Monday, 31 December 2007

Keyboard shortcut of the week: save and backup regularly

Your PC can crash at any time. Not a comforting thought I know, but one that should prompt us all to save our work as often as possible. So, for this end of the year post I will extol the virtues of saving regularly, and by extension, of backing up your files.

Firstly let's deal with saving your files regularly: to do so, simply hold down the Ctrl key and press S.

If you wish to use a different filename each time you save, hold down the Alt key and press F then A. This will open up the 'Save as...' dialog box.

Now the backing up your files. Since we are fast approaching a new year, now would be a good time to back up all your essential files. There are a myriad of ways of doing this such as using USB flash drives to backup your current projects, or using a DVD writer to back up many of your files in one go.

Another option is to set up a webmail account with lots of storage capacity as offered by the likes of Yahoo! and Google to which you can email the files you are working on. Or you could try other online storage facilities like

So make at least one New Years resolution: back up your files.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The mystery of the disappearing Taskbar.

Once in a while, Windows gets into a terrible state and the Taskbar and its Start menu disappear. This is because the software that manages these, called the Windows Explorer shell, has crashed. To deal with this, without logging off and on the computer, you have to end any existing sessions of Explorer and run a new one.

To end existing Explorer sessions hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys and press the Delete key. On some versions of Windows this will open up the 'Windows Security' dialog box, if so then press the 'Task Manager' button; on other versions you will be taken straight to the 'Task Manager' program.

To stop the Explorer shell, go to the 'Processes' page and look for 'explorer.exe'. You can sort the processes into alphabetical order by clicking on the Image Name heading. If you find an entry for 'explorer.exe', highlight it and click the End Process button and click Yes on the warning dialog. If you don't find an entry for it you can go straight to the next step.

To restart the Explorer shell, click on the 'File' menu in Task Manager and select 'New Task (Run...)'. This will open the Run dialog box, into which you can type 'explorer' and click OK. The Taskbar should now reappear.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

From screen to video: recording Windows

As you will have seen in my last post I have at last added video to this site. I used a handy freeware application called CamStudio to record what I was doing on my screen.

This software has some excellent features that include: recording of vocal commentary; addition of captions; and even picture-in-picture video of yourself if you have a webcam. There is some help for using the software at Nick the Geek's Support Helpdesk, but I will give you a few tips to get you started.

Firstly, it is best to select a different video codec (the way that the video is encoded and compressed) than the default one to keep the file sizes small. From the Options men select Video Options. Pick a compressor from the list. There is a lossless video codec available to download on the CamStudio site. You can also reduce the quality of the video on the Video Options page to further reduce the size of the video file. You will have to make sure that the people who view the video have the correct codec installed on their machine.

Next, select the area you wish to record. To do this pull down the Region menu and select Fixed Region (you can also record the whole screen). Click on the Select button and hold down the left-button on the mouse and drag it to select the region of the screen you wish to record.
It is best to make sure that the height and width are an even number of pixels, as this is a requirement of some video codecs. Click OK.

You can now hit the record button, the red circle, move the selection box over the part of the screen you wish to record and left-clik the mouse, and now the software will record anything that happens in that part of your screen. Click the blue square to stop recording, and then select a file name and a location for the video file.

Check out the other settings for adding audio and webcam screen-in-screen. Happy movie making.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Keyboard shortcut of the week: control your selections

If you ever have to select more than one item at a time in a Windows program then you can use the control key, generally marked Ctrl. I find this technique particularly useful for dealing with my emails. I can hold down Ctrl and click on each spam email in turn, then take my finger off Ctrl and hit the Delete key so get rid of them all.

Using Ctrl to select multiple items also works well in Window Explorer - the software you use to browse files and programs within Windows. To try it out open up your My Documents folder, hold down the Ctrl key, and left-click on a few items with the mouse. Each item should be selected as you click on it. When you release the Ctrl key you are free to drag and drop all the files, or right-click on any one of them to apply a process - such as delete, cut or copy - to them. A much quicker way of performing a task on many files than doing each one separately.

You can also use the Ctrl key and 'lasso' items in Explorer. To 'lasso' items hold down the left mouse button and drag it to create a box that selects several items in one go. You can hold down the Ctrl key and use this technique to select several sets of items. See the following video for a demonstration of this technique in action.

Note: when 'lassoing' items with the Ctrl key pressed, be careful not to click on the icons as you will make copies of the selected files.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Lack of recent posts

Regular readers may have been wondering why there have been no posts here recently. This is because I have been effectively homeless for a number of days due to a house fire.

But fear not, dear reader, there will be more help and advice available soon when I am more settled.