From The Tips Box: File Tweaks, Reading Later, Organised Groceries

Readers offer their best tips for tweaking data files with text editors, bookmarking articles for later, and streamlining the shopping.

About the Tips Box: Every day we receive boatloads of great reader tips in our inbox, but for various reasons — maybe they're a bit too niche, maybe we couldn't find a good way to present it, or maybe we just couldn't fit it in — the tip didn't make the front page. From the Tips Box is where we round up some of our favourites for your buffet-style consumption. Got a tip of your own to share? Email it to tips at

Open Data Files in Text Editors to See if They Can Be Tweaked

DanYHKim explores all possible options to tweak configuration files:

I was trying to work with an Adobe Acrobat .pdf form, and tried exporting the form data to a .fdf file (Form data file?). Of course, any filename.fdf will open by default in Acrobat, but I tried opening it using Notepad.

Notepad is pretty agnostic about how it opens files. The .fdf turns out to be plain text. It contains the names of all of the form fields, delimited by angle brackets, and any data in these fields.

With some study, I was able to make a spreadsheet to hold data for multiple forms, and then generate a plain text file that can be used to fill out the .pdf form. I don't need to save each completed form as a separate file, or work through the hacks necessary for keeping forms that prohibit saving.

What other seemingly-proprietary files are actually text? Well, a VMware .vmx configuration is plain text. A Protein Data Bank molecular crystal structure file is plain text. An Acrobat .pdf file is a mix, but sometimes you can alter the text in a .pdf document by editing the plain text elements. It's worth the look.

Linux users are certainly already used to this idea, but it does work across operating systems — although not with all types of files, sadly. Some will just come up as garbled text, and it takes some trial and error to see which file types you can tweak yourself. As always, back up the file before you mess with it.

Differentiate Bookmarks in the Bookmark Bar for Reading Later

leftymcrighty uses his bookmark bar for bookmarks and items to read later:

When I want to read a web page at a later time, I find bookmarking the page isn't good enough, because I'll just forget it's there. My quick fix is to drop them on Firefox's Bookmarks Toolbar, so that they're always out in the open whenever I open the browser. To ease up on overcrowding (and make my "read later" bookmarks stand out even more), I remove the name from all my permanent bookmarks, leaving only the website's icon. This works quite well in conjunction with Xmarks, because I can bookmark something at work to read when I get home. Also, with the wide-screen format so popular in most new monitors, this leaves plenty of room for links to pile up in the toolbar.

Organise Groceries on the Conveyor Belt for Quick Unpacking at Home

Photo by Matt MacGillivray.

Mike organises his items at the store so he doesn't have to later:

While I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, I organize my groceries on the conveyor belt so that they get bagged in categories. I'll put up all of the produce, then canned goods, frozen foods, bathroom stuff, etc. When I get home, everything is more or less sorted and I can quickly get everything put away.


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