ASCII graphics in Emacs with Artist Mode (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 10 Jan 2013

ASCII graphics in Emacs with Artist Mode

I found a cool package in Emacs the other day: Artist Mode. It lets you draw ASCII graphics in your text file.

I was actually looking for the solution to a different problem: taking notes in a math-intensive Coursera class. I've been taking notes in Emacs, but a text editor is awkward for equations and even more awkward for graphs.

What I really wanted was something like the old Claris Works (or so I'm told; I never used it myself) -- something that's primarily a text editor but lets you drawings, equations, and tables when you need to. In theory, word processors like LibreOffice could do that, but in practice they're not very good at switching modes, nor at integrating several types of media into one document. Texmacs is great for the equations and apparently it can do tables too, but it can't do freehand drawing.

And none of these programs is very configurable -- I can't use my fast, comfortable Emacs bindings while typing, and that's a deal-breaker for me, because being able to make corrections quickly makes a huge difference in my typing speed. LibreOffice's key bindings are only partially configurable, and after you've spent half a day chasing down all the action names you need (the ones that are actually available), you upgrade to a newer version and discover you have to do it all over again because there's no way to migrate configuration files. Even Texmacs, ironically, is no better: the documentation claims it's possible to configure key bindings, but it doesn't appear anyone has ever succeeded in figuring out how.

Anyway, ASCII graphics aren't the ultimate solution to note-taking. And I've found a better solution for that, while I'll write about separately. But for now, Artist Mode is just so cool I had to share it.

Enable it by running M-x artist-mode. You can immediately start drawing in your buffer with the mouse. Whatever you draw gets turned into ASCII graphics.

For note-taking, it's fine for scribbling the rough shape of a curve. It takes no time to mouse in a little sketch like

       |                               .. 20
       |                              ..
       |                            ...
    10 |.                          ..
       |..                       ...
       | ...                   ...
       |   ..              ....
       |    .....      .....
       |    ............
       |.....        .............
       +-------------------------------------

It even has primitives (middleclick to get a.menu) for things like lines, rectangles and circles, and for filling regions. When you're done drawing, M-x artist-mode goes back to whatever mode you were using before.

I probably won't use it very much for note taking. But there are times when I've wanted to draw ASCII graphics -- a laborious process in ordinary text modes -- and other times when it would just be fun to play around with my buffer. I'm happy to know about Artist Mode. I may not need it often, but it sure is fun to use now and then.

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[ 19:02 Jan 10, 2013    More linux/editors | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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