Archive for July, 2011


Test your web forms!

July 27, 2011

I tried to sign up for six free months of a digital magazine the other day. There were only six fields to enter, yet despite the small number of fields, I suspect this online form had never been tested. Why? Because there were two glaring errors in it that jumped out as soon as I tried to sign up.

  • Error 1: Not telling me which fields were mandatory. There were no visual or textual indicators to tell me that all the fields were mandatory. Nothing. No red asterisks, no explanatory text. Nothing.
  • Error 2: Giving me incorrect error message when I didn’t complete a mandatory field. When I see a form that doesn’t tell me which fields are mandatory, I deliberately try to enter as little personal information as possible. There are two reasons for this — keeping stuff private that I don’t want to disclose and that I don’t think the company that’s asking needs to know, and checking if the form’s design team actually tested the form and put in appropriate validation error messages.

I entered everything except my surname. When I clicked Submit Details, I got an error message telling me that I had to enter my first name. What the…? I’d already entered my first name — it was my surname that they wanted, yet that’s not what the error message told me.

But I've already entered my first name!

But I've already entered my first name!

How hard is it to test SIX fields? Here’s the answer — it’s not hard at all! I’ve done it and it takes very little time. And how hard is it to use some of that white space to indicate that the fields are mandatory? Again, not hard.

Web developers have been designing online forms for 15 or more years now — there’s just no excuse for getting this simple stuff wrong.


Signs and symbols: The meaning should be clear

July 26, 2011

We took a day trip to a nearby coastal community on a gorgeous winter’s day and wandered along the foreshore of the inlet around which the town is based. At one end of a pontooned-off, very calm, swimming area, we saw this sign:

What does this sign mean?

What does this sign mean?

My husband and I both tried to figure out what this sign meant — neither of us had ever seen one like it before in all our travels, and we came up with all sorts of ideas, none of which were correct.  The most likely explanation I came up with was ‘swim to the left of the sign’ (the marked out swimming area was to the left of the sign).

What do YOU think it means?

The first sign we passed didn’t have any text associated with it, but the one at the other end of the swimming area did. After reading the text, the sign was a more understandable, but I have to wonder at the purpose of a sign where the meaning isn’t obvious from the symbols.

Here’s the sign that was at the other end, with the text that the first sign didn’t have:

Beware of undercurrents

Beware strong undercurrents - what a strange group of symbols!


Cleaning the gunk from your keyboard

July 25, 2011

I’m on a cleaning theme! Last week I gave you a quick and easy method of cleaning your computer mouse’s feet; today, it’s getting the gunk out from between the keys on your keyboard.

Sure, you can turn your keyboard upside down and give it a bit of a pat on its backside, and a few shakes. And you’ll be amazed — and possibly horrified — at what comes out, even if you don’t eat at your desk. If you eat at your desk… well, let’s just say that studies have shown that the average office keyboard has more bacteria and nasties lurking in it than a toilet seat!

You can use compressed air in a can to spray out other bits of gunk, or a mini vacuum cleaner to suck out other particles. If you’re really keen, you can take off the keys and get in behind them that way. But there’s no need to be so drastic!

Instead, I highly recommend something I purchased for a completely different purpose: bendable microfiber applicator brushes!

Tooltron microfiber applicator brushes

Tooltron microfiber applicator brushes — ideal for getting into hard to reach places

I bought mine for cleaning out fluff and lint in the very tight and awkward spaces around a bobbin case of a sewing machine. But I soon realized that they were excellent for getting in between your computer keyboard keys and would pick up hair etc. that the other methods won’t get out easily. I’ve even used them to pick up dust bunnies inside the heat sink and fans inside my computer that I couldn’t get out any other way. And they can even get into the grooves in your remote control too.

My understanding is that these handy — and very cheap — little (about 3 inches long) tools were developed for hobbyists, such a model makers. But quilters have got on to them and you may well find them for sale in you neighborhood craft, quilting, fabric or sewing machine store.

Alternatively, you can buy them online for between US$3.50 and US$5.00 — for 25 brushes!

Those I have are manufactured by Tooltron, and are available for sale directly from the manufacturer ( or you can get them via my Amazon Store:

I’m a very happy user of these incredibly versatile little brushes.

And for cleaning the accumulated oil from your fingers off the keys, try an orange oil of some sort. Others recommend isopropyl alcohol, but I don’t have any of that. My PlanetArk Orange Power sticky spot and goo dissolver on a Q-tip (cotton bud) worked a treat. After lightly rubbing the end of the Q-tip on the keys, wipe off with a dry soft tissue. My keyboard keys look as good as new!


Cleaning mouse feet

July 22, 2011

Feet on an optical mouse

Feet on an optical mouse

Has your computer mouse got dirty feet? If your mouse has been sticking a bit, you can be pretty sure that there’s a decent amount of sticky gunk on those feet! Go on, lift it up and turn it over — I bet there’s gunk stuck to the little pads/feet underneath it. Sure, you can use a fingernail to pick it off (however, I find that a fingernail can scratch and pit the surface over time), or you can rub the feet gently with a damp cotton bud (Q-tip) with a tiny amount of detergent or cleaning alcohol on it, but the method below is quick, cheap and super easy — and it involves no chemicals or liquids.

NOTE: If you don’t want strange things happening on your computer as a result of accidentally pressing too hard on the mouse buttons/wheel etc., then turn off your computer before you do this.

  1. Place a sheet of printer/photocopier paper on your desk and put the mouse on it as though the paper was a mouse mat.
  2. Press down on the mouse and move it over the paper several times. (How much pressure? Not super hard, but not as light as you’d press for moving your cursor over the screen either — somewhere in between.)

The gunk on the mouse feet comes off on the paper and your mouse will have nice, clean shiny feet again!


Word: Find non breaking hyphens

July 21, 2011

Guess what? Word changed how it displays non breaking hyphen between Word 2003 and Word 2007. The result is that in Word 2007 (and likely Word 2010 too) it’s almost impossible to distinguish a non breaking hyphen symbol from an en or em dash.

In Word 2003, the non breaking hyphen character had a little hook on the left edge, but that seems to be gone in Word 2007 and later. So how do you know if you’re looking at a dash of some sort or a true non breaking hyphen?

One way is to search for the non breaking hyphen symbol — this will show you which words it applies to:

  1. Open the Find and Replace dialog box (Ctrl+H).
  2. In the Find what field, type ^~ then click Find.
  3. Keeping clicking Find to find them all.

See also:

[Link last checked July 2011]


Is the website ready for launch?

July 20, 2011

Andy Wickes, over at Boagworld, has written a nifty list of things to check prior to the website you’ve been working on for weeks or months ‘going live’.

His extensive checklist is sorted into these categories:

  • Copy (this is where a good editor — preferably one who is external to the project — is worth their weight in gold as they’ll see things that you can never see because you’re too close to the content)
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Standards and validation
  • Site functions
  • Security
  • Performance
  • Legal
  • Icons and error pages

You can read all the details, with specific checks for each category, here:

[Link last checked July 2011]


MYOB: Find previous General Journal entries

July 19, 2011

This post is for me, because I can never remember how to find the list of Journal Entries I had to make as a result of receiving the Adjusting Journal (aka Reconciling Journal) from my accountant. This is a process I only do once a year, and if I need to check the entries later, I spend ages trying to find the right report.

So, for my own benefit, here’s where that report is in MYOB:

Reports > Accounts > Transaction Journals > General Journal

MYOB Adjusting Journal report

MYOB Adjusting Journal report

And to enter the Adjusting Journal entries from the accountant once they’ve completed the tax return etc., go to Accounts command center > Record Journal Entry. Make sure the date is set to 30 June of the just-finished tax year (you might need to unlock the security period first — Setup > Preferences > Security), and make sure all tax codes are N-T otherwise the adjusting journal won’t balance.


Word: Macro to change first letter after a colon to upper case

July 18, 2011


You have a Word document where one or more authors have variously used upper and lower case for the first letter of the first word after a colon (e.g. Note: This… and Note: this… ). For consistency and compliance with your style guide, you want to capitalize every initial letter immediately following a colon.


Run a macro to make the first letter after a colon a capital letter.

The critical parts of this find/replace macro are:

  • .Text = “: ([a-z])” — Word looks for a colon followed by a space, then a wildcard command for any lower case letter
  • .MatchWildcards = True — Word treats the .Text values in the parentheses as a wildcard string
  • Selection.Range.Case = wdUpperCase — When a lower case letter after a colon and a space is found, Word changes it to upper case.

Macro to capitalize the first letter after a colon

Sub CapsAfterColon()
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = ": ([a-z])"
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Format = True
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWholeWord = False
        .MatchWildcards = True
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False
        While .Found
            Selection.Range.Case = wdUpperCase
            Selection.Collapse Direction:=wdCollapseEnd
    End With
End Sub

Other options

If always you want the first letter after a colon and space to be in lower case, make these changes to this macro:

  • .Text = “: ([A-Z])” — Word looks for a colon followed by a space, then a wildcard command for any upper case letter
  • Selection.Range.Case = wdLowerCase — When an upper case letter after a colon and a space is found, Word changes it to lower case.

If a macro is too scary for you, you can partially run this as a Find/Replace action. Type : ([a-z]) in the Find field, click More and select Match Wildcards, then click Find Next to find the first instance. You can then change each found word’s initial letter to upper case, one at a time.

[Links last checked June 2011; this macro is a modification of one from Allen Wyatt’s Word VBA Guidebook (]


Firefox: Organize bookmarks

July 15, 2011

In Firefox 5.x, the Organize Bookmarks option has gone — it’s been replaced with Show All Bookmarks.

To see the complete list of your bookmarks so that you can arrange them into folders, import/export them etc., go to Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks.

Organize your Firefox BookmarksI’m not sure why they changed the name — Organize Bookmarks worked well for me. My first thought on seeing Show All Bookmarks was that everything I had bookmarked would open in new tabs!


Word: Change the case of the first letter of each bullet list item

July 14, 2011

Colette, one of my authors, asked if there was a way to stop Word automatically capitalizing the first word of each item in a bulleted list. Our style guide is to NOT capitalize list items when they are part of the stem sentence; for example, we DON’T capitalize a list like this:

At the grocery store, she purchased:

  • apples
  • oranges
  • pears
  • bacon
  • detergent.

We DO capitalize items in a list where one or more items are a complete sentence.

The problem with Word is that it’s all or nothing. The only option you can set is to let Word capitalize the first word of every sentence (the default) or not (in Word 2007: Word Options  Proofing > AutoCorrect button.)

You can’t specify a different setting for bulleted or numbered lists. As a result, typing a new bullet list item changes the first letter to upper case, even if you want lower case (see the see also list below for an alternative). And it’s a nuisance to have to correct them one at a time.

But there’s a trick you can use to convert the first letter of each item in a bulleted list to lower case. I first wrote about it in 2004, but it’s worth repeating as it’s a clever thing you can do.

You hold down the Alt key as you drag the mouse over the bullets and just the first letters of each item. This selects just that text. Then you press Shift+F3 to convert the upper case letters to lower case.

Hold down ALT and drag carefully to select just the first letters

Hold down ALT and drag carefully to select just the first letters

Neat, huh?

See also:

[Links last checked July 2011]