Write Less, Right More

04Jun12

I have got so used to keeping everything locked within myself unlike my initial days of using this platform to vent out, express, share and ask about anything and everything that even writer’s block is not a good enough excuse for the kind of detachment that has grown between me and the blog. Nevertheless to keep the writing flowing, the best I can try to start with is something impersonal. Something that I am not holding privy and something that a web search could possibly answer you better but still a start is a start.

Most importantly, the update in real life that I gotta share is that I can finally make rice myself (including lemon rice) and it’s been such a relief to be able to have that simple meal (not to forget the butter and oregano seasoning on it). But this post ain’t about how to go about that. I am not insulting your intelligence in such a crass manner.

What I am always at ease with writing and sharing about is technology. Tools that help ease our work. And I end up bugging people by bogging them down with all the information that sounds quite awesome and useful to me. I want to talk about text expansion utilities today. I wish to introduce this more to people who are not tech savvy in particular.

Autokey configuration

Text expansion utilities come with various levels of complexity and power. What they do, as the name “text expansion” suggests, is save you tons of keystrokes over a period of time. These are the kind of utilities that you need to have faith in to see the real benefits in the long-term. IIRC the most popular implementation had been there in MS Word. The feature afaik is called Autotext. The limitation is that it worked only in Word. The most basic purpose of these utilities is for the user to type in a minimal set of letter and/or numbers or press a key combination (usually with alt, ctrl, etc.) and let the utility substitute the expansion, which could range from a few extra characters to a whole paragraph or more, in place.

These utilities effectively input keystrokes on your behalf. They may not just paste the long version text from their storage/database/records but actually simulate typing out the expanded text, although way faster than it takes for us to type even one keystroke. This method of substitution is the reason that some utilities can be used to not just substitute plain text but also a range of complex special keys combination. Think of applications with lots of menus that you heavily depend on the mouse to use because the keyboard shortcuts are anything but shortcuts. Your expansion utility could possibly substitute those lengthy key combos with a much shorter combo of your choice and get your work done.

Before going on with more complex scenarios that these tools can handle, let me also tell about one more advantage besides saving time and this would matter to you if you do type a lot. Having to press and hold shift, alt, ctrl, etc. especially shift for a lot of the ‘Capitalized’ words is a PITA for your hands. Text expansion utilities would let you set the trigger word to have only lower-case letters and the expansion can have all sorts of upper-case and lower-case chaos erm, mix I mean. Your full name especially if you have a long one or with a complicated spelling would never go wrong if you rather let the text expansion utility take care of typing in the right spelling while you write a few characters like ‘nme’ for example (No use of the utility if your name is shorter than that). Getting the spelling right for some of the phrases, especially proper nouns you repeat regularly is also very important.

The more advanced tools would let you substitute your short text with a large chunk of text, add in contents from the clipboard at the designated position and place the cursor at another desired position for you to add some text of your own. Think about emails or letters wherein you let the utility paste in the name of the person you are addressing (which you need to place in the clipboard yourself. These tools can’t read your mind yet) in the salutation line (the Dear/Hello/Respected/Aadarniy Mahoday Shri Xyz line) and then it places the cursor between that line and your signature to let you type in the body of the letter. These tools may even be smart enough to put in some general information like date and time wherever you need them. In case of writing code, these utilities’ benefits are more quickly recognised because the vocabulary is far more limited and hence repeated way more often. Some programming specific text expansion utilities would specifically be smart enough to let you fill in variables and statements in the right places inside various loops or similar compound statements.

Most of the applications for text substitutions are dumbed down versions of scripting utilities. You basically automate a sequence (of any length) of keystrokes (including cursor and window selection and manipulation) using a shorter sequence of keystrokes. Most applications would only let you work with keys meant for typing text or at the most launch applications with or without additional data passed to them (like web searching a phrase you typed). The only tools that I know of that really expose the power that lies beneath them are AutoHotKey (Windows), Autokey (GNU/Linux) and Texter (based on AutoHotKey). These tools are completely free and open source and besides these most other tools that would usually turn up in a web search would usually be free for non-commercial use. A lot of the ‘fancy’ ones especially on Windows I feel are too intrusive by means of being more helpful than needed, but perhaps they might be useful to those who can bear with text snippets popping up as suggestions to complete a phrase you started.

If you are into a lot of written communication, whether as customer support or sales, etc. or even if you do write articles on select number of topics, you can speed up your work and go easy on your wrists and fingers with these tools. On Windows, I have used texter and even though it hasn’t been updated in years, it’s still smart and powerful enough than other tools and you could use it as commercially as you want (dunno if that means charging for showing the magic of text expansion. “Voila! that’ll be 50 bucks. thank you.”). Right now on GNU/Linux, Autokey is the best tool I have and for my limited needs, it fits the purpose perfectly.

I’d have liked to cover Autokey in detail but besides text expansion, I have not touched the scripting part of it yet and leaving that out would be doing injustice to it. Once you get one of these utilities, just set up some basic phrases or terms like your full name, email, some abbreviations that are ok in informal writing but not formal, like asap, etc. and try using the shortcuts and see how easy it gets. Btw, before ending the post here’s another tip: always make sure that the short word you set to trigger the text expansion is not a standard word or even starting letters of a standard word. So if you wanted to set the short word as ‘word’, think of using ‘wword’ or ‘wordd’ instead or anything more unique that you can think.

The more you reuse, the more you will appreciate the benefits.

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2 Responses to “Write Less, Right More”

  1. Dude. Remember me? The Mocking Spirit

    http://www.togglekeys.wordpress.com

    • 2 Diabolic Preacher

      of course I do. 🙂 Why didn’t you take up the “mocking spirit” name on wordpress?


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