How many monkeysIn a recent Twitter exchange Helen Emerson, a web designer I admire a lot, celebrated the fact that Internet Explorer 9 is finally going to support rounded corners. My feeling on this to this is that’s nice, but it would have happened a lot sooner if we web designers hadn’t hidden IE’s deficits by finding ways to make it display rounded corners anyway.

This is a general problem, and it’s the reason why web standards generally are still such a mess. Most users aren’t aware of this because we hide it from them. Everything seems to work fine in all browsers – as far as users are concerned we are living in an era of universally compatible browsers. Actually, we’re still a long way away from that.

If you look at the code of almost any modern web page you’ll find it full of workarounds that are necessary to make things work properly in different browsers. This applies particularly for Internet Explorer, which may have got better on the surface but still requires countless special solutions to get it to behave. Much of the work on any modern website is devoted to getting it to work in IE as well as in normal browsers.

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If you use both Mac and Windows you may have wished you could use your Mac TextExpander snippet files on your Windows computers or virtual machines. TextExpander radically speeds up your work if you often need to use the same text blocks, and having the same texts with the same hotstrings available on Windows makes life a lot easier.

This post provides a free Perl converter script and instructions for converting your Mac TextExpander snippet files so that you can use them on a Windows machine with the free, open-source AutoHotKey program. In addition to this I will show you how to manage your snippet files for multiple machines in a free Dropbox account. Dropbox is a much better solution for synching your snippets than MobileMe and if you combine these two strategies you’ll never have to worry about synching your snippets again – both on multiple Macs and across Mac and Windows machines (including Windows virtual machines in Parallels or Fusion).

Version 1.2:

Cursor position: The 1.2 version now supports the caret/cursor position macro. This will work reliably provided your snippets don’t contain the clipboard pasting macro or date macros that use full month and weekday names or date numbers without leading zeros. All these things will throw the position count off (AHK doesn’t have a “put cursor here” macro).

Version 1.1:

The 1.1 version adds the following improvements:

Expand mode (immediately, at delimiter with keep/delete) is read from TextExpander and exported to the AHK script.

Abbreviation mode (case sensitive/ignore case) is read from TextExpander and exported to the AHK script. However, “Adapt snippet to case of abbreviation” does not work in AHK – at least, I haven’t been able to make it work.

The keep/abandon delimiter macros in individual snippets are now evaluated and work correctly in AHK.

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Makeup bags for adapters

January 26th, 2009

Brilliant little idea suggested by SeanFX, use makeup bags transparent on one side for adapters, small cables etc:

I’ve been playing around with Windows 7 for ever a week now and I have to say that this time Microsoft really got it right. It’s everything that Vista should have been and it’s probably the best operating system that Microsoft has ever produced. The only downside is Internet Explorer 8, which is worse than ever. Hopefully the errors are bugs, if not life is going to get a lot harder for web designers, yet again.

With Apple working so hard to piss off their users (matte screen on 17″ only and costs more, no more firewire on the Macbook, only one firewire port on the 15″, non-removable battery on the 17″) Windows 7 is a welcome breath of fresh air. If Apple don’t clean up their act I may be switching back to Windows machines again real soon.

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First few days with Office 2008

February 16th, 2008

I’ve now been using Office 2008 for about five days and I’m already ready to remove it from my Mac. It is painfully, embarrassingly, frustratingly bad. Either the Microsoft Mac team screwed up completely and lost all track of what they were trying to do or Microsoft is consciously trying to force users away from the Mac and back onto Windows. Possibly a little bit of both. This isn’t just my opinion — c’t, Germany’s most reputable professional computer publication, comes out very strongly and warns all users against installing Office 2008 in their new issue due to be published on Monday.

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I just got a nifty little gadget from Gear4 called the BluEye that adds Bluetooth, an FM radio and a wired remote to my iPod Touch and effectively transforms it into a phone with voice dialing. When calls come in anything playing on the Touch is automatically paused and you accept the call by pressing Play on the remote. If your phone supports voice dialing you can use that too, you just press the Bluetooth button on the remote once and speak the name to dial. This means that you can leave the phone in your pocket pretty much all the time and you don’t miss calls because you’re listening to your iPod. You also have the added advantage of the wired remote, so you can pause, skip tracks and adjust the volume without having to futz around with the touchscreen.

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You often hear about how tough it is to get good information from software support desks. What you don’t so often hear is how tough it is for software support staff to understand the mails that they get from some users. Many users write clear and comprehensible mails to support, but there are others.

In addition to my other work I often have to answer questions in technical support mails from users of a professional authoring system for technical writers. Before I started doing this I thought that it would be relatively easy after all, I thought, they’re writers, I’ll only be getting well-written, comprehensible questions. Don’t you believe it — the Dilbert cartoons on software documentation are not only close to the truth, they are actually the opposite of an exaggeration. When I read some of the questions these “help authors” and “technical writers” send in I often wonder how they manage to tie their shoelaces in the morning, let alone produce comprehensible documentation.

So let me give you a few little tips that may help you to be a little more successful when you write an email to a support desk:

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WordPress automatic updater

November 13th, 2007

One of the few really annoying things about WordPress has always been its stone age updating mechanism. Actually, it doesn’t really have an updating mechanism at all – you have to do everything by hand and so many WordPress bloggers never update.

No longer! If you don’t have it already go out and get the WordPress Automatic Updater. It’s brilliant, it works and it just takes a couple of minutes on any WordPress installation from 1.5 and higher. Highly recommended!

New multilayer HD video format

September 16th, 2007

Adding to the HD format wars confusion comes a new contestant, HD Versatile Multilayer Disc (HD VMD), from the upstart British tech company New Medium Enterprises. What sounds like a new layer of insanity in the video formats farce may actually turn the industry on its head.

HD VMD uses regular red laser technology and large numbers of multiple layers — with up to 30 layers on a single disc it can match or exceed the capacities of BluRay and HD DVD. It has several huge advantages:

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Magnatune’s music podcasts

September 15th, 2007

The Magnatune music podcasts on the iTunes store are a terrific deal. There are nearly fifty different podcasts for virtually all kinds of music genres and every podcast is an hour of great music at 128kbps, without advertising and completely free, and it looks like new podcasts are added at regular intervals. It’s a great way to get into some of the really good music that Magnatune distributes. Just search for “Magnatune” in the podcasts section of iTunes store.

In addition to distributing good music Magnatune also has a Creative Commons license — you’re allowed to use all their music without royalties in non-commercial podcasts and the rates are also very reasonable for commercial use, based on what you are turning over. They also do a fair 50/50 split with the artists and when you buy stuff you get to choose what you want to pay, you have the right to give away copies to three friends (no DRM) and can download all qualities all the way up to CD quality WAV files. Highly recommended, lots of good music!