Monday, November 19, 2012

Pencil - an open-source cross-platform UI mockup tool

When starting a new project, a mockup is indispensable. People often use paper and/or MS Paint on one side and Photoshop/Illustrator on the other. None of these tools are specifically designed for creating UI mockups, and therefore impede efficiency.

Enter Pencil - an open source tool designed for the sole purpose of creating markups. It's straightforward and does what it's designed to do well and the files created can be shared across multiple platforms. This is especially useful when you have team members avowed to different platforms.

It's quite powerful, but remains straightforward and easy to use. It has a huge number of controls/widgets and styles, for many different platforms. You can even create your own stencils. It lets you export to a variety of formats including png, svg and pdf. You can even do flowcharts.

Grab it here:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Aero not working on Windows 7

Aero was a nice visual addition in Vista which also exists in Windows 7. It's not just eye candy, the Alt-Tab preview and the aero peek on the task bar are incredibly useful. A common recurring problem is when it stops working for no apparent reason. Microsoft even has a little automated utility to try to help you fix it.

When this happened to me, I spent a little time searching, and found the above utility. It did nothing and claimed that my video card (a Radeon 7970), which used to display Aero perfectly, isn't capable of supporting Aero.

Here's what I tried:
  • Many reboots: didn't help
  • Updated the graphics drivers: didn't help. The repair utility still claimed that my graphics card doesn't support Aero
  • Installed all updated, which I was behind on: This didn't help either
  • Tried killing all running process that I could. No go.
  • Uninstalled a few applications I had installed in the past 2 days, still no go
Finally I remembered installing the IE 10 preview, in the past 2 days, but it does not show in the add remove programs - it shows under installed updates. I uninstalled IE 10, but it still didn't work. So, I started looking at other updates. I hadn't installed any updates the day I installed IE 10, but I found 3. Installed each one and rebooted each time. The first 2 did nothing, but finally after the last uninstall and reboot, Aero started working again.

I should have made note of the KB update number(s), but at this point I was pretty frustrated, thinking I'd have to restore a drive image. If any one knows the KB numbers of the updates installed with the IE 10 preview, please let me know.

Summary: IE 10 preview and associated updates can cause Aero to stop working.

Edit 2012-11-19: Thanks, Dean for the KB update number: KB2670838.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

AutoTextSender: a utility to auto type text for screencasts

I need to make a screencast and the screencast requires some typing. Typing on a screencast is usually slower than your viewers will appreciate and is prone to errors and retyping. One way of fixing this problem is to edit the video and speed up the typing and delete the errors. This to me is wasted effort. Another way is to paste the text, but this doesn't work very well if you have many fields to fill.

So, here's my solution to the problem: AutoTextSender is a little utility that reads a text file and types out the phrases one by one, as you press F1 (which is configurable).

Here's how you use it: Create a text file called '' containing the text you want to send. Separate each phrase with '~' . Press F1 to send each phrase. Press Esc to quit. You can change the hotkeys, data file name, separator character and delay between each key press using the following Command Line Parameters:

/noToolTips or /nt: don't show tooltips
/sep=<character> a character to separate phrases. default: ~
/delay=<ms> delay between keys in milliseconds. default: 10
/send=<hotkey> hotkey to send phrases. default: F1
/quit=<hotkey> hotkey to quit. default: ESC
/pause=<hotkey> hotkey to pause. default: PAUSE
/data=<data file> phrase data file. default:

AutoTextSender is free software, and comes with no warranty or spyware.

Download AutoTextSender

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fingerprint Reader on Lenovo x200/x200s in Windows 8

I'd tried the developer preview on a Windows Tablet PC, but that was a nightmare. This time I installed it on a Lenovo X200S, primarily to make use of the performance boost on this lightweight (<2.7lbs) but underpowered machine. It looks good so far. Performance does seems snappier than Windows 7.

But, the first thing I missed was that the built-in Fingerprint reader was not automatically supported, even though some others reported that it worked on their x200. Perhaps there is some difference between the x200 and x200s fingerprint readers. I dutifully installed the x200/x200s from Lenovo's website, it complained that it wasn't supported. I forced it to install under compatibility mode, but still no go even after several reboots.

Although this post is meant to be a review of Windows 8 or Bing, I have to mention this. I tried searching on Bing for "Windows 8 x200 Fingerprint" (without quotes). I did not get anything useful and most results were old from 2008 and 2009. Google did lead me to Lenovo's fingerprint software page, which did not mention support for the x200/x200s. I downloaded and installed anyway and it installed without complaints. I went in to Control Panel -> User Accounts -> Manage your Fingerprint data and I was greeted with the Lenovo Fingerprint enrollment screen. And it works!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yet another Clipboard Manager - ShapeShifter

Here's another clipboard manager - ShapeShifter. This one has an even more different approach. It tries to be unobtrusive and not change your work flow by not not adding any new shortcut keys. To view your clip menu you hold Ctrl-V and then select the item by using the arrow keys. It gives you a nice preview of the items including images, files and text. This is a nice idea, but I find the 3 key combination a little hard to accomplish. I wish it included an option for a second shortcut to view the clip menu and numeric/function keys to select an item. Alternatively, it uses the Windows 7/8 taskbar to preview your clips as well.

Another minor drawback I found is the memory usage, even though it has an active memory management technique to reduce memory usage - I found it used up 48MB of RAM on startup. However, when I disabled and renabled the memory management it went down to 10MB and back up to 13MB, but stayed at 13MB.

Despite the minor issues - which the developer should be able to fix easily enough, it's a great utility and worth trying out especially if you aren't already invested in other clipboard managers.

Download it here:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A really nice Clipboard Manager - Clipmon

Clipboard Managers are a dime a dozen. There are a few that stand out. Here's one called ClipMon.

It has a slightly different take on the concept. It lets you search, view and even edit clips.
 ClipMon. It lets you select a clip using a number key, once you launch the clip menu using a shortcut you define.

Download it here:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A tiny but very powerful image viewer

IrfanView is my image viewer of choice, but MycView has me very interested. It's so tiny - 37kB! But, it still manages to pack many useful features including command-line and keyboard shortcuts. Here's the complete list:

- Reading image format JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, DIB, RLE, PNM, EMF, WMF, ICO, CUR.
- Reading lists LST files, SLD (XnView).
- Automatic closing at the end of the slideshow with the parameter "/c".
- Display in a window or full screen with the key "Enter".
- Opening a new file with the keystrokes "Ctrl-O".
- Opening a new directory with the keystrokes "Ctrl-D".
- Number of loops defined with the parameter "/l".
- Number of seconds per image defined with the parameter "/s".
- Open the context menu with the Right-clic or "M".
- Change the background color with the option "/b".
- Automatic rotation with the exif information.
- Browse images with thumbnails.
- Zoom and scrolling the image.
- Interface and help in English, French, German.

Grab MycView here

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Add tabs to Word, Excel and Powerpoint 2007/2010

One of the silliest decisions Microsoft made with Office is butchering the Multi-Document interface (MDI) accessible by tabs with a hybrid interface, which is counter-intuitive and confusing. Almost, every program that supports multiple documents supports. Here's a solution that fixes this problem, aptly called Office Tabs.

Monday, August 6, 2012

error: cannot spawn "C:\Program Files\TortoiseGit\bin\TortoisePlink.exe": No such file or directory fatal: unable to fork

I've gotten this error several times when trying to use git over ssh:

E:\web2py\applications\k32>git clone ssh://
Cloning into 'k32'...
error: cannot spawn "C:\Program Files\TortoiseGit\bin\TortoisePlink.exe": No such file or directory
fatal: unable to fork

Surprisingly, google couldn't help me. But, it turned out to be a very simple fix.

The problem was the space in the GIT_SSH environment variable pointing to TortoisePlink.exe. I copied the "C:\Program Files\TortoiseGit\bin\" directory to "C:\TortoiseGit\bin\" and set GIT_SSH to "C:\TortoiseGit\bin\". I actually created a symbolic link, instead of actually copying it. I didn't want to risk breaking TortoiseGit, so I didn't actually move the directory. Of course, the right answer would be uninstall TortoiseGit and reinstall it in the above folder without a space in the path, but I really wasn't in the mood for yet another can of worms today.

Update Oct 15 2015:
This happened to me again on a new machine.

error: cannot spawn C:\Program Files (x86)\PuTTY\plink.exe;

Git_SSH was already set to the right path. Changing it to use %ProgramFiles(x86)% instead of the full spelled out path didn't help. After making a symbolic link to Putty on the root folder and pointing Git_SSH there, it started working.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New breed of malware - undetectable and unremovable

This is really scary - malware that can write itself on to the BIOS and firmware of different peripherals simultaneously on your computer - booting up before the operating system or anti-virus. Right now, Rakhasa is just a proof of concept at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.

It might not be all that simple to actually create a very contagious piece of malware though, considering the sheer number of devices on the market. This type of software has to be very low level and has to be able to talk to work independent of the operating system - not an easy task for any given device. It's much harder to make it work on multiple devices. Just ask any Android developer or even web developer - writing code to work on every device and every browser can be exasperating. Writing device drivers or firmware is not for script kiddies. Nothing against Apple, but it does lend itself to this sort of malware than Windows machines, by minimizing device fragmentation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Save/Export Opera Extensions

If you want to save your Opera Extensions, in case you prefer the older versions - the extensions are located in this folder: C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Opera\Opera\widgets. Just replace USERNAME with your windows username.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A simple form filler/importer for Tax time

If you have some data in a spreadsheet that needs to be entered in to a tax form or software and the software doesn't provide a method to import the data, you can use this simple AutoHotKey script:

Loop, read, c:\expenses.csv
    LineNumber = %A_Index%
    Loop, parse, A_LoopReadLine, CSV
    SendInput, %A_LoopField%
    Sleep, 250
    Sleep, 250
  1. Download and install AutoHotKey if you don't already have it
  2. Copy and save the above script as a text file using Notepad or any other text editor - call it "fill.ahk"
  3. Make a copy of your spreadsheet and remove all the columns that don't need to be entered
  4. Remove blank rows and any unneeded rows as well
  5. In the script, change the file path "c:\expenses.csv" in line 2, to a different path if necessary
  6. Once, the file is ready and in place, double-click the "fill.ahk" file - it shouldn't do anything yet, but you should see a green "H" tray icon
  7. Switch to your program and page that needs the data entered - I've used for the miscellaneous business expenses entry in TurboTax, but it should work with any program that allows to you move from one field to the next using the "Tab" key
  8. Press Ctrl and F12 simultaneously - You can change the hotkey in the first line of the script if you like. It should start filling your form
  9. If you see any erratic behaviour - your program cannot keep up with the speed of data entry, increase the sleep day from 250 to 500 or higher and restart "fill.ahk"