26 January 2010

Helping an old friend out with Facebook . . .

A colleague has just asked me and someone else he knows this question about Facebook, having been contacted by someone he didn't think he knew. Couldn't resist sharing the correspondence! I'll add 'Mum's' when I get it.

Dear Andrew & Shelagh
. . . I went on it for the first time in a year and I saw a debbie mclaren who asked me a question about my flying apparel on the front page - she seems a perfectly decent sort though I have no idea who she is and wondered if she came via your good selves?As you can tell I'm not sure how it all works . . .

Dear Steve
Come along, old boy, some frilly wants to be friendly and you need advice??!! Shelagh & I feel like your mum and dad!!I don't recognise the name but you may be able to find out more about her by clicking on her name or profile picture which should link to her profile. That may provide a hint. Could be someone that's been in an audience at one of your events, a friend of a friend or just someone who liked your picture!

My guess is that Debbie was looking for someone she had met called Steve Smith and Facebook has a simple name search facility which will have, in your case and unfortunately for her, probably come up with 100,000+ possibilities. (My name's pretty common - probably 20,000+ but Shelagh's luckier and simpler to find).

Anyway, Debbie has probably liked your floppy bits and decided to while away a couple of minutes in the office making a comment before proceeding with her search of the other 99,999+ Steve Smiths. You may find she's asked you to be a 'friend' (look at the top of the right panel) which would help identify her if you say yes. No harm done. You can always delete her if she's a nuisance. My daughter has an incredible 1000 'friends'.

Think of Facebook as something like a car park. People may occasionally scrawl on your dusty bootlid or stick a note under your wiper. You may even wind down the window and chat with someone else. When you're away from the car you can leave a note saying 'Back soon' or leave some pics on the dashboard shelf. Or you may just sit there listening to some CDs (sorry, cassettes in your car) or playing with yourself. Games I mean. I think. Maybe not but that's another matter we needn't develop here. Debbie may have parked next to you once a while ago or has just been leaving notes on anyone's car with something she's liked inside.

Just a thought . . it is dead easy to make a profile so, for instance, Geoff Foot may have decided to make a new one with some random picture and a different e-mail address and to call himself Debbie. Always sobering to bear that in mind should some particularly attractive person appear on your page before you jump in the old red Cavalier and head for Cardiff on a promise :)

22 January 2010

There's more to life than Arial and Times New Roman

An excellent range of fonts available free (check the licence terms as not all are limited to personal use) from Fonts2u.com. The standard Windows | Office set is pretty short on handwriting fonts in particular. Careful use of some good fonts can totally transform a document and yet I still see so many very tired looking notices and assignment covers in either Times New Roman or Arial where all the author managed to do was hit the italic, bold and underline buttons on the toolbar, usually all together too! Ugh! So go get some new ones and experiment a little!

18 January 2010

17 drafts and counting . . .

Some time ago a client gave me the nickname Merlin because he reckoned I could work magic on documents to turn tedious text into something professional that someone might actually want to read. It's quite an enjoyable pastime, especially when I can get paid for it too and I almost relish the prospect of getting some Arial bold underlined and italic text, usually justified and in too bigger font to weave a spell over.

A few days ago, 12 Word documents arrived for my attention - the idea being to merge them all into one. As it was something that would be getting a wide circulation and possibly forming the basis for some future regulations its content would be contentious and likely to be mulled over in great detail. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be the easiest of tasks. The first problem was an assortment of page orientation and margins. Setting one set of margins for the whole document was fine except for the landscape pages where tables now stretched off into the distance right and others now appeared to have text jumbled about. The author had carefully typed entries into cells in a table, including longer sentences being split into two or more cells. Why on earth they hadn't had the whole thing in one cell, or merged a few I have no idea. As if that wasn't enough of a problem, I was then faced with indents that weren't indents but three or four spaces. Now these probably looked lovely in a particular font at a particular size but they sure didn't work now!

Eventually things began to take shape but I still had lots more sections than I wanted. The trouble was, every time I deleted a section break I lost headers and footers and no amount of linking to previous seemed to work. Finally, just two sections, one for the front page and the rest in the other, headers behaving and footers too.

Sent this off. The client says he'd like a nice graduated colour background. Hmm. In Word? No. I don't think so. better use Serif Page Plus which does that sort of thing excellently. Unfortunately, I couldn't transfer the contents from Word into Serif. It kept going wrong at the tables and making a complete mess. Another idea: I'd make a PDF from Word 2007 and use Serif to add backgrounds then re-export as a PDF again. Well, it certainly looked nice. Unfortunately, there had been some typos and text changes to fix. That's when I learned what a complete mess Serif makes of text in tables on conversion to PDF. Admittedly the text was a bit odd with spaces, some cells merged, some not, but the collection of overlapping frames with bits of text here and there was a nightmare. Even some words appeared to be split. Then there were the lines. what had been continuous lines in Word were now hundreds, maybe thousands, of very tiny lines instead. Fine whilst they all stayed together but one slip of the mouse and all was lost. Adding just one character to a word resulted in everything moving in a most unpredictable manner too. I persevered and sort of managed to make the tables look OK but it took hours.

That would have been fine but then came the dots. I hadn't seen them on my screen but someone else asked about them and it seems that moving some lines around left 1 pixel dots here and there. I found a few and managed to delete them but most were on layers several below and proved impossible to get at without moving those odd frames out of the way. That was just impossible as they'd never fit into place again so I gave up on the Serif solution.

Back to Word, which I knew had a watermark option and by using a custom image I could get some sort of background in place. That was quite easy but the edge of the image was exactly on the same margin as the text so looked a bit grotty. I had an idea to indent all the text but that was far too big a job and would have meant narrower tables which would have messed up the words in cells again! I knew I should have sat down and retyped all those individual cell contents into one big one but too late to start that now.

Strangely, the client was quite happy with the background but I wasn't. How could I add a full width background to a Word document? Ah! I could use the watermark image but not as a watermark but as an image behind text. I tried one page and it worked. Great. Pasted another 64 in and, after a bit of lining-up it was looking as good as the Serif production. Better, actually, which is saying something for Word.

Another really nice thing about using Word was that I could get the client to correct their own typos, or amend something they changed their mind about! Such a relief! Unfortunately, they must have moved some of those images while they were fiddling so it came back looking a dog's breakfast again. That's when I discovered that if you add images to a document when viewing more than one page they are inclined to disappear without trace if you go slightly over one edge! No idea where they went but lost 6 or 7 that way.

Finally, by now at draft 15, the delight of just save as PDF in Word 2007 and I sent a nice-looking document to my client. Draft 16 was needed because my image had covered up the footer. I had made it transparent at the top to allow the header to show but had forgotten about the footer. But why doesn't setting the image as 'behind text' not go behind the header and footer? Silly. It should do.

This morning I gather that Devon needed to be Dorset. I was so tempted to say, well, just change it then. But I didn't. Luckily, the client agreed to dispense with the footer. The only solution to that would have been adding to the image - now that would be getting crazy!

Quite some spelling test for Merlin!

Windows 7 questions but Microsoft staff need to learn some other lessons

To help you get the best out of Windows 7, Microsoft has produced a short guide, which we're passing on to you. It's a PDF full of helpful hints, tips and how-to information; download your Guide to Windows 7 here (802 KB).

Add your own questions and answers to our Word version of the Guide, then pass it on to your users. Download it here (2.3 MB).

Something that occurred to me when I saw the size of these 8 page documents, though, was the need for someone at Microsoft to look at why they're so massive! Having just worked on a 65 page document with illustrations, backgrounds etc. which still only lands at 1MB in Word2007, I reckon theirs should be considerably smaller. This business of sharing unnecessarily huge files is something I have been going on about for over 5 years now - and it so often seems to be people who should know better who cause the most problems!

For all that, I like Windows7 and admire the way Microsoft have created a Word document and suggest we add our own Q & As! Although it is a bit odd.