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Basic Computer Basics: The Keyboard

For most folks, the primary way they interact with their computer is by mouse. But the primary way they input information in their computer is by keyboard. There are a number of keyboard “shortcuts” which can allow a user to interact with their computer though, which may save you time and frustration.

Free Office 365 for all Palomarites

Yes I am serious, and no this is not a scam. All students and employees of Palomar College are already licensed to use Office 365 for free. In fact, we are licensed to have up to five copies of Office installed on our computers, as well as full access to the full-featured versions of all the online Office applications. Oh, plus 1024 Gb of storage space on the OneDrive cloud storage system.

For free.

Generating Boilerplate Content within Word

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation: Need to work on the formatting of a document, but the author hasn’t provided the text yet. What you really need is some sample text in your Word document, but you don’t want to go out and find some text online, possibly for fear of getting interested in some new topic. (Or is that just me?)

Microsoft Word actually has a function just for this purpose. Actually, I lie, it has two functions just for this purpose.

To see this in action, fire up Word, open up a new document and type (without the quote marks, of course) “=lorem(5,8)” and then hit Enter. You should be looking at five paragraphs of eight sentences each, filled with that psuedo-Latin “Lorem ipsum” text. Naturally you can change the numbers in that, with the first controlling number of paragraphs and the second controlling number of sentences, so “=lorem(71,3)” would result in many short paragraphs.

But what if you want some boilerplate text, but want something that will be readable English? In that case, type in “=rand(5,3)” (or whatever numbers of paragraphs and sentences you want), and hit Enter. Text will appear, drawn from Microsoft help files. (At one time it used to iterate “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” But this changed to somewhat meaningful text around Word 2007.)

So there you have it, two functions to generate some throw-away text. Now you can get to testing font styles, preparing the locations of images, anything else to beautify the document, all without waiting for the author to get the text to you.

Getting Loopy with PowerPoint 2013

If your classes go anything like my workshops do, then you seldom start right on time. I always hate “wasting time” out of my scheduled class time, and wish I could do something to make that time more useful.

I’d really like to have something like the pre-previews content that movie theaters run; you know, the stuff with trivia games, ads, and the like that play before the house lights dim. There’s always an array of things to tell my learners about, and having that showing on the classroom projector while I do other things until class starts seems ideal.

PowerPoint to the rescue!

If you prepare a series of informational slides (when the next exam is, when the drop deadline is, what sort of cookies you prefer, etc.) it is possible to configure your slides to automatically advance, and when the end of the presentation hits, to loop around and play them all again. The two key elements are “Transitions” and “Loop Continuously.”

  1. First, make sure you don’t have any animations that are set to run “On Click.” If you do, those animations will not trigger.
  2. Next, for each slide, decide how long you want it to display on the screen.
  3. Move to the first slide, and click the Transitions tab.
    Transitions AdvanceSlide
  4. At the right side of the ribbon, in the “Advance Slide” area, uncheck “On Mouse Click”, check “After:” and set the time. That is minutes, seconds, and fractions of a second, so if you want the slide there for 15 seconds it must be set to 00:15.00.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on each slide of your presentation. Each may have a completely different time set.
  6. Next, go to the Slideshow tab, and click the “Set Up Slide Show” button near the left of the ribbon.
    Transitions Set Up Slide Show
  7. On the “Set Up Show” dialog, check the box for “Loop continuously until ‘Esc'”, and be sure the “Advance slides” control is set to “Using timings, if present.” That way, all those times you set will actually be used.
    Set Up Show Dialog
  8. Now you can save your show, as you normally would, in the PPTX format.

Technically you’re all done now (although you’ll want to test things BEFORE going into the classroom). But to trigger your presentation, all you need to do is right-click the PPTX file, and choose “Show” on the context menu. That should cause your presentation to open immediately into the slideshow mode, so all you would need to do then is sit back, and watch your presentation run itself.

PPTX Menu ShowNow, if you’re the type who wants to use animations, even in these slides, that can be done. The trick is to make sure all your animations are set to “With previous” or “After previous,” and that none use “On Click.” Of course, the more complex your animations, the more you’ll want to test and be sure everything works as expected.

So there you have it: Self presenting slides. My plan is to start such a presentation Showing a few minutes prior to my next in-person session, and see if anyone pays attention. When you give it a try, let me know how your experience goes!

PollEverywhere and PowerPoint 2013

If you’ve sat through one of my past Faculty Plenary sessions in the last several years, doubtless you’ve seen my use of PollEverywhere. I use their free higher-ed account, and since I never need more than 40 respondents to any poll, it meets all my needs.

If you’re not familiar with the PollEverywhere service, here’s what their FAQ page says in response to the question “What is PollEverywhere?”

On the surface, Poll Everywhere is a simple application that works well for live audiences using mobile devices like phones. People participate by visiting a fast mobile-friendly web page for your event, sending text messages, or using Twitter. Instructions are displayed on-screen. The poll that is embedded within the presentation or web page will update in real time. Advanced uses include texting comments to a presentation, texting questions to a presenter, web voting, and SMS interactivity in print, radio, and TV.

What first attracted me to this service was that the polls allow for audience input via multiple points, such as text messages, tweets, and even a customized web interface. And, best of all, the result graphs would dynamically display from within PowerPoint slides, right in front of the audience during the polling period. (There’s just something… cool, watching your own votes show up on the screen moments after you submit them. It truly does make the audience feel more a part of the presentation, as I can attest from being in an audience using the polls.) My only reservation about the graphing function is that, in recent months, the Adobe Flash tool (which is how the graphs were rendered) was not playing nice with PowerPoint.

Apparently the good folks at PollEverywhere had similar reservations, because they have taken steps to abandon use of Flash, and coincidentally made integrating polls into PowerPoint slide decks easier than ever!

As the below video demonstrates, there is an add-in for PowerPoint (both Windows and Mac versions) which makes adding a poll results screen just as easy as adding any other slide to your presentation. And as the tech which powers the graphs now is purely HTML5, there should not be any security warnings or troubles such as Flash may have inflicted.

So, if you’re already using PollEverywhere with your students, rejoice in the new and improved PowerPoint integration. If you aren’t, maybe this is a good time to consider adding some interactive polling to your in-class presentations.

What’s New in WordPress 3.5

Now that the Palomar College WordPress system has been updated to version 3.5, this would be a good time to write about some of the changes you can expect to see when managing your sites. Here’s a rundown of the most important new stuff:

All New Media Uploader

The biggest change in version 3.5 of WordPress is the new media manager. Adding images or documents to a post or page is now easier. The new Insert Media screen, seen below, is much more streamlined. This is very helpful when uploading multiple files or creating image galleries.

Insert Media screen in WordPress 3.5

The new Insert Media screen in WordPress 3.5

Embedding Media

A feature that many do not know about is the ability to easily embed content from some third-party sites such as YouTube, Twitter, or Flickr. With WordPress 3.5, it is now possible to easily embed content from additional sites such as SlideshareInstagram, and SoundCloud. What makes this feature so great is that it is simple to use. All you do is paste a URL to content on any of the supported sites and it will embed the content in your post or page. For example, to embed audio from Soundcloud just copy the URL from the clip you want to embed from your browser’s address bar and paste it into a WordPress post. It will embed a player right on the page like this:

 

New Default Theme: Twenty Twelve

There is a new default theme for WordPress called Twenty Twelve that sports an attractive, minimal design. It is also responsive, meaning that it adapts to different screen sizes. As more of our users are browsing our sites with phones and tablets, responsive web design is becoming very important.

Twenty Twelve WordPress theme

The new default WordPress theme, Twenty Twelve.

 

 

Other Changes

The changes listed above are the most prominent but there are many more that you may not even notice including:

  • Remote publishing option turned on by default
  • Privacy settings moved to the Settings -> Reading area
  • All new Welcome screen for new WordPress sites

WordPress keeps getting easier to use and more powerful at the same time. If you have any questions or comments about WordPress 3.5 please use the comment box below.

Inserting Links Into WordPress Pages and Posts

Links to webpages and files are a basic part of the web. In fact, without them it wouldn’t be much of a ‘web’. The WordPress content editor makes it easy to insert new links and edit existing ones. There are three types of links that will commonly be inserted:

  • Internal pages or posts – These are links to pages or posts within your own WordPress site. WordPress makes it really easy to choose which existing page or post to link to.
  • External websites or files – Anything that is outside of your WordPress site is an an external link. WordPress allows you to specify a URL for any external content.
  • Internal files – The WordPress content editor makes it really easy to upload a file and link to it, all in one simple interface.
The following video demonstrates how to insert all three types of links:

How to Disable Comments in WordPress

One of the most frequently asked questions about using WordPress for managing a website is:

How do I disable the comments on a page or post?

While the comment system in WordPress works really well and can be a great way to get feedback, there are many instances when comments from site visitors are not necessary or appropriate. By default, the option for a site visitor to leave a comment is on. It is not obvious how to turn comments off when creating or editing a page because the option is initially hidden.

The following short video shows how to disable comments on a page or post and how to change the default setting so that comments are off when creating new content.

Customizing Menus in WordPress

Managing navigation menus on a website is usually a difficult task. WordPress takes way most of the difficulty of creating menus and, some would say, even makes it fun. In fact, on many WordPress sites the menu will automatically be configured as you create each new page. Page settings such as the ‘Parent Page’ and ‘Order’ allow you to control where in the menu the page will be listed.

There are, however, many cases where the menu needs to be customized. For example, if you need to add a link to a third-party webpage or add a post category.

The following video, part of the “Getting Started with WordPress” series, demonstrates how to create and manage a custom menu: