Updates from the Web

Southeast Technical's computer and Web chronicles

A quick, cool, free screensaver

(Multifarious, Tech Tips) Permanent link

 A quick, cool, free screensaver

I love screensavers. Originally designed to prevent images from burning into monitor screens, screensavers can be fun. This is good, because as monitor technology progressed, these programs are less and less necessary. Still, if you have a monitor sitting around your house or apartment, shouldn’t it be doing something?

Downloading screensaver programs can be risky. They are a favored way for hackers to install software on other machines. You should only get screensavers from companies you trust.

If you are into minimalism, there is a very cool screensaver already on your computer - 3D Text!

Okay, so if you just use a regular font, it is horrifically boring. Pictures would be better. Fortunately, fonts such as Windings display images. Rotated in 3D, these images can be kind of cool.

Open your screensaver (right-click on your desktop and choose “Personalize” or “Display Properties” to find this menu), and choose “3D Text” from the drop-down. Choose “Custom Text” and type a capital A in the text box. Crank the size to “Large” and click “OK”. This is what you get – except it is rotates.

Screensaver with A in Wingding

You can play with the text, textures, and colors to come up with some cool screensaver variations. Here are some that I like.

3D Text Wingdings

Yes folks, I am definitely a geek for finding this to be a source of entertainment. But when simplicity, style, and free converge it just makes me happy.

Footnote: If you using Windows 98 or earlier, type the words "volcano" or "beer" (without quotes) into the text box. It will unlock some fun and interesting behavior.

 

Informality and the folly of runaway punctuation

(Multifarious) Permanent link

Informality and the folly of runaway punctuation

Punctuation BunniesWriting on the Web is, and should be, informal. Sure there are points at which you need to be overtly formal - such as writing for JAMA - but a more informal approach is the default. The Web is an intimate medium, and by and large, should be treated as such.

That being said, I'm seeing an increasingly prevalent issue with punctuation. It is multiplying with lapine prodigiousness!

If one exclamation point is good, would not three be more forceful?

No.

If a question is especially difficult, wouldn't it be best to add additional question marks?

Nein.

Isn't it best to give extended pauses even more periods than the three (3!) in an ellipse?

Non.

If I'm feeling especially forceful, yet quizzical, how about two or three sets of question mark/exclamation point pairs?

Nei.

Oddly, these questions never come up regarding commas. This,, looks blatantly wrong to nearly every user of the English language. How does this become just as acceptable?? This isn't acceptable either!!! Or this!!!! Perhaps you are getting the drift...... Right?!?!

Sadly, there is no help from Spellcheck on this issue. Even with the settings cranked to the point it won’t accept contractions, it has no problem with multiple punctuation marks. A shameful situation.

I'll admit I'm on a bit of a soapbox here. Most of these errors are usually cleaned up in editing. At least, they usually are on the sites I tend to edit. Every once in a while, I will see these errors in final copy.

Informality on the Web is a good thing, but it is best not to let yourself be carried away. It will distract from your message.

(Post note: I really detest grammar snobs, and it pains me to act like one. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I’m only here to help.)

The Puzzle Challenge: Elevator Habits

(Multifarious, Humor) Permanent link

The Puzzle Challenge: Elevator Habits

Every day, when Grant gets home from work, he takes the elevator from the ground floor to the 16th floor. He then gets out and takes the stairs up the last four floors to his apartment on the 20th floor.

Why?

Clues: he only does this if he is alone in the elevator. Otherwise, he takes the elevator all the way to the 20th floor. When he leaves home, he takes the elevator straight from the 20th to the ground floor, regardless of whether he is alone in the elevator.

Can you solve the puzzle? Email me back with the answer at jmontet@southeastmn.edu and I'll post the winners, along with the answers on the blog.

 

Southeast Technical is now on Facebook

(Multifarious) Permanent link

Southeast Technical is now on Facebook

Southeast Technical is happy to announce the launch of their official Facebook presence. Be one of the first to join the Minnesota State College Southeast Technical Facebook fan base!

Through Facebook, you can keep up to day with all of the events at Southeast Technical. Soon we'll be posting photo albums, videos, and much more.

 

Check it out and become a fan today!

Which browser should you choose?

(Tech Tips) Permanent link

 Which browser should you choose?

A browser is a piece of software that interprets Web code and content into a visually significant and appealing manner. Browsers take content, images, and code and arrange them in such a sway as to make things more interesting and clear - and more likely to separate us from our free time and hard-earned cash.

However, browsers don’t treat the same content the same way. Throw in odd plug-ins, forced updates, and an ever-changing environment and it can be hard to find a browser that works best.

Browser Icons

There are dozens of browsers out there. A quick search will reveal there are actually a few hundred, with 20 of them making up the lion’s share of the browser market.

Far and away, the most popular are:

  • Firefox (47%)
  • Internet Explorer (41%)
  • Chrome (6%)
  • Safari (3%)
  • Opera (2%)
2009 aggregate statistics from 3WC.

There are dozens more that work on all kinds of platforms and to a wide variety of purposes. Each comes with its own set of issues and benefits.

For example, Internet Explorer has seen its plethora of security holes consistently attacked by hackers. Yet the latest version, IE9 (due out in early 2011), will run faster than ever. By contrast, Firefox boasts the greatest ability for customization, while still having problems running in a Microsoft-driven world.

So which do you choose?

It turns out that most successful Web surfers use a variety of browsers, switching between them as issues arise. Many stick with Firefox until a page doesn’t look quite right. Then they switch to IE. Others prefer Chrome until they need to work in a proprietary environment, such as an online learning platform (D2L, Blackboard, etc.). Then they switch to Firefox.

As a Web developer, I find myself staying in Firefox for most browsing, switching to IE to handle multi-tasking. I will be working in on our Web site in IE, while doing code searches in Firefox. I tend to use Chrome for banking, as its “incognito” feature keeps private information from being stored on the computer.

So use several browsers. Find what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to try new ones. You may find the perfect fit.

 

Gadgets in Vista and Windows 7

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Gadgets in Vista and Windows 7

Vista GadgetsWidgets are everywhere these days. These little programs run on your desktop without requiring much in the way of memory. These little programs can give you the time, temperature, computer processing statistics, slide show, calendar, package tracking, notes, an email interface - and an exhausting variety of other useful and useless functions.

Apple users have long enjoyed using the Mac OS Dashboard Widgets. Starting in 2003, PC users were able to download and use Yahoo! Widgets. While free, these little programs didn't come with the operating system and had to be loaded independently.

Gadgets in Visa

Windows Vista brings these widgets (now called Gadgets) right into the Windows environment. You can download and run a growing variety of Gadgets that sit nicely on your Window 7 desktop. There are several that show up as defaults:

  • Clock: this shows you the current time on your computer or time zone.
  • Slide Show: displays a rotating group of pictures. You can choose your own pictures from a folder on your computer.
  • Feed Headlines: this gadget displays the headlines from your favorite RSS feed.

These gadgets can be placed anywhere on the desktop, or they can live in the Windows Sidebar. In Vista, this is the home for gadgets. The picture above shows my default gadgets sitting happily in my Sidebar.

Getting more gadgets

You can launch new gadgets by right clicking on the Sidebar and choosing "Add Gadgets…" This brings up a list of all the gadgets you have installed. Simply drag the ones you want onto the desktop.

You can download more gadgets by clicking on the "Get more gadgets online" link at the bottom of the Add Gadgets window.

Making adjustments

Gadget ControlsMost gadgets allow you to customize the settings. This is especially necessary with weather and RSS feed widgets. There are three controls that allow you to make adjustments. Just hover over a gadget and you'll see three icons:

  • Close: which closes the gadget
  • Settings: this is the little wrench icon
  • Drag Pad: provides a handy place to click and drag the gadget around your desktop

Clicking on the wrench brings up the settings menu for the gadget. The settings vary for each gadget, but they are usually self-explanatory.

"They all disappeared!"

The most common issue I've seen with gadgets in Windows Vista is their disappearance when you click on the "Desktop" icon. They just vanish.

In such cases, they aren't actually closed, they are just hidden. To get them back, click on the Windows Sidebar icon in your taskbar. It looks like this:

Windows Sidbar Icon

 

Gadgets in Windows 7

As with most things, gadgets are greatly improved in Windows 7. The Sidebar is no more. Gadgets are free to roam wherever they like. In addition, their tendency to disappear is no longer an issue. (This is greatly helped by the lack of a "Show desktop" icon in Windows 7.) Other than these improvements, they work just as described above.

Conclusion

Gadgets are fairly simple to use, once you've played with them a bit. The ones that come with Windows are harmless. Pull a few out. Monkey with the settings. If you find a few you like, drop me a line and let me know. I'll share everyone's favorites in a later blog. (Your anonymity is assured.)