Tips & Tricks to Make You a Computer Wizard

By David Leffler

A number of years ago, when electronic organizers were just that—and not cell phones, cameras, word processors, and vegetable slicer/dicers (just wanted to see if you were paying attention)—I was chatting with a woman about the electronic organizer she had purchased a few months before. She said that she liked it a lot except that it was hard to see in low light. I asked if she had tried turning on the backlight, and she gave me a blank stare. So I reached over, held down the proper key to demonstrate how to turn on the backlight, and her problem was solved.

Like personal organizers (which, by the way, no longer need backlights because their screens are luminescent), personal computers become easier to use if you know a few basic rules. So welcome to the third annual edition of my “Tips and Tricks” column, where I will pass along some techniques that’ll make your computer seem downright enchanted. All these tips relate to the Windows platform. Sorry, Mac fans, I haven’t switched . . . yet. You may know some of these commands, but my experience has shown that many people do not know all of them.

No School for Wizardry Required

Many of you may be familiar with the CTRL + F command in Microsoft Word that allows you to find a word or phrase in a document. Press the CTRL key and the letter F at the same time, and a dialogue box pops up, allowing you to type in a word or phrase that you want to locate in the opened document. But did you know that you can use the same technique to find a word or phrase in a web page?

Let’s say you are conducting a search for a name and you click on a relevant link. Up pops a web page in ten-point type and the length of Moby Dick. Other than calling Mr. Melville, which you can’t, since he’s long gone, how can you find all of the locations of the name on that page quickly and easily? You guessed it, do a CTRL + F and keep clicking on “Find Next” until you have found them all. Please note that this technique will not find words that are displayed as part of an image file.

Have you ever spent too much time looking for a file on your computer without success? Windows Explorer would seem a direct way to do this, but with dozens of subdirectories and hundreds and thousands of files, this is not always as easy as it appears, especially if you haven’t organized the directory structure very well. But there are lots of ways to make your job easier while working with Windows Explorer. Here are a few that are easy to learn and once learned will reward you with time saved.

One of the simplest techniques if you know the name of the file is to click on the first file listed in the directory in which you are searching, which will highlight it, and then press the letter on the keyboard that is the needed file’s first letter. The cursor will magically jump down the list and highlight the first file name that begins with that letter. From there it is much easier to scroll down to the exact file that you want. Please note that this is effective only when the files are arranged alphabetically, which you can easily control, as described in the next paragraph.

This next suggestion may sound a bit dry, but pay attention, class, because I promise that knowing this will save you a lot of time. Windows Explorer typically has four columns: Name, Size, Type, and Date Modified. These columns allow you to display a file list in four different ways. So, if you want the list to be arranged alphabetically, simply click on the top of the Name column, and the files will obediently line up in alphabetical order. Click the same spot again, and the files will line up alphabetically in reverse order.

But let’s say you don’t remember the name of the file you are looking for but only remember that you worked on it in the past couple of days. Then you should click at the top of the Date Modified column, and watch how the files arrange themselves by date. It will be easy then to look at the few files that were modified in the past few days. As with the Name column, click again and the files will arrange themselves chronologically in reverse order, which will be better in this case because you are looking for the most recent documents.

Let’s say you are really brainless today and don’t remember the name of the file, nor can you remember the last time you worked on it, but it happens to be a PDF file, of which you only have a dozen sprinkled among hundreds of Word files. Now you click on the Type column, and the files will arrange themselves by type—all the Word documents together and all of the PDF files together—which will make it much easier to find your PDF file.

Now we’re scrapping at the bottom of the barrel. You don’t remember the name of the file, when it was modified, or what kind of file it is (or let’s say it’s a “.doc” file, as are all of the other files in this particular directory). Is there any hope for a quick recovery? If you remember that it is either a very small or very large file, you can click on Size and—you guessed it—the files will arrange themselves by size.

From the Present to 1995 in Two Seconds (Without a Broom)

I don’t know about you, but it drives me crazy when I am working with someone who is sitting at a computer, and they start scrolling down a particularly long list, either in Windows Explorer, a web browser, or a Quicken register page, in order to find entries made way back in 1995. The person will dutifully hold down the cursor on the arrow of the scroll bar as the page slowly moves downward. Don’t they know that there is a much quicker way to get to where they want to go?

Alas, many people do not know. These are the people who, rather than spending their weekends learning all sorts of arcane functions of Microsoft Word, will instead fritter away their time enjoying the company of their family and friends.

So, to save you from alienating your family, friends, and co-workers, here’s how to speed up that scroll bar crawl. Left-click on the vertical slider control (the little moving rectangle in the scroll bar) and drag it in the direction you want, as fast as you want, and no matter how long the document is, you can get to where you want in just a couple of seconds.

How to “Muggle” Through on Your Own

You can discover other tips and tricks on your own by doing what I do—when you want to get something done and wonder if there is a quicker way, try something that works in a different program. For example, the cut and paste command—where you highlight text, press CTRL + C to copy it to clipboard, and then press CTRL + P to paste the text into another document—not only works with your word processor but also works with text on web pages and even with a highlighted file in Windows Explorer (the whole file gets copied to clipboard, and you then can paste it into any other directory).

One good way to find extra functions in Windows or any program is to right-click with your mouse on some text, file, or whatever else and just see what pops up. Often there are handy functions that you can use.

For some of my readers, whose minds are very fluid when it comes to technology, this all may seem obvious. But I would wager that plenty of you reading this are having a bit of difficulty in making the jump between one concept and another when it comes to computers. That’s why you became lawyers and not software engineers. Or sorcerers.

David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. You can write to him at .

Copyright 2006

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