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Trackball Nirvana

Kensington Orbit

Sometimes, you are just drawn to a technology or a tool, there's no explanation, and there's no going back. That's the way it was with me and trackballs: I'd only had a laptop for a few months when I discovered trackballs, decided it was my cup of tea, bought one, and have been using them exclusively ever since. In that time – almost fifteen years, at this point – I have used a lot of different trackballs. Each one is almost great, but missing one thing. This is the story of my quest for trackball nirvana. Continue reading "Trackball Nirvana"

2013: The Year of Usenet

Usenet license plate

2013 was the year of Usenet. For me, at least. And here's what I learned.

You might not even remember Usenet. What for my generation was a glimpse of the amazing power of the Internet isn't even known to the new generation of Web 2.0 youngsters: if this article is too long for you, this is the tl;dr conclusion: the Internet is generational, and the new generation isn't better, it's just different. Continue reading "2013: The Year of Usenet"

From Joomla to Serendipity


Like so many other things in life, I thought my website was just the way I wanted it, right up to the moment when suddenly I did not. This is the story of my transition from Joomla to Serendipity (S9Y).

I'd rebuilt it in 2005, using Joomla 1, and though it took some time and effort to customize the theme, build out categories, tweak menus, and so on, I was happy with it for years. Even as Joomla was modified, I left it alone, as I had no reason to change. I especially liked that Joomla was a content management system, not a blog, that I could create and publish material based on subject, not on date (I still dislike the ubiquitous "Archives" menu on most Wordpress sites). And I also liked my site's layout, in which one article was highlighted at the top, spanning two columns, and then other articles followed below in two columns, kind of like a newspaper and certainly not like a plain old conveyor belt of blog articles.

Then, suddenly, I rejected it and worked feverishly to rebuild it on a different platform. What happened? Continue reading "From Joomla to Serendipity"

Making an EPUB from LaTeX


You have an existing LaTeX document, and would like to create an EPUB document from it. LaTeX creates gorgeous printed works, but predates e-books by several decades. On the other hand, LaTeX is a markup language, and EPUB is basically XHTML, which is also a markup language, so there is a path. This article describes that path.

This is part two of the Dictator's Handbook Colophon.

(Previous): Part I: Writing a Book Using Linux Tools Part II: Making an Epub document from LaTeX Continue reading "Making an EPUB from LaTeX"

My Calendar is All Over the Map

fruux icon

My calendar and my contact lists are important to me and I take them pretty seriously. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, I went to great lengths to safeguard the little hardback notebooks I used to keep my calendar and addresses straight: In a way, they were my lifeline to the rest of the world from a somewhat isolated place. Years later, the medium has changed, but the importance hasn't.

Until a week or so ago, my setup suited me perfectly, and it involved a Palm Tungsten E2 PDA. If that sounds old school to you, I say, it worked perfectly, was no bigger than an iphone, fit in my pocket, and allowed me to keep my appointments and addresses with me. I synced it to my Mac running 10.6 (Snow Leopard) using the infallible Missing Sync, which even populated my Palm Pilot with the photos I'd added to entries in my address book. Yes, the Palm is a bit slow by the standards of modern hardware, but it kept a battery charge for about a week. Try that, smartphone users! But it was time to move on, and my purchase of a Google Nexus 7 tablet convinced me it was time to transition to a newer device before my aging Tungsten gave up the ghost. Continue reading "My Calendar is All Over the Map"

Writing a Book Using Linux Tools

emacs screenshot

When I began writing The Dictator's Handbook, it seemed clear the project would take place on my Linux computer. And it did. We've got a Mac in the house too, but I'm in front of the Linux box more often than not, and in fact my Linux desktop gave me some tricks and tools that made the process of writing and researching a snap. Here they are.

This is part I of the Dictator's Handbook Colophon. (Part II: Making an Epub document from LaTeX). Continue reading "Writing a Book Using Linux Tools"

Working with Styles in Mellel

Mellel character dialogue

Mellel is a powerful word processor for those of us who need to write long works that include cross references, bibliographies, internal citations, tables of content, and whose contents require carefully structured parts, sections, and subsections. And it’s unsurpassed for working with multiple languages in a single document – particularly if one or more of those languages are Middle Eastern. Mellel provides comprehensive tools for creating, organizing, and applying text styles, but it takes some thought to get it right. Here are some guidelines. Continue reading "Working with Styles in Mellel"

Vim for Writers


If you use Vim for coding, you might find it equally useful for writing text and longer works. If you don't use Vim and appreciate fast, efficient writing and editing, you might want to give it a try.

In either case, I highly recommend the Vim text editor for authors, writers, and anybody working on long text and prose works. And I've put together the 13 page Woodnotes Guide to Vim for Writers to set you on your way.

This is in the tradition of my Woodnotes Guide to Emacs for Writers, Woodnotes Guide to using Jedit to Code Manuscripts for Avalon Travel Publishing, and article Editing Avalon Docs in Vim.

Find the Woodnotes Guide to Vim for Writers here: (PDF(128KB)|HTML|EPUB).

This document is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 licence..

Life in 56K

power line

Back in 2000, when I first ventured onto the 'Net, the majority of home computers got on line via 56K dial up modems over telephone lines, and the Internet was mostly built around those needs. I too did the occasional heavy lifting on my office's computer, connected to a much fatter pipe than a telephone line, but was able to deal with mail, news, and web, on a 56K modem.

Times have changed: increasing home access of internet resources, and the proliferation of home computers, have brought down the price of broadband. Most Americans are on DSL or cable modem connections, and the idea of dialing up a connection seems quaint, even antiquated. But there are still reasons some of us dial up: for starters, I live in West Africa, where I count on dial up internet as a backup. Furthermore, my old PIII 555Mhz laptop is still going strong, but the network card no longer works (the bus was fried in one of our many power surges) and a modem is all I've got left. With some careful planning, dial up isn't so bad. But in a world where the average webpage is now an order of magnitude heavier than it was back when everybody dialed up, some planning is indeed necessary. Continue reading "Life in 56K"

Using the Zoom 3095 USB Modem on Linux

This short article describes how to get a Zoom 3095 USB Modem working on Linux. This cool little USB telephone modem sells for about US$50 and proclaims proudly on the package that it is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. That was clearly the work of the marketing team, as in reality, we Linux users need to do a bit more work to get on line. I bought one of these modems in order to rescue an old Linux box (PIII 555Mhz, 128M RAM) running SuSE Linux 8.2 and was immediately frustrated to learn it was going to take more work than I'd been led to believe.

Do not despair. This guide is going to get you connected. Continue reading "Using the Zoom 3095 USB Modem on Linux"