Digital Note-Taking Apps

I used to use paper notebooks extensively. When I didn’t have paper and pen, I emailed myself a quick note from my iPhone. This led gradually to me keeping all of my notes on my iPhone, using the Notes app. In the last few months, I’ve moved from Notes to Evernote. This process took some time and research, which I’m sharing in case it’s useful to you.


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Simple Guidelines For Maintainable Spreadsheets

The spreadsheet is one of the most powerful inventions in the history of computing. But with that power comes responsibility: just as with a programming language, the spreadsheet itself can become difficult to understand and maintain.


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Excel Hacks To Ignore Missing Data

I’ve done quite a bit of work with Excel over the last few years, and I’ve found a couple of recurring problems when there’s missing or error data in ranges. I’ve had to work around this enough times that I thought it was worth sharing the solutions I’ve used.

Beautiful green bird eating orange peels

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Digg Reader and Feedly, Two Great Google Reader Alternatives

I used Google Reader since time out of mind, but of course by now you know it was discontinued a while ago. I still live and breathe RSS feeds, and I really don’t pay much attention to social media, news sites, or the like of Hacker News and Slashdot. I like the flexibility and unhurried pace of subscribing to updates from specific individuals and companies.


At first, I didn’t see a reader that offered the experience I was looking for: a GMail-like user interface with feeds clustered together in categories, navigable with keystrokes. Importantly, some subtle features such as marking an item unread are a key part of my usage.

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Nine Great Mac Power User Tips

If you’re a Mac user like me, maybe you’ll find the following tips helpful for making you better at your job.


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How To Print All The Way To The Edge In Microsoft Word

You’re creating a document with Word that you want to turn into a nice full-page PDF. It has a gorgeous background color that will look great. But every time you convert it to a PDF, it ends up with ugly white borders at the edges, and Word warns you about printing beyond the printable margins. Dragging the margins and changing the Page Setup options does no good. How can you fix this?

Magic Margin

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Using GPG in Gmail on a Mac

I used to use the FireGPG extension to encrypt and decrypt text in a browser – including wikis, for example, where sensitive client information could be stored. It’s been a while since I had that need, but recently I wanted to send a GPG-encrypted message to a coworker, and FireGPG has been discontinued for years. I also use a Mac now, and Chrome is my primary browser. What to do? I looked around at a few Chrome extensions, but didn’t really like them.

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Lessons learned from the Sublime Text editor

Terminal-based, keystroke-driven editors are enormously powerful, and I still haven’t seen anything more powerful than Vim. I’m a longtime Vim user, and although I’m not the world’s foremost jaw-dropping expert on Vim, I would call myself an advanced power user at the very least, and probably a true expert. Still, I have maintained a relationship with GUI text editors over the years, too. An editor that has an insertion point for a cursor, and “native” mouse interaction, has an appeal I’ve never quite shaken.

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Making Auto-Resetting VirtualBox Machines

VirtualBox is great. It makes it so easy to run Windows when I need it for Windows-only software. Windows runs better inside VirtualBox than it does on bare hardware. One of the tricks I use a lot is to set up a bunch of VirtualBox instances with a common (shared) base disk image. You can do this by creating a machine, installing your operating system on it, then throwing away the machine and keeping the resulting disk image.

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Easy on the eyes: the solarized color theme

I recently set up the solarized color theme for my terminal emulator. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but procrastinated. However, I finally got really frustrated with the colors I get from “ls” sometimes – I use a dark terminal with light fonts, and the directory listings in particular can become invisible, with dark blue on black. Solarized is much improved. All of the colors work well together and are easy on the eyes.

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How I ended my trial of Gnome 3

tl;dr version: I like XFCE better than Gnome 3. I wrote previously about trying out Gnome 3. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and it’s time for me to make a decision about whether to keep using it or revert to Gnome 2. I’m actually on vacation, which ends soon. I need to do this before vacation ends, so I can be fully productive at work. My ultimate impression of Gnome 3 is that it’s very slick, and makes significant improvements in some ways, but it’s not very usable for my purposes, and has too many self-contradictions.

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Vim, the ultimate command-line password manager

Thanks to a comment on a recent blog post where I lamented the lack of an easy-to-use password manager, I’ve switched from Revelation to… Vim. I already use Vim for my note-keeping system. I simply add a modeline to the top of the file, # vim: set ic hlsearch: This makes searches case-insensitive, so I can just open the file and start typing a search, and it highlights it and moves to the first match as I type.

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Impressions of Fedora 15 with Gnome 3

I finally upgraded from Fedora 13 to Fedora 15 on my beloved ASUS-UL30A-X5. It includes the new Gnome 3, with the “Gnome Shell” interface. It’s quite different from anything else I’ve used, and you can read lots of positive and negative impressions around the web. Fedora 15 and Gnome 3 have awesome support for my laptop’s hardware. It’s simply flawless. You could not expect better software/hardware integration if you paid thousands of dollars for something from Steve Jobs.

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Switching Presentation Display in Impress

If you’ve used Impress to run a slideshow with your laptop plugged into an external monitor or projector, you’ve probably noticed that it prefers to switch the primary and secondary display, showing you the slideshow while it shows your audience the notes and preview of your next slide! This is exactly the reverse of what you want, which is to show your audience the slideshow and let you see notes, the countdown timer, and so on.

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Switching from Ubuntu to Fedora, and Thunderbird to Claws Mail

This weekend I backed up all my data, repartitioned my hard drive, and re-installed. I needed to do this because the only thing I had on the laptop was Ubuntu, and sadly, the reality is sometimes my clients use things that require me to use Windows (and sometimes a virtual machine won’t solve that). So now I’m dual-booting Windows. I think the last time I did that was sometime before 2001, so I’ve regressed 9 years.

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How to make Thunderbird download new IMAP messages

One of the minor things I’ve noticed when I use Thunderbird on my IMAP accounts is that it doesn’t download IMAP messages until I click on them. Then I have to wait until I can see the message. I have heard that this is supposed to be fixed in Thunderbird 3, and I tried it but a lot of the extensions I need aren’t compatible with it. Today I finally tried to search and find out more about the problem.

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Who needs better email search for Thunderbird?

Thunderbird’s email search isn’t that great by today’s standards. If I type “red dog” into the search bar it doesn’t even tokenize and search for the words separately – it’s a substring match so “my dog is red” isn’t found. And it’s slow. What about embedding “real” fulltext search into it? Sphinx perhaps? Just a thought.

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Ubuntu 8.10 rocks my Inspiron 1501

I’m really really happy about Ubuntu 8.10 because it lets me stop kicking myself so much for buying a Dell Inspiron 1501. This little laptop was the el-cheapo option for me, found via I was going to buy the virtually identical one that came with Ubuntu installed, but then Dell offered a deal on the 1501, which had Windows Vista, and I caved in to the allure of saving about $200.

Of course I promptly discovered that the two most important differences between the models involved hardware for which no good Free Software drivers existed: the video card and the wireless card. The Inspiron 1501 has a “ATI Technologies Inc RS482 [Radeon Xpress 200M]” and a “Broadcom Corporation BCM4311 802.11b/g WLAN (rev 01)”.

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How to swap Caps-lock and Esc keys in Ubuntu

Here’s a productivity tip that has saved me countless work while typing. Swap your Caps-lock and Escape keys. If you’re like most people, you use Caps-lock virtually never, and Escape quite a lot. Especially if you’re a programmer who happens to use the best text editor, Vim. Read on to learn how to do this.

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Favorite USB wireless card for Ubuntu?

Dear LazyWeb, Do you have a favorite USB wifi network card for a laptop running Ubuntu? Sincerely, Xaprb

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