I’m sorry, but Maxthon is just too cool!

My thanks go out to my friend Keith who, probably 2-3 years ago, turned me onto Maxthon.  Never heard of it?  It’s the best-kept secret in the browser wars…the stealth weapon if you will.

Personally, I hate the browser wars…or any “technology religious war” for that matter.  Just use what you want to use and don’t feel like you need to prove that your choice is the best…period…full-stop…point-bar (ok, I’ve run out of languages).

Having said that, I’ll fire a shot across the Firefox bow anyway.  There is such a high-and-mighty attitude that people take about *you-name-it* vs. Microsoft’s offering in all sorts of software categories that I simply get annoyed.

Anyway, Maxthon is a browser that sits on top of the same rendering engine as Internet Explorer.  Yes that might turn some people off and understandably so…BUT, IE does create, for better or worse, a “defacto-standard” of sorts in its page-rendering…and IE7 is way better than IE6 and hopefully standards compliance will continue…just try to not nurse those wounds so actively all you Firefox evangelists!

Because Maxthon “sits on top of” IE so to speak, sites recognize my browser as “IE” and if they are annoying about this, they’ll provide some sort of message that I’m living a substandard life because I’m using IE…how arrogant is that!?  Don’t get me started…ok, don’t let me continue!

Why do I say that Maxthon is just too cool?  Because it works the way I want it to work right out of the box.  With Firefox, I have to suffer with a clunky interface until I search through a mountain of plugins to make it a little better.  Yes, I’m a feature freak.  I LOVE features.  I know that there are some who do not even want to know about features that have not entered into their mind.  If they desire it, they’ll look for it.  That’s great, more power to you.  I’m not like that.  I appreciate software design that anticipates what a user might want to do and provides for it ahead of time.  I see it as being a “thoughtful software designer.”

So, if you like feature-rich software that’s designed to anticipate what you think you’ll want to do.  I’d highly suggest that you check out Maxthon as your browser of choice.

Once you’ve installed the basic package, you’ll have tons of features to explore.  However (in ginsu-kife parlance), wait!…there’s more!  Yes Virginia, there are plugins!  And the reason I’m blogging this particular entry is that I’ve discovered the BlogEX plugin to make quick blogging easy in Maxthon.  This is my first post with it and I’m hoping that I like what it does.  So far the setup is great and the composing experience is admirable.  I typically use Zoundry Raven as a full-featured blogging client and probably will continue to do so, but for the “quick post”, this may be the ticket!

mp3DirectCut

We do a bunch of stuff with audio files in our family. Lots of converting, cleaning up, etc. I’ll be adding more tools for this later.

One of the things that I do with audio files is listen to them (duh…) while I do the dishes. One of the things I listen to the most is audio teachings/messages, etc. My cheap little MP3 player works fine but is not too sophisticated. So, if I’m listening to a 45 minute message while I do the dishes for, say, 25 minutes, I like to start the next time where I left off. Obviously this is bit different situation than simply background music and playing a random set list. My MP3 player simply starts on the same file it finished on. So with my 45 minute message, I’m back to the beginning and figuring out where I am and then getting there again is a hassle.

Enter mp3DirectCut, by Martin Pesch…

mp3DirectCut is an application that allow you to do a number of editing tasks on MP3 files directly. There are zillions of fine audio editing tools that import/export mp3 format files but do all their editing tasks in a WAV format. This is the logical way to go in most situations. But if you just want to do some quick trimming (and several other helpful quick tasks) but directly on the MP3 file with no nagging import/export wait time, mp3DirectCut may be your answer. Your file (even those big 45 minute messages) is loaded immediately and you start to work.

Back to dish washing…

I though that if I could split my files into 5 minute segments, then my dish washing dream would come true. I could stop in the middle of one of the 5 minute segments and when I restarted my listening (next batch of dirty dishes), I’d restart at the beginning of that 5 minute segment…not the beginning of the 45 minute message! Well, mp3DirectCut has a feature called “AutoCue” which allows you to split your file in to segments of equal length. You open your file, choose AutoCue for a length of 5 minutes, and save the split segments as individual MP3 files (which it does with some great file naming features). Load up the MP3 player and start washing your dishes! Great stuff!

You can find mp3DirectCut at: https://www.mpesch3.de

Maxthon Browser

For Internet Browsing, I use Maxthon.

…no, not Internet Explorer…

…no, not Firefox…

Before IE 7 people thought that you had to run far and fast from IE to experience a user-oriented, highly-functional browsing experience. I’m using the best browser no-one seems to have heard of: Maxthon.

Maxthon is the successor to “MyIE”, a browser built on the IE engine. Maxthon is built on IE’s engine, which means that pages render like IE and not Mozilla/Firefox (though you can use the Mozilla engine to render if you so choose).

Even with IE 7, I’m still on Maxthon. I like its features (I’m a features hound…I confess). I feel stunted when using IE or Firefox now. I can only say check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

To start your Maxthon experience, head over to: https://www.maxthon.com/

Edit: OK, this is quite old.  I’ve been a Firefox user for quite some time now.  Let’s not even talk about Chrome – can’t stomach it.  I have it installed for testing, etc.  Maxthon?  Well those were the days, no? ;c)

AllChars for Windows

As you may have gathered by perusing this site a bit, we’re a family of American missionaries in France. Before living in France, speaking in French (still suspect) and typing in French, we were concerned only with English (or “American” to be more precise). Both my wife and I learned to touch type in America and English uses very few accents and special characters on their letters.

As we started to learn French and communicate in French, it became necessary to type in French. When typing in French it is necessary often to use accents on letters (and sometimes it even affects the pronunciation…but that’s another rant for another day). In our searching for the best way to accomplish accenting letters correctly we came across any number of kludgy solutions and solutions that only worked in certain applications. Finally, we came across “AllChars for Windows”. This is, in my opinion, a little-known but ideal solution for what we were trying to achieve: Keep our familiar QWERTY layout and easily add accents in any application in a Windows environment. AllChars delivers!

AllChars, written by Jeroen Laarhoven, is a system-resident (just put it in your Startup folder) freeware application that sits in your system tray and waits to see if you press the Ctrl key. If you do, it waits to see if the next key you press falls within its vast list of special key sequences. If it does, then it waits to see if the next key you press finishes one of its special key sequences. If so, it puts in the special character that represents that key sequence. Note, that you donot have to hold down three keys at one time. You type them in sequence. This is what I find the best about this program, additionally that it’s pretty intuitive in its combination of key sequences to produce the special characters. This allows me to type “QWERTY”-style as I’m used to, whether typing in French or English. It has, of course accents and special characters that would help in typing most all western languages.

You can also add your own key sequences and substitution results (which can be whole phrases…not just letters). So it becomes a Windows-wide “quick macro tool”. These can be user-defined sequences can be encrypted too, so that you can store password substitution in it as well (though there are better tools for that task out there).

The two problems I’ve had with AllChars are that Corel Draw applications (at least version 12) will crash when it’s enabled (you can enable and disable it easily). We have to disable AllChars to work in Corel. The other problem is that for some reason it rarely works with Microsoft Publisher (at least version 2000). Don’t know why.

For full details and to download, go to: https://allchars.zwolnet.com

Blogging Frontiers…

Well, I’ve been blogging now (very sporadically) for around 9 months. When I set out, I didn’t want to simply toss my hat in the myriad of hosted blogging rings (blogger, xanga, wordpress, typepad, etc.). We have a very nice web hosting package with POWWEB…that we pay for…and we’re nowhere near exhausting its limits. I’m not a big fan of multiplying the URLs with which I’m associated. I pay for a domain and a web hosting package, so I’d like to use it! ;c)

When I started, I didn’t really have any experience with the various blogging packages that could be installed on your web site (the plethora of PHP-based open-source offerings, etc.) So, I sought a client blogging tool (always looking for freeware/open source) that simply generated and uploaded static pages from the local database of blog entries that it manages. I don’t know how many of those software tools exist (very few) but I found Blog and began to use it.

In the meantime, I began to work on building www.intouchcamps.com in the open-source CMS called Limbo (lite-Mambo…now Joomla). I looked at using Limbo for the last re-write of our site but I felt like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and I could also tell that I was not “getting it” with respect to the CMS nomenclature of how to structure the content. I finally threw in the towel on that. I also started to help my daughter with two sites: https://fireproofsite.free.fr/  (defunct) and https://cblalsace.free.fr/ that she was building. POWWEB began offering some auto-installers of some of these open-source applications and I thought I’d take advantage of that and try some out. I installed phpBB and, in searching for the ultimate mailing list tool, tried phplist and phpLedMailer (none of which I use currently on our site).

All that to say that I began to get familiar with PHP-based apps and, more importantly, comfortable with them.

I also saw that as I continued to blog and with how I wanted to arrange/archive my categories, that the Blog tool was going to get more and more cumbersome as time went on. It’s a good tool but its biggest drawback is that it’s not being aggressively developed. It’s last non-beta release is pretty old and so one follows the slowly-released beta builds that have varying degrees of bugginess and feature release in them.

So, I finally bit the bullet and decided that I would install an open-source blog application on my site (specifically for my personal blog…not to run the whole site…yet). I had several to choose from with the auto-installers at POWWEB and finally settled on WordPress.

I managed to get WordPress sufficiently customized to our site’s look and feel and my blog’s look and feel…which I like and am not ready to change.

In working with the other open-source applications, I’ve come to the conclusion that TEXTAREA WYSIWYG editors are a pain in the rear! They are a necessary evil and can be helpful for “update-your-site-from-Timbuktu” reasons, but otherwise, I desperately wanted to avoid one of those editors as my primary blog editor.

So, I went on a search for client-side blogging tools for the PC platform that would work with a privately-hosted WordPress installation. There are several out there, but after installing (or trying to) several of them, it became obvious to me that the only real choices at this stage are Qumana and Zoundry. At the moment, I’ve chosen Zoundry though I think the two apps will both evolve quickly and I’m open to changing if there becomes a great difference that interests me.

I used Zoundry to re-load my 22 blog entries from the Blog database into WordPress. If it had been more than that, it might have been pretty painful. As it was, it was a bit of work. Try as I might to do a database-to-database copy from the DBISAM database to MySQL, I never succeeded. I would have had to write too much code to actually make it worth the while for 22 posts.

So, this is the first entry to be actually done totally on my Zoundry/WordPress solution. There is more customization and exploitation of WordPress features to come I hope. I also hope that it will be easier to maintain and to blog…

…so hopefully you’ll see a few more posts in the future!

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced-Bread For All My Dough…

…Or “programming” Quicken 2005 with Autoit

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again…Tax Time!

Sheesh! Don’t all blow your party horns at once! ;c)

I’m no fan of this necessary evil either. Each year I hope and seek for ways to make it more streamlined. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I’m a entrenched but somewhat reluctant user of Quicken to “manage” my financial world and every year about this time I have to shore up my financial tracking practices a bit retroactively to make sure that I have my ducks sufficiently aligned to make sense of the US Tax code.

<rant>As I alluded to earlier…I think taxation is necessary. I think the US Tax code is what is evil!</rant>

It’s not the only thing that is sometimes “evil” however. Quicken/Intuit fights hard, it often seems, to gain entry into that which is collectively thought of as the “axis of evil” in the consumer computing world. Anyone who’s upgraded to Quicken 2005 will understand that more was taken away than gained for many users. As I consider the way that the false god/evil spirit of Mammon works, then it is not too surprising to see these sorts business practices of those in the financial software industry.

Quicken does many, many things and most are done well. But…it remains a closed system. If what you want Quicken to do or how you want it to do it wasn’t conceived of by the software engineers at Intuit, you’re pretty much stuck. Using Colin Smale’s excellent program MT2OFX however, I’ve succeeded in incorporating my French bank account into Quicken along with my American one. Works like a champ…in spite of how Quicken is designed. That’s at least one success story of how Quicken can be made to work the way you want it to.

Admittedly, our situation is far from mainstream in the financial world. As American missionaries in France, we’re into “international finance” with very little money! So, we’re not the typical Quicken target customer…but I still want my financial software to be a tool useful to me and not me some sort of pawn in its hands.

Anyway, in seeking how to get some transactions from a “cash account” in Quicken into a “split” transaction in another “non-cash” account to allocate “cash” usage from an ATM withdrawal, I was stymied as to how I could make it happen without simply re-entering all the transactions.

Manual labor alert!!! Manual labor alert!!!

…enter Autoit

Autoit is a freeware scripting package that allows you to automate virtually anything that you can get at with your keyboard and/or mouse in a Windows environment. I am simply stunned by its capabilities and the attention to detail in the suite of tools that comprise Autoit. It’s put out by a group called “Hiddensoft” and I think that they somehow must think being “hidden” is better! ;c) I troll around a lot of freeware sites and am always looking out for good freeware. What’s more, by “profession” I was a programmer and I’m a bit of a “scripting junkie”. I’m no expert but I’ll gladly script for hours to save 5 minutes (which I justify by the thought that eventually I’ll save time in the long run…and in fact, I’m still pretty convinced of my logic in that! ;c))

Anyway, I’d not come across this gem until last week (which on one hand makes me mad…considering some of the very well-known freeware and over-advertised “shareware” out there…they say it’s been around since 1999…hidden!). Don’t even remember how I stumbled across it, but I was probably searching for something like “automate quicken” and found it. This thing is too good to remain “hiddensoft”!

Not only are the capabilities of this software amazing and, I think, pretty unique, the endless supply of help in the actual coding task is really stunning…especially for a scripting language…especially for freeware.

It’s a “basic-like” scripting language (VB, VBA, VBScript familiarity will carry you far in quickly coming up-to-speed in using this language). If needed it supports a GUI interface and 2 different GUI creators are included in the package, though certainly batch scripts are normal too. It has a keystroke and mouse movement recorder for jump-starting automating human interface actions. It comes with a version of the Scintilla/SciTE editor (also used as the base for such editors as NotePad++) that has all sorts of automated coding aids. The help is excellent and integrated very well with the editor (including autocompletion, etc.). It comes with a dll version of the script engine so that you can combine Autoit with other scripting languages like VBScript (i.e. “extend” VBScript capabilities). You can compile your scripts into an exe file, etc., etc.

Anyway, I’ve been heavy into it for the past week coding this Quicken-automation script…which speaks much more about the frustration of using Quicken (which doesn’t always expose enough info in its interface) than of the capabilities of Autoit. I’m not the best marketer so, I’ll just say that if you have a Windows app and some repetitive tasks and no good way to marry those two together (and can script your way out of a wet paper bag), get on over to www.autoitscript.com today and find your solution. You may find that it becomes your scripting solution of choice as well.

Trapped in Hp-double toothpicks…

It’ll be a cold day in you-know-where before I fork over any more money to Hewlett-Packard for a printer or a computer.

I don’t want to get into a war of words on product quality with one person saying that hp products are the best around and me saying the opposite. In fact, I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Hp has had a reputation of quality for decades. My printer, a 990 Cxi DeskJet prints fine. I like the features of the printer driver and the fact that I can do automatic 2-sided printing. My laptop has had plenty of troubles but it was an insurance replacement “factory refurb” so I don’t necessarily want to judge the quality of all their laptops from that.

No, it’s not their quality that I necessarily question, it’s their corporate indifference toward their customer…their business practices that makes owning one of their products more trouble than it should be. (I speak specifically of the public consumer and not necessarily the business client. I’ve no experience there.) My experience is basically the following:

  • With the laptop, and I assume it’s no different with their desktop models, one does not get full operating system CDs. One gets “system recovery” CDs. These should definitely be labeled differently. One can’t “recover” from a problem with them at all. Their is only one thing that you can do with these CDs…destroy all your data and installation customization and start from scratch. Thankfully we have 2 computers, as I have had to do this twice and have not lost much in terms of personal data because I’ve been cautious to transfer stuff to the other computer ahead of time. Time and energy and frustration however…that’s another story! What I’ve seen on their forums is that hp’s policy is to not sell you the license to XP (you are told this in their fine print), but to only give you the right to use it…on their terms. You need to re-install a .dll? You need to run a special utility? You want to exploit some feature that’s not installed but is on the XP disk? Well, unless you have access to another XP disk, you’re out of luck!
  • Printers – hp has built a reputation about their printers, but their rhetoric is growing tired. Many printers are just as good. The market is full of quality printers. That isn’t the defining selling/buying point anymore. Now it’s cost of ownership. Cartridges…need I say more? The expense of owning an hp printer is nuts. I own one. I’m nuts. I know! ;c) Because of this expense, I chase my tail trying to re-fill the cartridges (half the time in vain…printer rejects them) and buy re-cycled ones. The color cartridges are 3 colors in one so that if you run out of just red…well…you need to do something with the whole cartridge. Hp discourages re-filling by the way it designs their cartridges and their ink-level detection software doesn’t take into account any re-filling you might have done either. I’ve known for some time that my current hp printer will be my last one but have figured that I’ll wait until it dies to replace it. I’m beginning to think that that I’m wasting too much money to keep going like that. It may be cheaper to simply switch now!
  • Drivers – Is your product obsolete? Don’t expect to find drivers for it at hp.com. If you’re not up-to-date, you’re out of luck.

This sort of customer relations, which pretty much shouts “customer is hostage!” rather than “customer is king” basically turns me off and, I think, increasingly turns off the rest of consumer public. We’re looking for companies who will work with us in the complexity of computing. Complexity insures that there will be problems. I’s rather buy from someone who works with me to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.