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Keyboard Hotkeys with Debian Lenny

Here are some notes on assigning functions to those special keys that come on so many keyboards. My Gateway SK-9920 has 12 of these hotkeys: volume up, down, and mute; play, stop, next, and last track; internet, help, mail, shopping cart (?), and back (presumably). I don't even know what the creators of this keyboard envisioned for the "shopping cart" key. Often these keys aren't recognized out-of-the-box in Windows, much less in Linux.

Like usual, there are almost certainly specific GNOME or KDE tools to accomplish this goal. Since I'm not running those, however, I'll stick to tools available in almost any X.Org environment (I happen to be using Ratpoison).


Support EFF: Play Video Games

For three more days you can buy a bundle of 5 indie video games, and you can pay whatever you want. Furthermore, you can designate where your money goes, between the five game developers, EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation), and the Childs Play charity (video games for hospitals). Also, all of the games are cross platform; linux, mac, and windows.

The games are:

You can buy the bundle here:


Install Google Chrome in Debian Lenny

This is simple.

First, get the package

Go to and select the 32-bit .deb for Debian/Ubuntu, then click "Accept and Install". This will download google-chrome-beta_current_i386.deb.

Optional: Prevent Chrome from adding the Google repository

If you want Chrome to keep itself up-to-date, don't do this step. However, if you just want to check Chrome out without changing too much, you might want to type the following command at the command line:


Using ls to Show Directory Size – Updated & Explained

Note - I've written about this before (here). In my opinion, this is a vast improvement over that earlier version.

This title of this post is not entirely accurate. The post is actually about a script that will list files and directories in the same format as ls -l (the "long listing" format of the ls command), except it will correctly report the size of directories (and all of the files within them). Technically, it is actually in the format of ls -lhL.

This is functionally very different than the output of ls. Typically ls lists the size of directories not including their contents. This produces a very small number, which is the amount of disk space the directory's meta-data takes up (i.e. the names of files within the directory). Here is an example:

ls -lhL
total 116K
drwxr-x--- 1 james users  44K 2010-04-22 17:21 movies
drwxr-x--- 1 james users  48K 2010-04-03 22:22 music
drwxr-x--- 1 james users    0 2009-12-11 16:20 photos
drwxr-x--- 1 james users 4.0K 2009-12-13 22:36 data
drwxr-x--- 1 james users  20K 2010-04-27 00:56 tv


Change Super Contacts Icon on the Palm Pre

I doubt many people will be searching for this post...

I like the Super Contacts app for the Palm Pre, and I decided to put it in the quicklaunch dock instead of Palm's default Contacts app. The only problem with this is that the Super Contacts app is really ugly (my apologies, guys-who-made-it, I admit I'm shallow). Here's what I did to replace it with Palm's Contacts icon.


Disable the New Google Layout

EDIT (8.5.2010) - No longer works. I give up, Google. The new interface is worse, but I suppose I'll get over it.

EDIT - This method no longer works. Google has updated their Labs search to use the new layout. Instead, you can use this URL to keep the old-fashioned Google:

I saw the new Google search results page layout for the first time tonight.  I then googled "turn off new google layout".  I suppose I don't handle change very well.  If you hate the new Google layout too, here's how to fix it:


Autostart X Without GDM

I'm going to explain how I auto-start ratpoison on my bare-bones Debian Stable (Lenny) system. I don't use GDM, KDM, or any other "DM" (display manager). There are multiple steps here (involving multiple config files), but it is not complicated.

Step 1
/etc/inittab & mingetty

mingetty is an alternative to getty, which (for the sake of simplicity) I describe as the linux login program. You'll need to install mingetty:

#as root (i.e., using either su or sudo)
apt-get install mingetty


Bluehost Vs. Godaddy: Bluehost Wins

This isn't an in-depth analysis of the two hosting providers, just my limited experiences.  I recently switched my WordPress blog from to, and I've been very pleased with the results.


  • Bluehost seems way less gimmicky
    • There aren't ads plastered everywhere in Bluehost
    • They aren't trying to constantly upsell (in fact, there's really not much to move up to - they just seem to have the one plan)
    • They don't charge extra for private domain registration
  • The Bluehost interface is clean and uncluttered
  • Setting up WordPress is pretty easy with either site, but it seems easier with Bluehost
  • Bluehost's cPanel is easier to use


MPC Script – Quickly Find and Play by Album

This is a simple script for MPD & MPC users. It allows you to quickly queue and play an album. I name the script "album" and put it in ~/bin (which is included in my $PATH).

## Shortcut to search, add, and play an album (after clearing current playlist).
## Use -a (for "add") to add the album to the playlist without clearing current playlist.

if [ $1 = -a ]
mpc search album "$*" | mpc add ; mpc play

mpc clear
mpc search album "$*" | mpc add ; mpc play


Removing Ratpoison’s Borders

This is a simple issue, but one that wasn't immediately evident to me. When using Firefox in ratpoison, I noticed that there was a 1px border surrounding the window. This is annoying, especially when trying to scroll with the mouse -- it's always easiest to fling the mouse to the far edge of the screen, so I'm not scrolling frames or text boxes (or flash). But the 1px border is essentially dead space, so I then have to move back a little, wasting time. (I suppose this relates to Fitts's law).