to return later:
C-x r m installreadme RET

Finally, the prettiest of the commands, let’s review our bookmarks:
C-x r l

Final Note on Registers and Bookmarks

There is a variable named bookmark-save-flag which when set to the value of “1″ will have the action of automatically updating your ~/.emacs.bmk file with any updates to your bookmarks. I recommend setting this in your ~/.emacs file so you don’t have to “M-x bookmark-save” periodically. Add the following to your ~/.emacs file:
(set-variable (quote bookmark-save-flag) 1 nil)

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how I generated that one-liner emacs-lisp line, even if it’s off topic for this weblog entry. I like to use various interactive functions and then capture their effective execution, in emacs-lisp form, via the “repeat-complex-command” function which is bound to “C-x M-:“. In this situation, I used the “set-variable” interactive function to set “bookmark-save-flag” to “1″ and then punched in “C-x M-:” and copied the one-liner for my ~/.emacs file. So, there you go, a bonus tip for those who’ve read this far.

June 15, 2009

Intern Regiment

Filed under: adminstration,blogging,linux — jonEbird @ 10:06 pm

Today was Patrick Shuff‘s first day with our team. He is our intern for the summer and I actually recommended that we steal him from another team after meeting him last year. From my half day assessment of him last year, I thought he was much more suited to work with our Linux team vs. the Windows provisioning team. He found my gnu screen, emacs and script automation tricks fascinating and right there just invalidated himself as a legit Windows guy. The Windows experience he picked up last year was no doubt useful, but it’s not something you enjoy to return to. Just like it’s very useful to have learned C as your first programming language, being an awesome basis to provide a solid understanding of the computing innards, but you don’t want to return to it after programming in Python.

I have been trying to brainstorm good ideas for him to work on in the team. I suppose the main reason I want to see his experience be as positive as possible is because I myself was an intern for about three years. One thought I had, was to turn the three month time schedule into an intense one assignment per week ordeal where I throw a new task at him intended to inject new incites into all facets of becoming a well rounded Linux administrator. Of course, one week is not enough time to properly study each area for most of the categories of topics I was thinking of, but it would have a nice organized structure and would be nearly guaranteed to provide an intense experience worthy of writing home about. Okay, if he ends up writing home about it, then we know he’s a dork but would also mean he’s probably found a career in which he’d never have to work a day of his life because it’s enjoyable.

I started brainstorming my categories of areas in a quick outline mode. Of course, this list is subject to change and we actually end up doing through with this I’ll naturally have to report back on the actual topics covered in each week and what the assignments were. If nothing else, it should keep my weblog busier than normal which isn’t hard. So, here what I’m thinking constitutes a well rounded Linux Administrator:

  • Ever improve efficiencies
    • editor
      - pick one: emacs or vim. Just don’t settle at being able to modestly edit text.
    • shell
      - An essential, stereotypical Linux Admin skill. And yes, it is important. Study up.
  • organizational skills
    • - Can not be underestimated. Aren’t we always ever improving our organizational skills?
      - Develop consistent habits in note taking. Try reading Getting Things Done

    • project notes
    • meeting notes
    • hallway conversations
    • company hierarchy
  • technical expertise
    • operating systems
    • programming languages
    • architectural design
    • applications administration
  • staying current
    • awesome rss feeds
    • key social article sharing sites

      - Looking at you, reddit.
    • magazines
    • books
  • soft skills
    • working within a team
    • speach / presentation
    • written communication

      - tech writing, effective email communication
  • career, career stuff
    • resume writing
    • networking
    • staying driven
    • finding your path

Sorry for the lack of details on each of the items but it’s kind of silly to populate it further now. For now it remains an idea for a summer internship. Only once the plan comes to fruition will I report back with juicier details.

November 22, 2008


Filed under: linux,usability — jonEbird @ 10:02 am

For years I thought the best way to enhance my Windows experience, with the common Unix/Linux tools I’m most comfortable with, was to do so with cygwin. That was until now. At work, where we are forced to use Windows, I recently had my laptop rebuild and afterwards my re-install of cygwin wasn’t going too well. Finally fed up, I then recalled seeing reviews about colinux and how it was advertised as being tightly integrated into the Windows experience. Before looking for the install media, I then saw that there are a couple of distros which are then built on top of colinux. One of which, andLinux, is a full Ubuntu release and I presumed that their layering on top of colinux was naturally providing additional support and/or features and decided to go with andLinux for the install.

After completing the install, I must say, I am very pleased and impressed with the work they have done. I’m not sure how much of the credit goes to colinux and how much goes to andLinux, but they both get a A+ in my book. Here are my top reasons for choosing andLinux over cygwin:

  1. Full Linux operating system running on top of Windows.
    Not actually being virtualized and is therefore quick. It is a special patch to the Linux kernel which allows this tight integration with winblows.
  2. Each window / app launched takes the same look&feel decorations as each other windows app.
    Translation: Doesn’t look like crap.
    Also, each app’s icon is properly displayed in the task bar instead of the same, repeated icon used in cygwin.
  3. Transition from wired to wireless is seamless.
    This was a piece a co-worker asked me to test out and I’m writing this up while on my wireless network at home. After suspending my laptop at work, I then un-suspended it at home and I didn’t have to touch a thing. My existing terminal window could still query hosts and I even tested an install of a quick package.
  4. It’s running Ubuntu.
    Means to get additional apps, which you might be missing, you get to do "apt-get install <missingapp>" instead of re-launching setup.exe.
  5. Clean terminal.
    What is this bullet point doing here you ask? Well, it is what motivated me to move away from cygwin in the first place today. I was previously trying to use mrxvt and after multiple issues, decided to punt.
    The default terminal appears to be gnome-terminal and yet I choose the XFCE version over the KDE version.
  6. Xming X11 Server included.
    No need for hummingbird’s crappy X server. This is discrete and works very well.
  7. Automatic TAP (bridged) networking configured.
    There is about 4 screens used during the install and none were about networking. Just works.
  8. “cofs” filesystem
    My C:\ drive is mounted at /mnt/win via their ‘cofs’ filesystem. Sweet.

If you are like me and are stuck using Windows for whatever reason, I would highly suggest checking out andLinux. They are currently in beta but I’m okay with dealing with any minor hiccups. I have used it for only two days and already feel light-years away from my previous cygwin days.

November 16, 2008

Pyworks In Summation

Filed under: blogging,PHP,python — jonEbird @ 7:10 pm

I sit in the Atlanta Airport reminiscing over the events of PyWorks ’08. This was the first year for PyWorks but MTA combined the conference with PHP Architect and I believe everyone was happy with the combination. At a minimum, people had engaging conversations between the groups and a significant number of them cross-attended the sessions. I attended two PHP sessions and one neutral session and then the rest Python. Some people were a bit disappointed in the lack of Python attendees and it is true that we didn’t make up a large part of the total 148 attendees of the conference. But with the quality of talks staying superbly high, not having a full room wasn’t a bad thing.

The quality of talks were all superb, indeed. Probably over half of the presenters are either principle developers on high profile projects or they have written a book or own their own consulting company. On day zero, where there were 3hr long tutorial sessions, I spend the morning in Mark Ramm‘s TurboGears but then I switched over to the PHP side in the afternoon to catch Scott MacVicar and Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson‘s Caching for Cash.

At the start of day one, the first day of the normal sessions, I think everyone was expecting a lot more people. There were, in fact, more people but not as many as I was expecting, but again that’s perfectly okay. This day was a full one, starting off with the keynote by Kevin Dangoor about Growing your Community. After a break I then attended Decorators are Fun by Matt Wilson and learned that he is not that far away from me in Cleveland. Next I attended another Mark Ramm talk about WSGI where he was explaining how easy it was to build a web framework. It was given a bit “tongue in check” since he is the primary maintainer of TurboGears. Following that, I attended a middle track session about Distributed version control with GIT by Travis Swicegood. Travis had just finished writing a book about using GIT called Pragmatic Version Control Using Git and not surprisingly gave a authoritation explanation of using GIT. Following lunch, I attending another PHP track presentation but it could have been in the neutral middle track. The talk was Map, Filter, Reduce In the Small and in the Cloud by Sebastian Bergmann where he explained the popular functional programming techniques popularized by Google for computing large quantities of data. Sebastian gave me another reason to checkout Hadoop and in fact I’m now thinking of another Python Magazine article about using hadoop with Jython. For the last session of the day I decided to attend Michael Foord‘s talk about IronPython. I didn’t think I’d ever checkout IronPython on my own, so I thought I’d get a crash course from Michael who also just finished work on his book IronPython in Action.

Still not done with day one. After all of the normal presentation’s concluded, we had happy hour while gearing up for the Pecha Kucha competition sessions. Pecha Kucha is where you provide 20 slides and set them to auto switch every 20 seconds making your session a little over six minutes. Apparently people have found that you can get the same quality bits of information in that format as compared to a full hour session. At least that is what the Japanese have concluded. As for PHP/PyWorks, we mostly had fun with the sessions. There were talks about web security, general ranting, LOLCode, and many others which I’m having a problem remembering. At the end, the LOLCode talk took the prize of the Xbox 360 gaming system by our judges and if you’d really like to see what was going on, you may be able to watch streamed video captured by Travis Swicegood‘s iPhone. Before I went to bed, I rehearsed my presentation one more time.

By the time day two started, it felt like I had been there a full week and yet we still had a full day of presentations again. I started the morning in Chris Perkins‘s talk about the Sphinx Documentation System. We all understand the importance of documentation and it’s not always fun, but again I thought investing 45min catching up on some of the Python “best practices” for documentation would be well worth the time. Afterwards, I stayed in the same room for Jacob Taylor‘s talk about Exploring Artificial Intelligence with Python. Jacob didn’t get around to showing any Python code but he had good attendance for being a founder of SugarCRM. Next, the highlight of the conference, my presentation about LDAP and Python. The number of attendees for my presentation were average for the Python sessions and by this point I felt like I knew everyone which removed any pressure or nervousness. We’ll see how interested people were by seeing who downloads my and/or scripts. After lunch, I attended Kevin Dangoor‘s Paver talk where he explained the motivations for Paver and showed numerous examples of what pain points it solves. Finally, the last session I attended at PyWorks was Jonathan LaCour‘s talk about Elixir, the Python module which makes introduction into SQLAlchemy an easy one. Elixir helps kick start your DB code by simplifying SQLAlchemy by making a lot of sane choices for you as well as providing other conveniences. Jonathan had to work hard to get all of his content into his hour, mostly because he gave a decent overview of SQLAlchemy and then his Elixir module.

As with the previous day, this day concluded with another happy hour while waiting for our closing keynote. The closing keynote was given by Jay Pipes about “living in the gray areas” and not sticking to extreme black and white of our technologies. He praised the joint efforts being made by the PHP and Python folks and criticized people who are too biased to learn from the other communities. Jay is working on Drizzle, while working for Sun, where they are challanging all of the preconceived notions being made by the MySQL community. Drizzle is basically a fork of MySQL and their goals are to provide a much more streamlined version of a database. Jay explained that forks are good (as well as “sporks”) because it keeps people on their toes and keeps the level of competition up. Finally, Jay’s last point was that we need to spend more time listening to other people and less time preaching our biased opinions.

I overheard PHP and Python people resonating Jay’s message after the keynote. I’m glad to have participated in such a successful conference where I truely believe boundries were crossed. With as much time that I spend with the PHP folks, I was repeatedly asked, “So, you coming over to the PHP side?” I think the last time I was asked that was in the hotel pool where again I was playing the role of the “token Python guy” amongst the PHP folks. To be honest, those PHP folks know how to have fun, and if my criteria for choosing a programming language was the amount of fun the community had I would be doing PHP development. I definately want attend next year’s PyWorks and PHP conference and I have an entire year to come up with my presentation proposals.

November 6, 2008

2D Barcodes

Filed under: blogging,usability — jonEbird @ 12:06 am

In anticipation of heading down to PyWorks 2008, I have been thinking about creating a business card for the sake of keeping in contact with people I meet. One of my main goals, while attending and speaking at PyWorks, is to network with people and mark 2008 as the year which I start participating and contributing within the OSS community. While exercising my creativity in designing a nice business card, I have also been reading about Google’s android mobile platform, and I came across a interesting intersection between the two when I saw a demonstration video.

A Google developer, working on the zxing project (pronounced “zebra crossing”), has printed a 2D barcode encoding of his personal information on the back of his business card. With the builtin camera, on his android phone, he can scan in a barcode and immediate use the encoded data. It is an impressive demonstration of integrating technology with our mobile devices. Check out the video which has inspired me to not only do the same but also write this small informational note about 2D barcodes.

If you didn’t catch it, the format of the 2D barcode on his business card is QR Code. Among the other 2D barcode formats, QR Code barcodes are most popular in Japan where it was invented by Denso-Wave. The popularity of QR Codes in Japan has grown to the level of being supported by nearly every mobile device there and that also means finding QR Codes available on a increasing amount of printed media from fliers to magazines and coupons.

There are other competing 2D barcode formats that I could choose from but after doing researching and not seeing any distinctive advantages, I have concluded to follow suit with the google developer and hope that the android phone’s application and popularity will help propel QR Code’s popularity over the other 2D barcode formats.

Since 2D barcodes are nothing more than encoding and decoding data, the first thing to decide is what data we would like to encode. Since I actually do not have a business of my own and furthermore use a work issued phone, the data I encode will probably be a URL of my website. There are other interesting encodings, though, which include email address, sms, geographic locations, etc. See zxing’s wiki about BarcodeContents for a better discussion for suggested format, including their primary suggestion of using the MECARD format which is typically a composite of Name, Address, Phone number and Email address.

Once you know what you would like to encode in your 2D barcode, I’m guessing you will need software to help with that. With the assumption that you are not going to be encoding/decoding barcodes with a large frequency, my suggestion is that you use online utilities to help you. Interestingly, it turns out that the google chart api can now generate QR Code online. That is both convenient for repeated generation of QR Code but also in dynamic generation of barcodes. But alas, Jason Delport has created a google app engine application to record your text and generate the QR Code for you by generating the google chart api link for you. At that point, you can either use the supplied URL or simply download the png image. Finally, for performing online decoding of the barcode I have found the zxing online decoder to be the best and least intrusive one available.

The main reason 2D barcodes have not really taken off here in the States is because people have not yet came up with a really good idea to propel it into the mainstream. That, my friends, is going to be up to you and me to accomplish. Or, wait, we could just let google usher it in for us? But seriously I think support for mobile devices to read 2D barcodes is great step forward. Afterwards, I can envision graphic designers coming up with clever barcode prints and ways of intriguing people to scan the code for more details, but then it would be people like us who come up with new categories of data to be encoded in the barcodes for new, innovative ways to use them.

To learn more, try the collection of interesting links provided again by the zxing folks.

November 4, 2008

Management Tools for Multi-Vendors

Filed under: adminstration,blogging — jonEbird @ 4:44 pm

The challenge to build a tool which manages multiple vendors and platforms by way of piggy backing off their technology is a losing battle. Be it provisioning, patching, monitoring, etc it doesn’t matter. To choose such a tool, you end up paying big bucks for other people to constantly watch and react to what various vendors are doing. Combine that piece of realization with the fact that a tool will almost never perfectly suit the unique requirements of your business and you’d be in denial to not realize that it sucks. Beyond the shear money of the endeavour you are also wasting time of your associates which will probably not get recouped.

I will never say anything is impossible. You can build such a tool and it can have the necessary hooks to allow your associates to customize it to suits your needs. My point is, that work is much harder to pull off than the naive observer might realize. Imagine you are abstracting the details of Suse’s automated installer “AutoYast”. But let’s say the OpenSuse project decides to take a drastic change on how the unattended installer works. Their efforts, no doubt, will be motivated by improving their end user’s experience by presumably making it quicker, simpler and overall a better product. Depending on how drastic the change, it could represent an entirely different philosophical approach to OS installs. As the tool builder, trying to provide a layer of abstraction, you have just stuck yourself into a large endeavour to re-factor those pieces of your application to handle the radical changes being made. It’s a given risk, if that is what you’re providing. My point is, as a customer, just don’t buy that product.

To purchase such a product, you are basically stating that you believe the particular team of developers are going to continue to accurately and intuitively abstract those details for you. Don’t forget you’re still paying a lot of money for this. But this is how management thinks, “I’m going to buy this tool and allow my associates to use one tool and spend their time elsewhere.” It doesn’t happen. Instead, the associates try to shift their energies on learning a new tool, figuring out how to customize it for their needs and probably end up with one FTE dedicated to maintaining it.

Please, don’t waste your time and money. Spend your time collaborating with teammates. Decide upon OS and install standards. Each OS installer provides the ability to perform basic configuration of disk, network, software, etc and then allows for final post-install hook. That hook will then lean upon your team’s efforts. You will end up spending the same amount of work creating your post-install scripts as it takes to merely install and train folks on an “all in one” tool. Big difference of “rolling your own” is you now own the tool set, it already exactly meets your needs, every one knows and understands how it works, updates are easy, knowledge and skill gained is more widely recognized and all the while you haven’t spent more money.

Now for the counter-point: You have to have a good team to pull this off. Team members will require enough experience to demonstrate the proper discernment in building out a quality framework. So what if you maintain a Solaris Jumpstart, RedHat kickstart, Suse autoyast, etc all together? Keep your data and configs centrally managed together. Parallel concepts between each one, maintain like directory hierarchies, write straight forward documentation on using and performing builds. Doesn’t it make sense to be proficient in the OS tool which comes directly from the vendor, at least from a personal development perspective? 

October 25, 2008

PyWorks Stuff

Filed under: adminstration,python,usability — jonEbird @ 12:00 am

For the 2008 PyWorks convention, I will be presenting about LDAP and Python. The presentation is really about demystifying LDAP and encouraging people to use and extend LDAP for their config file needs. In efforts to make my point, the last half of my presentation will be a time for a demo. This entry is your basic landing point where you can download the scripts, presuming you are looking for a copy of the scripts and/or slides after seeing my presentation? (oh! nevermind, your google search landed you here)

PyWorks Speakers Badge

For the demo, I will be leveraging the fail2ban project. It is a python based application which scans typical application logs for security failures and bans IPs from being able to connect again. It also uses the builtin ConfigParser module for reading it’s 30+ config files, which is why I have chosen to use it. For the demo, I have created two scripts:

The first one, is used to process a set of config files and automatically generate LDAP schema as well as LDIF data.

Next, I have my module where I extended the ConfigParser module to support making queries to LDAP. I am basically overriding the read() method only and leaving the rest of the module alone. This way the only modifications to the fail2ban application are how it is instantiating the ConfigParser and I won’t have to become a full time fail2ban developer if I want to centralize the configuration data in LDAP.

And that is really the main point of my presentation: The power of centralizing your configuration data and how it can drastically change how you administer your large scale server farm.


LDAP + Python Slides. script to auto-generate LDAP schema and LDIF from ConfigParser compatible config files. python module which inherits the ConfigParser and supports optionally pulling config data from LDAP.

September 18, 2008

Essential Emacs Knowledge

Filed under: blogging,emacs — jonEbird @ 9:33 pm

I am on a island at work and there is no one else to converse with other than Wilson. The island is called “Isle de Emacs” and Wilson is, I guess, psychoanalyze-pinhead. But occasionally I do get a visitor to the island and the conversation is more or less the same stuff. Okay, enough with the analogy, this short tutorial is about getting you acquainted with using the Emacs editor. The repeated conversation I was referring to was an introduction to Emacs and trying to educate my co-worker on both the essential pieces of knowledge and a bit of Emacs philosophy to help guide their learning process.

Essential Knowledge

- In case you don’t know, emacs is really just a lisp interpreter.
  Means it’s nearly infinitely extensible.
  P.S. Also, in case you don’t know, Lisp is a programming language. That means practically everything the editor is supporting, from moving the cusor word by word to saving and opening files, is actually being done via code written in Lisp.
- Files being opened and edited are referred to as buffers.
  To say you are “closing a buffer” means you are closing that file and will no longer have it open.
  Similarly, when we say “switch to buffer” means that you are changing the current screen from what you are viewing/editing and moving to the next file.
- In keyboard shortcut notation, (C-x f) means to hold the
<control> key then depress <x>, then releasing and then
pressing <f>.
  In general, a space means you should stop pressing any keys and then move onto the next key sequence.
- Emacs commands are often a two sequence routine.
  Open a file (C-x C-f), save (C-x C-s), quit the editor (C-x C-c).
  Psst. (C-x) is common starting sequence, particularly for the basic operations.
- What does the “M” character stand for in keyboard sequences?
  It is called the “Meta” key and to execute it, you can use the <Alt> key or you can alternatively hit <Esc> followed by the next key. If you use the <Esc> key, you do not depress both keys at the same time, whereas with the <Alt> you do hit both keys at the same time.
  So, to get the command prompt (technically executing execute-extended-command), the sequence is (M-x). With the <Esc> method, it’s hit Escape, then hit “x”, whereas with the <Alt> you would start by holding <Alt> and then depress “x”.
  I used to use the <Esc> key method, but forced myself to use the <Alt> method in order to keep my fingers on the home keys for speed.
- To set a keyboard shortcut, it is called a “binding”.
  The interactive emacs command to do this is called “global-set-key”.
- The equivalent to “man man” of learning shell skills is (C-h ?)
  There you will see various types of help. You can search the building commands, you can query what a keyboard sequence will execute and much more.
- Emacs can do nearly everything, but it is fairly esoteric in it’s approach to being your text editor.
  What this means is that it’s learning curve is pretty steep. If you try to climb that hill initially, you’ll probably give up.
  Try to just learn the essentials and don’t bother with anything else. Learn one thing at a time. Use the menu, use the mouse, use your arrow keys, the pgdn and pgup keys, etc. Try to use the editor just like you would use notepad, but understand that one of the goals of a advanced emacs user is to not need the menu, scroll bars, mouse, etc.
  I once attended a RedHat training course where the instructor called himself a “emacs guy” but watching him actually use the editor appeared to me like he just started using it last week. But hey, that is totally cool, and really, the correct approach for learning emacs.
- Why should I invest in a learning a editor with such a steep learning curve?
  Because it can do nearly anything and can be customized for everything. Without going into a full dissertation, this means that the effort you are investing into this editor will not be put to waste. And moreover, you will not invest efforts just to find that you’ve reached the extent of what the particular editor can do.
- When you use (M-x) to enter a command, if there is a keyboard shortcut, the mini-buffer will tell you what it is.
  Psst: Can also use (C-h b) to show a helping page about the keyboard bindings.
- You can Tab-complete nearly everywhere.
  First place you’ll notice is when opening a file, but you can use within the mini-buffer too. Can be used to complete emacs commands,
  variable names, etc.
- So, you’ve forgotten that command but you remember it’s about the keyboard?
  Search the commands, (C-h a) then just type “key” and ENTER to search for commands with “key” in the name.
- In case you get yourself stuck or just not sure what you just pressed, there are two common ways to quit out.
  (ESC ESC ESC) – Hiting Escape three times gets you out of what you’re doing. This actually works for closing out that split screen help window too.
  The other way to quit out of items is to use (C-g), but there are scenarios where ESC ESC ESC works and C-g doesn’t.
- Customization is done within your ~/.emacs file.
  You are technically executing emacs lisp here. Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re a newbie and as such, just go and copy somebody else’s .emacs file. If you’re still a Emacs user after a year, perhaps you’ll finally feel adventurous enough to dive in there and generate your own customizations.
- Support for different types of files is done via different “modes”.
  Your current “mode” is displayed in the status bar, at the bottom of the editor, in parentheses.
  To change to text mode, for example, execute the command text-mode (M-x text-mode). In general, to enter any mode, it’s going to be the modename followed by “-mode”. Means, for Python, execute python-mode.
  A cheap way to see how many modes Emacs supports is to do a apropos search on “mode”. That is, (C-h a “mode”) to show each command with the word “mode” in it.
- How do I automatically execute something when entering a particular mode?
  Although not an essential piece of knowledge, to execute something when entering a mode to to “create a hook”. By convention, the hooks are stored by the variable matching the mode name and adding “-hook” to the end. So the hook for executing something when I enter “outline” mode is stored in the variable “outline-mode-hook”. I didn’t use that example by accident either. Here is my hook, used in my .emacs file:
(add-hook ‘outline-mode-hook ‘hide-body)
  Even without any Lisp knowledge, that should be fairly intuitive. It will automatically fold the body of each section within my outline document upon opening it.
  Psst: Try sticking a “-*- outline -*-” as the first line of your outline file while keeping the file extension .txt. Without that line, emacs will assume it’s plain text because of the .txt extension, but with that line, you are telling emacs to use outline-mode for this file. It’s great for keeping notes.
  I use it for keeping notes on every single work request ticket I receive at work. Such a file could become beastly in size but I don’t notice since it’s all rolled up when I re-open it.

Essential Habits.

- Keep your buffers open
  Learn to switch between buffers (C-x b TAB)
  I, myself, keep my emacs editor open at all times. I never close it. I keep buffers of my week’s work open for weeks on end. I’ll pretty much only close buffers when it becomes too cluttered when switching between buffers (C-x b TAB).
  Finally, I currently have my EDITOR variable set to “emacsclient” which means commands such as “crontab” connect to that single running emacs editor.
- Tab complete everything.
  Just like you should be doing in the shell, tab-complete commands, filenames, etc within emacs.
- Use the desktop-save feature.
  This tip suppliments the habit of keeping your buffers open. The desktop-save allows you to keep track of all buffers currently open and to reopen them upon restarting emacs. This is useful on laptops where you won’t be able to keep a copy of emacs always running.
- Pay attention to the keyboard shortcuts which are listed in the menu as you navigate to execute them.
  This goes along with the “learn one trick at a time” suggestion. Next time you get tired of executing that command from the menu, instead learn the keyboard shortcut for it.
  Psst: If you are curious what emacs lisp command is being executed in the menu, you can still use the keyboard help command (C-h k). People normally use that help command to tell them what command is being executed for the keyboard sequence but few realize that it works for menu items as well.

Essential Tricks

- (C-x ESC ESC) – Repeat complex sequence
- Want to assign a keyboard shortcut to something which you do alot?
  E.g. By default “goto-line” is not set to a shortcut. Let’s say you want to assign to (C-c g).
         Run (M-x global-set-key). It will prompt you what keyboard sequence to use and what to execute.
         Next run, (C-x ESC ESC) which is for repeat complex routine. At this point, the sequence is listed in emacs-lisp form in the mini-buffer.
         Run (C-x o) to get to the mini-buffer so you can copy that text (C-a C-space C-e M-w) and return to the normal buffer (C-x o).
- If operating in a corporate environment with a jump machine segregating your workstation and the rest of your environment, use TRAMP.
  Tramp allows you edit remote files over various protocols. I recommend using “ssh” and to that point, stick these lines into your .emacs file:

(setq tramp-default-method "ssh")

- Redefine how your backups are made.
  Emacs will automatically make backups of your files as you are editing them. By default it sticks a “~” character at the end of the file.
  Well, this is quite annoying for me since it will also keep file permissions. If I’m creating a script, now I can’t get a unique tab-completion in the shell by typing (./scr TAB) to expand to “./”. Instead it finds “” also. Move your backups to ~/.backups directory. Create that directory and then add these lines to your .emacs file:
(defun my-make-backup-file-name (file-name)
  “Create the non-numeric backup file name for `file-name’.n
   This customized version of this function is useful to keep all backups
   in one place, instead of all over the filesystem.”
  (require ‘dired)
  (message (concat “make-backup: ” file-name))
  (if (file-exists-p “~/.backups”)
      (concat (expand-file-name “~/.backups/”)
          (dired-replace-in-string “/” “|” file-name))
    (concat file-name “~”)))
(setq make-backup-file-name-function ‘my-make-backup-file-name)
- Use In fact, the last backup trick was taken from there.
  Just as I recommended above, don’t try to become an expert overnight. Learn the basics well and then pick up one trick at a time. I believe this can be a never ending process as you’re goal should be to become more and more proficient in your editor. So, go out and learn just one new trick and don’t come back until that new trick is ingrained into your finger’s memory.

Essential Memorization List

- (M-x) – Execute emacs command.
- (C-x u) – Undo.
- (M-x revert-buffer) – Oops, I just totally messed this file up and need to revert from the saved copy.
- (C-x o) – Move cursor to other split window pane.
  Nice for looking through the help buffer after it just split your screen.
- (C-x 1) – Keep current buffer and remove other split pane.
  I.e. Get that other window out of my way, please.
- (C-x 0) – Keep the _other_ buffer and remove this one.
  Just like the previous, but you’re keeping the other buffer as the sole window.
  Nice when you’re paging through an apropos section and are done. Use this to close the window without switching back first.
- (C-x C-f) – Open file
- (C-x C-s) – Save file
- (C-x C-c) – Exit

The goal of this short guide was to arm you with the necessary knowledge
in order to get you going with one of the most powerful editors around.
I didn’t necessarilly want to write a whole series of Emacs weblog entries. Instead, I just did a brain dump and I hope it wasn’t too overwhelming. Instead, I’d rather hope it helps
guide you to the island. We’ll play some volleyball, snorkel, hunt peacocks,
etc; you know, island stuff.

Fixing my Weblog

Filed under: blogging — jonEbird @ 8:40 pm

Some time ago I lost my harddrive. At that point, I was making infrequent backups to the laptop. Not very admin-like for someone who’s profession is a Systems Administrator. It could have been much worse, but still a pain none the less.

I had to solve various issues with my home setup. First the harddrive vulnerability. For that, I bought two 320GB harddrives and setup a /dev/md0 RAID0 mirror. After that, I installed a fresh copy of Fedora Core 9. I got WordPress back up but honestly my site was still limping along. I left it that way for too long and have finally cleaned things up tonight, culminating the work by upgrading to WordPress 2.6.2.

Now let’s get back to writing more weblog entries.

November 13, 2007

Reverse Engineering Buddy

Filed under: adminstration,linux,usability — jonEbird @ 10:34 pm

An Idea for a helpful Admin Tool

What if you got a page and/or ticket for an obscure server’s particular service? The unique problem is that your environment is huge, you’re still relatively new to the company, co-workers are not there to help you and you have never heard of this server. When logging in, you’re hoping that the person has a nice RC script under /etc/init.d/, that you can find the app via a “lsof -i:<port>”, find the application’s home and locate some log files. But what if the application install was not that nice and did not conform to the norms that you are used to?

To either a small or very large degree, you will be reverse engineering this application. If you’re really unlucky, the application who supports it also has no idea about it nor knows anything about Unix-like machines. So, what if there was an application which is polling upon logging into the server, told you, “In case you are looking for the application binX, which typically listens on port XX, it was most likely started last time by issuing the script /path/to/funky/path/”. I’m guessing it would freak you out and immediately flood your emotions with confusion, gratitude and curiosity.

So, would such an application be difficult to write?

  • Poll any events for read/write/access under key dirs, such as /etc/init.d/, /etc/*conf ? (use the inotify syscall introduced in Linux kernel 2.6.16)
  • Track users logging into the system (could correlate later)
  • Watch for any new ports being listened on, then record the binary name.
  • Reverse engineer this application to automatically collect interesting data on it.
  • Intelligently parse an strace (note to self, checkout:
  • Utilize systemtap for Linux and DTrace for Solaris. pseudo code { observe new socket being opened, so show me the last 10 files opened and executed. correlate application with startup script }

Now, if your data was collected in a easily usable format, you can collect similar data from other machines and start to make broader correlations.

The whole process is really about automating the process of reverse engineering an application. I do that alot. I believe others would like an application which aided or performed the entire reverse engineering for them.

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