Propellerhead Tips 05

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NOVEMBER 05

 

QUICK PRINT DOCUMENTS

If you have any documents that you need to print on a regular basis here’s a simple trick to save you the bother of opening your word processor or the application that you print from and finding the file every time. First go to Printers and Faxes on the Start menu (or in Control Panel), right-click on your printer icon, select Properties then the Advanced tab and check the item ‘Keep Printed Documents’, click OK and close. Next, open Printers and Faxes again and this time hold down the Ctrl key (to create a copy) and drag and drop the printer icon on to the Desktop. This creates a shortcut to the printer Spool and when you click on it it will display a list of the documents you have printed. To reprint a document just right click on it and select Restart. Over time the list can get quite cluttered so you may want to thin it out from time to time by right clicking on unwanted entries and select Cancel

 

SWITCH OFF INDEXING FOR A FASTER PC

This simple tip should help to speed up your PC by switching off the Windows XP Indexing Service. This runs in the background constantly checking through the folders and files on your drives to maintain and up to date index of its contents, it keeps the CPU busy and uses up a fair amount of hard disc space.

 

You probably won't miss it, unless you make a lot of use of the advanced Search facilities but even if you do I'll show you another neat trick in a moment that will allow you to make use of the Index file already stored on your PC.  All you have to do is switch indexing back on every so often to refresh the list.

 

But first here's how to switch it off. Open My Computer, right click on your primary drive (you can do the others later) then select Properties and the General tab and uncheck 'Allow the Indexing Service to index this disk...' Click OK, select the All files and folders and files option and leave it to get on with it for a couple of minutes.

 

Back now to making use of an existing Indexing Service file, If you want to find something in a hurry go to Search on the Start menu as usual and in the box  'A word or phase in the file;' prefix your search term with an exclamation mark '!' and watch it fly!

 

FASTER FIREFOX MADE SIMPLE

You may recall last week we looked at ways to speed up the Firefox browser by delving into its hidden configuration menu. This is probably not a good idea for novices but here’s a way you can safely tweak all kinds of performance settings from the user menu, using a freeware utility called Fasterfox. If you experience problems then you can return Firefox to its default settings with just a couple of mouse clicks. Fasterfox is small, it is simple to install and use and the controls appear in Options on the Tools menu.

 

MOUSE RADAR

Where’s that pesky mouse gone? It can be difficult to see the pointer on some applications and screen displays. Word can be quite tricky as the ‘I’ bar can get lost in text and laptop displays can get washed out in bright light but there is an answer. Windows XP has a built-in Mouse Finder facility that targets the mouse position like a sonar display when you press the Ctrl key.  To enable it just go to Control Panel, double-click he Mouse icon, select the Pointer Options tab and check the item at the bottom ‘Show Locations of Pointer when I press the CTRL key’.

 

FIREFOX THEMES

Hopefully you are viewing this page using the most excellent Mozilla Firefox browser, and if not why not? It’s free, it’s faster and easier to use than Microsoft Internet Explorer, it’s more secure and it has loads of really useful features, like tabbed browser windows and a built-in pop-up stopper. It’s also highly customisable, one of the many benefits of Open Source software, which allows users to actively contribute to its development, including some really nifty-looking ‘Themes’ that change the way the browser looks, from simple colour changes to quite radical redesigns. There are hundreds of themes to choose from and they only take a few moments to download and install and if you don’t like what you see you can easily switch to another one. They are free and there’s a good selection to get you started on the Mozilla Update website.

 

HOW LONG HAS WINDOWS BEEN RUNNING?

If your Windows XP PC is left on for extended periods or it has been left unattended for any length of time then it may be useful to know the ‘Uptime’ or how long it has been since the last reboot. To find out you need to open the Command Prompt window by typing ‘cmd’ (without the quotes) in Run on the Start menu. After the flashing prompt type the following command. Be careful, it’s case-sensitive, watch for the spaces and quotes and the vertical line ‘|’ or ‘pipe’ symbol is usually on the backslash key:

 

systeminfo | find "Up Time"

 

Press Enter, Windows will chunter away for a few seconds and then display the Uptime, in hours, minutes and seconds. If your PC is connected to a network you can find out how long it has been online (usually the same as Windows Uptime) by right clicking on the Network icon in the System Tray (next to the clock), select Status then the General tab.

 

 

FASTER FIREFOX

If you are using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer (and if you are not give it a try, you will be impressed) than here’s a way to make this splendid browser find and download web pages even faster, by increasing the number of page requests, and reducing the amount of time Firefox waits to process incoming data.

 

Firefox has a hidden configuration menu and there are a good number of published tweaks but these four are safe and should produce a noticeable improvement, particularly if you are using a broadband connection. If you are using a dial-up connection you can still try them but don’t expect to see much difference.

 

In the Address box type ‘about:config’ and the page will change to a long list of settings. Scroll down the list to ‘network.http.pipelining network. The Value (fourth column) should be set to ‘false’, double-click the entry and it should change to ‘True’. Now move down the list to "network.http.proxy.pipelining" and do the same, changing the Value from False to True. Next go to  "network.http.pipelining.maxrequests", double-click the entry and change the Value to 30. Finally, right-click into an empty area of the config page and select New > Integer. In the Preference Name box type "nglayout.initialpaint.delay" (without the quotes) and set the Value to 0 (zero). Exit Firefox and re-launch and the new settings will take effect immediately.

 

 

COLOUR CODE YOUR EMAILS

Outlook Express has a number of very useful features hidden away inside Message Rules, this one lets you colour code incoming (and existing) emails according to who sent them or various other criteria, such as keywords on the Subject line and so on. To set it up go to Tools > Message Rules > Mail and click the New button. In the ‘Select the Conditions…’ box click ‘Where the From Line Contains People’ then in the ‘Select the Actions for your rule’ box tick  ‘Highlight it with Colour’. Now move down to the Rule Descriptions box, double-click the underlined ‘Contains People’ and enter the sender’s name or email address -- if necessary click the Address Book button and choose the name from the list. Next click the underlined ‘Color’ and make your selection. The choice is fairly limited so stick with the primary colours as they are easiest to tell apart. When you’re happy with it click OK and to finish off click the Apply Now button and OE will retrospectively colour code all of the emails in your nominated mailboxes.

 

 

QUICK LOCK WINDOWS XP

If you work in an office and leave your PC unattended for any length of time here’s a quick and easy way to lock it up so that no one can have a fiddle or poke around while you are away.  Incidentally, this only works if you have set up a logon password, but if you haven’t don’t worry, we’ll show you how to do that in a moment.

 

Step one is to go to Start > Control Panel select User Accounts and click ‘Change the way users Log on of Off’. Uncheck ‘Fast User Switching and click Apply Options. Now all you have to do to lock your PC is press the Windows key (Winkey) + L, the PC is frozen and the Logon Password box appears.

 

If you haven’t set up a password all you have to do is press Enter and the PC is unlocked so to create one go back to User Accounts in Control Panel, select ‘Change an Account’, select the account you want to use and click Create a Password and follow the prompts.

 

 

HIDDEN DESKTOP FILE FINDER

Here’s another one of those weird and wacky undocumented features in Windows and this one is well worth getting to know. This tweak puts new Toolbars on your desktop that lets you quickly search your PC’s filing system using fast access drop-down menus. It works on any Windows PC using Internet Explorer 4 or later and to set it up drag and drop the My Computer icon to the extreme right hand side of the screen. A new vertical toolbar will appear displaying the contents of My Computer (quite handy on its own) but it gets better. Next drag and drop the C: drive icon to the top edge of the screen and a new horizontal toolbar appears. On the far right of the new toolbar there’s a double continuation arrow, click on that and a menu bar appears on the right side of the screen. Just hover the mouse pointer over the folders icons and the contents will be shown in drop-down menus. To hide or get rid of the new toolbars just right-click into an empty area and select Close or Auto Hide.

 

 

TURBOCHARGED WEB ADDRESSES

Here’s a nifty little tip that could save you several seconds each day as you type in those long laborious web addresses. Popular browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox will let you just enter the site name of a dot.com address, i.e. ‘rickmaybury’ and then hit Ctrl + E and the rest of the address -- the http://www. and .com bits  -- will be added automatically. It also works with UK registered sites, like bbc.co.uk  for example, that also owns the .com domain so it is always worth trying

 

 

MICROSOFT WORD - CUT YOUR KEYS

In MS Word you can assign frequently used commands to a simple and memorable two-key shortcut. For example, Word Count on my PC is Ctrl + \ (backslash). To create a shortcut all you have to do is right-click into an empty area of the toolbar, select Customize, and then click the Keyboard button. To create a Word Count shortcut highlight ‘Tools’ on the Categories list then click on ToolsWordCount in he Commands window. Click into the ‘Press new shortcut key’ box and enter your two keys. If it is already in use you will be warned so you can find another key combination or you can replace the old one if it’s not one you are likely to want to use again.

 

 

WORD SAFETY NET

We’ve all been there -- you’ve just spent the last five hours carefully crafting a document or article then phut! Word or your PC throws a wobbly and freezes or crashes. Even if you get your PC going again the chances are the last five hours of hard work have been lost, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Word has a built-in backup utility that can be set to create an automatic copy of your work as often as you like, so even if the worst happens the most you will loose is the last minute (or whatever your chosen backup period is) of work. To enable or configure the facility go to Tools > Options and select the Save tab, make sure ‘Save Auto Recovery info’ is checked and set the interval to 1 minute. If word crashes when it next opens the recovered file should be displayed. If it doesn’t (if Windows crashes for example) you can find and open the saved document by going to Tools > Options, select the File Locations tab and check the location of the Auto Recovery files.

 

 

MEASURE YOUR MOUSE

Ever wondered how far your computer mouse travels in a week? Probably not but in case you ever do feel the need to know here’s a simple way to find out. Mouse Off-Road is a little freeware program that tracks your mouse movements, measuring the distance as it goes and displaying the results in an unobtrusive panel that sits in the System Tray (next to the clock). Simply hover the mouse pointer over the icon for an instant readout. Mouse Off-Road can be set to show distance in metric or imperial units and it works in all versions of Windows. You’ll find the link to this and many other excellent freeware and shareware utilities on the BootLog Software page. For the record the highly active Propellerhead/BootLog mouse does an average of 7km per week, beat that!

 

 

RECLAIM DESKTOP SPACE

Here are two quick and simple little tips that will let you reclaim valuable screen space. The first one is to make the Windows taskbar disappear when it's not being used, and magically reappear when needed. This trick works on all versions of Windows and all you have to do is right-click on the Taskbar, select Properties and the Taskbar tab (Taskbar options in Windows 9x) then put a check in the box next to Auto Hide the Taskbar and click Apply. It will vanish, and rematerialise when you hover the mouse over where it used to be.

 

My second and preferred tip for increasing screen real estate is to move the taskbar to the right hand side of the screen. This tends to be a dead area in most applications and moving it to the side will increase the depth of the screen by a centimetre or two, hand for web browsing and word processing. To move the taskbar right click on it and make sure 'Lock the Taskbar is unchecked. Next, move the mouse point to an empty area of the Taskbar, click and hold the mouse button and in one swift action drag it to the side of the screen. You need to be fairly decisive and keep the mouse button down until it is in position otherwise it can expand and shift around. Click on the border to trim the width and move the separator bars to shift your Quick Launch and open application icons to where you want them and when you are happy with it go back and re-check Lock the Taskbar.

 

 

QUICK LAUNCH WEB PAGES AND DISPLAY TICKERS

The Quick Launch bar next to the Start button isn’t confined to your most frequently used programs. You can also use it to automatically open your browser and go straight to a web page. All you have to do is open the web page then drag and drop the address line straight onto the Quick Launch bar. This trick also works with complete web pages, which can also be persuaded to display on the Toolbar. You could use it for streamed news or stock market tickers, for example. Visit the page you want to display, copy the address then go to the Taskbar and select Toolbars > New Toolbar and paste the address into the Folder box and click OK.

 

 

MAKE WORD EASIER ON THE EYE

The bright white text area of most word processors can become a quite tiring on the eyes after a few hours. You can of course jiggle the brightness and contrast settings on your monitor but a far better solution is to give your blank pages a light grey tint.

 

In Windows XP open Display Properties by right-clicking an empty area of the desktop and select Properties or go to Display in Control Panel. Select the Appearance tab and click the Advanced button then Select the Appearance tab and click into the area marked Window Text. Next click on the Color box and choose the Other option. This will bring up a colour palette, select grey or white from the block of colour options and use the slider to the right of the multi-colour panel to adjust the level. When you are happy with it click Add to Custom Colors then keep clicking OK to exit the dialogue boxes and XP will reset the colours.

 

If you are using Windows 9x (95/98/ME/SE) it’s actually a little easier. Open your word processor and load a page of text, so you can judge the effect. Next, from the Start button select Settings, Control Panel and the Display icon. Select the Appearance tab and click into the area marked Window Text. Next click on the Color box and choose the Other option. This will bring up a colour palette, select grey or white from the block of colour options and use the slider to the right of the multi-colour panel to adjust the level. Click OK and if necessary re-adjust until you are satisfied with it.

 

The tint only applies to the display and will not affect the way documents look when they are printed.

 

 

FASTER EXPLORATION

This one is for all those of you that haven’t got around to tidying up your Windows filing system. In no time at all you’ll end up with all of your documents and pictures piling up in just a handful of misleadingly labelled and deeply buried folders, making it almost impossible to quickly find anything. Anyway, the next time you’re wading through screen-fulls of Windows Explorer listings, trying in vain to find a particular file in a vastly overfilled folder, just right click into an empty area in the right window and tap in the first letter of the filename and you’ll be instantly transported to its location.

 

 

PRINT YOUR ADDRESS BOOK

The Outlook Express email Address book can have a life beyond your PC by printing it out.  Several sizes, including Memo, Business Card and Phone list and by playing around with your printer’s Properties you should be able to persuade it to resize the list to fir your pocket organiser (the old fashioned sort, that doesn’t use batteries…). Begin by opening the Address book in Outlook Express, if you only want to print out selected entries hold down the Ctrl key and click on the ones that you want. If there’s lots of them hold down the Shift key and use Cursor down (or Page Down) to speed up selection. Next click the Print icon, select the style and click Print. If you want to change the size click the Preferences or on some models, right-click your printer’s icon and select Properties.

 

 

PERSONAL PROPERTIES

Here’s a brilliantly simple little tweak to personalise your PC by putting an image and some words of your choosing into the Windows System Properties dialogue box that appears when you click System in Control Panel or use the keyboard shortcut Winkey + Break. It’s a two-stage process, the first thing you have to do is find your image, simple colourful images work best, as it will end up quite small. Open it in Windows Paint or your chosen picture editing program, go to Image > Attributes and change the size to 96 x 96 pixels then use Save As on the File menu to rename the file as ‘oemlogo.bmp’ (without the quotes) and save it as a 256-colour bitmap in C:\WINDOWS\system32. The second stage is to open Windows Notepad and type in the following 3 lines of text:

[General]

Manufacturer=Rick’s Computer

Model=BootLog 1

You can enter what you like after ‘Manufacturer=’ and ‘Model=’, though keep it short as it can end up looking messy. When you’ve finished save the file as ‘oeminfo.ini’ in C:\WINDOWS\system32. It should work straight away -- no need for a reboot -- and you can check your handiwork by pressing Winkey + Break.

 

 

 

CLEARER DISPLAYS IN WINDOWS XP

If you are using a laptop or LCD type monitor with your PC there is a way to make text look sharper by enabling Microsoft’s Clear Type font smoothing. It’s also worth trying if you are using a CRT but on some models it may not work very well and can even make text look blurred. To switch Clear Type on go to Control Panel and click the Display icon, select the Appearance tab then the Effect button. The item ‘Use the following transition effect for menus and tooltips’ should be checked and ‘Fade Effect’ should be selected in the drop down menu. Underneath the box next to Use the following method to smooth the edges of screen fonts’ should also be checked and the drop-down menu should read ‘Clear Type’. When that’s done reboot and you should notice an immediate difference otherwise you can fine-tune your Clear Type settings using an on-line Wizard or a downloadable tuning tool.


Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.

admin@rickmaybury.com