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< Take a tip #1 >

By Daniel Will-Harris

February 3, 1998 - Sometimes just a little bit of information can go a long way to helping you solve a problem. With that in mind, I’ve collected a bunch-o-tips that can help you work, well, better.

>Get a UPS

This column was late going up this week because where I live in Marin County (north of San Francisco, Point Reyes, to be exact) has received more than 7" of rain in the last four days. Our power went out for a day last week, and a day this week (one year we were without power for 10 days). We also had a mud-slide which sent our creek running down the street--luckily, a neighbor with a backhoe was there to help clean it up. El Nino? E gads.

While I’ve yet to install a generator (this may be the year) so I can work off of the power grid, I do have an UPS, an “uninterruptable power supply.” These are small battery-based systems designed to keep your computer running for five to ten minutes after the power goes off--long enough to save what you’re doing and shut down the computer safely. When a computer shuts off just because the power goes out, the system can lose data, and hardware can actually be damaged.

I use a unit from APC. I like it because it’s small, and because it has a feature that turns the on-off switch for my computer into an on-off switch for my entire system: computer, monitor, and ZIP drive. This also means it keeps all three of them running long enough for me to shut down. Some newer models can also tell Windows to shutdown automatically (though I have not seen or used these models personally).

A UPS also help keep the power level constant to your computer, even if there’s a brownout. They’re a relatively inexpensive (usually under $200) way to keep your computer and data safe. January saw huge ice storms all over the east coast of the US and Canada. Now we’re getting monsoon rains on the west coast of Mexico, the US, and Canada. Everyplace has weather. And if your power isn’t as constant as you’d like, a UPS can be a lifesaver. No, it won’t let you work when the power is out--but you will know that the computer will work when the power comes back on.

The power actually went off again while I was writing this, but even with eight applications running, I had time to save all my files and shut down all programs safely. Now, if the power would just stay on.

If anyone out there knows of a convenient and affordable solar-powered system that can run a computer, please let me know!

>Typographic quote marks on the web

If you’re a typographic type, then the web probably drives you nuts. All those straight "typewriter" quotes (instead of “real” quotes), those sticky apostrophe's (instead of apostrophe’s) or all the gibberish from people on the Mac putting in Mac typographic quotes that look like foreign characters to the other 97% of computer users around the world.

Well, you may or may not know this, but you can get real typographic quote marks on the web. How? The trick is to use the typographic quote marks from the Windows character set. That’s right--these will show up correctly on the Mac and under Unix.

Most Windows programs will automatically convert these as you type. In Word, you can replace typewriter quotes with typographic quotes just by making sure the replacement feature is turned on (in Word97 it’s under Tools/AutoCorrect/AutoFormat as you type), then search for a " or ' and replace it with a “ or ‘ and Word will automatically replace your entire document with typographic quotes.

If you need to enter these characters manually under Windows, you hold down the ALT key, then type the character number on the keypad (not the numbers above the letters, that won’t work).

“Left double quote 0147
Right” double quote 0148
‘Left single quote 0145
’Right single quote 0146

The bad news? There is no web version of the em-dash, so you need to continue using --. Sorry.

>Animated backgrounds

Surprise! Did you know that both IE4 and Navigator4 let you use animated GIF files as background images? Huh? Well, they can. Of course, this could drive your readers totally insane, as well as bringing their systems to a complete crawl. On the other hand, you might be able do some pretty nifty stuff with this knowledge. The animations will not show in pre- Version 4 browsers, but those browsers should show the first image in the animation, some versions do, some don’t.

Warning: large animated images may not update fast enough in the background to display completely. This is especially true in IE4; Netscape does a better job showing complete animated backgrounds.

To see a page with an animated background, click here.

>Home page square pixelage

How big can a home page be and really fit on one screen at 640 x 480? Surprisingly, it’s just 620x350--and that’s if people don’t use an old version of Netscape with all the buttons on--then your initial live space is even shorter!

You’re probably working at 800x600, or even 1024x768. It only makes sense--you have a lot more room to work.

But then how do you preview your web design work at one of these lower, more common resolutions without going in and switching your own resolution? It’s surprisingly simple.

Create a background graphic that’s precisely 640x480 and use it as wallpaper. Then just size your browser window to fit. I created one that’s 800x600 with dotted lines for 640x480--so one image lets me size my browser to both sizes. Under Windows, wallpaper is simply a .BMP file located in your \Windows directory (or whatever your Windows directory is called). Under Win95, choose Start/settings/control panel/display then choose the wallpaper from the list on the right.

If you’d like to download mine (it’s a 2K zip file that unzips to a 240K .BMP file--that’s right, .BMP files have no compression whatsoever!) click here.

>Free ATM

Do you have Type1 fonts, but not a copy of ATM? Do want the latest copy of ATM, for free (don’t worry, it’s legal). You can download a copy of the latest ATM rasterizer (it doesn’t include the font management features of ATM4 deluxe) right from Adobe’s web site.

If you’re using Win95 with a version of ATM before 4, it’s worth your while to get the latest version. You can download your free copy of ATM 4 at ftp://ftp.adobe.com/pub/adobe/magic/atm

You won’t miss ATM 4’s font management--it’s not very well designed. I use Bitstream FontNavigator and find it fast, logical, efficient, and a great way to manage fonts.

>What resolution should I use
on the web?

Someone recently asked me: When I choose the resolution for an image to be placed on the web...do I choose 75dpi or how high can I go and still be effective?

The Mac screen resolution is 72 dpi. Windows screen resolution is 96 dpi (much higher). For the web, 96 dpi is right--normally, anything else is overkill, and 72 dpi may be too little for Windows users (and they're over 90% of the market). 96 dpi even prints OK, if a little jagged.

If you want someone to be able to print your image sharply, then you could consider an extra version of your image (linked to from the original image). Remember that if the image is grayscale or color, you really only need a resolution of twice your line screen. On most 600 dpi printers that’s between 60 and 80 lines per inches, so a dpi of 150 should be high enough to look good when printed on paper.

That said--unless you specify a size for your image, the browser will make an 150 dpi image look huge on screen, and in print. So if you want to get that higher resolution in print, you’ll need to specify a height and width. All HTML editors can do this, many do it automatically, and in this case you’ll have to change it manually. If you’re writing HTML by hand (and if you are, you obviously haven’t seen some of the best new tools around, which I’ll cover in a later column), then you’d use <img src=”graphicname.gif” width=xxx height=xxx> replacing the x’s with the size you want the image on screen (and on paper).

But before you put an image on the web, you often want to edit it. If so, don’t scan it at 96 dpi. Scan at 150 dpi (or higher) so you'll have more pixels to work with. 300 dpi creates huge files, but these files will have enough quality for high-quality print output (meaning 150 line screen imagesetter output). If you just want to do some minor editing, you can scan at 150 dpi, then "resample" down to 96 before you save. If you only need to do really minor touch-up, or color shifts, then 96 dpi will be fine from the start.



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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved