My 10/19/08 Missoulian column
Many news sites have taken a hint from blogs in that they offer the chance for readers to comment on news stories. This has mixed results, especially with any news piece on a subject people feel very strongly about (such as politics around the time of a national election.)
My rule of thumb for reading the comments for a new article is that the first half dozen or so are usually worthwhile because they are on topic and can offer an interesting counterpoint or two. After six or eight comments, the quality usually degrades rapidly into various tit for tat, off-topic battles. But I recently found an article with a very long tail of comments that is entirely a worthwhile read, and David Pogue at the New York Times is responsible for it.
Pogue did a short piece a few weeks back about the idea of writing a tech book – what he is known for – about the basic timesaving tips of using PCs and other high-tech gadgets. He had recognized over the years that many acquaintances and family members hadn’t learned what he thought were common knowledge tips – ways to work with text, using a mouse, etc. – that he knew made computer life easier. He wrote that maybe a collection of these tips could be a new book, and then he listed a dozen of what he thought were the most helpful tips for his readers. His blog is always open for comments, and I’m sure he expected the usual number.
But he must have hit a nerve, because as of last week he has almost 1,300 reader responses, all of them basic tips and shortcuts that are good to know. Some are keyboard equivalents to keep from reaching for the mouse so many times, and mouse tricks to quickly do things like select text and copy and paste, and other keys that make Web browsing and e-mail much faster. Pogue did get a book deal with his current imprint O’Reilly, so somewhere down the road there will be a book of basic tips of using PCs, and you won’t have to wade through those nearly 1300 comments on his blog. Pogue’s blog is at https://markratledge.com/link/poguetips/
We all have to start somewhere, and I can remember when I only knew a few of the tips Pogue mentions. Now I find I’m so familiar with these steps that it’s easy to think that these tips are obvious, when they’re not. So here are a few tips that in my experience – and which are also mentioned somewhere on Pogue’s blog – are not commonly known:
The first hint is for working with text. Always remember the keyboard equivalents for cut, copy and paste. What do they do? Exactly what they say: cut, copy and paste text. And when I say keyboard equivalents, I mean that you can use the keyboard for these commands instead of reaching for the mouse or using the track pad on your laptop. This can greatly speed up your work and possibly cut down on repetitive stress on wrists and hands. You’ll still need to use the mouse, but cutting back on mousing is worth the learning curve.
Select your text by clicking the left mouse button – or the single button on most Mac mice – and dragging across the text. (Or, to select a single word, a sentence or a paragraph with a double or triple click; try it.)
Once your text is selected and/or the cursor is where you want to put the text, then you can cut, copy or paste with the keyboard. On a Mac, hold the Apple key down (the one with the clover shape on it), and then use either the X (cut), C (copy) or V (paste) key. On Windows XP, hold down “Ctrl” (control) key and then use either X, C or V.
But you don’t have to use the keyboard. Many users learn to right click the mouse on Windows to bring up a pop up menu with cut, copy and paste commands; on a Mac, hold down the control key and click to bring up the same kind of pop up.
And if you look around in the main menus of your operating system and programs, you’ll recognize that many keyboard commands are listed right there.
Another important thing to know is that cut, copy and paste works between many applications. That means you can cut and copy from a word processor – such as Word, Appleworks, etc. – and paste into an email. And the other way around.
Copying and pasting also works between programs that are not text editors. This means you can also copy from a Web page and paste into a word processor, with a caveat: if you go from a program that doesn’t work directly with text – like a Web browser – to a program that does work with text, you’ll sometimes get some extra stuff that looks like garbage characters. And of course you’ll get the text of the ads that were on the Web page, but you can delete anything.
Second hint: Always remember you can change the size and location of all of those windows on your desktop. Many times in the past I’ve grabbed the mouse and dragged a window larger or smaller to be able to see it better or fit it in among other windows, and I will hear “How did you do that?” from the person I’m helping.
On a Mac, hover the mouse at the bottom right corner of a window and then click and drag the corner. In Windows, hover at almost any edge of a window and look for the pointer to change to a double-ended arrow, and then click down and drag the window smaller or larger.
But many times before you can resize a window, you have to get it so you can actually resize it. Many PCs – both Macs and Windows – are set up by default to always maximize the working window and take up the whole desktop screen space.
In Windows XP, click the little symbol in the upper right hand corner that looks like two overlapping boxes and the window will become small enough to see the desktop underneath. On Macs, the green button will shrink the window to show the desktop.
Resizing windows to show the desktop means you can open new windows from other programs and then stagger your windows so you can see all of your work at the same time. Click on one window to bring it forward, click another to bring that one forward and put the others in the background. That’s the “desktop” metaphor: shuffling and arranging papers on a desktop.
One last tip: Use those “Help” menus in Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista and all your programs, because there are thousands of tips and hints ready to be discovered and learned.