Tag Archives: efficiency

Learn to Write 25% of All Words Using Single Letters in 10 Minutes

Have you ever considered how many times we write words like “the” and “this”? Believe it or not, 25% of a typical English text is used by forms of just 10 words like these. When you stop to think about it, although these common words may be fairly short to begin with, they could be much shorter.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I’d like to pick up some great literature, sit down in a comfy chair, and open my book to find many of the words compressed into little symbols so the typist could save some keystrokes. I like the English language as it is. But I also write a lot of notes, and I don’t care much about their aesthetic qualities. I just want to be able to write them efficiently and read them later.

That’s where some simple shorthand comes in. The system I use is called Dutton Speedwords. (For the impatient, here’s my cheat sheet.) If you so desire, it can actually be used as a complete International Auxiliary Language, but those of us less ambitious can benefit greatly from a much shorter and more informal study.

The only section you have to read to accomplish what I suggest in the title is “The First 10 Words.” But there’s a lot more to Speedwords, so I recommend checking out the rest if the first part interests you. It gets slightly more technical (but not difficult), so for those of you who are a little bit rusty on grammar terms, I’ve added links in possibly confusing places.


The First 10 Words
The Oxford University Press has a list of the 100 most frequently used words in the English language. I’ll come back to the full list in a moment, but for now, before you get impatient to see how I’m going to manage what I suggested in the title: The 10 most commonly used words (in various forms) comprise 25% of an average text, so if you learn the list below and start using it regularly, you’re done! (This list actually contains 11 items because ‘e’ and ‘y’ have the same meaning, just different tenses.)
  • l – the *
  • e - am, is, are, be
  • y – was, were, been
  • a – to
  • d – of
  • & – and **
  • u – a, an ***
  • i – in
  • k – that
  • h – have, has
  • j – I, me ***

[*] That’s a lowercase letter L.

[**] There’s of course nothing magical about the form of the ampersand common on the computer keyboard used here; any other form of the sign you prefer works too.

[***] Obviously, English I and a are already one letter, but leaving them in their English forms causes them to collide with other Speedwords, since the system was not specifically designed with purely English in mind. In practice, these are not large problems; it is nearly always immediately clear which is being used from context. On rare occasions, they can impede comprehension until you notice the alternative interpretation. If you aren’t interested in continuing into more shorthand, you could certainly pick other letters for the colliding ones. And it’s totally fine to continue using the English versions on occasion as you get used to the system; as you get more familiar with it, you will probably start automatically using the “correct” Speedwords versions.

General Note: There is no conjugation or declension in Speedwords; ‘e’ means both have and has and ‘j’ means both I and me. There are also no fixed parts of speech; a speedword can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb where it makes sense.There are tenses: prefixing the letter ‘y’ to a verb makes it past tense, and placing the separate word ‘r’ (will) before a verb makes it future (this is the same syntax as English). ‘y’ by itself is the past tense of ‘e’. And in all cases, if the tense is obvious from context, there is no need to specify it.

90 More Words
If you stop learning right there and just work on using those 11 abbreviations over the next few days, you’ll already have improved your scribbling efficiency considerably. But if you like this idea, you can do quite a bit better with only a modest amount of time. If you learn the 90 remaining words in the top 100, you can double the percentage of words you can abbreviate to 50%, using mostly single and double and just a few triple letters. Actually, there are fewer than 90 to learn, because some of them are repeats, like we and us, which as you just learned above are written exactly the same in Speedwords.The top 100 English words can be represented with 80 Speedwords. For your learning pleasure, the list is available on my Dutton Speedwords Cheat Sheet. I will continue the frequency list here so you can get an idea of the language; this is not the best form to memorize from, though.

I have made some modifications on the official Speedwords usage; I think the changes make the system better, at least for my purposes, but others might not, and I certainly don’t want to present this as an unaltered version, so I’ve noted the places where my usage differs from standard. There are also notes for features of the language that would be useful to learn, so have a look at them.
  1. t – it
  2. f – for
  3. n – not (also #46, no)
  4. o – on
  5. m – with
  6. s – he (also #48, him)
  7. z – as (also #61, than)
  8. v – you
  9. q – do [*1]
  10. a – at (also in top 10, to)
  11. c – this, these
  12. b – but
  13. si – his
  14. by – by
  15. d – from (also in top 10, of)
  16. g – they (also #58, them)
  17. w – we (also #90, us)
  18. di – say
  19. sh – her [*2]
  20. sh – she
  21. or – or
  22. u – an (also in top 10, a)
  23. r – will
  24. ji – my
  25. 1 – one [*3]
  26. al – all
  27. yr – would
  28. kp – there [*4]
  29. gi – their
  30. qm – what [*4]
  31. so – so
  32. up – up
  33. out – ix
  34. x – if
  35. ab – about
  36. qr – who [*4]
  37. ob – get, obtain
  38. q- – which [*4]
  39. go – go
  40. j – me (also in top 10, I)
  41. qz – when [*4]
  42. ma – make
  43. p – can, be able to
  44. idi – like, similar
  45. te – time
  46. n – no (also #3, not)
  47. jus – just [*5]
  48. s – him (also #6, he)
  49. sa – know
  50. ne – take
  51. erz – people [*6]
  52. ia – into
  53. an – year
  54. vi – your
  55. gu – good (also #79, well)
  56. u- – some [*3]
  57. yp – could
  58. g – them (also #16, they)
  59. vu – see
  60. ot – other
  61. z – than (also #7, as)
  62. nux – then
  63. nu – now
  64. ser – look [*9]
  65. sol – only
  66. ko – come
  67. ti – its
  68. ov – over
  69. pu – think
  70. ai – also
  71. ba – back
  72. po – after
  73. us – use
  74. 2 – two
  75. qd – how [*3]
  76. wi – our
  77. ra – work
  78. 1. – first [*7]
  79. gu – well [*10] (also #55, good)
  80. -d – way [*3]
  81. eb – even
  82. nov – new
  83. des – want
  84. zi – because
  85. jj- – any
  86. c – these [*8]
  87. da – give
  88. de – day
  89. my – most
  90. w – us (also #17, we)


[*1] In official Speedwords, this is used only as a question modifier, as in, “Do you have a pencil with you?” The word ‘fa’ is used for the sense to do something. I rarely observe this distinction and simply use the shorter form. In either case, it is not used or needed at all where it is used simply as syntactic glue: “No, I do not have a pencil” could be rendered as “N, j n h u pencil” (“no, I not have…”, or perhaps with technically correct but unusual English grammar, “no, I have not a pencil”).

[*2] This could also be ‘shi’ depending on the context (‘-i’ makes a pronoun possessive). See “him” and “his book” versus “her” and “her book”: in English, there is no difference between the forms. It is of course not necessary for you to do this correctly if you are only writing notes for yourself, but you’ll probably get used to doing it correctly without trying once you start using the ‘i’ for other possessives.

[*3] There are actual roots for many numbers, but I have not bothered to learn them, as the numerals do perfectly well. For one as an indefinite pronoun, as in “One should not stab oneself with a pencil, as doing so is quite painful,” use ‘eri’ (“something associated with ‘person'” – see Modifiers, below); sometimes I will write ‘-r’ instead (see note 4, below).

[*4]This is part of an unofficial reform called “Speedwords Correlatives”; the original Speedwords uses irregular forms, but I use the following forms, dreamed up by Ron Hale-Evans, instead.

First parts:

  • q- what/which
  • c- this
  • u- some
  • j- every
  • n- no
  • jj- any
  • k- that

Second parts:

  • -p place
  • -m thing
  • -d way
  • -k kind
  • -y reason
  • -z time
  • -r one (person)
  • -t amount

A first part and second part are combined: ‘um’ = something, ‘jr’ = everyone, ‘jjz’ = any time. You can make compounds this way that are not single words in English; ‘kt’ = that amount, for instance. Also, even ones that do form words can be used in the sense of separate words: ‘ud’ = somehow, but also some way.

I also use single parts occasionally (with the dash): ‘u-‘ = some, ‘-r’ = one.

[*5] This is intended in the sense of “fair, right.” If you can’t tell from earlier notes, I’m not picky about the technical meanings of words as long as I understand them, so I often use it for other meanings of just as well.

[*6] This is the plural of ‘er’, person.

[*7] This is a German convention for ordinal numbers which I use: ‘1.’ = first, ’23.’ = twenty-third, etc. It’s faster than writing the little letters after the numeral.

[*8] If In want to make it explicitly plural, I sometimes use ‘cz’. Doing so is not necessary for comprehension, though, if you try it.

[*9] In the sense to look for, search. Similar words: ‘no’ = to look, notice, ‘vu’ = to see.

[*10] Good and well are written the same.

One of the things that makes Speedwords powerful is the system of affixes, which are completely regular and affect both the grammar and the meaning of roots. For instance, ‘-z’ makes anything plural and ‘-t’ makes anything diminutive. To get started, you should learn these suffixes and prefixes:

  • -z pluralizes: ‘er’, person, ‘erz’, people. Plurals may be omitted if there is a count or something else that clearly identifies them as plural: ‘erz go kp’ for people go there, but ‘4 er e kp’ for four people are there.
  • -i makes a pronoun possessive: ‘g’, they, ‘gi’, their. More completely, it indicates “association,” or a particular similar word. You can also see this usage in this list with ‘idi’, like – ‘id’ means identical or the same. To make other things possessive, add a single apostrophe: Speedwords Soren’ = English Soren’s.
  • -x or -o makes the opposite of something. (To make pronunciation easier, -o is used if the word ends in a consonant, and -x if it ends in a vowel.) You can see this usage several times in the list: ‘i’ = in, ‘ix’ = out; ‘nu’ = now, ‘nux’ = then.
  • me- and my- form the comparative and superlative, respectively, and are also words in their own right without the dash: ‘megu’ = better, ‘my’ = most. (To compare with something else, use ‘z’, #61: ‘j e megu z sh’ = I am better than her.)
  • y- makes a verb past tense: ‘h’ = have, ‘yh’ = had. (‘y’, was, is a shortened form of ‘ye’, used since past forms of be are so common.)
  • u- forms the present continuous or present participle: ‘j ko’ = I come, ‘j uko’ = I am coming.
Real-Life Examples
Here’s a composed statement about the list of 90 words:

  • J yh a ser up 4 d l ro d motz…r sa g d nu o!  (‘ro’ = list, ‘mot’ = word)

Sometimes I really do write extended passages of pure Speedwords. But when I do, it’s an accident: unless you’re specifically trying to remove your native language from the writing, you will of course find use for plenty of non-Speedwords complex words. When I write fast (which is obviously what you’re doing when writing in shorthand), I often miss perfectly good places to use abbreviations, too – extra credit for finding some that were on the lists and not used where possible in the following list.

Once you’ve learned the words and grammar on this page (or better, from the list at the bottom), you should be able to read these actual sentences from my journal comfortably.

  • Kp e uk d live, amplified rock concert i l common area. Which yr e cool kun f l fact k t e 11:19 PM i u dorm, u fu feet away d erz’ rooms. (‘kun’ = except, ‘fu’ = few)
  • I noticed qz j picked up ji phone at 8:13 k j yh u IT shift at 8.
  • Eb though t e n l my-eloquent title, j yp n resist uma l pun.
  • So kp e u lot a di ab yesterday — b, uqm surprisingly, t al basically fits under 2 headings. (‘uqm’ = somewhat, my own invention, a nonstandard mix of the Correlatives)
  • M u gu bu, al delays e short. (‘bu’ = book) [An aphorism I made up after a transit delay.]
  • …Esp ov l ‘Net, qp w pn see jj- cues ab qm otz e upu. (‘pn’ = ‘p n'; ‘esp’ is my own abbreviation for especially.)
  • Judging by k & l next response, t seems g y trying a get Anki a ma [flash]cards relating a Windows XP f g by uq c [importing a Windows configuration file]. G pi e beyond further help… (‘pi’ = may)
Learning These Speedwords
So you think this sounds good and you want to start learning. Where do you go from here? I made a little Dutton Speedwords Cheat Sheet (OpenDocument source) that you can print out and refer to. It contains a trimmed version of equivalents for the 100 most-common English words, with numerals, duplicate entries for the same Speedwords, and words that are the same in English and Speedwords removed. This leaves you with 80 to memorize. There’s also a chart of the Speedwords Correlatives and the list of modifiers/affixes presented above. If you use an electronic flashcards program, you can import this tab-separated text file containing the contents of the sheet and start studying right away. (If you don’t use one, maybe now’s a good time to try Anki!)Other than that, just start throwing them in whenever you write something to yourself. If you have some spare time, you can copy some text and use Speedwords where possible; this is a good exercise because you can concentrate on using the shorthand versions wherever you know them, instead of thinking so much about what you’re writing and probably passing over chances to abbreviate

Miscellaneous Notes
One advantage of having the shorthand symbols be ordinary letters of the alphabet is that you already know how to make the symbols, but another is that you can type just as easily as you can write. Personally, I rarely have reason to type shorthand, since I type at over 100 words per minute anyway, but others have found it very helpful.
Thoughts on two practical obstacles to the use of shorthand:
  • “Other people will need to read my notes and won’t be able to.” In about two years, this has happened to me exactly once. And it wasn’t exactly a “need” situation: someone asked me in class if they could borrow them, and they simply asked someone else instead. (Of course, the number of times where I would have written in Speedwords if someone else hadn’t needed to be able to read it, say on an essay exam or a form, is much higher!)
  • “I’ll accidentally expect someone else will be able to read a note written in Speedwords.” This has also happened a grand total of once. I realized my error approximately two seconds later, grabbed it back, and read it out loud to them.
Further Reading & Learning
Dutton Reginald’s official dictionary, recently transcribed from a long-out-of-print paper copy, contains approximately 3,500 words and compounds that you can learn. At the very least, you can open it and punch Ctrl-Fif you notice you’re writing a word repeatedly and would like an equivalent for it, or on the rare occasion that you later read something you’ve written and don’t remember what the word means. In addition, it has a nice list of all the prefixes and suffixes and a few points of grammar that are absolutely worth learning if you want to continue beyond the word lists presented in this article.This old Geocities pageis a huge mess, but contains a few interesting things. Kafejo.com: A nice pronunciation guide (yes, this is supposed to be pronounceable – it might make it easier to learn and think about) and some other information about Speedwords.

How to Prevent Compulsive Browsing

Guess what happened to me the other day? I had a big project to work on. Before I started, I figured, I would just check my email and my Facebook account “really quickly.” So I did. I still didn’t really want to start, so I checked my Google Reader feed. Then I read some things linked to that, and some things linked to that. Then I looked at the clock and noticed that I’d just wasted a whole hour.

Everybody has a different weakness; maybe yours is Reddit, or Memebase, or Google News. I have a huge problem with Wikipedia; I love learning about random stuff so much that I click any links that look interesting, and then I click some links in those articles, and eventually I notice that I’ve moved ridiculously far from my original topic.

Ironically, it was several levels of links out from my Google Reader feed that I learned of the program that has worked wonders for me. It was an article called “How to Quit Wasting Time on the Internet” that showed up in the related articles section of a website I’d reached after clicking a link on one of the pages I reached by clicking a link on Reader. Given that I was undeniably wasting time on the Internet at the time, I immediately clicked the link.

The article has a large number of suggestions, so if you’re interested in more options and tools, take a look at it. But what worked for me was a Chrome extension called StayFocusd. It has two modes:

  • A daily limit on browsing time for particular sites. You make a list of sites you often waste time on (I have Facebook, Google Reader, Lifehacker, The Onion, YouTube, Wikipedia, and for good measure even though I don’t often visit them, Reddit and StumbleUpon). You can also check a box that will count sites you access by clicking links on time-wasting sites as time-wasting sites as well (very important for sites that are primarily lists of links to others, such as Google News or Reader). Then you choose how long you want to give yourself to browse these sites per day (right now I have 20 minutes, but I’m still trying to find the best amount). After you’ve used up that time, you can’t visit those sites for the rest of the day, and you can’t increase the time either.
  • A complete block for a given amount of time. This is called the “nuclear option.” You choose the length of time you need to be distraction-free and whether you want to block just your blacklisted sites or the entire Internet, and after you click the button there’s no going back.

It’s quite possible to cheat if you want to; for instance, you can simply open a different browser in which the extension is not installed. But unless you have really serious self-control problems, you don’t really need to block things entirely, you just need to give yourself a reminder. As soon as the extension informs me that I’m not supposed to be visiting a website, I immediately realize what I’m doing and lose the desire to try. Having a timer also works wonders to remind me to scan lists of articles quickly rather than waste time reading unimportant ones.

I had no idea how much time I was wasting this way until I installed the extension. Since installing it, I find myself wondering what I should do much more frequently; though I wasn’t aware of it, apparently I had a tendency to just start browsing the Web and then get drawn into something that way.

If you’ve ever had a problem with compulsive browsing, this extension could give you time you didn’t even know you had.

Download StayFocusd for Chrome

(Note: There are similar extensions for Firefox; see the original article that I linked earlier for some of these.)

Reopening Tabs You Just Closed

Ever closed a browser tab, then immediately realized you still needed it open? Maybe you even waited a few minutes before you wanted to go back. Fortunately, you don’t need to go hunting around for it in your history or search for it again.

I’ve already partially mentioned this tip (buried in the middle of another), but here it is again: Just press Ctrl-Shift-T.

Here’s the new part: In Chrome, you can also middle-click the New Tab button to reopen the previous tab. I discovered this by accident the other day while trying to close the last tab I had open (I missed it and hit the new tab button instead).

While you’re at it, check out four other ways to use your middle mouse button when you’re browsing (and find out what a middle-click is, if you haven’t picked up on it from my tips yet!).

Email Etiquette (4): Odds and Ends

This is the fourth and final part of a multi-part series. Previous posts were “Replies and Formatting,” “Subjects and Attachments,” and “Using the Cc and Bcc Fields.” There is also a summary.

This week has no particular focus except to deal with a few more things I thought of: email signatures, chain emails, and length of emails.


Email signatures are good. It’s nice to be able to easily find somebody’s name at the bottom of their email, especially if they don’t have their “from” name in their email client set to their actual name (so you get something like “From: hq723″ instead of “From: Soren Bjornstad”). If somebody might want your address, phone number, or website, those are good things to put in as well. Putting your email address is a waste of space unless you’re using a different address than normal: this is what the “reply” button and the email header are for.

If it’s not a work email (and maybe if it is, depending on the environment), creativity is always appreciated—just don’t go overboard and make it something that could potentially offend somebody. Quotes or interesting observations are always welcome. If you choose to include a quote or something similar in your signature, changing it every so often is nice; I know more than one person who has had precisely the same email signature for over five years. Even the most creative snippets tend to lose some of their luster after that long.

Don’t make your email signature more than four or five lines. HTML and images are probably unnecessary. Also don’t be cautious to strip your signature from your email if you’re responding to a mailing list that knows perfectly well who you are or you’re adding to a long chain of people adding a small amount of information to an email and sending it on. (Feel free to strip other people’s signatures and “so-and-so replied:” from those emails too; nobody will ever do it if you don’t take the initiative.)

Chain Emails

Do me a favor: Next time you get an email that ends by telling you that if you don’t send it to ten more people your computer will explode spontaneously, don’t forward it to me.

If you get an email warning you about something that actually seems important:

  1. Don’t send it to anybody.
  2. It’s probably completely fake.
  3. If you still really aren’t sure whether it might be true, check out Snopes first. (Do this even if the email claims that Snopes has confirmed the veracity of its statement—Snopes is becoming well-known enough that I’ve seen more than one chain email/Facebook post that makes a false claim.)
  4. If you really received chain mail that tells the truth, you still probably shouldn’t forward it to anybody. If there really is an email virus spreading like wildfire (which really doesn’t happen anymore anyway), then people will learn about it on the news anyway. Do you really need to send yet another email?
I realize I’m probably preaching to the choir here—most people interested in reading this blog are probably not the type to forward email indiscriminately. But please take this to heart. So much complete misinformation gets spread this way, not to mention the annoyance of the resulting flood of email.

Email Length

Try to avoid making your email more than a paragraph or two long. If it really needs to be longer, you should start worrying about structure. Include a paragraph or at least a line or two summarizing the email and explaining what you’re going to talk about in it. If it seems appropriate, you also might consider apologizing for the length and explaining why it’s as long as it is.

Why? Five-paragraph emails don’t scan well. Sometimes I get a copy of an email I don’t really need, and I like to be able to discard it quickly instead of wasting my time reading the whole thing. If I have a flood of email, it’s nice to be able to immediately determine which emails require immediate action and which ones can wait until I’ve finished sifting through emails. And besides, nobody likes reading you ramble on forever about the same thing. If it’s that complex a topic and it’s not for mass distribution, you should probably just pick up the phone and call the other person—that will be faster anyway.


I’ve compiled another post that summarizes all the main ideas in all four sections of this post. Check it out, and send it on to people who annoy you with their emailing habits. :-)

Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

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

Copyright 2012 Soren Bjornstad.
For terms of reuse and redistribution, visit

Avoiding Unnecessary Typing When Entering URLs

Repeatedly typing http://www.google.com gets old really fast. Here are three ways to avoid typing any more of a web address than you need to.

1: Simplify the URL
Most people probably already know this trick, but every modern web browser will fill in the http:// for you if you omit it. You also don’t normally need to include the www., but in this case a few stupid websites will return an error if you omit it. (When I attempted to contact my school corporation about the fact that their website did this, I discovered that nowhere on the webpage was there a webmaster email.)


So all you really need to type is google.com. (Additional Note: If your website has something else before the dots, like this website, tips.thetechnicalgeekery.com, that’s called a subdomain, and you cannot omit that–it leads to a different page than if it was missing.)


2: Ctrl-Enter
If you type just google and press Ctrl-Enter, the .com and .www parts will be filled in for you. Some browsers support additional modifiers of Ctrl and Shift to allow you to also use this trick for .org and .net websites as well–try it and see if yours does.


3: Autocomplete
Google Chrome has a really nice feature where beginning to type runs an incremental search through websites you visit frequently. So all I have to do to get to Google is press Ctrl-T to open a new tab, type a g, and google.com will appear in the address bar. Then I just press Enter and I’m there. This can save you an enormous number of keystrokes, and is one of the primary reasons that I use Chrome. If you don’t have Chrome, you might consider trying it out.


Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad


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


Copyright 2012 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

Switching Quickly Between Windows

Here’s another shortcut that everyone should learn. It’s a godsend if you’re switching repeatedly back and forth between two windows, and useful even if you aren’t.

1: Alt-Tab
Pressing Alt-Tab will allow you to switch windows to the most recently used window. If you continue to hold down Alt after releasing the Tab key, the window switcher will remain open and allow you to select any other window as well.
If that sounds confusing, try it out, and it will become clear immediately. (Mac OS X users: Use Command-Tab instead of Alt-Tab.)
The behavior of Alt-Tab is actually a lot more complex than it looks–if you’re interested in the details, see the Wikipedia article. But the main thing you should remember is that it lets you easily toggle between two windows. Next time you have to copy and paste text several times between windows, try pressing Alt-Tab instead of clicking each of the windows in turn, and keep your hands off the mouse!


2: Similar Shortcuts
On Windows Vista and 7, Windows-Tab (the Windows key is often labeled with a flag icon) will do roughly the same thing, but display a fancy Rolodex-style preview of the window. On earlier versions of Windows, pressing Windows-Tab will select each program on the taskbar in turn; you can press Enter to select one.
Alt-Tab is really handy in keyboard macros, which I’ll probably write an article about later on.

Two Shortcuts for Working with Files

Ever opened up a really, really long list of folders and hunted through the list trying to find a folder or file? Or maybe the same thing happened on your desktop–you know the name of what you’re looking for, but you can’t see it. Here’s a better way.

Tip 1: Jump to a File or Folder by Typing its Name
This trick is so simple you’ll probably be surprised you never knew about it. If you know the name of a file or folder located in the folder you’re currently browsing, but you can’t see it, simply click once on any file or folder you can see, then start typing the name of the folder. You’ll be moved to the folder as you type. (Don’t stop typing for more than a second or so, or the search will start over.)
This works in a File –> Open dialog box, in a Windows Explorer/Finder/Nautilus window, or on your desktop, in all operating systems.
Tip 2: Rename a File Quickly
Renaming a file can be a little bit annoying sometimes, especially if you have to rename quite a few files. You can right-click it and choose Rename, or you can click twice slowly on the name of the file. Either way, the process requires some clicking, and if you’re renaming a bunch of files you have to keep switching between the keyboard and the mouse.
Instead, just select the file and press F2.
Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad
If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.
Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.

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: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

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: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

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: webmaster@thetechnicalgeekery.com.

Some parts of this article were taken from http://lifehacker.com/5847279/how-to-plug-in-a-usb-cable-correctly-every-time.

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