Using Your Middle Mouse Button In Your Browser

Most people don’t even know what a middle mouse button is, let alone how to use it. But it is enormously useful. Here are a few ways to deal with tabs in your browser much more easily.

“But I don’t have a middle mouse button!”: That’s what 90% of people I inform about this tip say. Of course, they’re wrong–unless you have a really old mouse, you have a middle mouse button. To middle-click, you just press down on the scroll wheel. (If you have a laptop, you can usually emulate a middle-click by pressing down the left and right touchpad buttons simultaneously, and if you have a Mac with one mouse button you can hold down the Command key and click.)

A disclaimer: I only had access to the Chrome and Firefox browsers while writing this tip. While I personally believe you should be using one of these two browsers, I understand you may not be, in which case these tips will probably work but I can’t guarantee it.

1: Closing a Tab
To close a tab, you could aim for the little tiny “x” button in the corner of the tab. Or you could just middle-click anywhere on the tab and save yourself a couple of seconds every time you close a tab.

2: Opening a Link in a New Tab
I couldn’t live without this trick. Sometimes you’re researching a topic and come across a link that looks interesting, but you want to be able to easily return to the current page. Don’t follow the link (and maybe several more links in the same fashion) and then click the Back button a few times–this is a lot of wasted effort, and you might even have trouble figuring out which page of the 5 you just visited was the original one. Instead, middle-click the link, then switch to the new tab. When you’re done with the new page, you can simply close the tab to get back to where you were.

This is also really nice if you’re reading a page and see something that looks interesting, but you don’t want to stop reading the page you’re on to look at it. Instead of trying to remember all the links you wanted to look at, middle-click the link, then move to that tab when you’ve finished reading the original page.

I also use this trick when visiting news sites: I scroll through the list of available articles, middle-click all the ones I want to read, then close the home page. In this way I can easily read all the articles I’m interested in without having to click the Back button, wait for the page to load, and find a new article each time.

3: Opening the Previous Page in a New Tab
Tip #2 is all well and good, but sometimes you don’t realize that you still needed a page until after you click a link on it. In this case, you can middle-click the Back button, which will bring up the page you were just visiting in a new tab. This option is even kind enough to duplicate your browsing history in the new tab, so you can still click Back and Forward in the new one (unlike if you opened a link in a new tab, where the new tab starts with no history).

4: Duplicating a Tab
If you want to duplicate a tab, you can middle-click on the Refresh button, which will open a new tab pointed at the URL of the current page. In practice, usually this tip is unnecessary because you can use 2 or 3 to accomplish the same thing.

Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me:

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Tips & Tricks for Filling Out Forms

Ever had to fill out a form like this one? A lot of people waste large amounts of time working with forms because they don’t know a few simple shortcuts (namely, the Tab key!) Here’s how to get it done more quickly and less painfully.

0: Screencast
I’m trying something new this week—a screencast. If you don’t know, a screencast is a video of someone’s screen as they perform some task (in this case, purchasing a cash register online), usually with a voiceover explaining what’s going on. I’d suggest you read the article first, but I think checking out the video afterwards will probably help you see what I’m talking about, and perhaps put the information into a form that will be a little bit easier to apply. And above all, if you take only one thing from this article, let it be this: Use the TAB key. It will save you hours over the course of your lifetime.

1: Terminology
Before I can cover how to move through a form quickly, you probably want to know some terminology–if you already know it, feel free to skip over this section. So here are the elements that often appear in forms (all these are in the screenshot, so you can reference it if you need to):

  • Text Box: You probably already know what this is–a (usually white) box that you can type text into. Usually you can type whatever you want into here, though some text boxes may have validation–for instance, an email address has to contain an @ and a ., and the CAPTCHA code where you have to type in the funny letters to prove that you’re human has only one correct answer.
  • Drop-Down Menu (or simply drop-down): A (usually gray) box with a little arrow on one end. When you click on it, a list pops open and you can scroll through it and select one of the choices. These are usually used when there are a lot of options, but sometimes form designers might put short lists in a drop-down.
  • Check Box: A small square box; when you click on it, a check appears or goes away. This is (usually) for on/off and yes/no questions only.
  • Radio Buttons (or option buttons): Little round buttons, typically used for short lists of options. When you click one of the radio buttons, any previously selected one gets unmarked.
  • Field: Any one location asking you to enter data (i.e., “first name”, “state”, “telephone number”, and so on).

In addition, forms can contain text, lines, and pictures, but you can’t enter any information with these.

2: Moving Around a Form
Your TAB key is your best friend when filling out a form. It will advance automatically to whatever the creator of the form has defined as the next field (hopefully this is an order that makes sense to you!). If you accidentally skip a field or need to go back and change something, you can press Shift-TAB. When you use the key to move into a text box that already has something in it, it will usually highlight any previous text so that you can just start typing over it (be careful that you don’t accidentally delete anything).

When you’re moving through a form that has a text box, then a series of check boxes, then another text box, you can save a fair bit of time (and a lot of effort) by avoiding the mouse, because you don’t have to keep switching from mouse to keyboard. If you use the TAB key and the following tips, you should have no reason to touch your mouse. (If you’re filling out a form that consists entirely of check boxes, drop-downs, and radio buttons, such as a survey, then these tips are probably a waste of time for that particular form.)

The next sections tell you how to deal with each individual element; they assume that you pressed Tab to move to and select that element.

Text Boxes
There’s not much to say about these–the biggest factor here is your typing speed. Unfortunately there are no magical efficiency-improving text box tricks.

Drop-Down Menus
There are several tricks with drop-down menus. Don’t even think about reaching for your mouse to use a drop-down menu. All you really have to do is start typing, and the menu will scroll to that choice. For instance, if you’re asked to fill in your state, you don’t have to scroll through the entire menu hunting for your state–instead, just type the first couple of letters and it should be selected for you.

If you aren’t sure what options are in the drop-down menu (and therefore can’t type the first letters of it), just press the spacebar. This will open the drop-down menu so that you can see the options. You can then start typing the option you want.

If all the choices don’t fit on the screen, you can use the arrow keys and Page Up/Page Down keys to see the rest of the list. If you select the choice you want with the arrow keys (instead of typing to move to it), just press Tab twice to close the drop-down and move to the next field. (Enter and then Tab also works, but double-tabbing is faster.)

Check Boxes
Check boxes are very simple to manipulate–to turn them on or off, just press the spacebar. If there’s more than one, just press tab and repeat.

Radio Buttons
Radio buttons are funny because they have a different state after you’ve selected something once–before you choose a button, nothing is selected, but after you make a selection it is impossible to return to having nothing selected.

Unlike other sets of elements (like multiple check boxes) radio buttons are selected as a set when tabbing, so pressing Tab while the first radio button is selected will tab to the field after all the radio buttons, rather than to the next radio button.

To select the first radio button, you can press the spacebar. To select any others, simply use the arrow keys, and buttons will begin being selected as you press the keys.

When you finish entering your data, you can press Enter to send it. At this point, Murphy’s Law states that the site will usually return an error and require you to retype some or all of the information (often because you missed the little tiny button that states you agree to the terms and conditions that have been read by approximately five people, or because you mistyped the eye-straining verification code). If it’s only one field, clicking on it and fixing it is probably best, but otherwise you can reuse the tips above.

If you haven’t seen the screencast yet, I suggest you watch it now.

Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me:

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

How To Plug In A USB Cable The Right Way The First Time

Ever gone to plug in a USB cable, couldn’t get it in, and flipped it over and tried again, only to discover that you had it the right way the first time? What’s that? You do it every day? Fortunately, this is a surprisingly easy annoyance to fix.

1: Getting The Cable The Right Way
Ever noticed that nearly all USB cables have a little USB logo on one side of the plug (picture)? That logo is on the same side of every USB connector–unplug one of your USB cables and see for yourself. Flash drives, unfortunately, don’t have the logo; however, this can be rectified by memorizing which way is which, or you can put a little sticky dot, Sharpie mark, or correction fluid on that side.

2: Which Way Do I Plug It Into the Port?
There aren’t any guidelines that are right 100% of the time, but most equipment does conform to a couple of standards. On laptops, the logo will face up, and on desktops it will face the far side of the case (the side that is furthest away from the ports). On the sides of monitors, the USB logo will face you. As for everything else, like hubs, the best thing to do is to try it and see.

Rather than remember all these rules, I take a labelmaker, print out a neat label that says something like “LOGO LEFT”, and stick it on my hub/case/other device. That way you don’t have to think about it. The result is something like this.

Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me:

Some parts of this article were taken from

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Six Handy Browser Shortcuts

Want to know a quick way to scroll down the page without the mouse? Or reopen a tab you closed by mistake? Here are six ways to move around your browser more efficiently.

  1. Press the spacebar to scroll down one screen. This allows you to read a page without having to keep scrolling the mouse or pressing the arrow key. About two lines from the previous page will be left on the new page so that you don’t lose your place.
  2. Open a new tab by pressing Control-T. It’s sure a lot easier than trying to hit the little plus button next to the tabs.
  3. Open a new window by pressing Control-N. You probably don’t need a new window very often, but it’s an easy shortcut to remember for when you do.
  4. In Chrome, open a new incognito window by pressing Control-Shift-N. (In Firefox, enter private browsing mode by pressing Control-Shift-P.) This doesn’t save history, cookies, or anything else, so you don’t leave any traces of where you’ve been when in private browsing mode. (Well, the web server can still collect information about your visit. But your computer stays free of any information.)
  5. Press Control-L to move your cursor to the address bar. This can save you reaching for the mouse when you’re ready to visit a new site. It’s especially handy in Chrome, where you can easily start a search from the address bar.
  6. Press Control-Shift-T to reopen a tab you just closed. This is really nice when you accidentally close a tab, or if after a few minutes you realize you weren’t really done with that reference page. It sure beats having to open your browsing history and find it again.

Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me:

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.