Tag Archives: IT

IT tips #21: Drag your most-used sites on to your links bar in a browser


I’m sure nearly everybody knows about this, but today’s tip is just a nudge to actually do it: if you have sites that you regularly visit – Facebook, email, the news, an online calendar, Amazon, favourite shops, etc. don’t waste time looking them up in your ‘favourites’. Next time you’re at one of those sites,  just drag the address into the links bar of your browser. Get rid of all the crap ones that were pre-loaded there first, so you’ve got room.

There’s a quick video below of how to do this in Chrome, but the procedure’s the same in every browser I’ve come across:

  1. Delete unwanted links from the links bar (or bookmarks bar as it’s called in Chrome) by CTRL-click  (Mac) or right click (PC) and selecting ‘delete’ for each unwanted link. This makes space for your own links.
  2. Go to  one of your favourite/most used  pages such as your web email account or Facebook, for example
  3. With the mouse, grab hold of the ‘favicon’ (the small image immediately left of the address) and drag it down to an empty space on the links bar. The cursor will turn to a + sign when you’re correctly positioned. Note: if you can’t see the links bar, it’s probably because you’ve opted to remove it from view – so go to the ‘View’ menu and make sure that the links/bookmarks bar is ticked.
  4. Let go of the mouse button (i.e. drop)
  5. Right-click/CTRL-click and edit the name of the link you just dropped  to something short and memorable (so you can get more links in the bar). I use initials – i.e. Metafilter becomes MF
  6. Next time you want to go to one of your favourite sites, just click on the icon in the links bar


  • You can re-order the links on the bar by dragging them from left to right
  • If you have links to several pages on the same site, you can create a folder on the toolbar and drop all the links to those  pages into that folder.
  • If your links bar starts running off the right hand side of the screen, delete some links. There’s no point in a links bar where you can’t see the links.

IT tips #20: How to compile multiple documents into one Preview pdf file (Mac only)


Update, May 18th 2015: Since I wrote this page in 2011, I’ve discovered that Apple have themselves published even better advice on their own site. So for the best instructions on how to do this, go to their page, OSX: Combing PDF documents using Preview 

For posterity, my original advice is below. The bit that was crucially missing from my advice was that you mustn’t import documents below the dividing line in the sidebar.

Using Preview on a Mac, this helps you compile a bunch of single, separate pdfs  – scans, articles, pictures, or whatever – into a single pdf. You can also re-order the individual pages or delete them.  This is the process:

  1. Open one of the files that’s going to be one of the final collection (it doesn’t matter which one)
  2. Save the file as something meaningful like ‘compiled scans’ or whatever
  3. Make sure that View>Sidebar>Show Sidebar is selected (⇧⌘D), and Thumbnails is ticked
  4. Keeping this first  file open, drop whole files, or individual pages into it as follows:
    1. For whole files: Select files in Finder and drag and drop them into the sidebar of the destination file
    2. For selected pages only: Open the  files that contain the pages that you want to include in the compiled file (Ensure that View Sidebar and Thumbnails is selected in the View>Sidebar menu in these files too).Arrange the windows on the screen so that your destination file (the one you’re going to drop all the others into) and the source file (the one containing the pages you want to drop in) are both visible.In the source file,  select the thumbnails of the page(s) that you want to add, and simply drag and drop them into the sidebar of the destination file.
  5. In the destination file, you can drag files up and down the sidebar to reorder them, or delete individual pages.
  6. Save the destination file.


  • If you need a title page, make it in Word, print it to pdf, and then drag it into the destination document
  • It’s a good idea to make a blank page in Word or other program and print that to pdf so that you’ve got a blank page handy to insert where necessary – for example, you may eventually want to print this file double-sided, and if the first two pages are a double-page spread, you’ll need a blank page to start with. This is particularly relevant for music books.
  • As you can put image files into a pdf, this is also quick and dirty way to make a presentation without PowerPoint – just drop the relevant pictures and pages you need into a pdf, and wiggle them around.  You can use Preview or Acrobat to show the presentation, too.

I discovered this tip by accident – as far as I can see, there’s nothing in the menus that seems to offer you this fantastic option.

IT tips #19: How to stop procrastinating by turning the Internet off


I don’t mind admitting that I am so easily distracted by stuff on the Internet, that if I didn’t have a program like Freedom (Windows & Mac), I probably wouldn’t get much done at all.  Freedom is a very simple utility that allows you to block your internet access for an amount of time in minutes. During this time, you won’t be able to access anything online, thus forcing you to do whatever it was that you were supposed to be doing (writing an essay, sending an invoice, tidying your room).

It costs $10, but there’s a trial version which allows you to try it five times for free.  One of the unexpected benefits of getting this software has been that I now have a much better idea of which kind of job I am likely to procrastinate on or avoid, and on days when I know I have something like that to do, I switch Freedom on for 90 minutes as soon as I turn the computer on.

IT tips #18: If you’re transcribing, get a USB foot control


(I’ve blogged about this before, but I’m passionate about how much time they save, so I don’t mind doing so again)

If you do things like record lectures or interviews on your mobile, laptop or portable voice recorder, or want to transcribe speech from a video, what are you going to do? Press play with your hands, listen a bit, press pause with your hands, type a bit with your hands, stop, press rewind with your hands, press play again with your hands…and repeat  til insane.  You get the point: you need two pairs of hands if this is going to go anything but dead slowly.

But with a USB foot control (like the Infinity) and some free software called Express Scribe  you can sail through this kind of job.  For example, you can easily set Express Scribe to automatically go back, let’s say, one second when you release the ‘play’ pedal with your foot. That means you don’t in fact have to use the rewind button at all if you’re on a roll.

It is so much faster than any other method involving your hands alone, I would be lost without it for any transcribing job. And it’s not just speech that it’s good for – if you’re  a musician trying to work out the chord sequence or melody to a song, it’s perfect for transcribing music from audio files where you have to listen several times over to the same little bit.  Your hands never need to leave the page or keyboard that you’re working with.

IT tips #17: How to force a YouTube video to start at a particular time point


Let’s say you want to send someone a YouTube clip or embed it in a post, but the bit that you want them to see is right in the middle of the clip. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just link straight to that part of the clip? Well you can. All you have to do is this. There are two different processes here: sharing a link on something like Facebook, and embedding in a webpage. Both processes are shown below.

Sharing a link 

1. Find the place in the video where you want it to start, and pause the video there.

Click on “share”


2. Another menu opens up. Click on “share” and make sure that the box is ticked that says “start at.”



3. The time in the box will be automatically updated from wherever you paused the video – that’s why you have to pause it, because otherwise the time in the box  keeps changing as the video plays. You can manually type in the time, maybe adding or subtracting a second or two if you didn’t quite pause it in the right place.

4. Copy the code and paste it into your Facebook post. Be sure to make a space and press return after the link – this seems to be necessary to cause the video to be embedded.


1. Temporarily turn on “text” mode (not WYSIWYG or “visual”). In WordPress it looks like this (click on the “text” tab”


2. Note the time  that you want the video to start.

3. Convert the time (minutes and seconds) into seconds – so if it’s 2’36, that’ll be 156 seconds

4. Click on “share”



5. Another menu opens up below. Now click on “embed”


6. In the embed code, right before the final double quotation marks after the link, add ?start= and then the number of seconds, e.g. ?start=156 if you want it to start at 2’36”.


Embed code: <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/sy5K4YtpNsk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Embed code with start time: 

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/sy5K4YtpNsk?start=156″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

7. Paste this into the place where you want the video to appear in your page.

8. Turn “visual” mode back on (just because it’s easier). A greyed-out screen will appear where your embedded video will be (it will only show up when you preview the page, or publish it).

Legacy instructions

I’ve revised the information above on January 9th 2015  because the previous method (see below) seems now to be obsolete – but leaving it, in case the legacy method is useful for any reason. I’m borrowing the method from this external post, but simplifying and slightly amending it to fit the way it looks on my screen.

Make a note of where the section starts that you want your friend to see

  1. Copy and paste the YouTube link into the email/Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is
  2. Before you press ‘send’ , add the following straight on to the end of the link:

#t=[number of minutes in]m [number of seconds in]s

e.g. if you want to start this clip of the Avengers episode at 17’08”,  the point where it all gets rather camp  at a place called ‘Terpischorean Training Techniques’, you’d add #t=17m8s to the end of the YouTube link, or


which will give you this:

Another way to do this is to press  ‘Share’ then select ‘Options’, then tick  the check box next to ‘Start at’.


IT tips #16: How to use iTunes to convert files to MP3 and back


If all you want to do with your music is play it on your computer or phone, the  iTunes default setting which imports music files as AAC  (Advanced Audio Coding) is fine. It’s the  the standard format for Apple products and several others, and is supposed to be better in quality than MP3.

But life gets more difficult if you want to do anything else with it – like edit it in Audacity, for example, or send it to someone who hasn’t got a device that can play AAC files, or transfer it to one of your own devices that doesn’t like AAC.  In this case, you’re better off using MP3. You might just want to convert a single song to MP3 for a particular task, while keeping the rest of your library as AAC.

Here’s how you can do it for free in iTunes – no need to pay money for ‘format converters’. It’s the  same procedure  that you’re offered when you first put a CD into iTunes – there’s a button in the bottom RH corner of the screen called ‘Import settings’.    The point about this tip is to show you how to apply the procedure retrospectively, even after you’ve already imported the CD.  The instructions below are for a Mac, but the principle would be the same on a PC.

1.  Open iTunes and go to the Preferences menu

2. From the ‘General’ tab, select Import settings (see below)

3. From the menu that appears, select MP3 Encoder (obviously, if that’s already selected, you don’t need to do anything!). The other settings don’t so much matter, though ‘Good quality 128kbps’ is quite enough for most purposes.

 4. Now you’ve done that, go back to your library, and select the track that you want to convert to MP3, and CTRL-Click on it. A shortcut menu will appear. Scroll down it until you find ‘create MP3 version‘ (see below)

5. In your library, a new track will appear with exactly the same name as the original, but with a newer date in the ‘date added‘ column – so if you can’t find it, sort this column to bring it to the top or bottom of the list.  It’s a good idea to rename this track putting ‘Mp3 version’ in the title, so that it’s clear which track is which.

6. In the folder where your iTunes library is kept, there will now be two versions of the file, one in the original AAC format, the other (newer) one in MP3.


  • If you want to retain your library in AAC  format, remember to switch back the preferences after you’ve finished this task.
  • iTunes removed this capability from one version of the program, but it’s come back again in the latest version. I can’t guarantee that they won’t remove it again – it’s just too good to be true, frankly.
  • Converting to MP3 or AAC results in a certain loss of quality, so choosing to convert AAC or MP3 back to WAV or AIFF is not going to improve the quality – it would just be  like putting Cadbury’s chocolate in a Charbonnel et Walker box. However, if you know that you are eventually going to  use the track for a show, where the highest possible quality is desirable, remember to import the CD as WAV or AIFF in the first place, or get the CD and re-import it as WAV/AIFF.
  • If you’re the kind of person who has a library full of things called ‘Track 1’, it’s a good idea to name the track you’re going to convert to MP3 first, so that it’s easy to find the new track in your library. If you’re not sure which track is which, CTRL-click on any of the columns in the browser to add more columns, and select ‘Kind’ so that you can see what format the file is in.


IT tips #15: Four ways to help you remember where you put things


In a comment on a previous tip, Ninette wanted to know how to make sure to be able to find tips again in the future because she’s ‘rubbish at remembering things like this’.  Join the club. Here are my suggestions (in addition to yesterday’s blog about Delicious).

  • Evernote is like iTunes for ‘stuff’ (free for a basic account). It syncs itself across different devices, so apart from storing websites and documents, you can do things like take a photo or audio note with your phone, store it on Evernote for mobile, and then sync it with your home computer. I know that a lot of people swear by it. I’ve got it, and it’s great, but because most of my work is geared towards writing projects, I tend to use the next two suggestions more.
  • Scrivener is what everyone should be using for any large-scale writing job. It enables you to keep multiple notes, sections of text, research materials such as snapshots of  websites, photos, pdfs, and other bits and pieces  in an easy-to-organize outliner, and when you’ve finished working in bits, you ‘compile’ it into one long document.  It’s the best program I have ever used, and I now couldn’t live without it for writing extended documents. And it’s only about £30 at current exchange rates.
  • Zotero is free bibliographic software, and is like the iTunes of books. However, you can use it to store,  catalogue and search absolutely anything – books, articles, pdfs, music, pictures, websites. So in my Zotero, alongside collections of articles about rhythm, metre, neuroscience and the sociology of music education, I also have one called ‘Recipes’ where I store snapshots web pages with recipes on, and where I link to files of recipes that people have given me.

The fourth way is to keep a blog, and that’s why I do it.

IT tips #14: Use Delicious to store and access web links anywhere


You might think that having a website is all about self-promotion, but the reason I got a website in the first place was to solve a particular problem: I wanted to access my favourites or ‘bookmarks’ from any computer, not just my personal one. I created a page of useful links related to my work (it’s still there, though it’s not as useful any more) so that wherever I was working, I’d just browse to that page on the web, and could feel instantly at home.

I don’t use it any more because Delicious does it much better. You create a free account, and then whenever you come across a page that you like, you store it in Delicious. You can tag the links in multiple links, search them, make notes on them, and share them, as well as seeing who else in the world has saved the same link. This is a great way to find out about more sites in your field of interest.

Delicious is just one of many ‘social bookmarking‘ sites, but I like it because it’s clean, useful,  relatively free of advertising and geared towards people who take bookmarking and research seriously.  One of the things it’s been most useful for is collecting up sites that offer free sheet music. If I didn’t occasionally return to Delicious to look at my own links, I’d forget about all the places I’ve found over the years.



IT tips #13: Make a form in Word that you can *really* fill in


One of the annoyances of 21st century life is when you get sent what is called a ‘form’ to be filled in ‘electronically’ which is in fact just a Word document with some lines in it to mark where you would write on the form if you were filling it in by hand (e.g. Name ___________). When you go to type in it, the lines move, and you have to either give up or delete the lines.  Or there’s a tick box, but you can’t put an X in it. Aargh indeed.

MS Word is actually very good at making graceful, useable forms once you know how. Here’s a quick guide to the basics:

  1. Start a new document in Word.
  2. When you get to the point where the recipient has to fill something in, go to View>Toolbars>Forms
  3. You’ll see this:
  4.  Place the cursor where you want the recipient to write something, then from the forms toolbar (see above), select the kind of field that you want – text field, check-box or drop-down menu (there are other options, but the first three buttons are the ones you’ll use most often)
  5. A greyed-out box will appear wherever you’ve placed one of these fields. Don’t worry that it looks small – it will expand as the user fills them in.
  6. When you’ve finished making the form – and this is the most important part – press the ‘padlock’ sign at the end of the forms toolbar (‘Protect form’)
  7. Now go back to view>toolbars> and deselect ‘forms’.
  8. Save the form with a meaningful name, and send it to the people who should fill it in. It’s a good idea to tell them to put their name or some identifier in the filename when they’ve finished, otherwise you’ll get a whole load of forms back with the same filename.

How it works

Because you’ve pressed the ‘protect form’ (padlock) button, when the recipient opens the form, they will only have the option to fill in the grey fields, which will expand automatically to fit the text that they write, leaving the rest of the form intact. And because you’ve removed the ‘forms’ toolbar, they can’t unlock the form to edit the bits that are nothing to do with them. As with an online form, they can use the TAB key to move between fields.

If you want to make changes to the form, you have to turn the ‘Forms’ toolbar back on and unprotect the form (by clicking the padlock again),  and then re-protect it and remove the forms toolbar again before you save your changes.

Yes, there’s a risk that a savvy form-filler will know how to turn on the forms toolbar and wreak havoc with the form, but the chances are that if they know how to do this, they’ll be a sane human being that just wants to fill in the form for you, and won’t use their powers inappropriately.


IT tips #12: Select text in Word as a graphic block


Let’s say you’ve copied and pasted an enormous block of text from a document in such a way that you end up with bullet points or numbered lists or a column of data that you don’t want. For example, you might need to turn a manually entered numbered list into an automatic one, or remove the numbering all together.  To go through manually and delete them is slow and painful, particularly when you’ve got a list of nearly 100 items.  You can’t select just the numbers without selecting the rest of the paragraph.

But oh yes you can. In Word, you can in fact select an area of the screen graphically by holding down the ALT key while you select with the mouse, as in the example below  (the blue area has been selected this way).