Cool Tools and pencils
#250 Henry, 01 May 2015 11:50 AM (Category: Gadgets)
(Tags: pencil)

I use pencils a lot. I use pencils at home and at work to write notes, temporary jotting, write in my Moleskine notebook, doing sums, doing banking. I like the mechanical push-action pencils rather than the wooden ones you have to sharpen. I'm always looking for better, more functional pencils. My needs are simple - be reasonably small, have a thin barrel, be easy to hold, grip the lead firmly right to the end, and just work.

A lot of the ones you get for school use are badly designed. Big thing things with padded surrounds, and the click mechanism in stupid places. When mine break I get a few more, use them up and keep looking.

I also follow the Cool Tools Blog. I like their series about "What's In My Bag" where constant travellers show the contents of their travel bags and explain why they carry what they do. That's really interesting.

Recently, they had an article about Skilcraft Fidelity pencils. Looked good. I went to buy one. About $30. I couldn't work out if that was for a single pencil, or for a pack of them. I hummed and hawed about this for a week, then took the plunge. If it was $30 for a single pencil, it better be a really good one. I ordered one, and it arrived yesterday.

Skilcraft Fidelity pencil

Really nice feel, works really well. Best of all, the sharp tip will retract as well as the lead. I was really happy with it. But what I was happiest about the most was that I ended up with a pack of 12 of them for the price.

Skilcraft Fidelity pack of 12 pencils

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Calibre features
#249 Henry, 28 April 2015 10:04 AM (Category: Books)
(Tags: calibre epub)

I use Calibre to manage my library and check and update books. It's a great tool. Regular updates. It often seems that every time I start up Calibre, there's a new version available.

The tool I have used the most in Calibre is Convert. This takes a book in one format, converts it to an epub and sets up the metadata.

If your book is not already epub, it will convert it to epub, and do a really good job of mimicking the original formatting. It will create new CSS for the formatting. It will create the epub metadata.

If your book is already epub, it will still convert it. It will change the CSS. It will flatten it, simplify it, but try and keep it looking roughly the same. It will use new CSS. It will modify the epub metadata.

Some books from the publishers arrive with the metadata messed up. The author names are wrong, or the title contains series information, or there is no series data at all. Sometimes the title and author have been switched. If I want these books to be easily findable when I put them on my device, I have to fix the metadata. Up till now, the only tool I had to do that was to Convert the book. This fixes the metadata, but it also changes the formatting and the CSS.

I have long wanted the ability to simply change the metadata without affecting the book content and formatting at all.

Last weekend, I found that Calibre has this ability. It's called Polish books. Polish as in polishing, making smooth, putting a fine finish on. Not books written in the Polish langugage. I found this while reading some forums about converting books. The ability is in Calibre, but it's not obvious. If you want it obvious, you should put it on the toolbar. I took the opportunity to clean up and customise the Calibre toolbar and give Polish books a high profile.

Modified Calibre Toolbar

Now you have the Polish books on the toolbar, and you can polish your books. Clicking this lets you select what actions you take. The only ones I use are to change the metadata and change the cover. It will change only those things and leave the rest of the book completely unchanged. This is great, this is exactly what I wanted. I wish I had found this earlier.

Polish books options

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Slackware mini-updates
#248 Henry, 28 April 2015 9:54 AM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: slackware mplayer chromium atunes)

There have been several mini-updates that upgrade some packages. Neither of them have fixed the two main problems I have.

I have to wait till a new version of Chromium comes out via sbopkg. I've tried setting up symbolic links for libgcrypt, but that doesn't work - it's checking internal version numbers:

chromium: /lib/ version `GCRYPT_1.2' not found (required by chromium)

An update for mplayer came down. But I still couldn't run it, still got the complaint that wasn't available. I did some googling and that library is part of the samba package. I don't have the samba package. So I installed it with slackpkg, and mplayer now runs. I don't know why mplayer depends on Samba, but it does, and now I am past that.

I was able to change aTunes back to use mplayer, and now music is good again and aTunes will play entire albums.

I have also discovered another problem. Cups changed and it complains about the PPD in use for my HP Laserjet 1300. I haven't been able to make this work yet, so printing is not working on my work desktop. I'll do some more research and try and work it out as I need that working.

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Really big Slackware update
#247 Henry, 23 April 2015 5:53 PM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: slackware music xmms atunes)

Yes, that was a huge Slackware update. We're still Slackware 14.1. I have only installed it on my work desktop and one of my home servers so far, to minimise the problems. When these problems get fixed, I'll do the rest of the servers and desktops.

I've noticed some small problems.

I discovered the mplayer problem slowly. I use aTunes for playing music. It's a Java program that uses mplayer for the actual sound-making. I was playing some Eloy today, starting with a 20 minute track. When it ended, everything was stopped. I double clicked on the next track and it played. Then stopped. aTunes was playing a single track and then stopping. I checked the settings and it had reverted to xine for the sound-maker. That's when I said "that's interesting, I wonder why mplayer isn't running" and I ran mplayer manually and discovered the library problem. I was playing the tracks one by one, but usually with 5 minutes silence in between them until I realised the music had stopped. Switched to XMMS and the music rolled on.

I started reading the forums at and was reassured. Fixes will come down the pipeline soon.

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Slackware update
#246 Henry, 22 April 2015 11:41 AM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: slackware)

I usually get Slackware updates weekly. There's always something to update for security or performance. Lately, there's been nothing. I even went so far as to check my settings in case I had accidentally turned off updates. But no, it was good.

Today, the drought broke. There is a huge update from Slackware. Major libraries, kernels, so much has changed. I installed it all on my work desktop, then rebooted. It came back. So far, so good. Music is back. Chromium won't run - it's looking for and that appears to have been upgraded. I'll have to wait till SBO have newer versions available before I can get that running again.

No doubt I'll discover more little things as time goes by, but so far it's good.

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