August 2011 Archives


How to Create Shortcuts in Windows to Save Time when Working with Your Documents

The Windows operating system supports a feature known as 'shortcuts'. This allows you to make convenient links to the location of your documents. This article provides information on why, when, and how to use 'shortcuts'.

Say you have a scanning program on your Windows machine that routinely stores the results of your document scanning activities in a folder called "C:\Scans". Now, if you normally keep all your work in 'My Documents', and do not relish navigating the computer's file system, this will be inconvenient. In fact, every time that you want to check on a scan, you are obliged to remember how to navigate to your computer's C: drive, navigate to the appropriate directory, and locate the appropriate document. By the time you have completed all those actions you will probably have forgotten why you wanted the document in the first place.

Wouldn't it be better if you could create a short cut, which would allow your old scanning program to keep doing its thing, yet allow you to access the resulting scanned documents in your 'My Documents' folder?

Happily, Windows supports a mechanism which allows you to achieve precisely this effect. However, many people do not use this capability because it requires precisely the knowledge of the file system that people who would like to use 'shortcuts' do not have. However, do not be faint-of-heart; here is how you create a shortcut in Windows.

Firstly, locate the folder that you want to create a short cut to. This may involve using the program, say a scanner as in our example, which is saving files into that folder. Try using the 'File/Open' command, and checking in the resulting dialog if you can see the pathway to the folder that is presented to you in that dialog box. The string that you are looking for will look something like this 'C:\scanner\scanned_files'. This is Window's description of a given folder on your disk. It says go to the 'C' drive (C:\), and within a folder called 'scanner' there is a target folder called 'scanned_files'.

If you cannot locate the target folder in this way, try using the 'Search' capability which Windows in all its guises provides. To do this, right click 'Start' and select 'Search...'. You will see a wizard which will let you find documents on your system. Taking our example of looking for scanned documents, enter 'scan' as part of the file name to look for and adjust the 'Look in' box to have 'Local Hard Drives ...' selected. This will take a few minutes to run, but this will find all possible documents on your hard drives which match the search string.

Once search has found suitable documents, you will see these appear on the right hand pain of the search window. Right-click a scanned document and select 'Open containing folder'. This will open the folder containing that document in the Windows explorer and will tell you where on your hard disk that folder is located. The information that you are looking for will be a string of words like 'C:\Documents and Settings\user\My Documents\Program Name\Scans'.

Now, having found your scanned documents folder on your hard drive, you can create a shortcut in your My Documents folder to this location. This is simplicity itself. Open 'My Documents', right-click in the right hand pain, select 'New' and then select 'Shortcut' from the resulting list of options. When you do this, you will be presented with a dialog that allows you to enter the target of the short cut. You can either type in 'C:\scanner\scanned_files' or use the Browse button to locate your (now known) location using a Windows Explorer like navigation tool. Click Next and you will be prompted to provide a name for the short cut. Use a descriptive name for the Shortcut and you will then always be able to save to and open from this location in the future, without having to be constantly hunting around your hard drives.

If you delete a short cut, you are just deleting the short cut not the original folder. If you are backing up your 'My Documents' folder and nothing else on the machine, you should be aware that most backup programs will not follow shortcuts. However, more than likely the backup program is already backing up the entire hard drive, so if you need to restore from a backup, nothing will be lost. But be careful and check the details of your backup program, or ask a computer expert to make that check for you. Better to be safe than sorry.

That is all there is to it. Get used to the procedure by creating one shortcut and make sure that it is useful to you before you create thousands of shortcuts. One or two targeted shortcuts will save you a great deal of time, while a host of shortcuts are likely to be more confusing than helpful.

However, generally, using shortcuts will make your work using Windows simpler and less repetitive - which is always a good thing when dealing with computers.

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Scientific Terms

There was a time when 'good chemistry' meant converting coal tar into colorful and valuable dyes. Now good chemistry means that two people are comfortable and happy together.

Isn't it interesting how language evolves? Various disciplines toil away creating jargons with which to communicate their interesting news. Then all of a sudden a term is transported into general usage, the meaning changes, and seemingly clarity of communication is diminished for everyone. And yet the process works, the English language is effective and expressive and seems to evolve efficiently with time.

It is possible that the new use of the term 'good chemistry' stems from a widespread and abiding appreciation of the molecular nature of the endocrine system, neurotransmitters, and pheromones. However, it is also possible that 'good chemistry' is an echo of a memory, that somewhere in a forgotten classroom, two solutions when mixed, mysteriously yielded a new and valuable compound, somehow better than either parent solution. A metaphorical something for nothing is the new general theme that the phrase 'good chemistry' evokes.

The same strange distortion has occurred for the 'quantum leap', which in English means a monumental change, but in physics means one of the smallest changes possible. And, in recent years, the field of accountancy has undergone progressively greater degrees of stress as the term 'asset' has been applied ever more loosely, by English speakers everywhere, including the silver tongued variety on Wall Street. And now of course the term is combined with the word 'toxic', as if somehow the transferred jargon can divert us from the older term 'liability'.

In every field, the English language takes in meaningful jargon, chops the phrases around, without malice and with scant domain knowledge, and then regurgitates sometimes popular expressions. Fortunately, for journalists, accountants, chemists, engineers, and computer scientists, the strangely jarring but widely understood terms do not stay in common usage indefinitely.

Then there are terms which are not changed but have somewhat vaguer interpretations after they are transferred from jargon to general usage.

Molecule, for example, is a term which has a distinct meaning in science. However, in general usage it means either something which is small but visible, such as the last remaining fragment of a pair socks, something which happens to be in a scientific environment, or its normal scientific meaning. Of course, scientists are all too eager to draw pictures of molecules and therefore foster the illusion that molecules can be seen.

And every now and again a molecule makes its presence felt on the front page of the newspapers. Recently for example, astronomers detected naphthalene in the interstellar medium. This is not that surprising. Meteorites, for example, have long been known to contain carbon, much of it in forms not unlike naphthalene. So, if meteorites are formed from interstellar material which does not make it to the stars or planets, then presumably that medium contains carbon rich compounds like naphthalene. The triumph of the astronomers was to be able to determine unambiguously that naphthalene was present between the stars.

However, the news sources that picked up the naphthalene story focused on the complexity of naphthalene as a molecule, and the possibility that naphthalene might be a stepping stone towards the creation of the molecules from which primitive life could be constructed.

That certainly made for interesting headlines. It was only a matter of time before the headline 'Mothball Molecules in Outer Space' appeared. Perhaps the astronomers should have used the term spectroscopy more in the description of their work. Spectroscopy is a term which has not been transferred into general usage and so maintains a precise meaning. Of course, interstellar spectroscopy would make for duller headlines and probably no recognition for the astronomers outside their rarified ranks.

So perhaps the process of jargon transference and meaning dilution is a good thing. Jargon transference keeps the English language dynamic and adjusted to the concerns of the day. Additionally, it helps with transferring knowledge from jargon filled backwaters to general usage. Naturally this knowledge transfer mechanism is not as thorough as years spent in university lectures but in practice it serves the purpose of efficiently informing the language and keeping the specialists intelligible to the public.

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Automatic Bread Makers

Ever thought of buying an automatic bread maker? Not sure if bread makers are worth the effort? Here are my experiences with the world of automated bread making.

You know that you are getting older when you think that an approaching birthday is the perfect opportunity to obtain a kitchen gadget. This happened to me recently and the decision was taken throughout the household that an automatic bread maker would be the perfect way to mark the advancing years.

Now it has to be said that kitchen gadgets rarely prove to be more than occasional participants in the activities of the typical kitchen. Too many blenders and mixers although wonderful in principle, prove to be fragile and hard to clean in practice and rapidly find themselves a shady place at the back of the cupboard until they are handed out to departing children to take to college, or pensioned off in a garage sale.

So, I was mildly concerned that my birthday 'token' budget had been allocated to the purchase of a bread maker by the household authorities. The deciding factors for me were the high price of reasonable quality bread in all the local shops and the fact that a visit to my sister's home in a distant land had indicated that bread maker bread could, in fact, taste very good indeed.

The visit to my sister's home also provided important purchasing information. In particular, it yielded the brand and type number of a machine that had the capability of working for long periods of time and for producing good bread. Now I have not conducted a survey of all possible bread maker manufacturers, nor examined all consumer reports on the subject. However, I can relay first hand experience of Panasonic's Automatic Bread Makers. My sister's machine is a Panasonic SD255, and my birthday acquired machine is a Panasonic SD-YD250. The machines are somewhat different in design. The SD255 is designed for the European market, which among other characteristics may result in different electrical requirements for this machine. The SD-YD250 is a product sold in the USA.

The SD-YD250 arrived the day after my birthday and 4 hours or so later had produced its first loaf of bread. It has to be said that the first loaf was not a complete success. I began with a basic white loaf and although it tasted tolerable, the amount of rising that the loaf had found time to manage left room for improvement. In fact it resembled a bread cake in its consistency. Checking the instruction booklet indicated that more yeast would be required and, indeed, this was subsequently shown to be the origin of the problem as the next loaf had a considerably improved texture.

The amount of preparative effort required to use a break maker is very low. Simply measuring or weighing ingredients and placing them in the pan which the bread maker uses to conduct all the usual bread making steps is all that is required. The SD255 and SD-YD250 have an arrangement whereby a simple stirrer arm is positioned inside the mixing/baking pan. It is this stirrer which mixes the ingredients and carries out the kneading on which bread making depends.

The first few times the machine was used were interesting. The manual provided all the necessary information, and for the first time ever, the family had a complete understanding of all the ingredients in the bread which we had for breakfast. However, just when you might expect interest in the latest kitchen gadget to wane, the machine has continued to be used. The resulting bread is fresh and delicious and the amount of effort required preparing the bread maker and cleaning up after its use has turned out to be minimal.

The only problem is that you need to plan ahead. The bread making process takes several hours even if it does not require human intervention. Consequently a little forward thinking is required. Fortunately the bread maker is equipped with a timer, so if you are particularly forward thinking, you can plan to have fresh bread available for breakfast. Actually, for breakfast bread, you will need to arrange for the bread maker to finish its chores a little before breakfast time and then extract the bread from the machine so that it can cool before you eat it. This is because the bread maker is a miniature oven and the bread that it makes is extremely hot when the process finishes.

However, planning ahead seems not too high a price to pay for good simple bread which does not contain any calcium propionate or any other non-bread like ingredients. For the quality of bread that it produces, I suspect that it is cost effective too. And, of course, as I write this, the house contains the pleasant smell of another fresh loaf of bread which needs to be extracted from the machine. So, in answer to the original question, yes bread makers are worth the effort. You will have good quality bread, made from simple ingredients, the preparation is straightforward, and the clean-up trivial.

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