Emacs way – copying text

December 9, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Posted in Patterns, Programming | Leave a comment
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In Emcas if you want to copy a region of text from one file to another then you can just press {C-space} as beginning of copying and then take your cursor to the point till where you want to copy. Then you press {M-w}, M means meta/Alt key and then you will go to the file you want to paste to and put your cursor at the place and press {C-y} and its done. It may look complicated to people who have used Notepad/Wordpad/MS-Office for many years who can just use mouse to copy-paste. Well, it is same except that using keyboard gets much easier over time, plus it kinds of wires into your nervous system. Using mouse to do something never gets easier over time, it remains same.

Now behind the scene, Emacs uses a function called (append-to-buffer) and if you look at the pseudo-code or algorithm, this is how it looks like:

(let (bind-oldbuf-to-value-of-current-buffer)
   (save-excursion                           ; Keep track of buffer.

Compare this with how it works in C:

  1. open file for reading, the file you want to copy from
  2. if there was no error in step 1 then open file for writing, where you want to paste
  3.   if there was no error in step 2 then check if mark has lower value than point
  4. use fseek to go to the mark
  5. if there was no error in step 4 then read/copy one character and write/paste it
  6. check if copy/paste stopped because of end of work or because some error occurred in copying.
  7. check if copy/paste stopped because of end of work or because some error occurred in pasting.

Here is the code in both languages:

(defun append-to-buffer (buffer start end)
  "Append to specified buffer the text of the region.
     It is inserted into that buffer before its point.

     When calling from a program, give three arguments:
     BUFFER (or buffer name), START and END.
     START and END specify the portion of the current buffer to be copied."
   (list (read-buffer "Append to buffer: " (other-buffer
					    (current-buffer) t))
	 (region-beginning) (region-end)))
  (let ((oldbuf (current-buffer)))
      (let* ((append-to (get-buffer-create buffer))
	     (windows (get-buffer-window-list append-to t t))
	(set-buffer append-to)
	(setq point (point))
	(insert-buffer-substring oldbuf start end)
	(dolist (window windows)
	  (when (= (window-point window) point)
	    (set-window-point window (point))))))))
int copy_buffer_richard(const char *w, const char *r, int pf, int pt)
  int rc = 0;
  FILE *fpi = fopen(r, "rb");
  if(fpi != NULL)
      FILE *fpo = fopen(w, "wb");
      if(fpo != NULL)
	  int len = pt - pf;
	  if(pt > 0 && pf >= 0 && len > 0)
	      /* Everything so far has been housekeeping.
		 The core of the code starts here... */

	      if(0 == fseek(fpi, len, SEEK_SET))
		  int ch;

		  while((ch = getc(fpi)) != EOF)
		      putc(ch, fpo);

		  /* ...and ends here. From now on, it's
		     just a load more housekeeping. */

		      rc = -5; /* input error */
		  else if(ferror(fpo))
		      rc = -6; /* output error */
	      else {
		rc = -4; /* probably the in file is too short */
	  else {
	    rc = -3; /* invalid parameters */
      else {
	rc = -2; /* can't open output file */
  else {
    rc = -1; /* can't open input file */
  return rc;
/* by Richard Heathfield */

Comparing both, to me Emacs Lisp code is much more easier to understand than C code. C code may look prettier but that is because of lot of extra whitespace around it where Emacs Lisp code in tightly placed. You should look at the pseudo-code of Emacs Lisp on how easier it make connection between pseudo-code and real code. It reads almost like English while C version is, as usual, strikingly odd, pseudo-code and real code look a lot different, typical of C. You may say that comparison is unfair because C is much faster comparing to Emacs Lisp and one file in Emacs Lisp was already opened and I am comparing a full fledged Lisp environment with just one single C program. Yeah, I get that, but then again Emacs Lisp code is real code directly taken from source code of Emacs while C code is just written a stand alone, small and short program. Real C program taken from a real life working software will be a lot creepy. In one glance at pseudo-code and real code, you can guess what Emacs Lisp code is doing and it is easier on head whereas real life C code will require lots of glances and will definitely be far from easier on head.

Emacs Lisp version is much more readable and this is a very important point. Ever heard of the sentence called “developer’s time is more important than the machine time” or “a computer program is written once and read 10,000 times” or “Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute (Abelson and Sussman, Preface to the First Edition, SICP) . Last quote is from one of the most respected books in computer science. If you think those ideas are quite academic or theoretical then you are completely missing the point. Good ideas are not only hard to grasp at first but it is difficult to notice the practical benefit of those too, especially if you are not having few years experience in programming. No matter how much industry is crying about changing customer requirements, good ideas are timeless. These changing customer requirements are nothing but problems that computer programmers solve everday. If, at your workplace,  you work mostly in C and C++, you must have noticed almost every company has moved to C++ while two decades back they used to develop mostly in C. More than 65% of the code in this entire world is still in C, but most of it is legacy-code.  There is a shift in the thinking that has happened. The programming world keeps on churning out new languages and almost everyone is moving towards the use of languages like C++, Java, Python, Ruby etc. Why is that ?  If you look at the new languages, you will notice they were designed more on the side of how to solve the problems in a better way, how can this new language work as a better and improved tool towards solving the problems in or of this world, and indirectly (and may be unknowingly) these language-creators have no interest solving the problems of the machine itself (space and time complexity) because problems of the machine and problems of this world are two points that lie on opposite ends. You can not brilliantly solve the one without ignoring the other by a good  amount. C++ was created to solve the problems of large scale software design and hence OO and generic programming paradigms were added. Rather than how to make it more efficient than C, the notion of how to make it better at solving larger problems was choosen. Ruby, Perl, Python and lot of others were created primarily to solve the problems that are not related to machine’s own problems. World is moving from machine towards abstraction. I call it moving to solving problems of this world, moving towards generlization and abstraction, Paul Graham calls it moving from C model to Lisp Model and he is right. Humans always evolve, no matter how many wars and world wars have been fought where humans swore to kill each other, no matter how much negativity and selfishness is there in this world, humans have always evolved and this shift from solving problems of machine to solving problems of this world is a step in further human evolution. Richard Stallman had already evolved to this level by 1984 (along with many other great progrmmers. Good thinking is timeless). He focused more on solving the problem and created this amazing piece of software called Emacs. Thanks to him again.

You should try this book by Robert J. Chassell, it is kind of addictive. When I get some free time it makes me think whether I should entertain myself with a movie or should I just enjoy reading his book  🙂

Copyright © 2014 Arnuld Uttre, Hyderabad, Telangana – 500017 (INDIA)
Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 license (a.k.a. CC BY-ND)


The Emacs Way of understanding Humans and Computers

November 30, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Patterns | 1 Comment
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I was using gNewSense frow sometime now and one thing about softwares endorsed or created by FSF is that you get to know some amazing ideas or some incredible ways of solving some problems that you never came across before and you yourself never knew those either. For example, take icecat, it comes default with libreJS add-on installed. Generally we think an OS can control your machine and then you. After using libreJS I see how you can use javascript in a web-browser to control the user, without giving any hint at all. User will use his computer for 10 years and for those 10 years he will not have slightest of the idea that he is being controlled. Then I came across duckduckgo search engine and then ThinkPenguin router  with 100% Freedom and then h-node  and now gNewSense.

When I used Emacs first time, in year 2006, after few weeks of usage I came across The GNU Project (open Emacs and press “Control-h g”), that one keystroke (C-h g) changed my life. I got hooked onto Linux forever (or GNU/Linux as RMS calls it). Since last few years, I have never used/installed any proprietary OS on my machine, my machine runs only on Linux, yes, no other OS, only and only Linux (something that majority of Software Engineering students and prfossionals in INDIA are always scared to do). Just few months back I came across gNewSense and from there I came across one gNewSense BlogPost, an introductory book on programming in Emacs Lisp written by Robert J. Chassell. For those who don’t know, Emacs is one of the most (if not the most) advanced text editors available. I am sure if you make a list of top 20 softwares ever created with best design ideas then Emacs will be one of them (and Apache web server will be there too along with several softwares starting with letter “g” 😉 ). Emacs is written using Emacs Lisp (a dialect of Lisp, an amazing language) while some parts are written in C for portability/efficiency reasons. I am using Emacs all the time for writitg code but I do admit I hardly make effective use of it. I think I use may be 10% of its power. I always wanted to learn more and the book written by Robert seemed like a decent start. I am already writing code from few years now and Robert mentioned that it is “not for experienced programmers” but I am reading it anyway because I always wated to understand Emacs and then this book is so interesing and engaging and I can not seem to put it down. It is as much interesting as The Man Who Sold The Moon . Whenever I will come across some idea that I will like then I will post about it here. So, here is the first design idea I really loved (I assume you are familiar with some dialect of Lisp. If not, then just read 17 pages of first chapter of Robert’s book. That will be more than enough. Do not worry, it will not take much time to read those)

  • You want to evaluate something written in Emacs Lisp ? Just open emacs, put cursor at the end of the variable or function name or the closing parenthesis or whatever you want to evaluate and press “C-x C-e” and you got the answer. That’s it, that is how simple it is in Emacs.
  • File and Buffer are two different entities. File is what permamently stored on your computer’s hard disk whereas a buffer is inside emacs which will go away as soon as you exit emacs. A buffer visits the file or is a pointer to the file, not the actual file. You want to save changes into the file then just save the buffer and changes will be written to the file.
  • This one is most interesting. switch-to-buffer is an Emacs Lisp function that helps you in switching to another buffer. Generally when you look at any editor (Notepad, Notepad++ or gedit etc. for example) , you usually look at the file you are editing. If you switch to another file then you will see only and only this another file and previous file will not be visible. Previous file is open but it is not visible and hidden in the editor). What I mean is you can see only one file in front of you, not two (I am not talking about splitting-frames). Within Emacs code, switch-to-buffer is less used than set-buffer. Why ? … Because computer does not need eyes to see while humans do. When a a computer program needs to work on a buffer/file, it does not need to see it, visibility is not needed. switch-to-buffer was designed for humans and it does two things:
    • It switches to the new buffer .
    • It switches the buffer “displayed” in the window with new one.

You can easily guess now that set-buffer only walks the first step, it switches the program to other buffer while buffer on the screen remains unchanged.  Doesn’t this concept feel like one of the rules of the creation of this Universe while still being so simple and straightforward. I salute RMS for creating Emacs and keeping it free

Copyright © 2014 Arnuld Uttre, Hyderabad, Telangana – 500017 (INDIA)

Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 license (a.k.a. CC BY-ND)

The Real Programmer

March 19, 2012 at 11:04 am | Posted in Programming | Leave a comment
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I was checking out what new language to learn. There are several points here:

  • Language: Most newbies or less experienced programmers think of learning a new langauge and thats it. They think learning more languages will make them better programmer. Unfortunately this is not true.
  • New Paradigm : Other experiences programmers want to learn a new paradigm which will change their way of thinking and make thema better programmer rather than a programmer who knows several languages. He thinks that learning a language like C++ wil automatically make him an OO expert. Sigh…. he got immature mindset too.
  • Reality Check : No matter what a programmer wants to do, either of the above or both, his thoughts are crushed by the reality of the software as an industry. He works whole day and then he has a family and he wants to have a life too and there are only 24 hours in a day. Out of all this mess and busy schedule, he starts thinking that he can not afford to spend time learning a langauge which does not give him a rise in his income.
  • RealProgrammer : . Now there is another breed of programmers, which I call real programmers (I am one of them. What you think ? … No ? … c’mon just believe it because I am the author of this post 😉 ) Here the real programmer, I mean the one who does not believe in quick fixes, the one who started programming because he likes it, because he is happily willing to live next 20, 30, 40, 50 years of his life writing code, THAT ONE decieds to go long term. Rather than deciding on income-factor he goes with programming-factor, he decied to learn new-paradigm, decides to check out something unheard in industry but heard a lot from the mouths of good programmers.

Learning programming for income is like a adding one more language to your Resume and that stops right there and it adds not much to your skill as programmer. I think you must aim for getting more out of the time you spend, you must aim differently, you must aim what your common-sense thinks is right. Unfortunately most programmers don’t have that common-sense because industry is full of programmers who do it for money just like a fruit-seller who sells fruits for money but himself does not eat much of them because he is not interested in how fruits lead to good health. My advice will be wathcing and observing what all brilliant programmers are doing from years and learn from them. Thats what I do.

I am a C Programmer and I wanted that new language to help rise in my career too. Of course the choice came out to be C++. But C++ is almost in the same paradigm as C plus more. C is procedural while C++ has OO and generic paradigms added to and it is designed in such a way that you can add a lot of other paradigms to it but C and C++ belong to almost same kind of mindset. I wanted to write a microkernel for Hurd, hence I dwelled into other languages like BitC and decac etc. but then again lack of time and my focus on what can I do to become better programmer and use my time with maximum productivity. Here are the options I think I have found:

  • Haskell
  • ErLang
  • Common Lisp
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Ada
  • Caml
  • BitC
  • decac
  • Eiffell
  • RISC Assembly
  • D Programming Langauge
  • Prolog
  • C++

Now, I can’t learn everything, it will take 2 lives to finish this list off. So after lot sof googling, lots of readings of practical views, research papers etc etc I selected Common-Lisp. Lisp is 2nd oldest language still in existance after FORTRAN. Lisp has a changed a lot since then. Code and Data are same in Lisp. Many concepts were developed first in Lisp and then in other languages e.g. garbage collection. You can write Lisp code which will write Lisp code, its like creating a new language yourself. I learned about recursion in 7 days which I struggled to learn for 4 years with C and C++. I learned Binary-Search in 5 minutes which I am trying from last year to understand with C, in C you struggle more with how to write in C rather than the abstraction of the problem and its solution. (No wait… I am not attacking C, Not at all. C is a great language to learn to know about pointers which Lisp intelligently hides. You must learn both C and Common-Lisp if you are serious about programming.) For Managers Common-Lisp has OO and the next generation fancy (but practical) words e.g. MOP (Meta-Object Protocol if you have never heard of it). There are lot of strange languages and I don’t know why Common-Lisp impressed me so much. So far I have seen only one company in India using it.

Bottom line is: If you want a job, learn Java, C#, .NET or C++ . If you want to be a better programmer and willing to spend next 20 years of your life writing code, you better learn C and Common-Lisp and yeah arrays and pointers are not same and code is data in Lisp. The point is not to run after money but specizlized skills in programming. Specialized skill over long-term attracts money automatically.


Copyright © 2012 Arnuld Uttre, Village – Patti, P.O – Manakpur, Tehsil – Nangal, Distt. – Ropar, Punjab (INDIA)

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice, and the copyright notice, are preserved.

Extract of Programming

December 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Programming | Leave a comment
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A colleague of mine once asked me a question: How to become a better Programmer ?. It was a small but brilliant question. Most programmers do not think of the answer which is correct. A correct answer will also tell you about the extract of programming. I have hanged on comp.lang.c for quite some time and I have always tried to learn as much as possible from programmers who are more intelligent and better than me. This has led to many changes in my belief-system on what is right way to program and what is the wrong way. Over time my definition of what are called fundamentals and basics of programming have changed, my practice of programming have taken an almost U-turn from what I used to do. I have become better and the very first sentence of the long answer to the question How to become a better Programmer or What is the essence (extract) of programming, will be Love. yes, good programmers, brilliant programmers love to program. They have certain kind of attitude that defines them, that separates them form the rest of void main()s.

I know you will say that everyone just can’t love programming. Yes, you are right. Trouble is, Indian education system does its best to not to let creative students love computers. The whole academic syllabus will be designed and selection of books will be done in such a way they will make any creative man to hate computers. You have to find your own way, you are on your own, thats bad news. Good news is once you determined to find your way then lot of people will help you, many of them you will never meet in real life. The community of these programmers, hanging out there reading code for hours can become your favorite pass time. Real programmers are very helpful friends, instructors and teachers. You will never be spoonfed, you will never be disrespected but only analyzed and encouraged to write good programs, programs that have quality. And one thing I have learned is that qulity comes from writing small programs, not big ones. I had a misocnception when I was a graduate student (most Indian students do have same) that writing big and complex programs will make you a better programmer, It will not (actually It will but its not true for beginners, you must already be good at basics to start writing big and complex software) Unfortunately most programmers have a weak basic and fundamental grouding in what they do. Here is the answer:

  • Write short programs. They will make you better. e.g. think what *p++ and *++p will do for a pointer p and what can be the result of *p++ = *++p.
  • Don’t just think, write code. Reading books will not take you anywhere. Knowledge alone is essential and it won’t make you a better programmer. Write code and write more code and write a lot more code.
  • Write code and read archives of comp.lang.c if you get problems. Most of the time solution will already be there. Don’t just ask for help. Search, read archives and if you can’t sit for hours reading archives and trying code, find some other profession
  • Hang onto you favorite language newsgroup. For C we have comp.lang.c, same for others e.g. comp.lang.lisp, comp,land.c++ etc. you can’t be a better programmer without hanging out there for a few years.
  • Be technical rather than personal on usenet. If someone says something that you don’t like because it goes against what you have learned from your school/college then please get over it. You are not in school anymore, its real world and hence things are done differently here, things are practical here
  • Rather than learning three or four new languages, give priority to learn basic algorithms and data structures. They are tough, yes, and they are very rewarding when it comes to solving real world problems (which is what you will do in a software job/business). This approach will save you not only from lot of suffering caused by Segmentation Faults but also happiness will come when you see how succinct, meaningful and readable your programs have become. Thats called maturity.
  • If you want to learn new language then learn something opposite to what you already know e.g. if you know C or C++ already then rather than learning Java, go learn Common Lisp, If you already know Python, then start learning learn Haskell, if you already know Perl, then learn Ruby to see how it solves the same problems. If you think you know already know a lot of programming then read Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and tell me how you feel 🙂

What I have written is based on my years of experience in programming. I have summarized my experience in a very small and short blog. Don’t just ignore it. I have done many mistakes as beginner and I don’t want you to waste your young years in walking a path and later realize that it was wrong. Youth won’t come again, save it, invest it to proper use. Programming is a kind of love difficult to leave once you got hooked onto living with it. Its a joy but a hard kind of joy 😀

Copyright © 2010 Arnuld Uttre, Village – Patti, P.O – Manakpur, Tehsil – Nangal, Distt. – Ropar, Punjab (INDIA)

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice, and the copyright notice, are preserved.

The Craft of Programming

August 31, 2009 at 11:16 am | Posted in Patterns, Programming | Leave a comment
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Here are some quotes I have gathered over the years. They are written by some of the best known Programmers and Hackers with occasionally some very good programmers thrown in, if not great. They inspired me, changed the way I look at programming and especially at some programming languages and methods to solve problems:

“Any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad hoc informally-specified bug-ridden slow implementation of half of Common Lisp.” Philip Greenspun

“Something we didn’t want was an object-oriented language. OO languages remain a popular fad, but our experience using C++ in the EROS system was that it actively got in the way of understanding what was going on.”

The Origins of the BitC Programming Language

When you want to use a language that gets compiled and runs at high speed, the best language to use is C. Using another language is like using a non-standard feature.
GNU Coding Standards

“First off, I’d suggest printing out a copy of the GNU coding standards,
and NOT read it. Burn them, it’s a great symbolic gesture.”
Linux kernel coding guidelines

“C++ will rot your brain”
— someone from #lisp at irc.freenode.net

“pointer arithmetic and array indexing [that] are equivalent in C, pointers and arrays are different.” Wayne Throop

“An array is not a pointer, nor vice versa” — Steve Summit in C FAQs

“Attitude is no substitute for competence”
— Eric S. Raymond in How to become a Hacker

Q: I’m having problems with my Windows software. Will you help me?

A: Yes. Go to a DOS prompt and type “format c:”. Any problems you are experiencing will cease within a few minutes.

Eric S. Raymond

“This answer cannot be decided by current law—the law should conform to ethics, not the other way around” — Richard M. Stallman

“Lisp is a programmable programming language.”
John Foderaro, CACM, September 1991

Q: “My company needs a proprietary operating system to get a competitive edge.”

A: GNU will remove operating system software from the realm of competition. You will not be able to get an edge in this area, but neither will your competitors be able to get an edge over you. You and they will compete in other areas, while benefiting mutually in this one.

“There is nothing wrong with wanting pay for work, or seeking to maximize one’s income, as long as one does not use means that are destructive. But the means customary in the field of software today are based on destruction.” — Richard M. Stallman

“Haskell saves lives

“In general, functional languages offer powerful new ways to encapsulate abstractions” — Haskell Wiki

“I invented the term ‘Object-Oriented’, and I can tell you I did not have C++ in mind.”
— Alan Kay.

“C++ is the only current language making COBOL look good”
Bertrand Meyer

“It’s 5.50 a.m…. Do you know where your stack pointer is ?”
— Anonymous

“I understand the philosophy that developer cycles are more important than cpu cycles, but frankly that’s just a bumper-sticker slogan and not fair to the people who are complaining about performance.”
Joel Spolsky

“The standard — either one — is not the End of All C. Writing ‘strictly conforming’ C code, however, has an enormous benefit.”
Chris Torek

“Wait a minute, I want to modify that statement. I’m not claiming, in this particular article, that there’s anything wrong with Java as an implementation language. There are lots of things wrong with it but those will have to wait for a different article.” — Joel Spolsky

“Without understanding functional programming, you can’t invent MapReduce, the algorithm that makes Google so massively scalable”
— Joel Spolsky

“It [Java] might be successful – after all, MS DOS was – and it might be a profitable thing for all your readers to learn Java, but it has no intellectual value whatsoever. Look at their implementation of hash tables. Look at the sorting routines that come with their “cool” sorting applet. ”
– Alexander Stepanov

“Java isn’t platform independent; it is a platform. Like Windows, it is a proprietary commercial platform. ”
Bjarne Stroustrup



Copyright © 2006, 2007, 2008 Arnuld Uttre, #331/type-2/sector-1, Naya Nangal, Distt. – Ropar, Punjab (INDIA) – 140126

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice, and the copyright notice, are preserved.

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