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The dog ate my homework

Sorry about the protracted silence.

This year has been kind of busy for me, and I've been head-down in a mountain of work rather than keeping up the blog. First on the agenda was my space opera for 2018, Ghost Engine, which is still not finished; it just keeps on growing. I'd been aiming to finish it before the new year, but a chest infection and some unforseen plot recomplications have kept it in play. And I was still writing when the copy edits for "The Delirium Brief" landed in my inbox for checking.

Copy editing is the process whereby a copy editor goes through an author's manuscript and turns it into something that might, once typeset, pass inspection as a book. A lot of this process is normalization and regularization of usage and grammar and spelling. Does the author write seventeen in one place or 17 in another? (Pick one.) Is the formatting of chapter titles consistent? Do they use the serial or Oxford comma convention, or not, and if not, is it needed? (And so on.) The copy editor does the heavy legwork of changing the manuscript, and the author then gets to go over it to review and approve their work.

Normally this is straightforward enough (although there are horror stories about CE's trying to rewrite a novel instead of just fixing it for grammatical consistency). However, this time I hit a speed bump. This was the first time I'd worked with this particular publisher on production, and somewhere between me submitting the manuscript and them sending it off to the copy editor (who is an external freelancer), all the italics went missing. One of the things about the business of writing trade fiction for a traditional publisher is that authors are expected to submit a manuscript in something approximating "standard manuscript format", a hold-over from the days of typewriters and carbon paper -- you use 10 point Courier monospace typeface, double-spaced, two inch margins all round, paragraphs start with a tab, two spaces after every period, and italics are indicated by underlining. And of course, someone ran a conversion macro or a filter or an inadvisable global search/replace, and ...

Have I explained recently why I hate Microsoft Word?

Given a manuscript containing no italics, my copy editor did the right thing: he italicised those things that needed it, per the style sheet (such as some quotations and the titles of newspapers), and nothing else. (I want to emphasize that he did a good job of copy-editing. But then, I expected him to: he's the guy who's checked all the previous Laundry Files novels.) But in the process of fixing my admittedly-sloppy grammar and inconsistent usage he made a huge number of individually-trivial tweaks to the change-tracked Word document. And by the time I got a chance to discover the missing italics, it was no longer possible to undo everything -- not without re-doing approximately 3000 minor edits and 200 comments. Nor was it possible to compare/merge the submitted draft with the copy-edited draft. I had to crawl on hands and knees through an entire 450-page novel, putting back all the dropped italics in dialog (and because it's a Bob novel, he waxes sarcastic in the direction of the reader a lot).

This isn't Word's fault. What I blame Microsoft for is that Word 15.22.1 for Mac is still not fit for purpose in reviewing change-tracked documents of any length. Selecting and italicising a single word using direct formatting should not cause a quad-core i7 Macbook Pro with 16Gb of RAM to freeze on me for 30-60 seconds every time. I suppose it's an improvement over last summer's experience reviewing the CEM for Empire Games, when Word 15 reliably crashed on me instead of merely twiddling its thumbs for a minute until it was ready for new input, but it's still unacceptable in a commercial product, especially a year after it went on sale, with updates applied.

Luckily Word 14.6.4 for Mac -- from Office 2011 -- did the job without freezes or crashes. Looks horrendous on a retina screen, is going to stop working sooner or later ... but I got the job done and only lost one working week to someone else's search/replace screwup.

However, I'm still grinding away at the closing chapters of Ghost Engine and now I'm nearing two other deadlines.

First of all, as you might have noticed, Empire Games comes out in the USA next Tuesday, and in the UK nine days later. For obvious reasons, my publishers have been encouraging me to shout about it from the rooftops; so over the next week or so you're going to see loads of essays by me in various places on the SF-related internet. All of this comes at a price, and the price is the equivalent of me emitting the equivalent of a lengthy blog article every day for the past week ... only queueing it up to be published somewhere else.

And secondly ... Empire Games is book one of a trilogy. Book two, Dark State, is due out in January 2018, and you will be unsurprised (by now) to learn as the usual production cycle for a book is 12 months, the final deadline for the manuscript comes the week after Empire Games is published. The book is, fortunately, written: however, I have a bunch of edits to apply to it before it goes into the sausage machine--minor tweaks, but no less time-consuming for all that.

So this is my excuse to you, for not blogging enough this year (so far): I'm wrestling with three novels in various stages of production (Ghost Engine still in the writing stage, The Delirium Brief in copyediting/typesetting, and Dark State in final submission stage) and one in the throes of publication (read: lots of guest appearances all over the net). Don't even get me started on the schedule for Invisible Sun, the third and final book in the Empire Games trilogy (I'm due to rewrite the second half of it some time later this year)! I normally max out at two books at a time, and right now it feels like I'm juggling three chainsaws.

I just hope you enjoy the results (and don't mind me taking a holiday some time in, oh, late 2018).

182 Comments

1:

Re: Word freezing. It's 2017, and Microsoft's flagship document creation software is still only marginally less frustrating than OCRing pages produced on a manual typewriter. Once again, I am so happy I adopted a policy, long ago, of never ever upgrading software until forced to do so.

Re: book publicity. Perhaps you could post links to the finished pieces once they have been published?

2:

No apology necessary. You've gotta eat, after all.

3:

And Amazon UK still don't seem to have sorted out the correct entry for Empire Games.

Not to mention turning OGH into a 25 year old girl.

4:

Well, there is your answer. OGH's submissions are getting routed between slightly different alternate universe. Of course the software from Charlene Stross's universe isn't 100% compatible with the hardware in Charlie Stross's universe.

5:

Re: book publicity. Perhaps you could post links to the finished pieces once they have been published?

In what parallel universe can you imagine me not doing that?

6:

Apologies for potentially obvious question, or if I missed something.

But... Is there any reason you and the CE can't use something other than Word, that you both like (i.e. Scrivener or such), and then convert to .doc and send to publisher?

Meanwhile, "Empire Games" preordered here.

7:
Once again, I am so happy I adopted a policy, long ago, of never ever upgrading software until forced to do so.

Thing is, I can see the result of those daily at work.

Due to upgrade policies (computers must last at a minimum 5 years on your desk, and they get upgraded only when all the other budget items have been spent if anything is left), we get a mix of various Mac and Windows PC, with the version of Office that was available on the internal catalog (not always the latest) when the computer magically appeared on your desk around Christmas if you were nice (if you were naughty, you got a 4Gb USB stick that uses USB2 speeds. Which is an downgrade from a coal; at least the coal can be burned to get a warm feeling).

Whenever you open up a document to read, and close it, your Office will insist that it wants to save the changed you made to it. You didn't change anything, but somehow, quantum-level virtual changes appeared spontaneously in it, and they got enough energy from your eye attention to become real. If you accept them, after a few rounds around the office, the document will usually break down and have to be reformatted, and never end up nice looking.

(at one point, people started to get into the habit of including spreadsheets in docs as PNG images instead of directly, because that way, you were sure your tables still conveyed the required info)

8:

Pre-ordered Empire Games in the US and Canada with different booksellers just to see which arrives first. (Books are a family favorite gift any time, any occasion.)

Looking forward to your guest appearances on others' blogs ... always interesting to see what the authorial network looks like.

9:

Yes. The publishers workflow assumes everyone uses Word. It's an industry standard, like driving on the left or steam giving way to sail. Also, the workflow goes author -> managing editor -> CE -> ME -> typesetting agency ->ME -> printer. (Omitting the author-gets-a-file-to-check steps.) The author isn't supposed to talk to the copy editor; indeed, you frequently don't know who your CE is. (I had to make an effort to get Marty hired for this job.)

10:

"Empire Games"
Is there going to be a London signing, or do I just go out & order a copy now, please?
[ And get it signed, later - obviously ... ]

11:

Yeah, Word for Mac is unusable for serious editing. (I say this as the guy who literally wrote the book on editing in Word -- Effective Onscreen Editing -- and who has crawled through the bowels of Word and emerged fecally stained for most of the last 20 years.

If you need to use Word, do yourself a favor: install Parallels (or because you're a geek, the free VirtualBox https://www.virtualbox.org/) Windows emulator and run Windows Word. WinWord has its quirks and frustrations, but it's infinitely better than MacWord. I spend my week editing complex science journal manuscripts in WinWord, and can't imagine living without it.

If you notice the italics problem before you've begun incorporating the other edits, there are ways to do the job almost painlessly. The simplest but slowest solution is to open the original document you submitted, open the Find dialog box (Control+F), click in the Find What field, clear the field if anything is in it, and press Control+I (the shorcut for "find italicized text"). This lets you find any instance of italicized text. When you find one, switch to the snafu'ed file to find the same phrase and reapply italics.

A slightly more complex but much faster way involves using the Compare Documents or Combine Documents features (both in the Reviewing tab of the Ribbon, hidden under the "Compare" icon). This is an easy way to transfer all the copyeditor's edits into the version of the manuscript you sent them.

Don't hesitate to write (ghart@videotron.ca) if you have any questions related to editing in Word. After years of pleasure reading your books, helping out a little is small repayment.

On a side note, the definition of copyediting is infamously inconsistent. Some folks think of it as nothing more than correcting typos and heading formats, whereas others consider it to include what is more traditionally described as substantive editing: making sure the meaning is not just correct, but also clear. Not to mention catching logical or continuity problems, though these should have been caught by the acquiring editor earlier in the process.

12:

I missed/forgot the other people involved.

13:

Since Empire games is in Parallel realities, it does not require re-writes for political events ? Good News ?

The Wise Man in the Brown Truck brought me a Chromebook for Epiphany.

If I want to play developer, I have three linuxes. If I want to play idiot, I have 1 1/2 windows7.

I put the Cb in developer mode for about 2 1/2 hrs. Powerwash, return to stable. I will see what fun I can have with an unbreakable system.

14:

Weeeell ...

The USA of 2020 in Empire Games was a nasty right-wing crapsack surveillance state and near dystopia, so it's not too far out. The only problem is that it may not be nasty enough, in which case it'll end up reading as an aspirational happy-fun alternative, which was not the idea at all.

Luckily I have plenty of time and room to crank up the grimdark in book two!

15:

Sounds to me like you need some excitement in your life.

Sign up for the fast release cycle of Word. :)

You'll get new releases every week or so with features and bits that may not be fully tested or even ever released.

And for real fun you can opt in for nightly dev builds.

This all assumes you are on Office 365 rental setup. Not the perpetual license from buying it in a box or online as a "thing".

16:

I wrote my last book (manuscript) in latex, used pandoc to convert to Word when I got to the publisher mucking stage. Do you have a set of macros from the publisher? (Macros, as distinct from styles).

One thing I discovered was that the macro set from Wiley was written back in the day of word 97, and badly updated. Many of the problems (crashes, dataloss) stemmed from those, and it might be worth testing if the problems of freezing are from that, in which case maybe your publisher can be convinced to update them.

17:

I assume that sending it back with a covering note saying "the changes are approved apart from removing all the italics - please put them back in" wasn't an option? Someone clearly has to do the donkey work of fixing the problem, I'm not sure I see why that someone should be the author.

18:

I'll second Geoff's recommendation as a Mac alphageek living in a corporate Windows world. When I absolutely, positively have to have maximum Office compatibility with shared documents, it's time to boot my dedicated Office VM.

You do get file system and clipboard sharing so it's not like moving to a completely separate machine, but it is one more goddam OS to babysit so VM snapshots are your friend :)

19:

Looking forward to Empire games, I re-read the earlier books last summer so they're still quite fresh in my mind. Will you be doing a signing at all in London? Forbidden planet is conveniently close to work for all my SF needs.

20:

As I once observed elsewhere, Microsoft Word only appears to be a word-processing tool; it's actually a metaphor for the inevitability of human suffering.

21:

Man, this focus on software...

As a member of the petite bourgeoisie, surely the logical next step is to hire an assistant, no?

Given the destruction of the middle classes through financialization and the discrediting of labor, a poor impoverished street urchin / undergrad or three should be available at starveling wages.

22:

To follow up on what my fellow MacGeek Lance said, one thing to keep in minding about running a virtual machine (VM) is that you have a whole new set of security problems, particularly since Windows insists on dialing home periodically and needs an Internet connection. So you'll need a good firewall and antimalware software if you run Windows on your Mac through a VM.

Alternatively, though it's a PITA, you can disable the network connector via the VM and enable it only when you need to download an operating system or Word patch. Since you won't be visiting any other sites, the brief vulnerability during the download may let you rely entirely on the built-in Windows firewall.

If you're looking for antimalware alternatives, this site seems reputable and thorough: https://www.av-comparatives.org/

23:

Sounds to me like you need some excitement in your life.

Nope!

I use Word about twice a year ... for business-critical tasks where a fuck-up can end up costing weeks of work (hence strict backup policy). I'm not prepared to live that dangerously!

24:

Do you have a set of macros from the publisher? (Macros, as distinct from styles).

Nope. Publishers assume authors are technical illiterates (with some justification).

25:

Nope, that's not an option. Because it won't get done (or, not reliably.)

26:

I have no plans to sign in London — I get to London about as often as I get to New York.

Signed copies will be available from bookstores at this end of the UK. (Details in a blog entry in the next 1-2 weeks).

27:

Right ... I'll go & get a ( an unsigned-for-now ) copy then.
Thanks.

28:

Hopefully RL will not provide you with too much grim meathook material - or if it does, it mostly affects the U.S. ;-0

Can't wait to read Empire Games, when I finally get my clammy hands on the U.S.

Also like to see the Stross "IMB knock-off" space opera soonish, and see how Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln in SPAAAAACE works, so blog less, write more!

We'll understand!

29:

I totally sympathize with your comments about Word. I copy edit professionally, largely scientific and scholarly material, and most of my recurring clients want me to use Word, often with customized tracking features. (There was the one that preferred me to copy edit in LaTeX, and after I got through the learning curve I was saying, "Oh, crap, I have to edit this one in Word!" But then they decided to have all their copy editing done in India.) Even running Word on Mac, I have found that at a certain point the volume of saved changes just chokes Word, and that it starts taking a substantial fraction of a minute to save each character that I've typed.

I think I've found some relief from this by switching between Draft and Print Layout view; one of them is less of a problem than the other. If you haven't already tried that, you might like to see if it's any help. Unfortunately it's been a while and I don't remember for sure which one hangs up less; but one of them seems to find it harder to figure out how to save things.

30:

Once you've hired an assistant, haven't you gone from petty bourgeois to bourgeois?

31:

Not according to the Source of Truth, Wikipedia!

"Though the petite bourgeoisie can buy the labor of others, they typically work alongside their employees, unlike the haute bourgeoisie."

It's all about control over the means of production, you see.

32:

I look forward to seeing the results of your hard work, regardless of what form it takes (though to be honest, I am more looking forward to Empire Games than the other stuff).

As for problems with Word, I do believe that this is a problem that could be solved by open standards (i.e. the publishing industry should adopt ODF (and also LibreOffice to make it easier for struggling low paid authors)).

33:

"...10 point Courier monospace typeface, double-spaced, two inch margins all round, paragraphs start with a tab, two spaces after every period, and italics are indicated by underlining."

See this is where my ingrained bloodymindedness would kick in. I'd go "right, you want something that looks like it came off a typewriter, you can have something that looks that way because it came off something that works like a typewriter" and give them plain ASCII text files, produced by the same plain text editor that I use for C, shell, HTML, CSS, JS, PHP, email composing, actual writing, and just about anything else. (Or if I felt like being a bastard, files for Wordwise on the BBC Micro.) The reasons you probably have for not doing similar are not something I would care about...

More seriously, there is definitely something weird going on since the "Big Outfits" that insist on the use of rubbish tools must surely encounter for themselves the same problems that make them rubbish that everyone else does. If William H. Stoddard finds himself limited to 3 characters a minute because Word won't let him type any faster, surely anyone else who has to deal with the same document will be swearing at it just as much. Ordinary corporate inertia is surely not adequate to explain such persistence in sticking to a tool that is so rubbish that it's barely possible to do the job with it at all. It's as if car manufacturers eschewed the practice of immersing bodyshells in a tank of paint in favour of having a couple of blokes put the paint on with brushes because that's how it used to be done with horse-drawn coaches.

And more importantly, as Arthur Chance remarks at #3, Amazon's listings for Empire Games are still up the creek. I know you've pointed out it is available from Waterstones's site, but for myself I have a significant reluctance to engage with any commercial website that I've not used before (due to the expectation that it will be shit and not work for stupid reasons, and also be full of spyware, requiring half an hour minimum of hacking to render it sort of useable), and for the general public I'd imagine that for rather a lot of people it won't even occur to them to try something other than Amazon.

34:

The first program I encountered on a Mac that didn't Just Work was the MS Word port to MacOS (around 1990.) It had a few problems of its own, and a lot of problems passing documents back and forth to MS Word versions running on Windows.

The first Apple product I encountered that didn't Just Work was the iTunes port to multi-user-account WinXP, which got terribly confused about things like which tunes belonged to Administrator vs. User.

35:

By contrast, the original Word for Mac - which was a native application, not a port - worked very well indeed. The contemporary PC version of Word was a DOS application; when the Windows version came out, although it resembled the Mac version somewhat, it was clunky and awkward and nowhere near as usable.

I've had that native Mac Word running on the Basilisk Mac emulator under Linux; it still works great. (IIRC it was one of Charlie's previous rants about Word that induced me to try that.)

Thing about that original 680x0 Mac series and its cooperative "sort-of-semi-multitasking" (as a friend called it at the time) OS was that its apparent stability and Just-Work-iness was smoke and mirrors. The reality was that it was a wobbly, flaky piece of shit, and far less stable than DOS - as became apparent very quickly if you were coding for both platforms. It only appeared to be stable because there was bugger all software for it, and Apple had an iron grip on what there was, so were able to test all applications to death by exhaustion. If it had had the same sort of wide range of third party software that DOS did, it would have been pretty much unusable, and anyone who did try and use it would have longed for a return to hacking CONFIG.SYS and all that.

CUPS is another illustration of the way Apple fails when it comes to systems that they don't have total control over every aspect and detail of. Fine when it does work, but when it decides not to, it's like punching a dead elephant.

36:

rubbish tools

Once an industry that passes things around between various companies gets something that works they are loath to change. Known rubbish seems to almost always trump different.

Different might fail at some point and the knowledge of how to force it through the process "on time" might not exist. Plus it will cost money to upgrade from 10 to 15 year old software to whatever is new and different.

Inertia in these situations is just huge. I've seen it (was in the middle of it) in P&C insurance and watch is daily in the design and construction.

37:

Sure. My puzzlement arises from the way that in this instance, "something that works" does not seem to apply. Something that chokes itself down to 3 characters per minute on a document the size of a novel is no doubt bearable if most of your documents are only a few pages, but when novel(-size document)s are the whole point of your business, it's like the Midland Railway trying to get coal into London over the GNR.

38:

The obvious answer is:
"You're not working with an 8GB i7 with SSD? Why not? We all do."

SSD speeds and gobs of ram cover over all kinds of poor programming crud.

39:

See this is where my ingrained bloodymindedness would kick in. I'd go "right, you want something that looks like it came off a typewriter, you can have something that looks that way because it came off something that works like a typewriter" and give them plain ASCII text files,

Not a problem for the publisher, they'd just convert it in-house to Word because the change-tracking tools and other facilities they use are in Word. I know of one writer who writes using WordPerfect -- she has a bunch of techie friends who keep her stable of older computers running for her. Charlie used to write lies in Vim. Harlan Ellison famously still uses a typewriter and I've heard it said that at least one top-ranking SF author writes Very Large Books in longhand.

Publishing is not a single process, it's more like a coding shop. Charlie uses Scrivener which isn't a word-processor, it's an IDE for producing written text. At the end of the coding process he "compiles" it into words-on-a-page which goes to the agents and publishers since they don't want or need his Scrivener files. He can convert his work into Word himself and double-check it himself or it will be converted into Word outside his control. The Word file goes to his copy-editor and comes back in Word with change tracking added and once it's finalised it is laid out into ink-on-a-page (using Quark or similar which has a very good understanding of Word files) and/or one or more of the ebook standards for his adoring fans to purchase and digest.

40:

Industry standard rarely means quality. It just means using the same crap as everyone else.

Industry Standard's has a close family member, Best Practice.

41:

And more importantly, as Arthur Chance remarks at #3, Amazon's listings for Empire Games are still up the creek. I know you've pointed out it is available from Waterstones's site, but for myself I have a significant reluctance to engage with any commercial website that I've not used before (due to the expectation that it will be shit and not work for stupid reasons, and also be full of spyware, requiring half an hour minimum of hacking to render it sort of useable), and for the general public I'd imagine that for rather a lot of people it won't even occur to them to try something other than Amazon.

FWIW, the The Book Depository has already sent me my copy last Friday. I did order the UK paperback as they do have it in their web store - they did have the hardback at first, but they managed to change it before Amazon.

I think Bookdepo is owned by Amazon, if that's any consolation.

42:

Charlie uses Scrivener which isn't a word-processor, it's an IDE for producing written text. At the end of the coding process he "compiles" it into words-on-a-page which goes to the agents and publishers since they don't want or need his Scrivener files. He can convert his work into Word himself and double-check it himself or it will be converted into Word outside his control. The Word file goes to his copy-editor and comes back in Word with change tracking added and once it's finalised it is laid out into ink-on-a-page (using Quark or similar which has a very good understanding of Word files) and/or one or more of the ebook standards for his adoring fans to purchase and digest.

This is, believe it or not, an optimised process that authors can get away with when their book is pure prose. My co-authored technical book, full of tables and images, went more like this:

Collaborative writing environment (which helpfully closed up shop 80% of the way through writing)
Converted by us to Word docs for peer review, with a blend of change tracking and notes depending on which reviewer felt like doing what
Plus the images themselves uploaded into the publisher's CMS as TIFFs, collated to placeholders in the text
Layout PDFs generated by the publisher
Emails about the fact that the Layout PDFs were hideous and everything that needed to change
A further round of editing and peer review, now done in the form of PDF notation tennis
PDF proofs from the publisher
Final Book

Note that we didn't get print proofs, so we couldn't check the colour fidelity of the images until publication. And the book was about design...

43:

Oops - my bad ... do we have a date for "Empire Games" in the UK trade-pbk edition yet, or was I asleep?
The AMZN web-site is still not saying anything about Kindle, either ....
Tomorrow - 17th Jan, or is that USA - I'm thoroughly confused.

44:

Also like to see the Stross "IMB knock-off" space opera soonish, and see how Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln in SPAAAAACE works

Ghost Engine is due out in the UK from Orbit in July 2018.

Because I'm departing from Ace, it doesn't have a US publisher yet (my agent and I plan to sell it when it's actually written: hopefully it'll get a better deal). One way or the other, it will probably show up at more or less the same time in the US as in the UK.

45:

Please remember that just as the middle classes are being immiserated right now, I, too, am middle class; my ability to employ other people is, shall we say, minimal.

(80% of full-time novelists in the UK earn less than the average unskilled laborer — around £18,000 — not much more than the legal minimum wage (which in 2017, for an adult, is £15,600/year, assuming 40 hour weeks 52 weeks/year). So I'm doing better than 80% of other novelists, but I haven't had a pay rise since 2008 and because I'm switching publishers this year my cash flow is somewhere between terrible and horrendous.)

46:

I think you don't understand the concept of "opportunity cost".

(If the cost of lost business due to taking time to convert to use of a more rational production workflow exceeds net profits in any given accounting period, it isn't going to happen. Also? Authors are not employees and will use whatever toolchain they like — .docx format is merely a file format requirement. I'm avoiding LibreOffice for change tracking because it's buggy, and I don't want to risk corrupting multiple weeks of work, not because I like Word.)

47:

See this is where my ingrained bloodymindedness would kick in.

And this is why you don't do business as a small independent supplier feeding into large multinational conglomerates' production lines?

I assume if someone asked you to supply metric nuts and bolts you'd just work out the three-decimal-places closest approximation in imperial, right?

(Waterstones are probably less likely to be snooping on you than Amazon; they operate under EU data protection rules. So does AMZN, in theory, but I can't help wondering if their widget-based page architecture leaks cookies or blobs in some manner incompatible with EU regs.)

48:

UK pub date for the Trade Paperback is Thursday 26th. (I shall poke Tor UK again today to find out if there's been any progress on the wholesaler database problem.)

50:

For what it's worth, I have a copy on the desk beside me. I ordered it from David's in Letchworth on Friday and they texted me to say they'd received it on Saturday.

(Why yes, I had enough self control to wait till this lunchtime rather than drive two towns over from home. One of them being Baldock.)

51:

As a working sysadmin, I would tend to have several comments on issues with a Microsoft product on Apple Mac. So, whilst you are locating the knuckledusters, length of lead pipe, cattle prod and war axe, I shall press on.

For Word to be spinning its gears so furiously when italicising a word, it must be doing something. For it to be spending so long, the something it must be doing must be quite complicated. My guess here would be that the Microsoftian format requires that something unusual, such as updating a journal file or suchlike, happen when you do something and _not_ when you merely add text to the document.

So, I would then go on to question why you are using that specific format of document, as opposed to something like Rich Text Format (rtf), which supports pretty much all the formatting you mentioned but does not have a complex internal structure to it.

Once the document is completed (and backed up, something which I am certain that you do, but in this line of work nattering on like a broken record on the subject of backups in the hope that the customer might catch a clue along the way is a habit) then it can be turned into a .doc format of some description.

Alternatively, simply rename the file novel.rtf to novel.doc and let the recipient's machine sort out the cognitive dissonance at the far end. This used to (and probably still does) work with MS Word and html files.

52:

To a PHB "something that just works" is functionally identical to "something that has a million unique failure modes". ie if its not obviously the same problem every time then there's nothing to "fix".

Also consider this - maybe from a Publishers POV Word has the least failure modes.... I doubt it but its fun to play devils advocate.

53:

Tor are pushing updates to wholesaler and reseller databases by hand. Some have worked; Book Depository, Waterstones, have stock. Amazon.co.uk is still hanging fire (although the Kindle edition is available — which is 90% of the UK ebook market).

54:

So, I would then go on to question why you are using that specific format of document, as opposed to something like Rich Text Format (rtf),

Because the publisher requires .docx. (You are asked to refuel your car. You start filling the tank with diesel. An onlooker asks, "why don't you use petrol instead?" — because it's a fricken' diesel engine. Next stupid question?)

Specifically: I'm part of a collective workflow that operates on .docx files and involves large text documents (about 250 times the size of a typical business letter and 10-20 times the size of an academic paper) containing thousands of tracked changes. And it's not going to be re-imported into Word and worked on, beyond driving a golden spike through all the tracked changes approved by the author — it's feed-in to a typesetting process relying on InDesign (hint: RTF and .docx import filters in a non-Microsoft product cannot be relied upon to operate the same way).

As for my backup policy, it is draconian. (Clue: I have a CS degree and some years of experience in the software development industry, although it's somewhat rusty these past years.)

If I was self-publishing my tool chain would stay 100% inside Scrivener from start to export to epub (and input to kindlegen). But I'm not.

55:

In addition to that, I'd note that when I went in just before Xmas, David's had no entry visible on the database they use for it. So in this case, at least one wholesaler has updated.

(David's is AFAIK a proper indie bookshop/record store. Also they seem to be successful — they're currently converting the next door premises as well. They may not have the range available in Cambridge, but they're walking distance from the office and they're happy to order.)

56:

hint: RTF and .docx import filters in a non-Microsoft product cannot be relied upon to operate the same way).

Hell, that's true of other MS products. I used to use MS Works on my old windows desktop, I had finished one novel on the iPad, saved as .doc. I tried to print out a copy from Works a little at a time, for some reason the text fit itself to the page differently each time—I would start printing from, say pg.20, but it would actually start a paragraph or sentence before or after where I had left off. I finally realized that I had to save a copy in the native format .wps, which would print without problems. I used Works because it's what I had when first starting to seriously write. It worked fine and I was used to it, so it's what I used on the desktop rather than having to pay to unlock the copy of Word on it.
I wrote a good chunk of the above novel using Word v.X on an old iBook that I have. I had no problems with it, though it was a sllightly broken copy (the thesaurus didn't work, but that's the only thing I noticed), until the laptop started throwing kernel panics, and eventually dying until I replaced the logic board—which after a year started doing it again, which led to moving to the iPad.

57:

Except that, having just re-checked... AMZN do not acknowledge any existence of a Kindle version on their web-page.
Which is why I asked back @ #43 in the first place.
Um.

58:

AMZN do not acknowledge any existence of a Kindle version on their web-page

Does this link work for you Greg?

59:

In a parallel universe where a Twitter-obsessed property magnate turned reality TV star manages to win the US Presidential election, and where (in the UK), a badly considered referendum results in an authoritarian right-wing Prime Minister leading the UK's exit from the European Union, while claiming that their hands are tied by the "will of the people", regardless of whether the exit under consideration is actually what people thought they were voting for.

That universe is one where you could end up so distracted by rewriting huge chunks of your grimdark novels because they've gone from "as bad as I can imagine" to "a cheerful alternative to reality" that you forget to tell your blog readers about other places where they can find your writing.

60:

Nah... imperial nut and bolt measurements (and indeed imperial measurements in anything to do with engineering) do my complete, er, nut. (That scenario would be analogous to me deciding I wanted to be a bastard and insisting on using Wordwise files.)

(A good half of the skill of an old-time machinist was maintaining an unthinking fluence in a bucketload of incoherent measurement scales that bore no logical relation to each other or to anything else, and which gave every impression of considering making up a new and unrelated scale for each application to be positively a virtue...)

It'd be the other way round: they'd ask for imperial, I'd say I only did metric, that I wasn't going to muck about with a system that makes everything maximally awkward just because they were too much of a ...whatever... to use a sensible one when it'd make their life easier as well, and if they didn't like that then tough. (This also makes for a closer analogy to the Word situation.)

But yes, your point ("And this is why...") is basically correct; where we differ, I think, is in the matter of objectives, which has the result that whereas I implicitly follow "...then tough" with "on them", you follow it with "on me".

61:

And thinking a little more, I realize that's not quite what you mean, but it's ridiculous that MS has at least 4 text-editing type programs, all with different formats. The old desktop has Word, Works, Wordpad, and Notepad.
Wasn't there a version of Word that had an easter egg that let you play Flight Simulator?

62:

It was Excel 97 which had the flight simulator Easter egg. You had to go to line 97 and type in a code. It was a fairly boring sim with varying shades of purple and black scenery which took you to a mountain where there was a plaque engraved with the names of the software team.
Before I retired I was in a lab where four different versions of Word were in use. If I found a file I couldn't open I just emailed it to my iPad which could read all word files in Pages and resend it as a Word file which any version of Word could read.

63:

It's not that it makes their lives easier. It's that this is the standard. If you want to make up a new standard then fine, but please also provide a changeover plan for a whole industry almost entirely made up of loosely-coupled independent contractors.

To continue your analogy; you say you only work in metric? That's great, but your employer deals in selling widgets to plumbers, so if you don't want to deal with BSP you'll have to convince the plumbers to use your new standard first.

64:

Re: '...where a Twitter-obsessed ...'

This is a build-up to the classic cry-wolf scenario: something bad actually happens to TD but given his track record no one believes him so no one acts/helps.

65:

Just received email that my Canadian pre-order for Empire Games has been fulfilled and is on its way (Chapters/Indigo).

No news yet re: my US order (AMZN).

Aware that there are folks from all over the globe reading this blog ... so, if you pre-ordered this book, have you received any updates re: order status? Just an informal poll ... out of curiosity.


Charlie:

If a massive, global-scale publishing distributor/warehouse is having data issues and does not fulfill pre-orders on a timely basis, how does this impact official first-week-sales stats, including any bonus/incremental royalty?

66:

Yes, it does ... so why could I not find it, putting: "AMZN + Stross + Empire Games" into search not work, then?
I think it's because you probably went to AMZN.co.uk first ... ???
If so, nasty little trap.

67:

Kobo are quoting a release date of Jan 31 for Empire Games ... so, given how accurate Kobo's release dates have been in the past, it's anybody's guess when I'll get hold of it.

In preparation I just finished re-reading the first Merchant Princes trilogy (I first read it in the original hexadecimal edition). One thing that struck me this time (and I can't believe I missed the first time round): how much foreshadowing there was for [spoiler]'s true identity.

68:

And, of course, metric threads are "Whitworth" profiles ... oops.
UNF & UNC are shite, quite frankly.
BA was good, back in the day, but the largest size was BA 0, unfortunately.

69:

Reading this I'm wondering whether Charlie's problem with long save times for italics might involve a bug in the way Scrivener saves Word files.

70:

It was Excel 97 which had the flight simulator Easter egg.

Okay, I was thinking about how that seems a pointless bit of cruft. Possibly causing other problems?

Before I retired I was in a lab where four different versions of Word were in use. If I found a file I couldn't open I just emailed it to my iPad which could read all word files in Pages and resend it as a Word file which any version of Word could read.

That sounds like when my mother gets a Word file emailed to her ipad and isn't able to open it, she sends it to me, I'd open it and re-save it in Pages to send back. Not sure why they won't open in Mail on hers, but will on mine.

71:

If a massive, global-scale publishing distributor/warehouse is having data issues and does not fulfill pre-orders on a timely basis, how does this impact official first-week-sales stats, including any bonus/incremental royalty?

In a word: badly.

72:

No. Because Scriv uses rtf internally (or rather: a directory hierarchy of rtfd bundles and associated metadata files in XML format, plus associated PDF and .webarchive clippings). It then generates clean docx files via a compilation step, using Apple's TextKit document library.

If the bug was down to Scriv and italic handling, it'd show up in Apple Pages documents as well (which also use TextKit).

73:

You have Empire Games? Wow!

I ordered both Eric Flint's latest and EG from Barnes & Noble in November for January delivery. On January 2 (a holiday here) the Flint book arrived in my mailbox. It's a holiday today also, but I'm hoping for more good news.

74:

Ummm, no.

Whitworth thread profile is 55 degrees, chosen back in the day when cast iron and wrought iron were the normal materials used in engineering with steel reserved for special purposes. BA (British Association) thread angle is even narrower at 47.5 degrees, meant to penetrate deeper into softer materials such as brass.

UNC (Unified National Coarse) is basically Whitworth brought up to date in the late 19th century when steel took over from cast and wrought iron with a profile angle of 60 degrees. The thread pitches and major diameters are the same as Whitworth, the minor diameter changes due to the profile angle. I've been helping to fettle up an old school lathe for the local Hacklab, it's mostly UNC threaded bolts and I've been using Whitworth taps and lapping compound to make specialist fasteners for it. There are a couple of UNF (Unified National Fine) threads here and there but that's what a screwcutting lathe is for (I need to turn up a one-inch UNF bolt at 12tpi for a levelling foot on the lathe stand).

Metric has coarse and fine threads but 98% of all metric bolts will be coarse-threaded and a single pitch for any given diameter -- M12 (12mm major diameter) is almost always 1.75mm thread pitch. Pretty much everything made nowadays uses metric coarse fasteners (except in America...)

75:

I know that it's bad form to comment on books that others may not have read. Charlie, will you be starting a thread just for Empire Games? That would make it easier for those who haven't read it yet.

76:

Hell, that's true of other MS products

This is not just a MS problem. It is an industry wide problems. I've worked on IT standards for data exchange in the past and deal with it in the architecture/construction industry now.

The most workable standards are those imposed by fiat. For as much as the rest of the universe may hate them at least the are settled and more than not predictive. (Assuming the person/company issuing the fiat comes clean.) When groups of almost any size get together standards nearly always take 10x as long to come to agreement as the needed life of the standard.

And of course there's the issue of how you organize data structures internally. I currently get to rub up with CAD standards. Or the lack of them. Many of the major CAD vendors have different ideas of how to represent things inside of their code/data structures. So trading complicated files is very hard to get right. Think of automatic voice translations between Japanese and American English and/or UK English. In the language case you're working with multiple dialects, idioms, and cultural issues that are just "not in the spec".

77:

you'll have to convince the plumbers to use your new standard first.

Ah, indoor pipe standards in the US. Back about 100 years ago some folks came up with various pipe sizes. 1", 3/4", 1/2", etc... Great. These were the INSIDE diameters. See where this is going?

So over time as pipe makers became better you got pipe with the same outside diameter (so it would connect with all the existing stuff) but differing inside diameters. This is now true with threaded iron and steel, plus sweated copper.

The sizes are now called "nominal". Go buy a 1/2" pipe, steel or copper, and you'll not find anything that's 1/2" if you measure it.

78:

Pretty much everything made nowadays uses metric coarse fasteners (except in America...)

Nope. We have metric things all over everywhere. But don't tell the politicians.

Of course it makes the nuts and bolts section of your local hardware store twice as big and requires people like me who actually work on things they own to spend an extra 50% or so on tools but hey... No other country is going to tell us what to do.

At least cars made in the last 10 to 15 years seem to be all metric now. It was real fun when the engine and parts attached were metric and the rest of the car "standard".

79:

The only problem is that it may not be nasty enough,

This is absolutely the case. The US House voted to undue Chevron Deference last week. That makes the line in Empire Games preview about the GOP looking to address climate change already unreasonably optimistic.

For those not steeped in US government apocrypha, Chevron Deference is probably the single most important point of administrative law - since 1984 ~25% of all legal review articles have been about it or related to it.

Chevron deference basically says that the courts and enforcement of regulations are to defer to interpretations of statutes made by those government agencies charged with enforcing them, unless such interpretations are unreasonable.

In other words, that Congress has to pass the Clean Air Act and delegate the power to determine standards and enforce them to the EPA, rather than do it directly itself. Without Chevron, and in particular under the law repealing it and legal frame work the GOP is pushing, basically the ability of regulator agencies to make and enforce regulations goes bye-bye

In short, by adding this to the legal changes made that undid the regulator regime prior to Chevron, it effectively repeals 99% of all regulation (by making them all now easily struck down upon challenge) and prohibits the making of any more.

So yeah, in the preview there would not be climate change regulation. And in terms of everything else it is really easy to see this taking us back to the pre- Upton Sinclair days

80:

Oh aye, we have all that as well. Affects the threads as well as the pipes, because an "x thread" is not a thread on x diameter but a thread used on x nominal pipe size, so if that doesn't mean anything nor does the thread.

Then on top of that we have metric pipe sizes as well, which are sort of roughly in a geometric progression modified to work out at a round number of millimetres which is similar to an imperial OD, but isn't quite the same, so all sorts of adaptors exist (and so do bodges involving large thicknesses of solder). Metric pipework has been around for decades, but since plumbing tends to last as long as the house it's in, there is still an awful lot of older stuff about.

Also, metric pipework still doesn't necessarily mean metric thread. 1/2" and 3/4" BSP still turn up on more or less anything that has a diameter that makes it possible.

81:

I've been pulling a lot of dead hard drives apart recently, made by American-owned companies but usually assembled in far-off cheap-labour factories. Most of the fasteners in these drives are things like #4-40 UNF and the like rather than sensible (and reusable) metric screws. The shafts and pivots are fractional-inch diameter and not metric etc.

I watch Youtube videos of machine-shop engineering and most of the American ones use inch measurements and UNF threaded fasteners for manufacturing new items or repairing older ones. The European videos tend towards sensible threads and units, well apart from the folks building small steam locomotives or other toys. Even they tend to go metric for more modern designs such as electric-traction locomotives and rolling stock.

82:

so, if you pre-ordered this book, have you received any updates re: order status? Just an informal poll ... out of curiosity.

No notification yet, but I just this minute (2017-01-16T20:33Z) checked A'(US) and it says the Kindle preorder of July 23 2016 is going to arrive tomorrow. I'll check again this evening to see if they're running on UT or US local.

83:

You have Empire Games? Wow!

Sadly, not yet! The Book Depository sent it to me on Friday, but due to the realities of international post, I suspect I will get it in my hands sometime next week...

84:

Metric has coarse and fine threads but 98% of all metric bolts will be coarse-threaded and a single pitch for any given diameter

And it's those few exceptions that really trip you up. The rear derailleur mount on a bicycle is M10x1, rather than the more usual 1.25. This is also a thread very likely to be damaged (the frame side is often a removable/replaceable "derailleur hanger") but taps for it are expensive because no-one else uses it.

The world is full of things that are now measured in metric but the origin is imperial. Sheet building material in 1200x2400 ... that would be four foot by eight, then. Right down to tubing sizes like 25x0.9mm ... be honest, call it 1" tube with 1/16" walls.

85:

I've worked on IT standards for data exchange in the past and deal with it in the architecture/construction industry now. ... The most workable standards are those imposed by fiat

Not in the e-health world where I have lived. Australia has a half-finished set of data exchange standards where the government end is imposed by fiat, but unfortunately that means "we write it in Microsoft.net framework and you suck it up". We have multiple documented examples of the standard changing as Microsoft upgrade (cough) their dotnet libraries, and stuff that used to be acceptable no longer being accepted. It is mildly concerning, especially for those of us burdened with ISO-compliant libraries for generating XML and JSON. Sometimes we have to post-process our XML using python scripts because the library we use cannot be forced to generate the errors that dotnet requires.

It does get worse, though. Actual people are being told they are non-compliant and must change before they can be entered into the medical software. This is something of an issue for, say, those wishing sex reconstruction surgery who are (still) being told that the software isn't able to cope with them as they are. I am fortunately not directly engaging with the committee who is in charge of those standards (I struggle to be polite to determined idiots). The global-ish HL7 standard still only has male/female/undifferentiated. There are a lot of similar problems, although I think we have got past "first name, middle name, last name" only having 40 characters each (now last name [40] and full name[255] which is slightly less awful). And so on {cries}.

86:

The rear derailleur mount on a bicycle is M10x1,

Yep, it's one of the special cases, a large-diameter bolt fitted into a thin plate so the fine pitch is necessary to provide sufficient engagement in the plate otherwise it would have to be thicker and heavier and bikes don't do heavy or thick. It just so happens I've got a couple of M10x1.0 taps in the box, I picked them up cheap at a boot sale because no-one used them. I use my M10x1.5 taps a lot more often though -- I've only broken out the M10x1.0 taps once when someone wanted an adjustable pushrod for a science experiment where one turn of a 10mm diameter shaft resulted in 1mm of end movement. We had a heck of a job sourcing a fine-pitch bolt for the jig though.

The bottom bracket on a bike is worse since one side is a left-hand thread to prevent it unscrewing under pedalling load.

Sheet building material in 1200x2400

1220x2440 mm to be precise. The British house building trade measures everything in millimetres nowadays. The idea is that the number is pure, if the paper diagram gets damaged and you can't read the units (mm, cm, m) you still know how big something is. Cue the Spinal Tap scene with the stage model of Stonehenge.

87:

Only some bottom brackets have opposite threads, and it's not always the way you would expect. There are British, Italian and French traditional brackets, as well as threadless ones and to make it more fun some manufacturers changed which threading they used from time to time. The good new is that these days almost everyone uses British threading.

Australia has its own conventions for building materials, and one of the fun ones is that stuff like construction plywood is actually 1200x2400, while marine plywood is 1220x2440. The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from :)

88:

Whitworth worked with Babbage on his Difference Engine

So it is really all Ada' s fault


89:

For somewhat complex reasons I used to work in a bike shop that saw a lot of older bikes and weird bikes. Bicycle history goes right back to the very early industrial era, and some of that is still around.

I mean quite literally, from the days when one area mostly used X size wheels and tyres, but 20 miles away they used a subtly different size because that's what the local builders had settled on. Eventually they standardised the way they described them (which was a huge step forward, you could buy a tyre in France that would fit your English bike, and likely the first one would be right!).

The system kinda made sense, the outside diameter determines whether it will fit in the bike frame so that's the size they talked about "27 inches", but then the rim size is that less twice the minor diameter or "tyre width" which means a 27x1" tyre won't fit on a 27x1 1/2" rim (but the tyre+wheel will fit into a frame designed for 27" wheels). Then there are the approximate sizes, where a 27x1 1/8" tyre will fit a 27x1" rim, by design. Except when it won't, of course, because they're not all designed that way. These days the imperial sizes are fairly standard and if you know the limited number of exceptions you're usually ok.

Metric went the other way, they measure the "bead seat diameter" which is what matters to the tyre, so any ISO622 ("700c") tyre will fit any 622 rim. But you won't be able to fit a 622-100 tyre into your 700c racing bike. Or possibly even onto the 622-18 rim of that bike (which is 18mm wide at the bead seat, so the 100mm wide tyre will be very omega-shaped if it fits at all)

But in that bike shop the real pain was stuff like old Sturmey-Archer hubs, where some of the parts were common back in the 1940s when the hub was manufactured but these days are basically only found in old SA hubs. So we slowly churned parts out of dead hubs into still-working ones, and bought the dead hubs off customers when possible.

The good news is that if you do have a half-decent steel framed bike it'll possibly still be usable after 50 years of use. Not always the pricey stuff, my partner has a "kids MTB" that's about 15 years old and is barely better than *mart grade, but it's been used regularly and maintained when it needs it. Albeit it hasn't done the distance that my first Rohloff hub has. In the same 15-ish years I've done more than 150km a week, almost every week. In about 5 different bikes, so far, because other parts do wear out (I built my current bike myself to avoid some of those problems and it's done about 50,000km so far and is still going strong).

90:

I bought a Schwinn in 1985. It spend most of the next 25 years sitting in storage. Eventually I started riding it again and needed a new tire.

The bike store couldn't get their 26"* tires to stay on my 26" wheel. After research it turns out that in 1985 Schwinn's 26" wheels and tires were not quite the same size as everyone else's 26" wheels, so they could not be exchanged. Sometime later Schwinn changed to the 26" standard everyone else used. So I had a bike with a 26" wheel that no one at all made tires for.

After some fiddling they found a wheelchair tire that would work. Light gray instead of the usual black, but I didn't care by that point.


* I may be recalling the size wrong

91:

After research it turns out that in 1985 Schwinn's 26" wheels and tires were not quite the same size as everyone else's 26" wheels ... found a wheelchair tire that would work

Most likely it was indeed 26", or in modern terms ISO590, where modern 26" is ISO559 (millimetre diameter). So you would have been out of luck in basically every bike shop. The one saving roll is usually Schwalbe, who for reasons I don't understand but am grateful for make tyres in almost every size I've never heard of. The drop-down "ETRTO" on this page lists all the sizes that the USA Schwalbe stock including the 590 that you wanted. If they don't have it sometimes the German parent company does (and their search is nicer IMO).

92:

On that Schwinn 26" wheel, the original "Balloon tire" was their innovation and they patented it, their competitors made a slightly smaller 26" wheel to evade the patent. A Schwinn tire would be labeled "26X2 1/8", while the now standard size would be "26X2.125", the inner tubes interchange. When Schwinn ended production in Chicago, that was the end of new, oddball rims on bikes, Taiwanese Scwinns used standard rims and couldn't use the old tires, doubtlessly increasing confusion.

93:

The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from

Hmmmm. How much weight is a ton? How much volume is a gallon?

94:

For Word to be spinning its gears so furiously when italicising a word, it must be doing something.

As a working software engineer, I find your view of my profession to be delightfully optimistic.

I assure you, modern software engineering absolutely has the capability, no, the predilection to create software which can spend any amount of time and accomplish nothing at all.

95:

Ask the National Physical Laboratory, or their equivalents in other nations.

IIRC there are very few basic standards:

Mass (not weight) - kilogram
Length - metre
Time - second
Electric Current - Ampere
Temperature - Kelvin ( = Centigrade/Celsius with a zero-shift )
"Amount" - the mole. 9 Connected to Avogadro's number, of course.
Light intensity - Candela

Everything else can be derived from these.

96:

Where are you getting taps from? My tool shop (In the UK) has no bother getting metric fine taps, for between £5-10 depending on size. Proper HSS too.

Imperial threads aren't as scary as has been made out. The biggest problem is when you're threadcutting on a lathe-you usually have either a metric or imperial gearbox for the leadscrew. Most old machines being imperual of course, though a few are both. Cutting the opposite thread means you can't disengage the leadscrew to wind back for another pass, so you have to reverse the entire machine. Gets boring fast. Last year I was making stainless steel, fine pitch metric nuts on my imperial lathe...fun!

Initially, Whitworth and BSF bolt heads were different sizes for the same nominal diameter. Then during the war, they made them the same size to save metal.

PS-BSW and UNC aren't quite the same bar thread angle, 1/2" sizes have different TPI.

97:

I remember Word 5.1 on Mac. Lovely piece of software.

Word on Windows really is vastly better. Might even be worth having a cheap PC laptop around just to do novel edits twice a year.

98:

You missed the sarcasm. Those are both units of measurement which have different values as you move between countries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ton

99:

You know, except for the "probably don't want strangers with access to your manuscript", this sounds like a perfect thing for mechanical turk; if you could automatically split your word doc into say paragraphs, so that a task is 'copy all underscores from right to left, around corresponding words, and then reassemble back into a single word doc...

I guess building the infrastructure to split / verify / reassemble might actually take longer than a week, so maybe not.

But human intelligence is so cheap nowadays, just because you can't hire a full time assistant in the UK doesn't mean you shouldn't try to get someone else to do the simple / menial jobs for you.

100:

Here in the United States we have the meter instead.

101:

Yep. And my late wife was very proud to be related to him.

mark

102:

That sounds like what my late wife was doing in her writing - WordPerfect master document, with chapters as separate files.

That always pissed me off - WP was by *FAR* the best word processor (starting at 5.0). But first, no matter who owns them, their marketing department couldn't market their way out of a wet paper bag with the help of Da Terminator. Second... they had the killer app, and were too stupid to see it. alt-F3 was reveal codes (ALL codes, as opposed to Word, that only reveals *some* codes). One look at the codes... and you'd instantly see there was a 1-to-1 relationship between their codes... and HTML. It would have been the ONLY tool to create decent web pages (EVERTHING ELSE only creates garbage, unless, like my personal pages, you edit in in vi).

Question, Charlie: *everything* can save as .doc or .docx. (WP is even still alive...). Have you tried LibreOffice? I recently finished a 76k word novel (now in front of an agent....) and had no problems at all.

mark

103:

I remember an ad for Microsoft Word in a Finnish computer magazine some ti e around 1990. The ad mocked WordPerfect for having these codes in the document and even a view for editing them. The MS Word apparently a much nicer choice because you could just see the formatting on the screen as it would look like on paper!

I used WP happily and liked the tag editor. It solved a lot of problems.

Of course, I laughed out loud when I first heard about the XML formats for Word.

104:

I find that rather surprising, unless you were using an old version... seemed to me that LibreOffice had bloated itself out of any sensible consideration these days. To the point where you need a really fast computer just to make the user interface work...

My dad was experiencing some very strange behaviour on his computer, which he eventually reckoned must be due to the PS/2 port hardware on the motherboard ceasing to function correctly. We exchanged emails about it and from his description I came to the same conclusion. So he got a new computer... and found that that did the same thing, albeit not as badly, but it still wasn't working right.

So the next time I visited he showed me the problem happening live: he pulled up LibreOffice, loaded this trivial one-page document into it, and tried to perform some operation - I forget exactly what but it was a basic and trivial thing that involved clicking and dragging. Certainly the behaviour was erratic. I tried it myself and found you could sort of make it work sometimes depending on how you clicked the mouse. It still gave every impression of a malfunctioning PS/2 port, unlikely though that seemed on a brand new machine. (Or a malfunctioning mouse, but he'd tried that substitution with zero result.)

I didn't realise what was really going on until I got home and tried the same operation on a copy of the same document on my own box. There, it did work. Still only about 90% of the time, but at least it was usable; and from comparing the behaviour I had observed on the two different machines it became apparent what it was.

The UI was trying to do something clever - again I forget exactly what, but it was based on the time interval between clicking the mouse and dragging it. Sounds like a flaky idea, but the basic algorithm did actually work. The problem was that mouse events were taking so long to work their way through the bulging bloated sack of shit that the timing measurement ended up totally swamped by the latency and no longer bore any relationship to what it was supposed to be measuring, so unless you had a CPU capable of doing CFD in real time it could not be relied upon to work.

(Actual CPUs and results were...
3.6GHz, 64-bit, 8 core (ie. enough cores that LO could have one all to itself) - usable, but still not perfect
2.2GHz, 64-bit, 2 core - sort of worked some of the time but more often didn't
2GHz, 32-bit, 1 core - perfect simulation of a broken motherboard.)

'Course, the thing's written in bloody Java, of all things, which no doubt doesn't help...

105:

*everything* can save as .doc or .docx. (WP is even still alive...). Have you tried LibreOffice?

As has been noted by CS and many of us realize, if you need to exchange change tracking meta data and other things Word deals with aside from just putting words on a page, other software always leads to grief. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point, grief.

And since YOU are not using the standard, YOU eat any penalties for it being late.

106:

Concerning the bugginess of flagship products: I really don't understand how people put up with it. But I guess there's no real market feedback mechanism available. Excel has gotten buggier and buggier with every release but it'll have to start sacrificing babies to Satan before corporate IT moves off it. How do you express your displeasure when you're locked in?

Android is buggy and they never fix the problems with the current handset before they ask you to shell out for the next model. Don't like it? Well, you can always register your disgust by going to Apple. Except wait, I already registered my disgust with Apple by going Android. Do I just go back to a flip phone like a bloody caveman?

Final Cut Pro was the go-to video editing software for the longest time and everyone happily used Apple for it. Then some executive must have snorted an especially good rail and decided hey, let's nerf the product into something non-professionals would find appealing. What about all the pros -- the people who are the actual market for the software? Go pound sand, we don't care. They handed the entire professional video editing market over to Adobe whose products are still not as good as what Apple threw away.

107:

I have never had an Android phone upgraded to any noticeable extent, but my Samsung WIFI-only tablet is on at least its 3rd version of android. The user interface and icon changes were a bit disorienting each time.

So it seems the lack of updates is not due to Android or the handset manufacturers, at least for higher-end gear. The problem is with the phone companies.

I was quite surprised the first time the tablet upgraded, being used to phones: I hadn't even bought the tablet at a time they were promising version upgrades for new purchasers.

108:

"if you pre-ordered this book, have you received any updates"
UPS dropped my Amazon pre-ordered copy of Empire Games on my front porch at 10 am this morning (Jan 17th). Upstate NY.

As for the Word thing'
(1) If it's running slow, why not copy and paste a chunk of text from it into Notepad, mess with it there, then copy and paste it back into Word? That's what I have to do with comments on articles in the e version of my local newspaper when they try to stream multiple TV commercials at me simultaneously in the "ads".
(2) That silly changes tracking stuff. Had to do a little of that with service contracts and it's silly. Why can't everybody just put a line at the end of the document reflecting the version number, or "as of" date? Or just change the filename from "EmpireGamesV1.doc" to "EmpireGamesV2.doc". And keep them all so you can track down when something crept in. I know the answer: because that's the way they do it. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

109:

Why can't everybody just ... I know the answer: because that's the way they do it. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

More so because they just WILL NOT DO IT. Put a comprehensive note I mean.

I sent an email out to the staff at one of my clients Friday saying a new PDF tool was being installed. Included links on for FAQ's, instructions, videos, etc...

Today, one of the staff, threw a minor fit asking why did we do this, why wasn't she told, didn't we know she was on a deadline, ....

Note that we did NOT remove the other FOUR PDF bits of software already on the system, we just installed a new one and made it the default. AND TOLD EVERYONE.

110:

My tool shop (In the UK) has no bother getting metric fine taps, for between £5-10 depending on size

Oh, they have no problem *getting* them, it's just that the price is different. You pay £10, I pay $50... somewhat more than three times the price. So while it would be handy to have both taper and bottoming taps, it's much cheaper to take the thing to my local bike shop and pay $5 to use their tap. I've only needed the tap three or four times in 10 years of hobby building bikes so it's not worth the cost. I do burn through 5mm and 6mm taper taps because bike frames tend to be made of nice hard steel, and sharpening taps costs mroe than buying new.

111:

Received an email (Today, Tuesday Afternoon) that my pre-order has been shipped from the other major US Bookseller (the one that isn't named after a South American River); Kind o disappointing, it was in the store Friday, and here it is Wednesday. Supposed to be here Friday.

OK, rethinking, with the Monday holiday (Martin Luther King) (And the local paper had another story how insurgent in the State Legislature here in Arkansas want another state Holiday for Robert E Lee) (Sheesh), this is the first day to ship.

112:

Big River and Fleabay sell branded (Dormer, Facom) taps and dies at reasonable prices but I don't know what the price is like where you live. There's also the Chinese dropshippers assuming you're willing to take the risk of getting something that isn't quite to published spec.

Sharpening straight-fluted HSS taps isn't that difficult, it can be done by hand although a simple jig helps. I use a diamond needle file to cut the worn face away in each flute and expose a fresh cutting edge. I cut a mark on the square end of the shaft with the file each time I sharpen a tap -- two notches and it can't be sharpened again.

The other alternative is to get 5% cobalt taps, they last a lot longer as long as you stay away from exotic materials like titanium and carbon fibre. Nobody makes affordable solid carbide taps sadly (too frangible, I expect but I've fallen in love with solid carbide milling cutters).

113:
Why can't everybody just put a line at the end of the document reflecting the version number, or "as of" date? Or just change the filename from "EmpireGamesV1.doc" to "EmpireGamesV2.doc". And keep them all so you can track down when something crept in.
Tell you what; if I shipped you two versions of a novel and challenged you to find all the differences in the text - every difference, down to added and removed punctuation and formatting - how much work do you think it would be? Because that's what you're asking Charlie to do.
114:

That's all very weird. I've never had that kind of issue with LibreOffice (or OpenOffice before that). My system, which I rebuilt with new hardware about two years ago, Intel Core I-3, and I don't remember if I have 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and I have no problems.

Btw, I've gotten comments from my beta readers, which I believe they did in Word, and saw them.

And I'm running the most-current LibreOffice on CentOS 6.8 (Linux, that is).

Um.... maybe your dad ought to buy a new keyboard and mouse, both USB? PS/2 is truly ancient at this point, and I literally just had issues with a user who wanted his true 3-button mouse for graphical imaging software.....

mark

115:

I use a diamond needle file to cut the worn face away in each flute and expose a fresh cutting edge.

what I should do is spend some time in the local Men's Shed (you have them in the UK too) and find an old machinist geezer who can teach me how to do that properly. My attempts have produced taps that don't cut very well. I suspect I am using the wrong file or something. Possible a plastic-backed file more than 2mm thick just can't get into a 5mm tap to cut it at the right angle.

ATM I use a makerspace which is full of young enthusiastic people so there isn't that reservoir of knowledge to tap into (but I have a pile of credit in the makerspace because I donated stuff and helped with setup).

116:

You're doing better than I am - I haven't received the Email. And it has nothing to do with the MLK holiday. I ordered another book at the same time, and it arrived on January 2.

117:

Do you have many model engineering societies? Sadly I think their golden era is drawing to a close, but the skills available are somewhat jaw dropping. One of the first things that gave me a love of machining and metalwork was seeing the miniature steam engines at Chesterfield SME, aged about 7. Also, look out back issues of Model Engineer or Engineering in Miniature. Some wonderful craftsmanship to be seen.

118:

We do, but there's a bit of a gulf between them and what I want that I've struggled with before. I am very much a backyard "I want the thing to work" type which tends to clash with the "perfect assemblage of fine brass" approach of the model hobbyists. People who've worked in industry tend to be more accepting of "it has to work, now, using what we have" as an approach, because that's how industry works at least at the machine shop level. My stuff never gets prettier than "working prototype" (although other people have put things very much like my designs into production, often after talking to me about them).

Back in the day I built some miniature pneumatic solenoid valves and the local miniature builders were very helpful. But some of them weren't happy that I hot glued the valves into the model instead of building a proper adapter. One of them never spoke to me again - he was seriously angry about it.

So for me, putting the effort in to build relationships with people is better done with people who have lower standards :)

119:

For those who are morbidly curious about just how bad this is, I have a website or two (which are also rough as guts): http://www.moz.geek.nz/mozbike/build/long/index.html will get you started.

The bike is carrying over 100kg of books in those bins. But look at the frame behind the load...

120:

"My stuff never gets prettier than "working prototype" (although other people have put things very much like my designs into production, often after talking to me about them)."

That reminds me irresistibly of the Low Oil Shutdown Device Saga...

Small petrol engines as used for powering small plant on building sites (think lawnmower engines but with a horizontal crank) have devices to shut them down if they get low on oil, using an electrical sensor which cuts the ignition. Their diesel equivalents, which have no electrical system of any kind, do not. So a mate and I decided to invent a shutdown device that didn't use electricity. It used a one-way valve to accumulate vacuum from inlet manifold pressure fluctuations, and another valve controlled by oil pressure to gate the vacuum onto an actuator and move the fuel rack to the "off" position if the oil pressure was too low. We built one, using bits of rod turned in a the chuck of a drill held in a vice with a file as the tool to make the valves, and an old Stromberg carb as the actuator. It looked just as Heath Robinson as you might imagine, but it worked a treat, so we decided to make a production prototype and punt it to Lister-Petter.

This required us to locate some standard component to use as the actuator in place of a hacked Stromberg carb. So we went to see a local business that dealt in such things. While we were waiting in reception we got chatting to another bloke who was also waiting. Turned out that he had just built a device himself to perform the same function by a slightly different method (his took oil pressure to the actuator directly), and had already succeeded in punting it to Lister-Petter.

I like your website. The navigation could do with improvement (thoroughly non-obvious how to get to the bikes section from the front page), but the general design is something that the vast majority of websites would do well to emulate. And it would certainly be vastly easier to carry a fridge on your Long Bike instead of roping it to the carrier on a normal bike, like I did once (couldn't take my weight off the front of the bike or it sat up...)

121:

My main use of Notepad is plain text for configuration and script files.

Also, since no-one else mentioned it, there was also a version of Excel that had a version of Doom built in; an early Access where you could "launch" an animation of 2 ducks being struck by lighting...

122:

Ah, I remember WP5.X happily. I once got placed in the position of editting a document with 6 contributors writing separate sections, and a requirement for level 5 legal paragraphing.

Once I'd persuaded all of them to give me their sections with the numbering and (sub-)heading schemes applied and to "let me worry about changing the headings from all being "! $the_bit_I_wrote" to, say, !"1 Fred's_bit", "2 Joe's bit"... it was a total snap because all I had to do was copy and paste sections in the right order and not show anyone an incomplete copy!

123:

Big River and Fleabay sell branded (Dormer, Facom) taps and dies at reasonable prices

Both emboldened names are well known tool manufacturers.

124:

Mine too. You need an editor that does exactly what you tell it to

I spent several hours being bitten by the Mac's supposed equivalent, which decided to turn plain double quotes into 'smart' quotes, thus causing my shell script to fail.

(Yeah, I know, should have been using edlin vi)

So a free editor that doesn't do formatting, a free editor that does do simple formatting, and a flagship paid-for bells-and-whistles WP? Sounds sensible to me.

125:

There's a point if you get deeply into making stuff where where you become a sort-of Second-Stage Lensman, building or owning tools to make tools. It's said that someone with a lathe or a mill spends most of their time making tooling for their lathe or mill -- my current blue-sky project involves making a gear for the lathe so I can cut an 8tpi thread on the lathe to make a spindle end nut for the lathe so I can secure collets in the end of the spindle so... If you look at Youtube videos of people doing Stuff with lathes and mills a lot of what they are doing is just that, making tools and devices to make other things.

Sharpening taps and other HSS tooling properly requires a tool grinder. The cheapo Chinese grinders on Fleabay cost several hundred quid, a decent German or Swiss unit will set you back a thousand or more and that's before you buy all the ancillaries you need (collets, grinding wheels etc.) do do all the jobs you encounter. Using a simple wood and metal jig and a Dremel diamond-wheel or a needle file is nowhere near as good but it works for a bodge-standard level of accuracy. The alternative is to spend three times as much for a higher-grade tap (5% cobalt alloy, for example rather than simple HSS) that lasts five times as long. It's a Vimes Boots scenario.

126:

As a fan of both Lensman and Discworld myself, I prefer "dwarf":

"...the only tools a dwarf needed were his axe and some means of making fire. That'd eventually get him a forge, and with that he could make simple tools, and with those he could make complex tools, and with complex tools a dwarf could more or less make anything."

127:

My favourite book by Nevil Shute is "Round the Bend" - but the second favourite was "Trustee from the Toolroom". I rather suspect you already know about it, but if not it's well worth a read, and might be available on Project Gutenberg...

128:

It's the perfectionism I admire-though you're right that for rough arse prototypes it's a bit OTT. I learnt mainly from volunteering at a preserved railway (Crich tram museum), another source of incredibly skilled old men.
Bike stuff looks interesting, though I prefer bikes with engines. Currently rebuilding an old BMW twin, and got a Dnepr sidecar outfit to fit with a BMW engine and car brakes.

129:

I actually have an ancient hobbiest lathe, but I've never gotten around to using it.

Modelling... model railroader, here. The most complicated thing I've built, well, I bought what was listed as a "partly assembled" 50 year old steam loco kit (HO scale). And I wound up paying more than if I'd gotten a new kit, due to missing pieces. And... let's just say I had WAAAAYYYY more fun than I'd signed up for (we won't even mention the number of times I got up, moved my chair, shook the runner rug, and went through the dust for a "gem" that was a marker light...).

It's a really impressive loco, though, a Pennsy E-6 Atlantic.

mark

130:

Pigeon, it's by design that the main geek page doesn't go to the bike stuff. I use email from that domain when applying for jobs, so potential employers might well look at the homepage. There's a fair bit of content there that's not linked, or not obviously. I'm a bit of a fan of not breaking things, so when people I care about deep-link to my stuff I feel obliged to leave it there forever. Or if I dislike them, break their sh!t. I have a 4000x3000 blank white gif that I send to those people when they deep-link images, to teach forum software producers to specify sizes on their embedded images. Ahem.

Nojay, for some things I'll pay (I have insured my tools. Making the list was tedious and the number at the end was scary), but other things I just accept as consumable. I'll pay $10 for a cheap diamond file but at the point where I'm paying $50 for a tool that might save a $10 tap if I can work out how to use it properly, I tend to balk.

The perfectionism stuff is not me, never has been. At school I was somewhat notorious for arriving late for some exams so I could leave after an hour, and just accepting that I'd peak at 95% correct. It wasn't worth the hassle of sitting there for hours grinding to get the last five percent. I want it to work with the least amount of effort. And I like to think that yes, I am smart enough to be that lazy.

I also have poor fine motor control, so some stuff I just simply cannot do at all. The gap between what I can program a CNC tool to do and what I can do by hand is enormous. I have put a CNC "kit" (some redesign required, not all parts supplied) onto a cheap mill, and that was great. But I sold it for $10k because a big, loud, 3 phase machine taking up 1/4 of my garage ... or $10k... it turned out not to be a very hard decision. But for the time I had it, it was great.

131:

Yes, I have written novels using StarOffice/OpenOffice/LibreOffice. Also with vim and a custom hand-rolled tool chain in POD markup. (Perldoc.)

These days I use Scrivener because it's simply better.

The only reason I touch Word with a bargepole is that it's bug-compatible with Word, which is what the publishers insist on standardizing on for their in-house workflow. I do not want to lose multiple days or weeks of work due to a subtle incompatibility at some point.

132:

If it's running slow, why not copy and paste a chunk of text from it into Notepad, mess with it there, then copy and paste it back into Word?

1. Notepad (as a Doc editor) doesn't exist on MacOS. Did you mean TextEdit?

2. Then the entire selected chunk will show up as a tracked change. Want to only mess with a single word? Great, each time you copy it out, mess with it, and paste it back, Word will throw a fit. Want to do it a page at a time? Great, you just shat all over the change tracking metainformation.

(Honestly, some of you seem to think I'm a newbie at this job. Despite hating it, I've been forced to use MS Word from time to time since 1989 and have written more than one entire book in one version or another of it over the decades. When I say it's complete shit, I'm speaking from experience: it's been downhill ever since Word 5.1a for Mac on System 7.1.)

133:

There's a point if you get deeply into making stuff where where you become a sort-of Second-Stage Lensman, building or owning tools to make tools.

So how man of you folks are still around. I'm fairly handy compared to most people I know but I'm a rank novice compared to you guys. (I only know of one household other than me within a radius of 5 or 10 homes with a socket set.)

I'm the son of a WWII vet. In the US only about 1 in 9 were given a gun as their only skill. The rest were in logistics. So I and my peers grew up with fathers who had learned a skill from the US military. Unless we needed a 10 ton press my father knew someone who used their skills from the war to run a primary or secondary (side) business. HVAC, electronics, welding, machine shop, etc... Many times we had the desired tools in the extended family.

Having taught my kids to drive a manual transmission puts them on the rare end of the "do it yourself" skill set these days. They both still prefer to drive such today. I gave my 27 year old son a cordless tool set for Christmas and he was thrilled. Most of his peers were confused by my choice.

134:

You could ask whether it's better to monitor changes in a document by carrying all the information in the document (Word track changes) or by keeping different versions and comparing them externally (your favourite diff tool / Word compare documents). But for whatever reason, the Word using community has come down on the side of track changes.

135:

some of you seem to think I'm a newbie at this job. Despite hating it, I've been forced to use MS Word

Nah, I have been staying the heck away from this one because I feel your pain. I have a bunch of tools that I use because they are the least awful of a field competing to be most awful. I run Windows at work because my whole office relies on Outlook. Which is better than Lotus Notes, at least. Faint praise and all that.

I'm really happy to be vented at if it's even slightly part of the process that answers "but what happens next?" :)

The only advice I can think of is (please don't hit me with the banhammer) "suck it up" and that doesn't seem likely to be either novel or welcome.

136:

how man of you folks are still around

It's becoming a bit of a thing, between kids who like gadgets and realise that tools are gadgets, and people who want to do something tangible in a world where everything else revolves around computers. Plus there are people who expect for various reasons that at some point either the global supply chain or the computers will become temporarily unavailable.

I enjoy having people who dabble buying nice tools for "my" shared workshops :)

Amusingly, insofar as I can drive, I can drive a manual. I don't actually do it though, because I'm not a socipathic @rsehole, so my skills are rusty as heck and traffic scares me witless. I can likewise weld using most hand methods, in a brutal not-pretty way. I have a whole bunch of similar skills to that level, because I'd rather do all the things adequately than that one thing really well.

137:

It's kind of interesting... there's still a lot of folks who make steam trains or electric traction trains in various track gauges, the traditional "model" engineering hobbyists but there's been an explosion of lower-priced versions of higher-end technology like laser cutters, CNC milling and routing machines that has led to a new engineering "maker" culture, driven in part by the low cost of control electronics and the ready availability of affordable actuators and precision parts which are being mass-manufactured for other reasons (shafts for printers, for example).

I'm a member of the local Hacklab here in Edinburgh which has the "usual" 40W laser cutter, an electronics workshop etc. However we're currently expanding into more serious fabrication with the acquisition of a medium-sized lathe (A Colchester Bantam), a large CNC router table, a small CNC mill and matching CNC lathe (Denford NovaMill and NovaTurn) and other workshop tooling. Another workshop in the same building as the Hacklab has just got a tabletop five-axis mill for making sculpture pieces and maquettes, woodcarving etc. (Google for "Pocket NC" Kickstarter for details). Yet another business provides professional drone survey and video operations using customised drones fitted with devices like thermal imaging cameras.

138:

So how man of you folks are still around.
I'm not up to Nojay's level, but do occasionally make custom old-school (i.e. made out of very large numbers of atoms; not software or other abstractions) tools for a particular purpose. At best grinding/shaping bits of metal (or even wood) to a desired shape, and usually just something with wire, e.g. I had to open the car trunk(boot, but this was the US) with luggage for houseguests after they were rear-ended on the way, and the trunk release and key no longer worked. Wire with hook on end pushed through an opening in the rear seats to hook the trunk release internally.
Also have opened locked cars (always mine or for friends/relatives) with wires and other improvised implements at least 10 times. It's getting harder. :-(

I will not be outdone in tool making skills by New Caledonian crows(July 2016)

At least crows can't assemble bash one-liners on a command line. :-)

139:

I run Windows at work because my whole office relies on Outlook.

Actually the latest hosted Outlook isn't too bad. And there are more and better details working via the web version than the installed software. Features show up daily it seems. Not major ones but basically MS exposes more and more of the command shell nonsense via a somewhat decent admin web interface. And they just make it happen once they feel it's "good enough".

But it requires a good admin keeping the back end set up. And I'm sure a lot of folks are stuck with in-house outlook with no changes allowed. As it was set up in 2003 and since it works heads will roll if it breaks due to anyone changing it.

140:

Martin, you'l know this, but for others Shute's autobiography 'Slide Rule', which unfortunately doesn't cover post-WW2, is a fascinating look at an engineer who worked on inter-war dirigibles and aircraft. Well worth a read if you can find it. Shute worked on the R100 - the competitor to the doomed R101 and founded the plane company 'Airspeed'.

The two books you named are among my favourites of his, but A Town Like Alice, Chequerboard & The Far Country are up there. Beyond The Black Stump might be interesting to see how a Briton sees an Australian seeing the (1950s) USA. It is probably truer still than more people would care to think.

141:

I think that some people don't appreciate the difference between, say, a 10,000 word sole-author paper and a 100,000 word multiply-change-tracked document. To paraphrase one of the regulars "[Scale], you're not good at it".

142:

I'm at about your level.
I don't have the kit at home, but I have used a lathe & a mill & brazed stuff ...
I do 95% of my own car maintenance, rewired my whole house about 20 years back ( The original 1905/7 wiring in an 1893 building was falling apart ) do most of my own plumbing [ Fitted a new loft header-tank & 2 new radiators last Autumn ... that sort of thing?
I'm good on simple bookshelves & internal cupboard-rearrangement as well.

143:

You actually know of a good diff tool for A Mess DOS / Windoze? (by which I mean Unix/Linux standards good)

144:

I have the opposite problem - I use Beyond Compare and since they dropped their unix version I have been unable to find anything as good. Admittedly it does merging as well as file/dir tree comparisons, so it's not a "pure" diff tool. But it is basically magic.

Sadly the DB tool I use gets utterly flummoxed by line ending differences and cannot be persuaded to ignore them. So I spend an annoying amount of time exporting files from the DB tool so I can use Beyond Compare to find the actual differences (edit one line from the "wrong" tool and the whole file changes...

145:

Try WinMerge... we used it at my last place of work.

146:

Using your message as a template, what I want is something that, if I delete your line 4 and change "Beyond" to "Above" in your line 9, then do "diff original_file edited_file" returns something like:-

4 d
9 s/Beyond/Above

Which is exactly what Unix diff would do (apart from any syntax mistakes on my part).

147:

I use DiffUtils from the GnuWin32 things, also regularly use their version of wget.

148:

I have used Meld on unix (about 2 or 3 years ago, not sure about their current level of support). It too supports visual directory tree comparison. If you're willing to run the linux_compat layer, most windows diff tools should be simple enough to run in wine without any (too much - assuming open source) hacking... Then again, why not just run the older working version of Beyond Compare of you like it best? You could always put it in a jail/vm if you're concerned about working with documents of questionable provenance.

Regarding an MsWord diff/merge tool: while certainly possible to create, by definition it will be basically as complex and memory hungry as Word itself. The better solution here is to use a properly indexed append-only database that doesn't merge all changes every keystroke, and then have every other author shove it down the publishing industry's throat until it can't breath anymore. Good luck with that! ;)

149:

I am indeed running the old Linux BeyondCompare. It works.

And yes, paws, if you want Linux command line tools in Windows there are packages that do that. I have a directory full of them, because I repeatedly type basic commands into the Windows command prompt and suffer disappointment when they don't work. Specifically, due to my habit of typing in one window while looking at another, I am disappointed some time after it fails to work. Having three widescreen monitors makes that worse, not better (why are 4:3 monitors so hard to find these days?)

run the linux_compat layer, most windows diff tools should be simple enough to run in wine

For reasons too infuriating to go into we run Centos on servers and my dev environment. After some vigorous discussion it was agreed that we could use the CentosPlus and EPEL repositories as well. Then the ... let's agree to dignify his behaviour with the title "systems admninistrator"... put not just X, but also some crud that lets him use Windows Remote Desktop to connect... to our servers. So much for security. But anyway, my development machine mirrors that environment because we have had too many problems with library variations (our servers are also usually 6-18 months behind on patches). I am angry about all of that but unable to change it.

So, no WINE (the Centos devs hate WINE), idiosyncratic support for Linux GUI tools.

150:

"...the only tools a dwarf needed were his axe and some means of making fire. That'd eventually get him a forge, and with that he could make simple tools, and with those he could make complex tools, and with complex tools a dwarf could more or less make anything."

Some years back I was talking with an engineer friend of mine who was hoping to someday build a lathe. (Yes, you can just go out and buy a lathe. That's not the point.) He did not even have the lathe book then but was quite taken with a series on how to make a DIY workshop. Not, I should emphasize, on using a workshop; this series was based on making a workshop. You need a supply of wood, a supply of scrap metal, and some way of making a fire; once you have those it's only a matter of time and labor...

I am still a bit disappointing that this series is apparently expensive and hard to find, because this is exactly the kind of thing that should be tucked away in libraries in case of SHTF civilization collapse scenarios. But then, I'd want all local libraries, particularly those in small remote towns, to devote some space to subjects like basic medicine, basic mechanics, and how to feed yourself from the local environment.

151:

I've used Beyond Compare and ExamDiff and whatever the thing built into Tortoise are (in that order of preference). But my needs are very simple. I don't think any of them would be any use for a novel-shaped document, or indeed a word processed document rather than plain text.

Regarding an MsWord diff/merge tool: while certainly possible to create, by definition it will be basically as complex and memory hungry as Word itself.

True, it would be a post-processing rather than getting in the way of actually working on the document the rest of the time. My experience is that Word is more flaky with track changes on than without.

152:

I am still a bit disappointing that this series is apparently expensive and hard to find, because this is exactly the kind of thing that should be tucked away in libraries in case of SHTF civilization collapse scenarios.
One of the nuances that impressed me about A Fire Upon The Deep (fun quotes) was that it was a given that there was a large stockpile of information about rapidly bootstrapping technological civilizations.
So, yeah, quite agree.
As a kid, pre-internet, I did a lot of tinkering and chemistry armed with not much more than an ancient undergrad chemistry text and Jules Verne novels and similar how-to-books some dating back to the 19th century (plus some salvaged lab glassware and similar). Would have probably killed myself (before puberty :-) if there has been an internet.

153:

THIS:
“[The Universe] does not care, and even with all our science there are some disasters that we can not avert. All evil and good is petty before nature. Personally, we take comfort from this, that there is a universe to admire that can not be twisted to villainy or good, but which simply is.”
― Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

Is going into my commonplaces file.
Useful for dealing with christians, muslims & others with failed brains ...

154:

It's the last one that's the killer, of course. Round here, for instance, there are plenty of blackberries in the autumn, and I suppose there may be some plants with nutritious roots (if I knew what they were, which I don't, and if they exist in sufficient quantities to last more than a few days, which I doubt), but outside that pretty well everything isn't digestible to humans until it's been processed through the metabolism of some other kind of animal. The best bet might well be farming rats - breed quickly, eat anything, and probably the largest of the local wildlife (apart from foxes, but not many of them). Also piling up compost to breed earthworms, which seem to be pretty prolific round here.

155:

Why not simply writing a Markdown file on a private GitHub repository? The entire history of the manuscript will be preserved - every minor change, its author, when, and why. If they absolutely must receive a Word document a simple Python script could take care of getting the Markdown file and creating a Word document out of it.

Also, after copyright expires it would be fun to make the repository public. :-)

156:

"why are 4:3 monitors so hard to find these days?"

Any kind of decent monitor seems to be impossible to find these days. Everything is (a) wide aspect ratio, when I don't always perceive the full width of 4:3 completely; (b) LCD, bleurgh; and (c) a silly resolution, which gives the choice of everything being much too small, everything being much too big, or everything being fuzzy. I am sticking like glue to my 21" CRT operated at 1280x1024 and hoping like buggery that it never suffers a failure of the line output transformer or some other irreplaceable component, because even second hand such things are like hens' teeth.

Come to that, what is it with 4:3 and never 3:4? I remember seeing adverts in the 80s for some word processing system that made a big thing out of how it was the only one around that had the screen in a sensible orientation - an advantage which had particular force back then since absolutely nothing had the resolution to display a page complete from top to bottom in 4:3. But it never caught on, and the distinctly silly practice of using landscape monitors to edit portrait documents apparently for no better reason than "it has to look like a TV" remained universal.

157:

4:3 monitors are not hard to find per se, they're just not commonplace. I could even get my hands on new-build 1:1 monitors if I needed to, but I don't want to pay ten times the price of a more capable 16:9 display for the privilege. This is assuming a desktop environment -- the "funny" monitors are usually ruggedised and mean to fit into odd equipment housings aboard aircraft or, my favourite, decompression chambers where exposure to high levels of helium at 1Mpa plus can cause commodity screens to fail rather rapidly.

You can have my modern 80cm-diagonal 16:9 IZGO quad HD full-Adobe-gamut monitor when you pry it from my cold dead hands. I'm intending to ditch all but one of my ancient CRTs in the near future, I haven't powered any of them up in the last year or so. I'll hold on to one CRT Just In Case but I really don't have a use for it.

To me 4:3 purists are a bit like the incandescent lightbulb fanatics. The reason most computer screens are 16:9 or 16:10 today is because TV set panels are made in the same factories that make panels for monitors and it's cheaper to make them all the same ratio. It's why CRT monitors were 4:3 in their day, because they came out of the TV factories back when NTSC and PAL were the standards.

I spend most of my time with my attention focus close to the centre of of my 16:9 screen but if I need it I have other information parked on the extra real estate either side of the sweet spot just an eye-flick away, not something I can do on a 4:3 display. I have suggested to other 4:3 purists that they could solve their problem by taping pieces of black cardboard to either side of a 16:9 display to create their own perfect ratio monitor, or even better fit a pair of motorised curtains of the sort cinemas used to have to change screen ratios on the fly...

As for viewing portrait images for page proofs etc. that's what portrait monitors are for. I have a 65cm 16:9 IZGO monitor swivelled into portrait orientation to one side of my big monitor that I use for proofing pages etc. as well as parking stuff I don't need directly in front of me all of the time.

158:

I wouldn't call myself a "purist", I just don't see the point in acquiring functionality I'll never use. There is something deficient in my perception of the right-hand side of things - I can see it fine, but it somehow doesn't register completely. Using other people's wide monitors I find the right-hand section is effectively wasted, and its presence is somehow confusing in a way that I can't readily define.

(Similar reasoning to building a computer with as much CPU and RAM as I can afford, and putting an ancient second-hand graphics card which is at least 10 years old in it. I never use the thing for games, so I don't see the point of having (and paying for) GPU power that is only needed for games.)

I think you've missed the point about portrait monitors. You can't tip a CRT monitor on its side because it buggers up all the convective ventilation and thermal management design, but you can certainly build one that is designed with a vertically-oriented CRT in the first place, and it makes a lot more sense for pretty well any textual editing. So I find it daft that the one such instance I am aware of disappeared without trace and nobody else ever seemed to do it.

Anyway, if those CRT monitors you mention happen to include a 21" one, don't throw it away, send it to me. I'll pay for the carriage. If my current one does pack up it would be extremely useful to have a spare.

159:

There are (or were, at least) portrait CRT monitors but they were very much a niche market and quite expensive. We had one on a British-built PERQ (thank you Google) minicomputer in the computer lab at a place I worked at back in the 80s but I never saw it run -- I suspect it was donated after the company went belly up.

The demand and need for portrait displays was mostly due to a requirement by some customers for proofing printed text and the low resolution from CRTs and early LCDs meant that portrait was required to maximise screen dpi to approach the printing resolution. Nowadays a landscape LCD with 300dpi resolution is a few hundred quid from any of the high-street box-shifters so that need is now met and it's now possible to proof two pages side-by-side on such a display. In addition any higher-end monitor using IPS or IZGO panels can usually swivel into portrait mode (like my Dell 2711) since their vertical viewing angles aren't constrained as the cheaper TN panel displays are.

I've got a low-end video card (AMD R7 260) in my desktop PC to drive my displays. I had to buy it as I needed DisplayPort outputs to produce 3840x2160 @ 60Hz plus 2560x1440 @ 60Hz. My older video cards had DVI and RGB ports which didn't have the pixel rate capabilities to keep the two displays fed properly. I don't game (other than old-school Doom II occasionally) or CUDA so quad-SLI Titans would be a waste.

If you want big old CRTs check your local Freecycle or Gumtree equivalent as people give them away for free all the time (although the supply is petering out). The CRT I'm planning to hang on to is a 22" Mitsubishi but the 17" Iiyamas are leaving the building along with a Sun 19" RGB monitor, a 14" monochrome composite monitor etc.

160:

Why are ... so hard to find.

Economies of scale. There's a market for a billion or so 16:9 displays per year. Other ratios are likely in demand at less that 1/100 of that. Maybe 1/10000. Or maybe less.

So if you're thinking of building something else, well your overhead costs are spread across fewer units. And you'll never sell in Best Buy or the EU equivalent so your marketing and distribution costs are also going to be much higher.

As for keeping those old Glass CRT displays, don't complain about people not reducing their carbon footprint.

This is one reason military things cost so much. If you want to keep an aircraft cockpit in service for 10 to 15 years you need a supply of all of those displays. And if the long term planning for the next gen cockpit gets axed then you get to really start paying obscene amounts for the replacement parts that may not have been made for a decade or more.

161:

I use a CRT because they are so much nicer on the eyes, which is important for something I look at for so much of the day. Possibly an RGB triplet of modulated lasers and a raster-scanning mirror system might use less power, but I'd probably spend the rest of my life trying to align it, and anyway the waste heat comes off the total amount of heat needed to maintain a given temperature in the room.

162:

The answer to this question will surely be "No, because it's industry standard," but could one get around these gargantuan .docx files by editing chapter-by-chapter?

163:

Economies of scale. There's a market for a billion or so 16:9 displays per year

Exactly. But because I'm not an owl I like to have at least some of my displays in portrait. Experience suggests I need at least three monitors for work (DB tool, IDE, browser is the usual base) and if I'm working remotely I do quite like having that up on a fourth monitor (these days clipboard integration is fairly reliable and helps a great deal).

4k has made a suprising amount of difference to me, it's meant that even on a 28" screen I can get two panes up in the IDE, each with ~150 characters across it. It's great, but I end up using the inside half of each monitor that's next to it because it's easier to just pile up the 28" widescreen monitors than find a portrait monitor roughly the same height.

I loath CRTs with a passion because I live in a hot country and have to pay to get rid of heat most of the time. So while I can live with big and heavy (my first proper dual display was 21" trinitrons), the 150-250W heater aspect drives me nuts.

164:

One of the nuances that impressed me about A Fire Upon The Deep (fun quotes) was that it was a given that there was a large stockpile of information about rapidly bootstrapping technological civilizations. So, yeah, quite agree.

There's also such an archive in the Orion's Arm setting, unsurprisingly; their version seems to be a dedicated tablet like a Hitchhiker's Guide. It's not yet quite practical to make such a thing in the real world; at least for a while survival manuals remain paper. I'm not in the loop with anyone really accumulating a post-collapse library.

165:

I work with architects and most of the displays we have bought going back at least 5 years will rotate and present themselves to the computer as 1900x1200 or 1200x1900 depending on orientation. Most are sitting next to a 2560x1440 in portrait orientation.

But we don't buy from the $109.99 1080P deal of the week bin.

All Dell Ultrasharps to be honest.

As to heat, yes, in winter it's a wash. In summer I'm paying extra to remove equipment heat. Or hope the sweat doesn't break anything.

As to people keeping actual tube displays I found that somewhere between 5 and 10 years of computer use the phosphors typically dimmed enough that to get the brightness I wanted drove the guns so hard that focus started to become an issue.

166:

The people I know with such libraries typically do both. It's fairly easy to match an electronic library with whatever physical sources you collect, if only by scanning/photographing them. And a device that can display a file now will likely be able to display that file in the future, assuming it still works. And electronic libraries are easy to roll out to all your devices, and forward to new ones.

The care goes into selecting the device for longevity, and the books likewise. It's not easy to fine an electronic device designed for daily use over multiple decades, but books don't survive that either. Buying a book is easy, buying a book printed on archival paper then maintaining a controlled environment for it is hard. I've poked an oxygen sensor into one and made the owner very sad.

The good news is that there's been a bit of a fad lately for single-use argon cylinders, so it's become much easier to argon-fill stuff at home (tank rental is a killer if you don't use much). I do that with rice, because buying 250kg at a time is significantly cheaper than a single 25kg sack and don't even talk to be about 1kg in a bag at the supermarket. Rice lasts much better if there's no oxygen, as pests don't eat it (the other path is mildew, and dry air helps quite a lot there).

167:

Yes, I have this browser on a 1200x1920 monitor, and it's a Dell factory refurbished unit. At home I have an off-brand Korean monitor with a decent IPS panel in it, but it cost less than half what the same panel with a name badge on it (and it only has DVI-D input, I would have had to pay ~25% more if I'd wanted more options). The previous Dell 30" lasted ~5 years, but one of the two generic 20" I bought at the same time is still going. I'm not convinced you can predict longevity by brand, because my workplace buys a lot of name-brand monitor and I'd say half of them fail within 10 years (used every weekday).

One mildly amusing thing for me was discovering that pro DSLR's might have a 300k shutter life, but it's also only 10 years (whichever comes first) because they rely on plastic and foam and glue that decays over time. The old school all-metal ones last longer, but also wear out faster. It's a conundrum. Consumer shutters are rated to last 50k-100k depending on essentially random factors, but interestingly the trend is upwards because with digital people take a lot more photos, so the old chemical cameras with their "30k if you're lucky" life don't give a relevant comparison. 30k chemical photos is 1000 film cassettes, which most people wouldn't get close to in 20 years. 30k digital snaps is a couple of years for an enthusiastic amateur.

168:

That's not a problem I've encountered... at least certainly not to the extent of being unable to compensate for it by adjusting the focus. And later designs began to incorporate compensation for component deterioration which did it automatically. Similarly, I've never encountered phosphor burn myself (although I've seen plenty of instances of it, mostly on CRT train-running information displays at stations, which used standard TV CRTs). Maybe that's because the first thing I find it necessary to do with any monitor is to adjust it well away from either its factory settings, or the minor modifications made to them by the previous user, as applicable, since they are invariably set up so as to look realistic to an inhabitant of a planet orbiting Rigel who has no sunglasses.

169:

Would dry nitrogen do as well? I'm thinking that if I had a requirement to fill bags with an inert atmosphere I'd probably generate it by burning fuel to scrub the oxygen out of air, then passing the flue gases through quicklime or caustic soda to scrub out the carbon dioxide and water vapour. I've seen small single-use argon cylinders sold for use with MIG welders for use by those who can't make do with straight CO2 or CO2/argon mix but also don't do enough to justify hiring a full-size refillable bottle, but they come at the sort of price that makes hiring a full-size bottle an easy option to justify.

170:

...a device that can display a file now will likely be able to display that file in the future, assuming it still works.

There's the thing, of course. It's technically possible to build a solid state device that's rugged, solar powered, and reliable enough for decades of use but that's not where the market is right now. Never mind one that's small and cheap enough to toss into your glove compartment or bug-out bag on the off chance that you'll need it someday.

But in the future, even just a few decades from now? Sure, that's plausible. Maybe if someone decided to make a few million of them and flood the Third World...

171:

The Long Now people are thinking somewhat about libraries for rebooting civilisation. http://blog.longnow.org/02014/02/06/manual-for-civilization-begins/ However, they're infected with a large streak of techno-optimism. So the individuals involved tend to veer towards lukewarm denial that civilisation will collapse.

172:

An essential book would be:
"The Rubber Bible" otherwise the "Handbook of Chemistry & Physics" ......
The CRC who publish it now have ( & have had for several years ) similar volumes for other disciplines.
A "full set" would be invaluable.

173:

Back in the seventies, a friend gave me a CRC handbook as a birthday present, saying that I was the only person he knew who would want and really appreciate it. I've only used it rarely - I got into computers, rather than the physics/astronautics I intended to, but it's come in handy a few times.

Now, if I could just thump Trumpolini & co with a few facts... like, the CRC Handbook over their "alternate factoid" heads....

mark

174:

I've long said that what I wanted was the Junior Woodchuck Manual. (For those who don't know, Donald Duck's nephews were Junior Woodchucks.) As far as I could tell, if you were kidnapped by a UFO and dropped off on an uninhabited but inhabitable planet with nothing but that, in five years, you could recreate civilization, and in 10, maybe, you could build a copy of the UFO and get home.

I've also said that a first cut at such a manual would be to collect all the FAQs from usenet news groups.

mark

175:

Would dry nitrogen do as well?

Yes, the two big things are dry and inert. Nitrogen is not as easy to contain as argon over long periods, but that kinda doesn't matter because unless you have a sensor or two in the box you might as well consider it only good for a week anyway. My rice containers (200l plastic drums) are still very low on water after a year, even with me opening them up and lifting sacks of rice out. Which surprised me, as I thought the disturbance would get more air in than it apparently does.

small single-use argon cylinders ... come at the sort of price that makes hiring a full-size bottle an easy option to justify.

Down here it was ~$280/year for the cheap rental vs ~$250 to buy the attachment with one single-use cylinder, so the maths work out differently. You get 5x as much argon in the rental, but the last one I rented lasted about 5 years so it was a bit of a disaster financially. Looking now I see a bunch of places selling cylinders and offering cheap-ish refills, so I think those numbers have completely changed now. Note to self: next time I buy rice, buy a cylinder and regulator.

176:

Can you store rice in vacuum instead? A small vacuum pump will cost less than pressurised gases supplied in any kind of safe containment.

An inert gas alternative for topping up your rice storage containers is nitrogen if you can buy small quantities of liquid N2 locally. It doesn't stay liquid for long of course but you could store the remainder in a bin-bag balloon in another large container.

A neat toy I'd like to own (but I doubt I'd get sufficient use out of to justify the cost) is an oxygen generator as sold in medical supplies stores. The "waste" output is reasonably pure nitrogen with 1-5% oxygen depending on flow rate.

177:

Can you store rice in vacuum instead?

I don't know, but I have very limited experience with proper vacuum, and I know that the home freezer vacuum systems won't work (also fail for flour, in case you're interested). So I'd need a lot more gear than just a low-grade vacuum pump. Using a vacuum pump to enhance the modified atmosphere project might work, but I don't have one lying round.

The main thing for me is that I can buy a 100l or 200l drum with removable lid for $20 or so, and that will hold three to five 25kg sacks of rice quite easily, while being waterproof and largely airtight. It's also easy to poke a wire through a hole and seal it up, so I can leave a humidity sensor in the bin (1% sensors are ~$10 each and I only need one per bin).

Liquid nitrogen I'd be mildly concerned that water condensation during the changeover in the rice would cause problems.

Rice comes in permeable sacks, and one advantage of argon is that it readily displaces oxygen and nitrogen, so a length of 10mm polypipe into the bottom of the bin feeding argon, and a wee hole in the top letting the air out, fed slowly for a few hours, drops the oxygen concentration below the limits of my detector (1%, according to the label) and my half-decent humidity detector says

178:

I've long said that what I wanted was the Junior Woodchuck Manual.

You may know it's a fictionalized stand-in for the Boy Scout Handbook, which is limited by reality. Having said that, many people have recommended a copy for anyone's survival library; there's much to be said for a well illustrated book that will guide an inexperienced reader through the basics of first aid, shelter construction, not getting lost, and avoiding poisonous plants.

It also keeps getting revised and I haven't looked at a recent edition. The one I have is falling apart due to time and wear.

179:

Can you store rice in vacuum instead? A small vacuum pump will cost less than pressurised gases supplied in any kind of safe containment.

I asked around; this may be less practical, even though a pump and electricity is cheaper than argon and easier to create at home. Responses include:

* According to Heinlein, it puffs.
* I'm sure you could vacuum seal rice.
* That's what I said, vacuum seal; [...] sez that's not a complete vacuum, but I said that's as close as any of us is likely to get!
* If you are storing it as food, consider parboiling it first. That might work.
* According to this, vacuum packed will keep for around 25 years. http://www.offthegridnews.com/off.../how-long-will-it-keep/

180:

If you are storing it as food, consider parboiling it first. That might work.

Have you thought about the logistics of parboiling even one 25kg sack of rice? At the very least you'd want to package it into sub-kilo lumps before packing, and then you want packaging that's long-lasting, physically robust but also non-toxic and affordable. It's likely more reliable, easier and cheaper to buy commercially available if that's what you want (in Oz we can easily get both parboiled and almost-entirely-precooked rice here in single serving sizes).

A second question is whether you mean parboiling stripped rice, or the traditional parboil then strip method. The latter requires a supply of unhulled rice which is not especially easy to get.

The lifetime of modified atmosphere rice could easily be the 25 years listed in the article, although one persistent problem I have is that there's a mildew that will grow just using the rice and the moisture it contains. According to the grower the only solution is a chemical treatment (which I suspect is SO2 gas) that they can't use because they sell organic certified rice. But that mildew doesn't make the rice inedible in the year or so I store it for, it just makes washing before cooking essential.

I am going to do some more organised experiments with the next lot of rice just to see if I can avoid the problems I've identified this time round. For a few years I could get rice cheaply and reliably in single-sack quantities so I didn't bother with storing it. That's changed, so I'm rediscovering the process using a different source. It may also be that the mildew comes in on the few unhulled grains, so removing those before I package the rice would be a tedious (manual) but workable solution.

181:

I'm about halfway through Trustee now-excellent recommendation, thankyou! Rather appropriately, I read it at work whilst keeping a couple of big CNC lathes running. The technical detail is enjoyable, as well as spotting references to great figures of model engineering (LBSCs Petrolea gets a mention-now he's a bloke worth looking up!).

182:

Readers of the Three Body trilogy may enjoy the following short story by the same author, which I translated as a hobby project. Turns out I'm slower than I thought I was, so this is just the first ten pages introducing a character who serves as a picture frame/device for exposition of a bizarre alien culture. Remainder to follow in 2 wks approx.

[[ This has been removed pending confirmation that the poster is conforming to copyright - mod ]]

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 15, 2017 2:06 PM.

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