When I’m training clients on the basics of Microsoft’s Word program, there is an aspect of how it works that I try quite hard to get across

It has been consistent over many years and versions, but, if you don’t get a clear grasp of what’s going on, life with Microsoft Word can be a tad messy and frustrating.

Word 2013 LogoLet’s suppose that you wish to change the font size of a document you are working on. In Word 2010 this is achieved by clicking on the “Home” tab and then clicking on the arrow to the right of the current point size in the “font” group. Then click on the new font size. OK, so you have done that and what happens? Nothing. Nix. Nada. New and newish users make the assumption that changing the font size will change the current document AS ALREADY CREATED. That’s not the way it works. Changing the font size as above (or changing other attributes of the document in a similar way) takes effect with new content that you create AFTER changing the attribute. Text that already exists in the document is not changed.

Also, if you change an attribute (such as font or font size) and then try to insert some new text within the document that you have already created, then you might easily find that the font has reverted to the original. This is because you have to insert the new text after a space in the existing document. Text prior to the space is in the original format and new text added there will be in the original format.

The above – confusing – paragraph illustrates exactly why I always encourage users to adopt a different strategy.

Last Typewriter Made In Britain

Click on the image to see the last UK typewriter (Nov 2012)

Just type your document first and don’t bother about how it looks. Get all of the text written down first and don’t even look at how it is formatted. Then go back over it and change the existing format (eg fonts and font sizes) by selecting the parts of the text that you want to change and then clicking on the attribute you want the selected text to change to. To my mind, this is far less confusing as far as getting Word to behave is concerned.

Selecting the text is done in exactly the same way as selecting any text on a PC – left-click, keep the button down, and drag the cursor over the text to be selected. There are also shortcuts in Word for selecting specific chunks of text:

  • Control + A = select all the text in the document
  • Shift + Right Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the right
  • Shift + Left Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the left
  • Control + Shift + Right Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the right
  • Control + Shift + Left Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the left
  • Shift + Arrow Down = Add to the selection by moving one line down
  • Shift + Arrow Up = Add to the selection by moving one line up

There are gerzillions of such keyboard shortcuts listed at Shortcutworld (but it’s not exactly exciting reading!)

As far as I am concerned, this second strategy also works much better with my creative process (such as it is). I work much better with word processing if I divide the task into:

  • Getting what I want written down (probably even including re-drafting, initial proof-reading etc).
  • Making sure that I’ve got a saved version of the work up to that point.
  • Formatting it the way I want it.

For some reason, a lot of people seem to create documents the other way – breaking off every few seconds during the writing process to mess about with the format. You are, of course, free to do it any way you want but at least doing it my way massively reduces the anguished cries of “why’s it gone back to the old format” and “I’ve changed that 10 times and it’s still wrong!” Not only that, but constantly switching your attention between getting your ideas down and getting Word to format it correctly, is an exercise in mental agility that is just not necessary.

This blog was written with specific instructions for PC users, but I hope my (growing) band of Mac User readers will be able to apply the principles to their advantage.

My computer clients often ask me how to get started in editing their digital photos

There are many photo editing programs available, ranging from excellent free programs to Adobe Photoshop costing many hundreds of pounds. In this blog I am not interested in specific programs. What I would like to do instead is give you an idea of some of the basic functions that you will find in all image editing programs (even Mac programs!) and which, between them, can go a long way to improve your photos. Editing photos can be a satisfying and creative way to spend time. It’s not a “task” to be fitted in between checking your email and updating the family budget spreadsheet. Personally, I get more satisfaction from editing photos than from taking them. I would recommend thinking of time set aside to edit photos as being “quality time”: time spent doing something that can give real satisfaction.

So, let us look at a few of the techniques available in all the different software packages. If you apply each of these techniques (where relevant, of course) to each photo you wish to improve, then you will almost certainly be surprised and pleased by the results. I am going to list these in the order that I use them when editing my own photos.

1) Straightening the picture

You can turn the photo so as to straighten it. Since this process means that some parts of the photo will be lost, I do this first as there’s no point in creating a satisfying picture using other techniques, only to have the image look different after part of it has been lost in the straightening process.

Crooked Horizon

The lopsided horizon spoils this image, taken on the North Kent coast

Horizon Straightened

With the horizon straightened, the attention is drawn instead to the beach huts. They look as if they are staring out to sea.

2) Cropping the picture

Cropping an image consists of cutting away parts that are not wanted. I don’t mean removing details from WITHIN the image. Cropping is like taking a pair of scissors and just cutting off as much of the edge of any of the four sides as desired. This is a much more creative process than it might, at first, seem. The entire balance, focus, and mood of a picture can be greatly changed by the way that the image is cropped. I crop the image early on as there’s no point in doing any of the later detailed work on parts of the image that are going to be removed.

Uncropped Image

With large areas of boring background, this image is not very interesting

Cropped Image

After cropping, the reflections in the instruments make a far better focus for the image.

3) Adjusting the levels

An image, as taken, may have no areas that are very light and/or no areas that are very dark. This can make an image look “muddy”. Adjusting the levels means making the darker areas nearer to (or completely) black and making the lighter areas nearer to (or completely) white. This is a far better way to increase the difference between the lighter and darker areas than adjusting the contrast (although this can also be done. I tend to gently “tweak” the contrast at the end of the editing process just to give an image a bit more punch).

Unadjusted Levels

With the levels unadjusted, the best place for this image is the recycle bin.

Levels Adjusted

This image has been rescued by adjusting the levels (OK, I agree, it’s still boring)

4) Removing red-eye

Red-eye is the phenomenon of light from the flash of your camera bouncing off the back of the subject’s eyeball, resulting in red eyes in the photograph. Most image editing programs have options that can automatically detect and remove red-eye. It can also be done manually.

Unadjusted red-eye

Red-eye can completely ruin a portrait

Adjusted Red-eye

Removing the red-eye can make all the difference

5) Cloning

After applying the above techniques to more-or-less all photos, the next thing it’s definitely worth getting to grips with is the process of “cloning”. This is where the real magic of photo editing starts. Cloning is the process whereby you select a piece of the image and you copy that part of the image to somewhere else on the image. This, effectively, makes what had previously been on the copied area disappear. You can see it in the illustrations of the “skull sculpture” ( “Very Hungry God” (2006) by Sudobh Gupta as displayed in the Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park). The first image shows the actual reality that I photographed. The second has been “doctored” by me using the cloning tool to remove the legs of the sculpture by replacing them with copies of nearby content (ie greenery). The result is quite spooky: the skull (spooky in itself) seems to float in mid-air.

Uncloned

The “real” image with the legs (as the sculptor intended!)

Cloned

Parts of the background greenery have been cloned over the legs, making them disappear

This is just a taster of what can be done in photo editing. I’ve lost track of the number of my clients who have said “I must get round to doing something with my photos”. Well, these steps are some of the basic and easy ones, but be warned – it’s surprising how much time can just disappear as you become totally absorbed in the process. And apart from enjoying the process, the results are definitely worth it. You can make a real difference to how your photographs look and derive real satisfaction from doing it.

I would be delighted to provide training to help you down the road of getting some real fun and satisfaction from your computer through photo editing

Who needs Word? For many situations, opening up Microsoft Word and creating a document can be like wielding a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Word seems to get more and more complicated with every iteration of Microsoft Office. I’ve delivered a lot of computer training over the years to people who just feel overwhelmed by the quantity and complexity of the choices they have to make when using it.

Apart from the time it takes to open the program, we often just need don’t need any of the fancy formatting, fonts or other complications that Word introduces. And it may be that we’ll only need the information for a short time, so we may not even want to bother thinking of a name, saving the file, etcetera.

There are three applets in Windows 7 that can help us record text more simply than by launching Word:

a small window showing Windows NotepadNotepad is like a word processor (such as Word), but it doesn’t have any formatting capabilities. The resulting data file is known as a “text file” (with a file extension of “.txt”). Simple word processors that deal with pure text files are usually known as “text editors”. The fact that the data file is nothing but pure text has the great advantage that it can be read by any other text editor. There will be no compatibility problems when reading text files created or edited by different text editors as the files they read and create have nothing but text in them (so there are no complicating factors of invisible commands embedded in the text or anything like that). Also, Notepad is very quick to open and close. One thing to remember, though, is that by default the text will appear on one great line of text that scrolls sideways as you add to it. This can be changed by clicking on the “Format” command and then clicking on “Word Wrap”. This wraps the text onto the next line automatically as you would expect.

Wordpad is also like a simplified word processor, but it does have some formatting capability, such as fonts, inserting objects (eg pictures), and text justification (aligning text left, right, or centre). If you find Word irritatingly complicated and sometimes think you can’t see the wood for the trees when using it, then do give Wordpad a try.

2 Windows Sticky NotesSticky Notes is a computer representation of the physical bits of paper that some people feel compelled to spread around their desk, computer, and anywhere else with a smooth surface. Using Sticky Notes, the notes appear on the computer desktop. If they disappear behind another program that is currently to the fore on the computer’s desktop they can be brought to the “top” by clicking on the Sticky Notes icon in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. The one thing I don’t like about Sticky Notes is that the text comes out in one of these “pretend handwriting” fonts that I find hard to read. There isn’t any simple way of changing the font, but what I do is to start off a note by pasting a piece of text from elsewhere into a new sticky note. The font of the pasted text is retained on that sticky note until it is deleted, so I keep re-using the same sticky note. You don’t save the individual notes, but Windows will retain the current batch of sticky notes and re-present them if the computer is re-booted and the applet started again. You can also copy the text of a sticky note to paste elsewhere if you decide that it’s worth saving as an individual file.

Searching from the Start MenuAs with all programs running under Windows 7, there are several ways to launch these applets. The easiest way is to click on the “Start” button, type in the first few characters of the applet name, and then click on the applet name when it appears in the menu above the search box – eg for Sticky Notes, just type “st” (without the quotes) and then click on “Sticky Notes” above.

When we think of creating and saving text, most of my computer clients will automatically use Word. Over the years, I have found that I use it less and less. I think this is partly because emails have replaced letter-writing and partly because there often better ways to store text information in our computer systems. All of the applets mentioned here are easy to use and get to grips with. Go on, give them a try.

Do you have to hunt down your programs before you can open them? Maybe you scour the “all programs” option of the Start Menu. Maybe you minimise the window that you are working on and then work through the confusion of shortcuts on your desktop. You might even hunt through the hard drive using Windows Explorer.

Key with wingsWell, for programs that you use often, it’s worth knowing that there is is a quicker way of launching programs than any of these. You can assign a key combination that will immediately launch your program. Whatever you happen to be doing, the program assigned to your special key combination will immediately open if it wasn’t already open, or come to the fore if it was already lurking around somewhere.

Creating the keyboard shortcut for this is a two-stage process. First of all we need a desktop shortcut (if one doesn’t exist already), and then we need to change a “property” of that shortcut so that typing the assigned key combination will launch the program (or bring it to the fore if it is already open).

Stage 1 – create a shortcut (if one does not already exist)

Find your program in the usual way, but don’t launch it:

  • If your program is “pinned” to the Start Menu (ie it appears in the list of available programs as soon as you click on the Start button) then left-click on the program name and drag it to the desktop. This will create a shortcut on the desktop, but will leave the original entry in the Start menu. Go to Stage 2.
  • If you normally launch your program by opening the Start Menu and then clicking on “all programs”, then find your program in the usual way but instead of left-clicking on it (which would open the program) right-click on it instead. Then left-click on the option that says “send to” and left-click on the option that says “Desktop (create shortcut)”. This will create a shortcut on the desktop, but will leave the original entry in the “all programs” menu. Go to Stage 2.
  • If you normally launch your program by using Windows Explorer, then locate it in the usual way but right-click on it rather then double-clicking on it. Then left-click on the option that says “create shortcut”. If it tells you the shortcut will appear on the desktop then that’s fine but it may create the shortcut in the same folder as the program. If it does that, you can then either drag it to the desktop or “cut” it (using Ctrl x) and “paste” it (using Ctrl v) onto the desktop. Alternatively, you can leave it where it is and add the keyboard shortcut from there (see below).

Stage 2 – create the shortcut key combination

  • Right-click on the shortcut.
  • Left-click on the option at the bottom of the list called “Properties”.
  • Left-click on the tab across the top that says “Shortcut”.

About halfway down the list of options you’ll see something that looks like this:

Assigning a shortcut key

If you click on the area next to “shortcut key” (that currently says “None”) and then type any printable character (it doesn’t have to be a letter or a number), you will see that the area is then filled with “Ctrl + Alt + ” and the character you typed. Click on “OK” and that’s it. Wherever you are, typing the key combination of the Ctrl key, the Alt key, and the character you added will immediately launch your program. It’s best to depress the Ctrl and Alt keys first and then tap on the third key.

Note that when you were assigning the shortcut key there was an option below that said “Run: Normal window”. If you click on the triangle at the right of this, you can choose to ensure that your program always starts in a normal window, or maximised, or minimised.

Windows 7 Start button and search box

Windows 7 Start button and search box

If you have Windows 7 there’s another method of launching any program more quickly than hunting for it – and you don’t have to assign a key to a shortcut. Instead, just click on the start button and then type the first few characters of the program name into the search box (see fig 2).

Windows will show you a list of files that are relevant. After entering just a few characters you will see the program you want listed in the start box, so just left-click on the program. It took me a long time using Windows 7 to start to appreciate how good this search box now is. Suppose, for instance, you want to change how your mouse is working. Just start typing “mouse” (without the quotes) into the search box and up comes the program to change how the mouse works. Want to change the date in your computer? Just type “date” in the search box and then click on the “Date and Time” option that is offered. There’s no need to train clients any more in how to find “administrative tools” in the Control Panel in order to find the defragmenting option – just start typing “defrag” in the search box. When I’m delivering computer training to clients who are either new to computers or just new to Windows 7 I try to remember to emphasise how good this search box is. It repays the effort of remembering to use it until it becomes second nature.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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