Archive for the ‘computer doodah’ Category

I bought a MacBook Pro this week.  Sheesh.  I have had a PC (or two or three or five) since 1983.  Several people have told me over the years I should get a Mac “because it’s so easy.” For me, Windows is a piece of cake.  I know it well and can bend it to my will without difficulty.   (more…)

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In my last post about photo editing, I talked about cropping.  I often try cropping a photo several different ways.  The Reset function on Picnik is great for this.  Crop, reset, crop, reset, crop – oh yeah, this one looks good.

And that led me to add this reminder:  The best keystroke combination in Windows is Ctrl-z, or Undo.  I believe on the Mac it’s Option-z. You can pick it off the toolbar or menu of most programs, but once you get in the habit of using the keys you’re much more likely to take advantage of the command. You will love it.

Alas, Undo generally doesn’t work in web browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc.). It does work in email programs, but generally not webmail. (If you use webmail – gmail and Yahoo, for example – you should experiment to see if it works.)

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I’ve been playing around with Picnik, a web-based photo editor, at picnik.com. There’s no download or installation required, it’s free, and it’s really easy to use.  You can pay more for some fancy stuff, but for basic photo editing the free version is dandy.  I used it while we were on vacation because I didn’t have all my software with me, and it was very slick.

First, a little general information for photo editing:

  1. Cropping photos almost always makes them look better.  When you crop people pictures, go close.  You may not need the person’s shoulders, for example, and you can crop almost to the top of a person’s head.  Women often look better cropped above breast level, unless they’re quite slender.  Ditto for men above pot bellies.
  2. Don’t use photos that are wider than the column you’re placing them in on the web page.  For this blog, I make my photos no wider than 500px.
  3. File size is important.  You should try to keep the file size under about 40KB, less if possible.   Note that dimensions in pixels and file size are different!  Often an uploaded photo will be resized to fit in the browser window, but it will retain the original file size.  That’s the reason you sometimes see online photos taking for…ev…er to load.

The three main things you’ll do are cropping, resizing, and saving compressed versions (in that order).


  1. Upload the photo by following the instructions on the Picnik site.
  2. Select Crop from the top menu.  A crop box appears over the photo.
  3. Drag the edges of the crop box as needed.
  4. Click OK.


  1. After cropping, select Resize from the top menu.
  2. Enter the width you want to resize to, and make sure the Keep Proportions box is checked.
  3. Click OK.

Compressing and saving

  1. Click the Save and Share tab.
  2. Enter a file name.
  3. Leave the dimensions and format alone.
  4. Move the slider on JPG Compression Quality so that the file size shown under the slider changes.  Smaller than about 40 KB is better, and because these are displayed on the very low-resolution web, don’t worry too much about the description under the slider.  If you were saving these to print it would be important, but here it isn’t so much.
  5. Save the photo on your hard drive.  Now it’s ready to be uploaded (for example, to a blog page).

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This post is related to my previous post about chrome.

Every browser has an address bar.

(Wait, what’s a browser?  It’s the software you use for viewing pages on the internet.  It’s not the internet itself, but the way in.  Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox are popular browsers.)

The address bar is located at the top of the browser chrome. You’ll notice right now that it contains this address:  https://wonkywheel.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/searching-the-web.  That’s where we are.

Here are things you can type into the address bar:

  • A full web address, like the one in the previous paragraph. This takes you directly to that page.
  • A partial web address, like google.com.  This takes you to the home page of whatever site you typed in.  Some browsers, like Firefox, don’t require the use of the extension .com (or .org, or .net).  Once you get to that site, you’ll notice that the address in the bar changes to the full address, e.g., http://google.com
  • Search terms, like “wonky wheel”.  These open a page in Google or Yahoo (or perhaps another search engine) that shows the results of the search.

Very handy.

You may be in the habit of entering a web address into a Yahoo, Google, etc. search box.  Quit it!  Search engines are not designed to find web addresses from web addresses.  They are designed to find web addresses from search terms.  If you have the address, use the box in the chrome.

Many modern browsers have a Yahoo or Google search box built into the chrome.  It’s still a search box, not a place to put a web address.  It’s essentially a link to Yahoo or Google.

One more thing.  Search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, etc. are web sites.  They are not the internet.  They are not the browser.  They’re just a special kind of web site.

Whoo, that’s the end of this bossy post.

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When I’m watching someone else navigate around the web, or when I’m doing some tech support, I’m always amazed that people don’t know the difference between the chrome of a program and the contents of the program.  This is important and useful.

Chrome is all the grayish silver stuff around the edges of a program window.  Some of it is blue, but it should be clear which parts of the window belong to the software and which to the program.

Let’s say you’re looking at this page in Internet Explorer.  At the very top is a blue bar that tells you the name of the web page you’re on. Different versions put bars in different places, but in the chrome you should see:

  • An address bar that shows the web address of the page you’re on
  • Back and next buttons
  • Probably a search box
  • Various other buttons
  • (Probably) some tabs

Key point!  Those buttons and tabs manage the browser itself (that is, Internet Explorer, which is the software).  They don’t do anything to the content of the page.

The chrome also includes the slider bar on the right, and the status bar at the bottom.

Inside the chrome is the web page.  It’s the part that changes when you click something on the page.  

You could think of the chrome like a car window.  Inside the car you control where the car goes, and whether the window is open or closed.  The view through the window is the web page, quite separate from the car, even though you’re viewing it through the car window.

I have something else to say about chrome and searching the web, but that’s another post. 

In any program you use – Word, Outlook, etc. – there is chrome and there is content.  I suggest next time you open up, say, Word, you pay attention to the difference.  The document you create is the content and everything else is the chrome.

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My friend Alan just sent me a link to a New York Times article on Twitter and recipes.  I’m not interested in Twitter, but I think what this woman is doing with it is amazing and wonderful. Read it, it’s great.  It fits in six of my blog categories!

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I’m always lobbying for people to use keystrokes instead of the mouse for several very common computer commands. They’re so simple and useful.  These are all for PC users.  If you are a Mac user, substitute the option key for the control key.  These commands work across 99% of programs.  That means that you can copy some text in Word, for example, and then paste it into an email in Outlook or Thunderbird.

  • Ctrl-c copies whatever you have selected to the imaginary holding area called the clipboard.  You can’t see it, but that chunk of text, or image, or whatever, is out there waiting to be pasted somewhere else.  It’s the same as selecting Edit -> Copy from the menu.
  • Ctrl-v pastes the contents of the clipboard wherever the mouse pointer is on the screen.  It’s the same as selecting Edit -> Paste from the menu.
  • Alt-Tab switches you between open programs.  (On the Mac, it’s Apple-Tab.) Try it.  In addition to the browser window you have open right now, make sure you have your email program open.  Then press Alt-Tab.  Press it again.  Notice that you switch back and forth.  If you hold the Alt key down, you see a little box that shows you all the programs that are currently open.  The one that’s highlighted is the one that you’ll switch to when you let go of the keys.  Hold the Alt-key down and keep pressing the Tab key to jump from one program to the next.

Another little tip:  The control key and the alt key work just like the shift key.  That is, they don’t do anything unless you also press another key at the same time.  Timing isn’t critical.  You can hold down one of these keys and think about it for a second while you decide which other key to press.

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There you are, surfing around the web, and you come across an interesting web page that you think might be useful to, say, your sister.  How do you get it to her?  

a.  Print it and send it by snail mail.
b.  Copy the contents of the page and paste it into an email message.
c.  Tell her to search for it using Google.
d.  Email her the link to the page.
e.  Throw up your hands in despair.

The correct answer is d) Email her the link to the page. 

These instructions apply to Internet Explorer or Firefox.  

  1. Go up to the menu across the top of Internet Explorer (or Firefox or Safari).
  2. Select File.
    • If you’re using Internet Explorer, select Send from the drop-down list. Select Link by Email from the fly-out list.
    • If you’re using Firefox or Safari, select Send Link.
  3. An email window will open with the link in it. Send it wherever you like.

If you’re using another browser that doesn’t have the Send Link option, here’s what you do:

  1. In the address bar at the top of the browser, select the whole URL with the mouse.  That’s the thing that begins “http://”.
  2. Copy it by pressing ctrl-c (option-c on a Mac).
  3. Open a new email message from your email program.
  4. Put the cursor in the body of the message, and paste the URL by pressing ctrl-v (option-v on a Mac).
  5. Add whatever text you want in the message and send it off.

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Email warnings

Everyone has at one time or another received an email warning about something.  It could be about telemarketers getting your cell phone number, or Congress voting down funding for public broadcasting, or the latest virus that’s going to infect every PC in the whole world, or a host of other things.  

Most of us (including me, I have to confess) have forwarded one or more of these warnings on to all our friends. They often seem very credible, with time frames, contact names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

However, warnings of this kind are almost always untrue.  It’s not really fair to say they’re hoaxes.  In many cases they’re urban legends, fueled by a little ember of truth at their core, and fanned by assumptions. There are a couple of ways to tell whether an email might contain an internet hoax or urban legend.

  • A time frame is given, but no actual date.  Thus, “next month” or “within a week” or “this Thursday” could mean any time at all.
  • There’s a request to pass it on to all your friends, or your whole email address book.  This is NEVER a good idea. Even if the warning is true, if everyone sent email to all their contacts, it could cause a massive email traffic problem. And if it’s not true, you’ve spread a falsehood and may have to send out an apology to your whole address book.

The best course, no matter how valid you think the source of the warning is, is to look it up on one of the sites that tracks internet hoaxes, email scams, and urban legends.  My favorite is Snopes. It’s nicely organized, has a good search function, describes in detail which parts of the message are true and which are not, and has been around since 1995.  That’s ancient in Internet terms.  About.com has an urban legends site too, and I know there are others.  If Snopes doesn’ t have it, I always check another similar site.

Just my computer tip for the day.

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I’m such a computer know-it-all.  It always surprises me to learn some simple little trick.  Here’s one I just learned.

This is a Windows thing, but it may have a Mac counterpart.

When photos come out of the camera they are generally enormous.  Then you email those enormous things to someone, and the person complains that they’re too big to look at.  Here’s a fix for that problem.

  1. Find the photo(s) you want to send on your computer, using Windows Explorer or My Computer. 
  2. Select the photo file, or multiple photo files, and right-click the mouse. 
  3. A popup menu appears.  Select Send To.  A submenu appears.  Select Mail Recipient.sendto
  4. A little dialog box appears, asking if you want to make the pictures smaller.  Click OK.  (If you click the Show More Options link, you can specify the size.)smaller
  5. A new email message appears, with the resized pictures attached.  Add a message and recipient, and send.

A bonus to this method is that the file sizes get smaller too, so the message takes less time to send and is less likely to be rejected for being too big.

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