I found a good IE trick yesterday. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, Multimedia. See that checkbox that says “Play animations?” If you uncheck that, you disable animated GIFs. If you find those distracting like I do, this provides a way to banish them. A little bit of blinky stuff will still get past that setting–some animated ads use Java, JavaScript or Flash. So you can refuse to install Flash and disable Install-on-demand (I forget where I found that setting–I’d better find it) and you can disable Java and JavaScript from Tools, Internet Options, Security. So it’s possible to give yourself a nice, static, animation-free Web. The advantages: less distraction and faster-loading pages and slightly higher stability.

Are you listening, Netscape and Opera?

I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. I’m writing another article for Computer Shopper UK, one that probably won’t surface until the April or May issue at the earliest but I want to get it out of the way. All told, it takes me about 8 hours to write a 4,000-word article from scratch. I don’t know if that’s low or high. Seeing as a single-spaced page of text is about 470 words, that’s probably fairly quick.

Going steady with Computer Shopper UK. Or something like that. I was talking with one of the girls at work–everyone knows I’m peddling my words in the UK these days–and she asked how that was going. I told her I liked the magazine staff and I liked the magazine, and that I wanted to write for them some more, but I couldn’t quite tell if they wanted me to write for them again. And I suspected they didn’t know whether I wanted to write for them again. So we had a stalemate, not unlike asking a girl to a dance in high school, where neither party knows what the other is thinking and neither wants to make the first move.

Well, the stalemate’s broken, and it looks like I’ll be peddling words at Shopper until I run out of ideas. While magazine writing’s not as profitable as writing books that sell, when you’re doing magazine writing, you’re a writer, period. When you’re doing book writing, you may have to do an awful lot of your own marketing, and I’m not so comfortable there yet. I think doing a book some day where I write it, do most or all of the artwork and photography, and do the marketing would be very interesting–and would definitely allow me to leave my mark on it–but the time’s not right for that.

Can I do it? I’m a competent designer, and I have a good eye though I lack a steady hand to match. The computer can compensate for that. I don’t know much about my marketing ability, but when I was talking to that aforementioned girl about an idea I had, she smiled, looked at me, and said, “You’d be good at marketing.” She’s working on a business degree and she’s one of the smarter people I know, so I’ll assume there’s a good chance she’s right.

And in the meantime, Shopper UK gives me a place to further refine my writing and start to define a market.

Drawing diagrams. I’m pretty impressed with a program I found on the Computer Shopper UK issue 156 cover disc. British mags usually come with a CD that contains some programs–a PD utility or two, some commercial demos, and often the full version of some commercial program. Well, issue 156 came with SmartDraw 3.0, a quick-and-dirty diagramming program that competes with Visio but bills itself as a sort of “Visio for the rest of us.”

The idea is, you get these predefined libraries of clipart that you just drop into place. I diagrammed a network by dropping images of three desktop PCs and a server on a page. Then I dropped an image of a hub in. I took the line tool, dragged it from each PC to the hub, then moved the PCs around to make it look decent and balanced, typed labels on each PC, and boom, instant network diagram, elegant and professional. It took me all of 15 minutes to do it, and that included the time it took to figure out where all the menu items are and what they do.

When you’re done, you can export your diagram as a scalable WMF or a raster BMP, PCX, TIFF, GIF or JPEG so the files will work in just about every program imaginable.

The next time I have to do a project analysis or write something that needs a diagram, I’ll be reaching for this.

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