Marcus' Macro Blog

Tips and News on Macro Recording and Automating Windows with Macro Scheduler

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BlackFriday Deal

Friday, November 27th, 2015 by Marcus Tettmar

So it’s Black Friday. Sounds so gloomy. A day where many appear to go mad and gorge.

There’ll be no extra discounts from us today, but what we will do is donate 10% of today’s sales to The Woodland Trust and St Mungo’s charity for the homeless.

So if you buy or upgrade Macro Scheduler today, or renew your maintenance you’ll be planting some much needed trees and providing for people who really need stuff. :-)

It can’t be done. Or can it?

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 by Marcus Tettmar

“It can’t be done.”

We’re always meeting people who have been told by consultants and technical folk that moving data from one application to another can’t be done.

We prove them wrong every time.

One of the most popular uses for Macro Scheduler within corporations is automated data entry. Time and again we learn about projects where systems are replaced and renewed but gaps still exist which need to be bridged by manual “rekeying”.

In an ideal world there will be an API, database access, or an interface to export/import data files. But the reality is we still don’t live in an ideal world.

Surprisingly often, especially with older legacy systems, none of these things exist. More often than not they are technically possible, but for various reasons just don’t get implemented. It might cost too much, system vendors may not be willing to open up their technology, IT staff may be too busy on other projects.

And quite often it seems that IT departments are busy working on the “big picture” and consider these “rekeying” jobs too small to worry about.

Taken in isolation the fact that one person in one department might be rekeying patient records, or invoices once a month for three hours might seem a trivial problem. But it’s not just one person in one department. In our experience every team throughout an organisation has someone doing something like that. Added up the total time wasted by the organisation is huge. More often than not these people are being taken away from more productive work.

As an example consider a hospital we are currently helping.

Hospitals are huge organisations, with hundreds of departments and all kinds of systems where for all kinds of reasons people are keying data into one system that was extracted from another.

In a few days we’ve already helped four departments remove the need for monthly manual data entry jobs. In total this must be saving at least 2 man-days per month. In actual fact what it really means is that the clinicians who once had to do this work can now treat two or three more patients a month each.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It may seem like small gains. But we have only just got started and I’m quite sure that every department has at least one person doing manual work that they don’t need to do. In this age of austerity and cost cutting it is fantastic to see the hospital making lots of small efficiency gains that together make a big improvement.

The trouble is that most people don’t realise that what they are doing can be automated.

Most of our customers are an exception, and the IT guy at the hospital thought outside the box and found a solution.

But most people are told “it isn’t possible” so carry on tapping away at the keyboard.

Most IT people, bless them, sometimes think too technically. It’s understandable. So you ask IT “can we automate this data entry procedure” or “can we connect these systems” and words and abbreviations like API, SOAP, XML, SQL will fill their heads, and they’ll come back and say “No sorry, can’t be done”. If you’re lucky someone will contact the system vendor who will naturally want payment for building a custom interface and then it will turn out that the vendor of the other system needs to be involved, or a new module needs purchasing, or someone needs to go on a training course, and all of a sudden it’s looking far too expensive and going to take far too long, to make it justified. So the conclusion is it isn’t possible.

But if you’re reading this blog you know there IS another way to do it.

We CAN automate data entry at the user interface level. And it CAN be made reliable and robust.

Is it the most ideal solution? Some would say not. But are we living in an ideal world? No.

We can demonstrate, our customers can demonstrate that it works. It allows the process to get automated quickly, without specialist technical resource, without reliance on the system vendors or even the IT department and without a large investment. For a relatively tiny outlay the invoice clerk’s life can be transformed, the human resources department can avoid rekeying appraisal data every month and clinicians can stop doing tedious tasks and get back to doing what they love, what they’re best at and serving the community.

I heard about a project in another public sector body near here the other day which has cost a fortune. New systems were brought in and inevitably there was some part of it that would have to remain manual. Consultants were brought in at great cost to look for a solution and after several months and lots of money their conclusion was that while they might be able to improve it a bit there will still be the need for some manual “rekeying”.

Macro Scheduler could have saved them – and the taxpayer – thousands. But it never occurred to them that there was another way.

So my challenge, our challenge, is to reach out to these people, reach out to ordinary people and tell them “it IS possible”. We can simplify your work, we can automate those repetitive tasks, don’t believe everything consultants might tell you – they can’t help thinking traditionally or too technically.

There IS a way.

If you use Macro Scheduler to simplify your own processes, reach out and tell people in other departments, tell your colleagues, tell your friends. There will be someone in other departments with similar problems who could also benefit.

Spread the word. We have a duty to save people time, make people more productive, make companies more profitable, and in the case of the public sector – save our tax money!

Electric Trains, Ferries and Automobiles

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 by Marcus Tettmar

Electric cars and hybrids are becoming more common and it’s great to see more and more of them on the road. My next car, due next month, will be a plug-in hybrid.

I see the industry moving rapidly. Advancements in battery technology and range are happening all the time. If I didn’t have a large family I’d be happy with a small pure-EV with a range of over 200 miles. But I don’t think it will be long before larger family sized cars can do the same. In fact Tesla recently revealed a prototype 7 seater – the Model-X – which promises a range of 270 miles. Right now it’s a bit pricey, but it won’t be long before other manufacturers catch up. I can’t wait.

The same technology is now being tried in other forms of transport. Near my home town of Harwich this month the first battery powered train was tested. Much of our train network has been or is being electrified. But inevitably there are gaps which at present must be filled by diesel engines. A battery powered solution would allow trains to continue to work on electricity through the gaps and recharge when back on overhead power.

Recently I read about a battery powered electric chain ferry in Norway. It has now been sailing for over a year. Great stuff. There’s a chain ferry near us in Poole Harbour. I hope they look to similar technology.

Of course we also need to make sure the electricity used to charge these batteries is not being made by burning coal. But it’s good to see this kind of progress towards a reduction on our dependence on oil, which is sorely needed:

A third of the world’s oil, half of its gas, and 80 percent of its coal reserves must remain unused if we are to have a good chance of avoiding potentially devastating climate change.

The Google Dance

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 by Marcus Tettmar

I’ve never really worried too much about SEO for mjtnet.com. We’ve certainly never done anything black hat or spammy.

All we’ve ever done really is made sure we have contextual content on the site that caters to human beings and does all the obvious things like make sure we have our important key phrases in the text of the page.

But earlier this year I became aware that our organic search traffic had declined. And looking at the trend over time I realised that our rankings for keywords like “Macro Recorder” had taken a tumble just after Google’s Panda update in 2011 and then again with Penguin in 2012.

I felt a little silly. I should have noticed at the time. But I guess I was focused on other things. I remember reading about Panda and Penguin and sniggering quietly to myself whenever I heard that someone who had employed dubious SEO methods had been penalised. Little did I know that somehow we’d suffered too!

I’m not really sure why this is. Like I said we’ve never done anything black hat. We’ve never bought links.

Our domain has existed since 1997. We’ve been around a long time in Internet terms. In the early days of the web there was no Google. There wasn’t even a proper search engine. If you sold software what you did was upload your trial (or shareware) versions to a number of download sites. That’s how people found our software.

Over the years we’ve continued to list our software on download sites but their importance has diminished while search engines, and more recently Google, have become the most important way to be found.

Many of the download sites have suffered as a result and have resorted to dubious means, such as forcing downloaders to use their own installers which bundle downloads with adware and browser extensions.

I wonder if we have been penalised for our association with these sites. Once our software is out in the wild, we have little to no control over who lists it, so it seems a bit unfair if it is the case that our rankings have suffered because of these sites.

In the mean time competitors have appeared who seem to rank better for some of our key phrases, despite having fewer back links, and less longevity and in some cases less context for the key terms.

We’re doing our best to fix that but there’s not a huge amount we can do other than keep writing content and keep helping our customers and hope that they share and bookmark our web pages and blog posts – hint hint ;-) .

Frustrating. But that’s life these days I guess. We dance for the Google god.

It’s a Macro Recorder, It’s a Windows Automation Tool. It’s Macro Scheduler!

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Marcus Tettmar

I usually write about technical stuff here in this blog, but today I have my marketing hat on and I’m thinking about how we describe our favourite piece of software.

Up in the sky, look: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!

A while ago I asked in the forums how people described Macro Scheduler. Do they call it a Macro Recorder, Windows Automation Tool, Scripting Language, or something else altogether?

Interestingly the winner was scripting language! followed closely by automation tool.

The forums are mostly read by existing users and those who responded to the question were mostly old hands.

I suspect if we asked relative newcomers, they would be more likely to answer Macro Recorder, or Windows Automation tool.

Does it matter? Well, to existing users, those of us already benefiting from the tool, what we call it probably doesn’t matter too much. Personally, I prefer the term Windows Automation Tool. But from a marketing perspective it matters more.

You see, far more people search Google for Macro Recorder (and similar terms) each month than Windows Automation based phrases. An order of magnitude more. Both terms describe a tool for performing automation, so both terms attract people who would benefit from the software.

And since more people search for Macro Recorder related terms it is important that we use those terms on our website. We all want more people to benefit from the software don’t we? We all want the community to grow. And we want the business to grow and be here in another 17 years (yes, we’ve been continuously improving and supporting Macro Scheduler since 1997 and we are still going strong).

We use an email support system called Help Scout (it’s brilliant by the way, if you’re looking for a way to support your customers we recommend it).

When Help Scout started out they wanted to build an email only, personalised support system which treated customers like people not numbers. So when they started out they didn’t use terms like Help Desk or Ticketing System. In their minds it was quite different. They didn’t think of it as a ticketing system.

However, when they started trying to get the word out and marketing it they realised they would have to use terms like help desk and ticketing system or no one would ever find them. And at the end of the day it IS a help desk. Just a different one. A better one.

Macro Scheduler, at its most basic level, is a macro recorder. Just a different one. A far more capable and flexible one with many more features to aid automation of software.

When it comes to marketing it seems it’s not how WE describe it that matters, it’s what people are looking for that is important. Assuming of course we have something that solves their problem.

I suspect that many of those who answered Windows Automation or Scripting Tool in the forum may well have originally found us way back by using more common terms like macro software or macro recorder.

What do you call it when you tell others about it? If you had to describe it in two or three words? And do you remember how you found us?

Remembrance

Monday, November 11th, 2013 by Marcus Tettmar

Upgrades are 60% off Regular Prices

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 by Marcus Tettmar

I’m still getting questions about upgrade pricing.

Some people don’t seem to be aware that if they have an older version they can get version 13 for almost 60% off the regular price. Not 10%. 60%.

If you have an older version of Macro Scheduler (any version!) then right now you can purchase the upgrade to v13 at this huge discount.

To see the upgrade prices go to: http://www.mjtnet.com/upgrade.htm

To ensure you are eligible log into your secure download account at http://www.mjtnet.com/dldregd.htm

If you can’t get logged in, email us, and we’ll get you sorted.

It can’t be done. Or can it?

Friday, October 14th, 2011 by Marcus Tettmar

“It can’t be done.”

We’re always meeting people who have been told by consultants and technical folk that moving data from one application to another can’t be done.

We prove them wrong every time.

One of the most popular uses for Macro Scheduler within corporations is automated data entry. Time and again we learn about projects where systems are replaced and renewed but gaps still exist which need to be bridged by manual “rekeying”.

In an ideal world there will be an API, database access, or an interface to export/import data files. But the reality is we still don’t live in an ideal world.

Surprisingly often, especially with older legacy systems, none of these things exist. More often than not they are technically possible, but for various reasons just don’t get implemented. It might cost too much, system vendors may not be willing to open up their technology, IT staff may be too busy on other projects.

And quite often it seems that IT departments are busy working on the “big picture” and consider these “rekeying” jobs too small to worry about.

Taken in isolation the fact that one person in one department might be rekeying patient records, or invoices once a month for three hours might seem a trivial problem. But it’s not just one person in one department. In our experience every team throughout an organisation has someone doing something like that. Added up the total time wasted by the organisation is huge. More often than not these people are being taken away from more productive work.

As an example consider a hospital we are currently helping.

Hospitals are huge organisations, with hundreds of departments and all kinds of systems where for all kinds of reasons people are keying data into one system that was extracted from another.

In a few days we’ve already helped four departments remove the need for monthly manual data entry jobs. In total this must be saving at least 2 man-days per month. In actual fact what it really means is that the clinicians who once had to do this work can now treat two or three more patients a month each.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It may seem like small gains. But we have only just got started and I’m quite sure that every department has at least one person doing manual work that they don’t need to do. In this age of austerity and cost cutting it is fantastic to see the hospital making lots of small efficiency gains that together make a big improvement.

The trouble is that most people don’t realise that what they are doing can be automated.

Most of our customers are an exception, and the IT guy at the hospital thought outside the box and found a solution.

But most people are told “it isn’t possible” so carry on tapping away at the keyboard.

Most IT people, bless them, sometimes think too technically. It’s understandable. So you ask IT “can we automate this data entry procedure” or “can we connect these systems” and words and abbreviations like API, SOAP, XML, SQL will fill their heads, and they’ll come back and say “No sorry, can’t be done”. If you’re lucky someone will contact the system vendor who will naturally want payment for building a custom interface and then it will turn out that the vendor of the other system needs to be involved, or a new module needs purchasing, or someone needs to go on a training course, and all of a sudden it’s looking far too expensive and going to take far too long, to make it justified. So the conclusion is it isn’t possible.

But if you’re reading this blog you know there IS another way to do it.

We CAN automate data entry at the user interface level. And it CAN be made reliable and robust.

Is it the most ideal solution? Some would say not. But are we living in an ideal world? No.

We can demonstrate, our customers can demonstrate that it works. It allows the process to get automated quickly, without specialist technical resource, without reliance on the system vendors or even the IT department and without a large investment. For a relatively tiny outlay the invoice clerk’s life can be transformed, the human resources department can avoid rekeying appraisal data every month and clinicians can stop doing tedious tasks and get back to doing what they love, what they’re best at and serving the community.

I heard about a project in another public sector body near here the other day which has cost a fortune. New systems were brought in and inevitably there was some part of it that would have to remain manual. Consultants were brought in at great cost to look for a solution and after several months and lots of money their conclusion was that while they might be able to improve it a bit there will still be the need for some manual “rekeying”.

Macro Scheduler could have saved them – and the taxpayer – thousands. But it never occurred to them that there was another way.

So my challenge, our challenge, is to reach out to these people, reach out to ordinary people and tell them “it IS possible”. We can simplify your work, we can automate those repetitive tasks, don’t believe everything consultants might tell you – they can’t help thinking traditionally or too technically.

There IS a way.

If you use Macro Scheduler to simplify your own processes, reach out and tell people in other departments, tell your colleagues, tell your friends. There will be someone in other departments with similar problems who could also benefit.

Spread the word. We have a duty to save people time, make people more productive, make companies more profitable, and in the case of the public sector – save our tax money!

About the MacroScript SDK – How to Run Macro Scheduler Code Within Your Own Applications

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 by Marcus Tettmar

What Is The MacroScript SDK?

The MacroScript Software Development Kit is a software component that allows developers to use the Macro Scheduler scripting language within their own applications. It comes in ActiveX and DLL form so that almost any programming language, including VB, C#, C++, Delphi, PowerBuilder, etc, can make use of it. It makes it possible for other applications to run Macro Scheduler code internally. As well as run Macro Scheduler code it allows the programmer to query or modify MacroScript variables at any point during execution.

Who Would Use It and Why?

The SDK is aimed at application developers. It is commonly used in projects where some integration is needed with other third party or legacy applications where no API exists, or where the developer needs to provide a means of creating macros within their applications.

For example, DM Software in Denmark used it in their Dialog Manager product to simplify integration with other systems and share data with them, as well as allow their users to create scripts for custom integrations. You can read the case study here.

Why Not Just Compile a Macro with Macro Scheduler Pro and “shell” it?

If all you want to do is have your application run a Macro Scheduler macro to perform some automation, then, sure, all you really need to do is compile your macro to a .exe and then call or “shell” this .exe from your application. E.g. using the VB/VBA Shell function.

This might be fine if that is really all you need to do. But what if you want to get data back from the macro? Let’s say the macro scrapes data from a web page and you need to get this data back into your calling application. This would be difficult to do with an external .exe. While you could use temporary file storage or a database and have your .exe macro write the data out and then read it back in with your application, this requires extra work and validation. You also have to consider the implications of the external macro process being terminated prematurely, perhaps by the user.

With the SDK you can execute script code directly from within your application in whole, or in sections or even one line at a time. And between lines or code sections you can directly query the value of a variable or variables. So using the SDK you have much greater control, there is no need to handle shelling out to an external process, waiting for it to complete and reading/writing to file. Instead you can control the logic flow as you wish and access macro data directly, storing it in local variables as and when needed.

- Control of logic flow
- Direct access to script variables
- No need to start an external process

How Do I Use It?

The MacroScript SDK ships with both an ActiveX and native DLL interface so is compatible with the majority of development environments and languages. A basic set of methods provides access to the functionality and examples are included for VB, VBScript, C++, C# and Delphi.

Here’s a simple example in VB:

    Set MacroScript = CreateObject("MScript.MacroScript")
    MacroScript.Init

    'Run notepad and send some text to it
    MacroScript.RunCode "Run>notepad.exe"
    MacroScript.RunCode "WaitWindowOpen>Untitled - Notepad"
    MacroScript.RunCode "Send>Hello World"

    'set variable x to the value entered in Text1 multiplied by 5
    MacroScript.RunCode "Let>x=" & Text1.Text & "*5"

    'get the value of x and put it in Text2
    Text2.Text = "x=" & MacroScript.GetVar("x")
    MacroScript.Cleanup

In the above example first we demonstrate running some code to start Notepad and send text to it. Next we create a MacroScript variable set to the value supplied in a text box on the form multiplied by 5 and then demonstrate how we can retrieve values back from the script.

As well as run script code you can also run script files and pass parameters into code blocks and scripts as you would command line parameters for regular scripts. In addition the ActiveX has script and parms properties and a Run method for an easy way to apply a script and run it.

For more information click here; download the evaluation which includes full documentation and examples; or read a case study on how DM Software makes use of the SDK in their Healthcare Application.

False Positives – Preying on Fear and Ruining Reputations

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by Marcus Tettmar

Update: 25/03/2011 1420 GMT – Symantec have just emailed me to say that this detection has been removed and will not be present in the next definition update.

Fake viruses are one thing. I recently helped out four people who fell victim to the fake “System Tool” virus which pretends that your PC has a virus, and preventing the computer from being used, tries to get people to visit their website to hand over their credit card details. They prey on fear.

But legitimate anti-virus vendors aren’t an awful lot better. I know a number of people who bought a home PC with Norton pre-installed. They get a free 12 month subscription for virus definitions. But they don’t know that. Most of them have no idea that an anti-virus product even needs to download new updates. Then 12 months later they get a nasty looking warning saying that their PC is unprotected and now they have to pay for a new subscription. Frightened that something nasty will happen to their PC they pony up.

What they didn’t realise is that there are cheaper/better and even free alternatives. When I tell them they seem pretty angry.

Now it seems Norton have decided that small software companies are not to be trusted and are scaring people into deleting perfectly good software.

I recently received reports from a couple of trial-downloaders saying that their Norton/Symantec software reports a possible virus in Macro Scheduler.

The “virus” is: ws.reputation.1

Details of this threat can be found here. I quote:

“WS.Reputation.1 is a detection for files that have a low reputation score based on analyzing data from Symantec’s community of users and therefore are likely to be security risks. Detections of this type are based on Symantec’s reputation-based security technology. Because this detection is based on a reputation score, it does not represent a specific class of threat like adware or spyware, but instead applies to all threat categories.

The reputation-based system uses “the wisdom of crowds” (Symantec’s tens of millions of end users) connected to cloud-based intelligence to compute a reputation score for an application, and in the process identify malicious software in an entirely new way beyond traditional signatures and behavior-based detection techniques.”

In other words it seems to be saying:

“Because only a few of our users have used this product, it must be dangerous, though we have no specific idea why.”

Isn’t there a catch 22 here? Since insufficient people are using it to deem it safe Norton blocks it, which means no further people CAN use it, which means the number of people using won’t grow which means its reputation gets worse. A new file needs lots of people to use it for Norton to pass it, but if they block it new people can’t use it? It’s daft and very unfair.

And we’ve been in business and selling Macro Scheduler since 1997! If you’re a start-up with a new product I guess you’re going to have trouble getting the average home PC user to install your software since so many of them use Norton.

I wonder what Peter Norton would make of this.

If you use Norton – in fact even if you don’t – please send them a false positive report by going to:
https://submit.symantec.com/false_positive/

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