Bob Mesibov's articles

Build your own special characters chooser

I often need to insert a special character in my writing, like the degree symbol or the Greek letter mu. Although LibreOffice Writer, my favourite writing application, helps me do this with an Insert special character function, it offers too many choices. There are only a few special characters I use regularly, and they're scattered across several font subsets.

The Completely Blank Xfce Desktop

The Xfce desktop environment comes with Xubuntu and is also available in the Xfce versions of Linux Mint, Fedora and other Linux distributions. Using Xfce, you can easily set up a highly functional but completely blank desktop - no icons, no menus, nothing. Just a blank screen or a favourite wallpaper, ideal for the user who hates distractions or loves simplicity. Here's how to do it.

Archiving emails as text files, with command line help

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to store emails in text files, one per correspondent. For example, 'Bloggs_Fred.txt' contains all my emails to and from Fred Bloggs, in chronological order with the newest message last. Other people might have the need to periodically store parts of emails in predefined files (for example, when collecting information).

I wrote a very simple script to make this kind of archiving easier. Before I explain the script, I'll show you how it works.

Bulk renaming using Thunar

Thunar is a lightweight file manager that comes with Xubuntu and other Xfce-based distributions. It has several useful features not found in other popular file managers, like 'Bulk Rename'. To use this feature, select a group of files in the Thunar file pane and hit the F2 key, or choose Rename from the Edit menu. A window appears with 'before and after' views of your file names, and a drop-down list showing the renaming possibilities.

Staying happy with Gnumeric: finding the leading apostrophe

In my previous article about GNUMeric , entering data with a leading apostrophe, as in '12/3, ensures that the 12/3 will be interpreted by Gnumeric as text, even when the cell is formatted 'General'.

But Gnumeric displays the 12/3 without the apostrophe. It's hidden. This can lead to unpleasant little surprises when sorting groups of cells, some of which contain hidden apostrophes and some of which don't.

Staying happy with Gnumeric: text as "text" (instead of "dates")

Gnumeric is an excellent spreadsheet application and gets a lot of use in our house. Every now and then, though, you can hear a "!Q#z$%* Gnumeric!" from me or my wife, because we didn't pay attention to cell formatting.

By default, every cell is formatted 'General', which means Gnumeric guesses what type of data you enter in that cell. Gnumeric seems to be particularly fond of dates, and strings that are definitely not dates get interpreted as dates anyway. If I enter 12/3, Gnumeric uses my Australian date format preferences and displays 12/3/2012.

When the command line "grep" wins

I was working on a big website recently and faced a really tedious job in editing the content. I needed to find and replace certain words, like 'southeastern' for 'southeast', scattered over something like 140 files in half a dozen folders.

What to do? Install a powerful Content Management System with lots of menus and a global editing tool? Nope. I took the easy way out, using the tools at hand. The trick was to remember that webpages, regardless of how complicated they look in a browser, are really only plain text files.

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