More Tech Tips and Tricks


In tech columns of the past, I mentioned that no one person knows everything about computers. If by chance you take your computer in for repair or upgrade to a geek that “claims” to know everything; grab your computer and run.

There’s no core curriculum for technology. Nobody teaches you the basics. You just pick stuff up as you go along. As a result, everybody, even experts, winds up with knowledge holes—things everybody thinks everybody else knows about the basics of computers but doesn’t.


*Especially if you’re a beginner (or an expert), it’s frequently useful to capture the image of what’s on the screen — an error message or diagram, for example.

*In Windows, PrintScreen key copies the whole screen image, as a graphic, onto your invisible Clipboard, so you can paste into an e-mail message or any other program (“This is what I’m seeing! What do I do now?!”). If you add the Alt key, you copy only the front or “active” window.

*On the Mac, press Command-Shift-3. (Command is the key with the propeller on it, next to the Space bar.) You hear a snapshot sound, and you get a graphics file on your desktop—a picture of the entire screen image.

*If you press Command-Shift-4 instead, you get a crosshair cursor; you can draw across just one portion of the screen. Or, if you now tap the Space bar, you turn the cursor into a little camera icon. You can now click on just one window or toolbar that you want to copy.

*In both cases, you can hold down the Control key to copy the image to the Clipboard instead of leaving a file on the hard drive.


* If you get a message from your bank or eBay about a problem with your account, it’s probably a “phishing” scam. It’s a fake, designed to lure you into typing your name and password so the bad guys can have it. Delete it. If you’re concerned, visit the institution’s Web site in your browser by typing in its address (like — not by clicking the link in e-mail.

* Before you pass on any amazing item you get by e-mail—Obama’s a Muslim, the bubble boy wants greeting cards, the Nieman-Marcus $400 cookie recipe — first check it out at, the world clearinghouse for Internet scams and rumors.

* If a blue underlined link shows up in an e-mail message, you can mouse over it without clicking to see what Web site it plans to open.

* If you get a message from someone you know that relates a horror story about being mugged in England (and needing you to wire money immediately), delete it. It’s a popular scam — even if it’s the correct e-mail address of someone you know.

* File too big to send by e-mail? Then use or You can transmit huge files, using the site as a free intermediary parking space.

Editing Text

* On your keyboard, there’s a difference between the Backspace and Del keys. Press Backspace to delete the typed character to the left of the blinking insertion-point cursor, as usual. Pressing Del, however, removes the character to its right.

* In Microsoft Word, when you paste in text from another document—say, a Web site — you may not want all the boldface, colors, fonts and other formatting from the original source. Instead of using the regular Paste command, in that case, open the Edit menu and click Paste Special. Click Unformatted Text. You’ll get just the text, without the fanciness.


*Don’t reach for the mouse to go back to the previous Web page. Just tap the Backspace key. (Alt+left-arrow key also works for Back, and Alt+right-arrow for Forward. In this article, if you have a Mac, substitute the Option key for Alt.)

* After you type a word or phrase into a Search box, don’t click the Search button. Just press the Enter key.

(The Enter key also works to click “Go” after you’ve typed an address, or the highlighted button, like “O.K.” or “Print,” in most dialog boxes. Yes, there are people who don’t realize that.)

* On brand-name Web sites (eBay, Facebook, Amazon and so on), click the upper-left logo to return to the site’s home page.

* At, you can choose languages you want to translate from and to. Then you paste in some copied text (or the address of a Web site). In a flash, the text is translated — roughly, to be sure, but at no charge.

* Who needs a dictionary? In the Google search box, type “define schadenfreude” (or whatever the word is). Press Enter.


* The Esc key (top left of the keyboard) means, “close this” or “cancel this.” It can close a menu or a dialog box, for example.

* You can duplicate a file icon (instead of moving it) if you press the Alt key as you drag it out of its window.

* You can switch among open programs by pressing Alt+Tab (or Command-Tab on the Mac). On the Mac, the much less known Command-tilde (the ~ key, upper left corner) switches among windows in a single program.

Mac Specials

* Anything you can print, you can turn into a PDF document — an amazingly convenient feature. Choose the Print command — but instead of choosing Print, click the PDF pop-up menu and choose Save as PDF.

* It’s often very useful to have a document, Web page or e-mail message read aloud to you — to “proof-listen” to it, for example, or just to listen to an article while you’re getting dressed in the morning. In the Speech pane of System Preferences, turn on “Speak selected text.” Click Set Key to choose a key combination. Pressing it makes the Mac read anything on the screen, at the rate, and in the character voice, that you’ve specified.

In previous articles I encouraged feedback about additional tips you would like to see. Then, as now, I invite you to expand the collection by emailing me your suggestions at

Also visit my new “About me” blog at


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