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2006 December | Savvy Tech Tips

December 30th 2006

Online File Storage

Computer: All • Level: Novice

There are a lot of options out there for putting files online, many of them free. Claire’s Random Thoughts, a new tech-related blog, has a nice article about some of the better free options, and goes into detail on the differences and features of each of the programs. Quite helpful information!

There are oodles of reasons why you might want to save files at a remote location. Backing up files online reduces the risk of data loss if something nasty were to happen to your home or office, for example. You might simply want to access some files from a few different locations, and like me, perhaps you can never keep track of those tiny flash drives. Whatever the reason, it’s a handy thing to have a place online to put files, and Claire’s article makes finding a good place to put them a lot easier.

December 28th 2006

Using the “Find” Command

Computer: All • Level: Novice

When I do training seminars, I’ll occasionally ask students to find something on a webpage or in a document. The majority of participants will start to look around with their eyes, then start scrolling if they don’t find it right away. This, of course, is a natural and intuitive reaction: If someone tells you to look for something, you use your eyes to find it. Furthermore, this is often the best way to find something on computers. If you’ve got a small, organized webpage or moderately sized document, scanning quickly with your eyes for information is highly efficient.

The problem arises when we use our eyes to find precise bits of information on larger webpages and in longer documents. In these cases, using our eyes is not the most efficient way. People scroll all over the place, hunt up and down pages for the information they seek, and accomplishFound little except to get frustrated.

There is a better way: Get in the habit of going to the “find” command quickly. Most programs have this underutilized feature, and a lot of computer users know about it. But most computer users go to it far too slowly. By using this command instinctively, you can find things on pages and in documents much faster.

The key to using the “Find” function well is to remember the generic keystroke command to pull it up, so you don’t have to go to the pull-down menus to get to it. For most Windows programs (Explorer, Firefox, Word, etc.), you pull up the find command by holding down the Control key and pressing F. On Macs, you hold down the Command key (the one with the Apple on it) and press F. Your cursor will move to a field provided by the program where you can type in a word relating to the thing you are looking for in the document or on the page. You type in a word—or part of a word you are looking for—and the program will scan the document for the particular piece of information you seek.

Once you get in the habit of doing this, you’ll find that you can find information much faster than if you rely on your intuitive reaction of looking for things with your eyes. My general rule is that if I can’t find something on a page or in a document in about three seconds, I pull up the find command and type something in. It takes a while to get used to this, but once you get in the habit of doing so, you’ll find that you’ll locate information much faster.

Here are just a few common examples when this can especially help:

  • Looking for shipping or contact information on websites (type “ship” or “contact”).
  • Looking for a news story link on a particular site (type something particular, like “earthquake” or “Obama”).
  • Looking in any large text document for a particular piece of information (type something very specific).


Good luck, and happy finding!

December 26th 2006

Excellent Tech Blog…

Just wanted to pass along a information on a neat blog that concentrates on Internet tips. The blog, called Internet Tidbits, has a wide range of posts covering beginning to advanced topics. Some interesting samples:

Enjoy!

December 19th 2006

Google Movies

Computer: All • Level: Novice

Want a quick way to find nearby movie showtimes? Well, you can once again use the versatile Google search bar to accomplish this task. Similar to our earlier Google weather trick, you can type the word “movies” and a zip code or city name in the Google search bar to pull up a listing of movies in and around that zip code or city.

Here are two examples:

google_movies1.gifgoogle_movies2.gif


The top return for this type of search shows a movie reel and a link for showtimes, as shown below. Click on the Showtimes link.
google_movies3.gif

Now, you’ve got a ton of handy movie information to examine. There are movie times, locations, information, and various links. Here is an example of the top portion of the resultant window:

google_movies4.gif

Most of this page is self-explanatory, but the
re are a couple of things to note. First, note that you can search the listings for showtimes for upcoming days. Second, note that you can click on the links in the top right of the window to reorganize the information by theater distance, movie popularity, movie rating, and movie title. “Theater distance” is great if you know where you want to go but don’t know what you want to see there. “Movie title” is handy if you have a particular movie you want to see but don’t know where it’s playing.Enjoy! As always, comments, suggestions, and feedback are welcome.

December 18th 2006

How Many Spaces after a Period?

Computer: All • Level: Novice

Pop Quiz: You finish typing a sentence. How many spaces do you add after the period, before you begin the next sentence?

If you’re like many people, you’ll likely say two, because that’s the way you were taught in high school.

Well, things change, and not everything your high school teachers taught you is correct. The correct answer is one space.onespace.gif


Two spaces after a period is a throwback to the typewriter days of yesteryear, when letters in typefaces were all the same width and two spaces were needed to help delineate the end of a sentence. Nowadays, computer characters have variable widths so only one space is used after a period.

Don’t believe me? Well, pick up any popular magazine or book and take a look. All professionally typeset pieces have one space after the period.

Think academic writing is exempt from this rule? Not true. The APA Publication Manual (5th edition, page 290) says this: “Space once after all punctuation as follows:…after punctuation marks at the ends of sentences.”

onespace2.gifDon’t feel too special if part of you is rebelling against this one-space rule. When I cover this in design seminars, it’s amazing to see the shock and disbelief it causes in a few participants. It’s as if they have been told the world is flat, or that Santa is not real. But times change, and it’s time to leave the 20th century behind us.

Period. Space. Next sentence.

December 14th 2006

OmniOutliner (Mac Only)

Computer: Mac • Level: Novice

Macs come loaded with all sorts of neat and virtually unknown programs. One such program is called OmniOutliner. If you’ve got a later version of OS X, you’ll likely find some version of this program in your Applications folder.

As you might guess, OmniOutliner, is a—surprise—outliner! omnioutliner.jpgBy learning its simple fundamentals you can quickly create project outlines, paper outlines, and lists of things to do.

Using the program is a snap. By default, a new file opens when you open the program.

Once you get the program open, you can type in the name of your list, paper, or project. If you hit return, you’ll create a second item in the outline. It will show up at the same level as the above item. If you select an item (click the black dot on the left), you can nudge the item one level to the right by hitting the “tab” key. Likewise, “Shift-tab” moves and item to the left. In this way, you create levels in your outlines and lists.

And that’s all there is to the basics. Elegant and simple, yet incredibly powerful. For more complex applications of the program, experiment with adding columns and take a look at the help file in the program. I use OmniOutliner to keep track of moderately complex projects, quickly write article outlines, and organize training seminar content.

Enjoy!

December 13th 2006

Fun Stuff: www.pandora.com

Computer Type: All • Level: Novice

If you like music, www.pandora.com may be the best thing to happen to you today. The site was created based on research done for The Music Genome Project, which is a long-term study of the essential attributes of songs. To date, the study has analyzed over 10,000 songs and broken down their essential elements. As the study progressed, the musicians involved realized that the research could be used as an excellent way for people to discover new music they liked.

pandora.jpgThe site is easy to use. When you get to Pandora.com, you enter the name of a song or artist you like. Pandora then searches its database of music for songs that have similar musical characteristics to your song and artist’s music. It then creates a “station” for you that will stream this similar music to your computer. As a song plays, you can tweak your results by selecting the “Guide Us” button and giving the song playing a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The station will alter the music based on your feedback.

This is simply a great way to find new music that you’ll like. If I hear a song that I like someplace, I’ll enter it into Pandora and usually end up discovering a couple of new artists that I enjoy. The site also makes for a great radio station while on your computer. You can create 100 stations, so there is a lot of room for creativity.

You might be wondering what the catch is, or how much it costs. Well, the news just keeps getting better.

First, there are two versions of the site: one with ads; one without. The version with ads is free. The ads are noticeable but hardly annoying. If they really bother you, or you want to support their project, or you’re just silly rich, there is a $36/year subscription fee that will totally remove the ads. With the exception of the ads, the two versions of the site are the same.

Second, you don’t have to download any programs to your computer, and nothing gets downloaded to your computer. The site plays in Flash right on the webpage, so chances are good that you’ll be able to listen to music right away. If anything, all you’ll have to do is download a free Flash player, which you really should have on your computer anyway.

The one negative, if you wish to call it that, is that you’ve got to create an account to listen to more than a few minutes of music. They ask for an email (for login purposes), zip code, birth year, and gender. In over a year of being registered with the site, I’ve never gotten an email from them, and the site seems very much on the up and up. I’d trust them.

Enjoy!

Relevant Links
Direct Link to Pandora
Read more about Pandora
Read more about the Music Genome Project

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