Category Archives: Projects

7 Days 7 Songs – Day 3 – Echo and the Bunnymen – ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’

Today’s pop pick: Echo and the Bunnymen – ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’

That repeating one-note phrase! That harp! Duke McCool’s voice! That ethnic flute/pipes sound that got used a lot around then (research tells me it’s a Shakuhachi!)!

I got into this lot when I would listen to my brother’s copy of ‘Ocean Rain’. Then this came out and it was a legit hit. For some reason I remember it playing on the radio while my bro worked on his go-kart in the garage. Then of course thanks to Robin, the KLF and that episode of Rock Family Trees I got into the whole Liverpool/Eric’s scene from around 1980. Still into it all now.

Today’s nomination: Aforementioned bro Simon Petty

Part of the 7 Days 7 Songs project

7 Days 7 Songs – Day 2 – The Advisory Circle – ‘Now Ends The Beginning’

Today’s pop pick: The Advisory Circle – ‘Now Ends The Beginning’

Another one-note bassline! If my Mum was around, she would say this sounded like the theme from Chariots of Fire, and it would be ruined for me.

Ghost Box records. Very British, very pseudo-nostalgic, very post-hauntological. Wonderful art direction.

This track reminds me of riding the Tube from Heathrow into London in the snow, savoring the feel of being back in the Old Country for the first time in years. It needs green and white hills and weather, but even without them, for example driving on the Sheikh Khalifa highway in a dust storm in a rented Corolla, it can still be effective.

Today’s nomination: Robin Deacon

Part of the 7 Days 7 Songs project

7 Days 7 Songs – Day 1 – The Cars – ‘Bye Bye Love’

After clamoring to be included in this thing, and after talking about posting videos in another post, it’s time to actually do it, and the advantage of doing it on WordPress is that I can set them up to post in advance, and it won’t chew into my LeechBlock allowance in Facebook.

So here we go.

I don’t know what it is about this song. My brother gave me a tape of this album in about 1986, and I played it constantly. I think it’s the combination of keyboards and guitars, simple melodies. That middle bit is incredible. I’m not much of a vocals person now, but then at least I would (try to) sing along. I played the tape at a house party I held at the time, and no-one liked it. I recall the Sisters of Mercy taking its place on the deck. Fair enough I suppose.

I am a fan of one-note basslines, I know that.

Today’s nomination: Cassie Destino

Part of the 7 Days 7 Songs project

If I Had My Document Way… Numbering Would Include All Levels

If I Had My Document Way

…heading numbering would by default include all previous levels of numbering.

What does that mean? Here’s an example of heading numbering (this is BAD, and is used by US government documents like the CFR):

1. This is heading 1

a. This is heading 2

b. Heading 2 again

i. This is heading 3

A. This is heading 4

2. Heading 1 again

a. Heading 2 yet again

Body text example.

i. Heading 3 again

ii. Heading 3 yet again

The problem here is figuring out the absolute reference for the ‘Body text example’. It’s under a), OK. But what is that under? In this small example you can easily see that it’s under 2. So the example is 2a).

But if section 2 started several pages before, you would have to flip back and find what the previous level was. You might miss it, and get the wrong reference. It’s a pain.

This is a better solution – include the previous levels in each heading number:

1. This is heading 1

1.a. This is heading 2

1.b. Heading 2 again

1.b.i. This is heading 3

1.b.i.A. This is heading 4

2. Heading 1 again

2.a. Heading 2 yet again

Body text example.

2.a.i. Heading 3 again

2.a.ii. Heading 3 yet again

Much clearer. You can see straightaway that the body text is in section 2.a, even if section 2 started pages before. You don’t even need the indentation.

However, I don’t like the combination of numbers, letters and Roman numerals. Once you get to four levels, you have to start using upper and lower case to differentiate, and below that you have to use italics and other formatting. Nasty, unclear and confusing.

I much prefer to just stick with numbers, and to include all previous levels in the heading number, as follows:

1. This is heading 1

1.1. This is heading 2

1.2. Heading 2 again

1.2.1. This is heading 3

1.2.1.1. This is heading 4

2. Heading 1 again

2.1. Heading 2 yet again

Body text example.

2.1.1. Heading 3 again

2.1.2. Heading 3 yet again

Much nicer.

Now, there is an argument to be made for putting numbers in front of every paragraph, so that you can immediately refer to a clause in a document. Legal documents do this of course, but they also use weird-shaped paper, so we can safely ignore that industry. The numbers would increase greatly, and you’d need to make sure the Styles and Table of Contents played nicely together, but it would be very useful, especially in my field of Requirements Management, where each paragraph is a clause to be tracked and addressed.

If I Had My Document Way… Version Control

If I Had My Document Way

…all documents would be in a version controlled central location.

This is not about formatting, it’s about keeping track of all the versions of a document, especially one that is being edited by multiple people. Too much of the time, we rely on email and MS Word’s powerful-but-limited Track Changes feature to enable collaboration. Documents get emailed around, someone edits it, the changes are marked, it’s emailed onward, more copies are made, more emails are sent, who’s got the latest? I sent it yesterday, no that was the old one, well it’s got my edits in it, those were addressed in the new version, I haven’t seen that, I’ll email it to you, no just send me the link to the latest version on the server.

“No, we haven’t finished the document yet, so it’s not in version control. Once it’s approved, then we’ll upload it.”

True story.

The point is that these version control systems and products exist, Electronic Document Management Systems, and they manage this stuff very well. It’s what they’re designed to do. They manage the “churn” of many edits being made to a document by multiple people. They control access so that changes don’t conflict.

But they can be tricky to apply, or set up, and if there’s one thing that projects like to save money on, it’s engineering administration tools like EDMS’s.

“They’re expensive, people don’t know how to use them, they don’t want to learn, they say they’re engineers, not editors or software developers. We can just do it with email and Track Changes like always.”

…and deal with the consequences. Again and again. That’s how you end up with the story described above. Despite the tool being designed to deal with the “churn”, you deliberately avoid using it until the benefit has passed. You’ve spent the money on the tool, but because it’s not set up correctly, or people aren’t made to use it, it gets ignored, and the organization is loathe to make the effort next time.

Kind of how the Tories treat the NHS: Little or no investment in the tool, poor results from the tool, blame the tool. We see this time and time again.

Take some time, a little bit of money and little bit of effort, set up the EDMS properly, train people to use it, enforce it, and it will solve so many problems. Unfortunately, the value and benefit may not appear until later in the project, or perhaps in a later project.

If I Had My Document Way… Formatting Marks

If I Had My Document Way

…formatting marks would show what formatting would be applied to the text. This is a little more technical, but I think it would solve a lot of problems.

I don’t want to be one of these people who claims that WordPerfect 5 (or is it WordStar I’m thinking of?) was the best ever, because it wasn’t (for many reasons, oof), but it did have one feature that could be useful now, and that was the separation between the Print Preview view and the editing view. When editing, you saw a screen of text, which didn’t look like how it would look when printed. If you wanted to see that, you would switch to Print Preview mode. You couldn’t edit the document in this WYSIWYG mode. When you switched back to edit mode, the text was marked up with little symbols and codes to show how the text was formatted. It was right there, you could clearly see what was going on.

I can see why WYSIWYG is attractive to people; you can just see how things will look. But it also means that the structure of the formatting and data required to make it look right is hidden from the user. The user then forgets about it, and that’s when problems start.

I’m not advocating a return to the 80s (not in this particular regard anyway) but to be able to directly see why something looks the way it does, or is positioned the way it is, would be very helpful.

(It’s a lot like HTML in that regard, with CSS as the Styles… Hmm…)

If I Had My Document Way… Styles Would Be Taught First

If I Had My Document Way

…Styles would be taught first, instead of being reserved for the advanced class.

I’ve found that basic MS Word training teaches users to apply formatting directly. But I think they would be better served by teaching them Styles in the first lesson (after the absolute basics like opening, saving, and the like). They should be taught:

  • How to apply Styles so your text is consistently formatted.
  • How to edit Styles so you can change all instances of that text on one go so it remains consistent.
  • Advanced: How to sort heading numbering out.

You want Body Text? Select, apply Style. You want this to be a Heading 2? Boom. Not “select, choose big font, choose justification, whatever”. Styles. I know I go on about Styles all the time. I like Styles. The implementation in MS Word is clunky, but it’s the best we’ve* got.

* by “we” I mean “people forced to use MS Word in a corporate setting”

 

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.