Oct 19, 2022

Make cursor stand-out more in Emacs by having it blink through different colors

When playing some game (Starsector, probably) on the primary display recently, having aux emacs frame (an extra X11 window) on the second one with some ERC chat in there (all chats translate to irc), I've had a minor bug somewhere and noticed that cursor in that frame/window wasn't of the usual translucent-green-foreground-text color (on a dark bg), but rather stayed simply #fff-white (likely because of some screwup in my theme-application func within that frame).

And an interesting observation is that it's actually really good when cursor is of a different color from both foreground-text and the background colors, because then it easily stands out against both, and doesn't get lost in a wall of text either - neat!

Quickly googling around for a hack to make this fluke permanent, stumbled upon this reply on Stack Overflow, which, in addition to easy (set-cursor-color ...) answer, went on to give an example of changing color on every cusor blink.

Which seems like a really simple way to make the thing stand out not just against bg/fg colors, but also against any syntax-highlighting color anywhere, and draw even more attention to itself, which is even better.

With only a couple lines replacing a timer-func that normally turns cursor on-and-off (aka blinking), now it blinks with a glorious rainbow of colors:


And at least I can confirm that it totally works for even greater/more-immediate visibility, especially in multiple emacs windows (e.g. usual vertical split showing two code buffers), where all these cursors now change colors and impossible to miss at a glance, so you always know which point in code you're jumping to upon switching there - can recommend to at least try it out.

Bit weird that most code editor windows seem to have narrow-line cursor, even if of a separate color, given how important that detail is within that window, compared to e.g. any other arbitrary glyph in there, which would be notably larger and often more distinct/visible, aside from blinking.

One interesting part with a set of colors, as usual, is to generate or pick these somehow, which can be done on a color wheel arbitrarily, with results often blending-in with other colors and each other, more-or-less.

But it's also not hard to remember about L*a*b* colorspace and pick colors that will be almost certainly distinct according to ranges there, as you'd do with a palette for dynamic lines on a graph or something more serious like that.

These days I'm using i want hue generator-page to get a long-ish list of colors within specified ranges for Lightness (L component, to stand-out against light/dark bg) and Chroma parameters, and then pass css list of these into a color-b64sort script, with -b/--bg-color and -c/--avoid-color settings/thresholds.

Output is a filtered list with only colors that are far enough from the specified ones, to stand-out against them in the window, but is also sorted to have every next color picked to be most visually-distinct against preceding ones (with some decay-weight coefficient to make more-recent diff[s] most relevant), so that color doesn't blink through similar hues in a row, and you don't have to pick/filter/order and test these out manually.

Which is the same idea as with the usual palette-picks for a line on a chart or other multi-value visualizations (have high contrast against previous/other values), that seem to pop-up like this in surprisingly many places, which is why at some point I just had to write that dedicated color-b64sort thingie to do it.

Tweaking parameters to only get as many farthest-apart colors as needed for blinks until cursor goes static (to avoid wasting CPU cycles blinking in an idle window), ended up with a kind of rainbow-cursor, counting bright non-repeating color hues in a fixed order, which is really nice for this purpose and also just kinda cool and fun to look at.