By Garrick Chow | Friday, May 21, 2010
There are often times, especially when I’m trying to convey a technical issue I’m having with my computer, when it’s much easier to show the problem than to spend paragraphs trying to explain it. Both Macs and PCs have had the ability to take screen shots (or screen captures) since time immemorial, and it’s a simple and useful task for capturing a problem visually. Screen shots are also useful for creating how-to documentation or to complement a review or other article about a piece of software, for example. Here’s a primer on how to take screen shots on your computer in case you have to capture what’s on your screen at a given time.
In each case, you’ll hear a camera shutter sound to let you know the screen capture worked. The images you capture will be saved to your Mac’s desktop. On Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, the file is saved as a PNG and named as “Screen shot” followed by the date and time you took the shot. Earlier versions of Mac OS X name screenshots as Picture 1, Picture 2, etc., and save them as either PNGs or PDFs.
Unlike the Mac, there is no audible feedback when you perform a screen capture on Windows, and instead of saving the screen capture as a file, Windows only copies the image to your clipboard. You’ll then have to open an image editing program, such as Microsoft Paint, and click the Paste button to paste your screen capture into the document, where you can then edit it before you save it, if you like.
Mac OS X also includes an application called Grab, located in your Applications > Utilities folder, which gives you slightly better controls over the portion of the screen you’re capturing. It also offers a “Timed Screen” option which gives you 10 seconds to get your screen ready before it takes the shot. This can be useful if you need to capture something in action and don’t have your hands free to manually perform the screen capture.
Windows Vista and Windows 7 both include an application called Snipping Tool, located in All Programs > Accessories, and it, too, gives you more and better options for creating screen captures, including the ability to grab irregular shapes and specific portions of the screen.
So if you’ve never taken screen shots before, take some time and play around with the different controls and options. You may be surprised at how often screen captures come in handy.
See the accompanying video for additional screen shot controls.
By Garrick Chow | Tuesday, May 11, 2010
For some reason, I’m the guy people are always asking for directions. Whether it’s because of my seemingly non-threatening demeanor, or my confident stride down the sidewalk, I seem to attract all the lost and desperate drivers, trying to get wherever they’re going. Because of this, I’ve developed an inflated sense of pride in my ability to get people un-lost, and I hate to be stumped or reveal that I don’t know how to get to a particular location from wherever I happen to be. Admittedly, this sometimes results in me just making something up, yet delivering these fictitious directions with such a confident tone that the driver will cheerfully drive off in whatever random direction I’ve suggested, leaving me standing there with the awkward contentment of having made a stranger temporarily happy.
If your phone can send and receive text messages, it can almost instantaneously receive driving directions from Google.
At least, that used to happen. These days when I’m approached and stumped by the rarer and rarer breed of driver who dares to take a road trip without a GPS device or smartphone, I simply ask if they can send and receive text messages. (So far, I haven’t come across anyone who does not have a mobile phone.) When they say yes, I instruct them to send a text to GOOGLE (466453), formatted as “A to B” with “A” and “B” as their origin and destination. These can be exact street addresses, the names of towns, zip codes, or any combination of the three. Within seconds, Google will text back with the same set of directions they would have received by visiting google.com/maps in a web browser.
Even if you have a GPS or phone with GPS capabilities, you still might want to use this tip just so you have a backup set of directions should your GPS lose reception or run out of power. Bear in mind that your normal charges for text message will apply, depending on what your contract stipulates, but it’s probably a small price to pay for getting a reliable set of directions. Well, at least they’ll be more reliable than what you might get if you asked me.
For more info on Google’s wide array of text-based services, including movie times, flight schedules, translations, currency conversion, and more, visit google.com/mobile/products/sms.html.
By Garrick Chow | Monday, March 22, 2010
Although most people have dozens if not hundreds of fonts installed on their computers in the form of serif, sans-serif, mono-spaced, and script fonts, an often overlooked font type is the dingbat font. On the computer you’re using right now, especially if you have a version of Microsoft Office installed, you probably have at least a handful of dingbat fonts available such Webdings, Wingdings, or Zapf Dingbats.
Unlike other types of fonts, which are collections of letters, special characters, and punctuation marks, dingbat fonts are collections of unique non-letter ornaments, symbols, and shapes. You’ve most likely checked out the dingbat fonts while trying to format a document, only to quickly dismiss them when you found there were no letters in those fonts. But dingbats can really come in handy at certain times.
Zapf dingbats features checkmarks, stars, scissors, and other useful icons.
For example, Zapf Dingbats is a large collection of stylized stars, checkmarks, scissor, and pencil icons, and other items that could be used for bulleted lists, flyers, or the like.
Wingdings includes mailboxes, pointing fingers, and the Apple Command key symbol.
Wingdings has flags, pointing fingers, religious symbols, and the cloverleaf command symbol found on Apple keyboards.
Webdings includes common signage and symbols, including a ribbon, the 'don't do what's inside this circle' symbol, and an information icon.
And many designers know that typing the letter C in the Webdings font is a quick way to create a single checkbox or even a series of boxes for credit card numbers on a form.
So take some time to browse through the dingbat type fonts installed on your computer, and you may find a couple of ornaments or shapes that will save you the time of firing up your image editing software to create graphics from scratch.
By Garrick Chow | Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Recently a colleague of mine set down his passcode-secured iPhone on the desk we were sitting at. As I was marveling at how smudged the screen was from his constant use, I noticed that among the various smudges I could clearly see four distinct fingerprints, whose positions I realized revealed the four numbers he used for his passcode lock. The passcode lock is a feature of the iPhone that, when enabled, requires the user to enter a four-digit code to unlock the phone. It’s a great feature to keep your contacts, email, and account secure should your iPhone get lost or stolen. But because you have to type in your passcode every time you use the phone, the four fingerprints over those numbers can easily become the most distinct marks among the smudges.
By Garrick Chow | Sunday, January 31, 2010
Recently, I was trying to figure out how many miles it was from a highway exit to the intersection of the road leading to my house. Some family friends were coming to visit and I wanted to give them an idea of how far they would have to drive before they had to keep an eye out for the tricky turnoff to my neighborhood. But without specific addresses to punch into Google Maps, I wasn’t sure how to plot the path from point A to point B.
This led me to right-clicking (or control-clicking on a one-button mouse) on the Google Map of my area and, lo and behold, up popped a contextual menu containing the command Directions from here. Selecting that placed an A marker on the map which I could freely drag around, so I placed it on the exit ramp of the highway. Then I right-clicked again near the ramp for the road where my friends would have to turn off and chose Directions to here, placing a B marker on the map, which I could again drag to a specific location. And just like that, I had the information that it was 5.3 miles to my exit—all without having a specific address for either the starting or ending points.
Right-clicking (or Control-clicking on a Mac with a one-button mouse) on a Google Map pops up a contextual menu giving the options for getting directions to or from a point on the map.
By Garrick Chow | Thursday, December 17, 2009
In Preparing CMS Web Graphics and Layouts Using Open Source Tools, Jen Kramer shows us how developers and graphic designers can collaborate to create a great site design that integrates with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla!, all using open-source software. So if you’ve been trying to find an effective, yet inexpensive solution for integrating a CMS into your website, be sure to check this title out.
By Garrick Chow | Sunday, September 20, 2009
When Apple first announced at their 2008 World Wide Developers Conference that the new version of OS X would be called Snow Leopard, they included the surprising statement that Snow Leopard would have “zero new features.” Now of course, this was a bit of an exaggeration—there are enough new features to warrant my recording Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard New Features (available now!), but the point was that Snow Leopard’s main focus was under the hood, with the goal of making OS X faster, more efficient, and less bulky. Hence the the name Snow Leopard, which references the similarities of the new OS to the previous OS, Leopard.
Although the cosmetic changes are few, Snow Leopard features several enhancements to the Finder, the Dock, and to most of the built-in applications like QuickTime, iChat, Mail, and so on, but my favorite new feature so far is Snow Leopard’s greatly improved support for scanners connected directly to your Mac or on your local network.
Prior to Snow Leopard, I was locked in a never-ending battle with my moody and unpredictable network printer/scanner, which never seemed to be able to communicate consistently with my Mac. Some days it would work, some days it wouldn’t (I won’t name the brand, but let’s just say it rhymes with Pewlett Hackard). I was constantly updating and reinstalling drivers, restarting both the scanner and my Mac, and it would still only function properly occasionally.
But once I installed Snow Leopard, I was able to leave all the third-party software and drivers behind. Using Preview, which comes as part of OS X, I chose File > Import from Scanner and instantly my Mac found my scanner, installed drivers, and opened the scanning interface, from which I could select my scanning options and preferences. It just worked, and I’ve since tried it with my scanner in my home office as well with identical results. That alone was worth the $30 upgrade price to me.
And even if you don’t use scanners much these days, you’ll be happy to know that setting up a printer in Snow Leopard is just as easy. Again, you no longer have to manually install any drivers. As long as you have an internet connection, choosing File > Print will cause OS X to find your your printer and automatically install the proper drivers from the collection of pre-installed drivers included with the OS, or failing that, it will find the necessary software on the internet, download it, and install it. There’s nothing else you need to do. Of course, I haven’t personally tested every scanner/printer out there, but I’ve already experienced the ease and advantage of this feature several times when I’ve found myself in someone else’s office connected to a printer I hadn’t previously installed on my MacBook.
So if you’ve been considering upgrading to Snow Leopard and you rely on multiple scanners and printers as much as I do, I definitely recommend you make the switch. And be sure to check out my Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard New Features course in the Online Training Library®. I go into much more detail demonstrating how Snow Leopard recognizes and installs scanners and printers, and I cover lots more of what you’ll find in the latest version of Mac OS X.
By Garrick Chow | Tuesday, September 08, 2009
By popular request, the free Photoshop Top 40 Countdown with Deke McClelland series published here every Tuesday on the lynda.com blog is now available as a video podcast. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or any other podcatching software of your choice and you’ll automagically receive each new episode every Tuesday, conveniently downloaded directly to your computer.
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