My “Swiss Army” USB Flash Drive

Several months ago, I added a new item to my keychain: a 32GB USB memory stick.  This blog post is about what I did to make the most of this little device so that it would be able to:

  • Support file transfers among operating systems (primarily Mac OS X, and Windows)
  • Support files larger than 4GB
  • Be bootable for rescue purposes (using Hiren’s Boot CD)


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Getting a new Windows system up and running with Ninite

I have installed Windows quite a few times over this past year, from setting up different operating systems on my home lab server and installing Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8.  You’d think that I would have spent hours downloading all the installers for Chrome, Flash, VLC, Notepad++, PuTTY, 7-Zip, and all the other common programs I use and having to click “Next” buttons a million times.  Well fortunately there’s a better solution.  I came across Ninite a while ago, and it has saved me a ton of time installing the basic programs I use on Windows.


With Ninite, you just need to pick the programs you want from their website, then click Get Installer.  Once you run the installer, it goes off on its own downloading the programs, and installing them by itself.  It’s also smart about not installing any extra junk (like toolbars or adware).

Nearly a hundred free programs are available to include in the installation, including browsers, instant messaging clients, media players, utilities, and even developer tools.

Ninite has been a great timesaver for getting the most basic programs onto a new Windows installation.

Using Mac’s Automator to Make Diffing Easier

Recently I’ve been needing an easy way to paste two versions of a text, and get the differences between the texts, specifically changes within a line (most diff programs only show which lines have changed).  After some searching, DiffMerge came up as one of the best free diff programs that would work on the Mac.  DiffMerge is great in many aspects, however, it lacked the interface to paste in text to diff right off the start.

I set out using Mac’s Automator tool to create an application to prompt the user for two texts, create the temporary files, then pass it into DiffMerge.

AutomatorPasteDiffAutomator is a very easy to use visual scripting tool that you can use to create workflows that can be automated (hence the name).  Also, it comes with all Macs!  As great as Automator seems to be, there are some drawbacks: the actions aren’t too customizable, and the flow of data within the workflow is strictly “output” of one action to the “input” of the next.

I came up with the following workflow:

  1. Get value of a pseudo-variable – random identifier
  2. Set the value of the random identifier into a variable so the same identifier can be referenced later (subsequent steps refer to this value as just the “identifier”)
  3. Ask for base text
  4. Store base text in a temporary file (using the identifier as part of the filename)
  5. Ask for new text
  6. Store new text in a temporary file (using the identifier as part of the filename)
  7. Get value of the identifier
  8. Run a custom shell script to open up diffmerge with the files created in the steps above.  Passing in the identifier as an argument of the shell script allows us to figure out the name of the temporary files.  The shell script also removes the temporary files when DiffMerge is closed.

The result was quite successful.  Here is what DiffMerge looks like after pasting in two SQL dumps into the Automator application.  Notice the temporary filename.

PasteDiffI’ve uploaded the app to do this on my GitHub account.  It’s called “”.  You can download them, and open the apps in Automator in order to see precisely the actions used.

Many times, computers programs are born out of necessity to reduce repetitive or menial tasks.  For Mac users, Automator’s a nifty tool that can help with that.

If you have used Automator for anything cool, let me know in the comments!

Make Word spell check uppercase words

It’s a little known fact that Microsoft Word by default does not spell check uppercase words.  I had the opportunity to read through many co-op resumes from a couple universities this past week, and the typos I’ve seen seem to support this observation.

The problem comes when you have a section heading in capitals, such as “ACHIVEMENTS” or “RELEVENT SKILLS”.  Microsoft Word by default doesn’t indicate that the spelling is wrong!

I’m not sure why this “feature” is enabled by default, as I’d think it would be better to have more false positives than to have typos go undetected.  In any case, it’s easy to get Word to spell check uppercase words, which I’ll outline below.

More importantly it’s essential to manually proofread your job applications.  Having typos (among other things) shows a lack of attention to detail.  Don’t rely on an automated spell check.

Enable uppercase word spell check in Microsoft Word 2010 and 2007

  1. Open up Word Options.
    2010: Click the File tab, then Options.
    2007: Click the Office button at the top left, then click Word Options.
  2. Click the Proofing tab on the left.
  3. Deselect “Ignore words in UPPERCASE”.


Enable uppercase word spell check in Microsoft Word 2003 and older

  1. Click on the Tools menu, then click on Options.
  2. Click the “Spelling & Grammar” tab.
  3. Deselect “Ignore words in UPPERCASE”.

Enable uppercase word spell check in Microsoft Word 2011 and 2008 for Mac

  1. Click on the Word application menu, then click on Preferences.
  2. Click on the “Spelling & Grammar” icon.
  3. Deselect “Ignore words in UPPERCASE”.

word2011uppercaseHave you got other related tips and tricks to Microsoft Words, or resume writing?  Share yours in the comments.

Sweeping the disks

Every now and then it’s necessary to make some extra room on the disks. I’ve found a set of free tools that helps me see what is taking up all the space.

JDiskReport (Multi-platform)

JDiskReport presents multiple views for getting the statistics of file sizes. The default view is a pie chart showing the sizes of each of the subfolders in the current selected folder. Alternate views are included to determine the file types that use the most space, largest files in the entire tree, file size and file age. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and other Java-supported platforms.

OmniDiskSweeper (for Mac)

OmniDiskSweeper by the Omni Group (probably better known for developing the OmniGraffle diagramming software) is a small nifty program for the Mac that sweeps your drive and gives you an easy listing of the folders and subfolders that take up the most space.  The integrated delete button makes it easy to remove any unneeded files without looking in Finder.

Hope these applications help you quickly and effectively clean up space on your computer.