Archive for February, 2009


Getting SQL Server 2005 Express

February 28, 2009

Some months back it was very difficult to find SQL Server 2005 Express on the Microsoft website. The place where it was meant to be linked to an Asian version, not the English version.

Here are the correct links for the English version:

Vista users

If you have Vista you may need to reset the permissions on [Drive]:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL.x\MSSQL folder to allow you to install without getting error code ‘29506’.

If you still get that error code (I did), then install from the CMD prompt running as Administrator — I blogged about how to do this here:

Finally, when you try to install SQL Express on Vista 64-bit, you may get some errors that some required features aren’t available (specifically IIS and an ASP.NET version). Here’s information on how to get these activated:

Hope this saves someone else a few hours of Googling and frustration and swearing at Microsoft!

[Links last checked February 2009]


A prescriptive attitude to grammar

February 27, 2009

You might find this article by Bruce Byfield—”Tech Writers, Grammar, and the Prescriptive Attitude”— interesting:

It also contains a potted history of the changes to grammar and language over the past few centuries.


Office 2007: Ribbon

February 26, 2009

One of the things that drives new Office 2007 users crazy is the ribbon interface seen in Word, Excel, Access, some of Outlook, and PowerPoint. Personally, I don’t mind the ribbon, but so far I’m not using Word 2007 on a daily basis (my clients are still on Word 2003), which means that I haven’t encountered the daily frustrations other users rant about.

Microsoft’s regular columnist, ‘Crabby Office Lady’, wrote a piece entitled How I learned to stop worrying and love the ribbon, where she gives some helpful hints to make using the ribbon easier.

Her article is here:


Word: Count the number of words

February 25, 2009

Microsoft Word has a handy feature that shows the number of words, phrases, lines, paragraphs, characters etc. in your entire document or a selected section.

Word 2003

  • Select Tools > Word Count from the menu:

Word Count

Hint: If you want to get the count for a particular section, select the phrase, sentence, paragraph etc. then select Tools > Word Count. Only the words etc. in that selection will be counted.

Word 2007

  • Go to the Review tab, then click the ABC123 icon in the Proofing group.

word_count_2007You can also get a quick count from the lower left of the status bar:



WinZip: Split a Zip file

February 24, 2009


You have a file that is too large to email to someone even after you’ve zipped it. Either their email system won’t accept it or yours won’t let you send it. You can use alternatives like a Gmail account (20 MB limit) or Skype or an instant messaging service or an FTP service like YouSendIt (I blogged about these options before).

But even then, unless you’re using a paid account, there may be a file limit (e.g. YouSendIt has a 100 MB limit for an individual file with its free account).

In my case, I had a 135 MB Word document (don’t ask…) I needed to transfer it from my client’s system to mine, and then back again after I’d finished working on it.


WinZip has a file splitting option! And you can specify how big or small you want the split files to be.

To split a Zip file:

  1. Use WinZip to zip up the file, as normal.
  2. Double-click on the zipped file to open it in WinZip.
  3. Select the zipped document.
  4. On the WinZip menu, select Actions > Split.
  5. Give the split files a name — this name must be different from the original.
  6. Select a Part size from the drop-down list — if you select Other size you can then define whether you want this size to be in Bytes, KB or MB. (For my 135 MB file I selected Other size and made the parts 70 MB — this created two files, one of 70 MB and the other the remaining size.)
  7. Click OK.
  8. WinZip now splits the file in the number of parts necessary to complete the job. You will get one or more files that end in z01, z02, z03 etc. (these are the parts) plus a zip file (the master that controls the parts).
  9. Upload or email all the parts, plus the zip file.

To put the split files back together:

  1. Save all files (the parts plus the zip file) to the same folder.
  2. Right-click on the zip file and select WinZip > Extract to here.
  3. As if by magic, WinZip will put all the pieces back together again giving you one large file and you’re done!

Word: Add/remove highlighting with the keyboard

February 23, 2009

Microsoft Word has a toolbar icon Highlighter toolbar icon for applying and removing color highlighting, just like using a real highlighter. It’s fine when you only have the occasional highlighting to do, but what if you’re doing a lot of adding/removing highlighting from text? You need a quicker way, right?

Word 2003

In Word 2003 you have to assign your own keystroke combination for highlighting. And that’s not as intuitive or as easy as you’d think because they left Highlight off the Format list! Here’s how you do it:

  1. Go to Tools > Customize on the Word menu, and select the Commands tab (1).
  2. Click the Keyboard button (2). You must do this now otherwise you can’t see the Highlight command.
    Tools > Customize > Commands tab
  3. On the Customize Keyboard window, select All Commands from the Categories list on the left (3).
  4. In the Commands list on the right, scroll down to Highlight and select it (4).
    Tools > Customize > Keyboard
  5. Put your cursor in the Press new shortcut key field (5) and press the key combination you want to assign to color highlighting. Suggestion: Use Ctrl+Alt+H, the same as Word 2007. That way, when you move to Word 2007 you won’t have to reassign the keys or remember something different.
  6. If this key combination is available, [unassigned] displays (6).
  7. Save this key combination in the template (7).Tools > Customize > Keyboard (2)
  8. Click Assign (8).
  9. Click Close on each open window.

Word 2007

In Word 2007, someone realized that a key combination for turning highlighting on and off would be a good idea, so they included one — Ctrl+Alt+H. Simple.

Using the highlighting shortcut key

  • Adding highlighting: Select the text you want to highlight, then press Ctrl+Alt+H.
  • Removing highlighting: Select the highlighted text, then press Ctrl+Alt+H.

Changing the highlight color

The default highlight color is yellow, but you can change it. Once changed, the new color applies whenever you press the shortcut key combination.

  1. Click on the drop-down arrow next to the toolbar icon Highlighter toolbar icon.
  2. Click the color you want.
  3. Click the toolbar icon to turn off the ‘sticky’ highlighter. This is necessary when you have a shortcut key assigned to the highlighting function — for some reason, the function is ‘sticky’ as soon as you select a new color.
  4. Continue using the shortcut key to turn highlighting on and off.

(Thanks to Tony Jollans on the Microsoft Office Word Discussion Group who alerted me to this solution:


Review of screen capture tools

February 22, 2009

Matthew Ellison has recently updated his excellent article that compares seven of the main screen capture tools technical writers use.

My tool-of-choice for the past few years is SnagIt, though I have used several others on this list in earlier times.

You can read Matthew’s review on the WritersUA website:

[Link last checked February 2009]


Word: What happens when you paste tracked changes into another document?

February 21, 2009

One of my current clients has very long scientific documents that have contributions by numerous people, and Track Changes are one way they deal with the changes. As a result, I’ve had to deal with Word’s Track Changes far more than I ever thought I would.

Not being a fan of Track Changes, one thing that has baffled me a bit is what happens when you copy a passage from a document with Track Changes turned on and paste it into a another document. Well, it depends!

However, the people over at the Microsoft Office Word Team’s Blog have described in detail — and with a neat matrix table — exactly what happens in the various scenarios where source and destination documents have Track Changes turned on or off.

I’ve included the matrix here, but I suggest you read the full article to get all the details.

Pasting Track Changes matrix

Pasting Track Changes matrix


[Links last checked December 2008]


Yes, yes, yes! Sorry: OK!

February 20, 2009

Gerry McGovern, “…the worldwide authority on managing web content as a business asset”, has written a nice little article on the uselessness of the OK button. Here’s a quote:

The OK button stared out at me, and I thought: ‘This is not OK. You’ve told me that I’ve entered an invalid number. Well, it looks pretty valid to me, and even if it is invalid, as you say, you haven’t told me why. You haven’t told me how I can correct the error of my ways.’

Most times I come across the OK button, something not-OK has happened.

Ah, a man after my own heart! I’ve expounded before on meaningless error messages, and error message choices that are totally unsuitable for the message; hell, I’ve even spoken about them in conference presentations.

You can read Gerry’s entire article here:

[Links last checked July 2008]


Affordable usability testing

February 19, 2009

There’s a new service available for usability testing your website. For US$19 per user you get a targeted set of users to review your site, a video of their responses as they work through a task, and a written summary of any issues found.

For a ‘quick and dirty’ — and fast — test, sign up at You’ll be asked what tasks users should perform on your site (15 minute tasks or less), how many users you want to test it (at $19 each), and some demographic details of your site’s target audience.

While this is not sophisticated user testing, it’s an affordable option for a quick test of a new task, such as a sign-up form.

There’s also a 30-day money back guarantee if you find this service is not for you.

Update 15 March 2009: Bargain Basement Usability Testing — an extract from Paul Boag’s Website Owner’s Manual — was reproduced on the Think Vitamin website March 9, 2009.

[Links last checked March 2009]