Sunday, October 14, 2007

Changing the entry language and the keyboard configuration with the language bar

Para los hispanoparlantes, versión en español de este post aquí

For today, yet another educative post I hope is as useful as the post about the US-Int'l keyboard distribution.

I remember the first times I used Windows 2000 and XP; both of them came by default with the Windows Language Bar visible, to change readily my keyboard configuration.

Don't know what's the language bar, much less what is it for? It usually appears in the taskbar, at the right side. I use Windows Vista Home Premium, here's a screenshot:

The first time I saw the language bar, I couldn't see any use to it at all. It offered me three options:

  • Spanish (Spain) - Spanish keyboard, international sort
  • Spanish (Chile) - Latin American keyboard
  • English (US) - US English keyboard

If my keyboard used only the first layout, why the hell should I change it at all? The language bar was just occupying space in the taskbar, so the first thing I did was to remove it. Then came XP, and there it was again, so I removed it again.

The first keyboard problems I ever had, appeared last year, when I had to make a PowerPoint presentation to show while I was in Canada. It was the first time I made a presentation in English.  Even though I set the Slide Maste to write text in English, it just kept turning it to Spanish, and checking the spelling in Spanish. When PowerPoint finally understood the thing was in English, it changed my keyboard configuration to US English. Which caused a problem, for my keyboard was Spanish. I had no idea about how the language bar could help me.

I only came to understand the function of the language bar early in this year, when I bought my laptop and saw myself in need of typing both in English and Spanish. Then I was thankful about the existence of the language bar, which until then I considered just another Microsoft stupidity.

If, just like I did back then, you eliminated the language bar, you can bring it back by getting into the Control Panel, later "Change keyboards or other input methods", and later "Change keyboards...", and later choosing what you need in the "Language bar tab".

And how does the language bar work?

First, we have to know that the language bar controls two things:

  1. The entry language. When you enter text, you almost always do it in a given language, and here you specify which language. This information is given, for example, to MS Word for spell checking a document as you type.
  2. The keyboard layout. This is, the disposition of the letters and punctuation marks in the keyboard.

There's something I still don't get, though: you don't keep switching keyboard layouts. Why the hell when you switch the entry language, automatically the system assumes you change the keyboard configuration? This is really bullshit. Fortunately, there's a way to fix it. For example, my laptop came with three possibilities:

  • English (US) - this option was selected by default
  • English (Canadian French)
  • English (Canadian Multilingual)

where all three choices implied English as my entry language, with the three keyboard layout possilbilities stated above, and I only used the first, since that's the way my keyboard is printed. However, I write in English, Spanish, and from time to time in French... and I don't change my keyboard layout, but I want my spelling checked in the right language. So, using the same notation above, what is best for me to have in the language bar is:

  • English Canada (United States-International)
  • Spanish Chile (United States-International)
  • French Canada (United States-International)

My keyboard is a standard US keyboard. Why do I use the United States-International keyboard layout is explained in this previous post; if you have another keyboard layout, you should change this, and the instructions below, for the keyboard layout you really have.

This is designed for you to adapt the steps I will tell you now, which is what I did, to suit your own needs. The steps to obtain the languages and the layouts I want are the following:

  1. Right-click the language bar, settings. A dialog box appears with the entry languages and keyboard layouts
  2. Click the Add button
  3. In the English (Canada) language, (which is preset by default in my case), I click the cross next to Keyboard to expand, and later Show More, and then I choose United-States International. Without closibg the dialog box, I add the Spanish (Chile) and French (Canada), making sure the keyboard layout remains United States-International. To do this, again I click Show More, and choose United States-International. Then OK.
  4. Choose the language and the keyboard layout by default I need (in my case English Canada-US International). Then OK.
  5. Right-click again the language bar, settings.
  6. I remove all the possibilities I won't use, involving keyboard layouts I don't have. Then OK.

And that's it. Now the language bar only allows me to change the entry language, and doesn't give me the possibility of changing the keyboard layout, which I don't intend to do either. It looks like this:

It's easier to change the entry language by pressing left Alt+left Shift in the keyboard, and the language bar will tell in which language Windows assumes I'm writing on.

I hope this post has been helpful to you. If it's the case, please leave me a comment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wiki as a tool for updated scientific content books

Para los hispanoparlantes, aquí hay una traducción, en mi blog en castellano.

The rise of Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikisource, and many other wikis have led me to think of the importance of the wiki as a collaborative work. Recently, I had the opportunity to write a section for a textbook about nanoparticles, and I thought "just how easily these things get obsolete". And I can also think of that knowledge as partial, a single vision among many. Because the sum of all the visions is what makes reality.

How to get over those pitfalls?...

Then I remembered Wikipedia, the flagship of the wiki media. Just like everyone in the world can contribute to Wikipedia, scientists from all over the world could contribute to the making of a hypothetical, highly respected science wiki-book.

I'm sure there are some projects already having this idea in mind, but to be honest, I know none so far. If anyone knows about any, please let me know.

In this case, I don't mean to use wikis so everyone can edit that science content. I encourage its usage for the content:

  • To be instantly updated as soon as new information is available
  • To be edited only by qualified personnel in a responsible institution behind, allowing the content to be trusted
  • To be readily available online
  • To allow a discussion of the material given

Bill Gates had a dream of seeing paper usage disappear while he is still alive. I hate Gates and his empire, but I agree that online contents have a lot of advantages over their paper counterparts.

I envision a future without books... but with plenty of wikis. No library mice, but plenty of wiki-zappers!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

People around the world reading this space

I am astounded with how many people is reading this blog. Before the installation of the Live Traffic Map at the left of this blog, I had no idea of the people reading this space.

I am also astounded about the fact that most of the readers arrived here by Google search on my post about the US keyboard layout. I can deduce this post has been helpful, given the fact that so many people from all around the globe has read it.

Soon I will publish an update on the subject, with another issue I managed to fix on my laptop keyboard.

I'd also appreciate if someone left me a comment on how helpful my writings have been, especially when the reader is located outside Chile, and/or doesn't know me in person.


Now I have seen how useful my scattered thoughts have been. I am planning to use this space not to publish my feelings, but to publish interesting essays, like I have done the last month in my blog in Spanish.

Having nothing else to say for now, I wish the best for you reading this.

In case you were wondering...

...this blog ain't dead.