Using Google My Maps to plan trips

Rural road
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Recently I took an out of state road trip, and during the trip I used Google Maps to look up routes and restaurants on the fly (which can be very useful), but at times it would have been better if I had saved some routes, restaurants, and other points of interest ahead of time. I started wondering about available options to create and save maps with locations for restaurants, hotels, tourist destinations, etc. so when I got home I started looking into how to save maps in Google for later use.

Google has a companion product called My Maps that allows you to create a custom map with various routes and points of interest and save them to your Google Drive. To use My Maps, first open Google Drive, and go to New>More>Google My Maps. Googlemymaps My Maps will open in a new tab, with a new map ready to go. Then click Untitled Map to add a Title and Description for your map. 

My Maps uses "layers" for different elements on the map, such as driving directions, walking directions, restaurants, etc. The first layer is created by default and is called Untitled layer - to change the layer name, click Untitled layer and then add the name of your layer. You can then add your routes, restaurants, campsites, hotels, tourist destinations, etc. to different "layers" and put them all together to view on one map. 

Canoe

There are travel bloggers out there who are using Google Maps and My Maps to plan trips, so you can find more information and step-by-step instructions on how you can use Google My Maps for travel. Here are a few that I found:

If you have an Android phone, you can open your saved maps on your phone by using the Google My Maps app (this is a separate app from the Google Maps app). For both Android and iPhone, you can open your saved maps in the Google Maps app (go to Your places>Maps).

Disable Startup Programs

In the past few weeks I have been asked how to disable an annoying program that was starting up after logon.  A few programs that commonly startup by default are Skype and GoToMeeting.  If you have Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, this is the easiest way to prevent most programs from starting up after you log into Windows.

  1. Right-click the Taskbar
  2. Select Task Manager
  3. At the bottom, click More details (This may have already been done)
  4. Click the Startup tab
    Startup tab

  5. Right-click the program you would like to disable and select Disable
    G2M

Please make sure not to disable any programs that are critical to the normal operation of your PC.  If you accidentally disable a program, you can use the same process to enable the program again.  You can also call the Help Desk if you are having trouble with a program starting up at logon.

Easily Picking Colors with Pixie

I often find myself trying to select hex codes for colors to put on webpages, spreadsheets, etc. I do have an extension installed on Chrome that will help me select colors, but only those that appear on an existing site. I found another lightweight program that will help you select colors that appear anywhere on a screen with Pixie. Its interface is pretty dated, but it is very simple to use. Upon opening, this is what pops up:

Pixie1

It lists the three commands that can be used with it. When hovering over a part of your screen that is colored, it will change to this:

 

Pixie2

Now that the cursor is placed over a color, ctrl+alt+c will copy its HTML code (#B1005D).

If you want to zoom in on a part of your screen to narrow in on a more specific color, ctrl+alt+z will bring up the magnifier. From there, you can hover over the popup that comes up to choose a color.

Pixie3

The third command is ctrl+alt+x which just brings up the typical color chooser window.

Pixie4

Pixie can be downloaded for free here.

Rediscovering Excel Macros

What is a macro?  Macros are Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) codes that are saved inside a document.  They can be applied in several Microsoft Office Applications.  An analogy is to think of a document as HTML and the macro as Javascript.  A macro can manipulate a document similarly to the way Javascript can manipulate a web page.  Macros are powerful and can do many things including; apply style and formatting, manipulate data and text, communicate with data sources, create entirely new documents, and any combination of these. 

You must be asking, how can a macro help me?  They allow you to save time on predictable, repetitive tasks as well as standardizing document formats.  Now without having to write a single line of code!  I found myself having to run the same data sets for different libraries in our system regularly and exporting them into Excel spreadsheets.  I grew tired of all the customization and formatting within Excel I had to do each time.  Excel Macros were the answer for me!  Not only have they saved me time, but they have also helped improve consistency and accuracy. 

To create an Excel macro simply import your spreadsheet into Microsoft Excel.

  1. Select the View tab
  2. From there, select the Macros button and highlight the down arrow and select Record Macro.

1st pic

  1. From this point, go ahead and make your desired changes to the spreadsheet as you would normally do.
  2. When you are finished with your changes, go back to the Macro button down arrow and you will now select the option to Stop Recording.
  3. Close out of Excel and save your Macro.
  4. Once completed, the macro will be available anytime you open Excel under the Macro menu.
  5. Simply select View Macro and select which macro to use (if you have more than one saved).
  6. Then hit the Run button.

2nd pic

 

3rd pic

  1. The macro I created for the Library Weeding Reports completes the following tasks in Excel with just one click;
    1. Bolds and freezes the top row
    2. Converts barcodes to a number without decimal places
    3. Changes the print orientation to landscape
    4. Sets the correct margins
    5. Wraps the text
      (See my spreadsheet changes below.)

4th


I have gone on to create many Excel macros for the different data sets I run.  It’s amazing how intuitive macros have become in the last several versions of Microsoft Excel.  Please share with us how you use macros in the comments.

Zamzar for converting files

WVLS has a new Digital Byte video that walks you through Zamzar, a free online file converting tool (also covered in these 2009 and 2018 TechBits posts).

Like the video format? Check out other Digital Bytes here.

Enabling High Contrast Themes

Enabling high contrast settings may be a good idea If you or somebody you know has difficulty reading text on a PC screen.  This is a common problem when a lighter-colored font, like gray, is on top of a white background.  High contrast settings can be enabled for the Windows operating system and there is an extension that can be installed for the Google Chrome browser.

The easiest way to enable High Contrast for your PC is to press Left Alt + Left Shift + Print Screen then click Yes.  Use the same key combination to turn it off.

Google Accessibility offers an extension for the Chrome browser simply called High Contrast.  After you add it to Chrome, you can enable and customize the extension by clicking its button to the right of the Address bar.

High Contrast Extension

HC Menu

Explain (It) Like I'm Five

I attended the WiLSWorld Short, "Five Steps to Better Online Privacy with Jessamyn West," last week (which I would highly recommend!) and I learned a phrase I hadn't previously encountered before:  "Explain Like I'm Five."  There are a number of variations on this theme out there ("Explain It Like I'm Five", "Explain It Like I'm Actually Five") and a quick search brought up several Reddit forums, a video series, a podcast and many other things.

Why might it be helpful to know this?

ELI5
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

If you're looking for help with a complicated topic and all you're finding are complicated, overly technical explanations, you could add this phrase to your search and, with any luck, find someone explaining it in a way that anyone would be able to understand.

For example: How does wireless charging work? (which includes a link to this pretty cool video)

It may not help in every situation, but it's definitely worth keeping in mind.

What tricks do you have for finding simple explanations of complex topics?

Choosing a projector screen

Over my career at the South Central Library System I have never been asked to help a library select a projector screen, until a couple months ago. Since then I’ve been asked about projector screens 3 times, and in order to provide the best answers for the libraries I’ve done a little research and have some information to share with you about how to select the right screen for you.

I think the most important factor in selecting the right screen for you is knowing your budget and setting expectations for what you can get in your price range. A few hundred dollars may get you a nice screen that will last a lifetime, but it may also be small and have a little pull string to lower the screen.

Manual screens come as wall mounted or portable. Portable screens come with a stand and can be moved around, but are limited in size and take up storage space.

Motorized screens are more expensive but offer ease of use and larger sizes.

Some terms you may hear when selecting a screen are aspect ratio and gain.

    Aspect ratio is the relation of the width of a video image compared to its height. The two most common aspect ratios are 4:3 (standard) and 16:9 (wide-screen).
    Gain is the amount of light being reflected back from the screen. The higher the gain the more light is being reflected back. Most screens are between 0 and 2. The coating on the surface of the screen contributes to its gain.

Their is way more to selecting a projector screen than I thought when I started researching them. I found this Projector Screen Buying Guide useful when doing my research. The link does go to a retail site, but it's still good information.

I’ve worked with a couple of dealers in Wisconsin who specialize in AV equipment, so if you live in Wisconsin and have a question about who to turn to you can ask me for a couple of vendors who support most of the state and I’ll pass that info along to you.

Um, excuse me? Weaponized PDFs?

I was going to do a Tech Bits post about Carla Hayden's (Librarian of Congress!) proposal to digitize the  Library of Congress (!!!) but I ran across this other article and thought "What?!  Like with little guns and knives and stuff?"  

American Libraries linked to an April 19, 2019 article on the Nextgov website that has the title "Report: Weaponized PDFs on the rise." (sounds like an excerpt from a Terminator movie, right?) But it is no fantasy my friends, just the next generation of malware, scamming and spamming.   

So in addition to reminding your patrons, staff and coworkers about suspicious emails, ads and hyperlinks you also need to warn them about weaponized PDFs.

Welcome to the 21st century.

 

 

 

How to refresh your web browser without clearing your browsing history

Isn't it aggravating when you KNOW a webpage should be showing an update, but clicking the browser's "refresh" button (or hitting Ctrl + R) isn't showing the change? You might run across this when updating a website or even checking email.

Sure, you could log out, close all your tabs, and delete your browsing history to start completely fresh, but who wants to do that? Try these tips instead:

Hard Reload (two ways)
Ctrl + F5
or
Ctrl + Shift + R

Hold down the Control key and press F5. Or, hold down Control and Shift, and then press the R key. This will force the browser to reload and will work in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Empty Cache and Hard Reload (Chrome browser)

Reload-empty-cache

The "cache" is the group of images and files your browser saves to help load previously-visited web pages more quickly. Clearing cached files and then reloading forces the browser to get the most current versions of all those images and files.

  1. In Chrome, press the F12 key. The DevTools menu will open.
  2. Right click on the reload button and select Empty Cache and Hard Reload.
  3. Breathe a sigh of relief that the page has refreshed, but all your tabs are still open and you are still logged into everything.
  4. Hit F12 again to close DevTools.