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2006 December | Savvy Tech Tips - Part 2

December 12th 2006

Selecting Words in Text Efficiently, or How to Save Two Days of Work Each Year.

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

Computer users are constantly typing, deleting, changing, and moving words. And one of the more common tasks we do while working with words is selecting words in order to move them somewhere or delete them. Everyone knows how to select a word on a computer. However, many people don’t realize that there may be a faster and more efficient method than the one they currently use. Today, we’ll talk about a better way to select words.

In training sessions, I’ll often watch people select a word by careword_selection.jpgfully placing their cursor at the beginning of a word, then dragging their mouse over the word, then slowly bringing it to a stop at the end of a word or words.

However, you can also select a word in text by simply positioning your cursor anywhere over the word and double-clicking. And this trick will work in almost all programs. Open up a word-processing program and give it a try. See? In Microsoft Word, when you select a word this way, it also picks up the space at the end of the word, which is usually helpful. Selecting words this way is faster and more efficient.

Well, you might say, that’s great, but often I want to select a series of words in a row. In that case, simply double-click anywhere on the first word, keep your mouse button held down, and drag across the line to the last word you want to select. In word-processing programs, selecting words this wayword_selection2.jpg picks up series of words, and will select from the beginning of the first word to the end of the last word in the series. You don’t have to fiddle with positioning your cursor exactly over the end of the last word.

If this multiple-word selection trick didn’t work for you when you tried it, chances are you released the mouse button after double-clicking on the word, then re-clicked on the word. When you want to select a series of words, don’t release the mouse button after you double-click on the first one: double-click, hold, drag.

What’s the value of a trick like this? Well, I ran a quick test. First, I timed myself selecting ten words in a Word document by positioning my cursor at the beginning of a word, then dragging carefully to the end of each word. It took me 37 seconds to select the ten individual words. Then I selected the same ten words by double-clicking on them. It took me 12 seconds to get all ten individual words. In short, it was 2.5 seconds faster per word to use the double-click method.

If you work with text a lot, you might be selecting words in this way this 100 times a day or more. Using the faster method will save you about 4 minutes/day. That’s not much, but over the course of a year it adds up to almost 17 hours. Even subtracting the time it took you to read this article, that’s more than two full workdays!

Happy clicking, and enjoy all your newfound free time!

December 11th 2006

Google Calculator

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

Can’t find a calculator? Not sure where your calculator is hiding in your Windows computer? Google has an easy alternative: just type your equation in the Google search bar and press return. That’s right. The Google search bar is also a calculator.

Here is an example:


Here is what you get back:


The asterisk functions as your multiplication sign. The forward slash functions as your division sign.Note that this works in any Google search bar, so you don’t have to be actually at Google’s site to use the calculator. If your browser has a search bar in the top of the window, and you have Google as your preferred search engine, the calculator will work just as well from the small search bar. If there is a Google search bar on a website, the calculator will work there as well.

The only caveat: the calculator only works when you are doing a “web” search. It won’t work if you try it in the image search or other search areas.


December 8th 2006

Look Up a Word in Microsoft Word

worddictionary3.jpgComputer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

Want a quick way to define a word or find a synonym while typing in Microsoft Word? Well, here’s a quick tip to do just that.

For Windows computers, you simply hold down the “Alt” key and click on the word. The research window will open in the task pane to the right that has definitions for the word, as well as a thesaurus entry for the word if appropriate. You can choose from a number of reference sources by using the drop down menu at the top of this window (see the screen shot on right).

Alternatively (or if you forget the “Alt” keystroke trick), you can right-click on a word, and select Look Up from the pop-up menu. From the pop-up menu, you can also select Synonyms to see a list of synonyms. Select a synonym to replace your current word with the word you select. Lastly, you can select the “Thesaurus” from this menu as well.

The screen shot below illustrates this:


Macs have no direct key stroke to get to the dictionary screen, but can get to the same places by right-clicking (hold down the “Control” key and click on the word; see this tip for more info) on the word. Select “Look-up” from the pop-up menu. Alternatively, you can see synonyms for the word by viewing “Synonyms” from the same menu. To replace your current word with the synonym, simply select it from the list. Lastly, you can look up the word in the Thesaurus by selecting Thesaurus from the bottom of the synonym list. See the screen shot below:


Happy word hunting!

December 8th 2006

The Missing Right-Click (Mac Only)

Computer Type: Mac • Difficulty Level: Novice

On Tuesday, we talked about the power of right-clicking on objects when you are having difficulties figuring out how to do something in a software program. Well, this works great if you’ve got a Windows computer, but what about Mac users?

macmouse.jpgAlthough Apple’s new mouse has four buttons, many Macs in use today only have a single-button mouse attached to them: using such a mouse alone there is no way to right-click. Are our Mac users left out of the right-click party?

Fortunately, no. Mac users can right-click with the best of them. To right-click on a Mac mouse with a single button, you hold down the “Control” key while you click. It’s that easy.

Agreed, it’s not as elegant as a simple right-click, but it gets the job done and opens up all the benefits of right-clicking.

Another option for Mac users is to buy a Mac-compatible mouse with more buttons, or better yet, a Mac-compatible trackball with two (or more) buttons. There are a number of excellent options on the market that can be had for less than $25.

December 6th 2006

Open Office!

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

If you or someone you know is on a budget (or totally broke), Open Office can be a life saver. What it is, you ask? Well, Open Office is a set of all your major applications in one nice bundle. It has a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a drawing program, a program for mathematical equations, and a database program. impress-big.pngIn this way it is much like Microsoft Office’s major applications (Word, Power Point, Excel, etc.). However, there is one big difference between Open Office and Microsoft Office: Open Office is totally free. There are no catches, no email addresses to give, no surveys to fill out (They do mention on their site that they accept donations, however).

Even nicer, Open Office’s applications can open equivalent files from Microsoft Office (e.g., the Open Office word processer, “Writer”, can open up Microsoft Word files), and can save files in formats that Microsoft Office can read. This is critical if you are exchanging files with others or moving files among computers.

The program is stable, relatively easy to use, and powerful.

Open Office is perfect for students and teachers who have computers at school with Microsoft Office on them but a computer at home that doesn’t have Microsoft Office. Without a program like Open Office, the only place someone can do work on a project is at school. With Open Office, calc-big.pnga person can email their Microsoft files to their home computer, work on them in the evening using Open Office, save them as a Microsoft file again, then email them back to school (or take it on a flash drive, etc.).

Open Office runs on both Windows computers and Macs running OSX. If you have a Mac however, you’ve may need to also install a program called X11 to allow Open Office to run. X11 is free and available here. However, if your Mac is running OSX 10.4 (Tiger), you’ll either already have X11 installed or be able to install it from your Tiger installation DVD. Don’t dowload the version from the link here if that is the case.

To read more and download Open Office, go to Open Office’s site.

December 5th 2006

The Mighty Right-Click

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

People get stuck when trying to accomplish things on computers. It’s the nature of the beast, and a large element to working effectively with computer software is figuring out how to get “unstuck” quickly. Nothing ruins a day or a project faster than spending an hour trying to figure out how to get a table to line up correctly in Microsoft Word, or figure out how to correctly print an Excel spreadsheet.

Computer novices often think that experts never get stuck while doing things on computers, but this is not the case. No matter what level of expertise you attain with hardware or software, you will always and forever be problem solving on computers. Simply put, both expert and novice computer users get stuck all the time; it’s just that expert computer users know how to get unstuck very quickly, sometimes so fast that it seems like they never got stuck in the first place.

Although a lot of getting unstuck relates to how much you know, there are some general principles that can often help no matter what application you are using, and no matter what level of expertise you have.

One such principle when working with software, is this: When in Doubt, Right-Click on it.

Often, when I’ll train people in software, I’ll see them get stuck trying to figure out how to do something with a program like Word or Photoshop, then see them move the cursor up and start hunting through the menu at the top of the screen. They’ll pull down one menu after another, and likely never quite find the thing they were looking for without help.

With most programs it’s better to right-click on the object you are working with and then take a look at the list of commands that comes up. It’s amazing how many times this will give you the command you were looking for, and this is done by design: a majority of software producers intentionally make the most commonly accessed commands for particular objects accessible with right-clicks.

Here’s an example from Power Point on the Mac. Below, I’ve opened up a new presentation and for the fun of it started with a blank slide:


Immediately, I think, Yuck! I don’t want a white background! I want to change it to something more colorful. To solve this, a user’s instincts often lead them to immediately look up at the menu bar at the top of the screen, but look what’s up there:


A whole mess of choices! If you don’t know the program well or haven’t used it for a while, it’s not clear at all how to change the background of the slide.
But look what happens when I right-click on the background of the slide. The next image shows it. I get a very simple list of commands, and the one for “Slide Background” is right there.


It’s important to note that you’ve got to right-click directly on the object you want to try to do something with, in this case the background of the slide. If, for example, I were to click on the text in my slide, I would get a list of commands applicable to the text, and nothing at all shows up for changing the background.

Some Mac users might be saying, “Well, that’s fine for all you Windows users, but a lot of Macs don’t have a right mouse button, so this trick is useless to us.” Not true. As Mac veterans know, there is an easy way to right-click on a one-button mouse, and we’ll cover that tip on our Mac Tip Thursday, coming up in two days.

To wrap up, right-clicking isn’t a panacea, and it won’t solve all your computer difficulties, but it is a great habit to get into when working with all sorts of programs. So…

When in Doubt, Right-Click on it!

December 4th 2006

Elf Yourself

elfyourself1.jpgComputer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

EDIT on 1/11/07: It looks as if Elf Yourself is done for the season. We’ll keep and eye on this one and see if it comes back for next year.

Want some holiday giggles? Try Elf Yourself, a free site sponsored by Office Max that allows you to stick a head from any photo onto a dancing elf. The elf dances to music for a couple of minutes and can even make a short greeting, if you have a microphone attached to your computer. The finished project is stored on the website, so you can email a link to show others your dancing creations. Perfect for loved ones, bosses, or other creatures you wish to gently poke fun of.

Putting up a photo is straightforward, but you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a photograph on your computer in JPEG format and less than 1MB (pretty large) of the person you want to make into an elf. Chances are fairly good that any photo from your digital camera will work fine. If you’re not sure about a photo, just try it and see if it works. You can’t break anything by trying to upload a photo to the site in the wrong format.

Click on “Start the Elfamorphosis” to get started. Accept the agreement, then upload a photo. Once you get the photo uploaded, you move it around and set it to get it just right. A lot of this tweaking is intuitive. Click and drag on the photo to get your head in the right place. Try to align the mouth on the guide with the mouth of the person in your photo. Move the Scale and Rotate sliders to change the size and angle of the face.

elfyourself2.jpgOne thing that is not apparent is that you can click and drag the little dots around the face to adjust the size of the cut out. Keep testing things until you get them the way you want them, then click on “Save Face”.

For even more fun, you have the option of recording your voice with your message. The website gives you a toll-free number to call, with an eight-digit code. You simply dial the number, enter your code, and record your voice. Very elegant and easy, and there is there is no sales pitch or wasted time. Done!

You can now view your dancing elf and email the address to others. Great fun, and it’s all free. Enjoy!

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