When it rains, it pours: query letter on personal finance accepted by Linux Journal

Tracking Your Finances with Ledger and Gnuplot
Most people generally stress out about their finances at the end of
the year and at tax time. A good personal finance program can help
them plan and control their expenses so that they can make it through
the holidays and taxes without wiping out their bank accounts. That
way, they’ll have room in their budgets for another year’s
subscription to Linux Journal!
My article will give practical tips for managing personal finances
with the Ledger command-line tool, and how to slice and dice the data
with awk and Gnuplot to generate useful graphs. It is compatible with
Gnucash but far friendlier for people who like working with text
files. For example, I have more than two years of categorized
financial data: some imported from bank statements, some exported from
Gnucash, and many added through the Emacs Ledger mode. I can see my average monthly expenses for any category, project my savings into the future, or export the data and graph it in Gnuplot to see how my
income compares with my expenses and to look for patterns. This makes
it easy for me to see where I am, and motivates me to keep moving
forward. I would love to share these tips with your readers in an
article around 2200 words long, accompanied by sidebars that include
tips on managing personal finance.

Part of my query letter to the Linux Journal

Okay. I can do this. What’s on the horizon in terms of extracurricular writing?

  • TLE paper, 3 pages, self-imposed deadline of Feb 19
  • Talk on Networking 2.0 (script, presentation), 1 hour, to be delivered Feb 29
  • Wicked Cool Emacs book (ongoing), finish chapter on notes management, flexible deadline but would like to finish it by Feb 7
  • Wicked Cool Emacs book (ongoing), write next chapter on Being Big Brother (ooh, that’ll be fun!), flexible deadline but would like to finish it by March 7
  • ON VACATION March 10 – 24 (may get some writing done)
  • Personal finance article for Linux Journal, April 1

Discipline. Discipline and organization.

I need to make better use of my commuting time. The DS is a nice distraction, but I need to convert my commute into thinking or writing time.

What do I need in order to do that?

I need to have:

  • An outline (paper copy, and I can put the full version in my DS)
  • A pad of paper
  • A pen that I won’t lose (or don’t care about losing)
  • Free hands to do this
  • Another way to work if I don’t have a seat or free hands (voice recorder)

Tech prop: Typing is not fun on the DS. It’s not bad for keeping data, but typing involves an on-screen keyboard. Maybe I can borrow W-‘s old Treo, find an outlining tool, load my outline into that. I’ll give that a shot.

Today: Prep outline, get everything ready for tomorrow – I have a longer commute coming up. I’m reasonably ready for the work I need to do, so I can spend some thinking time on the book.

… tap tap tap…

  • If you don’t want to go the pen and paper way, there are some alternatives.
    If you have some money look at the Nokia N810, the new internet tablet with integrated keyboard, they do not come cheap at around 500$, but they are cheaper and easier to carry than all the other tablet PC’s. I have the N800(no keyboard), which I use as a reading device, since most technical stuff and the whole of Gutenberg are in electronic form and I don’t want to print them. And it is nice to have a whole library on a device the size and weight of a small pocket book. The tablet runs on a variant of Ubuntu, Emacs is not yet ported I believe, but a lot other stuff is.
    If you need something more price conscious look at the Alphasmart Neo machines http://www.alphasmart.com/Retail/ . Just a (full size) keyboard with memory and a small LCD.
    You should be able to use your DS as voice recorder. The DS Organizer http://www.dragonminded.com/dsorganize/wiki/index.php?title=Features has a voice recorder built in. There may be some dedicated voice recorder software somewhere.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Dragica! I want something that I can use while walking around (rules out most keyboards) and which doesn’t work one hand much more than the other (rules out handwriting and on-screen keyboards). I have my DS set up for e-books and I do have DS Organizer on there. The voice quality on my WS-100 recorder is better, though, and sometimes I can get away without redictating the whole thing. I bring the WS-100 because I sometimes need to record meetings anyway. I’m not yet sure about how I feel about using T9 instead of a regular keyboard. The Treo works fine for me right now, though, so I’ll probably stick with it until my phone gives out. Then I’ll think about getting something else. =)

  • I saw your comment about using Gnuplot to track your personal finances. That’s a new application area – I like it!

    I see that you are writing, too. So you might be interested in my book on Gnuplot: “Gnuplot in Action”. You can pre-order it directly from the publisher: Manning: Gnuplot in Action.

    If you want to learn more about the book and the author, check out my book page at Principal Value – Gnuplot in Action.

    Let me know if you are interested in a review copy – I can arrange that.