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Personal Information Management

pimutils is a collection of software for personal information management. The core piece is vdirsyncer, which synchronizes calendars and contacts between the local filesystem and CalDav and CardDAV servers. Calendars may then be interacted with via khal, and contacts via khard. There’s not much to say about these three programs, other than they all just work. Having offline access to my calendars and contacts is critical, as is the ability to synchronize that data across machines.

Khard integrates easily with mutt to provide autocomplete when composing emails. I find its interface for creating, editing and reading contacts to be intuitive. It can also output a calendar of birthdays, which can then be imported into khal.

Khal’s interface for adding new calendar events is much simpler and quicker than all the mousing required by GUI calendar programs.

$ khal new 2019-11-16 21:30 5h Alessandro Cortini at Public Works :: 161 Erie St

There are times when a more complex user interface makes calendaring tasks easier. For this Khal offers the interactive option, which provides a TUI for creating, editing and reading events.

Khal can also import iCalendar files, which is a simple way of getting existing events into my world.

$ khal import invite.ics

Vdirsyncer has maintenance problems that may call its future into question, but the whole point of modular tools that operate on open data formats is that they are replaceable.

I have a simple and often used script which calls khal calendar and task list (the latter command being taskwarrior), answering the question: what am I supposed to be doing right now?

Terminal Calculations

Qalculate! is a well known GTK-based GUI calculator. For years I ignored it because I failed to realize that it included a terminal interface, qalc. Since learning about qalc last year it has become my go-to calculator. It supports all the same features as the GUI, including RPN and unit conversions. I primarily use GNU Units for unit wrangling, but being able to perform unit conversions within my calculator is sometimes useful.

$ qalc
> 1EUR to USD
It has been 20 day(s) since the exchange rates last were updated
Do you wish to update the exchange rates now? y

  1 * euro = approx. $1.1137000

> 32oC to oF

  32 * celsius = 89.6 oF

The RPN mode is not quite as intuitive as a purpose built RPN calculator like Orpie, but it is adequate for my uses. My most frequent use of RPN mode is totaling a long list of numbers without bothering with all those tedious + symbols.

> rpn on
> stack
The RPN stack is empty
> 85

  85 = 85

> 42

  42 = 42

> 198

  198 = 198

> 5

  5 = 5

> 659

  659 = 659

> stack

  1:    659
  2:    5
  3:    198
  4:    42
  5:    85

> total

  total([659, 5, 198, 42, 85]) = 989

> stack

  1:    989

Also provided are some basic statistics functions that can help save time.

> mean(2,12,5,3,1)
  mean([2, 12, 5, 3, 1]) = 4.6

And of course there are the varaibles and constants you would expect

> 12+3*8)/2
  (12 + (3 * 8)) / 2 = 18
> ans*pi
  ans * pi = 56.548668

I reach for qalc more frequently than alternative calculators like bc, insect, or the Python shell.

I use Blokada to reduce the amount of advertisements on my telephone.

Blokada registers itself as a VPN service on the phone so that it can intercept all network traffic. It then downloads filter lists to route the domains of known advertisers, trackers, etc to a black hole, exactly like what I do on my real computer with hostsctl. For me it has had no noticeable impact on battery life. I have found it especially useful when travelling internationally and purchasing cellular plans with small data caps. The only disadvantage I have found is that Blokada must be disabled when I want to connect to a real VPN via WireGuard or OpenVPN.

Blokada must be installed via F-Droid (or directly through the APK) because Google frowns upon blocking advertisements (but at least Google allows you to install software on your telephone outside of their walled garden, unlike their competitor).

I use RSS-Bridge to stitch together the balkanized web.

RSS-Bridge is an open-source project that liberates content from toxic walled gardens, allowing it to be shared and syndicated in my feed reader. The project can generate RSS or Atom feeds for a number of sites. It let’s me pretend that we live in a better time.

Mutt is my mail user agent of choice.

More specifically, Neomutt. Mutt ICS is a python script which takes an iCalendar file and outputs the contents in a human friendly format. I use it in my mailcap so that I can see details of calendar attachments when reading email. It’s a simple script that improves my email workflow.

Without an OCR layer, PDF files are of limited use.

OCRmyPDF is a tool that applies optical character recognition to PDFs. It uses Tesseract to perform the OCR, and unpaper to clean, deskew and optimize the input files. It outputs PDF/A files, optimized for long-term storage. This isn’t a tool I use frequently, but it is one I greatly appreciate having when I need it. If you ever find yourself scanning or photographing documents, you want OCRmyPDF.

Date Manipulation

Dateutils is a collection of tools for the quick manipulation of dates. The tool I use most frequently is datediff. This program answers questions like: “How many days has it been since a date?” or “How many days are left in summer?”

$ datediff 2019-03-21 now
131
$ datediff now 2019-09-23
55

My second most frequently used program is dateadd, which is used to add a duration to a date. It can answer questions like: “What will the date be in 3 weeks?”

$ dateadd now +3w
2019-08-20T02:02:23

The tools are much more powerful than these examples, but hardly a week goes by when I don’t use datediff or dateadd for simple tasks like this.

Unit Wrangling

I use GNU Units to convert measurements.

The program knows about many obscure and antiquated units, but I mostly use it for boring things like converting currencies and between metric and imperial units. It can be used directly from the command line, or via a prompted interactive mode.

$ units 57EUR USD
        * 63.526262
        / 0.015741521

$ units
Currency exchange rates from FloatRates (USD base) on 2019-07-24
3460 units, 109 prefixes, 109 nonlinear units

You have: 16 floz
You want: ml
        * 473.17647
        / 0.0021133764
You have: tempC(30)
You want: tempF
        86

GNU Units is picky about its unit definitions, and they are case sensitive. For example, it knows what USD is, but usd is undefined. It supports tab completion of units in interactive mode, which can be helpful. It knows the difference between a US fluid ounce and a British fluid ounce.

$ units "1 usfloz" ml
        * 29.57353
        / 0.033814023

$ units "1 brfloz" ml
        * 28.413063
        / 0.03519508

The unit definitions are stored at /usr/share/units/definitions.units. Occasionally I’ll need to peruse through this file to find the correct formatting for the unit I’m interested in. Sometimes when doing this I’ll run into one of the more obscure definitions, such as beespace. Apparently this unit is used in beekeeping when designing hive boxes. It is described in the definition file thusly: “Bees will fill any space that is smaller than the bee space and leave open spaces that are larger. The size of the space varies with species.”

$ units 12inches beespace
        * 48
        / 0.020833333

Every so often you need to know how many Earth days are in one Martian year. With GNU Units that information is a few keystrokes away.

$ units 1marsyear days
        * 686.97959
        / 0.0014556473

Currency definitions are stored in /var/lib/units/currency.units. They are updated using the units_cur program. In the past I would update currencies whenever I needed them, but recently I setup a systemd timer to update these definitions roughly once per day (depending on network connectivity). This provides me with conversion rates that are current enough for my own use, which I can take advantage of even when offline, and does not require me to let a third party know which currencies or quantities I am interested in.

Astute readers will have noted that I am big on this offline computing thing.