How to set up dual monitors in Ubuntu on Dell Inspiron 1501

Aug 10, 2007

It took me about five minutes to get dual monitors working on my Dell Inspiron 1501 under Ubuntu 7.04. Here’s how I did it. I tried the xorg driver, which had been working fine on just the laptop display, but it wouldn’t work; I could get either the external display or the internal display to show, but not both. If you get it working, post a comment and let me know.

How to create stepping slides in Impress

Aug 6, 2007

If you’ve used Microsoft Powerpoint to create “stepping” slides – slides that appear one bullet point at a time – and can’t figure out how to do it with Impress, this article is for you. What are stepping slides? “Stepping” slides are the only animation or transition effect I allow myself in slideshows. I don’t generally like animations or other distractions; when I give talks, I am always painfully conscious of how much the audience tends to focus on the slides.

Ubuntu on Dell Inspiron 1501

Jul 24, 2007

I recently bought a Dell Inspiron 1501, which I got a great deal on thanks to the fine people at DealNews. The base system was $449 shipped, and I chose to upgrade the processor to dual AMD64s. But I didn’t buy the system that came with Ubuntu pre-installed; for whatever reason, the one that came with Windows offered a special discount (normally the Windows tax for otherwise identical machines appears to be around $150, and I’m certainly not going to run Windows).

Why I (still) like Gentoo

Dec 10, 2006

I wrote a post recently that focused only on things I see as shortcomings or problems with Gentoo GNU/Linux. That was the intent of the article, to explain why I switched to Ubuntu for my personal systems. On the flip side, nothing’s perfect, but nothing’s perfectly flawed, either. There are still many things I like about Gentoo. For one thing, the developer and user community are great (I have written about this several times before).

To Gentoo or not to Gentoo?

Nov 21, 2006

Some people who know I’ve used Gentoo asked me my thoughts on using it for MySQL servers. Here are my opinions and experiences while using Gentoo, both for desktop systems and for servers. This is long, but hopefully the brain dump is useful to you. I have so many thoughts on this subject that I’m having a hard time really organizing them well, and I’m censoring myself too because I know I represent only a very small, focused viewpoint on Gentoo.

How to convert text to columns in Calc

Jun 26, 2006

Unlike Microsoft Excel, 2.0 Calc doesn’t have a built-in “text to columns” feature, which is hard to live without once you’re used to it. has an extensible add-on architecture, and someone has written a “text to columns” add-on, but installation may be confusing. In this article I’ll explain how to install the add-on. I hope this feature will be added into the office suite at some point. Oddly, it seems to already be implemented, but not in the way it’s needed.

How to use Linux's CONFIG_IKCONFIG_PROC feature

May 23, 2006

This article gives an overview of the Linux kernel’s CONFIG_IKCONFIG_PROC feature, which stores in the kernel the config file used to build it. What it is Linux can store a gzip-compressed kernel configuration file in the kernel itself, and make it available when the kernel is booted. This is very useful for determining how the kernel was configured when it was built. It makes it possible to re-create a kernel without having the configuration saved separately, makes it easier to debug problems with a kernel, and so forth.

How to auto-mount removable devices in GNU/Linux

May 20, 2006

Most operating systems have an auto-mount feature to detect and mount devices, such as USB flash drives, when they’re plugged in. GNU/Linux is no exception. It’s easy to install and just as easy to use. In this article I’ll show you how to get auto-mounting without changing /etc/fstab, writing udev rules, or installing a huge desktop environment such as Gnome or KDE. There’s more than one way to do it There are lots of ways to get things auto-mounted.

How to install beautiful X11 cursors

Apr 24, 2006

X11 comes with unattractive mouse cursors, but it’s trivial to replace them with other themes. In this article I’ll explain how to install mouse cursors system-wide or for a single user, and give you links to my favorite cursor themes. Nicely crafted mouse cursors are very important for usability, in my opinion. I need my mouse cursors to be unobtrusive, yet really easy to see. They need to be easy to find without peering at the screen or waving the mouse wildly, and easy to use precisely on every kind of background.

How to set up Gentoo wireless networking on AMD64

Feb 11, 2006

This is a quick note on wireless networking on Gentoo GNU/Linux with a dual-core AMD 64-bit processor. It’s not hard to do, but the choices for hardware are more limited.

How to label Excel and XY scatter plots

Jan 19, 2006

In an earlier post I compared number formatting in Excel vs. Calc. I’ve learned some more interesting things about both spreadsheets, as regards opening CSV files and adding labels to XY scatter charts (spoiler: both spreadsheets have problems) Opening CSV files with Excel Maybe someone else can answer this one for me, because I’m stumped and can’t seem to find the right search phrase to turn up relevant results in Google: I can’t get Excel to open a .

Excel vs. Calc in number formatting

Dec 30, 2005

I was playing with custom format strings in Excel recently and noticed something odd. The number of digits to the left of the decimal place seemed to vary bizarrely when using custom format strings for exponential notation, in ways that contradict the documentation. doesn’t exhibit the same wackiness. Which spreadsheet formats numbers more sanely? If you’re not familiar with custom format strings, it’s just a way of making your own format.

How to prelink mozilla-firefox-bin

Oct 3, 2005

Gentoo GNU/Linux users can enjoy additional performance enhancements by prelinking binaries. The documentation is unclear on whether binary packages can be prelinked. I tried it and it seems to work fine. It is clear that any software I’ve compiled on my own machine can be safely prelinked, but since I have a very slow, old laptop, I also use some software precompiled as binary packages. Mozilla Firefox is one (emerge mozilla-firefox-bin).