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Re: What does 'run' do in cperl-mode?

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: What does 'run' do in cperl-mode?
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 15:15:00 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.9i

Hi, Xah!

This has got up to nearly 500 lines.  I'm going to be doing some serious

On Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 03:50:53PM -0700, Xah wrote:
> On Jul 29, 11:27 am, Alan Mackenzie <address@hidden> wrote:

> Let's get clear on exactly what is the proposed change.

> (1) change all notations of M-key and C-key in emacs manual to Alt+key
> and Ctrl+key notation. Just to be more precise, the source of emacs
> manual is the texinfo source code, which are plain file. It generates
> the info files.

> (2) change somewhere in elisp source code, so that menu show shortcuts
> with the Alt+ and Ctrl+ notation.

> Note that elisp keymacro isn't in the proposed change, nor that elisp
> function such as ???kbd???.

Ah, right.  Yes, I had automatically assumed that part of your change
would be using "A-" instead of "M-" in key sequences.  You've made clear
that I had misunderstood.

Let me suggest that telling somebody "to bind an ALT-key comination, use
the \M- prefix; don't use \A-, because this will instead create a
keybinding for what used to be called the ALT-key, but isn't...." will
cause much more confusion than we have at the moment.  The great thing
about "Meta" is that there's no key called that on a PC keyboard, so it's
just a matter of saying "Use the alt key".

[ .... ]

> > > Further, i'm not an experienced elisp coder as most of them are.

> > I would recommend you to get experienced.  Like Emacs, elisp is
> > supremely easy to use, but unlike Emacs, it's also very easy to
> > learn (compared with monstrosities like C++ or Java).

> Alan, don't start, ok? :)

> (I'm no newbie and you knew. I started computer programing in ~1993,
> started paid programing job in 1995...)

I'm unsure how much elisp programming you've done.  You're not exactly
being helpful in clarifying this.

[ .... ]

> As of now, i'm not sure i want to initiate the processing of actually
> sending in code to GNU org for many social reasons. I don't mean to be
> superficially mysterious... but for one thing, some (or perhaps
> several) people don't necessarily like me due to my newsgroup posts.

In free software development, personal like/dislike barely exists.  You
ARE your contributions.  The person who was calling you bad names last
week will warmly thank you for your new and useful contribution next

> Also, i'm not sure i want to be part of FSF or GNU. Sure i support
> their ideas in general, but the OpenSource or FreeSoftware fervor
> sometimes i cannot take as good to society.

That you have in common with lots of free software developers, including
quite a few in the Emacs project.

[ .... ]

> > >

> > With all due respect, that article is a bit superficial.  It ignores
> > the work which would be needed to change, and it fails to argue that
> > the change is important enough to be worth even a small amount of
> > work.  It seems more to be arguing that if we were starting from
> > scratch, the term "alt" would be the better one.  I agree with that.

> well as mentioned before... i'm just thinking about the change in the
> manual, and the change in shortcut notation that shows up in menus. No
> change proposed for macros or any elisp function. I think that's more
> of what you are thinking.

Yes, it was.  As already said, I think changing the manual to "Alt", but
leaving the key name as "meta" or "\M-" in the lisp would cause much
worse confusion than changing both consistently.

> I do think the change is important, because it makes emacs easier to
> use. The difficulty to start using emacs is one of the most cited
> criticism of emacs.

I think this difficulty is essential to Emacs.  If you "simplified"
(i.e. dumbed down) Emacs to the point where newbies would find it easy,
what you would be left with wouldn't be Emacs, but some pale shadow of

[ .... ]

> The thing is, as i learned more in responding to people in this thread,
> that some issue you just have to talk it out in detail. There are a lot
> misunderstandings.

One of the reasons we have address@hidden

[ .... ]

> > > The reason i gave, about why ... is better, is summarized like this:
> > > Universally understood
> > > Notation Same as Key Label
> > > Meta is Alt in practice
> > > Keyboards don't have Meta key today
> > > Can you point out, if any of these points are wrong, or other reasons
> > > this change is just bad?

> In last post, you mentioned some side effect of breaking customization
> lisp codes. But i hope to clarify here, that no lisp code change is
> proposed other than getting menus to display the new notation.

> I think that's your main point, but i couldn't think of other major
> points you are arguing against?

The incompatibility between calling the key "Alt" in the manual, but
"meta" or "\M-" in the code would be horrible.  Which convention would
the doc-strings follow?  Inevitably, some would say "alt", some would say
"meta".  It would be ghastly.

> > repeat myself: it would be far too much work to be worthwhile, and it
> > wouldn't solve a problem, because nobody gets confused more than
> > momentarily by the term "meta" anyway.

> I think it's rather major confusion.

How many Emacs users do you know who, beyond their first day or two of
Emacs use, have difficulty with the term "meta"?  I know of none, and I
think I only know one person who is irritated by it (yourself, of

I think also that you picture two distinct categories of Emacs users:
Emacs developers, and "ordinary" users, and your change is for the
benefit of the latter.  The project's view is that their is no rigid
distinction between "users" and "implementors" - there is a continuous
spectrum of elisp capability, and every user should be encouraged to
develop her lisp skills to customize her own Emacs optimally.

> we have to look at in a social way. Sure, tech geeker may say that any
> who can't understand a name alias is a idiot and not fit to use emacs.
> That's rather a bad attitude and most of the time not seriously said.

I think a worse attitude is to patronise users, to write software for
people "not as clever as yourself".

> software needs to be easy to use. Those not easy to use just become
> less and less popular and eventually obsolete. Emacs has dwindling
> user base.

Software needs to be easy to use; Emacs is supremely easy to use - it's
just difficult to learn.  I don't think you've ever really thought
through the difference between "easy to use" and "easy to learn".

If the Emacs user base is dwindling (I think it is), it is because other
products have caught up to a large extent with Emacs's features.  But for
those seeking the ultimate in ease of use and customisability, I haven't
seen anything else even close to Emacs.

Most software aims for the "easy to learn" user base.  "Why, just hold
down the <shift> key and move the cursor to "select" (i.e. mark) some
text.  What could be easier?"  Actually, almost any other way of marking
text is easier and better, just it takes more effort to learn.

[ .... ]

> > Let me try again.  This change, even if it could be achieved in a few
> > hours' hacking would cause incompatibilities in existing code,

> Note that no change in elisp code is involved, other than the one to
> make the menu show the new notation.

> All existing elisp code should behave as is.

The incompatibilities between the documentation "alt" and lisp "meta"
would make Elisp coding more difficult, more frustrating.

[ .... ]

> the bottom line is, for anyone who actually gets down to reading or
> wrtiing lisp , as the tech geeker would say: If you can't tell that M-
> is just a syntax notation for the Alt key, then you perhaps shouldn't
> code lisp.

But "A-" is currently the syntax notation for the (current Emacs) Alt key
(which isn't present on most keyboards).  One of the participants in this
thread, Andreas Eder, has a keyboard with an Emacs alt key, and he
wouldn't want his keyboard to be dumbed down, just to become compatible
with a PC keyboard.

> Ideally, we would like to change the macro... but due to existing code
> it's rather too much work. (that's what you are thinking) Also, the
> issue gets complex since emacs already has the alt key idea from the
> lisp machine keyboard's Alt Mode key... represented in kbd macro as
> "A-", but isn't used today...

Andreas Eder uses it.  There're probably lots of people who've
configured one of the "spare" keys on the PC keyboard to act as "alt".

[ .... ]

> > > I mentioned, there's another thing is changing how the shortcut ....

> > Correction: "key sequence".

> note i'm aware that "key sequence" is preferred emacs term for
> keyboard combination or sequential pressing of keys to invoke a
> command.

Your native language isn't English.  In English, "shortcut" carries
derogatory connotations, such as trespassing and sloppy workmanship;
"shortcut" is never the natural regular way of doing anything.  I put
this into the Wikipedia entry for shortcut last night.

I believe (although I have no evidence) that the term "shortcut" was
associated with key sequences either by a mouse manufacturer or a GUI
software maker (Microsoft?) as part of a marketing exercise, subtly
creating the notion that using the keyboard was somehow "not done by
decent people".

Be aware that each time you say "keyboard shortcut" you're insinuating
that using the keyboard is somehow illegitimate.

[ .... ]

> > The notation "alt-", of itself, is fine.  The notation "meta-" is
> > marginally less fine.  Your desire to change from "meta-" to "alt-"
> > posits dumb users for whom dumbing down is necessary or, at best,
> > very helpful.

> That's a bad way to look at things. Software needs to be easy to use.
> As a metric to judge this quality, the more dumber people who can use
> it, the better is the ease of use quality of the software.

That's just a metric of how easy it is for dumb people to use software.
Emacs isn't intended for the room temperature IQ segment of the

I think the way to judge ease of use is to judge ease of use.  The
questions to ask are things like:

(i) How many keystrokes/mouse ambages (weighted according to ease of
  pressing) does it take to do X?
(ii) How easy is it to make mistakes in doing X?  How easy is it to
  recover from these mistakes?
(iii) How many annoying distractions does the product impose on the
  user?  How seriously does it get in the way?
(iv) How configurable is the product?

> > > Is it your opinion, that emacs should remain difficult to use for
> > > the sake of difficult to use?

> > My opinion is that emacs is supremely easy to use and should remain
> > so; that emacs acheives this ease of use partly at the cost of being
> > difficult to learn, and that this is a good tradeoff; that changing
> > from "meta" to "alt" would achieve a vanishingly small increase in
> > ease of learning, no increase in ease of use, and a massive amount
> > of pain for those forced to switch usage.

> Alright, i guess we disagree.

> You might know already, that i also think emacs is the best text
> editor and much more, despite some usabilitie issues on outset. If i
> didn't think emacs is so great, i wouldn't have spent so much energy
> arguing here.

I think you have spuriously conflated ease of use with ease of learning.

> Also, i wrote a emacs and elisp tutorial from a practical user's point
> of view. Many people liked my tutorial. For exmaple, it is linked in
> blogs, e.g. .
> Just to be sure, i also think emacs has great consistency, most clear
> and comprehensive doc, far more so than most any software apps...

> one example related i like to cite, is the usability of linux. In your
> stance, perhaps you think KDE/Gnome or Lindows is dumbing down? The
> very notion and phrase of dumbing down is bad Alan.

I disagree; it's useful and eloquent.  It means making things easier to
use/learn by dumber people than could otherwise manage, and carries the
connotions of making things less useful for the less dumb.

I have Gnome on my current Gnu/Linux installation, but I only really use
it for starting Firefox or viewing graphical stuff (e.g. pdf documents).
Most of my work is on text, so I use the Linux tty's, which are
optimised for text handling.

> > > > Yes,Xah, that garbage is what your squiggles look like on a
> > > > terminal which isn't equipped with squiggle filters.  "Feel
> > > > free" to stop dumping such garbage on English language fora,
> > > > please.

> > > Hum? You don't have the right font installed or something? My post
> > > should be in unicode with utf8 encoding.

> > It might well be.  And I'm not wasting my time with stupid
> > international character codes any more than I'm going to waste my
> > time with MS-Word for reading files.doc.  UTF has its place, but
> > it's suboptimal in the extreme for representing monolingual English.
> > If you want to piss off as many people as possible, just carry on
> > putting stupid multibyte characters into your posts.  Nobody would
> > have any objection to your UTF8 if you restricted yourself to those
> > characters also in ASCII.

> I don't think you are being reasonable. today, even hardcore tech
> geekers prefers unicode.

Which hardcore tech geekers?  And exactly how do they "prefer" unicode?

> Even in plain English, ascii is not as good since it doesn't have
> curly quotes and other symbols such as lambda.

10 years ago, you would have said that Usenets posts were better in
HTML, because you could specify the font and colours, and so on.  It's
basically the same argument.

The fact is, fonts, colours, and curly quotes aren't essential or even
necessary for a plain English post.  Lambda would only be very
occasionally necessary, such as when discussing maths.  You could leave
out your curly quotes without changing the essence of your post in the

[ .... ]

> > > .... notation changes. So, it shouldn't effect people's exiting
> > > customization.

> > Do you mean customisation on the way out, or do you mean "exciting"
> > customisation, such as is done by me?  ;-)

> (^_^) ... not sure i got the joke.

"Exiting" means "going out".  "Exciting" means it gets you breathing
heavily.  You probably meant "exiSting".  :-)

[ .... ]

> The need to change kbd macro syntax so that it become consistent with
> the suggestion, is good. But that gets hairy, as you explained. So the
> issue now, is wheher this change creates inconsistecy. In my opinion,
> no, because to be strict, emacs is already inconsistant by keep using
> a key name on lisp machine's keyboards that practically didn't exist
> anymore.

It would create an inconsistency which didn't previously exist.  You're
saying that this inconsistency would be less bad than the existing one,
calling the "alt" key "meta.  I disagree.

> One interesting point is that, on lisp machine's keyboard, it also has
> a Alt key, labeled ALT MODE. In emacs's keyboard macro syntax, this is
> written as "A-". So, when lisp keyboard went out and PC keyboard in,
> emacs possibly might have made a better fix by changing using this Alt
> key instead of Meta, instead of just mapping Meta to PC kbd's Alt.

This was a gradual change.  It didn't happen overnight.

[ .... ]

>   Xah

Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

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