July 2007 Archives

Excel 2007 New Conditional Formatting Tricks

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If you have Excel 2007, you can add value bars or color coding to your cells depending on their value. It could be handy for some of those reports we write.


Blog Writing Tips for Students and Others

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You've started a blog, but now what? I've been getting some questions from people about what they should put in their blogs, so I thought I would begin compiling some blog writing tips.


There are lots of good blogging models out there including personal diaries, social commentaries, news updates, research notes, notes on different hobbies, project announcements and corporate update blogs. However, it's generally recommended that you pick a theme and stick with it.

Once you pick a theme for your blog, you may find it is easier to start writing. One of the nice features of the Blogs at Penn State is that you can begin more than one blog, so you can decide if you want to separate different aspects of your life or keep them together.


1. Use standard English spelling or punctuation. These conventions make text easier to read and scan.

2. On the of the other hand, you want may your blog style to be a little "looser" than a formal academic or work writing genre...even if your blog is course or work-related. People are hopefully reading your blog to see what YOU think.

3. Include links to other sites to back up your opinions or verify facts. If you believe Joe Paterno is the greatest football coach ever...link to some sports articles to back you up.

4. Length is tricky. Short entries are good, especially for quick news items or links, but many successful bloggers write entries about the size of a front-page Daily Collegian article. If you writing as an "expert", you do want to provide enough detail to show your knowledge.

5. Use subsections for longer entries.

6. Remember that blogs are public. You are free to write whatever you want, but remember that a future employer (or a parent) could be reading your entries.

7. Now go ahead and write. It may take you a while to find your "voice," but it will usually come in time. If it's a personal blog, you may find yourself deleting entries, but that is part of the learning process.

8. The "Unpublished" setting is a great tool for drafts. Some blog entries may take a bit of time to compose, but if your entry's Status is set to "Unpublished", you can save often without posting it to the public.


You may choose (or be asked to) write a blog for a course or some aspect of your work at Penn State. Here are some tips that may help you get started.

1. If you are asked to do a blog, ask what kinds of information the person is looking for. An instructor may even provide style guidelines.

2. Maintain a professional tone. It's OK to express an opinion, but you may wish to be careful of how you frame negative comments. These are public blogs, so you never know who may be reading...

3. Longer posts may be OK. In many blogs about research, course work, or work-related issues, the reader may be looking for a more detailed analysis than if he or she were reading a personal blog.

4. Use tags or categories. This will help readers find previous articles in the topics they are interested in. The more professional a blog's theme is, the more important it is to archive content by topics.


Blogs and Accessibility

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I was in a meeting yesterday with Bill Welsh of the Office for Disability Services along with Christian Vinten-Johansen, Dave and Wendy to discuss accessibility of new technologies including blogs.

How accessible were the blogs? Fairly accessibile, but with some quirks.

* Movable Type incorporates comprehensible ALT Tags for image icons
* Movable Type generates well structured XHTML which makes it easier for screen reader users to navigate a blog posting
* Tabbed browsing is enabled, even in the side buttons (you have to keep tabbing though)
* Entry forms fields were generally well labelled for screen reader access
* Color contrast is generally good from the entry side. Color variation in post themes are more variable, but good contrast themes are available

The big gotcha was all the embedded Javascript included in the code. It's not clear how a screen reader would be able to handle all of it.

A visually impaired user could likely read a blog and probably add comments, but could they post to their own blog without help? We will see.

If a course is requiring the use of blogs for a course, it may be the case that you would need to allow for alternate technologies such as an ANGEL Discussion Forum or e-mail for some users.

In some cases, a saavy visually impaired user could post their own entries in static Web pages (I used to do that myself in a 'pseudo-blog')

Safari 3 First Impressions

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It's not an iPhone, but Safari 3 is a new Apple product to test.

You can download Safari 3 for Mac & Windows at

Here are my comments after a full day of testing.

You need to get 3.0.2, but it did install on my XP, and it runs as speedy as the Mac version. Plus the fonts are the best rendered of all my Windows browsers (even IE 7). Windows users may wonder what hit them.

On the other hand, Safari means that Windows users will learn about the weird feed:// protocol for RSS feeds. For Mac users this is old news and our feed readers can cope, but it will be a new glitch for Windows users.

And Windows users will see the subtle Safari CSS gotchas for themselves.

Safari 3 will overwrite Safari 2 (although there is an un-install option available). If you want to maintain both versions of Safari, see the workaround at http://macenstein.com/default/archives/659

Safari 3 is as speedy as Safari 2 - yipee!!

Same as Safari 2 - which is to say that it doesn't have as much precision as I would like. My solution has been to to disable cookies altogether on Safari. Safari becomes my speedy 2 seater browser and then I use Firefix as my power all-wheel-drive browser.

Some are catch-up features, but some are new. See

* http://forevergeek.com/apple/safari_3_new_features.php
* http://www.macworld.com/2007/06/firstlooks/safari3/index.php
* http://www.justbull.com/article/12-2007/

I like the ability to disable tabs overall, but then still open a tab anyway by clicking the Apple key while clicking a link. You can also right click (or command-click) on a tab and have it open in a new window.

Safari made some improvements, but it still has some work ahead of it. You can read more in the Got Unicode blog if you're really interested.

How can I disable Audio? Let me Count the Ways

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I love the concept of audio (especially iTunes), but I've noticed that there are about 4 volume controls you can screw up in a typical set up.

The minimum number is 2

1) The desktop volume control
2) In the media player (e.g. Quicktime, iTunes)

If either is lowered, then you have no sound.

But if you're a student in a lab, then you have headphones which means you're up to 3 places to troubleshoot. if you're headphones have an independent volume control (that little slidey thing).

1) The desktop volume control
2) In the media player (e.g. Quicktime, iTunes)
3) Headphone volume (little slidey thing)

Or...in my case, my headphones connect to external speakers which have a volume control.

And if I switch to USB headphones for Breeze, I have to go into my control panel to set the input/output correctly. So, if I'm on Breeze on my headphones plugged into my speakers... I have FIVE (5) places to check

Five Places Audio can Die in Breeze

1) The desktop volume control (which will bast sound when laptop is remote)
2) In the media player (e.g. Quicktime, iTunes)
3) Headphone volume (little slidey thing)
4) Speaker volume - so I can have one speaker for 2 computers
5) Control panel for input/output settings

This is a classic usability problem. You should have one master control (I suggest the desktop volume) and that's it.

Now can all the audio controls listen to each other and manage it?