MS Word – the perils thereof

F**king Word!!

There are some things Word is good at. There are some that it is completely crap at. One of those is the classic mistake of using it as a DTP package.

The thing just doesn’t work! I’ve been handed a report to complete which is full of text boxes, shaded backgrounds for text, slightly complicated headers and other bits and bobs. It took me half an hour to stop the header printing on the first page, but on every page after that. ‘Easy!’ most people would cry. ‘Just set the first page to be different in the page setup dialogue!” Yeah, it would be easy, but doing that meant that pages 5 and 17 wouldn’t have them either. Confused? I was. In the end I had to go through the entire document with the formatting tags turned on deleting all the ‘Section breaks’ Word had so kindly inserted. After all, if you have numbered heading you are bound to want random formatting and headers being included all over the place, wouldn’t you? Jesus Christ.

That’s nothing compared the the problem I am still yet to solve though. Chapter headings are shaded across the whole page in black. On one, though, the line on the previous page, where the page break is, is black too. Remove that shading, and it goes from the heading. Insert a new line, delete page break and a new page break and it works, but the heading is a line space too far down the page. Delete line space. The page break line becomes black again. Hit head on desk and through mouse at screen in disgust. Ask boss if future reports can be written in Notepad.

Seriously, if offices invested in the right software, this wouldn’t be happening. Equally, if Word didn’t try and spoon feed the user it probably wouldn’t happen either.

It still leaves me with a report to sort out for publication this week, and I haven’t a clue how to fix the damn thing. At least this year’s will be designed entirely by me, and I’ll only have myself to blame…

Update: Richard, the report’s original author, has just informed me that the same problem was the bane of his life too. His fudge, in the end, was the do it with the extra line break and then reduce the eight of that line to the smallest possible, thus making it appear that it (almost) isn’t there.

Don Quixote

This month saw the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first of part of Don Quixote. I’ve never come close to reading it, but it sounds like one of those books which deserves to be read. As it is one of my Reading Resolutions to read Ulysses this year, maybe I could make it Don Quixote next. One hard giant classic a year – seems fair.

The Guardian have a range of interesting articles about the book:

Nation States

I’ve been playing Nation States for a month or so now. My nation, Wavuncular, is now classified as a ‘Father Knows Best State’, apparently. I’m not sure how this happened.

The People’s Republic of Wavuncular is a very large, safe nation, remarkable for its compulsory military service. Its hard-nosed, hard-working, cynical population of 122 million are ruled by a mostly-benevolent dictator, who grants the populace the freedom to live their own lives but watches carefully for anyone to slip up.

The enormous government juggles the competing demands of Defence, Law & Order, and Commerce. The average income tax rate is 30%, but much higher for the wealthy. A powerhouse of a private sector is led by the Beef-Based Agriculture, Uranium Mining, and Book Publishing industries.

The nation is ravaged by daily union strikes, corporations cut costs by taking away safety-features on their products, drunk drivers are sentenced to death, and traffic jams are a common sight due to construction work from a massive overhaul of the nation’s freeways. Crime — especially youth-related — is well under control, thanks to the all-pervasive police force. Wavuncular’s national animal is the gabbidon, which is also the nation’s favorite main course, and its currency is the wavunc.

Wavuncular is ranked 2nd in the region and 68,478th in the world for Largest Public Sector.

Feedreader pt. 2

Feedreader worked perfectly last night, but when I booted up this morning to check my feeds, it hung twice. Annoyed, I uninstalled it.

I then tried the commercial alternative, FeedDemon from Bradsoft. I have a 20 day trial before coughing up the $30 (ie about £15) but so far it is looking good. It appears more stable, and seems to be more fully featured that the open source alternative. I guess I am going to be stumping up the cash soon.

Nick Bradbury, the guy behind the software, has a blog here. One to subscribe to, I feel.


Feedreader is an offline RSS feed reader (duh…) which means you can log on, spend a couple of minutes downloading messages and then read them at your leisure. It’s free!


Future Blogging

I’m really getting into the whole blogging thing now. Part of this has been my use of Bloglines and the increased number of blogs I’m reading. As I am more exposed to new blogs and new ways of using them, I’m more and more excited by the concept.

Most of this is down to Robert Scoble, Shel Israel and their Red Couch project. Two people writing the same book over a blog, with constant critiques coming in from commenters. It’s like a writing reality TV programme. Only interesting. As well as these two, philb is another who has excited my interest in the topic.

I’ve had a personal blog for a year or so now. I get fed up with the system I’m using so I chop and change a lot. I guess I didn’t really know what I was meant to be doing with it. That changed with the Closed Circle, where some of the stuff I posted was half decent and even worth hanging onto. Maybe I’ll look into importing some of that stuff into this blog.

I also use Blogger for the Graham Parsnip blog, a collaborative writing project with my friend Al Kitching. It suits because a slightly amateurish image is what we are after there. But my frustrations with Blogger (largely connecting to the damn server) mean that I couldn’t use that as a longterm solution for a blog I am working on regularly.

I’m pretty interested in a Scrutiny blog, specifically a collaborative one. I’ll try and grab stuff together for this blog, but it simply won’t have the range of one being put together by the whole county. We’ll see how receptive the other Scrutiny officers are at the next meeting – I’ll hold off sending that email till after that.

What would I like to see to improve Blogging? Better integration with images than I have seen so far. With Blogger you can use Picasa which I downloaded yesterday and haven’t yet decided what I make of it. That then links with another service call Hello which enables you to post pictures onto your blog. What if you don’t use Blogger? Tough, I guess, though I haven’t looked into it too deeply.

What I would want to see is a program that allows me to organise all my digital images, cut and crop them, reduce the filesize (v. important when a digital camera is involved), then ftp directly to my webspace, and then take me into my blogging application to post on that image.

Does this application already exist?

Forest’s chances

Not a great weekend for Forest. A 2-1 home defeat against Millwall leaves us further in the mire. The usual cliche about a new manager bringing with him a few points clearly isn’t a truism as well.

I was disappointed with Megson’s appointment for about 10 minutes. After that time, the plus points made me delighted to have this man in charge.

He’s a born motivator, a man who managed to get West Bromwich Albion (West Bromwich Albion!) promoted to the Premiership twice. Clearly a man who can get the best out of mediocre players. And boy, are the players at Forest mediocre. Sure, he plays (ahem) direct football, but if that’s what it takes to pull ourselves out of the relegation zone then that’s fine too.

Plus he favours 5-3-2 which puts you at an immediate advantage in the Championship. This is because teams in that division hardly ever stray from straight 4-4-2. Being confronted by something different might just make teams a little more wary of us.

But the squad does need strengthening. There’s talk of Baggies’ central defender Darren Moore joining the club. A big and strong (and slow) centre-half, he should add a bit of experience to a dangerously young back line. The other need is for a goalscorer. David Johnson is looking more and more like a crap striker who had one lucky season for us. Marlon King has the look of a player who will never be the finished article. Gareth Taylor is a plucky target man, but no-one in their right minds would rely on him for goals. Neil Harris is yet to prove himself – but I would like to see him given a chance.

There are plenty of players at Premiership clubs who aren’t getting a game. Not just WBA, though Megson’s links makes it difficult to think that players wouldn’t be willing, like Moore, to drop down a division. Geoff Horsfield is a big, uncompromising centre-forward who, unlike Taylor, scores goals. Rob Hulse is another, who hasn’t really had a chance in recent times, but who has proved himself at this level.

On top of a couple of Moore, and a couple of strikers, I’d like to see one more centre-half and a left back or wingback.

This blog – what’s it for?

A good question.

I’m liking this so much I think I’m going to make this my main blog. The WikiBlog can remain just that – blogging the updates and new pages on the website.

Here is where I will do all my main blogging, on work, life, books, the ‘net and everything else. Hopefully it will entertaining for anyone who comes across it.

You never know- stranger things have happened (Probably).

A Website for NSN?

On my Wikiblog, I posted thoughts on a possible website for the Norfolk Scrutiny Network.

I’ve put together an email to the two people that run the Network:

Karen, Mike

Without wishing to go over old ground, I have been giving a bit of thought to the website idea for the Network which I mentioned last year sometime. I didn’t take it any further at the time, as I thought Karen’s points were valid and would mean that it would be unlikely ever to get off the ground.

However, I’ve become interested in this again following discussions in and around the Conference, when various topics, like inter-authority working, were talked about and I think a website might be a great way to facilitate these sorts of projects.

Recently, in a non work related capacity, I have come across a bit of free software which enables websites to be setup and maintained quickly and easily, and where pages can be edited and created by any registered user. This would obviously alleviate the problem of who would update the site: everybody would. It’s remarkably easy to use and something that would literally take me half an hour to set up.

Stuff I thought of that could go on the site:

* NSN Admin stuff – a permanent record of minutes, agendas etc

* Individual Authorities’ pages – to be used as much or as little as necessary. For example, Norfolk County have a regularly updated, useful Scrutiny webpage and so little more than contact information and a link might be required. But for those authorities whose Scrutiny websites are more limited – possibly for technological reasons – (such as us!) this could be a really useful way of making information available.

* Library of reviews undertaken by member authorities.

* Collaborative Working – as mentioned above. This is what could be really interesting, and innovative. Using the website to conduct a County-wide review: maintaining lines of communication, sharing research and bits of data, inviting the public’s involvement. Rather in the same way (though obviously on a much smaller scale) that the Hutton enquiry put all evidence gathered on a website, this has the potential to do something similar – using IT but being very open at the same time.

* We could have a Scrutiny ‘blog’ – again, maintained by everybody. If someone comes across a piece of news which might not merit a large piece being written it would be possible for them to post a quick message on the blog, with a link to wherever that news first appeared. Occasional commentaries on work being undertaken could also be posted, inviting comment and suggestions from other members.

* How about an electronically maintained library of documents, booklets and articles about Scrutiny issues? There must be a wide range of documents which each authority has but which no-one else knows about or has access to. By maintaining a list of who-has-what and how to get hold of things, it might be possible to share this information around more easily.

* The advantages of having a site held off a Council server also means that all member authorities could use the site as a means to using the internet to gather information, such as by holding online questionnaires, for example.

Again, it’s possible I’m being a bit pie-in-the-sky over this, and work would have to be put in by everyone to make it work – though not perhaps as many as one might think. But in terms of raising the profile of scrutiny, and more specifically, scrutiny in Norfolk, especially when it comes to the issue of collaborative working, it could be a winner.

Haven’t sent it yet – it’s a good practice to hang onto these things and considers them later on!


So, this is WordPress. I have been looking into different blogging systems, like Blogger and using the wiki on my site, as well as others that charge, like Typepad.

I thought I would give this a try though coz a) it’s free and b) it installs onto my own webspace so I don’t need to worry about slow connections which knackered my experience of using Blogger.

So, far, it’s so good, and there is plenty to find out about – it’s a very thorough bit of software.