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!