Sunday
Aug222010

Help Grandma Toggle Hidden Files and Extensions

Recently, while helping some technophobic friends over the phone, I realized how useful a simple app to toggle whether to show hidden files and file extensions could be. To most of my friends, I’d just tell them to look under folder options, but if they can’t find that to begin with (and Vista/Win7 doesn’t make it easier by moving it to a different place than XP), then it’s much easier to just email them this app that will make the necessary changes for them by changing the registry settings directly.

In writing this app, I’ve tried to be as user-friendly as possible. On running, it will tell the user what their current settings are, and whether they want to change them. All the user needs to do is click Yes or No. This is also why I like this solution instead of using registry tweaks, because registry tweaks don’t tell you your settings.

Note: I know that registry tweaking is a little scary, but I promise that this app is so simple that it’s virtually impossible to run into problems. It’s not like a registry cleaner or tweaker where a user can accidentally mess up their registry and cause some serious problems. All it does is toggle 2 well documented functions.

Download

ToggleHiddenFilesandExtensions.exe (program)
ToggleHiddenFilesandExtensions.ahk (source code)

Saturday
Jul172010

Why I use (and love) AutoHotKey (AHK)

Growing up in Silicon Valley and with computer engineer parents, I've tried learning to program a bunch of times. I've tried to learn Javascript, Python, Ruby (a Perl derivative), and HTML, and every single time I've given up in frustration. I don't want to be an engineer, so spending weeks or even months learning the basics of a language before being able to do anything was definitely not appealing.

Then, one day, I stumble unto a problem and I try to use AHK to solve it, and *BAM*; I'm hooked. In only a few minutes, I was able to use it to create an actual program (not the typical "Hello World") and solve a longstanding problem (typing em dashes). Admittedly, AHK can be pretty complex, and certainly can't be mastered in an afternoon, but, and this is an important but, it lets you create useful little programs right from the start. Maybe the traditional languages like Python can do that, but certainly that isn't their focus. Their focus is on building big programs like BitTorrent, Miro, Battlefield 2, Civ 4, etc. That's great, but I'm not trying to create the next Windows or the next Halo.

In contrast, AHK's focus is on building tiny yet disproportionately useful little programs (should they even be called programs? applets may be a better name) with a focus on simplicity, functionality, practicality, and cleverness. And for most of us, this is exactly what we need.

Now, I'm not suggesting that future programmers (as in those who want to code for a living) start with AHK. IMHO they would be best served with Python or Ruby. However, for the amateur programmer, there is nothing better. Leave the big languages for those who want to solve big problems.

A note on AutoIt: AutoIt is AHK's primary competitor but I've never tried it myself. I chose to learn AHK because of its better managing of hotkeys and its greater simplicity. AHK and AutoIt have a bad history with each other and a lot of users from both camps are blindly partisan; I'm not. Only you can judge what's the best language for you. It's like arguing what the best spoken language is.

Friday
Jul162010

First Two Programs

To download the latest version of Spanish Accents CapsLock, please click here.

After copy-and-pasting special characters like á, é, í, and ó for my Spanish essays the last three years (and lamenting that I chose “Andrés” as my Spanish name), I finally decided to figure out a better way, and hence, my first two programs were born.

Using AutoHotKey, which I’d previously read about on Lifehacker, I wrote two quick programs: one to quickly and easily type accents for Spanish and another to type em-dashes.

Spanish_Accents_CapsLock

A simple hotkey program that provides a quick and intuitive way to type accented characters used in Spanish. Simply hold down your Caps Lock key and press “a” to type “á”. This works with all the special characters used when typing in Spanish. Note that this program disables the tilde/grave accent key (the one above “tab” and to the left of “1”). The latter is used instead of the Caps Lock key to indicate upper-case accented characters like Á. The Caps Lock still works (unfortunately). Should be compatible with all Windows systems.

Quick Reference Guide

You type…

Out comes…

CapsLock + a

á

CapsLock + e

é

CapsLock + i

í

CapsLock + o

ó

CapsLock + u

ú

CapsLock + n

ñ

CapsLock + w

ü

CapsLock + ? OR CapsLock + /

¿

CapsLock + ! OR CapsLock+1

¡

CapsLock + < OR CapsLock + ,

«

CapsLock + > OR CapsLock +.

»

` + a

Á

` + e

É

` + i

Í

` + o

Ó

` + u

Ú

` + n

Ñ

` + w

Ü

 

A note on intuitiveness

I tried to make the hotkeys easy to remember, with “á” being Cap Lock + a, “é” being CapsLock + e, and so on and so forth. However, I did choose to use CapsLock for the lowercase characters, and the tilde key for the uppercase characters, which seems a bit counterintuitive. The way I see it though, is that the lowercase characters are used much more frequently than their uppercase counterparts, and the CapsLock key is easier to hit while typing. If you disagree, let me know, and if I hear from enough people, I will reverse my decision.

Em_Dasher

A very simple program that makes it easy to type em-dashes (what are they used for?). Simply hold down the Caps Lock and press the “-” key (it’s near P and +). Should be compatible with all Windows systems.

Download

Em_Dash_Caps_Lock.exe (program)

Em_Dash_Caps_Lock.ahk (source code)

 

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