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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....

Working With Icons & Avoiding Physical And Eye Strain
February 9th, 2000

If you have several computer related projects or activities going on at once you may find that your desktop is loaded down with folders related to each of the projects. There are a couple of things you can do to distinguish your folders. (This also has the advantage of impressing your grandchildren.) First we will look at the very simplest way to make changes. You can change the colors of the different folders on your desktop with the click of the mouse. First choose a folder and click on it just once so that it becomes highlighted but doesn't open. Make sure you do not have any other program active by clicking your cursor somewhere on the blank space of your desktop before you click on your folder. Any thing that is open should be grayed out. Then, leaving the chosen folder highlighted, move your mouse to the top of your screen. If you have a newer operating system on your machine you can find the color choices under the pulldown menu labeled File then to Label. Click on it and it will open and show you several color choices. Choose one by moving the cursor to the one you want and releasing it. Your chosen folder will now be the new color. If you have an older operating system you can find the color choices under the View pull down menu.

Suppose you want to really spice it up and substitute a custom icon for the folder. First you need to find icons that you like. One source is called Mighty Toad and it can be found at This site offers a quality grade of icon for sale, but there are samples in each area so you can try them out before you decide to purchase.

Samples from Mighty Toad

You can find other icons at numerous sites on the internet. One of my favorite is If you have an iMac and want to have icons that match the iMac persona, you can find some nifty free ones at Hides Icon Showcase at

Samples from Hides Icon Showcase

If you have a favorite subject such as your pet, or a hobby you can probably find icons that match if you just take the time to do an internet search. Once you have your icons chosen, the steps to turn them into folders are really very simple. These are the steps I took to turn a plain folder into one that looks like the Texas flag.

From This To This

1. Download the icons you want to use and save them on your desktop.

2. Click on and highlight the icon you want to copy and then choose "Get Info" from the File pulldown menu.

3. In the Get Info window, the icon you have selected will appear at the top. Click it once (a black frame will surround it), then choose "Copy" from the Edit pulldown menu.

4. Now, repeat the "Get Info" routine with the blank folder or file you want to attach the new icon to; select it and choose "Get Info."

5. Again, click the old icon in the Get Info window, so that the frame appears, but this time choose "Paste" from the Edit pulldown menu. The new icon should be pasted onto the folder and replace the old one.

You can even do this with photographs. The following example was made from a photo saved as a JPEG document. The photo was actually about 2 inches by 4 inches but when I saved it as a folder icon it automatically adjusted to the appropriate size.

Making a Folder from a Photograph

1. Click on the photo you want to copy and choose copy.

2. Next click on the folder you want to change and choose "Get Info" from the File pulldown menu.

3. In the Get Info window, the icon you want to change will appear at the top. Click it once (a black frame will surround it), then choose "Paste" from the Edit pulldown menu. Your chosen photo should now be pasted onto the folder and replace the old one.

And now for something completely different

Now I would like to turn to a completely different subject, that of computer fatigue. You can ask any one who uses a computer several hours a day about this subject and they will have comments and/or suggestions for dealing with it. I am no different I guess as I have two recommendations. When talking about computer fatigue we are really talking about Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) Some of the symptoms include upper or lower back pain, neck and shoulder pain, pain, loss of sensation or weakening of forearms, wrists, hands and fingers, and/or tired eyes and focusing difficulties. It is not uncommon for me to spend 8 or 10 hours a day working on a computer so I am familiar with these symptoms, particularly with the burning sensation that can occur between your shoulder blades, and eye strain. Some people develop tendinitis or other more serious problems and must undergo surgery or wear casts. None of this is pleasant.

In the spirit of "if you can't beat them, join them," renowned Macintosh software developer Frank Reiff , Ph.D, has developed a computer application to address the problem. The application is called MacBreakZ! 2.1b (the b means it is a beta version and still undergoing development and testing.) It was just released last month. The application requires Mac OS 7.6 or better and is shareware at the minimal cost of only $5. You can download this application at and give it a try.

Attributes include discreet break dialog for those not wanting to draw attention to themselves, clarified activity monitor dialog, improved layout for small screens, and graphical demonstrations of activities. I was curious about Dr. Reiff's reasons for creating the application. First I learned that he received his Ph.D. in Computer Supported Cooperative Work at Lancaster University in the UK. One of the things about which he is known and respected in the field is his recognition of the fact that over complicated or difficult to use computer applications and systems can easily lead to a culture of exclusion around the technology and therefore dis-empower at least some users. He notes that "If the goal of making groups of people work together in a more efficient and productive manner was to be met, I reasoned, a group support system would have to be particularly easy to use (not just for users with bifocals) and serve more as a medium for communication, sharing and coordination than as a tool for enforcing management control." His first product was a PublicSpace group productivity solution, released about 4 years ago. His second product which was released 2 years ago, is called "A Better Finder." This is composed of a series of file tools that facilitate ease of use of your Macintosh. You can investigate these applications by visiting the web site noted above.

While pursuing his Ph.D and conducting research, Dr. Reiff began exhibiting signs of RSI. This prompted him to research the problem and create a new application to help others. His research proved that "the answer to RSI prevention and recovery is always the same: pacing, stretching, and behavior modification. The first involves taking regular breaks to allow the body to recover in between sessions, the second means performing some simple stretching and strengthening exercises at work and the final one means learning how to use a computer safely."

The application downloads and installs quickly and easily. Once installed it asks you a couple of questions and allows you to set the schedule at which you feel you need breaks. After that it will automatically open when your computer is turned on. At the scheduled times, previously selected by you, a screen will pop up to remind you to take a break and lead you on a mini set of stretching exercises that can be done right at your desk. The option to ignore the recommendations and continue working is available. These kinds of exercises really do make a difference and many people who have sought medical help for the problems have been given the same kind of exercises to do by their physicians or other health care professionals.

My second recommendation is for people who wear bifocals or even trifocals as I do. You probably already know that you are most comfortable when your chair and your computer are set at appropriate heights. An "appropriate height" for the computer is usually determined by placing the computer monitor in such a way that you can look directly at it. That puts the least amount of strain on your shoulders, neck and back. However, if you wear bifocals chances are you will tilt your head back anyway because you can read the screen easier through your bifocal lens. I did this for years before I figured out that I was doing it. Major strain! At least it was for me. Everyone's prescription is different and this solution may not help everyone, but if there is a great difference between your bifocal lens and your distance lens you may find this helpful. If cost is not an issue for you you can ask your eye care professional for a separate pair of glasses to be used for the computer only. If this expense is a problem then you can try what I did. I checked the prescription for my glasses to determine the appropriate strength of my bifocal (+2.5 in each eye) and went to the local drug store and purchased a pair of $20 "reading glasses" from a display. They were clearly marked as to prescription strength so all I had to do was get a pair set at +2.5 and try them. They have proven to be so beneficial that I have since purchased a second pair so that I can leave one at work and one at home. With these glasses on I am able to look directly at the screen and it has had a remarkable positive affect on tension and pain in my back and neck. I am fortunate that my bifocal lens is the same for each eye or this would not have worked. Now I am so accustomed to looking at the computer head on, that if I sit down at the computer with my regular glasses on everything is blurry. Obviously I am not an eye care professional and you should always follow the recommendations of those who are, but at least consider all your options if this is a problem for you.

If you have any tips, suggestions, or other comments about this, or any other Mac topics, send them to me so that I can share them with other readers.

Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.

Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.

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