Figure 1

Figure 1

The numlock key (meaning “number lock”) is used for switching the function of keys that can be either numbers or something else. When the keys are acting as number keys the result is the same as pressing the number keys at the top of the keyboard. So why have both? Well, the second set of numbers is grouped so as to be more convenient for people entering loads of numbers (as opposed to text – see figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

. For example, on the keyboard in figure 2, when the numlock key is selected for numbers then hitting the letter “u” will produce a figure 4.

The numlock key is an example of a “toggle switch”. Whatever the current function, pressing a toggle switch will change to the opposite function (or cycle through the different functions if there are more than two). So, if you want to change back from number keys to ordinary letter keys you just press the numlock key again.

You can usually find a little LED light somewhere that goes on and off depending on the state of the numlock switch. It will usually be labelled “num” or “numlock” or have a figure 1 inside a padlock (see figure 1).

So, for the average user, the numlock key is quite possibly never used (except when it’s hit by accident).

The caps lock key is another toggle switch. When it is activated all of the characters A-Z are typed as capital letters.

Caps lock and shift keys

Figure 3

This is fine if you want to type many consecutive characters as capitals, but if you just want to capitalise the first letter of a word then it is quicker to depress either of the two “shift” keys and then type the letter to be capitalised while the shift key is down. On most keyboards there is a shift key at both the lefthand and righthand edges of the keyboard. They are functionally the same as each other. They are usually indicated by a label of an upward pointing arrow (see figure 3). There is usually a labelled LED light to indicate the state of the caps lock key, typically labelled with a letter A inside a padlock.

Scroll (or Scroll Lock), Sys Rq, and Pause/Break Keys

Although all these keys used to have specific purposes, these days they are little used. Some programs do use them in very specific ways but you might need to consult the program manual to find out about it. I don’t think I ever use any of these keys.

Delete Key vs Backspace

The backspace key (near the top righthandside of the keyboard, with a left-pointing arrow – see figure 1) deletes the character to the left of the cursor and moves the cursor left by one character. Therefore, if you hit the backspace key repeatedly (or just keep pressing it) it keeps deleting the text to the left of your current cursor position – ie it deletes what you have just typed if your cursor is at the end of the typing (the cursor is the flashing icon that tells you where on the screen your typing or editing is currently happening).

The delete key works in the opposite direction in that it deletes the character to the right of the cursor and moves the text beyond that left by one character to fill the gap. If you are at the end of the field or document then the delete key won’t do anything.

It is perfectly legitimate to remove text by either method, depending on where your cursor is and what you are trying to do. You can not, for instance, delete text from a form field with the backspace key if your cursor is at the beginning of the field (because the cursor can’t move further left than the beginning of the field).

Insert and Delete

It is very common to assume that the insert and delete keys are, in some way, opposites of one another. You may think, for instance, that since the delete key deletes text then the insert key may put it back for you. No. There may be an “undo” option available, depending on the program you are using, but that’s another matter. The insert key is another toggle switch. It doesn’t change what you are typing but it changes the way things happen. The two states of the insert switch are:

insert – anything you type will be inserted (added) to what is already there at the current cursor position. If there is already text to the right of the cursor then that text will move rightwards to accommodate the new text as you type it.

overwrite (also known as overtype) – anything you type will overwrite (replace) what is already there at the current cursor position.

If you are typing new content into a form field or a document (say) then it doesn’t matter whether insert is set to insert or overwrite. It does makes a difference if you need to go back and change what’s already there. You can immediately change the state of insert/overwrite by pressing the insert key.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an LED light to indicate the state of the insert switch. A lot of programs, though, will tell you at the bottom of the program window. It will usually be just a single word saying “insert” or “overwrite”. If you can’t find it, look near the bottom of the window and press the insert key a few times and see if anything on the bottom line of the window changes.

Shared Keys

Depending on your keyboard layout, some or all of these keys may share their function with other keys. The key (ha-ha) to getting the function you want is to see if your “function” key (bottom left hand corner of the keyboard) is labelled in a different colour than the normal keys. If it is, then the functions on other keys that match this colour are activated when you hit the key while the function key is depressed. All of this is a lot easier done than said!

For example, on the keyboard displayed here, pressing the numlock key on its own will toggle the state of the numlock switch. If the function key is down when the numlock key is pressed then the result will be the scroll lock function.

See also the blogs on keyboard shortcuts and function keys.

The normal place to enter the email address of the recipient of your emails is the “To:” field (a “field” in computer terms is an area in which data is stored). You can send the same message to several people by entering all their email addresses here (separated by commas or semi-colons). Every person receives the message and every person sees the email address of all the other recipients.

Email address fields

So what is the CC field?

This stands for “carbon copy” and goes back to the days of typewriters and carbon paper. Someone who is “cc’d in” receives a copy for their information. All addresses entered in the CC field are also visible to all recipients of the email.

And what is the BCC field?

This stands for “blind carbon copy”. Other recipients are not aware that someone else has received a “blind copy”.

But I can’t see a BCC field!

Different email programs are set up differently and a lot of them do not display the “BCC” field by default. If you can’t find how to display it in your own email program tell me what email program you are using and I will see if I can help.

But why use the CC and BCC fields?

Well, the difference between the “To” and “CC” fields is that the “CC” recipient is just being informed (or, as they say tirelessly these days, “kept in the loop”). They are not expected to respond in the same way as the main recipient. This is actually causing big problems in a lot of organisations where people send “CC’s” to all and sundry so that they can say they kept the other person informed. Consequently, people are being bombarded with emails that they have to read in case there’s anything they actually need to know.

The first use of the BCC field is fairly obvious – you can send someone a copy without anyone else knowing.

However, there is a much more important use for the BCC field. Suppose you want to send the same email to, say, 30 people who do not know each other. If you put all their email addresses in the “To” field or the “CC” field then they will all see each others’ email addresses. This is fine if everyone on the list already knows everyone else, but it’s a very bad idea otherwise. To begin with, it’s bad “netiquette”. By displaying someone’s email address to other people you are opening up the possibility of that email address being abused (by spammers, for example). Would you give out someone’s phone number to other people without permission to do so? I have also heard that it is possibly a contravention of data protection legislation to be cavalier with email addresses in this way. I’ve no idea whether that’s true or just an urban myth, but I’m sure you get the point.

So, if you wish to send an email to lots of people without revealing their addresses to each other you put them into the BCC field. If you do this you must still put an address in the “To” field and the easiest thing to do is to put your own address here. You could also create a contact in your email contacts/address book that consists of your own email address with the “display as” information set to “undisclosed recipients”. You then use this as the recipient in the “To” field.

While we’re on the subject of netiquette, there are a couple of options in most email programs that are useful if used sparingly, but which drive me (and others) nuts when overused:

  • prioritising emails – by all means put a “high priority” tag on emails that require a high priority response, but don’t put one on every email. I’m sure I’m not the only person childish enough to treat these “me, me, me” emails with a slower than average response.
  • requesting a “read receipt” for every email. As a matter of bloody-minded principle, I refuse to send “read receipts” to people who request them on every email they send me. Anyway, I think I’m intelligent and mature enough to be able to work out for myself when it is appropriate to acknowledge receipt of an email.

Grumpy? Moi?

There are, of course, a lot of scams and attempted frauds connected with computers and the internet. Most of these involve something that originates on the computer itself, but one scam that’s been around for a couple of years seems to take people by surprise and make them wonder if it’s genuine.Microsoft scam - looking through magnifying glass

This involves an unexpected phone call from someone purporting to work for Microsoft who tells you there are problems with your computer. (S)he may suggest that they have been informed by your internet provider that your computer has been infected with viruses or malware, or a variation is that your “warrantee is about to expire so your computer needs checking” (!) They then get you to log onto a website. This website may or may not include logos suggesting that the website owner is a “certified partner” of Microsoft. The idea is that the website reassures you that they are genuine and provides the means for them to remotely access your computer (with your permission). It’s not then difficult for them to show you your Windows Event Viewer. This will have entries in it that are accompanied by warning triangles and the like. At this point they will say “there you are, told you so, your computer is in a mess. Pay me £90 (or £180) by credit/debit card now and I’ll clean it up for you”. As well as the financial fraud, they could also plant viruses or spyware at this time and/or steal data from your computer.

This is a scam. Entries in your Event Viewer do not, per se, mean there’s any problem (let alone a virus or malware infection). And think about it – when did you give Microsoft your phone number? Probably never. Where did they get your phone number from, then? It looks very likely from the evidence that people are gathering about this scam that they get your name and phone number from the phone book. As simple as that. When they call you they don’t even know that you’ve actually got a computer – but it’s a fair bet that you have, and it’s cost them very very little if you haven’t.

I’ve had three people contact me about this in the last six months. That’s not very many until you consider that I don’t know millions of people so this seems to me to be a significant proportion. I understand that this problem has been around for a couple of years, but it seems that it is becoming more common.

This scam is known to the UK authorities but there’s little they can do as the perpetrators are based abroad (India seems to be getting the blame). The originating phone call is routed via the internet so it can’t be traced.

Don’t bother asking them to prove their bona fides by speaking to a supervisor or asking for a number you can call back and don’t believe anything you see on any website they direct you to. Anyone can answer any phone call saying whatever they’ve prepared beforehand and anyone can create a website and put whatever they want onto it – genuine or otherwise. These phone calls are a scam. Do not be fooled or worried. Just hang up.

Microsoft is aware of this problem and they explicitly state that they wouldn’t phone you out of the blue.

Oh, and if you have already fallen for this scam I suggest you cancel the credit/debit card you used.

Dropbox logoDropbox has been around for a year or so. Recently it has been gaining some very positive reviews. I have been using it for a month or two and have found it faultless.

Dropbox performs two tasks simultaneously and very well. It works on PCs, Macs, Linux computers and on mobiles

  • It invisibly and continuously backs up files that are in a special folder on your computer to online storage (ie in “The Cloud”)
  • It invisibly synchronises all the files in that special folder to all your computers that have Dropbox installed. It will even do this “across platforms” (eg Windows computers and Macs can share the same file. Whether or not they can both read the files depends on what types of file they are and what software is installed). So, the same contents are always available in all the computers.

What does that mean in practice?

  • You can have free automatic online backups of up to 2gb. This aspect of Dropbox could be invaluable even if you only use one computer.
  • If you use more than one computer and find that you have to copy important files between them (using a USB pen drive, for instance) then all of that messsing about can be a thing of the past. Simply store those files in your special folder and they will automatically be backed up to “the cloud” and downloaded to the same special folder on your other computer(s).
  • The potential for file collaboration with co-workers, students etc is enormous. As a teacher you can, for instance, hand out assignments by placing them in a shared folder. You can then set up individual shared folders with your students to receive their work back.

I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and have found it invaluable for making sure that my notebook computer always has the latest versions of my most important files – spreadsheets, pdf files, databases, project administration files etc. You can’t think of this synchronising to other computers as a method of backing up files because a change or deletion on one computer is propagated to all the places where you have Dropbox installed. However, the online storage keeps up to 30 days worth of previous versions of files so you should be able to restore changed or deleted versions from the online backup (available via your web browser). I haven’t tested this yet, and would do so first if I ever thought I might need to rely on it.

I tried to break it today by having the same file open on two different machines and then changing each file separately. I wanted to see if it could cope with this and fully expected it to just retain whichever of the two files I saved last. It impressed me, though, by anticipating the problem and saving BOTH files, making it clear which machine had originated which version. I realise that this is a situation that won’t crop up for a lot of people, but the fact that they had not only devised a sensible resolution to such conflicts but also made it unambiguously clear to the user what had happened gives me confidence in the solidity of this product.

I have only shown this product to two clients so far and both of them immediately asked me to install it for them.

You can join Dropbox and receive 2gb online storage for free. If 2gb is not enough data storage, you can upgrade to a paid subscription account to get even more storage.

dilsblog - dropbox giftUse this link – to create your DropBox account and install the software. If you use this link then both you and I will receive an extra 250mb free storage space (this referral system works up to a maximum amount of free storage space of 8gb).

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Computer Support in London
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