Print Page

Controlling the character-eating critter

Sun Advocate/Progress

Virtually anyone who's used a computer has had to deal with the elusive character-eating critter at some point or another. It can be nefarious. It can be elusive. But it can be controlled, and in many cases, can be used to our benefit.

Most of us witness the creature when we're typing away on our computer. Suddenly, it seems, the characters in front of our blinking cursor begin to mysteriously disappear as we type.

For example, when we are in the clutches of this cunning critter, we can't add words to paragraphs we've already typed. When we try, we end up typing over the top of existing letters and words. It's a pain we all go through now and again.

So the question is, how do we control this pest and use it to our advantage? That's an interesting question, since we never see the critter. It's not something we literally see.

Thankfully, controlling the character-eating critter is actually pretty easy. Simply press the Insert key on the keyboard, and the critter is no more.

But letting the critter loose now and again isn't always a bad thing to do. There are times it really is a good thing. It all depends on what you are trying to do.

For example, perhaps you're writing an email, and you want to type over the top of an existing paragraph. The critter may make that task easier. But most of us want the critter in confinement most of the time.

Of course there is no real "critter" in your computer. But sometimes it certainly seems that way. And regardless of the cause, a problem is a problem nonetheless - and a pain no matter how you look at it.

In technical terms, the character-eating critter is simply a text typing mode called "overwrite". Most of the time, an accidental key press (slip of the finger, in other words) is to blame.

The opposite of overwrite mode is insert mode, which is the default typing mode in virtually all word processors and email programs. When in insert mode, the cursor advances with each key press and pushes all the characters in front of it forward. When you type, it adds the to the existing characters - it doesn't replace them.

In most word processors the current type mode is displayed on the bottom of the screen in the status bar. In Writer, for example, the status bar will show "INSRT" or "OVER" in the status bar. The keyboard's Insert key allows the user to toggle between the two modes.

Now you know why the seemingly unimportant Insert key deserves a place on your computer's keyboard.

Have comments about this article or suggestions for a future Tech Tips article? Send an e-mail to

Print Page