If I Had My Document Way… Heading Numbering by Default

If I Had My Document Way

…Word’s default Headings would have a proper numbering setup. By default, the headings in Word don’t have numbers. The standard template has a blue Heading 1, then some other font for Heading 2, etc. No numbering. This means the first thing you have to do in an empty document is set your numbering up, and that is complicated. This means you’re at the mercy of the defaults, or you use some corporate template created by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and how important it is, or you copy stuff in from another document, carrying all the contamination of dodgy Styles with it.

What Word should do is have a basic simple numbered heading scheme set up as an option, or maybe by default. Then everyone would know straightaway what was possible, what was desirable, and what was best practice.

What would that basic default be? Stay tuned for a suggestion.

If I Had My Document Way… Paste Formatting

If I Had My Document Way

…paste formatting would be removed. That trick where you can select some text, click the ‘Paste Formatting’ paintbrush button, then paint that formatting on some other text is the cause of many problems I’ve seen in documents. Applying some random formatting to a chunk of text, instead of using the proper Style for that text, means that you end up with text with formatting that is in conflict with the Style it is in.

For example, you might have a bunch of text that is currently Body Text, but you want it to look like a Heading 1. What you should do is click in it and select the Heading 1 style. But because people see the convenient ‘Paste Formatting’ button, they paint the text to look like a Heading, instead of actually changing it to be a Heading. The next time they update the Table Of Contents, that text doesn’t show up because it’s not a real Heading, they get confused, say, “Word is stupid, I’m doing this stuff manually”, and then they’re lost forever.

Don’t use Paste Formatting.



If I Had My Document Way… In-line Pictures

If I Had My Document Way

…all images, diagrams, charts etc would be in-line with text, not floating in relation to the page. That little anchor symbol drives me crazy. The image is related to the text, right? Then stick it in the text. Otherwise (from what I’ve seen), the text moves when it’s edited, and the image it’s related to doesn’t move with it, and you end up with weird gaps and floating things that don’t fit anywhere.

Stick it in-line the text, don’t wrap the text around it, and put a caption after it.


If I Had My Document Way… Paste Unformatted

If I Had My Document Way

…the default paste setting in MS Word would be “Keep Text Only”. I think this is one of the most important issues. Currently, when someone pastes text from one document into another, the default behavior is to copy the text and the formatting, including whatever styles are attaches to that text. This can cause all sorts of trouble, especially if the text has some numbering, or is in another language. You end up with a document containing a mish-mash of text styles, languages, conflicting formatting and all sorts of mess.

If the only thing that was pasted was the raw text, and it took on whatever formatting it was pasted into, then your document remains clean and pure, untainted by whatever monstrosity you’re plagiarizing from.

Luckily this setting can be changed, but it requires digging around in the options and training people (like all of these tips).

Do this is in MS Word 2007: Office Button > Word Options > Advanced > Cut, copy and paste > change 4 pasting drop-downs to “Keep Text Only”

You’ll thank me.

If I Had My Document Way… Section Breaks

If I Had My Document Way

…section breaks would not exist unless absolutely necessary. The front page would be the first page of Section, and it could be different from the second page onwards. The footers would be consistent, the page numbering would be consistent, weird formatting errors would not arise as a result of scattered unnecessary section breaks everywhere. The only time they are required is when you need to switch from portrait to landscape or back. You wouldn’t see document with a “Section Break – New Page” at the end of the title block, after the contents page, after the introduction, after each chapter.



Printing a big map from OpenStreetMap for cheap

This is a followup from this post back in August 2013. The instructions described there no longer work, but this new way is easier and uses an open-source map. That last post got quite a few comments on it, asking for tips and telling me it no longer worked. I’m glad to provide an alternative.

I’ve recently needed to create large map images again, so I looked around for a new solution. I found it in the wonderful community around OpenStreetMap. From the About page:

OpenStreetMap is built by a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafés, railway stations, and much more, all over the world.

Local Knowledge

OpenStreetMap emphasizes local knowledge. Contributors use aerial imagery, GPS devices, and low-tech field maps to verify that OSM is accurate and up to date.

Community Driven

OpenStreetMap’s community is diverse, passionate, and growing every day. Our contributors include enthusiast mappers, GIS professionals, engineers running the OSM servers, humanitarians mapping disaster-affected areas, and many more. To learn more about the community, see the user diaries, community blogs, and the OSM Foundation website.

Open Data

OpenStreetMap is open data: you are free to use it for any purpose as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors. If you alter or build upon the data in certain ways, you may distribute the result only under the same licence. See the Copyright and License page for details.

I particularly like the “free to use” bit, and because it’s free, people have built some amazing tools that extract and format the data in useful ways. All we want is a big exported image of a certain area, so here are the steps.

  1. Use the Firefox browser. (You can probably duplicate these steps in other browsers, but I’ll leave that up to you)
  2. Install the Easy Screenshot add-on. (There are probably equivalent add-ons for other browsers)
  3. Go to BigMap 2, which is a tool created using the open data from OpenStreetMap.
  4. Click and drag and zoom to find the rough area you want a map of. You don’t have to be exact – go bigger than you need.
  5. Select the map display type using the buttons on the right. This is very cool – as well as the regular types you can have a watercolor effect, cycling map, Russian language map, or (my favorite for the work I’m doing at the moment) the toner and toner-lite versions. Play around and see what you like. Another advantage of the open data model is that people are free to create new display types.
  6. Once you’ve selected the area and the map type, click Submit.
  7. In the new screen, you can see a nice big map. But this map is made up of a grid of map tiles which make up  the whole map. If you right click in the map, and save the image under the cursor, you’ll only be saving one small tile. A control panel at the top left allows you to manipulate the map. I’ll try and describe what the controls do. Play around, you can always click on ‘BigMap’ in the control panel to go back and start again.
    • The information line at the top shows the number of map tiles shown, the total map resolution, the zoom level, and the aspect ratio.
    • EXPAND lets you expand the area covered on each side, without affecting the zoom level. It adds map tiles to do this – you can see in the information line.
    • SHIFT lets you shift the view one tile width up, down, left or right, without affecting the zoom level.
    • SHRINK lets you shrink the area one tile width up, down, left or right, without affecting the zoom level. It removes map tiles to do this.
    • The ZOOM controls are as follows:
      • in/double size zooms in on the map, and makes the size of the map area bigger as well, by adding map tiles.
      • in/keep size zooms in on the map without making the size of the map area bigger.
      • out/keep size zooms out while keeping the map size the same.
      • out/halve size zooms out while halving the map size.
    • The bottom row of controls include the ‘BigMap’ link which takes you back to the first screen, and the ‘hide this’ link.
    • The controls below that allow you to save special scripts to generate the required map, but I’m bypassing those. I think there is a function to ‘Enqueue’ the map for generation and download, but I don’t think it works on huge images, and a huge image is what we want.
  8. Using the controls, find the area and zoom level you want. I found that zoom level 13 gives nice street- and building-level detail. As you zoom in, notice that the image grows bigger than the browser window and scroll bars have appeared. Scroll around and enjoy your huge map!
  9. Click hide this to hide the control panel. If you need it back, just click the map.
  10. Using the Easy Screenshot add-on, click Capture Whole Web Page. The add-on has some editing tools, but I just click the save button to save the image to the desktop, or copy to put it on the clipboard.
  11. You now have a huge map image you can print, edit, or otherwise use. Enjoy!
  12. If you want to print it on a presentation board, follow the instructions on the old post here.

Open data, people creating free tools, it’s great. If you have need for maps in your business, check out Switch2OSM for information about using this stuff commercially.

I’m using these maps to semi-automatically generate cover art for my podcast, The Coiled Spring. Check out Episode 15 here.

If I Had My Document Way… A New Series

If I Had My Document Way…

…is a new series of posts where I suggest improvements (or just rant) about some of the things which I think should be done to make my life – and all my colleagues lives – a lot easier when using MS Word or other complex tools to create technical documents.

It seems that in every project I work on, I end up having to recreate the standard template from scratch, just to fix the years of tweaks and changes that have been made to an original template. Then people would paste in text from another document, with some ganky styles attached, and it all gets into a mess.

I also try and educate people about why it’s important to create structured documents correctly. Am I the right person to do that? I don’t know, but my job does require documents to be created in a particular way, so I do have a vested interest.

Disclaimer: these opinions are my own. I use MS Word to create technical documents, so YMMV when creating more complex or fancy publications. Maybe your style guide says you should have section breaks everywhere and use columns – good luck with that. In general, I believe MS Word is hugely overpowered for use in most common workplaces.

Let me know if you have any document creation hints, tips, issues, problems, bugbears, bees in bonnets, rants or opinions, and I’ll include them.


If I Had My Document Way… Page Numbering

If I Had My Document Way

…the front page would be page 1, the 10th page would be page 10. The number of the back page would be the same as the total number of sides, so that you would always know where in the document you were. All pages would be numbered “x of y” so that if the document were printed, and dropped on the floor, it would be easy to reassemble. Page numbers like “Page xii-6” would not be used. The Title, Contents, Index and other pages would be included in the page numbering.

It’s The Holiday Season

We’re pretty much enscosed now. Gordon is here, we’re doing the final arrangements in the apartment, and we’re getting into the swing of things, just in time for the holiday season.

First up, Thanksgiving. It’s obviously not a regular UAE thing, but there are enough Americans and other Westerners wanting to celebrate something, anything, that it becomes a thing. Plus many of the big hotels don’t want to miss a trick, so they put on big meals. The many clubs and groups do their own parties as well. So we are doing Thanksgiving, and that’s fine by me! Big meal, social occasion, what’s not to like? The history has no meaning any more, at least it doesn’t affect it for me.

Then next Tuesday is UAE’s National Day, which this year is the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. That’s right, this country is one year older than me. It’s going to be very big – fireworks over the Gulf, flags and decorated cars. We’re staying in, not because we’re scared, but because the traffic will be insane, and we walk down from our apartment to the Corniche along the waterfront and take a look at the celebrations. Plus I get the day off for this national holiday.

Xmas is also very big. Again, the history has no meaning here, but then again, where does it? I’m only in it for the social aspect – family, friends, food, drink, gifts.

Cassie and I are staying here for the holidays, because we only just got Gordon here, and finding flights, hotels and dog boarding was impossible. We’ll take a trip to the UK in early February instead. We’ll go for a nice dinner or lunch at one of the fancy hotels – again, they do big Xmas specials with champagne and so on.

Basically, you take any chance you can get to be social with Westerners here. There’s all sorts of clubs and groups to join.

The weather is very nice at the moment, topping out at 30C, but still pretty humid. It will get cooler through the winter, then from about May until September it will get (in the words of a French ex-colleague who lived here – imagine the accent) “f***ing brutal”. I will be saving my vacation days for then.

We’re In

Cassie and I moved into our new apartment in Abu Dhabi on Friday, bringing to an end a far-too-long period of living out of suitcases in hotel rooms. Our new place, on the 15th floor of the Capital Plaza building, has a view of the Arabian Gulf, two bedrooms, four bathrooms (yes) and tiled floors throughout. The Capital Plaza building complex contains the fancy Sofitel, has five towers (hotel, office, three residences), and looks like it was designed by Ivo Shandor. I’ll be posting some photographs soon.

Four bathrooms in the American sense. two bedrooms, each with an en-suite, one “powder room” or “cloak room”, and one bathroom off the maid’s room (yes), which we’re using to store boxes.

There’s a lot more to write about obviously, because the last couple of months have been a real rollercoaster. More to come. In the meantime, I will leave you with a new word I learned today:

A contraction of “Abu Dhabi” and “anniversary”. People celebrate (in their own way) many abuversaries. 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, whatever it takes to mark the passing of time, and your ability to survive.