Friday, March 30, 2007


The modern version of abiword, 2.4.6 could not be installed under Red Hat 9, at least, not without upgrading so many shared libraries that it wouldn't be much like Red Hat 9 anymore. So, shared libraries have prevented me from upgrading my operating system in an incremental manner, preserving my historic functionality. I'm totally forced to upgrade everything, lock, stock and barrel.

I wanted to give the new abiword a try ever since i heard that it now supports tables. Really, word processors don't need the kitchen sink. With tables, abiword has everything i need. One thing i don't need is glacial speed start up times. And, since abiword is so much smaller that OpenOffice, or modern versions of MS Word, it has fast start up times.

So, after spending hours upgrading to Fedora Core 5 (yes, i'm aware that FC6 is out, thank you very much), and then untold hours getting FC5 up to my minimum functionality, i told yum to install the latest abiword. At least this installation wasn't a problem. The install put a link to abiword in the standard applications menu - office. Convenient.

My very first example page for abiword requires a three column table. There's a header in the table at the top, column headings, and some noise at the bottom.

One nice thing, for me anyway, is that abiword let me type in the dates the way i wanted them, without comment. It expects me to know what it is that i want to type, and lets me type it.

This is not what OpenOffice 1.0 did. By default, the table cell format includes "Number Recognition" - which includes dates. So, i type "Friday, 20 April, 2007", and a tab, and the cell then has "04/20/07". What? How do i get my text back? Well, one of the date formats is "Friday, April 20, 2007". It's not what i want. Really, it could be the world standard, but i want the month name to break up the two numbers. Really.

In OpenOffice 2.0, "Number Recognition" is turned off by default. With it off, i can get the format i want by typing it. However, it still attempts to complete the words for me. So, when i've typed "Fri", it adds "day". I don't look at my hands, i look at the screen. So, this brings my 70 words per minute typing to a halt for a second or two while i figure out how to get the rest of the word. It's worse than you might think. The column is right justified, and i want to set that before typing, so that when rows are automatically added to the table, they get the formatting too. So, the text i'm typing dances left and right as the software adds and subtracts it's guess as to what word i'm typing. I usually end up by just finishing typing it. It's quicker than trying to figure out if OpenOffice guessed the right word. The whole thing is so distracting that i feel compelled to perform at least two proof reading checks to see if i've got what i want. I've no idea how to turn off
this "feature".

Back to abiword. In my first printing, the left column printed quite a bit wider than it showed on the screen. Sure, the other two columns are blank, but it's a sign up sheet. You need more room when doing handwriting. That was a wasted output page. So, i selected the columns and formatted them exactly the way i wanted. That worked. I was not able to go back and reproduce the original bug, even with a brand new document. I'll have to watch for it to happen again. But it's not my karma. I generally get to see all the bugs just once.

All software has at least one bug. Every program can be reduced in size by at least one line. Therefore, every program can be reduced to a single line, which is a bug.

I like where abiword is going in functionality and style. It's a keeper.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Close without Saving

I've recently upgraded from Red Hat 9 Linux to Fedora Core 5. Yes, i'm aware that FC6 is out. This post is about something i've not seen before in over 30 years of computing.

This application is gedit. This is the gnome project's answer to the Window's notepad. Except that it works with large files, and isn't otherwise broken. I don't use it for serious editing because it doesn't do keyboard macros, doesn't have an extension language, and, well, isn't EMACS. But sometimes i need a sort of scrap book of things to copy and paste. So here, i've put some temporary text into a file, and when i was totally done with it, i clicked the X in the upper right to exit. This dialog came up. The new thing is "Close without Saving", which actually says, unambiguously, exactly what it is that i want to do. This is a big improvement over the industry standard.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New User Interface

We're patenting a new user interface concept. It's an accelerometer built into your computer monitor. The idea is that when (not if) something goes wrong, and you smack the monitor, that this information can be sent to the computer, which can realized that it has been hit, and start working properly. At present, smacking the monitor is clearly the moral equivalent to shooting the messenger. But current monitors respond just as well as if you shout at the top of your lungs, but the wall is deaf.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Computer people (that's me) try very hard (sometimes with miserable results) to make software allow people to do things easily. That sometimes makes it easy for people to do things unreliably. If you don't know what you're doing, you still don't know what you're doing.

Security is one of those things you simply have to know. My advise: write all your passwords down on sticky notes and put them on your monitor. Sure, from a security standpoint, this is terrible. Anyone looking over your shoulder (even if your shoulder isn't there) could get into anything you can. But at least you'd know what you're doing.

I mean, are you really going to do what i do? I keep my passwords encrypted on my Palm Pilot. Not only is my Palm backed up, but i have an identical Palm that i periodically restore to. If the Palm is lost, no one will be able to get my passwords. If my Palm breaks (computers are not immortal, and portable computers are particularly mortal), then i can use my backup unit. If both are lost, i can buy a new one, restore to it, and get back on the air. If my backup computer is stolen, i can buy a new computer, restore from my off site backup, buy a Palm, restore to it, and i'm back on the air. When the Universe (Murphy) is out to get you, paranoid is just good sense.

Monday, March 12, 2007

In need

Overheard this morning.

Is there anything else you need?

Yes. I need another hour of sleep. Can you get me one?

I'm new here. Let me check the desk.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Signs In The Sky

If you view my profile, you'll see that i'm older than i look. And, yes, exercise, diet and clean living have made quite a contribution. But you'll also see things that aren't intended.

For example, you'll see Zodiac Year: Dog (bow wow, or some such). This would be the Chinese year. I didn't write that. It was computed (correctly) from my birth date. From Chinese restaurant place mats, i'd long thought that i was a Zodiac Year: Pig (oink, oink). But since there was a full moon within hours of the Winter Solstice in 1958, the Chinese new year (based on a lunar calendar) came fairly late in 1959, at least a week into February. So, it's all gone to the dogs for me. I read a 60+ page pdf on the subject, and that's my best guess. Yet, despite all my calculations, i know little and care even less about Chinese astrology. Even if it was a brown dog year.

But there is also a bullet point, Astrological Sign: Aquarius. Now most people would say that January 24th makes me Aquarius. But if you examine the above image, the Sun was clearly in Capricornus - so i'm a Capricorn, right? So why does nearly everyone say i'm Aquarius? Well, that's because astrology has been around for a long time, and the Earth has had enough time to move in it's precession of the equinoxes. My guess is that since the changes have been quite slow, astrologers, who basically do what they've been taught, haven't updated the dates for the zodiac signs.

I'm not here to bash BlogSpot for making bogus calculations. I'm not here to bash astrology in it's various forms. My point is really that not everything you read is either correct or even what was intended. In this case, since i lean more towards astronomy than astrology, if you want to know what i think of my birth sign, it just isn't the historic Aquarius answer. Oh, and you'll be hard pressed to convince me that the alignment of the Sun on my birthdate to the arbitrary grouping of stars we call Capricorn has any cosmic significance to me or anyone else.

I normally post this sort of thing on my Live Journal blog, which i've attempted to devote to astronomical humor. But that blog doesn't put my signs in my profile.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book It

As a parent of a ten year old, i have to say that the Book It program is good. There's a real problem getting kids up to the level of reading for enjoyment. That's the point at which the effort required to read is less than the return. Once they're there, getting them to read is no problem, generally. Just put books they'll like in front of them.

Book It did not get my child through this hurdle. The primary incentive was that (mostly) i read to him every day. I read stories that i knew he'd enjoy. Then, on October 11th, 2005 (it was a Tuesday), he crossed it. He went from kicking and screaming to get through five minutes of reading he had to do for school, to reading for six hours at a stretch on his own. This crossing really happened all of a sudden. And he went from hopelessly behind his class to reading over level in a few months. More on that in a bit.

Though the Book It program didn't do it, it did help. And it probably helps get lots of kids through reading for enjoyment. Pizza Hut runs this program. Many schools and parents cooperate by keeping track of what the kids read. At the end of each month, if the child has fulfilled the minimum requirement, they get a coupon for a personal pan pizza.

OK. I recognize that Book It amounts to a "buy one, get one free" sort of deal. He gets his free pizza, but i buy my own. And Pizza Hut doesn't lose money. On the contrary, i probably go there more often than i would without this program. It's still a good idea.

One result is startling. The house was quiet the other day. On a sneak inspection, i quickly opened his door, only to find him reading Shoestrings.

So, Book It has critics. But obesity is not one of my son's problems. And one personal pan pizza a month is not going to make any difference. You may consider pizza to be junk food, but it isn't banned by the South Beach Diet. If pizza has a problem, it's that it tastes good. My spaghetti has this problem too.

So, how do you get a child to read over level? Easy. Once (s)he's reading for enjoyment, put a book in front of them that's slightly over their level that is compelling. For example, Harry Potter. Rowlings deserves all the accolades she's gotten, and more. Six months after really starting to read, he'd read the first five books. Why didn't he read book six? Well, it wasn't out yet.

Having gotten him through reading, i'm now working on arithmetic. He was at the grocery store with me the other day. He wanted yogurt. Sure, it's filled with sugar, and probably isn't the best for him, but i still meter them out at just one per day. The pack of 6 was $2.69. While at the store, i asked him how much each one was. We did the division problem out loud. 6 goes into 26 how many times? 4. What's 6 times 4? 24. What's 26 minus 24? 2. Drop down the nine for what? 29. How many times does 6 go into 29? Five. Five? Oh, sure. He's doing estimates in class. So each yogurt costs how much? 45 cents. How much is Michigan tax? There's no tax on food. Then we bought it. I've edited out the spots where he didn't get to the next step instantly, of course.

Next up is science.