advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

technology  research  practice

All Our Technology Tips

You know what really grinds my gears? When I open a PDF file containing what appears to be digitally-formatted text and find that it is non-copyable and non-searchable. The ability to search, copy and paste text are essential functions of digital communications – so the idea that a text is born digitally and therefore ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) encoded, and that somebody wittingly or unwittingly should remove that functionality – it leads to much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part.

Well just last week I was sent a large PDF document with more than 70 pages of text. So I opened it in Adobe Acrobat, and tried to execute a search for a key term, and found that it was (you guessed it) another one of those documents that had signs of ASCII-formatted text in its progeny, but through the manipulations of some kind of monster, been reduced to the mere semblance of text, no more searchable than a stack of paper.

So naturally I commenced with my usual process of wailing and gnashing, but after a few minutes of that I got a notion that maybe I should try something different. In near desperation, I got the idea that – just maybe – if I “select all” and paste it into a text editor then some hitherto-hidden ASCII-encoded text might appear. Worth a try, right?

So I hit control-A, and THIS happened:


“Why yes,” I said out loud, “in fact I WOULD like to run text recognition to make the text on this page accessible – THANKS for asking!”

I clicked Yes.

Then I got asked for some settings, which I ignored and just clicked OK – opting for the default option in my excitement.

Adobe Acrobat then leapt through my document, systematically performing the miracle of breathing life into the dead letters at the rate of about a page a second – slightly faster for the “born digital” main portion, and a bit slower for some appendices that bore the stigmata of pre-digital technology.

The result was perfectly copyable, pastable, searchable text in the main body of the document. As for the typewritten appendices, Acrobat almost flawlessly converted them into digital text as well, while maintaining the visual features of the original typed text. Basically, the document looked identical to how it had looked prior to the procedure but was now digitally functional. The only letters and numbers that resisted the resurrection were data from a single table with a very small typeface – those few characters remained a heretical community of graphics in the midst of a near-universal mass conversion.

Optical text recognition technology has come a long way in a few short years.

Now if you work anywhere in the legal industry (or do any kind of office work), then there is a good chance you have been able to follow right along, and to some of you, this is already old news and why am I boring you. But if there are any among you who don’t know what I’m talking about with text that can be searched and copied – you need to learn a few tricks that will make your life a whole lot easier. Begin with learning these commands, which work on almost all text-editing software:

CTL-F … Find text in document

CTL-A … Select All

CTL-X … Cut selected text

CTL-C … Copy selected text

CTL-V … Paste the last text you cut or copied

CTL-Z … Undo last operation

CTL-Y … Redo undone operation

CTL-H … Find all identified text in document and replace with other text

You can use point-and-click menus for these operations as well, but I find the keyboard shortcuts easier. These features, and many others, are now standard practice in office work – so learning them will not get you ahead so much as get you caught up with the rest of us.

And if you ever come across a text, especially a longish one, for which the above commands do not work, try to do minimal weeping & wailing and tooth-gnashing. And when you are done that, wipe the tears off your keyboard and try the simple operation described above. Failing that, try something else. And if all else fails, ask your friend in IT to perform a miracle. Because there is no reason to tolerate text in a digital file that cannot function as digital text.

[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


In certain situations, I need to type something I’ve typed dozens or hundreds of times before. Rather than type it out, I prefer to type three to four letters. My Mac recognizes those letters and offers me the option of the full text I’ve typed in the past.

Here are two examples:

  • my name and phone number, for calendar invitations to schedule phone calls
  • a message I send people who I don’t know when they want to connect with me on LinkedIn

Name and phone number shortcut

Each time I schedule phone calls with people, I put my name and office number in the “Location” field of a calendar entry. Now, instead of doing that, I type “LBPN” (for Luigi Benetton Phone Number) and my Mac offers me my name and number.

This is a system-wide shortcut. In simple terms, this means my name and number appear in just about any program I type those four letters. It happens when a correspondent asks for my number in an email. It happens when a computer support representative asks for my number in an online text chat. It happens most anywhere I can type text on my computer.

LinkedIn Reply shortcut

The LinkedIn message is a more compelling example, since three letters trigger a message several lines long.

When I type the letters L, I and R (LinkedIn Reply) in sequence, my Mac replaces them with this message:

Thanks for reaching out.

I don’t think we know each other. Did something in my profile catch your eye? Is there something I can do for you?

Looking forward to your reply,


Here’s what the option looks like on screen.

I simply click this popup, or press the Space bar, and the Mac replaces LI R with these words. (I normally add “Hello” plus the person’s name to the beginning of this message.)

Setting up text shortcuts

Here’s how I set up system-wide text shortcuts on my Mac.

  1. Open System Preferences by clicking the apple icon in the top left corner of the screen and choosing System Preferences… The System Preferences dialog appears.
  2. In the System Preferences dialog, click the Keyboard icon. 
    The Keyboard preferences appear.
  3. Click the Text tab. Text preferences appear.
  4. At the bottom left of this dialog, click the “+” sign to create a new shortcut. The dialog creates a new line at the bottom of the list of shortcuts.
  5. Enter the shortcut in the “Replace” column and the text to replace it with in the “With” column.

The phone number shortcut was easy to type directly into the “With” column. I had typed the LinkedIn Reply message earlier in a text document, then pasted it into the With column. If I want to check this text, I can copy it all and paste it into a text document.


  • You don’t need extra software to do this on a Mac. The tools you need are included when you buy a Mac.
  • Other tools may offer features other than the basic ones shown here.
  • Certain programs enable the creation of shortcuts that work only within those programs.
  • Windows computer users may need to install other software on their computers to create system-wide shortcuts,

What do you do when you want to save time retyping things you need to type often? Share your solutions in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


Are you reading this post on a computer that has slowed down significantly? To the point that you want to replace it?

Before you whip out your credit card, try a few simple things on your computer. You might make it more useable without spending a dime.

I’ve already posted two ways you can improve your computer’s performance.

Here’s a third tip – finding energy hogs on your computer.

The problem

Your computer expends a certain amount of energy to run each program you open. Programs that demand more energy frequently hog your computer’s resources, making the whole machine run slower.

The solution

Find out what programs are energy hogs. One you fine the energy hogs, you can deal with them.

The macOS ship with Activity Monitor, a utility that shows how much various applications use RAM, the processor and so forth. (I couldn’t find an equivalent piece of software in Windows 10, but I presume one is available from a third party.)

Rather than deal with the complexity of Activity Monitor, Mac owners can instead use an elegantly designed list to find energy hogs.

To find out which applications demand “significant” energy on a Mac, click the battery icon in the menu bar at the top right of the screen. The following menu appears.

The middle part of this menu lists any apps using lots of energy.

Note that each open app can vary in its demands on your Mac. At one moment, it demands lots of energy, the next it takes hardly any. For instance, Safari was using significant energy at the moment I took this screen shot, but minutes later it didn’t appear in this list. In fact, it read “No Apps Using Significant Energy.”

Once you find energy hogs, you can deal with them in several ways.

Uninstall energy hogs

If you don’t need the software at all, considering uninstalling it from your computer entirely. Be careful with this idea: your computer needs certain processes to run properly. If you aren’t sure whether you need the program, search for an explanation of it in Google. If you’re still not sure about it, leave it on your computer. Removing an application your computer might need could be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Shut down the program

You ought to get an immediate performance boost by quitting the program.

Switch software

If you need the features an energy hog offers but it consistently hogs energy, consider trying other software that could take its place.

Do you have any tips on tracking specific pieces of software that slow down your computer? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


It’s common for people to replace their computers every three or four years. They seem to believe performance degrades so much that they need new machines to gain speed increases.

Sometimes that’s true. Hard disk drives,for instance, can wear over time. Inexpensive machines aren’t usually built to be upgraded.

But if you want to keep working with your current computer, there are a number of things you can do to keep it moving quickly.

I covered one tip in a 2016 blog post. (Here’s something I forgot to mention in that post: Even though I claimed useless utilities are a Mac issue, Windows PC users also need to know when such “utilities” are “recommended” to them. Cheaper Windows computers usually ship with “bloatware” i.e. trial versions of frequently useless programs that promise to keep your PC in shape if you just buy them and use them. My recommendation: uninstall these programs and, if you must, buy reputable stuff.)

Now for this week’s tip, something that applies equally to Windows PCs and Macs. Why? Because they both have desktops.

The problem

Rendering complex graphics on screen can take so long that users may need to wait while the computer churns through the task. “Rendering” in this sense means putting all the pieces of a picture together on a screen.

It’s a sacrifice people who work with graphics-intensive software (e.g. photo, video, graphic design, architecture) often had to make. This process is slower on computers with:

  • older, slower processors
  • less RAM
  • older, smaller hard disk drives

The solution

Somebody must have realized that the computer had to work just as hard to render the desktop as it does graphical element that people need to work with. The more stuff people keep on their desktops – from fancy images to icons for documents and folders and so forth – the more computing power the computer needs to render the desktop. Most people don’t realize how often they go to the desktop, when they quit programs, minimize windows and so forth.

To keep your computer from chugging along just to redraw your desktop:

  • turn the desktop background entirely black. A black screen is the easiest thing a computer can render. To that end, remove any fancy images, especially software that changes your desktop image periodically.
  • keep very few, if any, files on your desktop. Put them instead in your Documents folder, or subfolders you create in the Documents folder. Each icon is one more thing your computer needs to render when you go to the desktop.

Whenever you minimize your programs, your computer ought to show your desktop much quicker if it’s plain black. That makes for one less type of delay during your computing day.

Do you have any tips that readers can use to speed up their computers? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


Is your computer slow right now? Maybe there’s something you can do about that – right now.

The problem

Generally, the more apps you run at the same time, the more your computer slows down.

The solution

Find out how many programs you have open at any given time. You can quit programs you don’t need at the moment.

You can browse the dock (Mac) or toolbar (Windows) to do this, but I prefer a keyboard shortcut that both computer platforms offer.

On a Mac, hold down the Cmd key (Windows – Crtl), then press Tab. Icons pop up in a row in the middle of the screen showing all the apps your computer is currently running.


Stop on a given app and you switch to that application.

If your computer is running slowly, consider quitting apps you don’t need right now.

Want to try other things to help you speed up your computer? Consider these tips:

  • Get rid of bloatware on your computer
  • Clean off your desktop
  • Quit applications that demand a lot of energy from your computer

What do you do to speed up your computer? Share any tips in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


I like exploring ways to improve my Inbox Zero habit. This habit enables me to effectively handle everything that comes at me via email. I do this by:

  • putting the information in the right places
  • deleting or filing the original email

The email inbox is never the right place for contacts, calendar appointments, tasks or other things I need to act on. That’s why my inbox contains NO emails at the end of a day.

Making Inbox Zero easier

It’s easier to keep the inbox empty if I prevent unwanted emails from arriving in the first place. That’s why I unsubscribe from as many lists as I can. I also use email rules to file listserv emails for me when they arrive.

There are other types of emails I’d rather not deal with. These include:

  • marketing messages that don’t offer unsubscribe options
  • conversation listserv messages where the topic is contentious, unimportant and a waste of my time
  • messages from people I would rather not hear from (I can count these on the fingers of one hand, fortunately.)

Maybe you can add other types of messages to this list.

When you have your list, consider creating a “delete email” rule so you never need to deal with those messages again.

Here are the criteria I use for my rule.

  • I use the “any” option so that the rule is triggered under any of the conditions I list.
  • I list the criteria I want to have trigger the rule.
  • The actions involve both deleting the message and ensuring I never learn of the email in the first place.
  • I only use ONE rule for deleting ALL unwanted messages.

This graphic shows a “delete email” rule built in Mac Mail, but the concept is the same in Microsoft Outlook and the same or highly similar in most email software.

Would you use this rule? If you would, what would you block? Let me know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


Researching articles. Writing school assignments. Quoting other people in blog posts. During each activity, I usually cut text from one document and paste it into another.

The resulting text may make sense, but it often ends up looking like a ransom note, with different sections of text cut out of the headlines of various magazines and newspapers. That’s because the original publishers of the source texts use their own formatting, which can make words appear in different colours, fonts, sizes and so forth.

This isn’t a good look. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent this problem from happening. Here are two.

Use a web browser’s address bar

I sometimes copy text from a document and paste it into my browser’s address bar to search for that text. Recently, I read a tip about how the address bar strips formatting from any text pasted in it.

So I tried this experiment.

  1. Copy all the text from a seven-page PDF. This document uses formatting that’s distinct from the formatting of my target document.
  2. Paste that seven pages of text into my browser’s address bar.
  3. Select all (from the Edit menu or the keyboard shortcut, which appears in the Edit menu).
  4. Copy the text.
  5. Paste the text into my document.

Voilà! The text gets pasted, stripped of formatting. You may need to separate paragraphs and sentences, but you won’t need to reformat anything.

Paste and Match Style

Safari, the browser I used in the experiment above, has an option in the Edit menu called “Paste and Match Style.”

This option appears in many programs that handle text. It might also be called “Paste and Match Formatting.” In older software, it might be hidden in the “Paste Special…” option.

Options like these save me plenty of time when I want to write a document that not only reads well, but looks good.

Do you use any time-saving tactics when you create a document using pieces of other documents? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


Today’s tip is part tech, part research. It’s a simple reminder to give a little love to your RSS reader.

(You ARE using an RSS reader, aren’t you? You’re not? Here’s a nice primer on why RSS is more important than ever in 2018.)

Whether you use Feedly, Inoreader, The Old Reader (my personal favourite) or something else, why not take a few minutes to check whether you’ve got any dead/defunct feeds among your subscriptions.

If a feed is dead or hasn’t updated in a really long time, does that mean the site is no longer publishing? Maybe the blog or news area got moved and the feed address changed, so you’re no longer getting updates from that site?

Investigate the source site and make sure you’re not missing anything you thought you were still getting.

While you’re at it, take a look at all your subscriptions and ask yourself whether each one is still useful to you.

Then ask yourself whether there are sites you’re NOT following, but could be. Do you have email subscriptions that could be replaced with RSS subscriptions, thereby reducing the email that accumulates in your inbox?

Lastly, consider whether upgrading your reader might be money well spent. Generally, paid accounts will let you subscribe to more feeds and give you more control over how you organize them, and for usually no more than the cost of a cup of coffee per month. Many readers give a choice of annual or monthly payment options.

Got a tested-and-true method for keeping your reader working optimally? Let me know in the comments!



People who try to recall an email after they’ve sent it might think it’s a good idea to close the barn doors after the horses have all fled.

That bit of snark comes courtesy of email systems that boast “recall” tools. I tried the one in Microsoft Outlook about a decade ago. It didn’t work for me, and I dealt with the fallout from a misunderstanding.

So I switched tack. Now I prevent fallout from poorly worded emails so I don’t have to perform after-the-fact damage control.

How do I do that, you ask? Simple: I wait an hour or more between the time I draft an important email and the time I send it. Reading it with “fresh eyes” helps me prevent most (not all) email mistakes.

I don’t do this with all emails. Sometimes I send quick, innocuous-enough messages with no real review. Every now and then a typo seeps in. But when the message and the recipient matter (especially in business) and the topic merits deep thought, I slow down.

I regularly used two methods to help me make sure I send the thoughts I want to convey. Both involve preventing emails from being sent until I feel they’re ready.

Write the email offline

I often write messages in a text editor. We all have these on our computers. They come with names like Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (Mac) and Microsoft Word (both Windows and Mac). The beauty of text editors (sans plugins) is that they don’t have an easy-to-access Send feature. Just save the message and set it aside for later review and sending.

Delete all recipients in a reply

You can write a reply in an email as long as it has no email addresses in the To, cc or bcc lines. If these fields are empty, your email software can’t send the message anywhere. You can then save the message in the Drafts folder for later review. Note: some email programs don’t show the Drafts folder unless you have actually saved one or more drafts.

How do you keep yourself from landing in email-fueled hot water? Do you use email recall systems that work? Or have you become a maestro at smoothing ruffled feathers? Let me know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on]


Are there fillable PDF forms on your website?

When loaded within a browser, the fields in forms like these generally can’t be filled out – the PDF will need to be downloaded in order to be filled out.

Why not cut out a few extra steps for your site’s visitors, and make the PDF automatically download rather than load in-browser?

A hat tip to Gabriola Graphics for this super simple solution to do just that:

“All you have to do is add the word download to your <a> tag and if your browser supports it your visitor will get a Download Where? prompt.”