Something for the Weekend, Sir? The person sitting next to me has confessed that sometimes he likes to do it sideways. Apparently this way he can make use of the full length without straining his neck.
He’s lucky: not everyone has the facility to rotate their computer display.
Even those that do often don’t realise they can. A manager I worked for quite a few years ago once called in IT Support because his the stand under his huge 22-inch CRT monitor was “broken”. He had to be reminded that it was what we used to call a pivot monitor – ordered at great and unnecessary expense for no reason other than that he had seen an advert for one – and that he might have accidentally nudged it five degrees clockwise... possibly by trying to balance something a bit heavy on top?
“I did no such thing!” was his indignant response at the accusation. The coffee mug rings on the monitor’s flat top suggested otherwise. However, the support minion felt it best to avoid incurring the manager’s other catchphrase – “Don’t you tell me what to do!” – and so nudged the display five degrees widdershins and left him to it.
Less than a week later, the manager had this monitor replaced. Apparently, it had “spontaneously” ceased working, albeit accompanied a loud bang (heard across the entire fourth floor), sparks and a plume of smoke, leaving behind the inexplicable aroma of freshly roasted coffee.
These days, pivoting displays are nothing special. At least half the cheapo TFT displays I come across in people’s offices can be rotated as standard. You can tell this at a glance because every single one has been rotated slightly to varying degrees, probably as the result of being rigorously wiped down, Mrs Doyle fashion, by the early morning cleaners. And you can see the users dotted around the office staring at their displays with tilted heads and increasingly sore necks.
I remember turning up very early at one customer site only to stumble across some poor sod who had decided to come in even earlier in order to finish something terribly important. He was frantically bashing away at the keys and slapping the mouse on the desk, and looked as if he might have been crying earlier.
It took a moment for me to see what was wrong. His display was resting on his desktop sideways.
And I mean this quite literally: he had evidently picked up the entire unit, turned it around and placed it gently back down on its side, with the stand poking out to the right and the screen displaying Windows in portrait mode.
Now imagine what it’s like to use PowerPoint in portrait. No wonder he’d been crying.
You can probably guess what had happened. In the midst of his early morning panic, he must have hit the notorious key combination Ctrl+Alt+RightArrow, which on many Windows computers with certain video cards rotates the on-screen display by 90 degrees.
I would like to say that I had been reminded of the this video rotation feature when it was raised in the comments to last week’s SftWS column, but in fact I did not need reminding. I see this action performed by accident frequently during training sessions. How frequently? Well, now you mention it, every bloody time.
I had one spectacular session in which I asked a roomful of trainees to press Ctl+Shift+> and every single one of them decided, independently yet en masse as if struck by a collective rebellious insanity, to ignore me and press Ctrl+Atl+RightArrow instead. What struck me most was that instead of the pandemonium you might have expected at that point, the startled trainees looked at each other’s screens for guidance, saw that they had all rotated 90 degrees, assumed this was correct, and attempted to continue with the course without complaint.
It’s hardly their fault. It’s more a case of dangerously daft and recklessly enabled default keyboard shortcuts hidden away in video driver control panels that you never knew existed, even if you knew where to find them – which you don’t if you’re running Windows 7 or 8.
There are some wacky equivalents under Mac OS X too. If you inadvertently press the wrong set of keys at the same time, your Mac might log out, restart or switch off entirely – without asking for confirmation.
Given enough free time, I might hunt for more such secret key commands. Perhaps there’s one to empty your Trash and overwrite unused disk space with zeroes, another that forces your processor to self-incinerate, and yet another to cause all the key caps on your numeric keypad to suddenly pop out, Buckeroo-fashion. Oh, what amusement awaits!
Speaking of fun at the office, I have seen the display rotation feature being used as a trick played upon unsuspecting colleagues. Upon their return to their desks after lunch, they find that their screens are showing Windows upside-down or, my personal favourite, in Back Projection mode, which flips their screen into a mirror image.
Ah yes, then there was that time when someone swapped the Bluetooth mice between adjacent desks. Oh how we laughed, for a good four seconds, anyway.
We even have equivalent mischief in the dull old world of typographical design. For example, there’s a concept generally called Baseline Shift, which means floating selected text higher than the rest of the text on the same line. It’s most often used for what word processors call “superscript” effects such as exponential numbers.
Anyway, if you raise Baseline Shift enough, the text will appear to be on the line above the one it’s actually on. This makes the text impossible to select or edit if you don’t realise what has happened. Wherever you click the mouse or move the cursor, it will always go to the wrong place.
Oh typographers, you kuh-rayzee guys.
I have never performed this time-wasting prank because I’m not that kind of person. As the saying goes, the first discipline of education must be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter *. But I have seen it inflicted by someone else on a colleague who, I was assured, “deserved it, the bastard”.
It took “the bastard” almost an hour to work out what had been done to his document, by which point he was stomping around calling everyone else “a bastard”. And so it continued, bastard bastard bastard, for the rest of the day.
Look, it’s bad enough that software developers invent ever more ingenious ways to trip us up. Don’t make it worse by weaponising them and inflicting them on your fellow bastards. It makes me glad to be a freelancer. In the gritty world of wage-slavery, it must be wall-to-wall bastards.
Isn’t that right, Mrs Doyle?
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He has shied away from pranks ever since his classmates at school elected to surprise the teacher by balancing a waste paper basket over the door. It might have been funny if it the basket hadn’t actually been a razor-edged square metal bin weighing 5kg.
* No prizes for guessing who I’m quoting other than the satisfaction of being a regular reader.