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# Saturday, December 22, 2007

I've been getting friendly with Windows Live lately, and after getting terribly tired of having to switch to HTML view in Windows Live Writer in order to insert a note (could be a footnote or endnote depending on how you look at it), I decided to see if I could write a plug-in to make my life easier.

So was born the Blog Notes plug-in.  Unfortunately, there is no extensibility for just marking up existing text (e.g., adding a superscript button to the markup toolbar), so I had to go with the option to insert some HTML using the  interface.  I really was trying to keep it simple and lightweight (for my own sanity), so it is pretty basic.

The functionality is pretty straightforward.  Thanks to Mark James for the free icons.  Once the plug-in is installed, you should see an "Insert Blog Notes..." option in the Insert pane on the right side as shown below.

Insert Blog Notes in Insert Pane

Clicking on it brings up the Blog Notes dialog:

Blog Notes Dialog

Clicking "New Note" will insert a new superscript number (the next one in the sequence).

Clicking "Reference Note" will insert the selected number as superscript.  You can also just double-click the number to do that.

The "Notes Section" button will insert a notes section.1

Lastly, "Write Note" simply adds the selected note plus a period and couple spaces.

As you can see, it's pretty basic, but it saves a few seconds for each note (assuming you bother to switch to HTML view, find the number, and put <sup></sup> tags around it like I do [did]).  You can also tweak one option/setting.  Go to Tools -> Options, and select the Plug-ins tab:

Live Writer Plug-ins Options

Clicking Options... on the Blog Notes plug-in brings up a tres simple dialog:

Blog Notes Options

This one option will toggle whether or not the plug-in uses in-page anchor links for the notes so that the superscript numbers would link down to the corresponding note in the Notes section.  I originally added this feature without realizing the implications.  Because blog posts are often aggregated and otherwise viewed in unexpected places, using in-page anchors is iffy at best.  Community Server seems to strip them out, and dasBlog keeps them, but since it emits a <base /> tag to the site root, all of the anchor links are relative to the site homepage instead of the current post, which effectively renders them useless.  I looked at the dasBlog code where this happens, and it's in the core assembly.  I was concerned what side effects changing it to use the current URL would have, so I didn't do that.  But if you have blog software that will let you use this feature, by all means, enjoy!

Caveats

  • Because of the way the plug-in framework works, I use a static/shared collection to keep track of the notes.  This means it acts a tad goofy if you close out of Live Writer or write multiple posts while it is open.  If you close and come back to a post, the notes count is reset.  To "fix" this, just re-add however many notes you had (if you want to bother).  If you write multiple posts, you just have to deal with it.  I don't know if there is post-local storage for plug-ins, but I didn't have time to dig into it.
  • Your mileage may vary.  I wrote this mainly to save myself time and get familiar with the Live Writer extensibility model, so it ain't a finished product to be sure.

Get It!
Since there are numerous tutorials on the Web (that I learned from) to write Live Writer plug-ins, I won't go into those details here, but you're welcome to download my code and learn from it directly if you want.  I think I have comments and such in there.

  • Download the Plug-in Only - If you just want to use this plug-in, this is what you want.  Drop the DLL into your plug-ins directory and go (typically C:\Program Files\Windows Live\Writer\Plugins).
  • Download the Source Code - This is a VS 2008 solution for those who want to learn, enhance, extend, whatever.  The license is more or less the MIT license.  You'll need Live Writer installed to reference its API.

Notes
1. This is the "Notes Section."  The button adds the "Notes" header and writes out any existing note numbers.

Saturday, December 22, 2007 2:07:12 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's that time again.  Time for the SYS-CON Readers' Choice Awards voting.  Actually, it's been that time for a little while now; I'm just slow.

Infragistics has been nominated for several categories in several publications, so if you like Infragistics or even if you're looking for a way to kill a few minutes at the airport, go vote for us.

Here's your friendly voter's guide to make your life easier (note that if you don't know or prefer any choice in a particular category, you can just click Continue to move on):

http://java.sys-con.com/general/readerschoice.htm

#11 - NetAdvantage for JSF

#12 - NetAdvantage for JSF

#20 - JSuite

#24 - NetAdvantage for JSF

#28 - NetAdvantage for JSF

http://soa.sys-con.com/general/readerschoice.htm

#4 – NetAdvantage for .NET

#14 – NetAdvantage for .NET

http://webddj.sys-con.com/general/readerschoice.htm

#3 – NetAdvantage for ASP.NET

#6 – Infragistics Training and Consulting

#7 – Infragistics Training and Consulting

#8 – NetAdvantage for ASP.NET

http://dotnet.sys-con.com/general/readerschoice.htm

#3 – NetAdvantage AppStylist

#4 – Infragistics Training and Consulting

#5 – Infragistics NetAdvantage for .NET

#10 – TestAdvantage for Windows Forms

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 6:28:11 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, April 29, 2006

I just updated this site to the latest version of dasBlog.  Many, many thanks to Scott for helping me out with getting it (given that I am a total noob to CVS and, apparently, picked a bad time to start since SF was having issues).  Most notably (that I know of), this version incorporates using Feedburner, which I guess is the latest and greatest for distributing your feed and lowering bandwidth usage, though I'm sure there are some other goodies in there.

Anyhoo, let me know if you suddenly start running into any problems with my blog.  Have a good un!

Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:19:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Monday, April 24, 2006

Not long ago, I polled subscribers as to what they're interested in.  There seemed to be a fairly even divide between what I'll roughly call Technical posts and Non-Technical posts.  In fact, my goal with this blog is to be a blend of those two general categories.  At the same time, as much as it hurts to admit it, I know that some folks really don't care about my opinions on non-technical matters.  So it struck me (some time ago, actually; I've just been lazy) to create two general categories using the creative taxonomy of Technical and Non-Technical. 

Why?  This is because dasBlog (and most other blog systems, I imagine) allow you to subscribe to category-based RSS feeds as well as view posts by category.  So from this day forward, in addition to the more specific categories, I'll be marking all posts as either Technical or Non-Technical.  If all you care about is one or the other, you can just subscribe to one or the other and never be bothered with the stuff you don't care about.

You can view/subscribe to the feeds using the feed icon next to each category in the list (of categories).  Here are direct links as well:

Technical

Non-Technical

I hope this helps!

Monday, April 24, 2006 10:28:33 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It's been a while since my last writing tip, and I just have been doing more editing lately, so I thought I'd toss one more out there.

Vary your sentences!

Okay, I'm just in a yelling mood.  But to elaborate, when writing, you need to think about the feel and flow of your piece as a whole.  This is a somewhat more advanced tip than the tips thus far on this blog (most of the others are just syntactical), but this is stylistic and is, therefore, subject to more interpretation.  That is, it is somewhat subjective.

However, I can assure you that it is still a valid tip to keep in mind.  When you are assembling your sentences, think about how they sound in relation to the surrounding sentences.  Do they all have the same length?  Do they all have the same basic structure?  Do they all have the same pronouns repeatedly?  Do you feel assaulted when reading them together?

Take the last paragraph (just before this one) as an example.  I asked four questions in a row.  Each of them has more or less the same structure and length, and had I asked just a few more, I imagine you would feel somewhat assaulted by the repetition.  As it is, I was hoping to do two things: illustrate the effect you can get by using repetition and actually give you some meaningful questions to ask yourself.

It does illustrate that repetition, when used strategically, can be advantageous to not only get your point across but to do it in such a way that leaves the reader feeling a certain way about your text.  Maybe you do want to assault the reader in classic tommy-gun style.  But my guess is that most of the time you don't; you don't want to assault and therefore isolate your reader because then you lose rapport and they stop listening to what you are saying.

Repetition can also just be dulling.  If you have the same sentence structure over and over again, your reader can become bored and lose interest.  You don't want that, right?  After all, what's the point of writing if you do it in such a way that readers lose interest and just ignore you?

So now for a fun example of repetition.

I got up.  I walked my dog.  I ate some breakfast.  I took my daughter to school.  I drove to work.  I worked a lot.  I came home.  I ate dinner.  I watched the TV.  I went to sleep.

This is of course an extreme example, but we are all guilty of it to varying degrees.  Now I will communicate the same information by varying my sentences.

This morning, I got up.  I walked my dog and decided to eat some breakfast.  After breakfast, I took my daughter to school, and then I drove to work.  I worked a lot.  Later in the day, I returned home, ate dinner, and watched some TV.  And finally, at the end of this full day, I went to sleep.

As you can see (I hope), with a little work you can vary your sentences and make your text more interesting and appealing to your readers.  You can do this by adding adverbs here and there, using dependent clauses, using coordinating conjunctions, eliminating pronoun repetition by combining actions by the same subject into one sentence, etc. 

As an aside, note that I left "I worked a lot" alone.  I did this intentionally to give an effect, to make the reader pause.  The sentence is short and terse amidst longer more complex sentences, and it makes it stand out by stopping the general flow.  You can do this when you want to draw attention to a particular thought.

I'm sure that I haven't done this subject justice, but I hope you will think about it more when writing if you don't already.  And as you incorporate this tip into your writing, you can take it a step further and apply the same rules to paragraphs: vary your paragraphs!  This means not using the same transitional phrases repeatedly, varying their length, etc. 

Forget the "every paragraph must have three sentences" rule if you were taught it.  It's garbage.  The more important thing is that paragraphs communicate a complete thought, so if you can do that and add variation along with it, you're on the road to writing better!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 1:28:33 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Saturday, May 14, 2005

I was just surfing around, looking for a decent grammar guide for a friend, when I ran across this site.  The fella there has an impressively long list of common English errors, but what I found most interesting is his list of non-errors.  Non-errors are caused by pedants who are so eager to show off their superior knowledge of the language that they will go too far and actually show their ignorance.

I chuckle inside when I hear someone saying "I feel well" or "between you and I."  I don't fault them for trying to speak proper English; heck, I've often laughed at myself for saying such things, and I immediately correct myself (often under my breath) to remind myself.

You'd be surprised at the number of bad habits I've had to break, things like "coulda went," "less calories," and one that I still have trouble with: "I'm gonna go lay down for a bit."  What can I say?  I was raised in Arkansas and Oklahoma, neither of which are particularly known for proper English. :)

For the record, the proper way to say the above things are:
1. "I feel well" should be "I feel good," unless of course you are talking about your health and not your state of mind.  If you are thinking "I feel good" (like the song), then you should say that and not overcorrect yourself.
2. "Between you and I" should be "between you and me."  This is a case where folks have been told that saying "you and me" is incorrect, usually in the context of using it as the subject (nominative case) in a sentence such as "you and me are going to dinner."  In that case, you should use "you and I" because "I" is the nominative case for the singular, first-person personal pronoun; however, nouns that follow prepositions (which is what "between" is) should be in the accusative or dative case, and that case for the aforementioned personal pronoun is "me."
3. "Coulda went" should be "coulda gone" if you're intending to be colloquial.  Of course, the more proper way would be "could've gone."
4. "Less calories" should be "fewer calories."  This is a toughie, at least for us Americans.  "Less" should be used when referring to a single thing, such as "less water" or "less sand."  "Fewer" should be used when talking about multiple things, such as "fewer items" or "fewer calories."  Even Wal-Mart gets this one wrong, or at least they intentionally use it because it is more common to be incorrect.  Let me know if you find a store whose express lane says "10 or fewer items" rather than "10 or less items."
5. The last one that still causes me trouble is "lay" versus "lie."  The difference is in whether or not the verb takes an object, that is, whether or not it is transitive or intransitive.  If you are putting something down, you would "lay" it down; however, if you are describing what something is doing, you would say it is "lying" down.  So I should say "I'm gonna go lie down for a bit" unless I'm going to go take something and lay it down for a while. 

Anyways, for the time being, these are still shibboleths, but I wouldn't be surprised if in a few decades these become the new non-errors because common usage has made them correct. 

The main thing to keep in mind is that there are plenty of folks who use the way you speak or write as a means to determine your level of education or, worse, intellect.  It's not so much that these little errors really matter in getting your point across (which is, after all, the point of language) but that you don't want to be discounted a priori for what is considered by many others to be incorrect.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 5:32:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Monday, February 21, 2005

Someone recently asked about the usage of hyphens in response to my post about semicolons.  First of all, I'd say that technically speaking, I think the question revolves around dashes, not hyphens, although depending on the word processor, dashes are created by using hyphens (two, to be exact).  Now the question posed was how they differ from semicolons.  Simply put, dashes are used to interject additional information into the text with emphasis.  In fact, text set off with dashes doesn't even have to be an independent clause--you can put whatever you want here, almost! 

Semicolons, on the other hand, are not necessarily used for emphasis or even the addition of information, and they always, unless used in a list, require a complete, independent clause.  The semicolon is used to stress the relation of the current clause with what went before.  A dash is used to offer additional information, much like commas or parentheses can be used.  But the idea is that a dash means you want to emphasize what you're saying while commas or parentheses are used to offer additional information that can be ignored.

When I use or read a dash, I imagine the person to be speaking that bit emphatically--with emotion.  If I read something in parentheses, I imagine the speaker to be sneaking that bit in a hurried and low voice, almost as if the speaker didn't want you to lose sight of what is being said but thought it worth mentioning all the same. 

Recently, I've seen the use of the word orthagonal in various technical discussions when I think the meaning desired by the writer is more along the lines of tangential or peripheral.  The reason I bring it up is that this is what the parentheses are good for--mentioning information that is tangential.  Conversely, if one uses dashes, one wants the reader to pay attention--it is integral that this be read.  So I'd say the key associations are:

parentheses - tangential and hurried

dashes - integral and emphasized

(Oh, and by the way, a hyphen is used to connect multi-word terms and, in the past, for line continuation.  It's not the same thing as a dash, which introduces a phrase, although, as mentioned, you can use two hyphens to indicate a dash.)

Monday, February 21, 2005 11:05:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Why the semicolon is cool and should not be feared.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004 10:37:49 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Okay, I just want to say this now, hopefully once and for all.  While I do try to read through my blogs at least once, I hardly put them through any rigorous editing process, so it is entirely possible that I'll let little grammar and possibly spelling mistakes slip through the cracks.  Considering that these are more or less equivalents of rough drafts, I don't really fault myself too much when this happens.  Because this is a fairly informal medium, I don't feel compelled to edit them thoroughly either.

Some may, in some weird way, construe my offering writing tips as an implication that I personally never make a grammatical mistake.  Anyone who has written much knows that this is never true of any writer.  So for all the smart alecs out there who might notice these mistakes, please, for the sake of everyone, just overlook them and don't bother commenting.  I'm writing in the hopes of helping people.  If you already know everything there is to know about writing, you can just ignore my blogging on the subject.  I know from experience that there are many people who could benefit from the occasional tip or two on the subject.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 3:21:38 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

I'll endeavor to make this brief.  Per the suggestion of one of my readers, I thought it might be a good idea to address the whole “you're“/“your” issue.  Since he brought it up, I have to say that I have actually seen this mistake fairly commonly in texts that I have edited, so it's probably good to mention it.  And while I'm at it, I'll take out the “its“/“it's“ and “they're”/”their” issues as well, since they're the same issues, more or less.  These are things that are sure to upset your editors if you overlook them.

“You're” is a contraction of “you are.”  “It's” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”  “They're” is a contraction of “they are.”  The apostrophe (') indicates that something's missing.  In the case of “you're” and “they're,” we're cutting out the “a” in “are.”  In the case of “it's,” we're either taking out the “i” in “is” or the “ha” in “has.”  In all cases, you can see that we are squishing two words together.  This is just a convenient way for us to represent how many English speakers speak because we tend to slur things together to speak in a more fluid and fast manner.  French is much worse about this sort of thing, but most of the languages I've studied have their share of squished words. :)

On the other hand, “your,” “their,” and “its” are all possessives.  Now if you go read that page, your head might hurt afterwards, but you should have a fairly decent grip on the idea of what a possessive is if you don't already.  The point here is not a lesson about possessives but rather to illustrate that these three words are possessives, and you need to ensure you use them as such. 

However, I don't think most people generally accidentally use “they're” or “it's” when they mean to indicate the possessive.  Usually the error is the opposite, i.e., they use “their” and “its” to indicate their related contractions.  So, for instance, when they mean to say “they are,” they might use “their”  or use “its” when they really mean “it is.” 

So if you have had this problem in the past, be sure to be extra careful when you go to use the contracted forms of those verbs.  Remember, you are squishing two words (to make a contracted verb), so you need the apostrophe to indicate that's what you're up to, to tell us that you've taken something out.  If you don't remember this, your editors will beg Zeus to strike you down in a flash of lightning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 8:29:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Thursday, November 18, 2004
Most folks don't even know that there is a difference between "that" and "which." There is...
Thursday, November 18, 2004 10:22:24 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Sunday, November 07, 2004

This is the first in a series of tips that I've found to help me speak and write better English over the years.  Simply put, learn another language.  Yep, that's right.  Sounds a bit off the mark, but I have found that learning other languages dramatically increases my understanding of my own language. 

In fact, learning other languages helps to learn other languages, especially when they're in the same language group (e.g., the so-called Romance langauges).  Some people say learning German is hard, but I think it is one of the easiest languages for an English-speaker to learn precisely because English has very strong Germanic roots.  When speaking with and listening to my wife's family (who are native German speakers), I can't tell you how many times I've been able to guess the right word or understand the meaning of a word simply because it is so like English.

So, if you've always wanted to pick up Spanish to watch Sabado Gigante, if you want to learn Latin to read medieval philosophy, or if you want to learn Gaelic so you can sing proper mouth music, just do it.  There are tons of self-teaching resources to learn other languages, even dying ones like Scottish Gaelic. 

Even if you never speak it fluently, or even if you don't pronounce it correctly, learning another language will give you a stronger grasp over your own.  I'd recommend Latin and German especially for this purpose, but French (thanks to the Normans) will also help a lot in this respect.  But again, any language will do because it will make you more aware of the structure and peculiarities of English.

Sunday, November 07, 2004 4:28:12 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Tuesday, November 02, 2004
So you want to write for SuperAwesomePublishingCo, do ya? Here are a couple pointers that might help you out.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004 1:58:49 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 

Disclaimer
The opinions expressed herein are solely my own personal opinions, founded or unfounded, rational or not, and you can quote me on that.

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