Thursday, December 07, 2006

Magnification for XP ThinkPad Good For Visually Disabled

Magnification for XP ThinkPad Good For Visually Disabled

Some time ago, after I had been blogging about eyesight issues, a kind person e-mailed me to say that, in all probability, my Windows setup had a magnification facility, which I would probably find somewhere on the START menu.

I looked, but saw no hint of any magnification facility, so e-mailed back to say that I already had screen magnification thanks to my ThinkPad. Hold down the function key and press the space bar and the screen gets magnified.

I added that I had given up using this facility because it throws all my desktop icons out of alignment. This is a major issue for me because I make heavy use of desktop icons to shortcut my way to my favorite files.

So I wrote off the magnification thing.

Then, recently, while I was poking around my system, trying to build a file that would guide me when I restore my computer to factory conditions, I chanced, by accident, on the magic magnification facility.

On my ThinkPad, which has a little red track point device which sits in the middle of the keyboard and doubles as a mouse, the magnification facility is hidden away in Windows XP Professional at:

START -> SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> MOUSE -> TRACKPOINT. There you have the option to choose, for the middle button of the mouse, either SCROLL or MAGNIFYING GLASS.

There is a SETTINGS button that you can use to fool around with the area that is magnified. After some experimentation, I opted to stay with 2xZoom with width 660 pixels and height 440.

When you press the center button a piece of the screen that big is magnified, and you can shove the magnified are around the screen using the track point.

You need to keep holding the center button down, and to manipulate the track point while doing so.

I tried it on a range of software products, including Microsoft's dreadful Encarta encyclopedia, which seems to have been deliberately engineered to make it as hard as possible for me to use, the VIEW -> ARTICLE TEXT SIZE -> LARGEST option being only about half the size I would like it to be.

And, regardless of what you do with the articles font size, the menu on the left, showing you possible articles, stays at the same wretchedly small font.

So, when I reinstall Windows XP, I will definitely enable central mouse button magnification, with the same 660 x 440 magnifier.

Many thanks to the person who e-mailed me with the tip.

On the same track point panel where you click for SETTINGS for the magnifier, there is a button to click for ACCESSIBILITY SETTINGS -> CURSOR OPTION.

There I chose ENABLE CROSS HAIR CURSOR, setting the width to maximum and the idle time to twenty seconds.

Wait for twenty seconds without messing with the mouse or keyboard and a set of crosshairs pops up on the screen, regardless of what program you are using, bracketing the often extremely hard to find mouse cursor.

Groovy wads of orange-red light go streaming down the arms of the cross hairs, like a visualization of some kind of demonic music. It gives a nice science fictional touch to your computer, particularly when you come into your personal room and the cross hairs are, unexpectedly, pulsing away in the middle of the screen.

You can modify the cross hairs, messing around with the length and color settings, if you so choose.

Once I have restored my computer to factory conditions, I anticipate that my copy of Microsoft Paint, which has fallen over, will be working properly again. Some months back, I was about to blog about what a simple and capable program this is when, abruptly, the facility to change fonts for text input vanished, never to be seen again.

I expect my e-mail client, Mozilla, will be working again, which it is not doing at present. (Worse than flat-out not working, it seems to send e-mail but does not, leading me to remind myself of something I used to impress on my students when I was teaching business e-mail writing: "Messages sent are not necessarily messages received.)

When I reinstall, Mozilla will once again be my main browser, rather than Firefox. It is very simple to adjust text size with Mozilla, using VIEW -> TEXT ZOOM and then choosing or specifying a percentage by which to magnify the font (or to reduce it, if you want to go that way.)

I have been putting off restoring my computer to factory conditions because it is a major hassle. The computer refurbishes itself from a repository hidden away in a secret partition where IBM has set up everything you need to reinstall XP from scratch, so that part is painless.

But installing software, modifying the desktop, choosing the mouse cursor and so forth takes a long time. Last time I did it, the work spread out over three days. This time it will go faster because I have prepared an installation guide for myself, which runs to six pages.

Having used XP for about eighteen months now, I am firmly of the opinion that this is the worst operating system I have ever used, the others being various flavors of DOS, a couple of version of Red Hat Linux, Windows 98 and now this piece of garbage.

I am definitely not going to switch to Vista if I can possibly avoid it. The fact that it has an incredible number of different ways in which to switch off your computer is not an attraction sufficient to make me switch.

I toyed with the idea of going back to Linux, but the latest offering from Red Hat, Fedora Core 5, is not what I want. It has no software to handle mp3s and does not include either my favorite Linux text editor, NEdit, or the website copier Httrack, which I have running on my XP computer in a Windows version, and which I use a lot.

(Yes, I know you can get other stuff and install it, but the hassles I had adding extra stuff to earlier versions of Linux persuade me that it's better to look for an OS which will do what you want it to do, not find one that doesn't and then try to coerce it into obedience.)

But for the new technology which will be coming down the track in the next few years, I need another operating system, one not made by Microsoft.

I thought about buying a Mac, which has a solid operating system, a version of Unix. But the Mac keyboard is not the same as the ThinkPad keyboard, and I do not want to have to do any more retraining than is absolutely necesary.

I don't have an iPod so my mp3 music and my mp3 audio books are all run on my computer, and the buttons at the top of the keyboard (raise volume, lower volume or turn off sound) are supremely convenient.

Also I want to stick with the ThinkPad because the ones I have hammered to death by constant use have taken a fair old pounding before they finally gave up the ghost.

At the moment I'm thinking in terms of running Unix, with the option that I have in mind being to go for FreeBSD, an open source version of Unix, which apparently is something that has evolved from BSD, which, if I'm not mistaken, stands for Berkeley System Distribution, and is a version of Unix produced at Berkeley University.

So, somewhere down the track, I might take a shot at installing FreeBSD, and see how it works out for me.

Once I've done my XP reinstall, I'll post my installation notes online. Eyesight issues touched on include the dastardly Microsoft clock.

If you mouse over this clock then it will pop up the date, but the date only appears for a few seconds, not really long enough for you to grab your magnifying glass, if you need a magnifying glass.

Then, if you mouse over it again, XP refuses to show you the date a second time.

You saw it once, you saw it for a few seconds, that should be enough for you, and if you can't see well enough to appreciate the genius of our marvelous clock then what are you doing using our magnificent OS?

While preparing for my projected reinstall I experimented with some clocks that I used to have up and running under Windows 98, and the one that I am using now is TClockEx, a freeware program which installs in the system tray.

It replaces Microsoft's XP clock and, if you accept the defaults, it shows date and time as follows:

Wed, 6 Dec 2006 22:43:57

You don't have to mouse over the clock to get at the date. The date is always there. And it is clear enough for me to see with my computer-optimized spectacles without reaching for the magnifying glass. Additionally, it defaults to a 24-hour option, the one I want (and which Microsoft's clock will not provide.)

If you don't like the defaults then you can change them easily.

TClockEx is by Dalen Nurden, and the version I have is version 1.3.3, which bears a copyright notice dated 1998.

If you open the program you can see a panel which includes a CLOCK FORMAT pane with a FORMAT ELEMENTS option which include RESOURCE ELEMENTS, such as MEMORY LOAD.

To show that, just add an "L" to the defaults ... I did it, and the figure "78" appears to the left of the date.

A nifty piece of software, I think. Exactly what software should be. Simple to use, capable, easy to install and configure. And useful. I'm always wanting to know what the date is and I always want the time, too.

I thought of installing an alarm clock, too, as I have a whole bunch of these on a set of utility disks that I bought years ago for my Windows 98 system. But the computer is off much of the time, and I don't like to leave it on when I'm asleep. But I did install a little stopwatch to keep track of work.

XP, then. A disaster for human civilization, if you ask me, rather than a step forward. But use can be made of it. If you know how.


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