Text Expansion

Buying an iPhone 3 in 2009 turned into a more expensive exercise than I’d expected. From a modestly capable Microsoft Guru, I became an Apple ecosystem addict and mostly abandoned the Microsoft world in which I’d been immersed since before they even thought of Windows.

I only missed a couple of things in switching to the Mac: Windows, true to its name, allowed managing program windows more easily with keyboard shortcuts or by mouse clicks, but I really miss Windows’ excellent text expansion capability.

In Windows you have access to a tiny, free, and outstanding program called:

AutoHotKey

AutoHotKey is a “text expansion program”. If you spend time pounding a computer keyboard, it’s a blessing. Here’s how it works; in the program, I set up shortcuts.

For instance, if I type:

  • kkb, AutoHotKey writes “keyboard” in its place.
  • I have it replace hhome, with my street address, complete with new-line returns.
  • nnz becomes New Zealand.
  • eeml becomes my email address,
  • wwh becomes my tongue-twisting suburb, Whangaparaoa; and
  • ddmob is my wife’s phone number.
  • Remember your passport number? You don’t have to. Just type ppn.

Apple fail — almost

Apple also have a free text replacement facility. It’s built-in and available in System Preferences under Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement.

And it works.

Sort of.

For commendable security reasons, Apple don’t allow independent developers to delve as deeply into the nuts and bolts of the Operating System (oos) code as Microsoft (mms) do; as a result, keyboard shortcuts (kkbs) don’t work universally throughout the system.

Even the expensive subscription-based commercial text expansion programs for iOS and MacOS like Text Expander and aText don’t work everywhere within the OS, or in all programs.

Autohotkey rules

The free, Open Source Windows utility AutoHotKey—a scripting language for desktop automation—created by Chris Mallet and others wipes the board with Apple’s relatively anaemic equivalents.

So what about Apple?

Keyboard shortcuts have the useful advantage of working in both MacOS and in iOS. As long as you’re signed into a Mac, iPad, or iPhone with your Apple ID, the keyboard shortcuts are synchronised between all of your devices.

Happy Days.

Not.

Not only did keyboard shortcuts not work everywhere but, infuriatingly, the synchronising was so patchy and unreliable that in the end I just gave up on it in frustration.

Until now

Thank you Apple Updates, thank you.

There was no fanfare, maybe they didn’t want to admit how bad it had been, but I’ve noticed recently that, suddenly, Apple’s Text Shortcuts synchronise flawlessly across my devices. And they work more widely throughout the system.

It’s great. The facility doesn’t have the power of AutoHotkey, but for simple shortcuts which don’t need macros, and special key inputs using Ctrl, Cmd, Return, or Shift, it does a good job.

System File Checker

A Windows tool worth digging for

SFC is an invaluable tool in Windows. It checks that all Windows files are where they should be and that they’re uncorrupted, it then puts things right. If you’ve done all your virus checking, error checking and defragging, but Windows is still doing strange things, then SFC can be your saviour.

SFC in Windows XP

In XP it was thought by many to be extinct. Not so, for some inexplicable reason, Microsoft changed the default command:

  1. Click Start,
  2. Click Run,
  3. Type sfc /scannow,
  4. Then click OK and follow the instructions.

Starting with Vista they made it even more obtuse. You need to open a Command Window in Administrator mode:

SFC in Windows 7 and Vista

run-as-admin

  1. Click Start,
  2. Click All Programs, then Accessories,
  3. Right click on the Command Prompt option,
  4. On the drop down menu which appears, click on the “Run as Administrator” option.
  5. If you haven?t disabled User Account Control (and you shouldn’t!) you will be asked for authorisation. Click the Continue button if you are the administrator or insert the administrator password.
  6. In the Command Prompt window, type: sfc /scannow,
  7. press Enter.

You’ll see the system scan will begin. The scan may take some time and Windows will repair/replace any corrupt or missing files. You will be asked to insert your Vista DVD if it’s needed. Close the Command Prompt Window when the job is finished.

One caveat:

You may need a Windows CD or DVD to enable SFC to make repairs. Try not to get suckered into buying any Windows computer with just a Recovery or Restoration disc, if you can’t avoid it, copy, or borrow somebody else’s disc or download a Windows ISO file from the Internet and create your own disc. If System File Checker can’t fix it, the next step is a repair installation or if your system’s really messed up, a clean install from scratch. More on these coming soon.

The tiny tool of the year

If you’re even slightly addicted to news and information on the web you need Readability. It’s a javascript “bookmarklet” which takes a page like this:

New York Times web page

wordpress line break workaround

and with one click turns it into this supremely readable text:

wordpress line break workaround

Same page made readable

Pages on the New York Times’ outstanding website, like the one I’ve demonstrated above, are among the most user-friendly and least cluttered news pages so you don’t really need Readability, but you get the idea.

It takes about 10 seconds to set up Readability, it works on most pages containing articles and on any operating system. It’s compatible with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. All you need to do is select your text preferences on this page at arc90 Laboratory then drag the Readability link button from their page into your Favorites or Bookmarks, preferably onto the toolbar.

If you wish to return to the original cluttered version of the page, just refresh your browser page » Ctrl or Cmd+R in Firefox, F5 in Internet Explorer. Get Readability here See the 1-minute tutorial here: Shhh, I’m Trying To Read!