Monday, 7 September 2020

Protip: AutoHotKey

All told, I must have wasted several hours of my life googling "en dash", "em dash" and "degree symbol", just so I could copy them into whatever I was writing. My laptop doesn't have a numpad, and in any case, remembering alt key codes is a pain (the degree symbol, for example, is Alt+0176). That said, there must be any number of other ways which are more efficient than my Google method, but until recently, I am embarrassed to say, I was too lazy to look them up.

But then one day I did, and AutoHotKey, a free, open-source program, entered my life. The program itself is tiny (6 kilobytes), and simple to use. You just have to create a .ahk file which associates an easily-remembered key combination with the desired symbol (I use Ctrl+Alt+D for the degree symbol, for example), and tell your operating system to run it on startup. Now I am not saying that this is the best way to do this; I haven't researched this in any detail. But if you find yourself wasting time as I did, or using typing ordinary hyphens or "degrees" when you'd rather use the proper characters, find some way – AutoHotKey or whatever else – break free, and live your best life.

This is the second protip on this blog, or at least the second one identified as such in the title. If or when I add more, I will elevate it to the status of a series (you can see the other series at the bottom of the sidebar).

Series, in my scheme of things, are different from tags (also in the sidebar); the latter are simply a way of organising common themes. When writing my last post, I realised I don't have a tag for movies. I guess I thought I don't watch or write about movies enough to warrant a tag, but the evidence says otherwise. So here you go.

Speaking of punctuation, eleven(!) years ago, I wrote a rather smug post, not-so-subtly implying that I was morally superior for using curly quotes as opposed to straight quotes. I have since got my comeuppance not once but twice. First, I switched my default typeface to Verdana which (to my eye) has ugly curly quotes, which meant I had to fall back on straight quotes. Now, I write for a photography website which uses a WordPress editor, and this editor converts all straight quotes to curly quotes, using its own warped understanding of what is appropriate.

So if I write, say, 8×10" (adopting the widespread practice of using straight double quotes to denote inches), the editor converts it to 8×10” (curly double close quotes). To forestall the substitution, I have to type it as 8×10″ – the technically-correct but rarely-used double prime symbol (on some browsers/​typefaces it looks like one of the other two symbols, but it's actually different). The double prime symbol does not appear on a standard keyboard, but oh well – AutoHotKey to the rescue.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


I've been watching a lot of movies lately (well, three or four a week, which is a lot by my standards) through a British Film Institute subscription. This summer they're showcasing Japanese films, and I watched two of them back to back: Ghost in the Shell (1995), an animated cyberpunk film by Mamoru Oshii, and Early Summer (1951), a quietly understated household drama by one of my favourite directors, Yasujirō Ozu.

The movies couldn't be more different – science fiction versus domesticity, chaos versus order, fast-paced action versus a film where nothing much happens ("Plot bores me," Ozu used to say, and his grave bears a single character, 無 (mu) meaning nothing).

Here's a screenshot from Ghost in the Shell, taken from a 3½-minute montage of the futuristic city where the story is set. The sequence, which is fortunately on YouTube, has to rank among the best few minutes of animation I have ever seen. Its ostensible purpose is to set the tone – in a sense, the city itself is one of the principal characters in the movie – but I also get the sense that for a few minutes, the artists and animators were given licence simply to show off, like the solos at the end of Abbey Road.

And below is a still from Early Summer: a trademark tatami shot. It's a multi-layered composition with an abundance of objects, but somehow Ozu still contrives to make it look elegant and minimalist. How does he do it?!

I'm glad I can enjoy these two very different movies, with their very different aesthetics.