The Elements of Computing Style
The Elements of Computing Style
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The Elements of Computing Style

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Completed on 2015-12-19

About the Book

The Elements of Computing Style deals with the effective use of computing technology: a work style that can readily increase your productivity. Bookstore shelves are full of beginners’ guides and software-specific manuals. These, occasionally useful, books won't help you if you're already versant in computer technology but use it in a suboptimal way, wasting your valuable time performing repetitive tasks or struggling with easily avoidable problems. Computing style is what distinguishes a computer expert from a user who just gets by. Although following a few tips won't make you a computing guru, you can readily bridge a large part of the productivity gap between you and an expert by following this book’s advice. The 200+ tips included in the book can provide 80% of an expert’s effectiveness.

The text covers all aspects of computing use: computer-related work habits; web searching and surfing; email handling and etiquette; working with documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; essential advice on typography, data management, security, privacy, and digital preservation; travelling; IT equipment; system administration; ergonomics; entertainment. Most professionals, even seasoned computer users, fail to use computing technology in its full potential. This short book provides specific advice that delivers immediate improvements in effectiveness and job performance.

Through this book's 200+ tips you will learn things like the following.

  • How can I finish a lengthy report on time?
  • How can I automate the handling of my email?
  • Why are email's blind carbon copies an invitation to a disaster?
  • Which keyboard shortcuts can I use to speed-up my work?
  • How can I simplify my spreadsheets?
  • What makes an effective presentation?
  • How can I ensure I’ll be able to access my files in twenty years?
  • What should I pack before a trip?

The Elements of Computing Style is also available as a printed book at CreateSpace.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. General
    • 1.1 If it doesn’t work, try it again
    • 1.2 If it doesn’t work, try it in a different way
    • 1.3 Search for the least common term
    • 1.4 RTFM, GIYF
  • 2. Work Habits
    • 2.1 Finish one task before proceeding to the next
    • 2.2 Leave work unfinished
    • 2.3 Keep multiple work queues
    • 2.4 Plan, measure, and report your work
    • 2.5 Don’t leave it for the last minute
    • 2.6 Comment your work
    • 2.7 Keep note files with your work
    • 2.8 Version before big changes
    • 2.9 “Save As” before modifying
    • 2.10 Automate
    • 2.11 Spell check
    • 2.12 Correct on paper
    • 2.13 Learn those correction symbols
    • 2.14 Mind map
    • 2.15 Use each program for what it does best
  • 3. Searching the Web
    • 3.1 Start your search with Wikipedia
    • 3.2 Find it next time
    • 3.3 Use phrase searches
    • 3.4 Search sites through Google
    • 3.5 Search using an image
    • 3.6 Let the web vote
    • 3.7 Ask StackExchange
    • 3.8 Cast wide nets to locate an email address
  • 4. Web Tips and Tricks
    • 4.1 The internet never forgets
    • 4.2 Judge your online sources
    • 4.3 URLs are your friends
    • 4.4 Locate orphan pages through link queries
    • 4.5 Bookmark sparingly
    • 4.6 Make your bookmarks accessible
    • 4.7 Save web links with your other files
    • 4.8 Shorten your links
    • 4.9 Let your group vote
  • 5. Handling Email
    • 5.1 Read email once a day
    • 5.2 Turn-off email alerts
    • 5.3 File incoming email
    • 5.4 File incoming email as you read it
    • 5.5 Don’t file all incoming email
    • 5.6 Don’t file outgoing email
    • 5.7 Create subfolders
    • 5.8 Create shortcut-accessible folders
    • 5.9 File to multiple folders
    • 5.10 Link folders with placeholder messages
    • 5.11 Automate filing
    • 5.12 Don’t read spam
    • 5.13 Don’t fall for hoaxes
    • 5.14 Send reminders to yourself
    • 5.15 Reply to mail you sent
    • 5.16 Read the recipient lists
    • 5.17 Detach attachments
    • 5.18 Don’t email during holidays
    • 5.19 Use multiple mail search strategies
  • 6. Email Smarts and Etiquette
    • 6.1 Use meaningful Subject lines
    • 6.2 Don’t begin a new subject by replying to an old email
    • 6.3 Quote appropriately when replying
    • 6.4 Check your quoted text when adding recipients
    • 6.5 Don’t mix private and public distribution lists
    • 6.6 Don’t Bcc
    • 6.7 Arrange for replies to go where they should
    • 6.8 Don’t put in an email what you don’t want to see in public
    • 6.9 Flames belong to the cooler
    • 6.10 Sandwich critique within praise
    • 6.11 Reread before pressing send
    • 6.12 Write short messages as a Subject line
    • 6.13 Save time with VSRE
    • 6.14 Send mass email through a Bcc
    • 6.15 Use read receipts with care
    • 6.16 Avoid attachments
    • 6.17 Share large files using cloud-based services
    • 6.18 Don’t plan meetings over email
    • 6.19 Don’t edit documents over email
    • 6.20 Introduce people
    • 6.21 DON’T YELL
  • 7. Working with Documents
    • 7.1 Bookmark with undo
    • 7.2 Outline
    • 7.3 Beware of the changes you track
    • 7.4 Don’t align with whitespace
    • 7.5 Paragraph breaks aren’t for vertical spacing
    • 7.6 Break pages declaratively
    • 7.7 Employ styles
    • 7.8 Utilize references
    • 7.9 Use the thesaurus
    • 7.10 Automate the table of contents generation
    • 7.11 Automatically convert between upper and lowercase
    • 7.12 Paste as unformatted text
    • 7.13 Search and replace formatting
    • 7.14 Search all word forms
    • 7.15 Search with wildcards
    • 7.16 Search for special elements
    • 7.17 Track changes
    • 7.18 Avoid embedded elements and links
    • 7.19 Useful shortcuts
  • 8. Working with Spreadsheets
    • 8.1 Replace your calculator with the spreadsheet
    • 8.2 Use multiple worksheets
    • 8.3 Structure your spreadsheet for calculations
    • 8.4 Name your data
    • 8.5 Keep an extra row
    • 8.6 Organize your data with Excel’s tables
    • 8.7 Vlookup isn’t rocket science
    • 8.8 Don’t show numbers with meaningless precision
    • 8.9 Apply formatting to whole rows and columns
    • 8.10 Auto-complete your labels
    • 8.11 Average by selecting
    • 8.12 Have others fill-in your spreadsheets
  • 9. Preparing and Delivering Presentations
    • 9.1 Plan two minutes per slide
    • 9.2 Skip slides when in a hurry
    • 9.3 Avoid running text
    • 9.4 Use charts
    • 9.5 Add graphics
    • 9.6 Use full-screen images
    • 9.7 Use appropriate fonts
    • 9.8 Avoid fancy layouts and effects
    • 9.9 Use a master style
    • 9.10 Don’t read your slides
    • 9.11 Use both screens
    • 9.12 No live demos
    • 9.13 Arrange for backup equipment
    • 9.14 Verify your setup
    • 9.15 Setup accessible backups
  • 10. Icing the Cake: Typography
    • 10.1 Use fonts wisely
    • 10.2 Avoid table rules
    • 10.3 Know your symbols
    • 10.4 Prefer charts over tables over text
    • 10.5 Prefer scalable formats
    • 10.6 Avoid underlined text
    • 10.7 Avoid uppercase sequences
    • 10.8 Don’t be too clever
    • 10.9 Use professional-designed styles
  • 11. Data Management
    • 11.1 Use meaningful file and folder names
    • 11.2 Organize your files
    • 11.3 Sort files by date
    • 11.4 Link files with shortcuts
  • 12. Security
    • 12.1 Beware of attachments
    • 12.2 Don’t reply to spam and malware senders
    • 12.3 Beware of phishers
    • 12.4 No one will give you millions by email
    • 12.5 Don’t click on all hyperlinks
    • 12.6 Select unguessable passwords
    • 12.7 Don’t reuse passwords
    • 12.8 Apply security fixes
  • 13. Privacy
    • 13.1 Get over it
    • 13.2 Think before you post
    • 13.3 Browse privately
    • 13.4 Encrypt sensitive data
    • 13.5 Use strong encryption
    • 13.6 Arrange for plausible deniability
    • 13.7 Don’t encrypt more than you need
    • 13.8 Consider your trails
    • 13.9 Don’t throw away your personal data
  • 14. Digital Preservation
    • 14.1 Backup your data
    • 14.2 Store backups off-site
    • 14.3 Keep multiple backup copies
    • 14.4 Backups are backups
    • 14.5 Online backups are also backups
    • 14.6 Backup your smart devices
    • 14.7 Keep your data together
    • 14.8 Test your backups
    • 14.9 Take care of those pictures
    • 14.10 Choose long-lasting file formats
    • 14.11 Test your data when changing equipment
    • 14.12 Separate personal from work data
    • 14.13 Consider the data of your reports
    • 14.14 Consider the data of your family
  • 15. Business Travel
    • 15.1 Packing list
    • 15.2 Carry a USB stick on you
    • 15.3 Backup before you travel
    • 15.4 Phone through Skype
    • 15.5 Don’t rely on network access
    • 15.6 Arrange for network access before you leave
    • 15.7 Ask your hotel for a power brick
  • 16. Dealing with IT Equipment
    • 16.1 Don’t buy more than you need
    • 16.2 Consider noise, space, and weight
    • 16.3 Make your phone a Wi-Fi hotspot
    • 16.4 First unplug the mains plug
    • 16.5 Don’t leave stuff around your laptop’s keyboard
    • 16.6 Desk phone on your right, coffee on your left
    • 16.7 Sleep, stand by, hibernate
    • 16.8 Don’t rely on obsolete equipment
    • 16.9 Use a second monitor
    • 16.10 Invest in a broadband connection
    • 16.11 Wire your house
    • 16.12 Reduce clutter through hubs
    • 16.13 Consider a printer’s cost per page
    • 16.14 Choose appropriate service and extended warranties
    • 16.15 Remove batteries after swimming
  • 17. System Administration
    • 17.1 Log your changes
    • 17.2 Keep these installation disks
    • 17.3 Upgrade before the EOL
    • 17.4 Save money and hassle with open source software
  • 18. Ergonomics
    • 18.1 Beware of laptops
    • 18.2 Build a docking station
    • 18.3 Remove your chair’s handles
    • 18.4 Use keyboard shortcuts
    • 18.5 Create your own keyboard shortcuts
    • 18.6 Keyboard smarts
    • 18.7 Windows shortcuts
    • 18.8 Mac shortcuts
    • 18.9 Tile your windows
    • 18.10 Phone, email, chat
    • 18.11 Use a headset
  • 19. Computers in our Life
    • 19.1 Exercise
    • 19.2 Contribute to online communities
    • 19.3 Avoid addictive endeavors
    • 19.4 Rip your CDs
    • 19.5 Centralize your media content
    • 19.6 Digitize your kids’ art
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgements

About the Author

Diomidis Spinellis
Diomidis Spinellis

Diomidis Spinellis, a Professor in the Department of Management Science and Technology at AUEB, has lectured on the book’s topics at the University’s International MBA program. He has also worked as a site reliability engineering senior software engineer for Google, he has served as the Secretary General for Information Systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance, and has consulted for Fortune 500 companies. He holds an MEng in Software Engineering and a PhD in Computer Science, both from Imperial College London. Spinellis has published two award-winning, widely-translated books on code reading and code quality in Addison-Wesley’s “Effective Programming Series” as well as more than 200 technical papers in journals and refereed conference proceedings, which have received thousands of citations.  His article on the Greek wiretapping case made the front page of the IEEE flagship publication Spectrum. Currently he is serving as Editor in Chief for the IEEE Software magazine.

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