Keeping a Personal Dictionary with Org-mode

A few days ago I wrote a letter to my parlour, where I explained how I updated my website to make better use of some of Org-mode’s more basic features, like INClUDE statements, or the index features.

Today I stumbled upon a new use – to me – for Org-mode’s INCLUDE statements. A brief explanation, first:

A file, foo.org, contains the text: /Galavant/ was a great
television show.
Another file has the text:

Here's what I think about /Galavant/:

#+INCLUDE: "./foo.org"

If I export that file, the text will show up as:

Here's what I think about /Galavant/:

/Galavant/ was a great television show.

A silly example. More pragmatically, unless I’ve changed my method since writing it, this document’s introduction contains at least one INCLUDE’d statement – the editorial and license information, and perhaps the disclaimer about literate programming, and the license in the supplements was INCLUDE’d as well. It helps me not repeat myself.

So, that’s INCLUDE statements.

Now, some background on me: because of the type of content I write, I end up being very precise in my use of some terms that might have a more casual meaning elsewhere. In software documentation, “archive” might mean something very very particular. In role-playing games, “sleeping” might not include naps, and so on.

I’ve developed the style of italicizing these key terms when I use them before defined, and using bold italics when I define them: key terms are those words that have a technical meaning within the scope of a document. I also italicize key terms if they get mentioned a decent enough distance from their definition, like in another section. If you’re curious, I’m developing my own Style Manual that explains a lot of my personal rules for this sort of stuff.

A useful thing, especially in longer documents, is being able to include a dictionary of definitions for these terms. If I use the same term with the same definition in a dozen documents, that’s the perfect use of an INClUDE statement.

So, I’ve made a new file, dict.org, and put some terms in it. They look like this:

BEGIN: key-term
- key term :: A /key term/ is a word or phrase whose definition is
              fixed and precise within the scope of a document or
              project.
END

Then, in any document where I’d have a dictionary that needs that definition, I can add in the line #+INCLUDE: "./dict.org::key-term" and the term will render in the dictionary! For the record, the document I was working on when I stumbled upon this need is my Online Communication Manual.

I’ll need to write up the rules for how to name terms – and what to do if there is more than one definition for a term (though I can’t think of any.) But, it’s certainly a better solution than copy-pasting.

Oh, I didn’t even mention: one perk of INCLUDE statements is that if I change the INCLUDEd file, I change what shows up every time the files that use it are exported – so to change the editorial and license information at the head of every document on my site, I just have to change one file, rather than re-copy/paste everything.

It’s always awkward ending essays like this that are just kind of an explanation of how I did a thing. I’m done explaining now. Have a nice day.

There’s a technology company called Librem Purism who is, I think, releasing a smart phone featuring an operating system they’ve designed for it, called PureOS. Again, I think – it’s tangential to my point, so I haven’t looked it up.

They made an announcement recently sharing some information about the applications the phone would run, and within the open-source software community, there was immediately criticism. From what I understand, many of the applications are existing free and open-source applications, which have had their appearance altered and are now being sold.

This is, the community acknowledges, allowed under the terms of the license, but is… not nice, to put it plainly. It’s just plain not nice to take something someone else made for free, put your name on it, and resell it, even if the person who made it, made it so free that you’re technically allowed to.

But I’m not here to criticize a company for doing something that wasn’t nice; there are people more-qualified for that than me.

Instead I’d like to talk about how Librem Purism could’ve avoided this publicity, without avoiding taking the actions at all, by talking about something I’ve written about before, but never so formally.

Defining the Marketplace of Ideas

There’s this notion that gets bandied about, usually as anti-leftist propaganda, called the “marketplace of ideas.” As I say, it normally gets mis-applied, but I think the core concept is worth holding onto: ideas like “democracy,” “sexism,” “free speech,” and “ethnic superiority,” all had to earn their place in the minds of those who believe in them. Someone had the idea, then sold others on it.

Your Place in the Idea Marketplace

Just like the economic marketplace, the marketplace of ideas has different tiers, and different levels of formality – just like a 10-year-old doesn’t place their lemonade stand on the stock exchange, someone who’s just had a notion while in the shower probably shouldn’t schedule a meeting with the United Nations.

I’ve tried to find my source for this idea, but I swear I remember being taught this as a child, by my grandparents, as kind of a variation of “no politics at the dinner table:”

You should share your opinions first with those in your bedroom, and then bring it out to the living room. Over time, you might want to say it over dinner, and maybe eventually mention it at the pub. If it still seems worth saying, bring it to town hall, and then if you need to tell more people, bring it to the press.

That is, refine your ideas by iterating over them based on the feedback from audiences of increasing publicity. You get practice defending the ideas, and in all likelihood, genuinely reassess and improve them.

I want to note, as I’m presenting this in the context of a technology company, that software development has a very similar model it uses for its own development: alpha, beta, and release stages. This is simply an application of that idea to the ideas behind the software, not just the software itself.

Conclusion

Librem could have avoided being very publicly criticized if they had presented the idea to ever-increasingly-public audiences, because it is far more likely they would have introduced the idea to one person who was able to provide the current litany of criticism, rather than presenting it to many people.

Additionally, they would have had practice defending the ideas and so been more able to quickly respond to the criticism, rather than allow now two working days to pass without any real response.

Pragmatically? They should have sent emails of their announcement out to some choice journalists, who would’ve most likely privately responded with their feedback, and been impressed Librem took the time to ask, rather than now publicly dragging the company for an idea they might have been able to defend, if they’d had the practice.