Bob's e-mail and lab tips 2003
The suggestions below should help you communicate efficiently by e-mail, get the most out of Emerson's computer labs and file servers, and avoid accidentally losing your hard work or inadvertently annoying others.
- E-mail habits...
Special procedure for my students: Begin your e-mail subject headings with the course and section number, such as "IN115b homework deadline?" or "JR485 project list." That will help me sort the incoming mail and not miss anything.
General advice: Make file names and e-mail "subject" headings brief, specific and clear, like newspaper headlines.
When forwarding a message, be sure to delete any long list of addresses that came with the original.
When taking part in a mailing list, be sure your replies are addressed correctly -- some lists automatically address replies to the entire list; others address them to author of the original. Don't "broadcast" sensitive personal messages! (Even safer: Never write anything in e-mail that you don't want on the front page of the Berkeley Beacon!)
- Attachment courtesy: Don't attach whole files to e-mail messages without a strong reason, and never use attachments in mail to strangers or mailing lists. Among other things, the people at the other end may not have the program (or version) you used to create the file. Consider these alternatives:
- Option 1, paste: Instead of an attachment, paste a plain-text version of the document into your e-mail message. But first, see your word processing program's "Help" system for instructions on converting "smart" or "curly" quotation marks to "straight quote marks." The typesetter's "curly quotes" vary between systems and can turn your mail to gibberish.
- Option 2, ASCII: Save a copy of the document as "text only" or "ASCII" with "save as..." before attaching it to a mail message. Text-only documents are smaller than word processing documents -- a great favor to people with slow modems. Plain text documents can be read by any word processor and they don't carry "macro viruses" the way Microsoft Word documents can.
- Option 3, RTF: Plain text discards any double-spacing, footnotes, bold, underlining, italic type or special formatting, so it is not always appropriate. If you're sharing a more "formatted" document with someone who may use a different brand computer or word processor, use your word processor's "save as..." command and choose the "RTF" file type, which works with most word processors. (Word, AppleWorks, Word Perfect)
- Naming folders and files (note: "folder" means "a directory containing documents" and "file" means "a single document")
- ...for homework, if you are putting documents in a course folder or sending them as e-mail attachments, use unique names with no spaces or punctuation marks except the hyphen, dash and period. For news stories, use this approach: date, your name, a one-word "slug," a period and the document type. Calling a story "0922-ckent-fire.doc" will help me keep from confusing Mr. Kent's fire story with someone else's. (The 0922 would mean Sept. 22; the ".doc" means Microsoft Word.)
- ... for Web and file servers, all names should use lower case letters, no spaces and no punctuation marks other than the period required before a file name's "html" or "htm" ending. (Exception: use hyphens or underscores to make longer names readable. However, shorter names cut down typing errors.) This recommendation is stricter than the real "rules" for most servers, many of which don't care about spaces or case-sensitivity -- but this simpler list works on every computer I've seen and is easier to remember.
- ... for other files: Older computers forced users to limit file names to eight characters, followed by a period and three or four more characters called a "file name extension." On Windows computers and Web pages, those last few characters can still indicate the "file type," such as ".doc" for word processing, ".txt" for plain text,".htm" or ".html" for a Web page, ".gif" or ".jpg" for graphics, and more. If you can't open a Macintosh file on your PC even though you have the right software (for example, a Microsoft Word document), try adding the file extension (such as ".doc").
- Work locally: For data-safety, work on documents on a floppy disk, Zip disk or in the lab computer's "8-day-local" folder, then put a backup copy in your PAGES folder. If you use the 8-day folder, be especially sure to copy your work to your PAGES folder before leaving the classroom. Despite the name, there's no guarantee "8-day-local" or "8-day-public" contents will stay around for a week. Anyone can delete them!
Using the PAGES server: At Emerson it's convenient to "click to open" documents in your network PAGES folder, but there are arguments against it. If you will be working on an important file or making many changes, don't click-to-open -- drag a copy of your work onto the "8-day-local" folder and open the copy there. Why?
- Any kind of network problem could slow or interrupt your connection to PAGES, causing you to lose data.
- The program you are running may store invisible temporary files in your PAGES directory while you work, causing frequent "read and write" access to the network disk, slowing you down.
- Dreamweaver and other programs may retain "base folder" or "last folder used" information on the local computer. As a result, the next user of that program will have to wait while the server attempts to open your password-protected PAGES folder and fails.
- Save early and often: Don't wait until that paper or Web page is "finished." Save the document and give it a name as soon as you start, then hit the "save" key whenever you make a significant change. Paranoid? It's a good habit to save a duplicate copy of your work on a second disk -- your hard drive, floppy disks, Zip disks, or your personal folder on PAGES. In a pinch, e-mail yourself a copy of your work for safe keeping. On a big project, copy your work to a new disk now and then and put the old one away for safe keeping. Rename and date old versions to avoid confusion.
- Take care of your disks: Learn how to tell when a floppy or Zip disk is getting full, and switch to a new one when it gets to 3/4 of capacity, or when you've been using it for a month or two. Get a case for your disks; don't just toss them in a backpack full of dust, lint, paper clips and cookie crumbs.
- Learn how to navigate the computer's network disks and folders from the Mac's desktop icons or a PC's "Start" menu, and from the "File/Save" and "File/Open" menus of the programs you use. Understanding the structure of folders-in-folders will save you time making backup copies and looking for lost files.
- Going between machines: Windows PCs cannot read Macintosh-format disks without extra software. Macintoshes can read and write PC-format floppy or Zip disks, but there's some risk that a PC disk can be "corrupted" by a lot of use on a Mac. This may help:
Alternative: Use a Mac Zip disk for backup in the lab, and learn how to access the PAGES server from home as a go-between.
- Bring your work from home on a PC-formatted Zip disk.
- COPY the material from the Zip disk to the 8-day-local folder on the Mac at the start of class.
- Remove the Zip disk.
- Do your in-lab work on the copy in the 8-day folder.
- When you are done, put your Zip disk back in and copy the files back to the Zip. (Put another copy on PAGES to be extra safe.)
- Take the Zip disk home again.
- Keep learning:Consult the monthly (http://telepath.emerson.edu) schedule of FREE short-courses on the thousands of dollars worth of software in our labs! If you have computer problems, ask a lab technician for help or call the Academic Computing help desk at 824-8080. Also see them for instructions on how to get to the course folders and your personal PAGES folders from your dorm or home!
Online copy: http://pages.emerson.edu/faculty/bob_stepno/boblabtips.html
Last updated Jan. 25, 2003, by Bob_Stepno@emerson.edu