Geekgirl's Plain English Computing

Computer tips and techniques you can understand

  

Welcome to Geekgirl’s Plain English Computing.

Here you’ll find articles on (mostly arcane) computer topics ranging from Windows 7 to Microsoft Office to security tips.

I don’t get much time to update this site these days, but I have plans to do so when retirement comes my way. 🙂

So go ahead and browse the articles below, or use the Article Index or Search in the menu to dig around.

Open Outlook calendar in its own window

Using Office 365 Home Premium? The method described below doesn't work in Office 365 Home Premium. You'll need to follow a different route, which I describe at the end of this article. Also note that these instructions are for those using Windows 7 or before, although...

Searching by image

No doubt you’ve used Google Image Search to find images, but did you know you can do the reverse: feed an image to Google Image Search and it will let you know the where, the what, the who and/or the when of the photo?

Find anything with Everything

Although search in Windows 7 is pretty good, it’s geared towards finding documents. So if you’re searching for a program file or a library file (.dll) or some other non-document file, it’s not much help. Windows Search also searches file contents as well as filenames, which is useful but slow. To find any file fast, try Everything.

How to make hidden iPhone apps visible

Once your idevice’s screens are stuffed with apps, there’s no need to uninstall an app before adding a new one to your collection. Just go ahead and install it. The app will be on your device, but hidden from view.

Top tips for the iPhone keyboard

Some people love the iPhone’s ‘soft’ keyboard, others loathe it. Whichever camp you belong to, you can make your keyboarding life far more efficient by taking advantage of all the hidden tricks lurking beneath the keyboard’s apparently simple exterior.

Better sticky notes for your computer

Sticky notes for your computer are a wonderful idea. These digital alternatives to Post-It Notes save paper, won’t come unstuck, prompt you with audible and visual reminders, and are a lifesaver for anyone whose memory is not one hundred percent. (Include me in!)

How to format multiple elements in Word

When you need to apply the same formatting to multiple parts of a Microsoft Word document, there’s no need to go through the same motions repeatedly. Word provides a smogasbord of techniques for formatting a bunch of elements in a document quickly and efficiently.

Breadcrumbing

The breadcrumb bar, originally introduced in Vista, has brought an entirely new way of navigating in Windows. It replaces the plodding, sub-folder-based, dig-down method of yore with shortcut jumps.

Portable SMTP: Take your email with you

There are all sorts of ways to access your email while on the road and most have distinct disadvantages. The ideal method lets you take your regular email with you: the same email program, same address, same configuration and same mail store no matter where you are. Enter portable SMTP.

Display each Word document in its own window

If you have a document open in Word 2007 or Word 2010 and you open another document, that second document is displayed in the same window as the first. To view the now-hidden first document, you can’t, as you might expect, swap between the two documents by pressing Alt+Tab…

Should you install the 64-bit version of Microsoft Office 2010?

The latest version of Microsoft Office comes in 32-bit and 64-bit flavours. It’d be natural to assume that if you have a 64-bit computer running a 64-bit version of Windows then you should install the 64-bit version of Office 2010. Not so. You’re almost certainly better off using the 32-bit version.

That’s because Microsoft has included little in the 64-bit version that you won’t find in the 32-bit version, with two exceptions…

Distraction-free web reading

Apple has just released a new version of its web browser, Safari. Apple claims it's the fastest browser around, but then Opera makes that claim, too, and Google's Chrome 5 is certainly a contender for the title. Whether Safari is the fastest browser is not...

Get yourself a better browser

For years, Microsoft has been including a web browser known as Internet Explorer with Windows. Windows 7 shipped with version 8 of Internet Explorer, better known as IE 8. Many people settle for using Internet Explorer simply because it’s supplied with Windows, but it...

Databasics IV: Streamlining data entry

In the previous tutorial I discussed some guidelines for creating data entry screens that are easy to use. In this tutorial, we'll put those guidelines into action by refining the membership database we introduced in part two of this series. I'll step through the...

Staying safe online

One of the most wildly successful attacks on the Internet ever was the Sapphire worm. When this nasty little piece of code was released onto the Net, it spread from computer to computer with extraordinary speed. During its first minute on the Net, its rate of spread...

Emailing photos

The real joy in taking photos is in sharing. Whether it's a cute snap of your daughter playing with her first set of Lego blocks or a dazzling shot of Saturn's rings taken through a telescope-mounted camera, your photos cry out to be handed around. With your computer,...

Viewing and organising files

With Windows 7, Microsoft has made substantial changes to the way you view and manage files within folders, building upon the dramatic improvements introduced in Vista. Compared to Windows XP, Windows 7’s file management is more powerful, more flexible and far more visually appealing. Find out how to take advantage of these new features.

Spreadsheeting I: Basic concepts

While word processing programs are the most commonly used office application and browsers are probably the most commonly used application of all, much of the success of personal computers is due to spreadsheets. In 1979, two blokes – Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston –...

Resize and restore your desktop icons

There’s no need to squint to view the icons on your desktop, you can resize them on the fly: Click an empty space on the desktop then hold down the Ctrl key and roll your mouse wheel forward to increase the icon size, backwards to decrease the size. This doesn’t...

Quickly copy a folder’s contents

To quickly copy all the files in a folder in Windows 7 or Vista: Open the folder. Right-click the breadcrumb bar and select Copy Address. Minimise the open folder, right-click within another folder or on the desktop and choose Paste from the pop-up menu. A copy of the...

Google: The whole shebang

There are plenty of web search engines, but to most of us Google is web search. The company has so successfully redefined the search market that its name has become synonymous with searching. Although most people use Google, few use it really effectively. Here’s a...

Troubleshooting Internet problems

Troubleshooting communications problems can be a frustrating pastime. There are so many parts to any computer connection it’s often hard to isolate where the problem is located, let alone pin down exactly what’s wrong. The trouble could be with your hardware: modem,...

Using the handy SendTo command

The Send To option has always been one of Windows’ handiest shortcuts. It lets you copy a file - or a folder full of files - to another folder without having to navigate your way to that destination folder. Send To also lets you quickly upload, email or open a...

Shading every other row in Excel

I sometimes wonder whether Microsoft spends so much on its programming budget it has little left over to spend on designers. This thought often crosses my mind when working with Office sample files, templates and styles. Take, for example, the auto-formats supplied...

Basic mousing technique

Most of your interaction with your computer will be via the mouse, keyboard and screen. If you're a poor typist, do yourself a very big favour and buy a typing tutor program for your computer. You can pick up a good one for under 20 bucks, either from a computer store...

Databasics III: Data entry design

It's staggering how many shareware and commercial database applications have appalling data entry screens. Many developers seem to think that well-oiled inner workings are all that's needed to sell an application, when any user knows that, when you get down to it, the...

Windows XP Control Panel shortcuts

The Control Panel centralises access to Windows' multitudinous settings. From the Control Panel you can adjust and tweak Windows' appearance, performance, network connections, hardware settings and a whole lot more. While many of the settings in the Control Panel are...

Why defrag?

Windows 98, Windows Me and Windows XP come with a collection of house cleaning tools, including ScanDisk, Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup, to help keep your disk in peak working order. Why should you bother with the housework? A couple of reasons. First, disks are...

Easy home networking

These days, almost every home is a candidate for a network. Most people have at least one older computer hanging around and families with children or two working adults are likely to have multiple desktop and notebook machines. While networking computers used to be...

Setting up a home network on Windows XP

In the olden days – about 15 years ago when Windows 95 first arrived on the scene – creating a home network was a fearsome task reserved for the knowledgeable or the courageous. That's no longer the case. Windows XP makes setting up a network easy. The toughest part...

Learning to love the new taskbar

Once you get past the initial unfamiliarity, you’ll find the new taskbar has a lot to offer. Microsoft has given the taskbar a complete makeover. If you’re an old hand with Windows, you’ll need to invest some time in getting acquainted with the new layout. At first,...

Installing Windows 7 onto a disc-less computer

Although the usual way to install Windows 7 is from a DVD, it’s possible to copy the contents of your installation DVD to a USB flash drive and install the operating system from there. This is particularly handy for optical-disc-less notebooks and for netbooks, which...

Recovering deleted files

We all know cats have nine lives, but did you know files have three? When you create a file, it has its first bite at existence, an existence which continues until you, in your casual god-like manner, delete it. Deleting the file isn't the end, though. All you need to...

Using the spike to rearrange text in Microsoft Word

Microsoft has long produced software with a belt-and-braces approach, offering a choice of ways to perform a particular task. For example, in Word, you’ll find a smorgasbord of methods for cutting, copying and pasting text. There’s the usual cut, copy and paste via...

Databasics II: Creating your first database

This tutorial guides you through building a simple, single-file database. In a single-file database, also known as a flat-file database, you put all your information into a single table. This is the simplest form of database to create, but it has some serious...

Databasics I: Records & queries & keys, oh my!

What's a database? If you think of word processors as… well… processors of words, and spreadsheets as number processors, then you can think of databases as processors of unstructured information, aka "data". Feed a database data in any sort of guise – as numbers,...

A database dictionary

Can’t tell your first normal form from your third? Untangle basic database jargon with this easy-to-understand dictionary of terms.

Customising Windows

Windows is malleable. It’s designed to be tinkered with, adjusted, customised. When you first run Windows - whether it's Windows 7, Vista, Windows XP or even an earlier version - what you see is Microsoft’s idea of how the operating system should work and look. You...

The joy of jump lists

The Recent Documents list has been a feature of Windows for many years. It provides a quick way to access the files you’ve used most recently. In Windows 7, you’ll find Recent Documents has been tucked away out of sight and is only available by customizing the Start...

Understanding Libraries

Windows 7 contains plenty of new features, but there’s only one truly new concept you’ll need to wrap your head around: libraries. Libraries provide a new way of managing, viewing and finding your files, toppling the old (My) Documents folder from its central...

Worry-free Windows 7 installation

Are you ready for Windows 7? It doesn’t take much to qualify. Pudgy old Vista’s slender successor requires nothing more from your PC than a gigabyte of RAM, a processor running at 1GHz, 16 gigabytes of hard drive space and a video card with support for DirectX 9 and...

Which Windows 7 for me?

When you buy a copy of Windows 7 to install on an existing computer, there are three key questions you need to ask yourself: Which edition of 7 do I want? Can I buy an upgrade version or do I need to pay for the more expensive full version? Should I choose a 32-bit or...

What to expect from Windows 7

There’s a theory that Microsoft gets it right with every other version of Windows. Those who subscribe to this school of thought give Windows 95, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows XP the plaudits; Windows 98, Windows Me and Windows Vista are relegated to the...

Handy dandy computer jargon decoder

Can't tell your hardware from your software? This plain English computer glossary introduces all the terms you need to get started with computers and the Internet. A access To gain entry to or connect to. Access (Capital "A"). Microsoft's database management program,...

Selecting a column of text in Word

Most text selection in Word involves selecting horizontally – selecting a line or a paragraph of text. Sometimes, though, you need to select a vertical slab of text. To do that, hold down the Alt key while you click and drag your mouse over the text. This comes in...

Automatically open the last edited document in Word

If you frequently find yourself wanting to edit the same document you were using in your last Word session, you can create a shortcut which does just this, using a command-line switch. Here’s how: Right-click an empty spot on your desktop and choose New -> Shortcut...

Deleting an open document in Microsoft Word

Have you ever wanted to delete the document currently open in Word? I find I often want to do this when I’m trying to clean out a whole bunch of old documents: I open each one, check the contents and, if I no longer need it, delete it on the spot. Word won’t normally...

Omitting page numbers in Microsoft Word

How do you omit the page number on the final page of a Word document? I was asked this recently by someone who is using Lulu.com’s self-publishing service. Lulu had asked her to resubmit her book with a completely blank final page – no page number, nothing. Finding...

Using Microsoft Word’s hidden calculator

You’ve probably heard the stats: 80% of Microsoft Word users make use of only 20% of its features. My guess is that only about 0.1% of Word users use the handy calculator built right into the program. I’m not talking about the SUM() and AVERAGE() fields or any of the...

Understanding Excel references

When you refer to a cell in an Excel formula, you can use any of three different ways of referring to that cell, known as relative, absolute and mixed references. Relative cell references are the most commonly used. A relative cell reference in a formula is based on...

Automate email handling with Gmail’s filters

The Gmail team has been adding features to Google’s web-based email program at a gallop. A quick click of Gmail’s Settings link unveils an impressive array. By clicking the Labs tab and enabling some of Gmail’s experimental features, you’ll find yourself with even...

Removing clutter from a new computer

Computer manufacturers love to load up new systems with “helpful” utilities and features. Of course, what they regard as helpful, you may regard as rubbish. Whenever I set up a new computer for myself or someone else, I go through a routine to eliminate...

Help! My Kindle won’t connect to the Whispernet!

Two of the Kindle’s most appealing features are its wireless connection, which lets you download new books any time of the day from most places in the US, and the rapidly expanding treasure trove of ebooks available on Amazon. So it’s a sad, sad day when you switch on...

Selecting columns of text in Word

Most text selection in Word involves selecting horizontally – selecting a line or a paragraph of text. Sometimes, though, you need to select a vertical slab of text. To do that, hold down the Alt key while you click and drag your mouse over the text. This comes in...

Generating content automatically in Word

One of Word’s quirky, tucked-away features is the rand() function. It lets you quickly insert a block of text in a document. To use the function in pre-2007 versions of Word, at the beginning of a line type =rand() and press Enter. Word inserts three paragraphs, each...

Kindle and the limitations of the Whispernet

I’ve been away for a week in the wilds of Wyoming. For the trip, my suitcase was jam packed as usual, so I was delighted that instead of loading up further with a handful of books, all the reading matter I took was in my Kindle. On the road is where the Kindle really...

The year of the database

I’ve put the Kindle and the Sony Reader aside for a day to finish writing my latest comparative review of database software for Australian PC User magazine. I’ve been writing such reviews since the early 1980s, when dBASE was top dog in the database stakes. It was a...