Sunday, August 28, 2011

Daniel's Software Musings (Part 2)

Today in the second part of my software-review series I have another couple of programs for you to peruse and (hopefully) enjoy.

Audacity is an excellent sound editing program. That sounds trite, but there really isn't that much more I can say about it. It does sound editing, and it does it well. I don't do a lot of sound editing compared to, say, photo editing, but on the occasions I have I've found Audacity to be quite capable of what I needed it to do. One minor caveat: although Audacity can read MP3 files just fine, it cannot save your work as one without downloading a separate plugin (this has to do with software patents preventing the bundling of the pertinent code with Audacity, although the use of the plugin itself is completely legal). Thankfully the installation process is fairly simple, and there are full instructions for how to do it in the FAQ. And there's a good chance you will want to do it, given the ubiquity of MP3 files nowadays....

TeXworks (\(\LaTeX\))
I know I've gushed before about how \(\LaTeX\) makes your documents look beautiful, but I just couldn't resist the chance to do it again. For those who don't know, \(\LaTeX\) (pronounced lay-tech, with a Greek chi (\(\chi\)) sound at the end if you want to be particular) is a sort of easier-to-use version of \(\TeX\). \(\TeX\) is a typesetting language invented by the brilliant computer scientist Donald Knuth himself, and TeXworks is a program that interprets documents written in \(\LaTeX\) format and outputs them as PDF documents. Like many of the programs I'll be listing, it requires an investment of time in order to use well, but the results are worth it. To be clear, TeXworks is but one of many \(\LaTeX\) editors out there, but it's a good one, and more importantly, it's free, unlike a lot of them. (To explain, \(\LaTeX\) is like HTML; it's a mark-up language that must be interpreted. TeXworks is to \(\LaTeX\) what your browser is to HTML.) There really is no better way to describe \(\LaTeX\) than that it takes what you type and makes it beautiful, leaving you free to concentrate on the substance rather than the style of what you're writing (unlike these posts, where I have to do a lot of manual HTML and CSS tweaking to get those fancy header effects). And it's not only math-heavy papers that benefit from it (although they do, tremendously). It's possible to display pretty much any symbol ever devised or invented by man using \(\LaTeX\). The intimidatingly-large document that lists every symbol supported includes everything from specialized phonetic symbols to musical notation to Egyptian hieroglyphics to pigpen-code fonts to chess notation to ancient alchemical symbols to Feynman diagram notation to the entirety of the still-undeciphered Minoan script Linear, A and B. And just in case that wasn't enough for you, there's a large section at the end detailing exactly how to go about defining and using your own symbols. And I haven't even mentioned one of the most amazing thing about \(\LaTeX\) that should appeal to everyone who's ever had to write a bibliography: \(\LaTeX\) can write it for you. You just put the information for your papers into a database (and many papers found online come with that information handily pre-generated), and \(\LaTeX\) can create a complete database out of it in many different standard formats using just two commands. It's that simple. If you foresee any large amounts of writing in your future, do yourself a favor and learn how \(\LaTeX\) can make life simpler (and more beautiful) for you.

Have you ever found yourself with two windows open, perhaps comparing or copying things between them, when all of a sudden you need to scroll the window that you aren't currently working in? I don't know about you, but that happens to me a lot (especially while using TeXworks), and I find the constant need to click over to the inactive window, scroll, then click back and re-locate my place in the first window again a pain. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just scroll the inactive window without having to click on it first? If you answered yes, well, then, rejoice! because WizMouse allows you to do just that. Honestly, this program does what Windows should be doing natively. You'll notice I specifically said Windows there, because both Macintosh and Linux do this already, and it's a real black mark for Microsoft that they haven't yet caught up to the 21st century. It's not difficult, as shown by the tiny size of the file necessary to do it. Some of you know me as a staunch anti-Apple person, but I will willingly concede that in this area Apple is way ahead of the makers of my favorite operating system. Anyway, the point is, this program fixes it. Get it. Unless you're not running Windows, of course.

And that's it for another episode! I don't know how, but I sit down to write one of these after supper and next thing I know it's the wee hours of the morning, so I hope you appreciate it. A hui hou!

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