Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Accented characters on your UK keyboard under Windows XP

It's bothered me for ages that it is simply not possible to type most accented characters (other than acute accents) on a standard UK keyboard, under Windows XP. There were very few available: basically, if you press and hold AltGr whilst pressing a,e,i,o or u, you'll get the acute-accent versions of those characters. And that's it.

OK, I'm clearly slow on the uptake, because there is a way, it's just that Microsoft hides it rather well. Here's how to do it.
  1. Firstly, go into your Control Panel and select "Regional and Language Options". (You thought it would be "Keyboard", didn't you? So did I.)
  2. Click on the "Languages" tab. Under "Text services and input languages", click on the "Details..." button. (Told you it wasn't obvious!)
  3. In the box centre-left, you'll see "English (United Kingdom)", and the keyboard option for that will be "United Kingdom". Click on "Keyboard" and click the "Add..." button to the right.
  4. That should pop up a new dialog box entitled, "Add Input Language". The "Input language" option selected should be "English (United Kingdom)". Everything else apart from the "Keyboard layout/IME" checkbox should be greyed-out. Click in that checkbox. That should wake up the keyboard layout drop-down.
  5. Click on the drop-down and select "United Kingdom Extended". Now click OK. That should put "United Kingdom Extended" into your "Installed services" list.
  6. "OK" your way out of the other dialogs, until you're back to normal service.]
  7. In your taskbar, usually at the bottom of your screen, you should see "UK" followed by a keyboard symbol. Click on the keyboard symbol. That should offer you a choice of "United Kingdom" and "United Kingdom Extended". Select the extended one.
That's the heavy lifting done. Now, when you want to type an accented character, it's easy. You can still get the acute-accented characters as before. But now you can have the other accents too. To understand how to generate the accents, you need to understand how "dead keys" work. A dead key is a key that doesn't show anything when pressed, but modifies the next key you press. Here is a list of the new dead keys that the UK Extended keyboard introduces. Where it says "AltGR + (some key)" it means "Press and hold AltGr whilst pressing (some key), then release both":

Dead keyMeansAffects
AltGr+apostrophe (')Acute accenta e i o u w y
AltGr+2Umlaut / diaresis ('"' looks a little like an umlaut)a e i o u w y
AltGr+6Circumflex (see '^' above '6')a e i o u w y
Backquote (`)Grave accenta e i o u w y
AltGr+#Tildea n o

Note that if you want to type a backquote on its own, you press the space-bar afterwards. In addition to these, if you want to type a Spanish/Portuguese cedilla-c, you type AltGr-c or AltGr-C depending on whether you want lower-case or upper-case. These are the only accented characters you can type using the United Kingdom Extended keyboard. If you want access to more, use a US-layout keyboard, and select the "United States International" option in the same way as above. To get a feel for how US International layout works, go to http://www.microsoft.com/resources/msdn/goglobal/keyboards/kbdusx.htm - hover your cursor over the grave (`) and acute (') dead keys, and the AltGr key, to see which characters can be generated.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The one-page CV?

[From a comment on this post.]

I've been on both sides of this divide, having interviewed probably several hundred candidates in my time. I wish it had been fewer, but in many companies the CV filtration isn't done by people with skill types similar to the candidate.

Let's kick off with the thread subject: one-page CVs.

No. Well, a qualified no.

I want to see a front page that summarises the skill sets and levels - qualifications too, if the candidate's only had a short career so far - followed by 2-3 pages that go into more detail.

That first page tells me whether it's worth reading the others. It should be a set of facts, uncluttered, and unencumbered by fancy styling. Use one font, consistently. If it's hard on the eye, I've another ten in the pile that are more readable, plus evidence that you don't understand customer requirements, or don't care.

On the other hand, I don't want a Victorian novel, either. I've been programming since '75, in the industry since '85, worked with many companies, and my CV runs to four uncluttered pages. I've only recently expanded it from three. If you've written ten pages of florid prose (the current record is 14, from someone with eight years on the job), I don't want to know.

Remember you're dealing with several humans and a computer. The humans are reading your epistle; the computer is trying to scrape it for keywords. Keep everyone happy, and you're in the group that's in with a chance of interview.

Good luck.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Linux - a breakthrough technology?

(From a posting at LinkedIn)

I'm interested to see all the folks who've nominated Linux as their breakthrough technology. The thing is, Linux isn't a breakthrough technology, and never has been. When it was first written, it was already outmoded. It was designed only for a limited range of Intel PC hardware. It had a monolithic kernel that had to be recompiled any time you needed to change the options. The code was OKish, but not particularly smart, and there was nothing there that advanced the science of operating system design - in fact, quite the opposite. It was a college project.

What it had in its favour was one thing only: it was free, devised as a free alternative to Andy Tannenbaum's Minix.

And "free" is the breakthrough technology here. Even this wasn't unique. Richard Stallman, with his GNU project, started in the early 1980s, pioneered development and licensing of software that was completely free to use and modify. With Stallman's GNU toolkit welded to the Linux kernel, there was at last a usable, _free_ operating system, with source code for all to see. That's where I came in, at kernel version 0.12. The whole thing was amazingly robust and non-buggy, even at such an early stage.

In the subsequent development - essentially a full redesign - of the Linux kernel, it acquired platforms as diverse as the Acorn Archimedes and big IBM mainframe iron. It gained the ability to load and unload device drivers dynamically, whilst running, meaning that kernel recompiles became unnecessary. Its very freeness lended it to exploratory projects that led to new products, making it the cause celebre of the embedded systems world. And because it was licensed under the GNU Public Licence, modifications became integrated into the mainline kernel. Despite all that, there's still not all that much in Linux that's leading-edge, other than some funky filesystems.

So if you're tempted to nominate Linux as the technology that changed everything, think again. The leading edge technologies that changed your life were twofold. The first was called Richard Stallman, a man who wanted to change the world, and make software free, with source code visible to all. The second, made at his behest, a technology created by a lawyer: the Gnu Public Licence.

A man and a contract. Who knew?