Thursday, October 1, 1998

Spice up your email signature

EMAIL TRICKS

By Claire Pieterek

Is your .sig (email signature) full of information but lacking frivolity? Spice it up with some ASCII art!

What is ASCII?

ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, and it defines the various printable and non-printable characters used by most computers. (IBM mainframes and AS/400s are the general exception to this rule--they use a proprietary IBM format called EBCDIC, or Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code.)

Although ASCII art uses characters most computers should be able to reproduce, this sort of art views best on a PC using a fixed-width font, like Courier.

If you're not sure about a character, or you want to see what your options are, you can use the Character Map application. Click Start, Programs, and Accessories to find it. Now select Courier New for the font. Character Map is the Windows equivalent of Symbol Hack. If you can't remember the Alt code to type on the numeric keypad that generates the character you want, you can select and copy characters to the Windows Clipboard using Character Map. Non-printable characters display as rectangles in this utility.

What if I can't draw?

If you're like me, and you can't draw without clipart, head to Allen Mullen's excellent page at http://users.inetw.net/~mullen/asciiart.htm which provides links to programs that can convert graphic files to ASCII art, along with other pertinent information. Due to my severe limitations as an artist, I've created a really simple sample piece of ASCII art. Wander through the various links at Allen's site to get a better idea of what ASCII art is all about.

How do I get an ASCII art picture onto my Palm organizer?

You can make and save your drawing in the Windows Notepad or another text editor, then cut and paste it into a new memo in Palm Desktop. The next time you sync, the memo with your Palm device, the picture will be installed on your organizer, as shown in Figure A. You'll probably need to tweak it a little--add a couple of spaces here, delete a few spaces there--once you have the picture on your Palm device.

FIGURE A

Here is a simple sample of ASCII art that I drew using Notepad and synced to my Pilot. (Told you I can't draw!)

A few pointers

Please keep your .sig brief. The general rule of netiquette according to Virginia Shea, the "Miss Manners" of the Internet, is four lines or fewer. As the Jargon File states, "It has been observed that the size of one's sig block is usually inversely proportional to one's longevity and level of prestige on the net." Note that the sample I created violates the preceding rule. If you see a piece of ASCII art that you'd like to use in your .sig, please ask the creator's permission to use it before you abscond with their hard work. If you want to see an example of blatant disregard for the Internet style norms, so blatant it's somewhere beyond cool, you'll need to check out Kibo's signature. See the product availability section at the end of this article for a link.