Controlling Your Mouse

Every semester I conduct a workshop titled “Basic Computer Basic Basics,” whose tag line is: “No question is too basic, no observation too un-profound for this workshop.”  In it we truly do try to keep it basic, but one man’s basic is another man’s advanced, so this gets to be a bit problematic.  Nevertheless, one topic that is often considered “advanced,” but should really be part of everyone’s computer toolkit is mouse button control.  Quick:  How do you control the size and speed of your mouse pointer?  How do you switch left and right mouse buttons (if you are not left handed you may never have considered this one).  Is the mouse moving too fast for you?  How do you slow it down?  Can you speed up or slow down the rate that your mouse wheel, if any, scrolls?  And so on.  Adding to the complexity of the problem is that there is no such thing as a standard mouse.  You are pretty much stuck with whatever comes with your computer, unless you have been proactive and replaced it with another.  But if you have done that, you probably are not among the target audience of the basic basics workshop.  In this post I cover some of these basic mouse concepts.

I’m assuming Windows 7 and a two-button mouse with scroll wheel.  Mac choices are always simpler and can be accessed through system preferences.  Windows choices are accessed through the control panel.  The quick way to the control panel is by typing “control” in the Start Menu search box and press Enter.

With most recent versions of Windows you will get the Summary View of the Control Panel, unless you have deliberately changed it.

Click the Category drop-down and choose either Large icons or Small icons to see finer grained access to tools.  Choose the Mouse Tool.

What you see next will depend upon the Mouse control software you have installed.  Since I have a Microsoft wireless mouse with MS IntelliMouse software installed I get a multi-tabbed dialog box that will allow me to control the mouse’s characteristics.  Whatever mouse you have installed,you will get a similar dialog with,perhaps, fewer tabs.

The following screencast will walk you through the rest of the possible changes you can make using this dialog box.

The Blackboard Glossary Tool – Part 2

Picking up the thread from yesterday’s post…

As you recall, yesterday we created a glossary in a Blackboard 9 course, exported it as a tab delimited XLS file, imported that file into a flash authoring tool called StudyMate, created a set of self-test flash cards (flash in the old sense, that is), and then saved the files from StudyMate to our desktop.  Today we want to zip up those files into a package file (in Blackboard parlance–in Windows this is called a “compressed, zipped folder”), and then finally upload the package file to Blackboard and create a link to it in a content area.


So, ok.  The files saved from StudyMate are of three types:  an HTML file that acts as the index to the project; a JS (javascript) file referenced from within the HTML file; and an SWF file (shockwave flash) that contains the actual controls, animations, and content that comprise our flash cards.  To get these zipped into a package file–and this works in all currently supported versions of Windows–select all the files,right-click the selection,hover over Send To, and choose Compressed (zipped) folder.  This quick video shows how:

Now that we have our package file, all that’s left is to upload it to Blackboard and create a FILE link to it.  As part of the file linking operation, we will have to identify the “entry point” to our package, that is, the HTML file that acts as it’s index.  The following video shows how:

Easy, right?  You have to remember that the upload and the linking operation are separate steps.  Those used to the old version of Blackboard, where you “attached” a package file to an item and instructed Blackboard to unpack it may miss this critical point.  The new File link type gives a lot more control than the old way of attaching files to items, and the file management area in Blackboard 9 is also a gigantic improvement over the essentially invisible and non-existent access to individual files in previous Blackboard versions.

Don’t forget, this technique will also work for web content or html content published locally, zipped, then uploaded to Blackboard as a package file.  Now your Blackboard site can be just as sophisticated as anything that can be created on the web, yet still be secure and self contained.

Live Essentials and Office Web Apps Upgrades

This Tuesday an upgrade was released for Windows Live Essentials.  Live Essentials are a bundle of the software that Microsoft used to include with the operating system–messenger, mail, photo gallery, movie maker–and a set of other related tools–live writer, family safety, live toolbar.  Microsoft unbundled them from the OS because, probably, they just got tired of being sued for monopolistic practices.  These excellent tools are now for download instead.  Which is fine by me.  I got tired of uninstalling/disabling messenger, ignoring mail, and figuring out when I actually needed live writer.  Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, on the other hand, are outstanding tools.  If you are a user of Windows 7,you will have to go to the Live Essentials web site to download them,and I urge you to do so.

In any event, messenger, mail, photo gallery and movie maker all got an update this week, and it is well worth installing.

In addition to cosmetic changes, improvements to the ribbon, and bug fixes, photo gallery got a new preview to the Find feature, and a back-date feature that helps in finding the photos you are looking for.  Movie maker, also cosmetically improved and debugged, got a publish to Flickr feature that will appeal to many users.  Movie maker can also publish 480 x 640 videos to SkyDrive–another part of Windows Live where you can get 25GB of free storage and–this is the deal closer–publish directly to from the Office 2010 apps.  There is also a new and improved snapshot feature.

Another part of the Live initiative–it is a well planned (Yes, I’m talking about Microsoft) all-encompassing effort–is the Office web apps in concert with SkyDrive.  You can now create, online, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents and store them on Skydrive for later use in your Office 2010 desktop apps or simply as stand-alone projects.  The web apps do not have all the features of the desktop apps, but they are pretty good, and certainly have all the basic functionality that most people would need.  This week, they too have been improved with:

Word printing: the print command has been added to the Word web app File tab.

The Excel web app can insert charts in the same way the desktop app works, and gets the autofill handle (a big deal).

The PowerPoint web app gains access to high quality clip art, including photos, and the built-in themes used in the desktop apps.

Saving your Office documents to SkyDrive makes a lot of sense if you are teaching on different campuses.  No longer will you have to remember the flash drive, CD or network location on which you saved teaching materials.  They will all be together in your SkyDrive.  The recent, welcome improvements to the web apps are probably just the beginning of a tighter integration with the desktop apps.

Tech Camp Wrap-up

Summer Tech Camp, August 3-6We had a terrific summer Tech Camp.  Thanks to all who attended.  I feel that valuable skills were obtained and hope that they will be used in your instruction in coming semesters.  We featured a number of educational tools and products during camp, and I thought I would summarize the highlights here for those who have lost their notes.

The real-time Twitter polls we used were from Polls Everywhere.  The free, educational version allows a max of 32 votes.  With a little creativity and multiple instances of a poll, even a class larger than 32 can use this fun feature.  Remember, you are not limited to updating the polls via Twitter, either.  They can be updated via text message or a web site (ie, Blackboard too) widget.

There was some discussion of desktop Twitter clients.  The one Dave demoed during camp was blu from thirteen23.  Chris Sinnott recommends TweetDeck.  The one I use personally is Twitter Explorer.  TweetDeck is the Cadillac of desktop clients, that’s for sure, but really shines when you are aggregating a lot of social media site into one.  It is a bit overwhelming if all you want is a Twitter feed.  Twitter Explorer has definite limitations, but I like it for its simplicity and Windows 7 compatibility.

Several of the areas we discussed received only brief coverage because there just wasn’t time to be expansive, and at least three topics,notably “Basic Basics,” “Google Earth,” and “Blackboard,” received almost no coverage at all.  I would remind anyone interested that we will be doing training in the coming semester on these and several other topics.  Our training schedule is here, and a description of the workshops we will be offering here.  We are also happy to arrange custom training–I think some mention was made of this with regard to Camtasia–for small groups.  Just contact me directly with these requests.

I would also like to point out that we already have many resources and training materials in place in our AT Training area within Blackboard.  All faculty and staff members are pre-enrolled.  Just login to Blackboard ( and click the “Academic Technology Training” link in the “Courses in which you are enrolled” area of My Courses.  There is a using Windows 7 area there that I think will be of value.  I will be adding more materials to the PowerPoint areas too over the next few weeks.

Finally, for great free training on the Office 2010 products we used from Microsoft, just click one of the following links:

For more information on the Windows Live products we used (and many we did not) visit the Windows Live Center.   I think you will agree that SkyDrive and the Office Live web apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on the web) have the most immediate utility for academic use, but don’t forget that if you are upgrading to Windows 7, Photo Gallery and MovieMaker have to be downloaded and installed separately.  You can find both of those excellent, free products at the Windows Live Center also.

Jing, SnagIt and Camtasia were used and mentioned a lot at Tech Camp.  These products are all by TechSmith.  Visit their web site for academic pricing and download information.  They have the best Learning Center I have ever seen.  Bookmark it right away if you expect to be using their products.  The highest recommendation I can give goes to TechSmith.  They use their own products to teach their own products.  Proof positive that they are excellent.

Thanks to all who participated in Tech Camp.  It was, as we have said, the best one ever.  The participants were enthusiastic and brilliant, and we had a ball.

Tech Camp Agenda

Summer Tech Camp, August 3-6We will be conducting our annual summer tech camp August 3-6.  Don’t bother signing up because it is fully subscribed.  (Sorry).  It is still over 5 weeks away, but I thought I would review the tentative agenda we have pretty much agreed on so that attendees, and perhaps those planning similar events at other schools, will have some insight into what we are doing.

Our inspiration for tech camp this year is the TED talks concept.  If you are not familiar with, rush to that web site without delay to be exposed to the best and brightest people in the world in the fields of technology, entertainment and design (T. E. D.).  These “fields” are interpreted very broadly, so that many scientists (and after all, what science does not embrace technology), philosophers (or perhaps “thinkers” is the better modern term), philanthropists, even politicians,are included.  What TED does is give people 18 minutes (or less,or on rare occasions somewhat more) to present their best ideas.  The presentations are fun, dynamic, often enthralling, always enlightening, and sometimes profound.  What they share in common is the use of projected images, video and dynamic speech to present ideas or tell great stories.

In tech camp, therefore, our goal will be to create a 10-15 minute presentation–no more, sorry, professional talkers–just like a TED talk where professors will take a concept they want to present to their students and develop it using technology tools.  Here are the rules for the talk.  It must:

  • Use PowerPoint as a presentation tool
  • Include pictures and other graphics
  • Include PowerPoint animations
  • Have an embedded video (think YouTube) or a Google Earth tour
  • Include a self-produced video (we will be using Flip video cameras)
  • Include a chart or charts illustrating data points, if appropriate, or SmartArt illustrating a concept, or both
  • Have an accompanying illustrated handout created in Word and saved as a PDF
  • Have a Blackboard component containing the teaching materials developed during the talk
  • Not to exceed 15 minutes

Four days sounds like a lot to dedicate to the development of a 15 minute talk, but when you understand that you must also learn various technology tools along the way, and describing it as I have above, it sounds more like a challenge.  We hope it will also be fun and interesting.  Most of all, we hope what you learn, and what you develop, will translate into a great learning experience for your students.

My colleague Dr. Haydn Davis will be contacting all participants sometime over the next month to clue them all in directly and provide more details, but for those who just can’t wait, I have sketched out the order of events below.


First and foremost you must decide on the topic of your presentation BEFORE tech camp begins.  Put on your thinking caps.  Is there a difficult concept you teach that needs an in depth explication?  Or is there something you are keenly interested in and would like to communicate in a dynamic way?  Whatever you wish to present on, you must come pre-armed with your concepts.

You will also need accounts with the following web services:

  • YouTube
  • MS Live, with an MS Live SkyDrive
  • Jing/
  • Twitter

Day 1 (Aug. 3)

On Day 1 we will show a couple of brief TED talks, and then present one of our own that will become the basis of our workshop activities over the four days of camp.  Throughout camp we will be asking you to Tweet spontaneously (this will be managed by Tweetmaster D – of our staff).  We will also be asking participants to blog about their camp experiences in a camp blog.  Don’t worry, this will all be explained when you get here.  Rest assured there will be prizes for best Tweet and best blog entry each day.

We will launch into activities by first covering computer basic basics.  Yes, you heard me.  It is often the most basic concepts about file management, keyboard shortcuts, saving and manipulating files, and keeping track of URLs that cause us the most difficulties.  So we will take the time to cover these briefly.  We will be using Windows 7 and be saving materials to USB flash drives (we are going to give you one) and SkyDrives.

We also want you to know about the Palomar resources available to you.  So Chris Norcross will guide you in access to your:

  • Blackboard site
  • Web space
  • SkyDrive
  • Media respositories

During lunch each day (the camp will be catered), after eating, we will have a lunchtime presentation.  On day 1 there will be two brief ones.  One on Twitter, by Tweetmaster D, and one on Evernote–a browser-based note taking program–by Chris Norcross.

The afternoon of day 1 will be given over to instruction in web search technology and resources, the idea being that you will be doing research for your presentations on the web.  We will cover:

  • Google search – sites, images, news, maps, videos
  • Google blog search
  • Google Book Search
  • Library (our own library) journal database searches and links
  • Google data inspector
  • WolframAlpha – a powerful, scientific search tool unlike anything you have used

To close day one we will devote time to learning how to use Jing and to capture images and videos.  We will also do a quick demo of SnagIt, a super powered screen capture tool.

At the end of each day there will be valuable technology giveaways relevant to the topics taught that day.  I don’t want to reveal at this time the exact prizes, but you will be pleased.  On day four we will base the giveaways on best presentations.

As with all worthwhile academic enterprises, there will be homework assignments.

Day 2 (Aug. 4)

Still with me?  Day 2 will be given over to instruction on how to use PowerPoint and how to use the Flip video cameras.  Even if you are an old PowerPoint hand, there will be something new for you here because we will be using the Office 2010 version of PowerPoint, with many new, slick features.  The first brief session will be dedicated to PowerPoint basics and familiarizing ourselves with the new 2010 features, the second will emphasize animation and video embedding.  I will conduct the PowerPoint sessions.

Using Flip video cameras is great fun.  David will conduct the Flip workshop.  At lunch on day 2 Haydn will be presenting on Using YouTube.  At the close of the day we will ask you to record a video introduction to your presentation.

Homework will be to complete gathering all materials for your presentation.

Day 3 (Aug. 5)

On day 3 we will concentrate on the accouterments of your presentation.  I will present a one-hour workshop on Word 2010, with emphasis on producing your presentation handout.  A well formatted, illustrated handout will be our goal, saved as a PDF document in order to upload it to Blackboard.

The rest of day 3 will be given over to using Blackboard itself, and particularly using Blackboard in the context of the presentation you will be building.  During lunch Haydn will be presenting on “Cool Blackboard Features of which you were unaware.”  However unlikely it seems that the words “cool” and “Blackboard” could be used in the same sentence, Haydn promises to surprise us.

Day 4 (Aug. 6)

Day 4 is presentation day.  We will begin with a couple of demos on PowerPoint techniques and a session of using Camtasia, a screen video program that is amazing.  We will then split up for an hour-and-a-half into one of three tracks:

  1. Independent work with staff assistance in order to finish work on your presentations
  2. Hands-on Camtasia work, for those who wish to make a screen video out of their presentation
  3. Hands-on Google Earth work, for those who wish to include Google Earth assets in their presentation, or are just curious about this great program and have finished up work on the presentation.

During lunch on day 4, I will give a quick demo of some of the great features of Google Earth.

Finally, on the afternoon of day 4 we will ask for 6 presentations from workshop attendees.  As they are presented, we will make Camtasia movies out of them, for later use in Blackboard.  Prizes will be given for the two best presentations with additional prizes in other categories.

That’s pretty much it.  It should be a fun and full four days.  Watch your inboxes because Haydn will be contacting you soon.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream in Windows 7

Ever wonder what happens when your computer goes to sleep?  What’s the difference between sleep and hibernate, anyway?  What I really want to know is, should I turn off my computer when done for the day, or just put it to sleep–or to hibernate–or whatever?

The difference between sleep and hibernate is a little like the answer to Sal’s question of Dr. Chandra in the movie 2010:  “Will I dream, Dr. Chandra?”

Chandra at first lies to Sal, but later gains respect for her and says “I don’t know, Sal.”  The case with our own PCs, however, is not the same .  We do know, and the answer is Yes, if you are asleep you will dream of the applications that were running when you fell asleep, and be able to resume them within a couple seconds of being awakened.  If you fall into the deeper sleep called hibernation,however,the state of these applications will be copied to the hard drive (i.e., undifferentiated computer subconscious) and it will take about half-a-minute to reawaken them.  Slow, but better than waiting through the entire start-up procedure.

Finally, is it better to hibernate or turn things off at night?  Definitely hibernate, if you care about how long it takes to start things up again next day.  If it doesn’t matter, then you can save a tiny amount of power by turning things off, but of course you will probably waste it with the inrush current turning things on again.  Also, I have yet to meet anyone who powers ONLY the computer through a single circuit, and you probably have other peripherals sucking power from that surge suppressor.  Hibernate seems the better choice.

This all has to do with those options on the Stop button.  (Yes, I know it is not called the Stop button, but it’s convenient shorthand.  I also appreciate the irony of having to press the Start button to get to the Stop button, but such is Windows).

Here is the low down:

Switch User – Windows 7 is designed from the ground up as a multi-user operating system.   While in the college environment, most users have their own workstations, at home most people share computers–or at least, MAY share computers.  To facilitate mulitple users, Microsoft has expended enormous labor in setting up Account Control features in Windows.  If you are logged into your system, and another person wants to use it to quickly check her email, you can click Switch user.  She can login to her account, see her desktop, check her email, and click Switch user again so that you can log back in and find your applications just as they were.

Log off – Your done for now and want to walk away from the computer but do not want any authorized person to use it (ie, someone who does not have an account on that computer).  Choose Log off.  You will not be able to use the computer again until you enter your password and log back on.  The difference between Switch user and Log off is that all your applications will be closed when you choose Log off.

Lock – This is my favorite.  No need to log off when stepping away from the computer.  Just lock it.  To unlock it, you will need to enter your password.  All of your applications remain open.  This command is so useful that there is a convenient Windows-key shortcut.  (The Windows key is the one with the Windows logo–the little 4-part waving flag–on it.  The one that brings up the Start menu when you click it by itself).  Just hold down the Windows key and press the L key to lock your computer.

Restart – Reboots the computer, otherwise known as a “warm boot.”  Somewhat faster, but not as complete as a “cold boot” from a powered-down state.  Often when speaking with a tech support person you will be asked to restart your computer in order to refresh its initial state.

Sleep – The analogy is REM sleep in humans.  Sleep turns off the monitor, suspends most processing, but consumes a minimal amount of power to keep a copy of your work in RAM so that when the computer is awakened it resumes functionality very quickly, in just a couple of seconds.  When sleep mode is initiated it also copies the state of running programs to a special file on the hard drive.  If it remains in sleep mode for a substantial amount of time–it proceeds to deep alpha wave sleep, or hibernation.  The amount of time it waits can be configured using the Power Management features in the Control Panel.

Hibernate – When hibernating your computer will consume just a very little electricity, and therefore does not retain an active copy of the state of your applications in RAM.  It relies on that copy written to the hard drive.  Therefore, it takes longer to awaken it from hibernation–just like John Lithgow in 2010–than from sleep:  about half a minute or so.  If you don’t see Hibernate among your Shut off choices, you will have to enable it in the BIOS of your computer, under the Power Management features found there.  (I had to enable mine on the Dell computer I use at work).

Shut down – This is the state where Sal really cannot dream.  But be aware that your computer can be awakened from shut down via it’s network card unattended, if your network administrator has decided this is something she wants to do and you have a network card that supports remote startup.  To prevent this, you will have to disconnect the power to your computer, so that it really, really is shut down and incapable of resuscitation.  But this is to be as paranoid as Dr. Chandra was (and not without good reason) in the movie.