Gary Kildall’s death investigation

I was selling computers at retail when I heard of Gary Kildall’s death. We had a few copies of Wordstar for Windows and someone asked about it. I said it was easier to remember the keyboard shortcuts in Wordstar than Wordperfect.

“You sound like a CP/M guy,” said someone who overheard me. “Did you hear that Gary Kildall died last month?”

I hadn’t, and he wasn’t surprised. I was curious, so I went to the library and found a whole lot of nothing. A month or two later, I found a mention in a computer magazine column that Kildall had died in a barroom fight but it gave no specifics.

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Lenovo and Best Buy team up for a $149 laptop this year

Cheap laptops are nothing new this time of year–they’ve been practically a holiday tradition since 2002 when Sotec released a decent laptop for $900, which was jaw-droppingly low for the time–but this year, Best Buy is selling a Lenovo Ideapad 100s for $149.99, which, while not jaw-droppingly low given the number of $199 laptops that were available last year, is still the cheapest name-brand laptop I’ve seen. Note: Best Buy has since raised the price to $199, but Ebay has limited stock of the same item for $129.

I’ve seen some reviews, but there is one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet: This is a netbook in every way, except I think we’re supposed to call them cloudbooks now. So keep that in mind. The machine is probably worth $149.99, but it made some compromises to reach that price point.

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How to justify text in Publisher 2013

I couldn’t figure out how to justify text in Publisher 2013, but I finally found the way. Here’s how.

I did some layout in Publisher 2013 after having not done page layout in a decade or more, and Publisher 2013’s interface confused me a bit. I finally found two ways to justify text.

The fast, easy way: Highlight the paragraph you want and press CTRL-J. Done. I love keyboard shortcuts. Justify starts with “j,” so that makes the keyboard shortcut pretty easy to remember.

The harder, slower way: In the paragraph tab, click the down arrow in the lower right corner. In the “Indents and Spacing” tab, there’s a dropdown box called “Alignment.” Select “Justified,” then click “OK.” Scout’s honor, I looked past that option at least 17 times.

Oddly enough, once I used full justification, then I got a little icon in the paragraph section of the ribbon for that, but I’m 100% certain that option wasn’t there before.

Pro tip: If you’re going to justify text, make sure you enable hyphenation. Click inside the text box, then click “Format” under “Text Box Tools” under the ribbon. Justified text looks much better when hyphenation is on. Hyphens reduce the number of spaces the computer has to insert. Fewer spaces mean fewer “rivers” in the text, and that makes for a better-looking page. Here’s more on hyphenation if you’re curious.

The missing Lenovo Thinkpad scroll lock key

One of my coworkers accidentally enabled scroll lock on a Lenovo Thinkpad L440 the other day, which is bad news when you do it accidentally and can’t find the missing Thinkpad scroll lock key.

Recent Thinkpad laptops have no scroll lock key marked on the keyboard, but we found that the <Fn+K> key combination works as scroll lock. On other Thinkpads, it may be <Fn+C>. I found later that the <Fn+K> combination also works on the Thinkpad T440s and T450s. So it’s likely that on recent Thinkpads, <Fn+K> is a safe bet.

missing thinkpad scroll lock
This recent Thinkpad is too svelte for Scroll Lock, SysRq, Break, Pause, and other keys you probably haven’t used (at least not intentionally) in 20 years.

The design decision makes some sense. The public demands ever smaller laptops but still wants full-sized keyboards, so jettisoning keys that some people never use is one way to accomplish that goal. Sometimes I live in Excel for weeks at a time, yet I rarely use the Scroll Lock key. At least half the time I use it, it was accidental. The missing key makes accidents more rare, but it makes them more problematic when they do happen.

Believe it or not, there are some keys you’ll use even less often than Scroll Lock. Lenovo squirreled those keys away to save space too. Here are the other keyboard shortcuts for the L440 and other Lenovo Thinkpads for other little-used keys that are present on a traditional PS/2 keyboard.

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So I’m not the only one ditching Microsoft Office

Rick Broida wrote a fairly harsh piece on Cnet about why he’s ditching Microsoft Office. Our reasons differ, and while I agree with all of his reasons he may not agree with all of mine. That’s OK.

I stuck with Office 2003 because its user interface is familiar and makes sense. By using the program, you learn the keyboard shortcuts from the menu and can graduate from casual user to power user relatively quickly. That went away in Office 2007, so I never moved on. Office 2003 was the best version Microsoft ever made, but it loses security updates next month, so it’s the end of the road.

Fortunately, Libre Office has a traditional user interface and most of the same keyboard shortcuts. If you don’t use mail merge, it’s a capable replacement, and it’s free and actively maintained. It’s not as fast as Office 2003 was, but neither is anything Microsoft has made since.

Now, in corporate environments, with a recent version of Office and Sharepoint you can do some really nifty things, like automatically building Powerpoint presentations from Excel spreadsheets created by different people. You could probably approximate the same thing with other software, but what I saw a Sharepoint-literate colleague build this week with MS Office was very impressive.

But I don’t need that at home, and I don’t want to pay $100 per year for the rest of my life to use a program that I tolerate at best, so I’ll save my money and move to Libre Office.

A tool for learning Windows and Office keyboard shortcuts

Sometimes my coworkers will watch me write, because they like a freak show. I guess they’ve never seen someone who uses the mouse as little as I do. If I know a keyboard shortcut, I use it. It’s faster, I say, and they agree I have a point.

This morning I found a tool called Keyrocket, via the blog, for learning Windows and Office keyboard shortcuts. Think of it as a helpful, non-annoying, non-evil Office Assistant. Read more

An easy way to change your power plans in Vista and Windows 7

If you need to change power plans to manage your computer’s power usage, here’s the easiest way to do it without fumbling around in control panel. This works in either Windows 7 or Vista.
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More help is on the way for high Firefox memory usage

After years of workarounds, and even sometimes denying there was a problem, Mozilla has identified a fix for Firefox’s sometimes out-of-control memory usage.

The culprit appears to be the Javascript engine, which probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
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A better, faster Firefox for Windows

Compiling Firefox for modern-ish (Pentium 4 and newer) CPUs is relatively common on Linux, and presumably on Mac OS X also, but not for Windows. On Windows, Firefox assumes you have a first-generation Pentium CPU, since that’s the slowest CPU that will boot Windows XP.

Enter Pale Moon.Pale Moon is compiled to use the instruction set in newer Pentium and Athlon 64 CPUs. In layman’s terms, this results in about a 25% increase in performance, which is significant.

Also significant is that the current version is based on 3.6.3 of Firefox, before Firefox broke Farmville, people started laying eggs, and they started breaking Firefox to keep Farmville working.

I couldn’t care less about Farmville and other stupid Facebook games; I just want Google Maps to be fast.

And in my quick tests, Pale Moon is fast. It loads faster than the standard Firefox build. It renders complex pages like Google Maps faster.

I’m not ready to make it my default browser yet, but so far I like what I see. It at least narrows the performance gap with Chrome, while retaining the user interface and keyboard shortcuts I’ve been using since those pre-release versions of Netscape I was using in 1994.

Experimental, optimized Firefox builds have come and gone over the years. Hopefully this one sticks around a while.

A first look at Mozilla Firefox 0.9

I upgraded to Mozilla Firefox 0.9 today. My initial impression is pretty good, with one caveat.

If you’re running an earlier version and haven’t upgraded already, make a backup of your profile first. I upgraded from version 0.8 without uninstalling version 0.8 first, and lost my saved passwords and bookmarks. What I lost isn’t anything I can’t type in again or find again but it was annoying.

But that’s pretty much where the problems end.This new version feels faster than the old one did. It also seems a bit more stable, but a few hours of messing around isn’t enough of a test to declare something stable or not. I’m also not about to assume that any other living human being’s browser habits resemble mine.

I did notice that memory usage has a tendency to go back down as I close tabs. That’s an improvement–that didn’t always happen with older versions.

The ultimate test is going to be leaving it open for about a week of heavy use. Older versions tended to not like when I did that–memory usage would balloon and over time the speed would degrade. We’ll see how this version handles that torture test.

Since I had to go back and re-customize it, I can tell you the tweaks I make to the browser. Maybe you’ll like some of them too.

First, I type about:config into the address bar to bring up all the hidden options.

I set network.http.pipelining to true, and network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to 100. This speeds up page rendering, at the cost of occasionally mangling a page. (This happens most frequently when I visit Slashdot, ironically.) Reloading usually clears it up. The problem happens infrequently enough that I live with it–I like the speed.

I set image.animation_mode to “none”, since I find animated GIFs distracting. Try browsing with image animation turned off and I’ll bet you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. You can also set the string to “once” if you like animation. That way you can still see the animation but it doesn’t continue to loop while you’re trying to read.

I set browser.popups.showPopupBlocker to false. I don’t care to know when Firefox has blocked a popup–these days it’s pretty safe to assume that every site up there sent you a barrage of popups.

I set browser.blink_allowed to false. Few people use the dreaded blink tag anymore, especially since it was a proprietary Netscape tag that few others implemented. It doesn’t hurt anything to disable it just in case someone used it somewhere.

Since you can never have too much screen real estate, I customize the toolbars as well. If you go to View, Toolbars, Customize, you can drag the icons and menu items you use wherever you want. Drag things you don’t use down to the bottom. For example, if you never use the Go and Help menus, drag them down to get rid of them. I drag the address bar up to the top, next to the Help menu. Since I don’t use anything else on the navigation and bookmarks toolbars (I use keyboard shortcuts), I turn those off, which opens up lots more screen real estate. If there are some icons you use, you can drag them up to the menu bar and turn off those toolbars to save some space. It’s cheaper than a bigger monitor and takes up less space on your desk.

And as much as we tend to live in our web browsers these days, it’s almost as good as having a bigger monitor, isn’t it?