20 April 2008

#67. Sticky Notes On Your Screen

Howdy from the Tool Bar & Grill, and welcome to the many new readers who have joined us in the past few weeks. Your chef is glad to be back behind the counter again, with some fresh new software recommendations. And assistant chef Mark Lautman continues his thesis on Perl scripting.

Stick With Me, Kid, and You’ll Go Far

I remember when the invention of Post-It® Notes revolutionized office work. Now most of you are too young to imagine a world without them. And like with the paper stick-on notes, I still have hardly begun to explore the panoply of potential uses for Stickies, a free on-screen version. So far I’m delighted just to be able to jot quick notes to myself without hunting for a pen and paper.

The beauty of Stickies is how their simplicity hides their versatility. Just double-click the system tray icon to create a new note on the screen. Your notes stay wherever you put them on the screen, even through reboots, and remain until you delete them. The notes can automatically resize themselves to fit your text. Here is a sample:

It’s easy to configure Stickies any way you want. You can change the color, font, size, and style (bold, italics, etc,); use bullets or numbered or lettered lists; change the case and justification; adjust the transparency; and more. You can view or hide your notes, or roll them up like window blinds, as needed. Right-clicking the system tray icon shows some of the possibilities:

But wait, there’s more. You can stick a note on a folder or document, and it will reappear when you reopen that object. This works for Web pages, too. And you can program Stickies as reminders to open at a certain time, and even sound an alarm.

My new computer came with a lame Microsoft screen note gadget already loaded in the Vista Sidebar, but I’m sure glad I removed it and installed Stickies instead. Stickies works with Windows versions through Vista as well as on handheld computers and Palm PDAs. It is absolutely free, but as always, I urge you to donate some money to Zhorn Software if you like and use the program.

This might not be the end of the story. A similar free utility, Hott Notes, supports graphics and drawing in notes, and has a portable version for flash drives. Likewise, TK8 EasyNote functions similarly to Stickies, though it appears to be less versatile. 3M, the inventor of Post-It® Notes, also produces Post-It® Digital Notes software, but it also seems limited compared to Stickies and costs $20 (though a previous “lite” version can be found for free). I have not yet tried these, but for now, I’ll stick with Stickies.

Welcome to the Perl Boot Camp

by Mark Lautman

In last week’s post, we did a few laps around the Linux terminal window, looking into some examples of powerful one-line commands. This week we’ll separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the sourdough from the pumpernickel, and introduce some more complex Perl scripts.

Linklint is a Perl application that checks a Web site for broken links. It lists all the files in the site, all the anchors, live links, broken links, and how much pizza is selling for in the Barcelona suburbs. In short, the reports generated by Linklint are comprehensive and show you exactly where there is a problem. Here is the output from a help file I did a few years ago:

Do you have problems with attention span? Do you jump from one topic to another and then my car stalled on the highway last vacation. This is a problem for authors who write long Web pages, because nobody has the patience to read pages that are longer than a single window. If you have a long Web page, then give htsplit a try. This Perl script splits one long HTML page into separate HTML files. The splits occur at the heading level you specify (h1, h2, ... h6). htsplit copies all of the head content, such as titles and styles, into all the resulting smaller files. This is very useful for specifications, which are often composed in Word and exported as HTML. Here is a for-instance:

I was looking at disk drive prices recently, and you can now buy a one-terabyte drive for $200. What do people need one terabyte for? All of Asian and Western civilization from the year 5000 BC to 1800 AD fits on a one gigabyte flash card, and that’s including the Chauvet cave paintings! Clearly humanity has a problem with disk space abuse, and there is a script that can help you do something about it. Diskhogs lists all user accounts that consume more disk space than a value you specify, as in this example:

I have heard that when the Roman elite attended a feast, if they didn’t like something they ate, they would intentionally vomit and then try something else. That’s actually quite liberating; with today’s etiquette, you have to keep everything in your stomach no matter how awful it tastes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same thing with compression programs? Some compression utilities work better than others, but it is time-consuming to manually compress a file with each one, check the file sizes, and then expunge the largest ones. Bestcompress does all that work for you. You indicate where all the compression programs are on your computer, and the script determines the one that gives the smallest size.

There is one thing you need to know about scripts: they often need fixing before you use them. In preparing this post I tried at least 15 other scripts that didn’t work, and the time required to repair them would take me way past bedtime. If you start working with scripts, be prepared to learn the language they are written in so you can enhance them to get the results you want.

Congratulations on making it through this basic training on the terminal window! —Mark Lautman

Well, that’s just about all the fun I can handle in one sitting. I hope you’ll make the Tool Bar & Grill a regular part of your weekly Web surfing – and if you like it, please tell the world about it through Digg, Del.icio.us, Stumble Upon, Technorati, and other services. And feel free to comment below or write to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.


  1. Good review. I have been using JC Sticky Deluxe (a Yahoo widget), which is very similar to Sticky, but after trying out Sticky, I'm thinking about switching switch. Very nice. Thank you Jonathan.

  2. Alek, thanks very much for writing in. I have no personal stake in Stickies, but I am always happy when my blog helps someone. I hope you are a regular visitor, and tell all your friends about me!

  3. I've been using Stickies for years and thanks to you, I've just upgraded to the newest version and it's just great. You can attach stickies to web sites! I'm thinking of those convoluted banking web sites that Roboform doesn't handle well.

  4. Thank you for writing to me, Mary, and sharing your thoughts. However, I recommend you investigate whether Stickies stores notes securely before entrusting secret passwords to it. I have not checked this issue, but you would not want to leave banking passwords in a file that someone could read if they use or steal your computer.

  5. Reader Carl Swann wrote in:

    Hi Jonathon... always enjoy reading your posts!

    A stickies function is just one of many useful features in a tray/toolbar app called FooBar, first created in 1998 for Win98 and still being offered (albeit tweaked & refined) at


    I've used it in every computer I've had since then, mainly for its Stickies and its Reminders (VERY good)...


    Thank you very much, Carl, for visiting my blog, for your compliments, and especially for alerting us all to FooBar. I will check FooBar out and perhaps report on it in a future post.