Tag Archives: software

User Dictionaries – a Fundamental Design Flaw

I have just had to add several words to the user dictionary for the spell-checker in Notepad++, that I have already added to my user dictionary in LibreOffice, and to my user dictionary in (all under Windows 10 – does this happen with user dictionaries under Unix & Mac operating systems?).

Notepad++ spell-checker, not recognising the word 'Mabbett'

Under , a user should not have to accept a word’s spelling more than once.

User dictionaries should not be in a “walled garden” within an application. They should exist at operating-system level, or more specifically, at user-account level.

Or, until Microsoft (and other operating system vendors) implement this, applications — at least, open source applications like those listed above — should make their user dictionaries accessible to each other.

Some issues to consider: users with dictionaries in more than one language; security.

Prior art: I raised a Notepad++ ticket about this. It was (not unreasonably) closed, with a pointer to this DSpellCheck ticket on the same subject.

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.

Using IrfanView for image slideshows

The other evening, I went to see my friend Peter Shirley talk to the Sandwell Valley Naturalists Club about the wildlife he saw in Canada. Pete is @PeteWestBrom on Twitter and you should follow him, and read his , if you’re interested in nature, wildlife conservation, or green issues.

He mentioned to me that he was looking for some software to display images in a slideshow, but sorted into his preferred order, rather than by datestamp or file name. He wanted something less cumbersome than PowerPoint or its free equivalent in LibreOffice, Impress. I said I knew of something that would do the job, and would send him details. But on the principle of responding to technical questions openly, in public, in order to more widely share and disseminate knowledge, I’m posting the answer here, and I’ll send him a link to this post.

For some time, I’ve used the excellent programme, an image viewer which also serves as a lightweight, but nonetheless powerful, image editor. It’s not Photoshop (nor the free equivalent, GIMP), but it’s great for cropping, rotating, changing contrast or brightness, and other similar tasks, which it can also do on a batch basis. It’s free for non-commercial use, for Windows. Its author, Irfan Skiljan, is also very responsive to user requests, and the programme has several features which he’s kindly added at my request.

And it has a slideshow feature.

IrfanView slideshows can be used for talks and presentations like Pete’s, or be left unattended, as a “carousel” or “kiosk” style display. To make one, first, download and install IrfanView, and any of its various plug-ins you might use (I simply download and install the full set of plugins, in one file).

Next, to set up a slideshow, use the IrfanView File menu and select Slideshow. You’ll see a dialogue like this (taken from the current version at the time of writing, v4.36):

IrfanView Slideshow dialogue

Use the top-right quarter to navigate to the images you wish to use. You can select them in batches and use the add button or double click on them to add them to the list, which will appear in the bottom-right corner, one at a time. Once you have your list of files, you can use move up, move down or sort, to carry out those actions, and you can remove files that are no longer needed.

You can also include mp3 files, to have music, or other audio, played along with your images. That could even be a narration.

In the top left section, chose whether to have automatic transitions, based on a timer, or a keyboard/ mouse action, or random transitions. Below that, select your other options (I won’t list them here, but you can play around with them, to suit your needs — they should be reasonably self-explanatory).

Use the “play” option to run through the presentation and make sure you’re happy with it. You can reorder, add or remove images at any time.

When you’re happy with the slideshow, you can save the running order to a text file (and later reopen it), though that assumes that the images remain on your machine, in the original folder(s). Alternatively, you can burn the whole show to a DVD, or create an executable file including the images and running order.

And that’s it. What’s not to like?