About Anne Gunn

A Wyoming native who grew up in Montana, Anne Gunn lived for 20 years in New England before returning to Wyoming in 1999. While in New England, she co-founded Tally Systems, a bootstrap-funded software company. At Tally she wore many hats, including software development, sales, technical support, quality assurance, and product management. In 1995 she promoted herself from Senior VP of Product Management to entry level programmer in order to have more flexibility about when and where she worked. She remained on the board of Tally until its sale to Novell in 2005. Here in Wyoming, she has worked as a freelance programmer and has a small software company, Sheridan Programmers Guild, that publishes apps, websites, and ebooks. But these days, most of her time and energy goes into teaching coding as a computer science instructor at Sheridan College / NWCCD.

Five Essential Keyboard Shortcuts for Coders (and other humans)

Control-Z Keyboard Shortcut Illustrated

Keyboard shortcuts? Why bother?

It used to be fairly safe for a computer science instructor to assume that:

  • Folks who took programming courses were very interested in computers and had already spent a lot of time on a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Folks who spent a lot of time on computers had also spent a lot of time on their keyboards and were likely to be fluent with a core set of keyboard shortcuts.

Neither is true any more. Business students take web development courses simply to get a better understanding of how web sites are put together. Science students now often enroll in Intro CS because it is required for their major. Science is rarely done entirely in test tubes or on bench-tops these days; modeling and simulations are ever more important. Neither group may ever have been interested in computers in their own right.

And, these days, even folks who spend a LOT of time on electronic devices now are not necessarily physical keyboard users. They may well spend most of their time poking and swiping or even, heck, talking to that little box. When they do use a conventional keyboard and mouse, they mostly use menu options accessible via mouse (Edit/Undo, File/Save) rather than keyboard shortcuts.

But, when you are in a coding class, getting your wrist neurons wrapped around a small set of keyboard shortcuts can save you TONS of time and frustration. Sure, the same work can be done with a mouse and the menu options. But not as fast and not as fluently. The less you have to think about when making certain kinds of small changes, the more you can keep the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish in context.

When you’re not in coding class, the keyboard shortcuts can still be big time savers. If you’re a student who is stepping up your writing game to produce multiple short essays a week or a few longer papers a semester, keyboard fluency can make that work go faster. If you are a teacher who has to grade online or a business person who responds to a lot of emails, the faster and more accurately you can copy/paste, undo, and save, the faster you can cut through the administrivia of your day and get on to other tasks.

So, in order from most important to least, these are my nominations for the five essential keyboard shortcuts all modern humans should know. Mac users note: on your keyboard, substitute the Cmd (command) key for the Ctrl (control) key.

#1: Ctrl-Z — Undo

If you’re like me, you make a lot of small mistakes and/or change your mind a lot as you type. Having the Undo command literally at your fingertips can save time, your mouse shoulder, and sometimes, for coders, your whole day if you can use it to transform mysteriously now-broken code back into the previous was-working code.

For coders: Note that you can use Ctrl-Z not just once but repeatedly. If you had code that was working, then made changes in several places and now have code that won’t run at all, take a few minutes to scan back through your many changes and see if you can spot the problem. But don’t waste time on this step. If you can’t identify the defect after a thorough scan of your new/modified code, Ctrl-Z your way back to greatness (i.e., working code), then, slowly, carefully work your way forward again, testing as often as you can. Feel like undoing lots of changes is too slow for you? A) Test more often, you’ll have less code to fix. B) Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

For other humans: Undo is not only great for fixing your own writing. It should be your number one weapon in the ongoing battle against the increasingly over-zealous auto-corrects and auto-formats of your mail and word processing programs. Want a hyphen at the start of a line and it keeps getting turned into a bullet point? A backspace deletes too much. Ctrl-Z undoes just the auto-formatting and leaves your hyphen where you put it. Working on an employee manual and keep seeing the HSA you type get auto-corrected to HAS? Ctrl-Z is a quick fix. (But if you have a problem like this consistently, know that you can change the auto-correct dictionary for just about any product.)

#2: Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V — Copy/Paste

Just about everyone knows the mouse/menu options for copy/paste. Master the keyboard shortcuts. Seriously. Speed of execution goes WAY up.

For those of you who don’t: Simply highlight the text you want to copy. Hit Ctrl-C. Move your cursor to the location where you want the copy to go. Hit Ctrl-V. If you haven’t ever tried it, open a document editor right now and give it a go. Seriously. We’ll wait here for you till you come back.

#3: Ctrl-X/Ctrl-V — Cut/Paste

Ctrl-X, Cut, is the under-appreciated sibling of Ctrl-C. In coding, particularly when you are trying to fine-tune some almost-working code, you more often want to move some code than make another copy of it. If you use Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V, you have to remember to go back and delete the old copy. If you CUT the code, rather than copying it, you know you’ll end up with it in only one place. Afraid of being interrupted in the middle of the operation and losing something? See Ctrl-Z above.

#4: Ctrl-F — Find

Perhaps you are scanning through code to remind yourself of a variable name. Or you find yourself scrolling up and down through a long web page or Word doc to find that one critical sentence you know has to be there. STOP. Don’t scroll, Find. There are very few text-based products any more (and that includes web browsers and pdf readers) that don’t respond to a Ctrl-F by putting up a search box to help you find a word or phrase. No, it’s not a Google search tool. You have to type the word(s) exactly to find them. But compared to scrolling, Find can save your time and your eyes.

#5: Ctrl-A — Select All

Ctrl-A is usually used as a precursor to Ctrl-C. You want to copy all the text out of a doc or a source code file. You can place your cursor at the top and scroll down to the bottom, highlighting as you go. Or you can simply Ctrl-A to select all the text. Be warned, though, this is the one keyboard shortcut that works significantly less well on browser pages. You may end up selecting text you did not want out of menus and nav bars.

#6: Ctrl-S — Save!

Google docs and the auto-save features in many other online tools have made all of us less vigilant about saving compulsively. But, coders, your online code editor is probably configured to wait for you to explicitly Save a file. And, other humans, if you still use the desktop versions of Excel and Word, don’t be in the habit of waiting till you hit the Close button and being prompted to Save. Save early, save often, save tears.

Yeah, sure, my top five list has six entries. Consider 6 just a bit of lagniappe waiting for anyone who got all the way to the end.

Working Memory and Lost Keys


Not my family’s fabled key ring but about the right size and variety.
Photo by Jim Pennucci via Flickr
[License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0]

Keys lost

I share a personality trait with at least two of my closest blood relatives. When I get in a hurry or under stress, I lose my car keys.

It took me a long time to isolate this pattern as something predictable and, indeed, diagnostic.

Lost key episodes were a dramatic feature of my childhood. My parents owned a large and rambling old motel and, when I was very young, they shared custody of a master key ring of epic proportions. Once when my dad was out of town for a weekend, my mom had to cope with an unexpected spring snow storm and with all the plumbing and heating problems that were usually dad’s to deal with. (For the most part, my dad took care of the physical systems; my mom dealt with the people.) Mom did a masterful job of getting us through the crisis. But by the time my dad got back to town, her triumph was overshadowed by disaster. She had lost the big key ring and none of us could find it, no matter how hard or long we searched. Continue reading

Wrong Answers: Mistakes or Misconceptions?

Even the equals sign can be the target of misconceptions

The first use of an equals sign, equivalent to 14x+15=71 in modern notation. From The Whetstone of Witte by Robert Recorde. [Public domain] Courtesy Wikipedia.org.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about learning and teaching algebra. It’s not a topic I thought much about when I was learning algebra myself. It was just another math class for me. Not as much fun a geometry proofs, admittedly, but a reasonably good time nonetheless. (Yep. I was one of those strange kids that actually liked geometry proofs. Some people like to run 25+ miles at a time. Some folks are willing to listen to jazz. No accounting for taste, is there?)

Turns out, though, that learning algebra is actually pretty hard and teaching it is very tricky indeed. It’s full of little “threshold concepts” — those hard-to-teach, hard-to-learn, see-the-world-differently-after-you-know-them ideas that frustrate learners and teachers alike. And oddly enough, it is also a topic where the math the student already knows can turn out to be full of deep-seated misconceptions, lying in wait to trip her up and make new learning painful.

Take the humble, ubiquitous equals sign for example. Continue reading

Wrong Answers in Developmental Math

This is the second of two posts on the role that wrong answers can play in the algebra classroom. The student in a developmental math class generally doesn’t react in either of the two ways described in my previous post.
Developmental Math is not formulaic

Wrong Answers — Student Perspectives II

It is easy to picture the developmental classroom as being filled with undirected young slackers who just didn’t try hard enough when they were taught algebra the first time around in public school. Clearly this is the theory of the many state legislators around the country who are restricting funds for developmental education in their post-secondary education systems.

Ask a developmental education instructor, though, and what you will consistently hear is, “Our students have complicated lives.” Whatever the back story of an adult learner sitting in a remedial pre-algebra class, you can be pretty certain that some aspects of their current situation are not that pretty. Most of them are making an extraordinary effort to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

So, while the instructor is up there at the board, working through that hard one, a thousand things unrelated to the correct math process are probably running through the students’ minds. Continue reading

Wrong Answers in Algebra Class

Teaching algebra is not an easy formula to parse

It’s been my privilege, recently, to sit in on several algebra and pre-algebra classes being taught by master instructors.

Wrong Answers — Teacher perspective

Think about an experienced algebra teacher going over a set of practice problems with her class. It’s yesterday’s homework assignment that she wants to correct at the start of class today, so she and the students can get quick feedback on how they are doing before she moves on to new material.

She asks for the students’ attention. She reads each answer out loud, repeating it if requested, while each student marks up his or her own paper. At the end, she asks, “Do you want me to work through any of the problems on the board?”

Because she’s experienced, she really doesn’t need the students to tell her which problems to go over, but she would rather they do so. It’s one way she knows she’s developing rapport with the class, when students feel comfortable enough to raise a hand and ask out loud, “Can you please do #11?”. Continue reading

High Tech Money Laundering with Carbon Dioxide

Thousand Dollar BillCarbon dioxide (CO2) gets an awful lot of bad press these days. So I was pleased, earlier this week, to note it being touted as the environmentally-friendly solution to a big green problem.

It turns out that dealing with old paper money is a huge issue for the world’s central banks. The notes generally need to be destroyed and replaced since there has been no good way to clean them. Now scientists in Rhode Island have come up with a solution: use supercritical CO2 to clean the accumulated hand oils and dirt off of the old bills so they can be re-used.

Here’s the layman’s version of the story, from The Econmist: The Benefits of Money Laundering

Or, for you folks who prefer your science news unmediated by the press, here’s a reference to the research paper itself: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ie403307y

BugOut! Live — New Learning Environment Goes Online

For the last six months, in parallel with the research work we’ve been documenting here on our Learning Laboratory site, we at Sheridan Programmers Guild have been building some custom software for a truly remarkable customer.

Dr. Meghan Jeffres is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson, Nevada.  She is a specialist in infectious diseases (ID).  She teaches courses in statistics and infectious diseases to pharmacy and dental students in a classroom setting and precepts pharmacy students and medical residents in a clinical setting. Continue reading

MOOCs: chaotic or chaordic?

Ami Erickson, one of the deans at Sheridan College, our local community college, recently participated in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about MOOCs.  Although Erickson is a teacher and administrator at a relatively traditional bricks-and-mortar institution, one of her personal goals is to “identify, promote, and encourage opportunities to help [her] team excel in a dynamic process of progress and growth.”

So when she got the chance to participate in the online class put on by Hybrid Pedagogy, a “digital journal of teaching and technology,” she jumped onboard.  Then she wrote about the experience in a piece that appears on her own blog and was recently published in our local newspaper, where I happened to see it.

Read Ami’s own post if you want the details.  But I think her experience with a MOOC may be quite common.  On her first day, she wrote, “My initial impression following the introductions and comments by the approx 300 participants is that this is pure chaos.”  “But maybe this chaos will organize . . .

And it did. Continue reading