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New FocusWriter themes

A while ago, I wrote about FocusWriter and what makes it virtually unique among similar “zenware-themed” writing software. Unfortunately, some of the theme repositories I’ve linked to in the post have since disappeared into the great 404 of the internet. Instead, I’ve decided to try my hand at making some of my own!

Here are some FocusWriter themes using the following creative commons licensed photos from Flickr:

I’ll try to update this post as I find more pictures.


WikidPad on Ubuntu

The other day I was bumming around on IRC, decidedly not doing any sort of writing at all, when I happened across a conversation between several Internet folk about nothing other than writing software! One of these fine IRC-persons mentioned that they found a program called WikidPad most useful in keeping their thoughts straight. WikidPad, in a similar fashion as my note-keeping program of choice, Zim Wiki, acts as a personal wiki for your thoughts. It has an advantage over actual server-side wiki software, such as MediaWiki, in that it is easy to set up and everything is kept locally on your computer. However, the main advantage of using a wiki – being able to create separate pages and link them together at will – is preserved.

Doubtful I would find a program to replace my beloved Zim, I decided to give it a whirl anyway. Unfortunately WikidPad isn’t the most straightforward of installs, which is why I’ve chosen to spend this post talking about the actual steps I took to get the program up and running.

For Windows users, WikidPad comes with a single binary installer that takes care of anything for you. But if you’ve so much as read the title of this fine blog, you know we’re not dealing with something so simple as that. No, we Linux users get treated to a lovely little zip file of python code!

The first thing to do, of course, is to grab the zip file from WikidPad’s home page and extract it somewhere. Be careful, though, as this is one of those zip files you’ll want to unzip into a separate folder, lest the source files scatter everywhere in your Downloads folder. (Alas, I speak from experience.)

Next you’ll need to download one of WikidPad’s dependencies – wxPython. Open up a terminal and type in the following:

sudo apt-get install python-wxversion

After that, you can start up WikidPad by using cd to navigate to the folder you extracted its files to and running the command

python WikidPad.py

But let’s be honest, that’s pretty lame. We’re in Unity here with a fancy launcher and dashboard – we can do better than running a command every time we want to it up! So instead, open your favorite text editor and let’s make a really simple script called WikidPad.sh:

cd ~/Downloads/WikidPad
python WikidPad.py

With the first line modified to reflect wherever you dumped the WikidPad files, of course. Once you save it, don’t forget to make the script executable:

chmod +x WikidPad.sh

Now let’s add this to the Unity dashboard. Search for a program called “Main Menu.”

If, for whatever reason, you don’t have it, you can also find it in the Ubuntu Software Center. Open it up, click “New Item,” and write the full path to your bash script under “Command”.

Press “OK,” and WikidPad will be available in the dashboard.

Magic!

And now, having gotten this far, I might just see what the program’s actually like. Who knows!


Adventures in Ubuntu 11.10: Font size

I’ll be the first to admit that this blog hasn’t seen a lot of updates lately. You know, for the last year and a bit.

But the truth is I simply fell out of practice with writing, and by extension, writing on Linux. I haven’t been writing on anything, you see, which pretty much puts writing on Linux out of the question. For this blog to exist, writing, as it were, must be done somewhere, preferably with that somewhere being at least near Linux.

Recently, however, I took up the whole “writing” thing again, and figured, well, if I’m doing this, I may as well write on Linux. After all, I was halfway there as it was.

And so, just barely managing to stop myself from uttering the words “what could possibly go wrong?”, I stuck Ubuntu 11.10 (“Oneiric Ocelot”) on a USB stick, stuck the stick into an old HP Mini 2133, and stuck Ubuntu on the hard drive.

Surprisingly little went wrong. I was even impressed at how the Broadcom wireless drivers – once the bane of any Linux novice’s first transition to free software – were quietly downloaded before the installation had even begun. The install was quick, smooth, and most importantly, pretty.

With very little struggle I managed to get Ubuntu up and running and get this party, as it were, started. After juggling files and fonts for a bit I realized that everything was rather tiny on the netbook’s high-resolution screen. Switching to a lower resolution looked awful, so I decided to increase the font size instead.

This is a relatively simple task in most, if not all, popular operating systems. Even during my first experiences with Ubuntu, I didn’t have to search much to find the option. No, it was in a pretty obvious place – “Appearances,” I think it was? – and simple to modify.

So I found myself in quite the position of embarrassment when, despite Ubuntu’s (relatively) new fancy-pants dashboard with its impossibly-simple-to-use search bar, I couldn’t find the option. I smacked the side of my head a few times, hoping to jostle the past few years’ accumulated *nix knowledge into finding a solution. And indeed it did. I opened up a browser and asked Google what to do next.

The consensus on the Internet was that the reason I couldn’t find the option to do something so incredibly simple as changing the font size was because, in fact, there is no option in a vanilla Ubuntu 11.10 install. For a moment I felt a small degree of claustrophobia as I became aware of the user preferences shrinking all around me, threatening to close me in with their idiot-proofing lockdowns of obscenely simple options. But then I remembered that this was Linux I was dealing with, and Linux, no matter what the flavor, is anything if not free. And indeed, wherever the problem was recorded, a solution was offered:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

Trying not to think about how stupid this was, I focused instead on how impressively shiny Ubuntu had become while opening up a terminal to run the aforementioned command.

The terminal was more than happy to help me on my epic quest to make the fonts a bit bigger, but first it had to download 80MB of archives.

When it had finished packing my system full of who-knows-what, a new icon was available on the dashboard. It was labeled Advanced Settings. I guess wanting to change my font size makes me some kind of incredible power user.

I know this experience doesn’t have much to do with writing, but I’m seriously wondering if continuing this blog with Ubuntu & Unity is worth it. I’m beginning to get the same feeling I got during my brief time with OS X – that I, as a user, am a bumbling idiot unworthy of changing even the simplest settings on my own machine. I know this can probably be rectified by using a different window manager, but I also know that Ubuntu, as a community project, is responsible for whatever’s available on a vanilla install. Choosing to leave out basic system settings on a fresh install… worries me.

I’m not too concerned with my own computer – I know I can get it up and running again the way I want it, and get back to discussing writing software. But I am definitely concerned with the direction Ubuntu seems to be headed towards.


Launchers: What is their deal?

I wanted to do a post about program launchers this week. This is somewhat because I find it relevant to being a writer and having to navigate between a bunch of different programs to find a synonym or look something up or what have you, but mostly because I think launchers are really sweet. I’ve gotten so lazy these days, pressing Ctrl+Space for everything. Makes working so much more efficient. I’ve never really gotten the hang of menus, anyway.

The problem is, I’ve been using Kupfer and Synapse pretty heavily, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to compare the two of them. It’s as though I’ve opened up the comics page to find a “spot the differences” puzzle and it looks like both dogs are piddling on the fire hydrant in precisely the same manner. Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but still.

There’s one obvious difference in that Synapse looks much, much nicer than Kupfer does. For this reason alone it’s become my default. As launchers, they both seem to disappoint me in different ways. Kupfer can launch a website, but it can’t do symbols or spaces. Synapse does symbols and spaces and can perform a Google search, but it can’t launch a website. Both of them have mysterious methods for determining what file or folder I want, and it seems to vary with every launch. Both of them give me completely irrelevant results from time to time – especially Synapse, where I’ll start typing a phrase and it will pop up a filename and my keywords in parenthesis next to it, despite those keywords appearing nowhere in the file or folder name.

In short I find their logic equally confusing. For programs and commands they’re both fantastic, for website launching or file searching not so much. If I can convince myself to keep plowin’ away at this problem maybe I’ll post about it eventually, but for now, I’m just stumped.


Sync Tomboy Notes and Zim in Dropbox

Tomboy Notes is a multi-platform application, so keeping your notes synced with Dropbox is handy for obvious reasons.

Luckily it’s dead easy to do: enter Preferences (either by opening up Tomboy and clicking Edit -> Preferences, or if you’ve got it on your GNOME panel, right-click the icon) and select the “Synchronization” tab. Choose the “Local Folder” service and find your Dropbox, which is inside your home folder by default. Inside of Dropbox, make a new folder for the Tomboy Notes database, and select that folder.

Dropbox acts like any other directory on your computer, so when Tomboy syncs itself to your Dropbox, Dropbox automatically syncs that database across all the computers you have it installed on. Now you can access your notes anywhere!

As for Zim, syncing is even easier, and gives you more benefits. When you start a new wiki, just remember to save it somewhere in your Dropbox folder – that’s it. If you’ve got a wiki you’ve already started and want that synced instead, you need only move the folder you saved it as (remember, Zim wikis are saved as folders, not files) to your Dropbox. You’ll have to tell Zim where it is next time you start the program, of course.

Beyond file synchronization, saving Zim to your Dropbox has another two little bonuses: if you login to dropbox.com and navigate to the place where you’ve saved a Zim wiki, you’ll find you’ll be able to actually read your Zim notes anywhere, regardless of whether Dropbox is installed or not! Since they’re stored as plaintext, you could also edit them without Dropbox or Zim by downloading and re-uploading the file.

As for the other extra feature, if you’ve worked with wikis at all you probably know most give you the ability to revert changes or view the history of an article. Zim doesn’t come with that functionality – which is understandable, as storing every revision of an article can clutter up a folder right quick. But Dropbox will give you a similar feature:

It is what it looks like, folks. Wiki history, brought to you by Dropbox, accessible from your own file browser.


Who needs bookmarks? Drag-and-drop!

Hi I’m awkisopen and I’m a terrible person because I didn’t have my laptop yesterday to do a post. But I’ve got it today, and so today, I shall post!

This is a pretty simple tip, and it’s got more to do with the “inspiration/research” phase of writing than the “writing” phase of writing. I’m gonna show you the easy way to grab snippets from the web and save ’em for later.

Let’s say, hypothetically, I’m reading a blog about steampunk (called “STEAMED!”) and I happen across this hypothetical post about steampunk archetypes:

“How useful!” I say to myself and reach for the bookmark bar. But wait! What if I’m offline when I want to refer to this handy-dandy post? A bookmark in such a situation would be useless – nay, masochistic! – providing only a mocking reminder to a page that cannot be referenced.

So I do this instead. I highlight the relevant text – the list itself – omitting the introduction and conclusion, beauitfully written as they may be:

Then I simply drag the text out of the browser and drop it onto my desktop.

Doing this produces a file, like so:

Which I helpfully rename to something more useful:

Now the list has been safely copied to my hard drive as plaintext, ready to be referenced at any time!

Bonus points if you stick it in your Dropbox, syncing it across every computer and/or operating system you use.


Writer’s Tools for OpenOffice: Awful

Writer’s Tools for OpenOffice is supposed to be a collection of useful tools for writers available in an easy-to-install extension, manifesting itself in-program as an extra menu. What it is is terrible.

To begin with, it doesn’t install properly. Many of the options are totally dependent on a specific database being linked to OpenOffice. Well, it doesn’t link for me. I tell OpenOffice where the database is, hit “OK”, and the database disappears again. Whether this is the fault of Writer’s Tools or OpenOffice, I don’t know. What I do know is that either way this issue should have been addressed as a disclaimer or warning or even as an FAQ somewhere, so users wouldn’t have to deal with this. At the very least an extension should install.

So I can’t talk about the entirety of Writer’s Tools, but I can tell you what I’ve been able to work with, and it isn’t encouraging me to fix this problem:

  • Lookup Tool: gives too many options about where to look up the selected word – everything from Wikipedia to WordNet to a quotations book. It’d be more efficient to give me a Google page at this point.
  • Google translate: requires me to manually input the path to the default browser. Inexcusable.
  • Show on the map: ditto.
  • Every single backup option: virtually useless; you have to back up manually, so really, it’s almost the same thing as hitting “Save As” twice. You’d be better off writing a script. (Double the WTF points are awarded to the “multi format backup”, which “saves the currently opened Writer document in the Word, RTF, and TXT formats”. Why would you ever…)
  • Start/Stop timer: runs off popups, doesn’t keep a running timer anywhere, ugly, stupid.
  • Shorten URL: actually works flawlessly. Bravo.
  • Visual word count: requires you to manually input your goal every time you use it (which can only be a number of words, not, say, pages or lines or paragraphs or any other measurement) and only gives you a popup with a percentage and a progress bar. You can’t edit the document while the window is open. This would have been really neat as part of the status bar or as a toolbar, or at the very least, something that updated in real time. Instead it’s just shit.

Writer’s Tools reminds me of some of the basic Java programs I had to code in the first few classes I ever took of computer science. It’s convoluted, clunky, and overall useless (unless you want to shorten your URLs, that is).

As if this isn’t enough, the extension’s author actually charges $9.95 if you want to read the user manual. Let me make this perfectly clear: the extension’s author, who made an open source extension, charges you almost ten dollars to read the manual. The manual, by the by, is a physical book that is shipped to your home. Oh yeah, it’s also offered as an eBook for $5.95, but what he advertises incessantly (on the Google groups page, the extension page, even the goddamn menu itself) is a physical book.

So you’ve coded an extension on par with a CS student’s homework assignment, and then you have the bloody nerve to create an actual book about it that you expect people to pay real money for? People buy books about operating systems, office suites, programming languages… Dmitri Popov, do you really think your extension is at the same level as these?

Anyway, terrible extension, stay far away from it. If you can point me towards a more useful OOo extension, please do!


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