dired-rsync 0.4 released

I started hacking on this a while back but I’ve finally done the house-keeping tasks required to make it a proper grown up package.

dired-rsync is a simple command which you can use to trigger an rsync copy from within dired. This is especially useful when you want to copy across large files from a remote server without locking up Emacs/Tramp. The rsync just runs as an inferior process in the background.

Today was mainly a process of cleaning up the CI and fixing any issues with it. I’d still like to add some proper tests but the whole thing is interactive and that seems to be tricky for Emacs to test. Anyway I’ve now tagged 0.4 so it will be available from MELPA Stable once it rebuilds. You can of course grab the building edge from MELPA any time πŸ˜‰

Working with dired

I’ve been making a lot more use of dired recently. One use case is copying files from my remote server to my home machine. Doing this directly from dired, even with the power of tramp, is a little too time consuming and potentially locks up your session for large files. While browsing reddit r/emacs I found a reference to this post that spurred me to look at spawning rsync from dired some more.

Unfortunately the solution is currently sitting in a pull-request to what looks like an orphaned package. I also ran into some other problems with the handling of where rsync needs to be run from so rather than unpicking some unfamiliar code I decided to re-implement everything in my own package.

I’ve still got some debugging to do to get it to cleanly handle multiple sessions as well as a more detailed mode-line status. Once I’m happy I’ll tag a 0.1 and get it submitted to MELPA.

While getting more familiar with dired I also came up with this little helper:

(defun my-dired-frame (directory)
  "Open up a dired frame which closes on exit."
  (switch-to-buffer (dired directory))
   (kbd "C-x C-c")
   (lambda ()
     (save-buffers-kill-terminal 't))))

Which is paired with a simple alias in my shell setup:

alias dired="emacsclient -a '' -t -e '(my-dired-frame default-directory)'"

This works really nicely for popping up a dired frame in your terminal window and cleaning itself up when you exit.

Solving the HKG18 puzzle with org-mode

One of the traditions I like about Linaro’s Connect event is the conference puzzle. Usually set by Dave Piggot they provide a challenge to your jet lagged brain. Full disclosure: I did not complete the puzzle in time. In fact when Dave explained it I realised the answer had been staring me in the face. However I thought a successful walk through would make for a more entertaining read πŸ˜‰

First the Puzzle:

Take the clues below and solve them. Once solved, figure out what the hex numbers mean and then you should be able to associate each of the clue solutions with their respective hex numbers.

Clue Hex Number
Lava Ale Code 1114DBA
Be Google Roe 114F6BE
Natural Gin 114F72A
Pope Charger 121EE50
Dolt And Hunk 12264BC
Monk Hops Net 122D9D9
Is Enriched Tin 123C1EF
Bran Hearing Kin 1245D6E
Enter Slim Beer 127B78E
Herbal Cabbages 1282FDD
Jan Venom Hon Nun 12853C5
A Cherry Skull 1287B3C
Each Noun Lands 1298F0B
Wave Zone Kits 12A024C
Avid Null Sorts 12A5190
Handcars All Trim 12C76DC


It looks like all the clues are anagrams. I was lazy and just used the first online anagram solver that Google pointed me at. However we can automate this by combining org-mode with Python and the excellent Beautiful Soup library.

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup
import requests
import re

# ask internet to solve the puzzle
url="http://anagram-solver.net/%s" % (anagram.replace(" ", "%20"))

# fish out the answers
answers=soup.find("ul", class_="answers")
for li in answers.find_all("li"):
    result = li.text
    # filter out non computer related or poor results
    if result in ["Elmer Berstein", "Tim-Berners Lee", "Babbage Charles", "Calude Shannon"]:
    # filter out non proper names
    if re.search("[a-z] [A-Z]", result):

return result

So with :var anagram=clues[2,0] we get

Ada Lovelace

I admit the “if result in []” is a bit of hack.

Hex Numbers

The hex numbers could be anything. But lets first start by converting to something else.

Hex Prompt Number
1114DBA 17911226
114F6BE 18151102
114F72A 18151210
121EE50 19000912
12264BC 19031228
122D9D9 19061209
123C1EF 19120623
1245D6E 19160430
127B78E 19380110
1282FDD 19410909
12853C5 19420101
1287B3C 19430204
1298F0B 19500811
12A024C 19530316
12A5190 19550608
12C76DC 19691228

The #+TBLFM: is $1='(identity remote(clues,@@#$2))::$2='(string-to-number $1 16)

This is where I went down a blind alley. The fact all they all had the top bit set made me think that Dave was giving a hint to the purpose of the hex number in the way many cryptic crosswords do (I know he is a fan of these). However the more obvious answer is that everyone in the list was born in the last millennium.

Looking up Birth Dates

Now I could go through all the names by hand and look up their birth dates but as we are automating things perhaps we can use computers for what they are good at. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple web-api for looking up this stuff. However there is a project called DBpedia which takes Wikipedia’s data and attempts to make it semantically useful. We can query this using a semantic query language called SparQL. If only I could call it from Emacs…

PREFIX dbr: <http://dbpedia.org/resource/>
PREFIX dbo: <http://dbpedia.org/ontology/>
PREFIX dbp: <http://dbpedia.org/property/>

select ?birthDate where {
  { dbr:$name dbo:birthDate ?birthDate }
  { dbr:$name dbp:birthDate ?birthDate }

So calling with :var name="Ada_Lovelace" we get


Of course it shouldn’t be a surprise this exists. And in what I hope is a growing trend sparql-mode supports org-mode out of the box. The $name in the snippet is expanded from the passed in variables to the function. This makes it a general purpose lookup function we can use for all our names.

There are a couple of wrinkles. We need to format the name we are looking up with underscores to make a valid URL. Also the output spits out a header and possible multiple birth dates. We can solve this with a little wrapper function. It also introduces some rate limiting so we don’t smash DBpedia’s public SPARQL endpoint.

;; rate limit
(sleep-for 1)
;; do the query
(let* ((str (s-replace-all '((" " . "_") ("Von" . "von")) name))
       (ret (eval
               (format "(org-sbe get-dob (name $\"%s\"))" str))))))
  (string-to-number (replace-regexp-in-string "-" "" (car (cdr (s-lines ret))))))

Calling with :var name="Ada Lovelace" we get


Full Solution

So now we know what we are doing we need to solve all the puzzles and lookup the data. Fortunately org-mode’s tables are fully functional spreadsheets except they are not limited to simple transformations. Each formula can be a fully realised bit of elisp, calling other source blocks as needed.

Clue Solution DOB
Herbal Cabbages Charles Babbage 17911226
Be Google Roe George Boole 18151102
Lava Ale Code Ada Lovelace 18151210
A Cherry Skull Haskell Curry 19000912
Jan Venom Hon Nun John Von Neumann 19031228
Pope Charger Grace Hopper 19061209
Natural Gin Alan Turing 19120623
Each Noun Lands Claude Shannon 19160430
Dolt And Hunk Donald Knuth 19380110
Is Enriched Tin Dennis Ritchie 19410909
Bran Hearing Kin Brian Kernighan 19420101
Monk Hops Net Ken Thompson 19430204
Wave Zone Kits Steve Wozniak 19500811
Handcars All Trim Richard Stallman 19530316
Enter Slim Beer Tim Berners-Lee 19550608
Avid Null Sorts Linus Torvalds 19691228

The #+TBLFM: is $1='(identity remote(clues,@@#$1))::$2='(org-sbe solve-anagram (anagram $$1))::$3='(org-sbe frob-dob (name $$2))

The hex numbers are helpfully sorted so as long as we sort the clues table by the looked up date of birth using M-x org-table-sort-lines we are good to go.

You can find the full blog post in raw form here.

Workbooks for Benchmarking

While working on a major re-factor of QEMU’s softfloat code I’ve been doing a lot of benchmarking. It can be quite tedious work as you need to be careful you’ve run the correct steps on the correct binaries and keeping notes is important. It is a task that cries out for scripting but that in itself can be a compromise as you end up stitching a pipeline of commands together in something like perl. You may script it all in a language designed for this sort of thing like R but then find your final upload step is a pain to implement.

One solution to this is to use a literate programming workbook like this. Literate programming is a style where you interleave your code with natural prose describing the steps you go through. This is different from simply having well commented code in a source tree. For one thing you do not have to leap around a large code base as everything you need is on the file you are reading, from top to bottom. There are many solutions out there including various python based examples. Of course being a happy Emacs user I use one of its stand-out features org-mode which comes with multi-language org-babel support. This allows me to document my benchmarking while scripting up the steps in a variety of “languages” depending on the my needs at the time. Let’s take a look at the first section:

1 Binaries To Test

Here we have several tables of binaries to test. We refer to the
current benchmarking set from the next stage, Run Benchmark.

For a final test we might compare the system QEMU with a reference
build as well as our current build.

Binary title
/usr/bin/qemu-aarch64 system-2.5.log
~/lsrc/qemu/qemu-builddirs/arm-targets.build/aarch64-linux-user/qemu-aarch64 master.log
~/lsrc/qemu/qemu.git/aarch64-linux-user/qemu-aarch64 softfloat-v4.log

Well that is certainly fairly explanatory. These are named org-mode tables which can be referred to in other code snippets and passed in as variables. So the next job is to run the benchmark itself:

2 Run Benchmark

This runs the benchmark against each binary we have selected above.

    import subprocess
    import os


    for qemu,logname in files:
    cmd="taskset -c 0 %s ./vector-benchmark -n %s | tee %s" % (qemu, tests, logname)
        subprocess.call(cmd, shell=True)

        return runs

So why use python as the test runner? Well truth is whenever I end up munging arrays in shell script I forget the syntax and end up jumping through all sorts of hoops. Easier just to have some simple python. I use python again later to read the data back into an org-table so I can pass it to the next step, graphing:

set title "Vector Benchmark Results (lower is better)"
set style data histograms
set style fill solid 1.0 border lt -1

set xtics rotate by 90 right
set yrange [:]
set xlabel noenhanced
set ylabel "nsecs/Kop" noenhanced
set xtics noenhanced
set ytics noenhanced
set boxwidth 1
set xtics format ""
set xtics scale 0
set grid ytics
set term pngcairo size 1200,500

plot for [i=2:5] data using i:xtic(1) title columnhead

This is a GNU Plot script which takes the data and plots an image from it. org-mode takes care of the details of marshalling the table data into GNU Plot so all this script is really concerned with is setting styles and titles. The language is capable of some fairly advanced stuff but I could always pre-process the data with something else if I needed to.

Finally I need to upload my graph to an image hosting service to share with my colleges. This can be done with a elaborate curl command but I have another trick at my disposal thanks to the excellent restclient-mode. This mode is actually designed for interactive debugging of REST APIs but it is also easily to use from an org-mode source block. So the whole thing looks like a HTTP session:

:client_id = feedbeef

# Upload images to imgur
POST https://api.imgur.com/3/image
Authorization: Client-ID :client_id
Content-type: image/png

< benchmark.png

Finally because the above dumps all the headers when run (which is very handy for debugging) I actually only want the URL in most cases. I can do this simply enough in elisp:

#+name: post-to-imgur
#+begin_src emacs-lisp :var json-string=upload-to-imgur()
  (when (string-match
         (rx "link" (one-or-more (any "\":" whitespace))
             (group (one-or-more (not (any "\"")))))
    (match-string 1 json-string))

The :var line calls the restclient-mode function automatically and passes it the result which it can then extract the final URL from.

And there you have it, my entire benchmarking workflow document in a single file which I can read through tweaking each step as I go. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this sort of thing. As I use org-mode extensively as a logbook to keep track of my upstream work I’ve slowly grown a series of scripts for common tasks. For example every patch series and pull request I post is done via org. I keep the whole thing in a git repository so each time I finish a sequence I can commit the results into the repository as a permanent record of what steps I ran.

If you want even more inspiration I suggest you look at John Kitchen’s scimax work. As a publishing scientist he makes extensive use of org-mode when writing his papers. He is able to include the main prose with the code to plot the graphs and tables in a single source document from which his camera ready documents are generated. Should he ever need to reproduce any work his exact steps are all there in the source document. Yet another example of why org-mode is awesome πŸ˜‰


I’ve just returned from a weekend in Brussels for my first ever FOSDEM – the Free and Open Source Developers, European Meeting. It’s been on my list of conferences to go to for some time and thanks to getting my talk accepted, my employer financed the cost of travel and hotels. Thanks to the support of the UniversitΓ© libre de Bruxelles (ULB) the event itself is free and run entirely by volunteers. As you can expect from the name they also have a strong commitment to free and open source software.

The first thing that struck me about the conference is how wide ranging it was. There were talks on everything from the internals of debugging tools to developing public policy. When I first loaded up their excellent companion app (naturally via the F-Droid repository) I was somewhat overwhelmed by the choice. As it is a free conference there is no limit on the numbers who can attend which means you are not always guarenteed to be able to get into every talk. In fact during the event I walked past many long queues for the more popular talks. In the end I ended up just bookmarking all the talks I was interested in and deciding which one to go to depending on how I felt at the time. Fortunately FOSDEM have a strong archiving policy and video most of their talks so I’ll be spending the next few weeks catching up on the ones I missed.

There now follows a non-exhaustive list of the most interesting ones I was able to see live:

Dashamir’s talk on EasyGPG dealt with the opinionated decisions it makes to try and make the use of GnuPG more intuitive to those not versed in the full gory details of public key cryptography. Although I use GPG mainly for signing GIT pull requests I really should make better use it over all. The split-key solution to backups was particularly interesting. I suspect I’ll need a little convincing before I put part of my key in the cloud but I’ll certainly check out his scripts.

Liam’s A Circuit Less Travelled was an entertaining tour of some of the technologies and ideas from early computer history that got abandoned on the wayside. These ideas were often to be re-invented in a less superior form as engineers realised the error of their ways as technology advanced. The later half of the talk turns into a bit of LISP love-fest but as an Emacs user with an ever growing config file that is fine by me πŸ˜‰

Following on in the history vein was Steven Goodwin’s talk on Digital Archaeology which was a salutatory reminder of the amount of recent history that is getting lost as computing’s breakneck pace has discarded old physical formats in lieu of newer equally short lived formats. It reminded me I should really do something about the 3 boxes of floppy disks I have under my desk. I also need to schedule a visit to the Computer History Museum with my children seeing as it is more or less on my doorstep.

There was a tongue in check preview that described the EDSAC talk as recreating “an ancient computer without any of the things that made it interesting”. This was was a little unkind. Although the project re-implemented the computation parts in a tiny little FPGA the core idea was to introduce potential students to the physicality of the early computers. After an introduction to the hoary architecture of the original EDSAC and the Wheeler Jump Mary introduced the hardware they re-imagined for the project. The first was an optical reader developed to read in paper tapes although this time ones printed on thermal receipt paper. This included an in-depth review of the problems of smoothing out analogue inputs to get reliable signals from their optical sensors which mirrors the problems the rebuild is facing with nature of the valves used in EDSAC. It is a shame they couldn’t come up with some way to involve a valve but I guess high-tension supplies and school kids don’t mix well. However they did come up with a way of re-creating the original acoustic mercury delay lines but this time with a tube of air and some 3D printed parabolic ends.

The big geek event was the much anticipated announcement of RISC-V hardware during the RISC-V enablement talk. It seemed to be an open secret the announcement was coming but it still garnered hearty applause when it finally came. I should point out I’m indirectly employed by companies with an interest in a competing architecture but it is still good to see other stuff out there. The board is fairly open but there are still some peripheral IPs which were closed which shows just how tricky getting to fully-free hardware is going to be. As I understand the RISC-V’s licensing model the ISA is open (unlike for example an ARM Architecture License) but individual companies can still have closed implementations which they license to be manufactured which is how I assume SiFive funds development. The actual CPU implementation is still very much a black box you have to take on trust.

Finally for those that are interested my talk is already online for those that are interested in what I’m currently working on. The slides have been slightly cropped in the video but if you follow the link to the HTML version you can read along on your machine.

I have to say FOSDEM’s setup is pretty impressive. Although there was a volunteer in each room to deal with fire safety and replace microphones all the recording is fully automated. There are rather fancy hand crafted wooden boxes in each room which take the feed from your laptop and mux it with the camera. I got the email from the automated system asking me to review a preview of my talk about half and hour after I gave it. It took a little longer for the final product to get encoded and online but it’s certainly the nicest system I’ve come across so far.

All in all I can heartily recommend FOSDEM for anyone in an interest is FLOSS. It’s a packed schedule and there is going to be something for everyone there. Big thanks to all the volunteers and organisers and I hope I can make it next year πŸ˜‰

Edit with Emacs v1.15 released

After a bit of hiatus there was enough of a flurry of patches to make it worth pushing out a new release. I’m in a little bit of a quandary with what to do with this package now. It’s obviously a useful extension for a good number of people but I notice the slowly growing number of issues which I’m not making much progress on. It’s hard to find time to debug and fix things when it’s main state is Works For Me. There is also competition from the Atomic Chrome extension (and it’s related emacs extension). It’s an excellent package and has the advantage of a Chrome extension that is more actively developed and using a bi-directional web-socket to communicate with the edit server. It’s been a feature I’ve wanted to add to Edit with Emacs for a while but my re-factoring efforts are slowed down by the fact that Javascript is not a language I’m fluent in and finding a long enough period of spare time is hard with a family. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that realistically this package is in maintenance mode and you shouldn’t expect to see any new development for the time being. I’ll of course try my best to address reproducible bugs and process pull requests in a timely manner. That said please enjoy v1.15:


* Now builds for Firefox using WebExtension hooks
* Use chrome.notifications instead of webkitNotifications
* Use

with style instead of inline for edit button
* fake “input” event to stop active page components overwriting text area


* avoid calling make-frame-on-display for TTY setups (#103/#132/#133)
* restore edit-server-default-major-mode if auto-mode lookup fails
* delete window when done editing with no new frame

Get the latest from the Chrome Webstore.


A couple of weeks ago I mused that I should really collect together the various hacks to integrate checkpatch into my workflow into a consistent mode. Having a quick look around I couldn’t find any other implementations and went to create the said mode. It turns out I’d created the directory and done the initial commit 3 years ago. Anyway I polished it up a bit and you can now get it here. I hope it’s useful to the wider community and as ever patches welcome πŸ˜‰

Running Linux in QEMU’s aarch64 system emulation mode

Since I started working on aarch64 support for QEMU the most frequently asked question I got was “when can I run aarch64 system emulation on QEMU?”. Well wait no more as support for a VIRT-IO based aarch64 board was recently merged into the master branch of QEMU. In this post I’ll talk about building QEMU, a rootfs and a kernel that will allow you to start experimenting with the architecture.

Continue reading ‘Running Linux in QEMU’s aarch64 system emulation mode’ »

Anyone interested at an Emacs BoF at LCU14?

I’m fairly atypical as a Linaro employee because I have a desk in a shared office. This means I get to participate in technical banter with the other employees based in the Cambridge office. However it has become quite clear I’m surrounded on all sides by VIMers with only one potential convert who wants to try Emacs out “one day”. As a result I thought it might be nice to have an Emacs Birds of a Feather (BoF) session at LCU14?

BoF sessions are basically an informal gathering where people with a shared interest who come along to swap tips and stories about their area of interest. In the context of LCU it would be an opportunity to network and meet fellow Emacers. So any interest?

Boutique modes

I’ve recently started a new job at Linaro which has been keeping me very busy. My role combines the low-level fun of Dynamic Binary Translation that I so enjoyed at Transitive and the fact Linaro is a fully Open Source company. I work directly on the upstream projects (in this case QEMU) and with the project community. In many ways it’s my ideal job.

Of course I’ve quickly built up a reputation as the Emacs guy in the office surrounded by a sea of VIMers although one of the guys does profess a desire to learn Emacs “one day”.

One of the first things I did was move all my email into Emacs. I’d long been dissatisfied with the state of Thunderbird (and previously Evolution) that I took the opportunity to migrate to mu4e. I spend my days slinging patches and going through mailing lists so I really appreciate being in my editor while I do that.

I have also started streamlining some of my work-flow with a few specialised extensions to Emacs. I think I’m finally comfortable enough with elisp to have a pretty good stab at solving most problems. I’m also appreciating the ability to leverage the mass of Emacs code under the hood to make incremental tweaks rather than solve everything at once. I thought I might give you a tour of the code I’ve written so far.

First up is risu-mode. RISU is the code testing tool we’ve been using to verify our aarch64 ARM work in QEMU. The .risu file is a template that’s used to specify instruction patterns that the tool then uses to generate random code sequences with. risu-mode is really just a bunch of regex expressions wrapped in the mode machinery that highlights the elements on the page. It doesn’t sound like much but when you are working through a bunch of patterns looking for bugs it’s easier on the eye when the different elements are coloured.

Next thing I wrote was my own QEMU mode which is a simple comint-mode based mode for launching QEMU system emulation. It’s still very rough and ready as I’m mostly working on user emulation but I suspect it will be handy once I start on system emulation stuff.

Finally there is lava-mode. LAVA is Linaro’s automated test and validation framework. Although it already provides command line and web interfaces I thought it would be nice to launch and track test jobs from within Emacs itself. The job control files a JSON based so I built on the existing json-mode and a slightly patched version of xml-rpc.el to add job submission. I’ve started a simple job tracking mode that uses the tabulated-list-mode framework and eventually I’ll link it into the tracking library so job completion will be as seamless as my IRC work-flow.

So there you have it, a bunch of code that may well not interest anyone else but shows how Emacs provides a very rich base of functionality on which to build up tools that are useful to you.

Does anyone else want to share an example of their esoteric extensions? What’s the most obscure thing you’ve built on top of our favourite text editor?