Friday, November 03, 2006

Speeding up Windows
The search tool in Windows XP is a great way to look for a file when you forgot where you put it, or what you called it. To make those searches move at the fastest pace possible, Windows XP defaults the "Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching" option on the General tab of the Disk Properties dialog box.

My hard disk seemed to always run and run, even when I was not actively doing anything. I would check the Task Manager and find the CPU usage at 100% and then just wait or restart the system. I opened the Disk Properties dialog box (Start > My Computer, right-click Drive C:, and then choose Properties). On the General tab, I unchecked the Allow Indexing… option, and clicked OK. The process took a few minutes to complete—it had to update all files on the drive.

What a difference this little change made. No more was the CPU usage at 100%. The search stills works great, even though it might be a little slower.
Smaller Word Files
Ever wonder why Word files are so large? And why they grow at an unusual rate as you make changes to the document? It has to do with the Fast Save feature--on by default.

In Word, choose Tools > Options > Save and uncheck Allow fast saves.

You probably will not notice the difference in time it takes to save the document, and the size of the document will be smaller. Fast save stores information about the last fifteen modifications you have made to the document resulting in larger file sizes. Turn it off and this old information is not recorded.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Speak to Me
When writing a document, paper, or a novel, the next step is to proof read it. I find errors in things I proofread and then published. Heck, when I read published novels I even find errors. No matter how many times I read something over, I seem to always miss something. I wrote it and my brain knows what I meant to say, so as I read it over, I miss some of the mistakes. A method that has been working for me is to read it out loud to my wife. As I do, mistakes I missed the first time pop out at me and I fix them as I read.

There is another way. Let the computer do the reading and you listen. A feature in Microsoft Word 2003 allows the computer to read any text selected in the document out loud. The voice is a little robotic, but very understandable. Simply select the text (Ctrl+A to select all) and then press Win+S (Win is the Windows key on the keyboard--usually a flag to the left of the spacebar).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Smart Quotes
I use Word as my word processor even when creating articles for email publication. Sure, I could just type in the compose window of my email program, but it does not have the same level authoring tools as Word. I use the spelling checker, the grammar checker, and the Alt+click access to the research task pane frequently. I am actually typing this blog entry in Word right now! One thing Word does to make the document professional looking causes an issue in my email program—the way it automatically converts a double-quote to left and right quotes. Each copy and paste would require manually fixing the odd character caused by the left and right quote. With one checkbox entry in Word, the problem is solved.

Tools > AutoCorrect Options > AutoFormat As You Type, then uncheck "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes"

Friday, September 15, 2006

Quick Dates in Word
Typing a date is not difficult to do, and Word makes it easy by auto completing it. Type Feb and a screen tip pops up asking if you are typing February. Just hit the Enter key and you are done. If you know the current date, you can just type it. If you do not, Insert > Date and Time… opens the Date and Time dialog box where you select from various date formats.

However, there is an even easier way—use the shortcut Alt+Shft+D. Today’s date will be placed at the insertion point in the default date format (mm/dd/yyyy unless you have changed it). To change the default format, Insert > Date and Time…, select the desired format, and then in the lower left corner click Default.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Office on the Web

I use Office 2003 and am experimenting with the beta of Office 2007. I was really turned off at the thought of not having the familiar drop down menus and toolbars. I have to admit I am adjusting very quickly to the new look and feel of the ribbons.

But, what if I purchase a new notebook for the road and really do not want to spend as much on another copy of Office 2003--heck, Office Professional costs almost as much as the discounted low end notebooks today. Sure, I can install a 2007 beta copy and get by over the few months of the beta trial. There is another way.

I have been working online with two different sites offering word processing and spreadsheet capability over the Internet. Nothing needs to be installed on your end and you can save the work in Word, Excel, and even PowerPoint format on your own machine. Other formats are also available. The documents can even remain online for you to access or share with others.

Check out for word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Yes, it is free to use and quick to execute. I am using broadband, so I do not have experience using it over a landline. Another couple of alternatives are from Google and include a word processor at and a spreadsheet at

As with many new, free applications today, these are beta versions so try them at your own risk. I have and think they are great!
Another Useful Excel Function

Excel has hundreds of built in function, but the most used ones seem to be sum(),min(), max(), average(), count(), if(), and perhaps pmt() and even vlookup(). When presented with a problem requiring the creation of a complex formula, check the functions first. There just might be one to solve the problem instead of you having to use various Excel features to solve it mannualy.

For instance, finding the largest value in a range such as A5:D50 is easly solved using max(A5:D50). What if you needed the two largest values or even the second largest? Without a function, you would probably sort the data and manually find the next to largest.

Yes there is a function to do it! The large() function will pull out the nth largest value in any range of data. In our example above, you would enter large(A5:D50,2) to locate the next to the largest value. Yes, the small() function will do the reverse and find the next (or nth) to smallest value.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Graphing in Excel
One of the last pieces of Excel I taught this semester was graphing. This is the ability to take ranges of cells and turn them into graphical representations using a variety of chart types. The two most used seem to be the column chart and the pie chart. The line graph might be third, especially when graphing progress over time.

The Chart Wizard is what the textbook uses, and what I concentrate on as well. However, for a quick chart there is even an easier way. Select the items to be charted, then press F11. It could not be simpler. A new worksheet named Chart1 is created containing a column chart of the selected data.

Want to alter the automatic results? Click the chart and you will notice a menu bar entry named Chart where you have options to change any of the defaulted items including the chart type.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Cleaning up Email
I really dislike getting emails forwarded to me with all the >>> next to each line. There is so much junk, it makes reading the message like decoding a secret document. You can copy the offending text into Word and then use find/replace to clean it up; even make use of the Alt key to left drag vertically to select columns of the annoying characters and delete them.

A little program called emailStripper make it an easy task. Simply copy/paste the email text into this programs window, click Strip It, and the original message appears. Copy/paste it back to the message you are forwarding and your readers will never cuss at your emails again.

Find it at

Friday, January 06, 2006

SaveAs Shortcut
No matter how much we think we know there is always something new to learn. With computers, this is true all the time. Yesterday, while reading some web page somewhere, I came across a reference to a shortcut to opening the SaveAs dialog box in Word.

In Word, on the menu bar, if you click File, the Save option has the shortcut Ctrl+S listed to the right. I use this one all the time to save the document I am working on. This works for almost every application and has since the early days.

F12 will open the SaveAs dialog box in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It is not listed on the File menu, but it works great. Next time you open a document to use it as a template for a new document, press F12 before getting started to save it with its new name so you do not click Save and override the original. This shortcut is unique to these three programs.