ThoughtAsylum 2015 Review

Happy new year everyone. We’ve passed another year’s end so once again it’s time to take a look back at what’s been most popular on in the past twelve months and what’s I’ve been up to.

2015 was a bit of an improvement in terms of blogging with almost thirty posts put out. I also re-worked a few sections on the site and added a new one which I’ll talk about in more detail below. This improvement in blogging time was probably due at least in part to a reduced travel requirement for work. I only traveled a handful of times through the year though I did spend a little while working in an office in a forest at the top of a valley in Germany … very picturesque.

The one area I let myself down though with regards to blogging was blogging out to LinkedIn. I’d planned on doing many posts to LinkedIn and the SAP Community Network this year (and replicating to Thought Asylum), but for various reasons that didn’t pan out. I’ll be trying to rectify that again this year.

Generally it’s been a pretty good year for me in terms of work. I got a promotion, delivered a significant update to the corporate web site, took on moderator duties on the SAP Community Network and worked on quite a variety of projects. It would have been nice to get dug in on a few more client projects, but consultancy (particularly in niche areas) can have its ups and downs and signs are that in 2016 I’ll be looking at some other more client focussed things on behalf of my employer which will be interesting.

In terms of non-work based technical things of interest I’ve worked on some TextExpander (OS X / iOS) and Workflow (iOS) related bits (see below) that got me shout outs from Smile Software, Federico Viticci, Mac Power Users and the DeskConnect guys who created Workflow. I must admit it was very nice to be recognised by such prominent voices in the Apple space and you never know. Maybe 2016 will hold more of the same?

A couple of notable site related pieces I worked on during the year were revamping the TextExpander section on the site and introducing a Workflow section.

The TextExpander rework came about as I worked through my snippet library and updated it for JavaScript compatibility and also for sharing a number of the snippet groups with the public via this web site. This was a significant piece of work and I ended up writing a lot of new snippets as JavaScript gave me a lot of scope - particularly for things I figured I’d find useful to use on iOS. In fact the OS cross-compatibility that JavaScript brought over AppleScript saw me re-write as many of AppleScript based snippets as I could. The result was a set of “new” snippet groups which are organised and available to download directly from the site (something I’d not bothered with previously). This has the advantage that people can then keep them up to date with TextExpander’s built in URL update functionality.

The Workflow section is entirely new and grew out of the amount of effort I’ve been putting into creating workflows in the app. Not only have I been posting lengthy blog posts regarding the more complex workflows, but I also created and entirely new blog on the site just for example workflows (currently over 40 of them) that show some shorter how-to workflows for people to copy and modify for their own use. Many of these examples actually came into being on my answering questions on Twitter. I also created a Getting Started with Workflow page that has proven to be a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to find information on how to use Workflow (well over 2,500 views in four months).

2015 saw site visits jump up considerably to 126K page views from 86K in 2014. 2012 is still up there with 131K, but this jump is significant and the rick will be to keep pushing that number up. I figure the more views the more people are getting benefit from what I’m putting out on the site and fundamentally giving something back is the point.

That’s where 2015 stood for me, but its time to take a look at the ThoughtAsylum content that’s been “pulling in the punters“….

10. Workflow (iOS): Some Example Workflows for Dates (~1,800 hits)

Published 14 January 2015.

Straight in at number 10 is a post from January of last year and whilst it is a little sad not to see any other Workflow posts in the top ten given how much effort I’ve put into Workflow posts this last year it is rewarding to see at least something in there. It is interesting to note however that the getting started guide has had even more interest. The post itself is somewhat out of date as the dat manipulation functionality in Workflow has advanced in the time since this was written, but the post remains useful in that it shows a number of ways regular expressions in Workflow can be used to manipulate strings of text characters - which is a powerful piece of functionality in Workflow that has many applications.

9. Adding Multiple Sets of Looping Slides to PowerPoint (~2,100 hits)

Published 30 May 2014.

This post from mid-2014 didn’t make it into last year’s annual list, but as is often the case it can take a while for some of my posts to get bedded in attention-wise. I created it based on the need I had for a webinar I was presenting in to have some looping slides in PowerPoint at the start (while we were preparing and people were logging in) and the end (for questions and useful information at the conclusion). I came across many posts about having one such looped set of slides, but nothing on how to do more than one. As a result I came up with a way of doing it and then wrote the post to share how to do it.

8. Notepad++ Workflow: Find Lines Not Containing (~2,300 hits)

Published 30 April 2013.

Up one place from 2014 this post describes how the popular free text editor Notepad++ can be used to quickly filter out lines which do not contain a particular string of text. A useful process to know when analysing data sets and logs. Notepad++ remains my goto free text editor of choice (e.g. for working on client PCs) though I have now moved to using SublimeText (not free but cross platform and very powerful) and I will always have a place for NoteTab with its incredibly useful clipping language (which I still use for a few bits of text processing).

7. A Flexible Progress Window in VBScript (~2,800 hits)

Published 19 July 2009.

At six and half years old this post is once again the oldest in the top 10 and has actually risen from 10th to 7th place since last year’s 2014 review. The post describes and specifies some reusable VBScript for displaying a progress window using Internet Explorer and some dynamic HTML regions. I still find VBScript a useful scripting tool on Windows and I’ve made a number of rather handy in-house utilities at work with it this year. For me it’s still quicker to bang out a solution for some things in this rather than the more capable, but also more ‘arcane’ PowerShell. Saying that I still find a surprising amount of use for DOS batch scripts and recently combined the use of a third party ad-in, a third party command line tool, a batch script and a VBScript to convert Word documents into Markdown and then into HTML that meets our company web site standards. Maybe a derivative of that might make it onto the blog in 2016?

6. Creating a Daily Journal in Evernote (~2,900 hits)

Published 15 March 2010.

A perennial favourite that’s been bouncing around in the top 10 is this post on creating a daily journal in Evernote on Windows. As I mentioned last year I still do daily work journalling, but I have a way to produce my journal note that’s even less effort that the method described in this post. What I haven’t done still apparently is write a blog post on how I’ve been doing it for the last few years. I really must get around to doing that as I kind of promised in the 2014 review that I’d do just that in 2015. However this method described in this post (which uses a DOS batch file by the way) is still entirely useful and relevant - particularly if you wanted several ad-hoc templates to choose from.

5. VBScript to Convert Microsoft Office Files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to PDF (~3,200 hits)

Published 20 December 2012.

Another keeper in the top 10 this year, but up three places, is my blog post on a VBScript to convert office file to PDF. This VBScript is something I use very regularly at work and helps me quickly produce PDF versions of files by selecting them, using my script entry in the *send to context menu and letting the script do it’s thing. This has probably saved me at least a day or two of tedious effort since I created it and I expect given its popularity its saved many more days across everyone else who’s using it. Definitely a little success story this one and I’m just glad so many people are finding it useful.*

4. 24 Hour Clock Calculations in Excel (~3,600 hits)

Published 28 December 2011.

Post number 4 if probably the biggest surprise this year. A blog post from 2011 this describes a simple technique for dealing with a potential cross-midnight situation in calculating the difference between two 24 hour times (no date component) in Excel. There don’t seem to be any notable back links to this post - just organic referrals so it really is a bit of a mystery as to why a post from 2011 suddenly jumped into the first half of the top 10 … but again I’m just glad people are finding it useful.

3. Using SED on Windows (~5,800 hits)

Published 30 September 2011.

My post on some simple examples for using the stream editor (SED) utility on Windows has held the number one spot for the last two years, but this year its dropped down a couple of places. I wrote the post after I spent a bit of time experimenting to get GNU SED working on Windows to process a log file I had that was weighing in at well over a million lines. I created this just to show an example for how to use it as I’d not been able to find any when I started trying to use it. Obviously it is still a popular read as it actually only dropped by a couple of hundred page views since the previous year.

2. View your Android Device on your PC using DroidScreen (~6,300 hits)

Published 30 January 2014.

In at number 7 in 2014, this post on displaying your Android screen on your PC has jumped up to the number 2 spot in 2015 with almost a 150% increase in page views. I wrote the post after creating a walk through for my work colleagues on how to set-up their Android phones and PCs to display the phone screen on the PC. We needed to do this for some presentations and I decided I’d figure out how to do it before someone came and asked me how to do it. I haven’t checked the software versions since to verify if this still works and at work we’ve switched to using the Reflector 2 application (which I introduced colleagues to after using Reflector on my Mac for several years) - which unlike the solution in the post isn’t free and relies on a stable WiFi connection between the PC and phone.

1. Auto Incrementing in Excel (~23,800 hits)

Published 29 June 2013.

The number 1 spot is taken by last year’s number 2 entry; my post on auto incrementation in Excel. This saw a quite frankly ridiculous jump from under 5K views in 2014 to almost 24K views in 2015 and again this looks from the site logs like it’s down to organics rather than any back linking from other sites.

Now for anyone used to working with Excel you probably know how to get a numeric sequence to increment. Well did you know there are a few ways to do this and that you should change the method based on your particular spreadsheet’s needs? That’s what this post is about. It explains the various ways and in particular a rather nifty formula I came up with to allow you to account for cases where you insert rows and all you need to do is replicate a cell (or duplicate a row) to keep all your numbering (before and after) in line - an absolute boon for many of my expansive and more complex Excel spreadsheets … and trust me I’ve got some that would put many stock market trader workbooks to utter shame.

Overall quite a few surprises for me in there and I’m quite surprised that there weren’t any TextExpander posts in there … but maybe that’s just because people are skipping the blog posts and just downloading the snippet groups to use direct from the revised web site section on TextExpander?

That’s how 2015 looked and I’ve got quite a bit to live up to if 2016 is going to be similar in any way. Hopefully I’ll keep cranking out useful content and I may just try and find the time to switch over this site to something more mobile friendly … but that will be a lot of effort and switching my publishing workflow away from MarsEdit and to something else since the newer versions of the SquareSpace CMS don’t support XML-RPC. It’ll be quite a big change for me and I daren’t underestimate the amount of effort it would take as I’d effectively only have a couple of weeks in which to get the entire switch to the site and my workflow sorted out. Not something I’m going to take lightly with hundreds of pages of content.

I hope you found this post interesting and that you’ll keep coming back for more useful stuff over the course of 2016. Best wishes for the new year and come back soon.

Author: Stephen Millard

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