Archive | May 2008

Organize information with Zim

After this brief hiatus, originated by a small trip, I’m back to review a software I use on a daily basis: Zim. It’s a personal organizer based on a wiki. However, It’s not a regular wiki web based.  Zim is a desktop application with no dependencies to servers or databases and in its core there’s a wiki engine.

Wikis introduced a new way of organizing information, essentially focused on creating pages fast, connected by links (wiki names). The most well-known example of a wiki is wikipedia. These wikis, however, are web applications. Normally, you write your text in a box, full of weird syntax codes to format your text. Then, you press submit to see the results. That’s the normal process for a web-based wiki.
Zim, being a desktop application makes this experience a lot richer. You don’t have to remember special syntaxes to make titles, italics, lists, etc. To make a text italic, just press CTRL + I, as you would with any text processor. You still have some wiki syntax, like the wiki names for links and my favorite one: lists. To make a list, write * (asterisk) and a space at the beggining of a line. It will turn immeadiately into a bullet item. And after you press Enter another bullet item is added in the new line. This is very very handy. This also shows other advantage of being a desktop application: there’s no submission phase. All formatting happens immediately and not after pressing a submit button.
Another interesting feature of Zim is the introduction of the "context" concept. This basically allows you to define categories in a tree structure for organizing your pages (and shows that tree in the sidebar). This normally doesn’t happen in a wiki. Wikis usually rely only on links, leaving the burden of organizing information to the creators of the pages. The problem with this is that most of the times we are dealing with organized information. We try to put information with a natural logical structure into a framework that doesn’t support structure. This forces you to a tight discipline when creating pages, or else you will end up with a chaotic mess. Ideally, searching should bring order from the chaos, as google does with web pages. But here you’re not dealing with random stuff. Google’s indexing algorithms work better when you’re exploring, trying to find something based on a few keywords. In my case, the information is already organized in a natural way and it becomes easier to find something just by looking at a tree structure. Also, wiki’s search algorithms are hardly as good as Google 🙂
Overall I think Zim is a great personal organizer (I usually use it to store personal projects documentation, etc). The only thing I miss is tables support. That would be a great addition to its formatting capabilities.

Find files fast with Referencer

From time to time I have the need to organize the files on my disk. Documents, Mp3s, pictures…all of them get scattered all over the disk after a while. You can prevent this if you’re organized from the start. And sometimes I’m a little lazy on that task. There are several search alternatives to help you find the file you need, but the software I’m showing you today is different. Referencer keeps a library of your documents, allowing you to specify tags to describe them. Later, you can find those documents by selecting the appropriate tags.

Referencer screenshot It’s not automatic though. You need to add those documents to Referencer manually. That’s a drawback, but it pays off if you search for the same documents several times and always forget where they are.
Referencer interface is simple. On the left you have a tag cloud and the tags specific to the selected document. On the right you have a list of documents with thumbnails (you can opt to see text list, but I prefer the thumbnails). Thumbnails work great for PDF files, but unfortunately don’t work that well for doc files for example. Referencer has also good support for BibTeX and LyX, if you happen to use them. For me, I’m happy just to use it as database for documents. It makes searching much simpler by browsing the tags. One of the uses I give it is adding project documents to it and specifying a tag with the project name. This way, I can find all project related documents quite fast, even if the documents are scattered through several directories. Happy indexing.

Opinion: Do you think you’ll be using Ubuntu 3 years from now ?

I remember that a few years ago, the most recognized brand in the Linux world was RedHat. For someone who didn’t know much about Linux, that was the keyword they’d know. Now, it’s Ubuntu. I like the fact that Ubuntu is becoming popular and making people try Linux for the first time. This can be measured not only by the huge amount of messages in their forums, but also by the increasing number of Ubuntu-related blogs. As with everything that becomes popular it’s expected to appear a few people hating it with passion. I’ve seen a little of this already, mostly because of some misinformation that it’s starting to spread among Linux newcomers and the “new ubuntu experts”. For many, Linux = Ubuntu, and that is pissing off many people. I also don’t like that assumption, and it’s our job to give better information to people. On the other hand, I think the brand Ubuntu is making people try Linux, so I don’t mind people thinking that when they first arrive at Linux. At least they know Linux and are using it. Knowing that there is more to Linux than Ubuntu is a second step, that most of them will take sooner or later.
I’ve used so many distributions, that Ubuntu, for me, is just one more. I started with Slackware and then (in no particular order) RedHat, Corel Linux, Mandrake, Debian, Suse, Linux From Scratch (yep), Gentoo, Mandriva… and I think I’m forgetting a few.
I’m now using Ubuntu at home as it works fine out-of-the-box (and I needed a fast solution at the time) and has a huge enough repository for me to test new software. But I’m pretty sure that I’ll keep testing other distributions and migrating to the one I like best. I don’t think I’ll be using Ubuntu 3 years in a row, for example. There’s innovation everywhere, not only in Ubuntu. In fact, Ubuntu is not the best distribution in many situations. I hope the community can take advantage of this Ubuntu popularity and show-off the alternatives and how they’re better. Everyone gains from that.
And what do you think ? do you use Ubuntu and think you’ll still use it a few years from now ?

TIP: Howto kill a process in LInux

There are many ways to kill processes in Linux. Today I’m gonna share with you my favorite one. And the one I think is the easiest: xkill. When you run this application, the mouse cursor is changed into a cross. Put the cursor over the window of the application that you want to kill and press the mouse button. Voila! It’s a lot easier than going through the terminal, checking the PID of the process and then issuing a kill command.
Xkill is a console application, but if you add a keyboard shortcut for it (some distributions have it by default on CTRL+ALT+ESC) then it becomes a very productive tool.
That’s it for today, just a small useful tip that you might not knew 🙂

Control your expenses with Eqonomize

For some time I had been searching for a tool to help me organize my incomes and expenses. Unitl now I’ve been using an old-fashioned spreadsheet file. It does the job, but it’s a pain to use. It’s a lot nicer to have a simple form to enter your expenses where you can select an expense category from a dropdown box 🙂
So, after a long search and experimenting several applications I choose Eqonomize. And why ? Simply because it’s a lot easier to use than the others. It all depends on what you need and in my case I didn’t much more than an easier way to register my expenses. All other applications had a complex interface with things like payees, investments, ledgers, etc…I tried using them just to track expenses, but it was too complex and I got more value from my good old spreadsheet. Now, finally with Eqonomize I don’t miss my spreadsheet anymore.
Eqonomize also has other features, but they don’t get in the way and that’s crucial for me. I think we can sum the features of Eqonomize by its interface available tabs: Accounts, Expenses, Incomes, Transfers, Securities and Schedule. Picture taken from Eqonomize website:

Eqonomize main screen (taken from Eqonomize website)

In accounts tab you get a nice summary of all expenses and incomes in your accounts, by categories. Categories are fully editable and allow you to specify a monthly budget, which is great.
Expenses shows a list of your expenses (surprise!) and gives you a very user-friendly form at the bottom for you to add new ones.
Incomes interface is very similar to the expenses.
In Transfers you can take money from one account into another. Never used it.
Securities tabs allows you to manage shares, investments, etc. Sincerely I didn’t ananlyze this features as it goes way beyond what I needed for me (and I don’t have much knowledge about financial investments).
Finally, the schedule tab allows you to schedule expenses or incomes.
There’s something more worthy talking about: reporting. Although Eqonomize doesn’t give many reporting options I think it gives the minimum one might need. In fact, I didn’t see in other applications the graphs rendered by Eqonomize. That doesn’t mean they don’t have those graphs. The difference between Eqnomize and others is that the other applications I tried were a lot more flexible in their reporting, but also added more complexity. Eqonomise just gives you 2 charts and 2 reports (not static, you can change several parameters). It’s not much, but are well thought off.
In conclusion, what I like most about Eqonomize is its simplicity, usability and focus. For the task I needed, it’s perfect. It gives me every option I could think of. It’s not as flexible as others in reporting, but it gives the essentials.