Archive for the ‘Computers 101’ Category

The “Secret Technology Club”

During Winter Seminar Days at MCC, I held a breakout session called “The Secret Technology Club” and I just finished a set of slides to mimic the presentation. Here’s the description:

The Secret Technology Club: If you think that technology power-users have a whole bunch of “secret” tricks and shortcut, you might be right. We’ve been immersed in computer-use for decades now, but very few of us have had much formal training. We learn through trial and error, but it’s difficult to learn what you don’t know exists! If you suspect you’ve fallen behind and would like to fill some of those silly technology gaps, this is for you. This will be a random assortment of tips and tricks for a variety of programs and web applications. You can become a member of the “Secret Technology Club” by learning the secret technology handshakes.

You might be surprised by what you don’t know. I learn something new every time I prepare for this presentation.

Here are the slides for The Secret Technology Club.


I’d encourage you to “play along” and try out all the tips as you go through the slides.

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Extensions to Make Chrome Work for You

If you’re like me, you eagerly tried out Google Chrome right when it came out, but the lack of Flash support was an absolute killer.  So now I wander back every once in a while (especially when Firefox is crashing).  I like Chrome, and it does seem to run faster (a big concern of mine since I function without broadband Internet at home).  However, the fact that Google Bookmarks did not work with Chrome was a game-stopper.  I use my Google Bookmarks as a “to do” list of sorts, marking links with various labels for the sole purpose of adding them to digital maps or looking them up for articles later.  These are not public collections, nor do I want them to be and I plan to start using it regularly now.

To make a longer blog post short, I just discovered that the extension ecosystem around Google Chrome is now far more robust than it used to be.  Some of these Chrome add-ons (called extensions) are essentially beta (use at your own risk), but Chrome is now a viable option for me.

  • Google Bookmarks can be synced with Chrome using this GBX Google Bookmarks Extension, but Chrome bookmarks (if you have them) cannot be backwards synced.  Yes, there is one for Delicious too.
  • Add a Readability button using this extension.  In one click of the Readability button, you can turn an article with text, ads, and pictures to nothing but easy-to-read text in the default size, color, and background that you choose.
  • If you regularly tweet, like, or email webpages to friends, you might like the ease of Shareaholic, and it too has an  extension for Chrome.  I tried the extension, but it seems to be a bit buggy and I wasn’t impressed.
  • Not so long ago, someone told me about AdBlock, which is when I realized that not everyone was being forced to look at the poorly-designed graphic images and animations in Facebook.  There is some ethical quandry about whether it is morally right to block the ads, which are, in fact, keeping the websites funded.  Take it or leave it, I like AdBlock and here’s the extension for Chrome.
  • It used to be that you could only get the cool 3-D wall view of images from Cool Iris in Firefox, but (yay!) this extension is also available in Chrome now.
  • For a totally, indulgence-only extension, try Turn Off the Lights, which you can click to darken the rest of the screen when you’re going to show a video, just like you’re in the movie theater (find this here).
  • Many a time I have been working on a blog post or a conference proposal submission when something causes the browser to crash.  When that happens, you can lose all the carefully worded thoughts you’ve typed in the text boxes.  Well, not if you’re using Lazarus: Form Recovery (not recommended for Mac/Linux yet), which autosaves all those important thoughts.  Here’s the Lazarus extension.
  • Finally, I suppose I wouldn’t be a math teacher if I didn’t find a Chrome extension that incorporated math, so here’s Chromey Calculator, which uses Google + Wolfram Alpha to answer math questions (not just a calculator).

Honestly, I don’t see anything else that is must-have, but maybe you know of some Chrome extension that we should check out?

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The Trail of Dots in a Table of Contents

For years, I’ve tried to figure out how to get the “proper” trail of dots into a Table of Contents (TOC).  The problem?  I didn’t know how to google it properly.  Apparently, you need to use the phrase “leader dots” in your query (because that is officially what they are called).


It turns out to be pretty easy to do, once you understand that a typical TOC with leader dots is set up with two TABS.


The first tab sets the END of the leader dots.  We use a right-justified setting for the tab to do this, and click on the “Leader dots” option.


The second tab sets the BEGINNING of the page numbers, so it is left-justified and placed just to the right of the first tab.  For example, if you set the first tab for 5.375″, you might set the second tab for 5.5″.


Of course, it’s easier to just generate a TOC automatically from the Document Map, but that isn’t always an option (i.e. APA or MLA documents are tricky).   Here’s my quick 2-minute tutorial for setting the tabs for leader dots in Word 2007.

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Rolling Back from Office 2007

I thought you all would find this amusing. After trying to use Office 2007 for about a month, I rolled back to Office 2003 last Friday – and boy, am I happy with that decision.

There were several issues of concern that I had with the new Office 2007:

  • Incompatibility with Adobe Acrobat 8 – I build a lot of PDFs from multiple files, especially for online classes, and this feature did not work with Office 2007.
  • Lack of customizability. In Office 2003, you can build custom toolbars, rearrange the toolbars, add and remove buttons, and even pop the toolbars out to other areas of the screen. Guess what? That’s all GONE in Office 2007. Oh sure, you get a “Quickbar” where you can put commonly-used buttons, but I have three rows of “commonly-used buttons” and you can’t organize those into a single quickbar.
  • I wanted to get rid of several tabs on the ribbon that I will never use (like the Mail tab). You can’t. That’s annoying – what a waste of good screen space.
  • The programs in Office 2007 took FOREVER to load. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was Word, PowerPoint, or Excel – every program wasted precious class time in a sloooooooow loading process.

What finally tipped the scales to the roll-back? I discovered that for the Mac Office 2008 version, all the customizable features of Office 2003 still exist. If Microsoft is going to remove features in “updates,” but leave them in for Mac users, I am going to assume they are TRYING to drive me away to another operating system.

Lately, I’ve been using some of the Google Apps for text and spreadsheet documents. I’ve got one gradebook on Google Spreadsheets, and several documents on Google Docs. Why? It makes them very easy to access from both work and home computers.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – Is that safe? What if it gets hacked? What about FERPA? The files are, of course, password-protected. But to make doubly sure there would be no possible problems, I did not put ANY identifying information on the spreadsheet. Student names are only first name + last initial. There are no student numbers, no phone numbers, no email addresses, just the names, a random number to post grades with, and grades.

I can access the grade-spreadsheet from my home computer, from the computer in one of the labs, from a friend’s computer, from a student’s computer, etc. That is awfully convenient.

Hmm… maybe I won’t need Microsoft’s Office for too much longer… how glad am I now that I haven’t purchased a new computer with Vista?

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Some Basic HTML for Math

I think it would be a good idea for every instructor who teaches in an online/hybrid format to know a little bit of HTML code. It can come in handy when you’re making comments on message boards with plain-text editors and when you’re commenting on a blog too!

So here’s an ever-popular Maria-handouton

  • Some Basic HTML Tips (page 1) for general use
  • Some Basic HTML Tips for Math (page 2)

I created the second page specifically because I wanted to learn the HTML tags for often used mathematical symbols and special fonts, like super scripts and subscripts. Also, I wanted to be able to insert live links on message boards (which is on the 1st page).

I tried to stick to only the characters and commands that I was reasonably sure would work on any webpage and on any browser.

Go forth and populate math message boards with your newfound HTML prowess!

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Great Explanation of RSS Readers

This is from a group called Common Craft. It explains how to begin taking advantage of RSS feeds to manage all your blog reading.

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

I’ll confess, I’ve started using Google Reader to manage my blog reading. If I think I might like a blog, I add it to my reader.

Now, a very important tip … you can quickly rack up way too many blogs to possibly read. But remember, it’s not like the newspaper, where, whether you like it or not, the columnist is going to continue publishing the column in your paper. If you don’t like a blog after you’ve added it to your reader, then DELETE IT. I think of my blog reader as a customizable newspaper.

I never thought I’d abandon printed material, but I admit I actually carry my coffee and breakfast upstairs and read through blogs in the morning (I used to read the previous-day’s paper as we have no morning delivery). Now the newspaper is relegated to dinner, and Google reader gets the morning slot.

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A little fun for Finals Week

I spent two days sitting at my dining room table, transfering files and programs from my old laptop to my new one. At some point I made a list of all the programs that had to be installed and configured on the new machine. Rather than just publish a boring list, and inspired by TechSmith’s song “My Favorite Jings” I also thought I would do a musical tribute … to the laborious process of transferring your digital life to a new computer.

To the tune of “We didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel:

TechSmith Camtasia, Wolfram Mathematica
Design Science MathType, Wacom JustWrite.

I got the laptop loaded
Software installation, and
I got the laptop loaded
It was time consuming
And my hard drive’s burning

Java, Flash Player, Shockwave, LiveMath
Explorer 7, Firefox, Microsoft Office

Windows Journal, OneNote, WinZip, Open Mind,
TEC, Core FTP, and TI Smartview

I got the laptop loaded
Software installation, and
I got the laptop loaded
It was time consuming
My poor fingers burning

Virtual Magnifier, SnagIt, PowerSlides,
Google Earth, Desktop, and Gmail Notifier.

Adobe Flash CS3, Illustrator, Elements,
Acrobat Standard, and all my files.

I got the laptop loaded
Software installation, and
I got the laptop loaded
The list is never ending
Installs go on and on and on…

If I was really good, I’d make a video and sing the lyrics. But I am, after all, only one person… and tonight, that seems a bit like overkill. If you feel you must now see a video of the original song, go here.

Also, my new laptop has a webcam … which might be fun!

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How to Resize a Table in Word in ONE step

I had one of those “now I feel like an idiot” moments today when I discovered how to do something completely by accident. I always suspected that there might have been an easy way (in Word) to resize an entire table at once.

Old way:
1) Move right side of table.
2) Distribute columns evenly.
3) Move bottom of table.
4) Distribute rows evenly.

New way: Watch the video
(it can be done in ONE easy step)

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Why you should use Mozy too…

I read this horrible story in the newspaper the other day about one of the survivors of the San Diego fires. He had backup CDs of his computer in his fire-proof safe, but his house and the files in the safe were destroyed even after his careful precautions. He was a photographer and lost 30 years of digital information. Can you imagine losing EVERYTHING you’ve ever created on your computer?

After a very scary crash of a drive containing every photo I took in Europe (a long and scary story, but with a happy ending), I began to have nightmares about losing every book file I had ever written.

And so I began using Mozy to back up my really important files. Mozy will provide you with 2GB of backup storage on the Internet for FREE. Every night, while I am asleep, the computer backs up those “vital” files (the ones I tell it to back up) on the Internet.

Now I know that 2GB does not back up everything, but, for me, it does back up the folders that contain the rapidly changing information (book files, course files, this year’s photo folder, etc.). I’ve got backups of other files in multiple locations, so as long as they don’t change every day, they should be fine.

If it’s for your home computer, you can get piece-of-mind unlimited backup for $4.95 a month (which actually isn’t too bad when you think about it).

The first backup will take a while to do, but after that, the process is quick, as Mozy just looks for changes in the files and new files to back up after that.

There are certainly MANY other services that provide this online (just search “online backup”), I’m just telling you about the one I ended up with after MY search for an online backup provider. Honest to God, I sleep better at night knowing these files are safe and secure somewhere out there in a server farm.

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PC Ctrl+… Shortcuts

Okay, this is a PC’s 101 post… if you don’t know these, you should! They are very helpful.

Ctrl+z: UNDO … in most PC programs this will undo your last step(s)

Ctrl+x: CUT
Ctrl+c: COPY
Ctrl+v: PASTE
Ctrl+b: BOLD
Ctrl+s: SAVE

Anyone want to add the standard Mac shortcuts? Are they just Command+ instead of Ctrl+…?

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