Browsing Basics – Part 3

Originally published in The Clarion | August 29, 2012

Following up from last week’s article about keyboard shortcuts in navigating the Web, this week we will look at a few things that can be done with the mouse when browsing. I must admit that most users are much more familiar and fluent with using the mouse while browsing, especially compared to using keyboard shortcuts. Because of this, and the fact that I’m the complete opposite in that I prefer using the keyboard, odds are good that many of you out there will not only be very familiar with these tips but probably have many that I don’t even know about. As I mentioned when I began this series of articles, my goal is to help the novice user who is not familiar with the Web or even computers for that matter. Hopefully we’ll do some good.

While the computer mouse has been around for decades, some more modern alterations to the typical mouse have really made using computers and specifically browsing the Web a breeze. In my opinion, the addition of a third button/scroll wheel is one of the best things designers could have done with the mouse. Most operating systems allow for customizing the mouse, from switching it to left-hand instead of right to the speed of the pointer to what functions the third button provides. In browsing websites, I have found it so much easier to use the scroll wheel to navigate up and down within a page instead of using the scroll bar on the right side of the browser window. Clicking the up and down arrows on the right side navigation pane or dragging the bar up and down was always quite cumbersome; being able to simply spin the scroll wheel has really simplified things.

Another mouse feature that I imagine many people aren’t familiar with or don’t use regularly is the right mouse button (or left for those of us who like to switch things up). Depending on where your pointer is within a browser window, clicking the right mouse button typically provides you with a menu of options. For example, if you right-click on an image within a website, you will almost always be presented with a menu that includes things like ‘Save Image As’ or ‘Open Image in New Tab/Window’. You can see where this feature could come in handy. Clicking within the browser window in other places will give you a menu of options including ‘Back’, ‘Forward’, ‘Reload’, ‘Save As’ and ‘Print’. Becoming fluent with this menu can help speed up browsing in your day-to-day use of the Web.

One last feature of the third mouse button is one I use probably more than any other. With tabbed browser windows, I have found it very handy to third-button click on hyperlinks which will open that link in a new tab, retaining the page I currently am currently viewing. I personally use this feature countless times every day while browsing and honestly don’t know what I would do without it.

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Browsing Basics – Part 2

Originally published in The Clarion | August 22, 2012

This week I would like to focus on basic Web navigation using nothing but keyboard shortcuts. Again, many of you are already familiar with some of these tricks; my goal is to help those who might be new to computers and/or the Web in getting around a little more efficiently. For many years, Web browsers only allowed one site to be open at a time. If you wanted to look at two or more sites simultaneously, a new instance of the browser application had to be opened. With tabbed browsing, a user can have many different sites opened at the same time within one window. When multiple tabs are in use, navigation between the sites is very easy, either by using the mouse or a keyboard shortcut. With the mouse, all you have to do to switch between tabs is click the tab you wish to go to. Being the keyboard guru that I am, I prefer to use a keyboard shortcut unless my hand happens to be on the mouse. To switch between tabs using the keyboard, simply use the Control key along with either the Page Up key to navigate to the tab to the right or the Page Down key to navigate to the tab to the left. If you are already on the far-left tab, using Control and Page Up will take you to the last tab in the window.

Another handy navigation tip using the keyboard when browsing is a combination of the Alt key and the left or right arrow keys. Instead of grabbing the mouse to go a page back or forward in your browsing history, the combination of Alt and either the left or right arrow will take you back or forward respectively. Other keys that can be used for fluid and efficient Web browsing are the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys by themselves. Using these keys can swiftly move you around the page, depending on if you want to go up or down one page view at a time or if you want to go all the way to the top or bottom of the page. Give it a try – with some practice using these keys will become a habit that will enable efficient navigation.

One last trick that comes in handy concerns the size of the text and images on a site. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a standard when it comes to designing the layout of websites. Since so many people access the Web on smaller mobile devices these days, many Web developers have started structuring their sites to better accommodate the smaller screens. Because of this, you probably go to sites on your nice large computer monitor that are simply hard to see. Use the Control key in combination with the Plus + or Minus – key to increase or decrease the current view. To return the view back to the original size, simply use Control and the number Zero 0 and the view will reset.

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Browsing Basics – Part 1

Originally published in The Clarion | August 15, 2012

This week I would like to consider some Web Browsing basics. To many of you, this may seem like a waste of time but – in all fairness – I know first-hand that there are many users out there who will benefit from some basic pointers when it comes to browsing the Web. For starters, I use the Google Chrome browser on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, rarely ever do I use any other browser. Google’s Chrome browser is available for free on every platform I am aware of including Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android and iOS. Because of this (and other reasons of course), I highly recommend Chrome over all other browsers I have used. When I mention a tip or trick that, to my knowledge, is only supported in Chrome, I will do my best to point this out. Otherwise, these hints should work regardless of which browser you choose to use.

Let’s begin with one of the most basic of basics. Over the years I have noticed that so many people don’t realize that they can easily change which website (if any) opens when they launch their browser. Typically this first page is referred to as the Home Page or Start Page in the browser settings. Most newer browsers even allow for multiple home or start pages which are openened in tabs within the browser window. Internet Service Providers typically make their website the start page as part of the service installation process. For some users this is fine but for others it just isn’t preferred. The easiest way I know of to change your start page(s) is to actually go to the page you want to use, then go in to your browser preferences/settings (the location of which will vary between browsers) and find the section for the start page (this is typically under the General settings). Once there, you should have an option to click something like ‘Use Current’ which will set your home page(s) the pages you currently have open in the browser. Honestly – a piece of cake. Now, every time you open your browser you will be presented with your preferred start page.

As I mentioned last week, one habit I have witnessed countless times in peoples’ browsing habits is the idea that everything must first be done from a search engine. This is entirely untrue. If you are one of these people, here is a little trick. If you know the URL – or address – of the site you want to go to, simply click the Address bar in your browser, make sure whatever is already there is cleared out, and type in the address followed by the Enter key. It’s that easy. Another trick I use countless times each day is the Control key along with the letter L. This will allow you to type the address you wish to go to, without having to grab the mouse to navigate to the Address bar. Give it a try. More tips to come next week.

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Human Logic and Common Sense in the WWW

Originally published in The Clarion | August 08, 2012

Today I would like to consider human logic, common sense and – this isn’t mean’t to be negative in any way – ignorance when using the Web and other Internet resources. I recall very vividly the first time I was introduced to the World Wide Web. Just before leaving home for college, a neighbor invited me over to show me something he had a hunch I might be interested in. Sitting down at his personal computer, I watched as he clicked an icon, entered some credentials and clicked the submit button. This was immediately followed by all sorts of noises – the unmistakable sound of a dial-up telephony modem making its connection to an Internet Service Provider. Once the gnarly noises came to a stop, he opened another application and there before my eyes was a website. Needless to say, my life would never be the same ever again.

It’s interesting to consider the various ways we were introduced to online technologies. For some (the younger generation), we were born into it. For others, our jobs threw us in head-first with little training. Yet for many other folks, we simply purchased a personal computer, signed up for Internet service and wandered around until we got it right. However you were introduced to the Internet, odds are pretty good that unless you were either born into it or went to some sort of extensive training, you learned what you know as you went. By no means is this a bad thing, yet from years of talking to people and witnessing their online behaviors, it seems that what I may consider logical and essentially common sense when it comes to browsing the Web isn’t necessarily the norm. For example, I personally know more than one person who, although the are very capable of getting done what they need to, hold to a certain practice that absolutely drives me nuts. For whatever reason (I’m guessing ignorance is the driving factor), they think that in order to go to a website for which they know the URL, they must enter this address in a search engine rather than simply typing it into their browser’s address line. Sure this may seem piddly, but for me it is not only unnecessary but both cumbersome and counterproductive.

I have had several readers over the last couple of years ask me to give insight on some of the basics of computing. I must admit this would be a tall task for me, if for no other reason simply because I do not use a Microsoft Windows operating system on a daily basis (as a matter of fact, I rarely ever use Windows for anything anymore). Because of this, I think a good approach will be to offer some hints, tips and tricks for basic Web browsing as this seems to be what most home users tend to do with their machines. We will begin our trek next week.

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Computer Logic – It’s Quite Illogical!

Originally published in The Clarion | August 01, 2012

Logic is a curious thing. Some of us are blessed to have plenty of it, others not so much although I’m sure most people feel they have at least their fair share. Being able to logically understand, compute and then produce information typically dictates how well an individual functions in life. The exact same can be said for computing devices, the underlying systems that enable them to function and the software that rides on top. Just like the human brain, computing systems – whether a personal computer, server, smartphone, tablet or any number of other devices – must have logical software in order to function properly. A poorly-written software application can quickly bring an entire system down. Thankfully for those of us who not only use but depend on functional gadgetry, there are many individuals in this world who are highly successful in properly understanding and deploying logic into the software that we use on a daily basis.

A recent project at work verified to me that my decision in college to choose computer networking over programming was absolutely a wise choice. Tasked with producing an interface to accept data into a database, manipulate it and then spit it back out to be used in another database, to say this was daunting would be quite the understatement for someone like me. Sure I feel like I am a logical type of person, at least I think I have enough common sense and ability to make it day-to-day in life. Jumping in to write programs for this project really made me reconsider this. It turns out a logical human mind doesn’t necessarily ensure logical programming skills. Sure I knew what I needed to do, had all of the tools at my disposal (google.com) to fill in gaps where my inexperience was holding me back and, at least in my mind, knew exactly what I needed to do to get the job done. Let me be honest and say I was simply wrong – to a very high extent.

It turns out that human logic doesn’t necessarily translate well into computer logic. After some pondering, this in some ways makes a lot of sense. Take the typical computer programmer stereotype – typically programmers are the anti-social type, introverted individuals who either struggle or refuse to interact much with other humans. This doesn’t mean that programmers are illogical beings, but after my programming project I can see where those who excel at such tasks might lack in interpersonal abilities. Computer programming, and the logic that is required to produce functional software, is not only brain-intensive but is akin to functioning in a foreign land with unfamiliar customs, languages and various other simple aspects of human life. I’m sure that with experience computer programming can become second-hand but the idea that human logic is directly related to computer logic is one that I was simply wrong about. My hat is off to those who write the software that we enjoy using each and every day.

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