Archive for the 'Software' Category

3Monkeys on Emacs: Part 6 – Some Fun

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Previous in this series : Part 5 – Replace

Sometimes you need to step back and have a little fun. In keeping with that philosophy, I’m taking a small break from some of the more serious Emacs topics, and presenting a few fun things. Emacs has several built in stress relievers, from funny quotes to interactive games. Below are some diversions for your enjoyment.

Yow M-x yow A simple diversion that displays a random Zippy quote in the echo area.
Doctor M-x doctor Need a little psychotherapy? Call in the doctor.
Life M-x life Conway’s Game of Life simulation. Still a fascination after all of these years.
Hanoi M-x hanoi Solves the Tower of Hanoi puzzle. To specify the number of rings us C-u number M-x hanoi, where number is the desired number of rings.
Mpuz M-x mpuz A multiplication puzzle where numbers are replaced with letters, the user must determine which numbers map to which letters.
Blackbox M-x blackbox An analytical puzzle where the user must deduce the locations of balls based on certain reactions to events. See the full documentation with this command C-h f blackbox.
Pegs M-x solitaire The classic peg jump game, where the user jumps one peg with a neighboring peg removing it in the process. The goal is to leave only one peg.
Snake M-x snake The user navigates a snake in a square box, avoiding doubling back on itself or running into a wall, all while trying to collect tokens.
Tetris M-x tetris The classic Tetris game we all are familiar with in one form or another.
Adventure M-x dunnet A text based adventure game much like Zork. We all remember playing Zork on PDP-10’s right?

Until next time.


3Monkeys on Emacs: Part 5 – Replace

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Previous in this series : Part 4 – Search

In my last post I discussed searching, frequently when searching you are looking for something to replace. As with search Emacs offers rich replace commands as well.

Unconditional and Conditional Replace

Unconditional – The command for basic replace is M-x replace-string. This command will prompt you for a target string and a destination string. When executed, it will unconditionally replace all occurrences of the target string with the destination string, from the cursor to the last occurrence of the target string. Two things should be noted. First this command does not have a reverse or backward mode. Second, a source string containing no uppercase letters will be treated as case insensitive.

Conditional – For the more paranoid and the case where only certain occurrences should be replaced, Emacs provides the command M-x query-replace or M-%. Similar to replace-string, this command prompts for a target string and a destination string. When executed the first occurrence of the target string is highlighted and the cursor is placed at its end. At this point the user has a few options to replace or not replace this occurrence, to move to the next occurrence, to unconditionally replace all remaining instance,or abort the command entirely. All of these options are specified by a single keystroke as described in the table below.

Key Effect
SPACE Replace this occurrence and move to the next
DEL Skip this occurrence and move to the next
, Replace this occurrence and do not move on
! Unconditionally replace all remaining occurrences
^ Backup to the previous matching occurrence
ESC Exit query-replace

These two commands will work for most needs, however, we can get more power from the regexp versions.

Regexp Replace

Like the non-regexp versions, the regexp versions come in both conditional, M-x query-replace-regexp and unconditional, M-x replace-regexp flavors. Regular expressions are specified in the same manner as search regular expressions covered in the previous article. What comes in handy is the ability to use prior group construct to build your destination string. For example, suppose you want to change a string such as “Name: lastname, firstname” to “Dear firstname lastname,“. This can easily be accomplished with a target regexp of

Name: +([A-Za-z]+), +([A-Za-z]+)

and a destination string of

Dear 2 1,

Bonus: Narrowing and Widening

One particular method for restricting replace is to narrow the buffer. By narrowing a buffer you limit the portion of the buffer that you can currently view and edit. This can especially be useful when performing a replace operation. For example you may want to replace a variable name with in a particular function. You would first narrow the buffer to the function in question and then perform an unconditional replace operation. This would be much safer and possibly faster than a conditional replace operation.

Narrowing a buffer is comprised of two basic steps. First mark the region you want to narrow to using the M-x set-mark-command, C-SPACE or C-@, and then repositioning the buffer to the beginning or ending of the region of interest. Once a region is defined issue the M-x narrow-to-region or C-x n n command to narrow the buffer. Now any editing actions you take will be applied to the narrowed buffer only, with the exception of M-x save-buffer and like commands which will save the entire buffer. To continue editing the full document you must widen it with the M-x widen or C-x n w command.

Next in this series: Part 6 – Some Fun

Until next time.


3Monkeys on Emacs: Part 4 – Search

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Previous in this series : Part 3 – Buffers and Windows

One of the most common editing task is searching. Emacs has a rich set of commands for searching text.

Incremental Search

The commands for basic search are M-x search-forward and M-x search-backward, however these are rarely used. Instead most Emacs users will prefer to use the incremental search commands M-x isearch-forward and M-x isearch-backward, C-s and C-r respectively. Incremental search has several advantages over normal search. The first you will notice is that as you begin typing a search string in the echo area after issuing C-s or C-r, is that the search is immediate. Consider the following three screen shots.

After typing “e”

After typing “e”

After typing “ea”

After typing “ea”

After typing “early”

After typing “early”

As you can see, with each new character added to the search string, Emacs highlights all visible occurrences of the string and repositions the cursor to the first unique occurrence. Additionally, at any point in specifying a search string issuing the C-s or C-r command will reposition the cursor to the next or previous unique occurrence of the search string.

Regexp Search

Even more powerful than the standard incremental searches, are regular expression (regexp) search. Regexp searches allow the user to use wildcards to find text patterns rather than exact or unique matches. Again these searches come in both a nonincremental and incremental form. For reference only, the commands for the nonincremental versions are M-x re-search-forward and M-x re-search-backward. The more useful incremental regular expression search commands are M-x isearch-forward-regexp or C-M-s and M-x isearch-backward-regexp which does not have a default keystroke binding.

Emacs regular expressions are almost identical to normal UNIX regular expression and those used by other tools such as vi, sed and grep. Although a thorough discussion is outside of the scope of this article, a few points about them should provide some insight. Regular expression are composed of ordinary characters such as A, b, C, 1, 2, 3, and regular expression characters. The two tables below describe both the normal regular expression characters and the set of special regular expression characters, the third table list the syntactic class characters used in the \sc and \Sc special characters.

Regular Expresion Character
Character What it Matches
. Any single character except newline
^ Start of line
$ End of linr
* Zero or more of the previous ordinary character
+ One or more of the previous ordinary character
? Zero or One of the previous ordinary character
[ range ] Any character specified by range
[^ range ] Any charcter not specified by range
\ Used to escape or remove any special meaning from a character

Special Characters
Character What it Matches
\t Tab
\n Newline
\\ Backslash
\b Empty string at the begining or end of a word
\< Empty string at the begining of a word
\> Empty string at the end of a word
\` Empty string at the beginning of the buffer
Empty string at the end of the buffer
\w Any character considered part of a word
\W Any character not considered part of a word
\| Seperates multiple regular expressions
\( group \) Treats group as a group of characters to be treated as a single entity
\sc A character of a syntactic class denoted by c
\Sc A character not of a syntactic class denoted by c

Syntactic Class Characters
Character Syntactic Class
SPACE Whitespace
w Words
Symbol names
. Punctuation
( Open balanced expression
) Close balanced expression
String delimiter
< Comment start
> Comment end

An additional construct of regular expression is the prior group reference, which allows you to substitute a prior matching portion to the regular expression. For example the regular expresion \([0123456789]\)\1 would match any occurrences of two identical digets, such as 11, 22, 33 and so on. Emacs regular expressions are greedy, or in other words, tend to try to match as much as possible. So be sure to construct your regular expression with this in mind. One final point, search terms can be reused in later searches by using the M-p and M-n commands when prompted for a search term in the echo area.

Next in this series: Part 5 – Replace

Until next time.