Archive for September, 2013


Tablets and seniors

September 30, 2013

I recently purchased a tablet, loaded it up with some apps and some books, then took it with me to Bali earlier this month for a weeks’ rest and relaxation. I spent the week in Bali with my parents (both in their 80s).

A few years ago my parents purchased Kindles for their trips away (long plane flights, cruises, Bali, etc.) and they loved them. For the first time in his life, my Dad finally spent time reading books (I think he’s read more books in the two years he’s had his Kindle than he’s read in his previous 81 years!). The ability to change font size and contrast and the ease of use and purchase were features that they loved.

But they were both fascinated with my tablet and all the things they could do on one (compared to a Kindle), and less than a week after returning from Bali, they had purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab3 each.


Yesterday, I drove to their house to help them set up their tablets and to show them how to do some things, including finding and installing apps from the Google Play Store, loading up their Kindle books etc. I thought this would be a painful process, as I recall how hard it was to teach Dad how to use a mouse and getting the double-click action right, as well as when to double-click and when to single-click (I’m still not sure he’s got that right after all these years).

What a pleasant surprise! Instead of this being a painful experience with all of us getting frustrated, it was super easy for the most part. Why? Well, I think it comes down to a few factors:

  • They really picked the movements up quickly. Swiping, pinching, flicking, tapping etc. are such natural movements of the hand, compared to manipulating and clicking a mouse. While my parents don’t have much arthritis in their hands, they do have a little, but compared to mousing, navigating the tablet was just natural and easy for them.
  • Downloading apps is a breeze and requires no specialist knowledge, and isn’t fraught with warning messages or asking about file paths etc. It just happens. Likewise updating apps.
  • Changing font size is easy. Unlike printed books with fixed font sizes, changing the font size on a PDF or Kindle book is simple on a tablet. Yes, you can do it on a computer too, but you have to know the technique to increase/decrease the font size — with the tablet it’s a quick flick out with two fingers, or a pinch. For aging eyes, being able to adjust the font size of what you’re reading is an absolute boon.
  • Some aggregation apps are just brilliant. My Dad is interested in a particular make of car and on the computer he has some sites bookmarked or memorized and he goes to them regularly. But I don’t think he extends his searches much beyond that. Flipboard was already pre-installed on their tablets, so I showed them how to use it, how to search for stuff they’re interested in, and how to save a category so that they get the news feeds about that thing. Dad was in heaven! All this information about his favorite car brand in a simple magazine-style format — with pictures. He would have seen almost none of that information in his very narrow computer searches, so he was very happy.
  • Camera and portable gallery of photos. I’ve mostly seen older people using tablets as their ‘brag book’ of photos of their kids/grandkids, their house/garden, and their hobbies (e.g. quilts they have made). There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a perfect device for it, and the ability to zoom in on an image is great.
  • The amount of apps that are word puzzles, card games, brain games, matching games, and all sorts of other games is amazing. And for aging bodies, these games can be such a help for keeping their brains active and stimulated. Also, while many games can be played with others around the world, most can also be played solo. My Mum loves Scrabble, but my Dad doesn’t. So Mum has to wait for me to stay before she gets a chance to play Scrabble (and then we feel guilty as neither my Dad nor my husband are Scrabble players so we feel we’re excluding them). But with a Scrabble-like game on her tablet, Mum can now play ‘against the computer’ to her heart’s content, as well as play other word puzzle games that she loves. Dad likes playing Solitaire and other card games on their computer, but when he’s on it, Mum can’t use the computer too (they only have one computer), but now both of them can play Solitaire or whatever other game they want on their own tablets without even turning on the computer, let alone jostling for time on it.

There are a couple of downsides though, mostly related to the status bar: tiny icons (with no easy way to find out what each one means — I spent a bit of time explaining the bars on a WiFi icon and I had no clue what some other icons were!); the color contrast — or lack of it — of these icons (dark gray on black at a tiny size just can’t be seen by anyone with less than 20/20 vision); and the difficulty aging hands have in pulling down the status bar to reveal further information.

Despite these usability issues, during my fours hours with my parents and their tablets, I came to the realization that tablets a BRILLIANT device for older people (actually, anybody!) — for reading at a font size that they can actually read, for brain games, for interests they wouldn’t normally find easily via internet searches (e.g. via Flipboard), etc., and all without having to ‘know about the computer’ or how to manipulate a pointing device.

I’m glad they got one each — in just two days, I think they are already using them far more than they ever used their computer in the same amount of time. My job was to connect them to their WiFi, show them how to download apps, show them how to use things such as Skype and email, etc.

But I learned so much more by watching them take to these devices like ducks to water.


Plural of ‘Basis of Design’

September 26, 2013

From a recent writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues (oil and gas industry)…


PB asked: Do you have any opinion on the plural of ‘Basis of Design’?  I think it should be ‘Bases of Design’, but perhaps that’s too old fashioned, as most people I talk to refer to the ‘Basis of Designs’ – but that jars with me a little!

Great question, PB!

The plural is on the word ‘basis’ not ‘design’, so you are correct – it should be ‘Bases of Design’ because ‘bases’ is the plural of ‘basis’. If you had a document called the ‘fundamental of design’ (yuck!), then the plural would be on ‘fundamental’ not ‘design’; i.e. ‘fundamentals of design’ or ‘design fundamentals’ (unless, of course, you were talking about multiple designs).

The problem is that ‘bases’ can be pronounced, read, or interpreted in two ways – ‘bases’ as in baseball, or ‘bayseez’ as in the plural of ‘basis’. Other words ending in ‘-is’ that become ‘-es’ with a ‘-seez’ pronunciation include: analysis/analyses, thesis/theses, and axis/axes. It’s all about context – if you were talking about a graph, then you would pronounce ‘axes’ as ‘ackseez’, not ‘axes’ as in the wood chopping tool. Likewise, ‘Bases of Design’ should be pronounced  as ‘bayseez’, not ‘bases.

You could avoid the issue altogether by rewording – for example, instead of ‘… the Bases of Design…’, use ‘…. the Basis of Design documents…’ thus putting the plural on ‘document’ instead of on ‘basis’. often, ‘documents’ is implied in ‘Bases of Design’, so by stating ‘documents’ the reader is clear that that’s what you mean.

(Personally, my preference would be ‘Design Basis’ as I find ‘Basis of Design’ clumsy, but I realise that ‘Basis of Design’ is commonly used and understood in the company/industry.)



Word: Comparing two documents

September 12, 2013

Based on a writing tip I recently shared with my colleagues


The instructions in this Writing Tip apply to Word 2007; the steps should be the same (or very similar) for Word 2010.

The method you choose for comparing two documents in Microsoft Word depends on why you want to compare them. Typical scenarios are:

  • Scenario 1: You have a master document and want to compare some of the text in the current document with that master document (e.g. you may need to make sure that the text in various sections of a document matches the standard text in another document). Recommended method: View documents side by side
  • Scenario 2: You have two versions of the same document and want to track the changes between them (e.g. you may have inadvertently deleted an interim version along the way, and now you need to see how the document has changed between the earlier version and a later one; or you may have received a document back from a reviewer who didn’t use track changes and you want to see what changes they made). Recommended method: Compare documents

HINT: Both methods discussed here work very well if you have two monitors (one for each document); while you can use these methods if you only have one monitor (e.g. on a laptop), you may need to zoom out to the point where it’s difficult to read some of the text.

NOTE: I don’t know if these methods work on documents stored in SharePoint. I assume they do, but I haven’t tried it.

View documents side by side

With this method, the documents are displayed side-by-side so you can do a visual check of them, and perhaps modify one of them. Scrolling is automatically synchronized between the documents so that you don’t have to change focus or jump between each one as you work through them; however, you can turn it off.

  1. Open the two Word documents you want to view at the same time.
  2. Go to the View tab > Window command group.
  3. Click View Side by Side. (Note: If you have more than two documents open, select the document you want to compare on the Compare Side by Side window, then click OK.)
  4. The first document opens on the left and the other opens on the right.
  5. On the View tab of the left document, the Synchronous Scrolling button is automatically selected. Click it to turn it off and on.
  6. TIP: Check the title bar of each document to make sure you modify the correct document.
Synchronous Scrolling toolbar button

Synchronous Scrolling toolbar button

Compare documents

For this method, I strongly advise that you work on COPIES of the original and revised documents, and that you accept all track changes in these COPIES before running the comparison. Just in case.

  1. To compare two documents, go to the Review tab, Compare group, click the Compare button, then select the Compare… option.
  2. Select the original document from the first drop-down list (or click the folder icon to navigate to it). TIP: Hover over a title in the narrow drop-down list to see the full title and file path – this will help you choose the correct document.
  3. Select the revised document (as per Step 2).
  4. Select the elements you want to compare. TIP: Turn some of these off (especially Formatting and Fields) if your documents are particularly long otherwise you may get a ‘Word is unable to compare documents’ error message.word_compare01
  5. Select the level of changes you want to see and where you want to see them (if this is the first time using this feature, try the defaults first; you can always change them later).
  6. Click OK.
  7. If you selected to show the changes in a new document, that document will open in a few seconds showing all the differences between the original and the revised version as tracked changes.

This articles describes what each of the settings means:


For more information on these functions, see my blog posts about these methods:

[Links last checked 11 September 2013]


Firefox Sync Manage Account not visible

September 11, 2013

Ages ago I set up Firefox to sync bookmarks etc. between my main PC and my laptop. It all worked fine. But now I wanted to set up my PC to sync with Firefox on my Android tablet too. I went around in infinite loops trying to get it to work! The PC kept asking me for my recovery key, but every time I followed the Mozilla instructions on how to find it, I came up against a brick wall — there was no ‘Manage Account’ option on my Sync panel under Firefox > Options > Options, and I couldn’t find anything similar on my Android tablet either.

I was ready to give up, but I’m a persistent sod. One of the Google searches I did mentioned something about making sure you are using the same version of Firefox on all your devices. It was time to fire up the laptop, which I haven’t used for a few months. I updated from Firefox v19 to v23 on the laptop, and just for fun, I decided to see if I could see the ‘Manage Account’ button on the laptop’s Firefox installation. And there it was!!!! (I don’t think its appearance had ANYTHING to do with updating Firefox.)

I *think* that I must have set up the sync the first time on that laptop, and therefore the recovery key was accessible from the laptop and not the PC. I saved it to a location on my server, and now will attempt the sync operation with my tablet…

I got a little further with the sync this time — after entering the recovery key on the PC, it said setup was complete, and the Sync panel in the Firefox Options window now shows the ‘Manage Account’ button on my PC too.

However, my tablet is still reporting ‘Waiting for other device…’ I’ll give it another 30 minutes or so as I have an extensive list of bookmarks, etc. About 5 minutes later: The message on the tablet has now changed to ‘Setup complete’ and it tells me that my data is being downloaded in the background.

So it looks like it worked. It was just a matter of going to the correct device to get that recovery key — in this case, my laptop. The process ended being very quick, but I had a lot of frustration trying to figure out what was going on and was going to give up.



Word: Deleting a locked content control

September 6, 2013

I had a devil of a time trying to delete a text box from the cover page of a Word 2007/2010 document the other day. Nothing I tried would delete it.

Then I noticed that it had a content control box for the title and wondered if that could be the culprit — it was! Someone had set the properties for that content control to stop it from being deleted <grrr>.

Once I cleared that check box, I could delete the content control and its surrounding text box.

Here’s what one of these content controls looks like (Note: they don’t exist in Word 2003):


To check the content control’s properties, I had to select the control, then go to the Developer tab, and click Properties. That’s where I saw the check box that prevented it from being deleted:


All it took was to clear that check box, click OK, and I could delete the text box successfully.

Hopefully this will save someone else some time pulling out their hair wondering why a text box that they’ve deleted heaps of times before in other documents won’t delete now.

If you can’t see the Developer tab in Word 2007 or later, here’s how to show it:

[Links last checked September 2013]