Saving time with Text Replacement utilities

I write a lot. Blog posts, proposals, reports, reviews, email…you get the picture. Often times I end up creating new documents that share similar format or content, and I cut-and-paste from older docs into newer ones. But I’m lazy, and always looking for easier ways to get the job done…

I’m Lazy
Over the past year I’ve been slowly learning how to save time and keystrokes by using text expansion software. In the old days we called them Macro keys.

Basically, what you do is create a database of commonly typed words, phrases or layouts and assign unique key triggers to each snippet of text. For example, I usually sign my email thusly:


Brad Grier

———-
Brad Grier Consulting
Lifestyle Technology & Community Media

Lots of characters and formatting, no?  Here’s the cool thing, all I typed to get that email signature was ‘.mysig’ (minus the single quotes). The software did the rest.

Another example? Sure!
Ok, the bright ones amongst you will be emailing me to say that most common email programs have a place for a signature, and it’s automated whenever you compose a new email. True. Save you’re email. But this was just one example. Here’s another.

Let’s say you’re a web designer, and you use common CSS or HTML snippets. It’s a simple matter to add this code to the database, and call it with a few keystrokes. This Lorem Ipsum layout text block, for example:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc mattis arcu sed quam tincidunt et lobortis nunc volutpat. Phasellus lacinia nulla quis lectus molestie in commodo mauris blandit. Nullam in vestibulum velit. Donec libero est, volutpat non accumsan ac, rutrum vitae odio. Curabitur pretium mauris non nisi vestibulum tincidunt. Aenean tristique quam sapien, vel dapibus ligula. Maecenas commodo faucibus pulvinar. Donec eleifend ante eget purus luctus ultrices. Nulla quis sem magna, eget feugiat dui. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Etiam sodales enim in dui ultrices in dapibus ligula porta. Aenean adipiscing ipsum id massa luctus vel suscipit metus elementum. Morbi venenatis mauris eget metus tincidunt luctus eget quis elit. Cras eget ligula quis diam pharetra luctus vel ut tortor.

That was generated by me typing ‘.lorem’ and hitting the Tab key. Much easier than pasting it in from the .txt doc I keep in my design snippets directory.

As well, text replacement software can easily automagically enter other dynamic data such as the current date (.d) [ Thursday, October 28, 2010  ] or time (.t) [ 10:09 PM ] in a bunch of formats. You get the idea.

The Software
On windows, I’d recommend the free Texter program, created by LifeHacker editor Adam Pash. And lookie here, there’s a video:

For iPhone and iPad, I use TextExpander Touch. Same features, with a few extra bells and whistles such as application integration.

For OSX, I don’t have one. I don’t do any writing on our Mac, it’s my wife’s computer :smileyhappy: But TextExpander Touch has a counterpart (called TextExpander, of course) that runs on OSX and others consider it the ‘benchmark’ for Mac text expansion and scripting tools.

texter.jpgSaving time?
One other thing, Texter actually tracks the keystrokes you’ve saved, and provides this fun little report showing how much time you’ve saved using it, and provides a handy printable chart of all your replacement macros.

Hello coders and writers, do you use a text replacement application? If so, weigh in on your app-of-choice, or perhaps a favourite replacement macro you use often.



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Making music on the iPad

In the previous item I mentioned that I’d not yet tested out Seline HD, an iPad app. Well, I have now, and yes, it really is quite cool.

After fiddling about with the interface for a bit, I was able to pull this little bit together.

I must have been inspired by the few hours of The Pillars of the Earth we were watching — seems to have a medieval theme.

One neat thing I loved; you can record and overdub, so with a bit of patience, you are the orchestra!
bard1.egg by bgrier on Aviarybard1.egg by bgrier on Aviary

Additional note: I used the awesome free online clip / audio editor Myna (an Aviary tool) to trim the head and tail of the clip so there was no dead space. Cloud audio editing…how cool!
Check out this video / tutorial of Selene HD for a bit more detail.

Cute name. Cute scanner. Great value.

SnoopyFuzzy200.jpgI have two dogs, miniature Daschunds. They’re about 6 inches tall at the shoulder and about 14 inches longs. Weiner dogs. Doxies. I now have a scanner, and it’s a Doxie too! It’s about 2 inches tall, and about 10 inches long. Appropriately named. But the name doesn’t do justice to the scanner itself. The Doxie is one cool and powerful little scanner in a very tiny package. Because it’s got such a small form factor, the Doxie is highly portable — No external power supply. If you’re a road warrior you’ll appreciate that you’re only packing the scanner and the USB cable, and not another power brick.

doxie.jpg

As with many devices these days, the real sophistication is in the software running on the computer; from most casual user’s perspectives, there appears to be little difference in the hardware actually capturing the image. Rather, it’s the usability and functionality of the software that’s important. The folks at Apparent Corp. (the makers of the Doxie) have really worked hard to inject some ‘spirit’ into the Doxie scanning software.

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You’ll first encounter this spirit when you realize that there’s no driver disc or installation software in the box. Rather, you point your browser at http://www.getdoxie.com/start and download the appropriate installation software (Mac or Windows). Always the most recent version, rather than one that could have been burned to the CD and packed with the unit when it was manufactured a few months ago. A very smart move.

After running the install software and performing a simple calibration routine with the included calibration sheets, you’re ready to scan documents or images. The Doxie will scan in most popular resolutions and document sizes (up to 8.5” width).
But scanning is only part of the equation. It’s what you can do with it afterward that makes things really interesting.
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[Above — 8×10 scan of old inkjet photo in Doxie’s scan/format dialogue box]

With most traditional scanning solutions, you’re able to dump the scan into a file on your desktop or hard drive, or automagically import it into some image editing or OCR software.

Doxie lets you store your stuff in the cloud(s). Either the free Doxie Cloud services, or Flickr, Evernote, Google Docs, Picknik, Scribd…etc. You simply add the service to Doxie’s Cloud Preferences, and then with one click of the mouse you’re able to send your image directly to the service of your choice. A great time-saving feature.

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Now, if you’re scanning text, you may be scanning text you’d want to edit. Well, that gets a bit tougher. Doxie’s not optimized for that, but the applications it plugs in to may be. Google Docs, Evernote and Adobe Acrobat all have some semblance of OCR capability. Your mileage may vary. I scanned in this Fanspeak Glossary from an old fanzine I had kicking around from the late ‘70s. You’d be amazed at what a ‘blog’ was back then :smileyhappy:

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One other little issue cropped up from time to time — that of image alignment. Occasionally, when scanning a smaller business card or photo, the image imported would be slightly askew. Easy enough to fix, either by rescanning or rotating in an image editing program. Similar issues occur with many scanners with built in sheet feeders.

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And finally, kudos to the marketing team. Sure, the Doxie comes adorned with a uber-cute set of pink hearts, but that may not be to everyone’s taste. Recognizing that, they’ve also shipped a set of stylish adhesive skins that let you personalize your Doxie — I’m partial to the MacIntosh tartan.

So, to wrap this up, the Doxie is a small, portable, and highly efficient personal scanner. It works, and works well. If you have the need, take a Doxie for a walk :smileyhappy:



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


Office 2010 Reviews coming soon, I promise..

Today’s the day that Microsoft’s update to the venerable Office productivity suite is available world wide, for purchase — the beta has been available for over a year as an extensive public release / test.

But I’ve not used Microsoft Office on my home computers since early 2000, electing to go with Open Office and Google Docs for my home document creation software.

But, when I was offered an opportunity to take a look at the release version of the Home & Business suite (the mid-priced and featured package) I thought this might be an opportunity to see what’s changed since I stopped using the suite at home, and how this version might cause me to switch to Office for my daily,  albeit light, home-office tasks.

And that’s where we stand today. Office 2010 is now available at retail, and I’m still working through the applications, and not yet ready to write about my experience.

But I will say this, so far, I’m really enjoying the Office 2010 experience.  Details will follow.

The well-equipped traveller is the ‘Envy’ of others

Traveling with a laptop is always a bit of a challenge, especially if your flight exceeds 3 hours or so. That’s why I was rather interested when I was offered the chance to check out the 15 inch HP Envy — especially when I was allowed to take it on my recent vacation to Hawaii. …more



This post is an excerpt from one of my weekly posts on the Future Shop Techblog. Check out the full post here.


Grocery lists made easy — seriously.

Yes, look at that headline. Grocery lists. In a tech blog. What’s this world coming to.

But yet, if you bear with me for a moment, you’ll understand why this is cool.

You see, if you throw an iPhone or iPod Touch into the mix, you’ll realize that ‘ah, maybe that Brad fellow’s on to something’.

So here’s the deal, for me the iPhone and iPod touch has not excelled at managing and sharing simple lists, like a grocery list. Which store carries what, and oh, is that what it’s really called or did you mean this. Confusion, at least for me, until we picked up (and shared via Apple’s iTunes Home Sharing system) GroceryIQ.

Quite simply, GroceryIQ is a list manager with a few cool bells and whistles:

  • Auto-suggest: Start typing and Grocery iQ will suggest grocery items you can quickly select.
  • Barcode scanning: Take a picture of a barcode with your iPhone camera to add an item to your list.
  • Favorites and History: Add frequently- or previously-purchased items to your list with just a few taps.

Behind the scenes, GroceryIQ relies on a local (to the device) product database as well as updates which are hosted on the mothership – coupons.com.

When you’re building a list, the app often calls home and tries to match the text you’re entering with items it knows about. This is good, because I didn’t know there where quite that many variants on Condensed Milk.

1+1=5
Another cool feature, and this is where it’s neat to have the app running on two devices in the same household. In this case it really does improve the usability of the app when you share it. List sharing – from the FAQ:

You can share your list with multiple people by sending an invitation to sync with them. If anyone with access to the list makes a change to it, everyone’s list will reflect that change. List sharing can be turned off at any time and will not delete or affect existing lists. You can also invite more people to share a list at any time.

So by keeping your lists sync’d up, anyone at the grocery store can easily see what’s missing in the fridge.

And, since the GroceryIQ also allows you to tag items as Favourites, it’s easy to build the list every week with commonly purchased goods.

I know in our household, since we’ve started sharing the list, I’ve had a better success rate at the grocer by having a list that is actually current 🙂

Oh, and this lively little app is only .99 at the iTunes App store.

My wife stole an amazing iPod Touch case from me

Yep, the other day I got this cool iPod Touch case — cool because it’s one of the Proporta Alu-Leather line of cases that I first looked at when I needed a new case for my Palm T|X. That case, a little worn, is still rockin’ though.

It’s about the case
This nifty little holder is quite sleek, boasting a nice design, with one challenge we’ll get to in a minute. For starters, it’s hand made and, it’s leather. It seems a rather nice grade of leather at that. Immediately obvious is the heavy-duty stitching that holds this unit together.

P1040955.JPGThis case flips open, similar to an original-series Star Trek communicator. The iPod Touch slips into a holder with windows for all the ports and buttons.

The case, when closed, is kept closed by magnets in the cover and in the holder.

Aluminum! Say it loud and proud!
Once upon a time, one of the big-brained boffins at Proporta came up with their trademark ‘Screensaver’ concept. No, this is not something to keep your display from wearing out or burning in, rather, it’s a concept that saves your screen from punctures, cracks and other breakage that could occur in daily use.

P1040956.JPGThe Screensaver, in this case, is a thin, sturdy sheet of aircraft grade aluminum, stitched into the cover flap of the case. When the case closes, the aluminum flap completely covers the touch screen — a rather neat feature if I do say — one Proporta has been incorporating in the Alu-Leather line since 2003.

One niggly little detail
Earlier I mentioned that there was one issue with the case, and it has to do with the way the case edges encroach on the touch screen surface of the iPod Touch.

Designers of some iPhone and iPod Touch apps, try to maximize the screen real estate by extending menus into corners and along the edges of the display area. Unfortunately the edge of the iPod Touch holder portion of the case comes right up to the edge of the active touch screen surface.

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This can make pressing small icons or on-screen buttons a bit of a challenge as your finger rubs up against the edge of the case as you try and tap the screen. It can be especially frustrating when using the on-screen keyboard and trying to tap the left or right edge keys — they’re just so tiny that I often found I was mistyping. People with smaller fingertips may have better luck than I on this.

Case closed
As I mentioned before, I’ve used a Proporta Alu-Leather case on my Palm T|X for many years, and have been very very pleased with it…which is I was pleased to receive this case, and why I was rather upset when my wife nabbed it for her iPod Touch. I’m sure she’ll get good use out of it, but now I have to go looking for one. And Teal wasn’t exactly my colour either, yeah, that’s it.