Five Tech Tips from Skirts

September 12, 2012 @ 08:00 AM • Comments (12)

I don't normally write a lot about technology here, except maybe to say how much I love that it has brought me together with so many great people. It's not as sexy as writing about ampersands or as charming as writing about cats, so I guess I just forget that it's something I enjoy talking about.

(Also, I've seen what happens when a person gets categorized as a "computer geek," and I have zero interest in fixing your Internet connection while you eat my piece of rhubarb pie at Thanksgiving.)

That said, here are five little tech-related tips I use regularly to save time and minimize frustration:

1. Learn to love your basic text editor.

The first thing I do with any new Windows machine is put Notepad front and center—on the desktop, pinned to the task bar, pinned to the Start menu, etc. I open Notepad maybe twenty times an hour. I just started a Tumblr blog dedicated to my love of Notepad. (On a Mac, I either use TextEdit or one of the distraction-free text editors I talk about later.)

Need to jot down a quick note? It opens in the blink of an eye and doesn't have any distracting options to slow you down. Need to write some HTML or CSS? Boom. Free option that doesn't put you in a time-out when you refuse to close a div tag exactly when it wants you to close a div tag.

But my best and favorite use of Notepad: copying and pasting. If you've ever used Microsoft Publisher, you know that copying text from an email and pasting that into Publisher sometimes results in a text box catastrophe. Like every line of the email gets pasted as a separate text box because I needed another reason to gouge out my own eyes. But wait! There's a workaround. Almost every time I'm copying text that was generated by someone else and pasting it into something I have or will format to be super pretty, I use Notepad as my middleman. Copy from the original location. Paste to Notepad. Copy from Notepad (which has now stripped all the formatting) and paste into Publisher or InDesign or Photoshop or your pants. Problem solved. (Note: Yes, some programs offer a "paste text only" option, but I work with too much text and too many programs to be slowed down by that unreliable alternative.)

Of all the tricks I teach to my coworkers, that is the one that most consistently gets the "OH MY GOSH, YOU HAVE JUST SAVED MY LIFE FROM A BURNING BUILDING. PLEASE ACCEPT MY IMAGINARY CASH MONIES AS A THANK YOU" response.

Technology Lover

2. Use Gmail and use it well.

Google has already put together a fantastic series on how to master Gmail, but the one tip in particular that revolutionized my online experience was this one: rachelskirts@gmail.com is the same as rachelskirts+spam@gmail.com is the same as rachelskirts+sockmonkey@gmail.com is the same as rachelskirts+shadyonlineretailer@gmail.com. All of these email addresses are mine, and I can use those "tags" in a variety of ways.

My top two uses for those tagged email addresses? Twitter and shady online retailers. Not every website will allow you to sign up with an email address that has a plus sign in the middle, but Twitter is one that does. I have 50+ Twitter accounts, and 40+ of them direct to my main Gmail address plus a unique tag. Yes, now you know the secret. Go forth and conquer.

As for the shady online retailers, using the tagged email address, when possible, allows me to then set up a filter to catch retailers who sell my email address without my permission. (My dad used to do something similar to that when signing up for magazine subscriptions and the like; he'd give a different middle initial to companies he didn't trust and then watch to see if that middle initial showed up elsewhere.)

3. Write blog posts anywhere but your browser.

I have been blogging for a decade now, and it took me until two years ago to break this habit. Regardless of whether you are the type of person who writes the post and publishes it immediately or the type of person who writes a draft and then edits it for the next seven days before publishing it, stop writing your blog post in your browser. One day, your browser will crash or your Internet connection will punish you for laughing at that helpless kitten or Jack Bauer will "borrow" your computer to prevent the world from exploding. If you type in your browser, I guarantee you that you will one day lose some brilliant words that you didn't want to lose, and you will be heartbroken and furious and full of angst.

Using something offline (like Notepad!) can be a step in the right direction, since your computer probably crashes less than your Internet/browser. I'd recommend taking that one step further and finding a distraction-free text editor (like WriteMonkey for Windows; WriteRoom or Byword for Mac) that auto-save your work periodically; some of them even integrate with smart phones by synching across DropBox or iCloud. You can copy and paste your work into your blogging platform when you're nearing the end then to do a final preview and any last-minute edits. If the Internet still decides to "eat" your post, you will shrug and hum a little tune and refill your coffee and try again.

4. iPhone users: embrace your custom shortcuts.

"Vlog" and "vlogging" are words that I needed to type a lot in August, even though I failed pretty miserably at VEDA. Apple insisted that I meant "blog" and "blogging," and no amount of cursing at my iPhone would change that. Then, by some miracle, I remembered that there is a Shortcuts dictionary under Settings » General » Keyboard, where you can add words and phrases and unicorn magic.

My favorite implementations so far: having abbreviations like "brb" and "btw" expand to "be right back" and "by the way"; using shortcuts like "etiger" and "epoop" and "eheart" to trigger the tiger and poop and heart emoticons from that add-on keyboard that I am sometimes too lazy to access; adding "shh" and "vlog" and "goofbutton" so I don't have to HULK SMASH my phone for correcting words and non-words I commonly use; having my stupid-fat-fingers-keep-hitting-the-wrong-button faces :$ and ;$ automatically correct to the real smiley faces of :) and ;).

5. Stop fretting over video file types.

This probably won't apply to many people, but because of projects like Mad Libs Monday, I am all too familiar with the wide variety of file types generated by people's cell phones, digital cameras, and camcorders. iMovie and other programs will accept 90% of them, but for the 10% of files that won't work with your software, use Zamzar. It is free. It does a very nice job of converting video files without needing to install any software whatsoever. It hasn't generated mass amounts of spam to my email that I can tell. The end.

* * *

So those are just five of the things that save me oodles of time on a weekly basis. I hope this was useful to at least one person. I'd offer to answer follow-up questions, but being an unhelpful jerk is another way to save oodles of time.

(Kidding. Ask questions. Hum a little tune. Refill your coffee.)

Jon
Jon

Re: #3 - Imagine if Google docs and a blogging service combined to form an "always saves your blog as you type" interface. Blogspot (i.e. Google) does that. It probably doesn't have all the fanciness that Wordpress or others have. It does save your entries as you type so there is no more "rage quit" when the browser crashes or "hulk smash" when you accidentally tab out of the text editor, hit the backspace key and navigate away from your carefully crafted, 5000 word essay espousing the benefits of a purely chocolate diet.

Rachelskirts
Rachelskirts (in reply to Jon)

Squarespace automatically saves your progress while you work, too, now that I think of it. But hurray for Google doing some innovative things with Blogger. Now if they'd only get around to dealing with that crap hole of a commenting system . . .

l'empress
l'empress

I love computers, but I keep a "stable" of computer geeks, including my son, a database administrator, and both my daughters, who have extensive experience in entirely different fields. I liked this post but have a couple of comments.

1 and 3 -- I write in Microsoft Word. I've been using it for about twenty-five years, and it's still my favorite word processor. I compose in Word for my Movable Type journal, adding html code as I go. It's a game to me now.

2 -- I have a gmail account, but I'm not entirely happy with Google for anything except its search engine. (It's very nosy but does not protect me against invasion.) I didn't know you could put a + into an email address.

4 -- I do not use a smartphone. I have a "dumb phone," which is used only for voice calls.

5 -- I have trouble with still pictures. Forget the videos.

Rachelskirts
Rachelskirts (in reply to l'empress)

Thanks for the feedback!

  • I have no qualms with Microsoft Word and would've recommended it for Tip #3, but 1) not everyone can afford Office products and 2) it's not what I use for the situations I referenced. I get caught up in picking fonts even for something like a quick copy/paste job, and I find that Word doesn't open as quickly when I just need to jot down something in a hurry. Glad it works for you, though!
  • I used to hold Google on a pedestal, but in recent years, they've attracted a lot more suspicion and cynicism, putting them more in the realm of Looming Corporation than Friendly Internet Geek Society. That said, I have yet to find an email system that I like better than Gmail. I use it for my personal correspondence, at work (under the Google Apps umbrella), and for all of my side projects. There are some really neat tips and tricks and hacks out there that make it even more useful, but that +tag thing really is my favorite.
  • I keep my last "dumb phone" around in case my iPhone ever explodes or takes another bath in chocolate milk. There are days when I miss having a phone that only sent and received basic text messages and phone calls. But I'm extremely interested in technology and mobile technology, so it's important to me (and really fun for me) to try new apps and new mobile experiences. That said, if I "had to" go back to my pink Motorola Slvr for a while, I'd be okay with that, too.
  • I'm not an expert on photos or videos, but I have a lot of fun experimenting with both. Everything I know about using photo/video software comes from online tutorials. My Google search history is 90% "how to do that thing in Photoshop (or Lightroom or iMovie or Windows Movie Maker)" and 10% "cute cat pictures.
    Doug
    Doug

    Re: 1 - I use Notepad++ all the time. So much better than Notepad... opens larger files, opens multiple files, code highlights, session saving capability, and plugins which add all kinds of things like various text manipulation (sorting, etc.), file comparison, and ability to paste from a handful of previously copied selections.

    Re: 3 - I Normally do write in Notepad++ and then copy to the browser. One time though I had a blog in the browser I nearly lost. I forget exactly what happened, but somehow I was able to go back to the page in my history and the text was still held somewhere in browser memory. It was a close call though.

    Rachelskirts
    Rachelskirts (in reply to Doug)

    When I'm writing or editing longer pieces of HTML or CSS or PHP, I use TextWrangler for some additional capabilities. But at work and even at home, there are times when I really only need a "landing place" for a paragraph of this or a snippet of that for 30 seconds before I incorporate it back into a website. Notepad works just fine for that for me. :)

    I do remember looking up Notepad++ once before. I wish I could remember why I didn't download it . . .

    Heatherface
    Heatherface

    I've been on Gmail basically since it started and I never knew about the + thing. omfg.

    Rachelskirts
    Rachelskirts (in reply to Heatherface)

    I know, right? Super handy tip and yet somehow one of the best-kept secrets. What gives, Google?

    chris
    chris

    Ooh! I no longer get the Emoji keyboard when I try to switch to the numeric keyboard! 🍜 ❤ 🐯 💩

    chris
    chris

    (and somehow my noodles, tiger, and poop were stripped from my first post.)

    Rachelskirts
    Rachelskirts (in reply to chris)

    They show up on my iPhone and on my MBP. The tiger is my favorite. :)

    Roberto
    Roberto

    You're so awesome! I do not believe I have read through a single thing like this before. So good to find somebody with a few unique thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. thanks for starting this up. This website is one thing that's needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

    [Editor's note: This is totally a spam comment, but it was sort of nice to hear anyway. I removed the spammy link and decided to keep it around to cheer me up. Thanks, Roberto!]