Tech Tips

The following are bits of accumulated wisdom about computers that I think are general enough to help just about anyone who runs across this page.

I originally wrote most of these up and then sent out to the staff of the school where I was teaching (which was purportedly a "technology school").  The remainder of the tips were things I wrote to help out friends and family.  To start off with, a few of these are very elementary, but there are some insights that are certain to be new to you in the rest.

If you put the majority of these tips to use, your productivity will go up unbelievably.



Tech Tip: Paste it!
Did you know that you can paste text (i.e. words and numbers) between documents and even across applications?  This is one of the most fundamental features available to a computer user, yet I've noticed many (both facilitators and learners) seem to forget they can do this.

Here are a bunch of different applications of this trick.  Hopefully these will save you some time.

Scenario #1: Say you have a form you need to fill out.  You email Central Office for a copy.  Just highlight the text with the mouse (hold the left mouse button) o   r with the keyboard ("Shift" and arrow keys), then hit Control ("Ctrl" for PC users; "open Apple" for Mac users) and "C" to copy the text.  Go to whichever application you are going to use to fill the form out and hit Control (ditto) and "V" to paste it.  You just saved yourself the trouble of printing and retyping it.

Scenario #2: Let's say you have to repeat a bit of text throughout a document, just type it once, copy it, and paste it whenever you need it.

Scenario #3: Someone just emailed you the URL to a great new website.  Copy it from the message and paste it into the address field on your browser.  (You can do the same thing with email addresses as well.)

Scenario #4: Say you have a document such as a newsletter or list of announcements.  You want   ¯to email this to the staff or your kids.  You could attach the file to your message, but that would require the reader to open a second application when he or she already has the email software open.  If your reader has no need of the original file, only the message, it is rude to put him or her to the trouble.  Solution: Paste the text of your document into the body of the email message and send it.

Scenario #5: What if you find something on a web page you want: a form, list, an address and phone number?  You could copy this to a document you could save later.  I have compiled address books and other reference documents this way.
 

Here's the left-brained version:

Keys:    Function:
Ctrl + X   Cut  \
Ctrl + C   Copy  - Note that these three are
Ctrl + V   Paste  /  neighbors on your keyboard.

Note: Substitute the "Apple" key for "Ctrl" on Macs.


Tech Tip: Watch out for the "mouse trap!"
With a graphics interface like Win98 or a Mac, it's easy to believe you have to use the mouse for everything.  While the mouse is a pretty neat invention, you're already abundantly familiar with how to use a keyboard.  When you are in the middle of typing, it is certainly a lot easier to hit a quick save with two keys than to reach for the mouse.

For those of you who lack the dexterity (or are loosing it) to operate a mouse efficiently, here are a few keyboard shortcuts which will save you time.  The spacings are to group them by similar function.

Note: Substitute the "Apple" key for "Ctrl" on Macs.

Keys:    Function:
Ctrl + X   Cut  \
Ctrl + C   Copy  - Note that these three are
Ctrl + V   Paste  /  neighbors on your keyboard.

The rest of these are common sense "initials" of their function.

Ctrl + N   New file or folder
Ctrl + O   Open
Ctrl + S   Save
Ctrl + P   Print

Ctrl + Q   Quit
Ctrl + ?   Help
Ctrl + F   Find file

Enter      Activates highlighted button

In most word processors:
Keys:    Function:
Ctrl + B   Bold
Ctrl + I    Italics
Ctrl + U   Underline

Ctrl + F   Find word
Ctrl + Z   Undo
Ctrl + N   New document

PC Exclusives (i.e., not for the Mac):
Alt    Activates the menu
Alt + F4   Close application

Netscape/Explorer stuff:
Spacebar   Page down
Alt + Left Arrow  Previous page
Alt + Right Arrow  Jump back to a later page
Alt + D   Bookmark current page


Tech Tip: Converting graphics
It can be really frustrating trying to get a graphic in the right format for a given application.  Say you need a jpeg or a gif for your web page, but you have a bitmap (bmp).  You're thinking you need a special piece of software,   right?  More often than not, no.

Most graphics views will allow you to save whatever graphic you are looking at in another format.  Just look under File, then go to Save As.  There is almost always a list of available formats to save it under.

This is true also of most word processing applications.  Most word processing programs allow you to save in more primitive formats (i.e. "Word" into "ASCII" or "RTF").


Tech Tip: Save the keys!
You ever find yourself typing the same name or phrase throughout a document?  Don't you wish there was a way to do it with a couple key strokes?  There is!  You simply type in a temporary form of shorthand.  For example, in a paper where you had to type "E) None of the above." several dozen times, you could substitute that phrase with "xxx".  When you are finished with the entire document, simply go under Edit to the "Find/Change" or "Search/Replace" and replace "xx" with "E) None of the above."

Why "xxx"?  Because those two letters are not likely to occur next to one another anywhere else in the body of your document (unless this happens to be an exam on sex-linked inheritance).  If you had chosen "th" to represent your phrase "the" , "them", and "those" would be replaced (in part) as well.

This can be a great time saver.  In college I once had to write a paper on Agamemnonn from the Illiad and could not remember how to spell that name without the book in front of me.  I simply typed "xxx" throughout the paper and ran a search and replace when I was finished.

If you have multiple phrases to repeat you can use multiple odd combinations of letters and have a key handy at the top of your document such as:

xxx = Agamemnonn*
yyy = Odyseus*
zzz = Helen of Troy


Hopefully this will allow you to keep your mind on your writing instead of your typing.

*Spelling of course varies according to the translation.  Translators sometimes go out of their way to create original spellings of well-known names, thereby establishing (they hope) a trademark for themselves.


Tech Tip: "Stuff" it!
Most people just let their software create shortcuts for them, but those shortcuts often end up buried beneath layers of menus.  Even though the latest versions of Windows try to only display the most recently used icons, this is still pretty inefficient if you access these programs frequently.  Even if you delete a lot of the clutter on your "Start" menu, you may still have to deal with this.

What I have done to my PC is to put a folder right on the Start menu called "Stuff."  I then put all shortcuts to the software I would use every day in there.  It was a lot easier on the eyes, but it also allows you to find things until a single level rather than a dozen rungs down the hierarchy.

To create a folder (at least in Win XP, though it's much the same in earlier versions), go to C:\Documents and Settings\username (whatever your is)\Start Menu\ and add a folder called "Stuff" or whatever else you like.  It should be the only other thing in there besides "Programs."  Now drag in or paste whichever shortcuts you desire.

(Note: You can click the image to view it full size.)


Tech Tip: Word vs. Wordpad
Legend has it that Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouak stayed up all night taping blank pages end to end.  Why?  Because this would allow him to type continuously without having to break his concentration to put in a new leaf.  Similarly, MS Word is great for emphasizing the printed page, and is equally terrible about allowing you to just write!

Odds are that you will not use 90% or more of the features in Word (a study to this effect was recently cited in Wired magazine).  Basically, you're spending forever waiting for this monster of a program to load, to perform redundant tasks, and to otherwise slow you down.

Suggestion: Set your extensions to open all your *.doc files with Wordpad.  You probably won't want to do this if you need a dictionary, thesaurus, or view a lot of documents with imbedded graphics or other media, but this little workhorse is <200k compared to MS Office's whopping near-GB size.

In short, if you perform this little modification, your computer will wait on you and not the reverse.


Tech Tip: Start Me Up!
As with the "Stuff" suggestion above, there are ways of optimizing your menu to serve you more efficiently.

If you're like me, your taskbar is filled with the same handful of programs from the moment you start using your computer.  Instead of wasting your time opening these always-used programs every time you start your machine, place shortcuts to them in the folder called "Startup" on your start program.  These will automatically load up when you start your computer.

Note: You can also add shortcuts to actual files (e.g., your "to do" list) in addition to the executables.


Tech Tip: Search and replace with nothing
If you ever have a document with huge chunks of repeated text that you need to delete, particularly blocks of spaces (as when pasting from Netscape), use the search and replace function to replace this text with nothing.  Just leave the "replace" field blank.

Tech Tip: Strip the formatting
If you ever want to strip the formatting (i.e., make heavily formatted text into DOS-text for easy processing), use Notepad as and intermediate.

For example, if you paste text from Internet Explorer into Word, the text will have all the original properties as on the web page: same font, color, and even the hyperlinks.  To eliminate these, first paste the text into Notepad, then copy that text from Notepad into the final document in Word.  It will then conform to the formatting rules established in the destination document.


Tech Tip: Your pen pal
The conventional way of writing email is to compose it in the field in which you plan to send it (i.e., the "message" field on the browser or the corresponding area in Outlook Express).  All too often, this has the unfortunate effect of causing you to lose your mail accidentally if for some reason you move out of the application, jump to another web page, etc.

Instead, write all of your mail off-line in a separate document (e.g., mail.doc).  This will allow you to save it without having to worry about the quirks of browsers refreshing without any user-entered text, and so on.  Further, all your messages will be in a single document, allowing you to search them all at once.  I keep a separate document for each month, so as not to end up with a giant file.


All contents copyright Alexplorer.

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