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WrongRoom? The Scourge of the Full-Screen Text Editor

Software-engineering is very often a balancing act. We're constantly trying to add more features, while also trying to reduce overall complexity.

Nowhere is this more important than in a text editor.

Everybody has their text editor of choice — one which they stick by. There are legions of people who are very passionate about the subject.

There are plenty of text editors to choose from. Some are focused on providing a bazillion features, some focus on making it lightweight, and some just focus on making it easy to use.

There's so much variation — it's impossible to make a text editor that pleases everyone.

And that's the point. Your choice of text editor is a very personal affair — even if it's just Windows Notepad. What works for one person might not work for another.

A niche in text editors

Which brings us nicely to today's topic of discussion: full-screen text editors. "Distraction-free writing" that's been the scourge of power users and the dreamboat of novelists.

Their premise is simple. Offer a completely uncluttered interface for users who want to focus on just their text. WriteRoom started it all.

In a way, they remind me of another phenomena. Netbooks. Full-screen editors are to text editors what netbooks are to computers.

  • Full-screen editors are **intentionally primitive**. Just like netbooks, which sacrifice basic features for portability (like an optical drive).
  • Normal editors can do everything a full-screen editor can do. This is just like regular computers, which can do everything a netbook can.
  • There are loads around. WriteRoom, DarkRoom, JDarkRoom, DarkCopy, Q10, and many more. They all basically do the same thing. Much like netbooks, all having the same specs.

However, there are people who seem to hate them. Mark Pilgrim, in a 2007 article, has more.

"These programs aren't for serious writers at all. They're for the writer's equivalent of script kiddies - people who want to go to Starbucks and pick up chicks with their MacBooks and their iPods and their glowing full-screen text editors.

No doubt they will be wildly successful. Meanwhile, if you need me, I'll be in the corner writing my next book with a real text editor. I think it even has a full-screen mode."

What is he talking about? Perhaps he is more used to the traditional Text Editing Solution®.

What Mark Pilgrim has made abundantly clear is that: full-screen editors are an acquired taste.

Full-screen text editors: Useful? Maybe

It's not hard to see the appeal. Imagine an editor that just gets out of the way.

They hide all distractions (no Twitter, no Facebook, no Google!), and they're great for quickly firing up a text editor to take down some notes in class.

Okay, maybe they're not for everyone — just like a netbook.

Parting Note

Maybe you want the extra features. Maybe you want the extra power. Maybe you can deal with the extra distraction. Maybe you need every conceivable feature a text editor might need. Before you know it — we can end up looking like this:

As stated earlier, it's all a question of balance.

Over to you

Do you use a full-screen text editor? Did you ever use one? Do you like it? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Full disclosure: I did indeed use a full-screen editor to write this post.

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Opera Mini 4 (featured freeware)

While the default web browsers on most mobile phones are getting better, they still don’t compare to the best alternatives.

Opera Mini is just such an alternative.

It’s much faster than the default browser on most phones, and doesn’t take up a load of space. It renders just like you’d expect, too.

How is it faster?

Because it uses compression. Opera’s servers will receive your request for data and compress everything down to byte-sized pages, then send it over to you.

Not only do pages load up much faster, but you also save on data costs (up to 80%).

Features Designed for Mobile

You can just tell that the Opera Mini team had usability and power in mind when designing the app.

  • Zoom in/out with just a tap of the 5 key.
  • Desktop-class rendering.
  • Speed-dial of bookmarks.
  • Auto-completion of websites you’ve already been to, plus one-click additions of “.com”, “.net”, etc.
  • Adding of custom search shortcuts (e.g. search).
  • Speed scrolling support, press 2, 4, 6, 8 to scroll through pages very quickly.

My only complaint is that it has no Flash support as of yet – but most Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 devices (Nokia E71 notably left out) can download Opera Mobile instead.


If you’re using a Java-enabled device, do yourself a favour a try out Opera Mini. It works on Blackberry, too.

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Macbook-like Two Finger Scrolling in Windows

A useful but often overlooked feature of the modern Macbooks is the multi-touch trackpad. This work horse is capable of recognising many gestures, including two-finger scrolling and tapping. Let’s bring that functionality to Windows.

This is a mildly technical post detailing how to enable Macbook-like 2-finger scrolling on your Windows notebook touchpad.

My Digital Life has outlined the way to do this. The process is pretty involved.

First, you’ll need to download some modified Synaptics drivers1 . Then, follow the installation instructions detailed:


  1. Uninstall all current Synaptics drivers from Control Panel’s Add and Remove Programs or Programs and Features.
  2. Restart the computer.
  3. Install the modded driver by running the setup.exe inside the ZIP archive.
  4. Windows should prompt a warning about unsigned driver. Continue to install the driver anyway.
  5. Restart the computer after installation is completed and Synaptics TouchPad driver is updated.
  6. In Device Manager’s Mouse and Other Pointing Devices” section, Synaptics PS/2 Port Touchpad should have driver version of 10.2.4.

When you’re done installing the modified driver, you have to install an open-source program called two-finger-scroll. There is no software to install, just double-click the executable file.

One last thing. In order for two-finger scroll to work properly, you need to disable all 2-finger commands, and all virtual scrolling except for horizontal (you might want to keep this on, since two-finger-scroll doesn’t work horizontally..

Disable 2-finger commands by going to: Control Panel > Mouse > Device Settings > "Two Finger Gestures and un-checking “Enable two finger gestures”.

Finally, disable virtual scrolling by going to: Control Panel > Mouse > Device Settings > Virtual Scrolling and un-checking “Enable vertical scrolling” and “Enable ChiralMotion scrolling”.

And you’re done!

Two-finger-tap = right-click

You can also enable a two-finger-tap to mean a right click using the same application. Here are the settings I’ve used.

1: Enable Multi-Touch Gesture (Finger Scroll, Momentum, and ChiralMotion on Synaptics TouchPad in Windows 7/Vista/XP/Server [My Digital Life]

Disclaimer: Try this at your own risk. It worked for me, but it might not work for you. Whatever happens, I’m not responsible. Thanks!

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Design Showcase:

It’s not often that I showcase another site around here. It has to be really special, really unique, and really different. Website design company checks all the boxes.

The site is beautifully arranged over a city scape, with a giant scrolling background sky. The content is in the “sky”. Different content is laid out on different portions of the sky. The intro page is against an early morning sky, the about page is set against sunrise, and so on.

The site utilises smooth automatic scrolling and has no page loading – since it’s all technically on the same page. It looks great in action. Here are some screen shots:

Check out their site at

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Get the Windows 7 Calculator in Vista

Before Windows 7, the Windows Calculator was an overlooked area of Windows. Used by so many people on a daily basis for minor arithmetic tasks, yet appreciated by so few people.

From the looks of it, Microsoft seems to have done a sterling job on their latest Operating System. All the previously-overlooked utilities, including: Wordpad, Calculator, and even Paint, have been completely redone for the new version of Windows.

Daily Gyan has posted a port of the Windows 7 calculator for Windows Vista. It works perfectly.

To replace the default Vista calculator with this one, replace the 2 files in the following two directories:


Replace the default System Calculator

It’s not particularly easy to replace system files on Windows. I’ve created a little script that will do this automatically. Follow the steps below.

  • Download the 2 files you need: calc.exe and calc.exe.mui (found under the en-US folder in the download above).
  • Place the 2 files in the same folder e.g. your desktop
  • Download the script, and place it in the same folder as the 2 files (e.g. your desktop).
  • Boot into safe mode, and double click the script.
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How To: Write an Essay

University life is challenging, what with loads of assignments and essays with looming deadlines, and boring lectures to attend.

Here’s a longish post which might help you with your next essay. It’s straight out of my personal notes so enjoy!

Read the question

Read the question carefully, and work out what exactly it is asking.

Work at your approach. How are you going to approach the problem/question?


Planning is important. Laying down all that you want to mention will help you structure the essay.

Plan which bits you want to include and which to leave out.

On the other type of planning – make sure you free up lots of time ahead. Trying to do it last-minute will make it appear rushed.


Choose a title that reflects an analysis and interpretation of the subject.


Restrict yourself to one point per paragraph. Every paragraph should be able to stand up on its own. You should be able to move paragraphs around.

Introduction and Conclusion

You should have an introduction which shows that you understand the question and shows how you plan to answer the question.

Your conclusion should contain an overall analysis of the problem, after you’ve answered it. See if your answer properly addresses the question, and to what extent. Sometimes the question might still be open-ended.

Don’t be so Opinionated

Try to provide some closure, but be open-minded to other possibilities.

Especially at the beginning, be open-minded and don’t overlook the opportunity to provide both sides of the argument. Do not reach your conclusion (the climax, the ultimate underlying point) early on, as it leaves no room for further argument on the topic.

Research and Interpret

Before you even start researching, make a list of places you actually plan to look for the information. Is the internet enough? Do you need to make a trip to the library? And do you plan to quote?

Plan to include about 10% of how much you research, so invest lots and lots of time in reading. Nothing feels better than getting that scrap of material that glues all your essay’s main arguments together, keep at it!

Quotations are a very useful tool for quickly getting your point across, but provide sufficient attribution. Don't plagiarise! This is normally an instant fail.

Base your work on more than one source to get a valid and balanced opinion. Using one source will generally make your work appear one-dimensional and too opinionated.

Your interpretation needs to reflect the research you’ve done. Anyone can supply an opinion piece; but it’s harder to show that you’re well-read in the area of discussion.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supply an original opinion – be brave about your thoughts, and don’t be afraid to express them. It makes your work stand out.

Think about the question

Always keep the question in mind. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the information you read in your research and this could take you in a different direction. Make sure that the material that you’re using is relevant; don’t include miscellaneous information.

In Closing…

Writing an essay doesn’t have to be hell on earth. It’s time consuming, yes, but the rewards (a good grade/mark) might make it worth it.

Just set your mind to it, and good luck!

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