Apps for keyboard shortcuts, text expansion, and macros are a key part of my computer setup for both work and play. On the Mac there are lots of choices, but on Windows, one application stands tall: AutoHotKey.
It actually took several tries for me to grok AutoHotKey and really start to harness its amazing feature set. It really came down to two problems: deep, deep, deep capabilities and poor tutorials that try to show you too much too soon. The first isn't really a problem unless you get stuck, as I did, wondering where to start (and how to start AutoHotKey... it's not immediately obvious).
In the June 2015 edition of Visual Studio Magazine I attempted to address that second problem with my article Automate All the Things: An AutoHotKey Primer for Developers. Hopefully this brief, directed tutorial will introduce you to the most important features and get you using AutoHotKey quickly. From there, only your coding skills and imagination stand in the way.
Toolbox: Indie and Small-Press Programming Books
Eternal vigilance. Always be learning!
That philosophy has served me well through a pretty interesting career in technology. Today, we have so much great learning content available from blogs and videos to online tutorials and Q&A sites. Ebooks still have an advantage in some cases, particularly where the author has taken the time to provide a well-organized, holistic overview of a topic that can't be covered as well in 500-word blog posts.
In the May edition of Visual Studio Magazine I wrote about 18 Indie and Small-Press Programming Books that will help level up your skills. In many cases, most of the purchase price of these books goes directly to the author, so you're gaining knowledge and helping a fellow developer at the same time. Win-win!
Toolbox: Project Management Extensions for Visual Studio
Writing the code for your software projects is plenty of work on its own, but if you don't keep track of all the other facets of your project, the whole thing can come down like a house of cars. In the April issue of Visual Studio Magazine I shared 9 Cool Extensions for Keeping Visual Studio Projects on Track, focusing on new Visual Studio 2013 and 2015 extensions that specifically help organize the code-build-release cycle — from Git branch workflows to Continuous Integration and release management.
Toolbox: Documentation with GitHub Pages
Writing documentation for software (or any product, for that matter) takes enough time, effort, and expertise. Publishing documentation is an often overlooked part of that task. In the March issue of Visual Studio Magazine I explained How To Simplify the Dreaded Task of Documentation Publishing with GitHub Pages based on some work I've been doing at ESPN to document out web APIs.
The solution takes some pretty simple ingredients: Markdown, Jekyll, Git, and GitHub. I explain how these fit together and how GitHub's built-in GitHub Pages lets you host content for free. Example repos included.
Toolbox: 9 New Visual Studio 2013 Extensions
It's April, so about time I told you about my February Visual Studio Magazine column, 9 New Visual Studio 2013 Extensions — a pretty good selection for only a month into the new year.
Visual Studio 2013 Community Edition is making extensions (and extension development) available to a larger group of developers, and I think we're going to see a wave of exciting new extensions in the run-up to Visual Studio 2015.
Tap Utils for TapCellar
If you enjoy exploring craft beer, TapCellar, created by my friends Gabe and Jeff, is a fantastic beer journal app for iPhone. Rate the beers you've tried, share recommendations with friends, keep a shopping list, even track the contents of your beer cellar. It's a great app. Check it out.
In fact, I like TapCellar so much, I wrote Tap Utils, a collection of tiny Ruby command line scripts that let you extract interesting information from your TapCellar backup.
There are four scripts right now:
tap-avg-grades returns a table showing each style for which you've rated a beer, along with the average grade for the style, the number of beers rated for the style, and the standard deviation of grades. The standard deviation seemed like a clever idea at the time, but doesn't really tell you anything useful. I might change this a more relevant measurement at some point in the future.
tap-shopping prints out a nicely formatted ASCII shopping list from the beers in your Shopping List saved filter. You can sort the results by brewery, name, or style keywords.
tap-styles prints out a chart illustrating the number of graded beers for all styles with graded beers.
tap-timeline prints out a vertical scatter plot chart illustrating grades over time based on a name or style keyword. The screen shot above shows an example.
I learned a lot making these scripts and I hope you enjoy playing with them. There's decent documentation in the readme, and all of the utils should have
--help options as well. Drink some beers, grade them in TapCellar, then print out some pretty charts. Above all else, have fun.
Toolbox: Microsoft Open Source Contributions
In the last year, Microsoft released a remarkable number of open-source projects under the .NET Foundation banner. Interested in using this code in your own projects? Maybe you want to contribute fixes, features, sample code, or documentation?
There's no magic to it. In January I wrote 5 Tips for Contributing to Microsoft Open Source Projects for Visual Studio Magazine, providing some background on these projects and advice from the project coordinators about how to become part of the community development effort.
Vim Setup Links
I've been trying to work a little vim practice into my editing. It's not to replace my trusty Sublime Text 3 setup, but rather to develop some muscle memory for those times when vim is the most robust editor at hand. And it's always good to have a backup.
This is just a quick dumping ground for some useful posts I've found while setting up a local vim environment.
Configuring Vim on Mac OS X by Tim Reynolds, including sample .vimrc setup.
Vim and iTerm2 color-schemes by Chris Hunt.
How to control vim colors by Alvin Alexander.
10 vim color schemes you need to own
My favorite ST3 color scheme, Plastic Code Wrap, ported to vim by JoeDF at PlasticCodeWrap/GVIM. JoeDF has ported Plastic Code Wrap to over 20 other editors as well.
Here's another vim port of Plastic Code Wrap by Chris Hoffman.
Vim Commands Cheat Sheet and a concise over view of the most common VIM Editor Commands.
And now to practice...
Toolbox: 2014 Top Dev Tools Roundup
My second Visual Studio Magazine column in December is an end-of-year wrapup of sorts, covering the Top 7 2014 Dev Tool Releases You Should Know About, but might have missed.
A couple obvious ones were the Xamarin 3, Designer, and Insights releases, but did you know Mark Russinovich put out a new Sysinternals tool? It's true! Check it out.
Toolbox: Visual Studio Data Access
I had two Visual Studio Magazine columns in December. The first covers 11 Visual Studio Tools to Simplify Data Access. Whether you're using SQL Server, SQLite, or SQL Compact, LINQ, Entity Framework, MongoDB or even Visual FoxPro, there are Visual Studio extensions to help. I've got eleven of them here. Enjoy!