It’s a Mystery!

The following was originally posted on the Shoreline Area News, March 23, 2014 as part of the Tech Talk series

Brian! Glad I was able to reach you. I have a Mystery.”

“Hi, Dad. What’s the problem?”

“I was typing a letter and, suddenly everything disappeared!”

“Okay, I assume you were typing in Word then, right?”

“That’s right!”

“What were you typing when everything disappeared?”

“It was name of a airport. I am traveling again.”

“Let me guess…you were actually typing the word “Airport” at the time, the screen flashed and you were left with part of the word.”

“I don’t know about the flash, I was looking at the keyboard, but you are right about the rest. I only have the “ir” left. That’s when I noticed the rest missing.”

“I think we can get it back, Dad. Hold down the Cntrl key and tap “Z” a few times while watching the screen. Once the “ir” disappears, your text should reappear. You are reversing your keystrokes.”

“Its back! You are a miracle worker. I see everything back, highlighted.”

“Good. Make sure you click outside the highlighted selection before you type again.

Otherwise you might lose it again.”

“Great! Thanks son.”

“Happy to help, Dad.”

Mysteries are a Gift
I love mysteries. Whether it’s technical troubleshooting or a TV murder to solve, I enjoy the process of un-wrapping the situation and working back from an event to find the cause, and, hopefully, a solution.

My Dad’s mystery was actually one we have been through a few times before, though he usually didn’t remember the detail. It also helped that I had experienced the same situation and had the benefit of seeing the “flash” I mentioned. Lastly, I had the benefit of knowing what likely was happening behind the scenes.

His problem was rooted is the position of the Ctrl key just below the Shift key on PC keyboards. It’s very easy to hit Ctrl instead of Shift when you intend to capitalize a letter, like that “A” in Airport.

What’s Going on?
The result of the Ctrl+A keyboard combination on the Mac would be to move the typing cursor to the beginning of the line. Ctrl key combinations on the Mac center around moving the cursor; the same the convention used by UNIX, the operating system on which the Mac operating system, OSX, was based.

While moving the cursor suddenly can provide some confusion if unintended, the result of Ctrl+A on Windows PC’s is a bit more dramatic. The key combination generates a “Select-All” option. For most Windows applications including Microsoft Word, this selects all text and other objects (pictures, charts, shapes). It’s a great alternative to dragging your mouse down a page or multiple pages to highlight everything.

The “OOPs” Sequence
Unfortunately, if you haven’t intended to Select All, it can cause your text to disappear with the next keystroke. Here’s the sequence:

  1. You are typing madly away without a care in the world
  2. You hold down the Ctrl key and tap “A” instead of the Shift key to capitalize the letter. All document contents are now selected. You continue to type the word “Airport.”
  3. All selected items disappear, replaced by by “I” or “irport,” depending on how long you type before looking up and notice everything else is gone.


The Solution to the OOPs Sequence
Ctrl keys on the Windows’ Keyboards are focused on text formatting, document retrieval and storage. Fortunately one of those keys lets you undo a previous operation. Ctrl+Z is known as the “Undo Key.”

How far back you can “undo” actions depends entirely on the program and memory it has allocated for undo operations. Fortunately Word has multiple undo levels. Unless you save the file (removing the undo levels), rolling back is pretty straight-forward. Word also has undo and redo options on which you can click in the document’s title bar.

Mac’s have an Undo key as well, Command+Z. You will find many of the Windows Ctrl key combinations become Command key combinations on on the Mac. Fortunately, The Mac Ctrl key is farther away from the Shift key than the PC Ctrl key so our problem is less likely to occur.

Mystery Solved!
All is well. Time to reflect and…Excuse me, I should be probably take this call.

“Hi, Dad, What’s the problem?…”

Insights on Accommodation, Ease of Use, and Universal Design

Insight: low vision expoOn Saturday, I attended Insight: a low vision expo put together by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. With about 300 people preregistered and many more registering onsite, it was an interesting and diverse group of mostly older people. Some fell into traditional classification of blindness. Others could be placed more on a spectrum of vision ability due to a number of age-related conditions. Of adults age 40 or older in the United States, more than 2 million have glaucoma, more than 4 million have diabetic retinopathy, and more than 1.75 million have age-related macular degeneration, according to the National Eye Institute. They were all well-represented at this event.

For people with a range of visual impairments to continue functioning successfully and independently there is also a spectrum of accommodation and improvements to computer and software. As Microsoft Technical Evangelist Daniel Hubbell pointed out in his keynote to the event, many accommodations have evolved beyond traditional requirements into more mainstream usage or, in his words, “customer preference.”

Part of this is that a number of accommodations are simple customizations that simply make sense for our aging population. However, the disability label doesn’t sit well with people who still feel relatively independent. Dan mentioned the problem his dad had with clicking on the Control Panel’s wheelchair icon in Windows XP to get to the accessibility options he needed. “That is not me,” he told Dan. He didn’t feel disabled and wasn’t about to consider himself that way. Now Microsoft uses a more abstract icon to get to the same features and calls them “Ease of Access” instead of “Accessibility Options”…and we all use them in one way or another to see, hear, and move more successfully in Windows.

This shift from accommodation to usability is not surprising. While the Americans with Disabilities Act drove cities and municipalities to create “curb cuts” or ramps at street corners to accommodate wheel chairs, the primary users of those cuts are people with baby strollers and bicycles. A feature that I added to my kitchen during a remodel a few years ago was a cabinet that raised the dishwasher off the floor. While this is a feature initially designed for wheelchair users, it is now an option among cabinet makers.  Why? Besides the offering it as an accomodation, it simply makes sense to raise the dishwasher loading area to a more comfortable level. The term Universal Design is now used to describe this approach and is now part of college curriculums for architects, product designers, and engineers.

Dan in his keynote highlighted some of the more dramatic Ease of Access features in Windows 7, an updated Magnifier application and Screen Recognition, a feature that first appeared in Windows Vista. Both are great option for Windows users who have difficulty seeing or controlling applications. He also made a brief reference in response to a question from the audience about changing font sizes in Windows. The shortness of time prevented Dan from doing into this area in more depth other than mentioning the option to make the text on your screen larger or smaller. This ability is also available in other versions of Windows besides Windows 7 but is less discoverable. Given that this feature is more useful if you understand a little be more about it, we will explore that option in an upcoming blog entry.

This is the first Insight expo hosted by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. Unlike a number of other disability conferences, the attendees for this event were not largely disability advocacy groups, accessibility aids vendors, or consultants. They were regular people from all walks of life in search of information and resources to help them be creative and independent as they grow older and deal with vision impairments. I had a great time and got to meet some very interesting people. Hats off to CSBPS and their sponsors for making this event happen!

Welcome To LegacyTalk!

The modern PC is an amazing device. It is a virtual “Swiss Army Knife” of capabilities, allowing us to interact with the world from our armchair. Using a PC as the central tool, we can read, compose, design, organize, manage, connect, and build rich experiences individually or collectively. It can help run a business, a social group, or offer entertainment and creative opportunities.

The PC is also a mysterious device for many of us, a box with great possibilities wrapped in gibberish, complexity, and unpredictable behavior. It has also become a the device to access services, work, or get information. The technology has become commonplace and necessary.

If you feel lost and need to understand how your PC can help you, Boston LegacyWorks is here to help. If you just want to function better in today’s connected world, we can help with that too! 

Through LegacyTalk, we will explore ways to unravel the mystery and improve your experience. With LegacyTech on, you will find resources and tools to help with that process. We are just the initial stages of site development but hope to have the pieces in place very soon. So, come visit us, share your thoughts here and through our site comments. Thanks for checking us out!