Someday You’ll Thank Me For This

And that day will come sooner rather than later. At the Tool Bar & Grill, we’re here to help you. Today I’ll tell you about a Web site that looks and feels bad but really is good for you, and some useful utilities for those with limited computing resources. And Linux guru Mark Lautman will help you find files you forgot you had.

Make XP Think It’s Vista

I admit it, my memory just isn’t what it used to be… in fact, it never was. Insufficient memory also can plague computers. If you’re running Windows XP on a computer with 512 MB RAM or less, you might get that sluggish feeling too.

If your computer is memory-challenged but you have a big USB flash disk (preferably 1 GB or more), you can be rightly jealous of Vista ReadyBoost. This Windows Vista feature uses the flash disk as extra computer RAM. It’s not as fast as onboard memory, but it’s usually way faster than a swap file on a hard disk.

Now you can enjoy the same benefit with eBoostr. This new utility for XP also uses a flash disk (USB version 2) or any other removable media as extra RAM. The free trial version works for four hours after each reboot; the full version ($29) is unlimited. I have tried eBoostr on my XP laptop, and it really works. It is a good stop-gap solution that can help tide you over until you get your new, souped-up computer.

A Reference Library At Your Fingertips

When you need reference information, it’s easier to get it all in one place. Sure, there are encyclopedias like Britannica (I’m wary of Wikipedia), dictionaries (make merry with Merriam-Webster), and government information portals (including the CIA World Fact Book and UN Data). Sure, you can get quick facts as well as news, sports, and weather reports at a plethora of informative specialty sites.

For fast facts on any subject, I turn first to This cluttered, intimidating site has information, or links to information, on just about everything you want to know. When I don’t know where to start with a research question, I start with refdesk. Think of a fact, datum, conversion, translation, or any question, and refdesk knows where to find the answer.

The top of the refdesk page starts with current news and topical briefs, flanked by the most popular search, news, and reference links:

Scroll further down, and you’ll reach a three-column forest of links to more informational resources than you can shake a mouse at:

This is just a fraction of refdesk’s offerings. So next time you need to find something out, start at refdesk.

Speaking of finding things out, here’s Mark Lautman on how to find things in Linux.

You Can Use It, If You Can Find It

by Mark Lautman

No relationship is perfectly symmetric. When any two people form a partnership, one is usually smarter, stronger, wiser, wealthier, or more ambitious. In the case of Jonathan and myself, I'm none of the above. Take the example of orderliness. Just last week I went into the front room of the Tool Bar & Grill and asked, "Jonathan, do you have some peanuts?" "Sure," he replied. "They’re right on the counter next to the sink." The following day I said, "Uh, do you have some straw?" "No problemo, it’s in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator."

In contrast, this morning he ventured back to the Linux Room and asked, "Where is the two-ton elephant that we borrowed from the circus for last week's party? They want it back." "Yeah... uh... the elephant," I replied. "I know it's here somewhere. Let's see, it's not in the rest room, and it's not in the kitchen. Listen, let me hunt around for it, and I'll get right back to you."

It's not easy to lose an elephant in an intimate and cozy bar, but you sure can lose files in Linux and not find them. Nevertheless, like any worthwhile craft, searching for files and elephants takes time and patience. Let's review what's available for Linux.

The Gnome desktop that comes with most Ubuntu downloads has an indexing tool called Tracker. It indexes text files, PDFs, OpenOffice files, and file names. However, the display is very abbreviated. There is no opportunity to sort or filter by extension, file name, file type, or other customary features.

The Gnome file search is a bit better when it comes to display, but it can't drill into non-text files.

The Google search toolbar is available for Linux. It indexes all the necessary files and gives a familiar Googlie-ish presentation. Nevertheless, a table format with sorting and searching within results is missing.

The KDE desktop has a complete searching tool called kfind that can do full-text searches inside PDFs and OpenOffice files. It includes many switches available from the Linux find command. You can also save your searches as a text file.

The most full-featured search tool is Searchmonkey. Available for Linux and as source code for Windows and Mac, this utility is a true front-end for the Linux find command. It also includes a regular expression builder that helps you design file names that match specific patterns. Similar to kfind, you can save your searches as CSV files, and sort them by the customary fields.

However, Searchmonkey doesn't search for content within non-text files like PDF and OpenOffice. Hopefully Searchmonkey will come out with an enhancement to drill into non-text files. Until that happens, we'll need to find the two-ton elephant using sight, sound, and (yuck) smell.  —Mark Lautman

I hope your visit to the Tool Bar & Grill has been both satisfying and healthful. Do come back next week and every week for more generous helpings, and tell all your friends! If you have suggestions or questions, please share them with us all by clicking on “comments” below or, if you prefer privacy, by writing to ]]