Apr 29 2009

NoSquint Firefox Extension

For whatever reason, designers have decided for the masses that tiny fixed text is a good idea for content. Well, it's not. I have 20/20 vision, and often struggle to read text on web pages. What good does it do to have a 20+ inch monitor when you need a magnifying glass to read the text? That's right, none at all.

Annoyed with the lack of user defined controls for the zoom capabilities of Firefox, I did a quick search for add-ons to see what answers were out there. I came across an extremely useful little add-on called NoSquint. NoSquint allows global, and per page zoom levels. And as the title of the add-on would suggest: No more squinting to read text!

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Apr 22 2009

Google Search Remix

I've been using a search tool for the last year or so that I absolutely love. Goosh is an Ajax tool that behaves like a *nix shell. You can find and use this tool at goosh.org.

Favorite features:

  • No ads.
  • Quick readable results.
  • Wikipedia search.
  • Superior image search.
  • Firefox search integration.


  • Type "help" at prompt for all commands.
  • Type "addengine" at prompt for Firefox integration.
  • Use tab complete for related searches.
  • Use the alternate search keywords, by using the keyword followed by your search string. Here are some examples:
    1. > i test
    2. > p corvallis oregon
    3. > t english spanish test

I haven't looked closely into what configuration options that are available. I think having color themes would be nice.

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Apr 19 2009

Skype on Eee PC Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Donnie had asked on my previous post if I had a chance to test Skype. I just tested, and everything works very well. I didn't experience any of the choppiness that he experienced. I know that there have been several bug fixes for both PulseAudio and Alsa recently to address issues with the Intel Audio chips. For reference, my installed versions are alsa 1.0.18.dfsg-1ubuntu8 and pulseaudio 0.9.14-0ubuntu20.

I did have to make a special entry in ~/.asoundrc for my stereo headset to output to both speakers. Skype provides 8-bit unsigned mono output audio, so it needs converted to stereo if you want sound in both headphone speakers. I copied these settings from http://help.ubuntu.com here. I didn't create the launcher script they mention. Just add the following to your ~/.asoundrc and choose "skype" as your Sound In, Sound Out and Ringer device in Options->Sound Devices.


pcm.skype {
   type asym
   playback.pcm "skypeout"
   capture.pcm "skypein"
pcm.skypein {
   # Convert from 8-bit unsigned mono (default format set by aoss when
   # /dev/dsp is opened) to 16-bit signed stereo (expected by dsnoop)
   # We can't just use a "plug" plugin because although the open will
   # succeed, the buffer sizes will be wrong and we'll hear no sound at
   # all.
   type route
   slave {
      pcm "skypedsnoop"
      format S16_LE
   ttable {
      0 {0 0.5}
      1 {0 0.5}
pcm.skypeout {
   # Just pass this on to the system dmix
   type plug
   slave {
      pcm "dmix"
pcm.skypedsnoop {
   type dsnoop
   ipc_key 1133
   slave {
      # "Magic" buffer values to get skype audio to work
      # If these are not set, opening /dev/dsp succeeds but no sound
      # will be heard. According to the alsa developers this is due
      # to skype abusing the OSS API.
      pcm "hw:0,0"
      period_size 256
      periods 16
      buffer_size 16384
   bindings {
      0 0
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Apr 18 2009

Eee PC Ubuntu Netbook Remix

In researching potential inexpensive laptop solutions for use in education, I decided that the Eee PC would be a great product for this use. I was especially excited that there were Linux offerings. For myself and potential students, this means no Windows Tax, since I would install Linux anyway.

I never tried the Asus version of Linux, instead, I opted to install the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. I may have tried the Asus version, but was immediately confronted with a EULA, so decided that a format was in order.

I've only been using this system for a few days. I have to say I am very impressed. The keyboard is small, but no so small that I can't type relative fast on. I've only installed a few things outside of the defaults that are installed by default with the remix.

I think this system could easily be used by any student in education. With a built-in webcam and mic, just add a headset and you've got a perfect device for online classes. I'll be using it with next week's Mozilla Open Education Course class. Very exciting times. I think once these units hit the $150-$200 range, they will be even more realistic for a student laptop.

What I'll personally be using this for? Well, the list is pretty long already.

  • I listened to Pandora via pianobar several hours this week at work.
  • I read a few chapters of an E-book with FBReader. Since this is such a small device, it actually feels like a book. I will certainly be reading more E-books now.
  • I used OpenOffice writer to convert an E-book to a different format. I'll be using OpenOffice continually for many projects.
  • I watched a couple cartoons with my daughter. One using Firefox with a flash movie player. The second was an avi file from Totem. The display is a little larger than her small DVD player, so with a headphone splitter, it was a familiar and comfortable experience.
  • I browsed around Twitter a little with TweetDeck.
  • I posted this.

Not only is this a super usable little computer. It will be a welcome option for students at all levels of education.

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Oct 01 2007

Vim xkb Poweruser Tip

First, I'd like to say I'm a new vim user. For whatever silly reason, It took me ten years of coding with visual editors to realize, I could be much more productive with a real editor. Boy, do I feel silly for not learning sooner. OK, on with the tip:

First a little background. Many moons ago (1991), Jamie Zawinski had a similar complaint about the keyboard layout as I have. The CAPS LOCK key is very inconveniently located. He created a gui fronted to xmodmap to assist in the modification of the keyboard called XKeyCaps. However, he's since abandoned any further development on this app, feeling that Gnome currently gives enough options for keyboard remapping. Also, with Xorg, xkb has transplanted the functionality of xmodmap, so all the tips and tricks that permeate the internet on the subject are not addressing the fact that the system is really using xkb. Now, while I agree that Gnome has given quite a few options provided by the xkb layouts, there is one change it doesn't have: switching the caps lock and esc keys. Jamie likes to switch the Caps Lock and Ctrl keys, I have a slightly different opinion on the matter.

Why would I want to switch these keys? First and foremost, if you accidentally hit the caps lock while using vim, many, many bizarre things start to happen, as it recognizes these as very different commands from what you expect. (Thankfully there is a large undo buffer). Secondly, it is utilizing prime real estate on the keyboard and is rarely used. The following is my quick and dirty for changing the default behavior of switching the left ctrl key and the caps lock key (because I can't for the life of me see how this would be useful).

Step 1.

As root, edit the following file:

# vi /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/ctrl
$ sudo vi /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/ctrl

Find the following line:

xkb_symbols "swapcaps" {

To make the switch, this section should read:

xkb_symbols "swapcaps" {
key <CAPS> { symbols[Group1]= [ Escape ] };
key <ESC> { symbols[Group1]= [ Caps_Lock ] };

After restarting X (CTRL+ALT+BACKSPACE). In Gnome, on your main menu select System -> Preferences -> Keyboard :: Layout Options Tab. Toggle Ctrl key position arrow and select "Swap Ctrl and CapsLock". This of course now will switch the CapsLock and ESC keys.

I'm sure there are better ways to change the behavior of XKB. If you know of any better way, please email me or comment here. Root file modifications suck. I should be able to quickly and easily change this in my gui. I loathe having "built-in" options. They never take into account all personal preferences. Also if any Xorg or Gnome devs read this, if xmodmap is deprecated, please, for the sake of users sanity, deprecate the damn thing and allow users to change keyboard mappings.

Only drawback of this is that the next time you update Xorg, all your changes will be lost. However, as much as they've been mucking around with changes lately, that would likely be the case for any user space changes as well.

Remember to backup any files you modify.


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