Tag Archives: review

Using AutoHotKey macros to make typing – and life – easier

What things do you regularly type, over and over again? I’ll bet you’ve answered your name, email address, or your username(s) on sites you use regularly. Maybe also your postal address, phone number, or your job title and organisation.

For years, I’ve used a handy free windows app called AllChars, to type these things — and more — for me. For instance, I’d type /am, and it would magically change that to Andy Mabbett

12 Màquina d'escriure Underwood

You can’t use macros to paste text on one of these

I’d often use it, to type very long and complex template markup in Wikipedia:

<ref name="">{{Cite episode |title= |series= |serieslink= |url= |accessdate= 2014- |network= |station= |date= |season= |seriesno= |number= |transcript= |transcripturl= }}</ref>

which I could then populate with the relevant values.

Unfortunately, AllChars is extremely buggy under Windows 7 and subsequent operating systems; so much so that I found it unusable on both my parents’ laptop, and the shiny new machine I use in my recently-begun role as Wikimedian in Residence at the The Royal Society of Chemistry. (The Society has a very reasonable policy when it comes to allowing technically-literate staff to install software, licences permitting. Others take note!)

I’ve been looking for a replacement, and am absolutely delighted to have found AutoHotKey, which is easily configured to paste macros just like AllChars, and has many more features besides. Better still, it’s not merely free, it’s open source.

Here’s what I learned, in setting it up:

AutoHotKey uses scripts, one of which is loaded by default, and others can be loaded as required (say, just for writing about the taxonomic names of plants).

To make it type my name, I edited the script and added a line:

::am::Andy Mabbett

which is the most basic configuration. The two sets of colons are delimiters, and am is the string to be replaced. The replacement doesn’t occur until the user types a space, tab or return. I prefer to override that, making use of another feature, which is to add an asterisk after the first colon:

:*:am::Andy Mabbett

so that the string is typed without the space, tab or return — again mimicking AllChars’ behaviour.

Using that macro, however, interferes with typing words like “amicable”. Because all my AllChars macros began with \, and I have invested a lot of muscle-memory in them, I’m keeping that:

:*:\am::Andy Mabbett

so now I have a macro which works just like one in AllChars, and lets me type “amicable” without it triggering.

Another thing I learned is that some characters need to be escaped, using curly brackets (or “braces”). For example a hash:


which types #fb

and even curly brackets themselves:

:*:\ac::{{}{{}Authority control{}}{}}

which types {{Authority control}}.

Line breaks are made using:


I found these things by using the official AutoHotKey forum, where the users seem knowledgeable and helpful — my first query was answered promptly and effectively.

Once I’d worked all that out, it only took a few seconds find-and-replacing, and I had converted over 220 (yes, I was surprised, when I counted them!) macros from AllChars to AutoHotKey.

However, AutoHotKey isn’t only for pasting texts. It can be configured to carry out more complex tasks, such as opening and closing applications or windows, copying text from one and pasting it to another, and so on. I’m looking forward to learning more abut how to do that, and investigating the pre-written scripts provided by members of the AutoHotKey community.

What would my grandfathers have said?

Back in 1996, or thereabouts, I gave a presentation to a meeting of my then colleagues and senior managers, and said something to the effect that the web, and the technologies that were emerging alongside it, would “change the way we work, as surely as the coming of electricity changed the way our grandfathers worked”. They looked at me as though I was raving mad, and there was even a murmur of embarrassed laughter. [To be fair, one of the few present who seemed to accept what I said was Michael — later Sir Michael — Lyons, whom I had earlier shown his first ever view of a web site. Now, as chairman of the BBC Trust, he’s responsible for overseeing bbc.co.uk!]

Last week, I wrote a review of a concert by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall (please feel free to comment on my review, below). During the interval, still sat in my seat (booked, of course, by e-mail), I wirelessly bluetooth connected a pocket-sized, folding keyboard (an iGo device, purchased on-line) to my Nokia N95 mobile computer (it’s really not fair to refer to the latter as a mere “phone”) and jotted down my thoughts on the first half. After the concert, I sat in the ICC’s adjacent cafe and, using the same kit, fact-checked some spellings and dates on the web, then completed the draft of my review, which I then sent by e-mail to my home PC. To be more precise, I hit “send” and dropped the N95 into my back pocket. The e-mail was actually sent from there, as I walked to my car.

When I got home, I tidied my prose, then e-mailed the review to the publishing site’s editor, who, after his usual procrastination, uploaded it to his web server. Can you imagine me writing a review that way, in 1995? I think I had the last laugh, after all. My grandfathers, George Mabbett and Harry Brazier, would have been astonished. And, I hope, proud.

Daughters of Albion review

Here’s my review of the Daughters of Albion at Birmingham Town Hall.

You can see more of my reviews, on the same site, ‘Birmingham Alive!’.

Update: Link expired; sorry. Here’s the original text:

Town Hall

I was really looking forward to this concert — and I was really disappointed by it.

It seemed shambolic and amateurish and the over-long changes between each song meant that it lost what little atmosphere it had had.

June Tabor, a singer for whom adequate superlatives simply do not exist, was sorely under-used — but not as much so as Martin Carthy, who spent most of the evening as the best-seated spectator in the venue. Presumably, he was only there because his wife Norma Waterson was in the line-up. Apart from the opening number, Tabor took part in none of the evening’s collaborations. Indeed, though she appeared on stage for the encore, she bizarrely refused to sing, standing mute and looking lost; something her fellow performers seemed to find amusing, unlike your reviewer, who frankly thought it insulting to the audience. Even so, her performances, with Huw Warren‘s piano accompaniment, were among the evening’s few highlights.

Also worthy of mention was the understated accompaniment from musical director Kate St John (late of the Dream Academy), especially her oboe playing, and her small band of backing musicians. For the most part, the contributions from Lou Rhodes and Lisa Knapp were insubstantial, lacklustre or — performing a much-anticipated cover of Kate Bush‘s This Woman’s Work — unbearably shrill. Kathryn Williams‘s rambling and apologetic introductions were, frankly, embarrassing. Bishi, a replacement for Sheila Chandra‘s role in the 2006 concerts under the same banner, was a poor substitute.

The impression given was that the whole under-rehearsed event was being treated as a bit of fun for the performers. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but surely not at the expense of the enjoyment of the audience.