Is emacs the OS for MSNBC?

Have you noticed that lisp programmers have taken over the formatting of the dummy-notes on MSNBC?

First, what are dummy notes. Dummy notes are those phrases that show up near the bottom of the screen that summarize, in a word or two, what the person on the screen just said. What I’ve noticed is that the dummy notes are now preceded with a single quote. So, somewhere there is a list of dummy notes, with a producer or someone constantly adding to the bottom of the list, and some other producer or somebody, or a piece of software, selecting items off the top of the list and putting that item on the screen.

And, at present, the items come through with the apostrophe attached to the beginning of the item. This strongly argues that the computer programming language, lisp, which is a list processing language that uses this format, is at work here. Indeed, it suggests that this entire thing is being done in emacs.


  1. #1 Eric Robinson
    August 6, 2009

    Excel also uses this format for text. It used to be that you had to type the apostrophe to let Excel know the cell would be text rather than a number.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2009

    Hmmm… Coincidence?

  3. #3 John Swindle
    August 7, 2009

    Ya gotta admire emacs for its versatility. I used to encounter tales of highly skild nerds who used it for everything… mail, news, programming, general writing, games… everything. Of course, in those days, “everything” didn’t encompass what it does now. It would be nice to think it’s showing up again in this new-fangled task.

  4. #4 Tony Sidaway
    August 7, 2009

    This sounds like wild speculation. Do you really have any reason to suppose that the single quote or apostrophe has anything at all to do with Lisp, and Emacs in particular?

    Even supposing it likely that some variety of Lisp were being used for this purpose, and supposing further that he used symbols instead of strings to store the words to be displayed on screen as “dummy notes”, why would somebody acquainted with the language make such a gross error as to write the value of the symbol in Lisp format rather than converting it to a string for output as a word?

  5. #5 MadScientist
    August 7, 2009

    Yet another theory is that a database is being used and quotations are not being properly stripped from the text query results.

  6. #6 Tony Sidaway
    August 7, 2009

    The stories about Emacs geeks using it for “everything” are fairly accurate. I’ve used it for email, Usenet, contact lists and web browsing.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    Tony: That’s all? What about games? File management? Aerobics? (for your pinky finger).

    BTW, this is funny:

  8. #8 ancientTechie
    August 7, 2009

    Am I the only nano fan who reads this blog? Call me a wuss, if you must…

  9. #9 John Swindle
    August 7, 2009

    ancientTechie, no, Nano is a fine editor. But admit it: when using emacs, don’t you feel a sense of profundity? No?

  10. #10 John Swindle
    August 7, 2009

    Greg: That vi “instruction” illustrates another reason to be grateful for emacs. Without it, we’d have been stuck with vi until things like nano came along.