Open Source Musings

Explaining Linux and open source, with a decidedly non-techie slant

I'm happy to announce that my new ebook, Learning HTML, has hit the virtual bookshelves.

As you probably know, most of what you find on the web is formatted with HTML (short for HyperText Markup Language). While you don't need to know HTML to publish on the web, knowing HTML can definitely be an advantage. Especially when you need to fix bad or broken formatting.

That's where Learning HTML comes in. By working through this book, you'll quickly learn the basics of HTML. You'll be able to work comfortably and confidently with HTML code when you need to. Regardless of whether you're a blogger, a journalist, a content strategist, or a technical writer, knowing HTML will benefit you and your career.

This book teaches you:

  • The basic structure of a web page or document.
  • How to create headings, paragraphs, and lists.
  • How to build tables.
  • How to add images, audio, and video to your web pages or documents.

And a little bit more. None of that's complex. It just takes a bit of effort to learn and to master. By the end of this book, you won't be a web designer or a web developer. You will have a solid foundation upon which you can build if you want or need to learn more.

Learning HTML is based on the shortcuts I've used, as well as the training I've given to colleagues and other writers over the years. I've distilled what I've taught to all those writers into short, easy-to-understand and easy-to-digest chapters.

You can read a sample chapter if you're curious. If you want to buy the book, you can find EPUB and PDF versions on Gumroad.

Ah, the PDF file. Like it or not (and there are many standing on both sides of that line), the PDF has somehow, in some way, become ubiquitous. It's become a de-facto standard document file format.

Nowadays, a range of different applications and tools can spit out PDFs with the click of a button or an option added to a command line. Generating a PDF is one thing. Manipulating one is something else. On the Linux desktop, there are several utilities which can do just that. Let's take a look at two of them.


Everyone learns in different ways. Some like to learn from experience — by poking around and breaking (and fixing) things. Others like to take courses, while some people learn best from books.

When it comes to Linux, there's no shortage of books on the subject. Since I started using Linux in 1999, I've read more than my share of those tomes. One that I've been meaning to write about for a while is Learn Linux in a Month of Lunches by Steven Ovadia.

The name of the author might sound familiar to you. Steven Ovadia, if you don't know, runs the Linux Rig blog and does the excellent The Linux Setup interview series. So he knows a thing or three about Linux. But how does Ovadia's knowledge and enthusiasm translate into a book? Let's find out.


In a previous post, I looked at using the lowriter command to convert word processor files to different formats supported by LibreOffice Writer. That post also included a brief mention of the commands for converting spreadsheets and slide decks.

After publishing that post, another way to convert files at the command line using LibreOffice popped into my memory.

Run this command to do a conversion:

soffice --headless --convert-to [file-format] [file-name].[file-extension]

(You might be wondering about the --headless option. That just stops an empty, and mildly annoying, LibreOffice window from opening on your desktop when you do a conversion.)

You can use that command to convert individual file or do a bulk conversion. If, say, you want to convert a Word file to PDF, use this command:

soffice --headless --convert-to PDF myFile.docx`

For example, use the command below to convert all Microsoft Excel files in a folder to ODS (the format used by LibreOffice Calc):

soffice --headless --convert-to ods *.xlsx

Why use this method instead of the one I wrote about previously? It works with all formats supported by LibreOffice. And you only need to remember one command, rather than the commands for each component of the LibreOffice suite.

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #cli #opensource #libreoffice

Recently, I came across some documents that I'd written at a former Day JobTM. A company that uses That Other Word Processor. You know the one I mean ...

I wanted to convert those files to both ODT and PDF. Opening them individually in LibreOffice Writer to do the deed would have been a chore. Plus, I'm lazy. So I needed to find a different solution.

Then I remembered that you can run LibreOffice Writer from the command line. Really! And, in doing so, you can convert files in bulk. To do that, crack open a terminal window. Then type:

lowriter --convert-to [file-format] *.[file-extension]

To convert the files I wrote using that other word processor to ODT, I typed:

lowriter --convert-to odt *.docx

In a few seconds, I had a bunch of ODT files. I did the same thing to create a bunch of PDF files, just substituting odt in the command with pdf.

You can convert between files in any format that LibreOffice Writer supports. You can also convert individual files. Just type the name of the file at the end of the command.

But what about spreadsheets and slide decks? You can also use the —convert-to option with the commands localc (LibreOffice Calc) and loimpress (LibreOffice Impress) to convert a file or to do a batch conversion.

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #cli #opensource #libreoffice

Although I hate to admit it, sometimes words just aren't enough. Every so often, you need to how and not just tell. Literally. And there are times when a screen capture, or set of screen captures, doesn't cut it either.

What you need is a short video. More to the point, a screencast. Unless you're doing something professionally, all you need is a quick and dirty recording. A great tool for doing that is Peek. Peek is simple, fast, and surprisingly flexible.

Let's take a look at it.


(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at The Plain Text Project and appears here via a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.)

While I'm a big fan of plain text, I'm also a big fan of both privacy and of taking control of as much of my data as I can. Plain text is great for doing that.

If you find yourself using a platform or a tool that winds up not respecting your privacy, lain text enables you can easily move your information elsewhere. All without having to worry about fiddly conversions.

That's especially true when it comes to taking notes. You might be familiar with Evernote and Google Keep. I've used them in the past, but my trust in the companies behind both was eroded several years ago. Which is one of the reasons why I turned to Standard Notes.

What if you want even more control? You can turn to Joplin. It's billed as An open source note taking and to-do application with synchronisation capabilities, and it does a very good job of all that.

Let's take a look at how to use Joplin to organize your information.


I've never had great relationships with command line text editors. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's just we don't have enough in common with each other to form a strong bond.

Recently, though, I was working with a command line application that seemed to play better with terminal text editors than with graphical ones. So, I duly set my default editor to the venerable GNU nano editor. Why nano? It's the only terminal editor installed on my computer. While I've used nano in the past, I was quickly reminded that it isn't for me.

Instead of using software I don't particularly like, I searched around for something similar and came across Micro. Billed as a modern and intuitive terminal-based text editor, it sounded like a good substitute for nano. Here's what I discovered.


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