Tag Archives: feature

Death to Caps Lock: An AutoHotKey Story

This entire post pertains to using Windows. I have zero clue about Macs or any other operating systems. Sorry!

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THE CAPS LOCK KEY IS THE BANE OF INTERNET CIVILITY. Long has it been the weapon of choice for trolls, jerks, and other Internet low-lifes. I had a dream once that its purpose would be re-tooled, christened by a new found use that would redeem it forever. This is the story of achieving that dream.

I’ve never found any use for Caps Lock. In fact, it has long been more of a curse than a blessing. I suppose some more-than-deviants might find value in its existence. But I am not one of them.

More often than not, I’d accidentally press it. As a result, the next message I’d type would necessarily need correction. Either the direct sort where I just start over or the lazy sort where I apologize to whomever I sent it to for my yelling.

Then it dawned on me one fateful afternoon: I don’t have to continue living this way. In fact, I bet I can find a way to make Caps Lock my friend, not my enemy.

I wanted to repurpose my Caps Lock key to do something I did more and more often while sitting at a computer: search. This was before Chromebooks had been created (their keyboards replace Caps Lock with a search key), so Google probably owes me money. Just kidding Google, don’t cut off my Internet traffic!

When I am sitting at a computer, I am almost always using a browser (Chrome, because HAIL GOOGLE). If I want to look for a YouTube video, I go to YouTube and type in what I want. If I want to use Wikipedia, I go to Wikipedia and type in what I want. It’s all a bit tedious and, frankly, unnecessary.

I’ll save the parts about search functionality for another post, but I did manage to remake my Caps Lock key into almost exactly what I wanted. The process is so simple that I fully believe you could make it into most anything. How about a Reverse-Tab key for better tab-targeting controls in World of Warcraft? How about a ‘LOL’ key for quickly responding to those “funny” videos your mom/aunt/cousin keep linking you? AutoHotKey makes the possibilities endless!

While AutoHotKey is a lot more powerful than the relatively simple reason I use it, my only real need for it is to remap my Caps Lock key. Now, there are ways to do that without the need of an external program, but I like pretending I’ll one day master other aspects of the program. Your mileage may vary.

AutoHotKey is 100% free and open-source.  You download it here.  After you install it, find it in the bottom right corner of your screen with all the other icons and right click. Choose ‘Edit Script’.

Everything AutoHotKey does runs from this single script. You want to change ‘x’ key to do ‘y’, then this is where you put it. Once you are done writing your script, then save it. Find AutoHotKey again, right click just as you did before, and select ‘Reload Script’.

Now, writing the script is the ‘hard’ part though it is relatively simple. For a list of Hotkey references, check here. For a list of how to reference each individual key, check here. For a list of how to reference specific commands, check here.

A basic key modification will look like this: x::y. ‘x’ will be the key you want to modify, in our case, Caps Lock. ‘y’ will be what you want it to do.

Let’s begin with make a LOL key:

According to the key reference list, Caps Lock is Capslock, so in the formula x::y we replace the x with ‘Capslock’ if we want to modify our Capslock key.

Capslock::y

According to the command reference list, to send input to our current window i.e. type ‘LOL in the message box, we use ‘Send’ followed by the keys we want sent. We put this in the y spot of our formula.

Capslock::Send LOL

Save, click reload script, and BOOM: your Caps Lock key now types ‘LOL’ for you. Quickly dismissing links to videos you don’t feel like watching or awkward comments from boys whose hearts you aren’t ready to break will never be easier.

You can also use it to Run programs:

Capslock::Run Chrome

Launch specific folders:

Capslock::Run D:\Dropbox\Screenshots

There are so many possibilities, ones that go far beyond replacing only your Caps Lock key. I also got rid of Scroll Lock. AutoHotKey is the perfect DIY app to play around with on a relaxing Sunday. I cannot recommend it enough!

If you are still having trouble, here’s a more in depth guide. Also, feel free to ask for assistance in the comments. I am no expert, but my Caps Lock search key makes me one heck of a quick researcher.

 

Solving the USB Headphone Problem

I am no audiophile. When it comes to sound technology, the basics will do. I do spend a lot of time talking on the Internet, however, so a headset is a must own. The problem is that my headset is USB. If I want to use it, then I have to waste time plugging it, unplugging it, or fiddling around with sound settings.

Maybe you are thinking that this may be the ultimate first world problem. “God forbid you have to unplug a cord,” you think to yourself. My philosophy when it comes to technology is that convenience matters a lot. Some things should just work in a straight-forward, easy to understand matter. That’s why when I found SoundSwitch, I felt my life had changed.

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SoundSwitch is a simple application for Windows. It’s sole purpose is to set up a hotkey which allows you to switch audio sources on the fly. In other words, I press a button, and my audio switches from my speakers to my USB headphones. No plugging, unplugging, or sound setting wrestling need – just pure convenience.

I also should mention that I use it for a Wireless speaker I keep on hand as well. I prefer a speaker for listening to things in bed so I don’t have little hunks of plastic lodged in my ear when I eventually fall asleep. Oh and once I had a cat who ate earbuds, especially while he was already laying on my stomach in the dead of night while I was sleeping.

Screenshot 2014-03-01 12.45.43

I hit the ‘Pause’ button on my keyboard (frankly, it needed a use) and my audio output alternates between its three choices. Simply, quickly, universally. SoundSwitch also has an option to launch when your computer starts, making it even more convenient.

I know this isn’t much of a post and it is a highly specific use, but it is the small stuff like this that get me excited to look for new hacks, tips, and apps. Sure, it isn’t difficult to unplug a USB cord, but it is added frustration that I don’t need.

Even first world problems need fixing sometimes.

You can find SoundSwitch here. It is open source and I encountered no annoying ads or special offer options.

Google Music All-Access is Essential to My Entertainment Diet

Ever since its launch, I have been a Google Music fan. Though I rarely, if ever, buy music, I valued the service’s feature of uploading your own music to the cloud. Like many of us, I had a MP3 collection several years in the making. Utilizing Google Music and Google’s free 20,000 song uploads, I was able to take that entire collection online, easily accessed from any computer or phone.

I remember the days of limited storage space on my hardware. MP3 Players enjoyed a pretty quick rise toward having a usable amount of space, but it took a long while for hardware to meet the vastness of what I had assembled. I had to do a constant shuffle of working out songs I rarely listened to, working in songs I often listened to, and keep the whole supply updated with fresh material. Perhaps the ultimate in first world problems, but in the land of technological convenience, balancing plates on sticks like I had to do with my music was a recipe for lots of frustration.

Google Music changed all of that, for me. No longer was my music collection bound by the hardware in which I listened to it on. Some of you may have been able to hit 20,000 songs, but for me, that was an easy limit to stay below once I trimmed some excess fat. With all my music online, I stopped worrying about the tracks I had downloaded onto my phone (since my MP3 player had since been retired in the wake of owning a smartphone). As long as I had internet access, I was golden.

Google Music is still a perfect go-to option for that sort of use, but the service has since expanded to an all access subscription service. Given that I was pirating music as early as 12 (where I was one of the few kids at my school to have a CD Burner, so I became popular quick), it was a bit of a tough sell to get me to try a $7.99 a month music service ($9.99 for those who aren’t early adopters). It’s not that I mind paying for music – I have purchased tons of CDs in my lifetime. The problem rests with convenience.

For the longest time, downloading music was infinitely more convenient than purchasing it otherwise. Instead of going to the one music store in my area (unless I wanted to patron Walmart with their “will edit it for you and not tell you” policy), risking the very good chance they weren’t going to have anything for the band I wanted, and paying $12+ for a CD with only a couple good tracks, I could get exactly what I wanted at home. I was going to rip the CDs I bought anyway, so there would also be no need for that process either. Plus, no leftover piece of physical junk I am forced to keep.

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I recognize there is a lot of entitlement and selfishness in getting a product for free. However, the path of least resistance is always far more appealing than a path beset by pitfalls, traps, and frustration. As music became more and more available for download, I started doing that as much as I could, though I hated doing it. At the time, that meant buying the track from iTunes, which meant dealing with their DRM garbage. If Apple had ever taken the time to make an iTunes for Windows that didn’t move slower than a dead turtle, I might have been excited to continue using their services. They didn’t so I stopped.

I did spend some time paying for Pandora. That was more a luxury than a necessity since I had already spent years dealing with ads and limited skips, but I absolutely loved Pandora’s ability to help me discover new artists to love. I had used the original version of MP3.com for years just for the purpose of music discovery, but it was definitely a needle-in-the-haystack affair.

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When Google Music All Access debuted last year, I thought I’d give it a try. I was already using Google Music to house my MP3s, so I had the website and app installed on all of my hardware already. For the price, I thought surely a month could give me a chance to discover some new music. A month turned into nine and All Access quickly became an essential part of my entertainment diet with multiple daily uses.

It was always a matter of convenience. Google Music All Access was the first time I felt like that convenience had come around full circle. I no longer had to slog through nefarious search engines for music, risking viruses and the ire of Lord Comcast. I didn’t have to wait for a new CD to be available for public piracy and feel horrible doing it so soon after release. With few exceptions, Google Music All Access has been able to cover all of those needs, as well as give me a direct line to more complete discographies for artists I may have otherwise missed.

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So here’s the rub: you pay a monthly subscription ($7.99 if you were lucky like me, but $9.99 otherwise). You get unlimited access to listen to whatever songs you can find on the service, which is a ton. You can make playlists, favorite tracks and albums, or let Google Music do the work and make playlists for you. There are also radio stations that could be better (they are just playlists setup for specific genres/eras). Other services may be more feature rich, but I enjoy mixing my own music in with Google’s cloud offerings. That way, I can keep everything under a single roof.

I am in love, but perhaps you are in love with something else. Let me know in the comments below!

20+ Articles in my Pocket

Let’s say you have been using Feedly for at least a week now. You may have realized that it can be difficult reading so many articles everyday. Worse, sometimes you like to save those articles, and after doing this for some time, your browser’s bookmarks look like an insurmountable wall of text. My solution to all of those ills is simple: Pocket.

Pocket3

Pocket is a free app and website that stores links for you. It is my number one app of choice when it comes to saving articles or links I may want to write about (which I tag as ‘research’).  Combining visual appeal and some really useful bits of organization, Pocket makes storing, viewing, and finding links you’d want to view another time a real breeze.

Better yet, it integrates perfectly with Feedly. Either using the website version (where you save articles to Pocket) or even by setting Pocket as your default article saver on the app version, Feedly makes Pocket a perfect choice if you often need to save things from your RSS.

While I am less familiar with iOS, Pocket on android lets you use the share button to send links, websites, and other things worth saving directly to Pocket. If I happen to check a link that a friend text me, I can easily save it to Pocket for later reading.

Pocket also uses the cloud, so your links are synced wherever you can sign in. This makes it especially handy for saving links to things you might want to access on a public computer. For instance, a few YouTube videos for a class. Rather than risking your email on a public terminal or bothering with a USB stick, you can just use Pocket.

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Most of my use for Pocket comes from its organizational benefits. Being able to tag articles with my own made-up tags helps me keep track of them without having to organize them into various folders. As I enjoy cooking, I like to use Pocket not only for recipes, but for cooking tips and any other articles that I might want to reference back to multiple times. I also use it for tagging ‘wishlist’ items at the source I originally learned about them (book reviews, for example). If I save just the it, say on Amazon, I sometimes forget the context of why I save it, so it is handy to have original articles.

I have to admit, when I first read about Pocket, I was skeptical. Feedly already had a mostly functional ‘Save for Later’ option and my bookmarks have never failed me. Still, I do like to be surprised, so I decided to try Pocket in the hopes of its use surprising.

It took a while for that to happen. While Pocket has been incredible since the first day I used it, it took me a while to fully integrate it into how I operate. Once I did, however, I don’t think I would ever go back. It just offers a much cleaner, more organized, and more useful solution to the problem of retaining links than anything else I have tried. The ability to quickly search or to pull up specific tags makes it even better than many alternatives.

The one exception is probably Evernote, which I have also used extensively. Evernote is great if you want a copy of the link or some of its content, rather than the full website. I use it more extensively as an archiver, but only for recipes. It pairs particularly well with a tablet if you are looking to create a digital cookbook of your own favorite recipes.

For everyday use, however, I prefer Pocket. You can bet it’ll stay that way too!

For Android users, you can get Pocket here. For iOS users, you can get Pocket here.