releasing emacs bites

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Today I am releasing the emacs bites screencasts.

I've been using Emacs for a long time professionally. I often get asked for advice and help with Emacs and even more often people talk to me as if I am some sort of magician and that my mastery of Emacs is way beyond them.

And of course it isn't. Emacs and Lisp are both seen as being complicated, both have some esoteric things about them but neither are complicated. Not really.

I can't convince every one with a 5 minute conversation. I just don't get to talk to that many people. So I thought I'd put together a series of screencasts.

And of course, it's not just the basics. Emacs Lisp is a powerful choice as a second language because it can be used to drive one of the most versatile tools for software development. Learning about buffer editing and handling text means you can start extending Emacs and making it work for you.

Why did I let it get this complicated?

I just can't help it. Once I'd decided I would do a series of programming screencasts I knew I'd need an attached page documenting what was in the screencast. To make those I would need to use creole (because it's what I personally find the easiest text formatting language to use). But I would need indexes and all sorts of other things as well... so I built an app to serve the pages and their indexes.

Of course, I built the app using Elnode. In building the app I crossed off a number of todos with creole including building comprehensive structure editing and handling embed links with handlers.

So this code:

(defvar bites/struct-class :other
  "Dynamic variable for passing the class of page.

The value should be one of `:other', `:episode', `:series' or

(defun bites/creole-struct (struct)
  (noflet ((heading->section-id (heading)
               "[ ?]" "-" (cdr heading)))))
    (let* ((even t)
            (loop for e in struct
               do (setq even (not even))
                 (if (eq (car e) 'heading2)
                        . ,(s-format
<div class=\"section ${even}\" id=\"${section}\">
<div class=\"container\">
<div class=\"row\">" 'aget `(("even" . ,(if even "even" ""))
                             ("section" . ,(heading->section-id e))))) e)
                     ;; Else just...
                     (list e)))))

(defun bites-creole->bootstrap (struct)
  "Transform STRUCT, a creole structure, into something bootstrapable.

HTML DIV elements are hacked into the structure wherever we find
an HR element.  The HR elements are retained."
  (let ((tx (bites/creole-struct struct)))
        . ,(concat
            (when (member bites/struct-class '(:episode :series))
              "<a id=\"homelink\" href=\"/\">emacs tapas</a>")
            "<div class=\"section\" id=\"sec-top\">
<div class=\"container\">
<div class=\"row\">")))
     `((plugin-html . "</div></div></div><footer>")
        "(C) 2013 Nic Ferrier"
       (plugin-html . ,bites-licence-badge)
       (plugin-html . "</footer>")))))

converts a creole list representation into HTML. The structure looks like this:

((para . "{{youtube:_gJlqfP8sho|list basics}}...")
 (heading2 . "what's in the movie?")
 (para . "//making lists// with the {{{list}}} ...")
 (para . "how list literals are great for structure") 
 (preformatted . "`(\"nic\"
  (\"job\" \"hacker\")
  (\"packages\" \"elnode\" \"elpakit\" \"creole\")
  (\"job\" \"movie star\")
  (\"packages\" \"dash\" \"s.el\" \"mc\"))"...))

and we transform it by adding a header and a footer plugin-html element and by doing some basic surrounding of headings with enough HTML to provide CSS structure.

I think this is quite exciting. It's almost as powerful and expressive as XSLT but it's simpler (to implement) and faster.

How indexes work

For some time I wanted to add some sort of semantic linking to creole and I've now done so.

Creole has an embed syntax for images that looks like this:

some words and then {{http://someimgurl|an embed}}

This is intended for images but it could really be any embed. So I've added scheme handling to creole so that you can add handlers for schemes, like include to pull in a part of another creole page, or youtube to embed a youtube video.

It turns out this is an excellent way of building indexes for pages. Here's what an index page looks like:

= working with Lisp data =

a series of episodes exploring how lisp is used within Emacs.

== list basics ==
{{include:list-basics|the basics of list handling}}

== advanced list topics ==
{{include:list-advanced|more advanced understanding of lists}}

This is ideal, we're including text and the video for the actual page but getting to provide context for the index in question. What data I actually choose to present is a matter for the web server program.

Of course, by keeping indexes like this I do have a consistency problem (if an article changes name, for example, I have to update the indexes that refer to it). I haven't solved that problem yet but Emacs makes it quite simple. I could also build a wiki like editor to the tapas and ask the server to maintain the indexes for me.

Unexpected results

It's always nice when you get something unexpected out of something you're doing. I admit I look for that.

And out of the Emacs Bites it seems I am going to get a general creole service. Which would be nice.

Video quality

Back to the screencasts... I'm struggling a little with video quality with the tapas series. Screencasts are very difficult to do and video editing tools on linux aren't great. If anyone has any advice there do get in touch.


Update 10th August 2013 - someone put emacsbites on HackerNews.

Some stats:

front page about 5 hours
score 120
visits 7,514
average time on page 2 minutes, 44 seconds
bounce rate 77.55%
average page load time 3.46 seconds
average page download 0.09 seconds
increase in gittip donations 0.25 cents
increase in twitter followers 12

Browser break down:

browser visits pages/visit avg visit duration % new visits bounce rate %
Chrome 2,622 1.47 00:01:19 92.79% 76.47%
Firefox 993 1.59 00:01:41 89.33% 74.92%
Safari 620 1.46 00:01:17 92.42% 76.29%
Android Browser 395 1.34 00:00:35 92.91% 81.52%
Safari (in-app) 365 1.24 00:00:26 95.89% 86.85%
Opera 39 1.38 00:01:08 92.31% 71.79%
Internet Explorer 37 1.59 00:01:28 100.00% 83.78%
Opera Mini 28 1.25 00:02:31 92.86% 89.29%
Mozilla 23 1.13 00:00:08 82.61% 91.30%

Interesting data. The HN crowd isn't very generous for one thing. I think emacsbites is not doing a very good job of consolidating it's online presence, people can't necessarily find the twitter or the gittip. I did a deliberately bad UX job on the gittip because I didn't want to shove it down people's throats. That will likely change a bit.

Many of the comments were focussed on the fact that my series is about learning Lisp and Emacs together, it's not a beginners guide to Emacs. It seems like a lot of people want a beginners guide to Emacs.

I'm not going to do a real beginners guide. I think that a problem with those is that people get lost in what to do. Emacs is such a powerful program but without an application to use it for... what are you going to do?

I also think that Emacs is simple enough, these days that you can pick it up from my videos if you know what an editor is. Which I expect most people do.

What I will do is to try and get some of the people who have done tutorial screencasts to record more short screencasts and try and link to them.

I'll also link to a list of the existing ones anyway.

Update 7th August 2013 - I am renaming from EmacsTapas to EmacsBites afer a request from Avdi Grimm, who owns RubyTapas. Avdi believes Tapas is associated with him and so, despite him not having a Trademark on the name I am renaming my site to avoid any confusion. I retain the domain name and the twitter account.

I don't like altering blog articles substantively after they're published but I've done that here to avoid any association with Avdi.

I am not going to change this blog url though.