Jan 9

Unless you have Adobe Acrobat you can’t really edit PDFs. Yes, you can open, modify and export PDFs in newer versions of Word, Open Office and LibreOffice for example, but special fonts, complex vector graphics and longer documents may cause problems. However, if you only want to show changes to be made to the PDF and then pass the modified file on to, for example, a typesetter, then this can quite easily be done in the free Adobe Reader.

Some of you may be pretty familiar with annotating PFDs using Adobe Reader and wondering why I’m posting this. Well, as a proofreader, I’ve come across situations recently where authors have been unaware how to annotate their changes on a PDF. Some have ended up converting the PDF to MS Word doc format and making tracked changes there instead of just annotating the PDFs in Adobe Reader.

Here’s how to annotate your PDFs with Adobe Reader:

Adobe Reader Annotation


Open your PDF in Adobe Reader and click the Comment button at the top right corner of the screen. Alternatively, you can click View > Comment > Annotations. Hover over each icon in the Annotations pane to see what each tool will do. Then simply add a Sticky Note in the margin, or highlight text with your cursor and select the tool for example to Add Note to Replace Text. Each comment will be added to the Comment List below the Drawing Markup tools. You can also quickly navigate through all your annotations by clicking on items in the Comments List. Finally, when you’ve completed your annotations, save the PFD with a new name.

If you’re sharing PDFs with others who may be using different PDF viewers, I’ve found that the Sticky Note annotation tool is compatible across a range of PDF viewers. Any sticky note/note created in one reader can be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in a variety of other viewers. If you don’t fancy Adobe Reader because it’s slow, blotted and is known to suffer from malware vulnerabilities, then PDF-XChange Viewer is another nice free alternative I blogged about some time ago.

Oct 29

Function keys

One of the functions of a computer is to help us work more productively, so we can get work finished more quickly and get on to other things. Using keystroke shortcuts can save us time rather than clicking around menus with our mouse. If you haven’t tried these, here’s a few that I’ve memorized and which use the function keys along the top of the keyboard. The list isn’t comprehensive, just the ones I’ve found useful to try to memorize.

Microsoft Word

Shift-F3: Probably the keystroke combination I find most useful of them all when editing documents. With your cursor on a word or highlighted words, this combination will cycle through initial capital, all capitals or all lower case. No need to delete anything and retype as upper/lower case.

Shift-F5: Starting a new session on a document the next day? Well, this combination will take you straight to where you left off yesterday.

F2: Moves text once; just highlight the text you want to move, press F2, move the cursor to the new location for text and press Enter. Slightly quicker than cut and paste (Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V) but works just once.

Ctrl-F3: Cut to the Spike. I’ve blogged about the Spike before.

Ctrl-Shift-F3: Paste Spike contents into document.

Mozilla Thunderbird

Shift-F5: Download email messages for all accounts.

F8: Show/hide message pane.


F9: Sync notes to Evernote Web.

F10: Show/hide left panel.

F11: Show/hide note list.

Ctrl-F11: Show/hide note panel.

Google Chrome

Ctrl-F4: Close current tab.

F5: Refreshes webpage.

F6: Selects your current page’s URL (and puts the cursor in the address bar).

F11: Toggle full screen/windowed mode.

Most applications

F1: Help.

Alt-F4: Close the application.


Alt-F4: This one’s pretty useful if you want to bypass installing Windows updates before your PC shuts down. You can tell if there are updates to install as the Shutdown button has a yellow exclamation mark. Just press Alt-F4 instead and from the Shut Down menu you can choose Shut down rather than Install updates and shut down.

Well, those are the function key shortcuts I find most useful for the applications I use most. Do you have any great function key shortcuts for another application? Drop a comment below.

Jan 25

You’re down to less than 1GB on your hard drive and disk access is really slowing down as Windows struggles to write new data to it. What should you do? Well, resist the temptation to start randomly deleting files, here are some tips and free utilities to retrieve some valuable disk space without regretting anything afterwards.

First things first – backup

Make sure all your documents, pictures, videos, music and anything else of value are backed up. If you don’t already have one, invest in a backup external hard drive. They’re not too expensive these days and well worth the investment. I’ve written about my backup procedure before. Make sure you have at least two independent data backups, for example, an external drive and online storage. Then you won’t regret any ‘accidental’ deletions on your hard drive as you reclaim some space.

Run CCleaner

If you don’t already have it, download and install the free utility CCleaner to remove temporary files, internet history, cookies etc. to free up some space. If you’ve never run disk maintenance utilities, you may be surprised how much space this gives you straight off. If you’re really stuck for hard disk space and can’t download anything, portable CCleaner can even be directly downloaded to a USB drive, then extracted and run from there to free up some space on your hard drive.

Uninstall unused programs

If you’re running Windows 7, Go to Control Panel, Programs and Features and uninstall all the programs you never or rarely use. There’s bound to be a few.

Clear out your Downloads folder

Take some time to systematically go through all the files in your Downloads folder and decide which you want to keep. You’ll find that some files here, particularly documents, can be moved to more appropriate locations or deleted. Programs you’ve downloaded here before installing can probably be deleted. No need to keep most of these installers, because if you ever need to reinstall a program, chances are that there will be a more up to date version available online anyway.

Look for directories hogging disk space

Use a free program like TreeSize Free, WinDirStat or WizTree to give you a graphical view of the folders on your hard drive. I use TreeSize Free and came across a folder with 6GB of video files I rarely watched. Once they’re safely backed up, you can delete these and get back some more valuable space.

Remove duplicate files

Use a free program like Auslogics Duplicate File Finder to remove duplicate files. A couple of words of advice here. First, in the left panel, make sure it’s set to check just your important directories such as My Pictures or My Music, not the complete C: drive, otherwise you will probably be overwhelmed with duplicates.  Let’s say we start with My Pictures.  In the search criteria, you can specify to search only for files greater than say 1MB or 5MB so as just to find the larger duplicates.

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder1

You can also ignore file names if you wish, so that only the file contents are checked for duplicates. That way two files with different names but the same content will be spotted and one removed.

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder2

Next you can specify if you want duplicates moved to the Recycle Bin, the Rescue Centre where they are archived (in case you want to retrieve something), or permanently deleted. Once it has listed the duplicates, let it automatically check all duplicates but if you have time, look through the list to make sure you are keeping the duplicate in the location you prefer. Having deleted the duplicates in your My Pictures folder, move on to say your My Music folder and so on.

Remove similar images

It’s up to you whether you go this far, but there are programs like SimilarImages which will find then remove similar images. The program lets you configure the “similarity” threshold which enables you to configure which image pairs should be shown after the scan. Another option is Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder.  You don’t need to input any comparison criteria with this one.

So that should help retrieve some valuable disk space without losing something valuable in the process. Have I missed something? How do you free up space? Do you bother now we’re in the age of 1TB and 2TB drives? Drop a comment below.

Aug 28

Lightning on the Columbia River

You’re working away on your laptop and your online. There’s a rumble of thunder. What would you do? Turn off your machine and unplug it or just keep working. Thankfully it’s not a big problem where I live in Scotland – we might get two or three thunderstorms each year. What’s the best advice? I read a great forum thread on PCMech on computing in thunderstorms. There was a good spread of responses ranging from unplug everything, to get behind a UPS, to just keep working.

If it’s storm force winds, a UPS with surge/spike protection will give some protection during voltage spikes, but I would unplug the PC/laptop and router from the mains, and the router from the telephone line, during lightning when there’s a chance your building could be hit by it. A surge protector won’t protect your equipment in the case of a direct lightning strike. But if you have a laptop and you really must keep working, it can be done. Just unplug it from the mains and work off the battery, unplug your router and work offline if you can. Of course if you have a tablet, smartphone or old netbook lurking somewhere, use this. If you must work online, use a wireless connection rather than ethernet and make sure your router is behind good UPS with surge/spike protection. But it will get fried in a direct lightning strike. If you have an old wireless router, get it out and plug it in during the storm. If it gets fried, at least you’ve saved your good router. Obviously, if you buy a new router it’s great to keep the old one as backup for this sort of situation.

Well that’s what I would do. If you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms, I’d love to hear what you do.

Image Credit: Lightning on the Columbia River

Jun 28

Perhaps you don’t defrag your hard drive anyway, it’s kind of a geeky thing and is supposed to speed up file access by collecting fragments of files together in one place on your drive. Trouble is, many articles on the net I’ve read don’t make it clear that you don’t really have to defrag your drive if you’re running Windows 7 or Vista. Why? Well it’s not because these operating systems do anything differently in terms of writing data to you disk, it’s just that defragmentation is automatically scheduled to run in Vista and Windows 7 so you don’t have to bother about it. But, strangely, a lot of people seem unaware of this and are running third party defraggers to duplicate what Windows is already set up to do.

I talked about Windows Task Scheduler in my last post and mentioned some of the tasks scheduled to run in the background. To check if disk defragmentation is scheduled on your system, go to the Windows orb at the bottom left of your screen, and type schedule in the search box. Task Scheduler should appear in the list so click on that. Click the little triangle next to Task Scheduler Library to open the subfolders. Then click the triangle against Microsoft and then against Windows and you should see a folder called Defrag in there. Click on that and you should see something like this in the top half of the screen:


From this you can see that, by default, the task ScheduledDefrag is queued to run at 1am every Wednesday. Because I power my PC off at night, it rarely runs at that time, so you can see it actually completed at 12.56pm that day and is scheduled to run again next Wednesday. We can learn more under the tabs in the lower half of the screen. Under the first tab (General), we see that it will run whether the user is logged on or not and will run with the highest privileges. Under the Triggers tab, we see that the status of the task is Enabled. The Actions tab shows the location of the defrag program that will run at the scheduled time. The Conditions tab is interesting and mine shows:


So we can see that defrag will run only after the PC has been idle for 3 minutes and it will wait for this to happen for 7 days, that is until defrag is scheduled to run again the following week. Defragging will stop if the computer ceases to be idle. So looking back at the first screenshot above tells me that defrag ran and finished when I was taking lunch because it was idle for long enough then for the task to complete. The Settings tabs shows that the task will run as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed.

Finally, when I launched Auslogics Disk Defrag program the day after the Windows defrag task had run, without running Defrag in this program, the graphical representation of allocated/fragmented files was:


Defragmented sectors would be shown in red, and there are none, so no defragging is necessary. So next time you go to run your PC maintenance routine on a Windows 7 or Vista PC or laptop, check if Windows Defrag is scheduled to run, if not enable it and forget having to do this task again.

Jun 20

Hard drive LED

Have you noticed this? You come back to your PC after a coffee break and the hard drive LED on your PC is flashing away constantly and you can hear the sound of your hard drive working away furiously. Try to do anything on your PC or laptop and it will crawl along slowly as if doing something really CPU-intensive in the background. What is it doing? Is it secretly part of a botnet, carrying out someone else’s dirty work despatching spam emails, is someone secretly accessing the hard drive and stealing all my data? Well possibly, but if you’re following a good PC maintenance routine, your PC should be secure. So if it’s not that, then why all this activity when I’m not actually typing anything?

This had bugged me for some time. But the penny started to drop a few weeks ago when I was looking into scheduling to run batch files automatically at set times to back up my data to the cloud. I had never ventured into the Windows Task Scheduler before and was surprised at how many services are actually scheduled to run at different times. They’re all listed there.

To access the Task Scheduler in Windows 7, just click the Windows orb at the lower left corner of your screen and type scheduler into the search box. Then click on Task Scheduler and give it a chance to load its information. The bottom of the opening summary screen actually shows the Active Tasks, tasks which are currently enabled and have not expired. There are 46 currently running on my system

Task Scheduler5

Double click on any of these and you can learn more about them – what triggers them, what programs they run, when they run, if they wait till the computer is idle before they run. Then have a look at the complete library of scheduled tasks in the left pane of Task Scheduler. For example, if you open the Windows folder, you’ll see just how many Windows tasks have been automatically scheduled to run, most probably way back when you installed Windows or bought your PC. A good example is system restore points. The scheduled task is called SystemRestore and on my system, it’s scheduled to run on startup and at midnight every day, and it’s status is Enabled. Other scheduled tasks that will likely slow your PC at various times are things like software updates.

So this will give you some idea why your PC is working so hard at times when you don’t actually expect it to be. You can also check the processes running at any time using a great utility called Process Explorer, but if you don’t want to install any additional third party software, just go to the Windows orb again and type resource. Then click on Resource Monitor. This will give you an instant overview of what’s happening on your system. Click the CPU tab for more details.

In the next post, I’ll have a look at a scheduled task that many seem unaware is actually running in Windows Vista and Windows 7 and then duplicate what it’s doing unnecessarily using third party utilities.

May 29

It’s important to check your PC regularly and carry out maintenance – deleting temporary files and unnecessary files, checking for malware and updating software. I’ll run through my weekly maintenance routine here, built up and refined from years of practice and from reading tech blogs and listening to PC repair podcasts. By the way, if you have to download any of the following free maintenance utilities, be careful not to install any unnecessary or unwanted toolbars during installation. Read the installation screens carefully.

Pre-maintenance steps

1. Back up your data, just on the slim chance that something goes wrong. I’ve already gone over my PC backup routine recently.

2. Create a restore point, again just in case. I use Quick Restore Maker to quickly generate a restore point.

3. Close your browser/s. You’ll need to do this anyway later so that all temporary internet files can be deleted during maintenance.

PC maintenance steps

1. Run the CCEnhancer/CCleaner combo to delete temporary files, internet history, etc. CCEnhancer adds support to CCleaner for cleaning 500 additional programs. Run CCEnhancer first, it will download the latest definitions then it will ask to start and run CCleaner. Another good alternative to CCleaner is Glary Utilities. Carey Holzman has recommended this in the past so that’s good enough for me. It includes a number of nice routines including Disk Analysis (showing the space occupied by your files and folders) and Duplicate Files Finder.

2. Run a quick scan with Microsoft Security Essentials. This has been my first choice anti-virus program for a couple of years now. It’s free if you’re running Windows.

3. Run Malwarebytes Antimalware Free and SuperAntiSpyware. I regularly listen to Podnutz podcasts for repair techs and for many techs, these are the two mainstay utilities for identifying and removing malware. I have the professional version of SuperAntiSpyware which is resident at all times for real time blocking of threats so I just run a quick scan with these two programs to make sure there’s no malware on my system. I do find that SuperAntiSpyware picks up and lets me delete cookies which CCleaner and Malwarebytes ignore. They aren’t really threats but I like to remove these trackers anyway.

4. Run the Kaspersky free anti-rootkit utility TDSSKiller to check for rootkits. Be careful about quarantining what it finds. On my system it flags a hidden Akamai Netsession file as suspicious but googling the filename suggests it’s actually okay. Check everything out before quarantining anything.

5. Run JavaRa to check for Java updates and to remove old unnecessary Java installations.

6. If you use Chrome, run OldChromeRemover to remove obsolete versions of the Chrome browser.

7. Update your software with the latest versions. There are a bunch of software updaters out there. Here’s a few: Patch My PC, SUMo, FileREX, and Secunia PSI, but I do find that they tend to occasionally misreport your current software versions and suggest updates when they sometimes aren’t needed. If you’re in doubt about a suggested update, open the program and look under About for information on the software version. The one software updater I do like is Update Checker from FileHippo – it usually gets it right each time but on the downside, it doesn’t update as many programs as some of the others. It also clearly indicates beta software releases but it’s up to you if you want to try these.

What I don’t bother with in my PC maintenance

Up until a couple of years ago, I used to clean the Windows registry using CCleaner. When you read around, you’ll find opinion is divided on the benefits of cleaning the registry. I never really saw a performance benefit in it and now subscribe to the view, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The same applies to driver updates for me. If my system is performing well with no obvious problems, I just leave driver updates alone.

Defragging the hard drive is another routine I used to carry out every 3 or 4 months but again, for the last couple of years, I haven’t bothered. Lifehacker says: Windows Vista and 7 automatically defragment your drive, so there’s no need to do it yourself. So I tried defragging my Windows 7 PC recently before writing this post using Auslogics Disk Defrag and it reported only 1% defragmentation before I started, and I hadn’t defragged for a couple of years, so it really doesn’t seem to be necessary with Windows 7.

So what’s your PC maintenance routine? Which utilities do you favour? Drop a comment below.

Mar 20

We probably all know about the keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste (Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V) but there’s another really useful shortcut you can use to find stuff on pages – Ctrl-F. And surprisingly, about 90% of US internet users don’t know about it. I asked my kids and my daughter knew about it but my son didn’t.

Okay, so you already knew it works in your word processor but did you know Ctrl-F also works on webpages too and in Gmail, Google Reader, pdfs, email clients like Thunderbird, Windows Explorer and in most situations where you want to search the contents for a word or phrase. Ctrl-F opens a search window at the top left corner of the application but if the application already has a search box, pressing Crtl-F will put the cursor in the search box ready for you to type your query.

So don’t try and fight your way through reams of text looking for the phrase you want, try Ctrl-F.

And here’s a couple of bonus tips. If you want to search an entire website, not just a page, and you have Chrome browser, there’s an extension to do that called SlashSearch. And if you want to go quickly to your search term after a Google search, try the Chrome extension Google Quick Scroll. Quick Scroll lets you jump directly to the relevant bits of a Google search result.

Jun 20


One of the top monthly PC magazines, Maximum PC, has a pdf archive of back issues which you can read online or download if you wish. Obviously you won’t find the current issue there as this is only for subscribers and retail so the latest available issue in the archive is generally 3 to 4 months old but really that’s no problem. Many of the articles aren’t time-sensitive, for example Windows tips and how-tos, etc. And of course, the pdfs are searchable.

So download some back issues and see what you think. Do you know of any other tech magazines which have pdf archives? Drop a comment below and let us know.

Jan 27

I thought I knew Word… or at least everything I needed to know. But still little surprises come along and you just wonder how you’ve missed them in the past.

I wrote a post about the new search in Word 2010 and Karen left a comment on that post offering this awesome tip. If you’ve used Word you’ll know that one annoyance of search in earlier versions of Word was the way the search box would jump around all over the document when you clicked the Find Next button often obscuring the document and the search results. That’s been improved in Word 2010 as I mentioned in the earlier post, but Karen pointed out that once you hit Ctrl-F and enter your search term in the navigation panel if you then close the dialog box in the left margin and then hit Ctrl-PgDn, it repeats the search without calling the dialog box! Awesome. You can search down through all the occurrences of your search phrase just by using this keyboard combination and without the annoyance of the search box obscuring your document and results. And, wait for it, Ctrl-PgUp runs back up through the search occurrences. And this tip also works in the so-called Advanced Find in Word 2010 – that’s the old style search pre-Word 2010. I mentioned how to access that in the earlier post. In addition, you can even resume the search after doing some typing by just pressing Ctrl-PgDn or Ctrl-PgUp again. I’ve found that this tip also works in Word 2007 and Word 2002 and probably other versions too.

No doubt if I’d taken the time to carefully read through one of the Word cheat sheets I’ve downloaded in the past I would have known this tip already. So I’ll just past it on here in the hope that someone else out there will benefit from it.

Got any good Word tips? Drop a comment below.

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