Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

Engineering beautiful software jon aquino labs | personal blog

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Things I Do Not Regret Paying For

I just made a social app called Things I Do Not Regret Paying For. It's about things you've bought that have been well worth the purchase price. There's just one thing in there right now (automatic labeller) so help me by adding more!

Creating this app took about 5 minutes with Ning because I just went to Wishlist and clicked Clone This App. (Disclaimer: I work for Ning, but hey, I think our platform's good :-).

So if there are some things that you definitely do not regret paying for, please add them as I'd be interested to see what's worth paying for these days.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kill any program/process with a few keystrokes

Outlook dies a lot, and often not completely -- you need to open up Task Manager, look for the OUTLOOK.EXE process, and kill it. I'm going to show you how to set up your system to kill it by typing "Win+R kil outlook". Actually you can use this to kill any process e.g. "Win+R kil firefox"

1. Install Cygwin. This will add several unix-like commands to your computer.
2. Open Notepad and make a text file called kil.bat containing the following line:

ps -W | grep --ignore-case %1 | gawk '{print $1}' | xargs --replace=_ kill -f _

And you're done. Now you can bring up the Run dialog with Win+R and type kil outlook (or whatever) to kill that process.

I've been using the Run dialog more and more since I read about the Lifehacker Run Dialog technique. Here are some other interesting Run dialog shortcuts I made:
  • ff to open a new Firefox window - shortcut to C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe - very handy as I like having multiple Firefox windows
  • task to open the Task Manager - shortcut to C:\WINDOWS\system32\taskmgr.exe
  • add to open the Add/Remove control panel - right-click the control panel and select Create Shortcut
  • cal to open Outlook's calendar view - "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office10\OUTLOOK.EXE" /select outlook:calendar
  • pblog to open an Outlook email template pre-filled with my blog-by-email address - "C:\Run\pblog.oft"
  • pai to open an AutoHotKey macro that opens Paint, clicks red, clicks the medium line thickness, then clicks the circle tool - C:\Run\pai.ahk
  • run to open C:\Run for adding more of these shortcuts
  • shut to shutdown the computer - batch file containing: shutdown -r -t 0

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ditto - Windows clipboard extender with incremental search

Really nice freeware find - Ditto. It's a Windows "clipboard extender" meaning it saves all the text and graphics you copy to the clipboard - if you hit Ctrl+Alt+V it pops up your last 10 pastes for easy retrieval.

What sets Ditto apart is its incremental search. I've got maybe a thousand items stored in there so far, so if I want to find an item like 'http://'.$_SERVER['HTTP_HOST'].$_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'] I just type "uri"


AutoHotKey rocks (Windows macro recorder)

I wanted Paint to open with the circle tool, configured with red paint and a thick line. Unfortunately Paint always starts with the select tool, black paint, and a thin line.

AutoHotKey to the rescue. This freeware (pricelessware actually) Windows macro recorder recorded my launching the program, clicking the circle tool, clicking the thick line setting, and clicking the red paint. I also created a Run shortcut for it, so all I do is type "Win-R pai" and Paint appears, preconfigured.

Here's the script generated by AutoHotKey:

Run, mspaint
WinWait, untitled - Paint,
IfWinNotActive, untitled - Paint, , WinActivate, untitled - Paint,
WinWaitActive, untitled - Paint,
MouseClick, left, 16, 196
Sleep, 100
MouseClick, left, 37, 290
Sleep, 100
MouseClick, left, 74, 830
Sleep, 100
MouseClick, left, 16, 243
Sleep, 100

Thursday, February 09, 2006

On Stress (quote from William James)

"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Best bookmarklet; Searching firefox textareas

Two useful little extensions I came across yesterday:

- the Lazy Sheep bookmarklet -- it's a bookmarklet that sticks the selected text into the extended description field (finally!)

- a Firefox extension that lets you search inside textareas - a godsend.

AceMoney Lite - Freeware Alternative To MS Money / Quicken

When I got a new laptop, I wanted some software to track my finances. I had MS Money on my desktop, but it was pre-installed so I didn't have the CDs. Fortunately there is an excellent freeware program called AceMoney Lite, and it has pretty much all the features I need, without the bugginess and hassles of MS Money and Quicken.

At first I didn't think I could live without MS Money's handy line graph showing how your balance goes up and down into the future. But AceMoney shows you the same thing, albeit in table form rather than graphically, and I see this will do just fine.

The free version of AceMoney only gives you one account, which is fine for me. I can download data from my bank (in Quicken format) and AceMoney picks it up. You can schedule your bills and set categories. Those are all the features I wanted. It's so simple, it just loads up quick and lets you do your business and get out.

Fabulous. And it's received great reviews around the web.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

TuxPaint -- too much fun

I don't care how old you are or how badly you draw -- TuxPaint is a heck of a lot of fun. OK so it's purported to be a paint program for kids. Just download it when no-one's watching. It's available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

One of the best parts about it is the zany sounds that accompany each action. They're hilarious. Be sure to download the optional Stamps. The stamps and the Magic (effects) are cool. I quite like the Grass tool.

Here's one of my creations that came out of nowhere after I'd noodled around with it for a few minutes. (Try the Smudge and Negative tools!).

Recent Freeware Discoveries: SciTE text editor, and MSN Desktop Search

I'm loving these two free programs: the SciTE text editor, and MSN Desktop Search.

What I like about SciTE: faster to load than jEdit, simpler (in the Zen sense) than xemacs, works on my computer unlike PSPedit, less clunky than ConText. I did have to do some special things to enable macros and autocomplete. And evidently it's extensible with an elegant language called Lua.

MSN Desktop Search -- I don't find myself highlighting Microsoft products often these days, but this one seems to be a winner -- funny that it hasn't gotten much press. Takes up very little memory (5 MB? For some reason Google Desktop Search was taking up 250 MB on my box). And it indexes my Outlook tasks and notes (unlike Yahoo Desktop Search -- though YDS has incremental searching in its main window which I will miss, and is based on proven technology (X1)).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Freeware alternatives to ActiveWords and SnagIt

ActiveWords and SnagIt are two very convenient, powerful utilities for Windows users. If you don't want to shell out the bucks for them, there are some good freeware alternatives -- they don't give you the full power of the originals, but they do a decent job.

ActiveWords = Run Dialog + AutoHotKey

ActiveWords ($50) is a fantastically convenient Windows program that lets you launch programs and documents by pressing a few letters (anywhere) then hitting F8. You can also insert frequently used text (like signatures) by pressing a few letters and hitting F8. Finally it contains a full-featured scripting language that lets you do things like script Outlook to send a message to Bob with "bob<F8>".

I was seriously considering buying ActiveWords, but it unfortunately seems to conflict with some programs I have installed, causing them to freeze (until I closed AW) -- in particular, Yahoo Desktop Search and Outlook's Getting Things Done Add-In. Anyway, I found I could get much of the same functionality using Lifehacker's Run Dialog technique and AutoHotKey.

So I can now easily launch frequently used applications and documents by pressing Win+R to open the Run Dialog and typing in "ff" for Firefox, "add" for the Add/Remove Control Panel, "doc" for OpenOffice, etc. These are shortcuts in my C:\Run directory. Actually I even have a "run" shortcut to open the C:\Run directory itself, to easily add more shortcuts.

AutoHotKey lets me insert frequently used text snippets in any application by typing a few letters then pressing tab. I've set it up so pers[tab] inserts my personal signature, nng[tab] inserts my work signature, date[tab] inserts the current date, web[tab] inserts my website, etc.

So these two techniques will get you two key pieces of ActiveWords functionality. And AutoHotKey has a comprehensive scripting language, though I haven't played with it much other than inserting timestamps.

SnagIt = MWSnap + CamStudio

SnagIt ($40) is a very convenient tool for capturing screenshots of a portion of a window, extracting text from an error dialog, capturing video to an .avi file, and adding pretty arrows and annotations to screenshots, all in one unified package. You can get pretty close with a couple of freeware tools -- MWSnap and CamStudio.

Like SnagIt, MWSnap will let you drag a rectangle on any portion of your screen to capture it as a screenshot. You can also capture a portion of a window (it can snap to various window elements). It doesn't have SnagIt's nifty ability to extract text from error dialogs. It also doesn't let you add thought balloons and other annotations, but never fear -- you can get that from...

CamStudio. This gives you your video capture -- simply drag a rectangle on a screen and hit Record. It's so similar to SnagIt that I'm guessing it's an earlier version of the same thing. It also has something called Screen Annotations that lets you draw rectangles and balloons directly on the screen -- you can also use these with MWSnap to annotate your screenshots (solving the problem I mentioned above). Admittedly these shapes and annotations don't look nearly as pretty as SnagIt's, but they do the job.