Archive for September, 2010


Test fonts before adding them to your website’s CSS

September 30, 2010

There are many font testers around that show you what a font will look like before you apply it to your website, but I think that Font Tester is one of the easiest to use.

You enter the parameters for the font and can see the example text change immediately to match your selections.

Once you’re happy with what you’ve chosen, you click Get CSS Code and a new window opens that contains the CSS for the selections you made, gives you the option of setting the HTML element to which it will apply, allows you to name your own class or ID, and shows the HTML of how that CSS class/ID etc. should be written.

Neat. And useful for any web designer who doesn’t already have such a tool in the HTML editor they use. Oh, and it’s free to use!

[Links last checked September 2010]


Infographic of how Google works

September 29, 2010

Ever wanted to know how you get search results in less than one second from Google? It’s not magic — there are some real smarts and very quick processing that happens to get them to you. The infographic at PPC Blog explains it all — the screen shot below is just a small part of the infographic; click on it to see the full image:

[Links last checked September 2010]


No post today

September 28, 2010

Just a quick announcement to let you know there’s no post today ;-)

I’ve just come home from a long weekend away from the computer,and I haven’t had time to pull a post together. Maybe tomorrow…


Google grammar

September 26, 2010

Ah, Google! How we love you, and how we love how helpful you are when you think we’ve typed in something we shouldn’t have. But seriously, I think you need a lesson in the difference between “it’s” and “its”…

BTW, here’s a quick tip for remembering whether to insert the apostrophe or not — if you can substitute ‘it is’, ‘it has’, ‘it was’, then use “it’s”. If not, then it’s always “its”.

[Thanks to Dave G for alerting me to this.]


Don’t poke the dragon

September 25, 2010

I love the expression “Don’t poke the dragon!” Typically, I’ll use it in a business sense when someone asks for my advice on taking some risky action. Sometime, the risk is worth it (so go ahead and poke that sleeping dragon), but sometimes not  — especially if they’re not prepared to jeopardize their job and/or reputation.

In a totally different scenario, I had to exclaim “Don’t poke the dragon!” when I read this snippet/teaser on a news website:

What are they thinking?! This particular dragon breathes real fire and brimstone…


Doing a synonym search in Google

September 24, 2010

Here’s a Google search tip:  To find a word and its synonyms, add a tilde (~) in front of the word.

For example, to find synonyms of inexpensive (e.g. cheap, budget, affordable, discount), type ~inexpensive then the search term/phrase — such as ~inexpensive hotels seattle.


Naming names

September 23, 2010

This post is not directly on technical writing or technical communication, but it IS to do with user experience.

One of my interests is researching my family tree, and one of my husband’s interests is researching song writers and musicians and their pedigrees (who they played with and when, who’s listed on the credits for an album, etc.). So we both deal with names and dates — and the frustrations of both.

I’ve blogged before about issues with confusing dates, but this time it’s about confusing names.

When there’s no clear column name in a table or some other designator (like upper case) for a name part, how do you decipher if ‘Michael James’ and ‘James Michael’ are the same person — or two different people? Many databases just populate the web table with the individual names, so there’s not even the old convention of separating the ‘last/first name’ order with a comma (e.g. ‘James, Michael’ clearly indicates that ‘James’ is the last name). And conversely, assuming the order to be ‘first/last name’ if there’s no comma (e.g. ‘Michael James’).

That ‘Michael James’/’James Michael’ situation is a dilemma. As my husband discovered, in just one online music database this person is listed BOTH ways in a single album’s credits. Add other databases to the mix and you can see that tracking that person’s works is difficult.

On the genealogical side, I’ve come to realize that an unusual name is a real bonus. Much as I scoffed at celebrity child names like ‘Dweezil’, ‘Moon Unit’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Apple’ and ‘Sunday’, later generations of genealogical researchers will thank their parents! An unusual name is SO much easier to find.

Many previous generations in my family happily named their children after themselves or their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, parents or grandparents. As a result, despite having a not-so-common surname, I have many many generations of ‘Williams’ and ‘Thomases’ and ‘Henrys’ with nothing to clearly differentiate them. Similarly, in the one family I have found ‘Eliza’ as the mother, a daughter ‘Elizabeth Mary’ who died in infancy, a daughter born some years later and also called ‘Elizabeth Mary’, and a daughter ‘Eliza’. Talk about confusing!

This repeat naming thing is not limited to earlier centuries — my husband’s parents had boy who was stillborn. They named him ‘Bradley Jon’. After two more boys, they had another boy — and named him ‘Bradley Jon’ too. They must’ve liked the name… But their decision will throw up a potential dilemma for future genealogists researching the family as most people assume that each child in a family has a unique name (well, except for George Foreman who named ALL his sons ‘George Foreman’!).

In some of my genealogical research, I’ve hit little pots of gold when I’ve discovered an ancestor with an unusual (well, unusual for our family anyway) first name or middle name. Finding just one ‘Isaac’ and one ‘Emmanuel’ in my family tree opened up a rich vein of ancestral data. And the of the 28 ‘Charles’ we can identify in my family tree, the one who had the middle name of ‘Colston’ was just as fruitful.

Bottom line:

  • If you’re designing databases for displaying names on websites or in printed material, make it clear to the user which part of the name is which by using column header labels (e.g. First Name, Last Name), or by using all upper case for the last name.
  • If you’re thinking of naming your child after yourself or your spouse, or a close member of your family, either don’t do it, or, add an unusual middle name so that later generations can clearly distinguish your child from any others in the world who have the same first and last name. The kid may hate their middle name (do any kids like their names??), but a genealogical researcher will love you for it. This is one area where I believe consistency is NOT good!



Word 2007: Create a numbered Appendix heading style

September 22, 2010

You have a document with several appendices. You want the appendices to be listed in the Table of Contents, but you don’t want them to use the Heading 1 style. You also want your appendices to be automatically numbered so that if you move them around or add or delete some, the numbers of the others automatically update. And you want each appendix to start on a new page. You don’t want much do you? ;-)

What you REALLY want is an Appendix Heading style that incorporates numbering that’s separate from any other outline numbering you use for the headings in the main part of the document. The rest of your requirements are just part of setting up the style.

Optional: If you’re feeling confident, create this new style directly in your template. Otherwise, just create it in any document, then, once you’re happy with it, use the Organizer to copy it to your template.

So, grab a cup of coffee and let’s go! (There appear to be a lot of steps, but take it slow and you’ll find that it’s not as nasty as it seems!)

Step 1: Create a new style

  1. Open your Word 2007 document, a new document, or your template.
  2. Click anywhere in a new paragraph.
  3. Open the Styles pane.
  4. At the bottom of the Styles pane, click the New Style icon.
  5. On the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box, set the Properties (1 in the screen shot below) and Formatting (2 in the screen shot):
    • Name: Give the style a name that means something to you. In the screen shot below, I’ve called the style Appendix Heading.
    • Style type: Leave it set to Paragraph.
    • Style based on: I set it to (no style) so that changing another linked style doesn’t change this one too.
    • Style for the following paragraph: I set mine to Normal, but you can set it to whatever the main style of your body text is.
    • Formatting: Select the formatting for the appendix heading’s text — you can easily change this later if you’re not happy with it. Note: This selection does NOT set the formatting for the automatic ‘Appendix A’ or ‘Appendix 1’ part — you do that in Step 2 (sub-step 5) when you set up the numbering.

DO NOT close the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box yet…

Step 2: Set up the automated appendix heading numbering for the style

  1. Click the Format button (3 on the screen shot above).
  2. Select Numbering from the list.
  3. On the Numbers and Bullets dialog box, click Define New Number Format.
  4. By default, the Define New Number Format dialog box has the Number style set to 1, 2, 3, and there’s a period after the number in the Number format field.
  5. In this example, you’re going to change that so that you use letters for the ‘numbers’ and the word  ‘Appendix’ is shown before the letter (e.g. Appendix A, Appendix B etc.).
    • Number style: Select A, B, C from the drop-down list.
    • Number format: Put your cursor in front of the A and type Appendix followed by a space. Delete the period after the A.
    • Alignment: Leave it set to Left aligned.
    • Font: (Optional) Click the Font button to change the font settings for any text and letters/numbers displayed in the Number format field. This is where you can set the automatic Appendix X part of the heading to be bold, for example. Click OK when you have finished setting the font properties.
  6. Click OK to close the Define New Number Format dialog box.
  7. Click OK to close the Numbering and Bullets dialog box.

DO NOT close the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box yet…

Step 3: Set up other style settings

  1. Click the Format button on the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box.
  2. Select Paragraph.
  3. On the Indents and Spacingtab of the Paragraph dialog box, change these settings:
    • Outline Level: Level 1 (this is critical if you want your Appendix headings to display in the main TOC at the same level as your Heading 1 headings).
    • Indentation: Left: 0 cm (or whatever your unit of measure is)
    • Special: Hanging by 3 cm (or about 1.27 inches)
    • Spacing: Before by 12 pt; After by 6 pt (or whatever your preference is)
    • Line Spacing: Single
  4. Click the Line and Page Breakstab on the Paragraph dialog box:
    • Select the Page Break Before check box to automatically start a new appendix on a new page.
    • Leave the other settings as they are.
  5. Click the Tabs button at the bottom left of this window.
  6. Set a Left tab stop at 3 cm (or 1.27 inches), and clear any other tab stops that may be set by default.
  7. Click OK to close the Tabs dialog box.
  8. Your Create New Style from Formatting dialog box should look something like this:
  9. Click OK to close the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box.

Now you’re ready to test your new style!

Step 4: Test the new style

  1. Type some words on separate lines in the document.
  2. Open the Styles pane and apply the Appendix Heading style to the first line of words you typed above. Your should get Appendix A prefixed to that heading.
  3. Now select the second line you typed and apply the Appendix Heading style to that line. This one should go to Appendix B.
  4. And repeat for the third line (which should become Appendix C).
  5. Shift the headings around, delete some, add some more and apply the Appendix Heading style to the new ones. All the appendix heading ‘numbers’ should automatically update to reflect their new position amongst the other appendix headings.
  6. Add more words to at least one of the appendix headings so that you can see how the words wrap correctly to the next line.
  7. Finally, test that the Appendices are added to the Table of Contents by inserting a new table of contents in your document (or updating the existing one, if you’re working in an existing document). Note: You may have to modify the TOC 1 style if you find that a long title doesn’t wrap as you expect.

And you’re done!

See also:


When green means stop and red mean go

September 21, 2010

Talk about confusing!

I have an Ibico PouchMaster Laminator that I use on rare occasions. So each time I use it, I check the instructions ‘cos from experience I know there’s something weird about how it works.

What’s odd? When you turn on the laminator, the light goes green and when it’s ready to use, the light changes to red. This is the opposite of everything that’s familiar to me with these colors — ‘green = go, red = stop’ in my world.

But not with this laminator. I think that its green means it’s cold and red means it’s hot (and therefore ready for use).

It’s still confusing! Why didn’t they use blue for cold, like many taps do? Then I could understand the red for hot. And by the way, there’s no label on the machine for the light — it’s a single light that changes its state from green to red.

How could they improve this product?

  • Have two lights — one blue (cold), one red (hot)
  • Have a label for each light — ‘Warming up’ (or ‘Not ready’), and ‘Ready’
  • Avoid the use of green/red lights as they mean go/stop under many circumstances.

Word: Use the Organizer to copy macros, styles from one document to another

September 20, 2010

You’ve set up a terrific style in a document and now you want to copy that style to your main template or to another document. Or perhaps you have a macro assigned to a particular document or template that you want to use in another document or template.

While there are several ways to deal with a macro (e.g. copy/paste the code from one document to another, or store the macro in a special macros file), copying a style from one document to another is not so simple. The hard way is to write down or print out all the style’s settings and then re-create the style in the other document. But that method is for masochists!

There’s a much simpler way — use Word’s Organizer function. It’s been around for years, but most people aren’t aware of it. Power users, of course, have probably been using it forever!

Note: The screen shots below are from Word 2003; the Word 2007 screens are almost exactly the same.

  1. Open the Templates and Add-ins dialog box:
    • Word 2003: From the menu, select Tools > Templates and Add-ins.
    • Word 2007/2010: Go to the Developer tab > Templates group, then click Document Template. (If you don’t have the Developer tab [see the Notes below], you can access the Organizer from the Manage Styles dialog box (see Notes) — click the Import/Export button in the bottom left corner.)
  2. Click the Organizer button at the bottom left of the Templates and Add-ins dialog box.
  3. Select the tab for the type of object you want to copy — e.g. Styles or Macro Project Items. For this example, you’ll copy some styles from another document to the one you have open; the same method is used to copy macros.
  4. Click Close File below the right panel. (You would usually close as you want to copy from another document, not the Normal template.)
  5. Click Open File below the right panel. By default, Word opens your Templates folder and sets the file type as a Document Template (*.dot) file.
  6. If you’re copying from another document and not a template, change the Files of type to Word Documents (*.doc, *.doc*), then navigate to the folder where the document you want to copy the styles from is stored.
  7. Select the document you want to copy from, then click Open.
  8. The name of the file you selected displays in the Styles available in field below the right panel in the Organizer dialog box.
  9. In the right panel, select one or more styles that you want to copy. Use Ctrl+click and/or Shift+click to select multiple styles. In the screen shot below, I selected two Table styles.
  10. Click the << Copy button in between the two panels to copy the styles from the document on the right to the document on the left (your current document).
  11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 for any other styles you want to copy. If a style of the same name already exists in your current document, you will be asked if you want to overwrite it. Click Yes or Yes to all if that’s what you want.
  12. When you have finished, click Close. The styles you selected from the other document are now available in your current document.