December 18, 2002

By Karen Kenworthy


Keep your fingers crossed! Once again, I'm doing all my holiday shopping online. Barring a last-minute emergency, I'll completely avoid the crowds, parking shortages, traffic jams, and other "joys" of the season.

Now, if only those packages arrive in time ...

Countdown Timer II Update

Waiting for the delivery man leaves me with lots of time on my hands. Naturally, I spent my idle hours working on our Power Tools. Before long, I'd created a brand new Power Tool (more about that in moment), and added some fun new features to Countdown Timer II.

Long-time readers may remember the timer's early days. Back in 1999 the program was much simpler. You told it about an important upcoming event, and it counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the important moment arrived. When the time came, the program displayed "Done".

Even in this primitive state, the Countdown Timer II had lots of fans. Some readers used the timer to remind them to take their medicines. Other's made sure they attended important meetings, or remembered birthdays and anniversaries. Some counted down the seconds until a vacation, retirement, or wedding.

Over the years, the program learned a few new tricks. Today, it can send an e-mail message when an event's time has come. It can display an "agent", a cartoon-like character, to alert you of an event's arrival. And it can play a "sound file".

Hmm ... Did I say a sound file? Back in 1999 that was a glamorous feature. We called it "multi-media" (even though it was really "mono-media), and it was all the rage. Play a beep or a ding, and people would swoon.

Today, it's harder to weaken a computer user's knees. But that doesn't stop programmers from trying. Towards that end, the Countdown Timer II can now play video files (.avi, .mpeg, etc.). It can also execute Power Toy scripts, triggering elaborate performances by on-screen agent characters. The program can even open a spreadsheet or other computer file, reminding you when it's time to get back to work. :)

I recently made another change to the Countdown Timer II. This update doesn't add a new feature -- it fixes a feature someone recently broken. Now, it's not important who broke the program. We're not here to assign blame. After all, we all make mistakes. The important thing is, the program can now reliably handle recurring events.

Now, when you inform the program of a future event, you can make two optional selections. One is an interval of time. From a list you can select Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months or Years. The other selection is a number. The combination of the two tells the program how often your event reoccurs.

For example, select "2" and "Week", if the event occurs once every two weeks. Your reminder will be displayed, sent, etc. every other week at the appointed time. Select "1" and "Year", and you'll get an annual alert. Selecting "6" and "Hours" sounds the alarm four times a day, once every six hours.

Now You See It ...

One new Countdown Timer II feature may be just for fun. Now, you can make the program's main window almost disappear!

Yes, I know, you have long been able to minimize the main window, turning it into a small icon in Windows' system tray. But this new feature takes advantage of something that's recently been added to Windows - the ability to make on-screen images transparent.

If you've used the Countdown Timer II at all, you've no doubt seen its context menu. It appears when you right-click your mouse anywhere in the program's main window. Among the choices you'll find on this menu are "New Event", "Delete Event", "Sort", "Export" and "Preferences".

The Preferences menu choice has long allowed you to specify how the program should display dates and times. But now it has a new use. A "slider" on the Preferences window lets you control the transparency, or opacity, of the timer's main window.

Slide the control all the way to the right (its default location), and the main window will look as it always has. No big deal.

But slide the control to the left, and the timer's main window will begin to disappear! Gradually, the window will become more and more transparent. Slowly, the information on your Windows desktop, previously covered by the timer's window, will show through.

Why would you want a semi-transparent window? Well, besides being cool, it might save a little space on your Windows desktop. No longer will the timer's window completely obscure whatever information is displayed behind it. Now you can see your timer, and the other information, too.

Unfortunately, there's one catch to this nifty new feature. Called "Alpha Blending" by programmer types, it's only available in Windows 2000, Windows XP, and future versions of Windows. In other words, users of Windows 95, 98, and Me can't play this new game. :(

"Show Stopper" Sneak Peek

We're almost out of time, but I did promise you a brand new Power Tool. So here it is: Karen's Show Stopper!

This little program is the all-around best way to put a stop to Windows. I mean, it makes Windows stop -- running. The Show Stopper can run silently in the Windows taskbar until you're ready to quit. Or it can display a modest on-screen window, giving you several Windows termination options.

The program also recognizes several command-line options, allowing other programs, scripts and batch files to control it.

Best of all, the Show Stopper automatically creates desktop shortcut icons that, when clicked, immediately cause Windows to reboot, shutdown, log off the current user, hibernate, or suspend.

We'll talk more about the Show Stopper, the next time we get together. But if you'd like to take the program for a spin right now, visit:

And don't forget to download your free copy of the new Countdown Timer II:

While online, visit the new Power Toy Script Gallery at:

Or if you prefer, get the latest version of every Power Tool, including the Show Stopper and Countdown Timer II, on CD. The disc also contains three bonus Power Tools not available anywhere else. One bonus programs, Web Update, automatically keeps your installed Power Tools up-to-date!

You'll also find every back issue of my newsletter, and a few even older articles, in the CD's library. All that, plus a special license that lets you use your Power Tools at work. Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site and this newsletter.

To buy a CD for yourself, or for a gift, visit:

Oops! That's the doorbell. Hopefully, my oldest niece's Christmas gift has arrived. Time to get out the tape, ribbons, and wrapping paper. Until we meet again, if you see me checking the shipment tracking web pages, or anywhere else on the 'net, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

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