Episode 125 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Karl Voit. Karl describes himself as “a life hacker trying to make deliberate decisions on every aspect of life.” Among these are the tools he uses to manage his personal information. In particular, Karl is an avid user of Org Mode in Emacs, which was the focus of our conversation.

Emacs is a venerable — and highly flexible — open source software package. Karl described it as

an endless,large box of LEGO bricks where you can take out a handful of bricks, you might think that they’re handy for your personal situation and you combine them in a way you need them. And for everybody else, the same box of LEGO bricks accomplishes different things. They build different structures out from it.

Among many things that have been built atop Emacs is Org Mode, a set of functions that changes Emacs’s behavior in ways that make it well-suited to brainstorming and managing personal information:

Emacs is extended by major and minor modes. Minor modes, for example, are things like spell checking or something like that. You can have only one major mode at a time, but multiple minor modes.

Org Mode is technicallly a major mode. When I open up a text file with the file extension org, I’ve already started the Org Mode. And with this, I’m not only having a text editor functionality, like you usually have in Emacs, but you can, for example, collapse and expand headings, or you can switch the order of headings or items in a list and so forth. And it has really great features such as aligning tables, ASCII tables for you.

Org Mode can let you process large text files, keep track of to-dos, and more. Karl makes extensive use of its features, and has even developed a content management system based on org files to power his blog. In this conversation, he explains how and why he prefers Org in Emacs.

As an Emacs user myself, I was excited to talk with Karl about his use of the tool. I wish our interview could have gone longer — always the sign of a good conversation for me. I hope you get as much value from this conversation as I did.

The Informed Life episode 125: Karl Voit on Org Mode