Learn to Use Your Tools – Word and Writer

A person with a toolkit generally spends a bit of time learning to use the tools in it, otherwise he or she will get limited benefit from the tools available. It’s important to have the right tools, and it’s also important to learn how to use them effectively.

This post applies in that general sense to all computer software, but particularly to Microsoft™ Word and OpenOffice.org Writer (or one of its branches, such as LibreOffice). The material here applies equally to both systems.

If you’re going to just write letters to print, you may not need to spend a great deal of time learning. Find how to load and save files, do minimal editing, print, and you’re off and running. But what happens if you need to exchange files with someone? Correspondence is frequently exchanged by e-mail attachment these days, so how do you make sure your file can be read, and if necessary, converted by the person on the other end?

This doesn’t just apply to exchanging files between different programs. It can also apply to files that two different people need to edit. What will make it easier for the other person to edit without destroying the format of the entire manuscript?

A chapter headerI work with this regularly in publishing (Energion Publications), where the conversion is generally from Writer or Word to Adobe™ InDesign. Depending on what software our author is using, we also may be converting from Writer to Word, though that is generally in a less formatted state of the document. Normally it takes a couple of hours to clean up a book manuscript after conversion. Various little things mean that the formatting  in InDesign doesn’t work as it should.

Recently, however, I got a manuscript from an author who had taught classes in using Microsoft™ Word. I had known this would be an improvement, but I was shocked at how well it went. In about 15 minutes I had all of the format converted over, What’s more, that 15 minutes would have applied equally to a 200, 300, or 400 page book.

Why? He knew how to use his software.

With that lengthy introduction, let me give you a few tips for making your various text editing and page layout programs interact. It’s all a matter of using the capabilities of the software, and these suggestions apply to just about any workflow.

  1. Save your most tricky formatting until the last. For example, if you’re going to add a drop cap to your first paragraph using an image, don’t add it until you’re ready to go to print. It will just move around and force you to reposition it if other things move. If you’re going to share a document that includes tricky elements with anyone who doesn’t need to edit it, do it in PDF format. In fact, it’s a good idea to use PDF when sharing unless you need to edit a document collaboratively.
  2. Use the spacebar and return key sparingly. In general, don’t hit either of these keys twice in a row. Use precise positioning such as you can do with styles (see below). Items positioned with the space bar or return key don’t keep their format as the document is edited.
  3. Use paragraph styles for every type of paragraph and only one style for each instance of the same type of paragraph. This is important. You can transfer properly styled documents between Word and Writer with generally good results. In my business, what’s important is that if styles are used properly, I can import a document into InDesign and fit it to a template with a few keystrokes. In a long document you should have styles for regular paragraphs, headings (one for each level), captions, footnotes, bibliography entries, signature lines, and anything else that’s repeated, and these styles should be consistent.
  4. Create your spacing in your style. For example, if you want a half an inch below your title before the text starts, make it part of the title style. If you want a drop cap on the first paragraph of your chapter, make a “first paragraph” style with the drop cap and apply that style to each paragraph. Then if you change your mind and want just a quarter inch below the title, all you do is change the title, and everything will update.
  5. Create character styles for different types of text. Why? It makes it easy to change things. Suppose you write your manuscript using bold text for emphasis. In each case you bold the text by hand. This seems OK and it looks OK. But supposing that at the end of editing you decide that your emphasized text should be in italics rather than bold. What do you do then? If you bolded by hand, you’ll have to construct and format search/replace which can be tricky (did you use bold only for emphasis?) or you can change them all by hand. If you created a character style for emphasis, all you’ll have to do is change that style from Bold to Italic, and you’re done.
  6. In tables, use cell and row formatting as well as text styles. Don’t position text in a cell with the return or space key. Use top, center, or bottom vertical alignment, or set a precise distance. It takes a bit more time when you do it, but it will save you time later.
  7. In files that will be edited collaboratively, avoid fancy formatting. Keep it simple. The more complex you get, the more specific the formatting is to the specific program you’re using and sometimes even to the computer you’re using it on (font availability being the key).
  8. Find a consistent procedure and use it. Just because something works and makes the document look good at the moment, doesn’t mean it will be good down the road.

We have powerful tools for text editing that cover everything from writing a business letter to creating a full book on the ordinary PC. Learning to use these tools properly will pay dividends.

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Viewing Your Google+ Stream Chronologically

I like to view my social media streams in strict chronological order. Go to the following post from +Luiz Fernado to find out how.

https://plus.google.com/112628336965092687932/posts/28BVXHTt6d6

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What Facebook Should Admit

WebProNews quotes a long answer to the question many advertisers are asking about organic reach via their pages on Facebook. Facebook spokespeople have been trying to answer this question for a long time, and advertisers just aren’t satisfied.

I have a number of problems with Facebook, which I will outline below, but the way they’re handling page posts isn’t one of them. Yes, my own organic reach has dropped  on my very small Facebook page for Energion Publications. But I expected that. You see, Facebook has to make money just like I do. They make enormously, almost incomprehensibly more money than I do, but still, they are a business and they have to eventually drive revenue.

Internet users have become spoiled. They expect to get everything for nothing. People who provide services and information need to generate revenue somehow, and that generally means advertising. So it’s simple. They have to make money.

In the case of Facebook, that means they need to have a large base of users, mostly satisfied, and they have to someone get paid to put some information in front of those users. They aren’t going to pay to get baby announcements from their friends and extended family. So the answer is advertising.

The only objection I have in this is that someone at Facebook hasn’t just said, “Look, we have to make money. Why on earth did you expect us to provide free access forever and how did you think we’d pay for it?” The old economic adage, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” applies.

That said, I still don’t like Facebook. But my objection is entirely personal. I am fine with Facebook as a business. In fact, almost all my visits involve maintaining my business page. I pay for some advertising there as well.

And I’m not boycotting Facebook either. I’m just using it about as much as it pleases me to use it. So when my wife directs me to a picture of one or more of our grandchildren, or tags me in a comment that relates to a family post, I’ll go look at it. When I do, I’ll glance at the first few stories in the “most recent” feed.

If the “most recent” feed was actually made up of most recent posts, I’d probably still be a satisfied Facebook user. In fact, they keep promoting stuff that my friends have commented on, so “most recent” generally includes the comments, and I really don’t care. I used to scan the feed (I scan very quickly), until I got back to the material from my last scan, and then I’d move on. Now I can’t work that efficiently. I have some algorithm designer trying to present to me the stuff that I’m going to want to see–in his or her opinion–and I don’t care for that opinion.

So I’m on Facebook much less. My social media time that used to be spent on Facebook is divided between Google+ and Twitter, both of which have their own problems, but with various tools allow me to get the material that interests me.

In general, however, I think everyone should expect that somewhere, somehow, someone is going to have to pay for quality content online. There’s no free lunch. We can keep trying to avoid it, but it will happen.

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Firefox Solves Font Issue with SBL New Testament on Bible Gateway

I’ve had problems with two sites that I use a great deal when accessed from my Android tablet or phone. These are Bible Gateway, when using the SBL Greek New Testament and Nestle-Aland.com when reading the NA28 Greek NT online.

There are quite a number of complex solutions to font problems on Android. In this case, however, the easiest one is to simply access both sites using Firefox. I installed that and it worked perfectly.

Note that this won’t solve the problem in the Bible Gateway app. I still have font issues with the SBL Greek NT there.

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Your Computer is a Tool – Learn to Use It

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered in doing computer and small network support for professionals and small businesses is that many professionals don’t really want to spend any time learning to use their computer. I don’t mean that they don’t want to become experts. Why should they? It’s a tool for them to get certain things done. But to learn some of the basics of how to get something from this tool they would still have to take time, and they don’t want to.

These people aren’t stupid. They learn to use other tools when they need to. But not so much the computer. I don’t think it’s a matter of money. In general, these people pay by the month, quarter, or year to have good support, but they waste considerable time getting assistance with tasks they really should learn themselves.

For example, simply knowing the difference between a file, a folder, and an application would be useful. You use your word processor to create a document, which many computer related materials will call a file, and you put that in a folder on your computer. (You could also learn that this folder is kept on a hard drive, and might be transferred to a cloud based drive or a USB drive to be transported elsewhere, but let’s not push things.)

An hour or so of training might save hours of support time down the road. So if your IT guy (or gal) tells you it would be a good idea to spend some time training, consider doing it. You’ll be helping yourself.

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Forgetting Which Computer I’m Using

This is not so much a technical note as one about the weird way the brain works, though you may need some technical knowledge to understand what happened. It’s not complex, however, and the problem is strictly one of the way the brain functions.

The other day I had what I thought was a bug in some PHP code I had created for a web site. It turned out that the problem was in filtering certain field values in a database, which was easy to fix. Well, easy to fix if my brain hadn’t taken a detour.

In fact, I did fix it quickly. But I couldn’t get the “fixed” code to work. It was supposed to generate an XML file which was then consumed by a VBA macro and used in an Access database.

Once I had found the offending unfiltered character and fixed that, I could type the appropriate URL into my browser and get an XML document. I could validate the XML document and it came without errors. But when I tried to access it from VBA, I came up with no nodes at all.

Now my setup involves an Ubuntu machine on which I have a web server with X-DEBUG and Netbeans. In order to test the VBA code, I use VNC to control a Windows 7 machine remotely, which runs the Access database. So of course my URL to test the code on the local web server is just localhost.

But this Windows machine is displayed to me in the second monitor connected to the Ubuntu machine. It’s actually physically located in another building. That’s not something that I normally even notice. I’m very used to having that particular machine up on one of my two monitors as I use it frequently in testing.

I’m guessing anyone who read this far knows what very stupid thing I was doing. It was, after all, right on the monitor in front of me. I was typing “localhost” as the host on the Windows machine, which did not have a web server with my application, of course. Easy fix.

But it’s an interesting mind game having machines that I access in one location that are physically located elsewhere.  I think my age is showing! I’m guessing the next generation of computer users will be so used to having differing virtual machines or additional processing power that is not physically part of the same machine that they won’t have that problem.

 

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Trash, Junk, and Spam

Junk e-mail or spam is ubiquitous. Most of my incoming e-mail falls into this category. But I was reminded of the ways of handling this when dealing with some outgoing e-mail issues recently.

I don’t send out any bulk e-mail at all. The largest e-mail list we send to is when my wife sends one of her devotionals out to quite a number of friends. But the number there is tiny compared to most bulk e-mail.

Here’s the problem, and e-mail users can help with it. If you’re on an e-mail site, such as Google, or if you’re using certain e-mail software, you may have the option to mark e-mail as Junk or spam. Some people, I’ve found, don’t know the difference between these options, especially “Junk” vs “Trash.”

Trash is for discarding an e-mail after you’ve read it or if you don’t need a copy any more for any reason. You click on the trash, it goes to a trash folder, and eventually you discard it. Lots of good e-mail goes in the trash. But it does so after it has been read or scanned. This is for e-mail that you no longer need. You might well want to receive e-mail from this person later.

Junk, on the other hand, is for e-mail that you didn’t want in the first place. When you click on either the junk or the spam button you are often also notifying reporting agencies that you thought this e-mail was unwanted. So if you get an e-mail from your grandmother, read it, and then decide that you don’t need Granny’s note any more, so you click “Junk,” sure enough the e-mail will go away, but Granny now has a black mark against her. (Note that precisely what happens depends on how your software handles the e-mail.)

It’s not that likely to make trouble for Granny if she’s using one of the major services. But where it becomes more problematic is if you are getting solicited commercial e-mail from companies you do business with. For example, I want to get e-mails from Publix Supermarkets. They let me know about new products and sales. I normally spend about 20 seconds or so with each e-mail, however, and then delete it. Only a small number are relevant to me. But just because there’s no coupon or special offer in the e-mail in front of me doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear about the next one. So the correct response is to hit delete or trash, not junk or spam.

Is that perfectly clear? :-)

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Grocery Store Floor Plan Fail

My local Publix grocery store has been remodeling for a few weeks. In general, I don’t care for the reorganization. That’s because I’m a list shopper, and not a browser. I am looking for specific things and I like them to stay in the same place.

But that wasn’t the fail I noticed. In reorganization the store they moved the grocery carts indoors. Now that isn’t a bad idea. I don’t particularly care for a wet cart when it’s raining. But there was another problem.

publix_floor_plan_failDo you see the problem?

It could be the extra walk for people entering the store. Considering that I park across the lot in order to get extra steps for exercise, that problem wouldn’t bother me, but folks with disabilities might find that a little difficult.

But as I exited the store I noticed something else. People leaving the store bumped into those getting carts. It was a chorus of “sorry,” “excuse me,” and so forth.

Methinks someone didn’t take adequate thought in design here …

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WordPress Multisite, Multiple Root Domains, htaccess

Sometimes those who know how things like a .htaccess file works fail to mention really simple things. So I’m going to mention this one.

I have a site with multiple domain names that I want to consolidate. Thus I’m creating a single site, but because of numerous existing links, I want the domain names to all point to the same site. Eventually we’ll use only one–that’s what consolidation is about!

Thus I was trying to add a wildcard redirection for two domain names (energion.info, energion.com) to the new domain name energion.co. I had my multisite working, and then I added a couple of redirects via cpanel.

Not so much with the working.

So I looked at the .htaccess file. The redirects are added after the existing WordPress code. Simply moving the redirection above the domain redirects above the WordPress code makes everything work perfectly. This is logical. So logical, in fact, that I should have thought of it before I hit cpanel, and I’m no great Apache expert.

But I didn’t think of it, and it occurs to me that someone else might also fail to think of it. Thus this post.

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Reminder: Install Only What You Want

I’m just calling attention to this again, because I so frequently find all kinds of utilities on people’s machines. They don’t know what they are and don’t use them. They come from add-ons to installations.

I wrote about this just under a year ago, in a post titled Security and Performance Tip: Installing Software.

The key message is this: Read all those boxes that come up when you install software. If something is checked, read it, and uncheck it if you don’t want whatever is being offered.

Your computer will perform better!

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