Thursday, December 3, 2009

Living Life Well

A few little ponderings from my very passionate pep-talk to myself today:

  • Love who you are - don't make apologies for you
  • Hold people and experiences lightly - they'll stay if they're meant to, linger if they (or I) need time to work it out, or leave if they really ought not to be there (or when their time is done)
  • Live incredibly well - love the highs, enjoy the lows, knowing they're merely precursors to further highs
  • find the silver lining in discomfort - it's actually incredibly exciting being uncomfortable, because it means you're out of your comfort zone - and thus you're in the process of expanding said zone
I really am very excited about living life well right now. And I'm incredibly grateful to have rediscovered that joy.

Embrace the journey, it's a wild ride!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

OOW Interoperability - Custom Fields from Word Docs

Long and rambling intro - skip to the next heading if you want to get to the real content
I had a colleague phone from Wellington today needing to work on a document riddled with custom fields, only, it was a Word doc and he wanted to work on it in his Linux environment (I think, either way, he wanted to use Open Office). Problem was though, he couldn't work out how to edit the fields once the doc was open in OOW.

So I suggested Ctrl+F2 and check out the Variables Tab and the User Fields section. Nope, not there. Ok, try double clicking on one of the fields. Yep - opens the Fields Dialog, to the DocInformation tab and there are all the fields listed under the Custom type. But they're not editable there. So, I hunted around, and I have to confess this one took a bit of hunting and adding puzzle pieces together from a variety of hints found on disparate forums, help files, and feature update info, but I got there in the end. So for your knowledge and edification, this has been a very long and grutuitiously babbly intro to:

Beating Fields into Submission When You're Working on a Doc Created in Word
A quick recommendation first up - if the document in question is one you intend to use over and over again and create mutliple versions with different values in the various fields, I would strongly recommend taking the time to go through it and actually put in OpenOffice native fields and remove the converted Word Custom fields. But if it's just a one off use, go ahead and use the instructions below to change the field values to what you need them to be.

NB: remember I am using OOW 3.1 - I believe what I'm about to describe has worked since about 2.4, but I have no way of testing that, so do get the latest version!

  1. Open your custom-field-riddled MS Word document in Open Office Writer.
  2. Do a Save As, choose the default Open Office format (odt) and save the file.
  3. Now close it. Seriously, just close the file. The rest simply won't work if you don't close it. I know, I've tried, many times in many ways. It won't work.
  4. Open the recently re-saved file (the odt).
  5. Go to File | Properties
  6. Click on the Custom Properties tab
  7. Here you will find all of the fields that had been created as custom fields in Word. You can change their values in here, you can add more, you can remove them as well. (NB: If you didn't believe me at step 3 and insisted on not closing the file before proceeding, you will now discover that every change you make in this tab is a teaser only - close the dialog, open it again and you'll note that the updates you have made - poof! They've disappeared. Bugger. Should have closed the file at step 3. Better do it now and go back to step 4.)
  8. Once you've updated the values to what you want them to be, close the dialog box.
  9. Your document won't look any different at this point. This is where these fields differ from the ones I've described in an earlier post. They don't automatically update. Easy fixed, just hit F9 (or go to Tools | Update | Fields) and all of the field instances will be updated throughout the doco (unlike word, you don't have to do a Select All first).
  10. Save the file.
Easy once you know how huh?

Monday, August 17, 2009

OOW - Setting your default fonts

I've just reset my user profile (I'll tell you why at a later date providing it fixes what I'm hoping it will!) and consequently need to re-set my default fonts, so I'll take the opportunity to document it while I'm at it. This is one of those things that took me a little while to work out. To be fair, in comparison to Word though, it is a lot simpler in OOW, and it only took me a while to find because again, I'd been conditioned by MS Word to expect this to be difficult.

  1. Go to Tools | Options
  2. Open the Writer menu and select Basic Fonts (Western)
  3. Change your default fonts to whatever you prefer. (Personally I hate Times New Roman, so I I never leave it on this!)
You have to admit, this is a whole lot easier than having to locate your and setting the fonts like you have to in Word. (Have I mentionted lately that I continue to be impressed with OOW?)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Challenge - Update and What Next

I've been sitting here playing silly games this evening, in between catching up on some of my RSS feeds and have been feeling a little guilty that I haven't blogged in a bit on my challenge. Then I got to thinking about what to post next. Then I went back to my original Challenge post and realised that I've actually acheived all of the goals I set out to. Which is great. Except that I'm not ready to stop this little blog journey. So I'm going to just modify my intention statement a little bit.

From here on in, the purpose of my posts will be about sharing tidbits I'm finding about Open Office Writer, in User 101 style instructions. (Occaisionally I'll get into a bit more technical detail, but I'll continue to indicate when I'm doing that!) This isn't really a change to what I've been doing, I'm just being clear about it!

One of the things I'd like to be able to do, is to help people make the switch from MS Word to OO Writer. So I'm also completely open to questions - some of my posts so far have been inspired by people commenting about their pet hates in OOW to me.

See my previous post on my 6 solutions philosophy, and you'll understand that whatever your pet peeve is, I'm pretty confident I can find a way around it, unless of course you're being intentionally difficult! (And if I really genuinely can't come up with something, I'll seriously consider logging a feature request if there isn't already one).

So feel free to leave a comment if you have a question, or message me on Twitter. There is a huge community out there supporting OOo and quite honestly, the answers are already there, but frankly, I enjoy finding them, and a lot of them I find are often very technically phrased and not especially user friendly at times - I like making things 'graspable', so you'll be doing me a favour. :)

There it is! More from me soon!

My Philosophy: At least 6 solutions

I have this philosophy that there are at least 6 solutions to every problem.

This isn't an original philosophy. I heard it first from a musician at a music conference about 15 years ago, and I suspect he wasn't the one who coined it either, but it's a damn good philosophy and has served me well ever since.

There are at least 6 solutions to every problem - you only have to find one - and that can't be too hard!
You could call it tenacity, perserverence, optimism, or a mixture of all 3.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Minimising the irritation factor of context senstive toolbars

One thing that a colleague had mentioned to me as being the thing that annoyed him most about Open Office is the way that the display jumps around when you have tables in a document. I recognised exactly what he meant today while I was converting over half of my monthly report documents to OOW. It's really irritating! BUT, now I know how to stop it.

So firstly, for those who don't know what I'm on about, when you click into a table in an OOW document, it turns on the context sensitive Table Toolbar. Now, I have my toolbars docked as I don't particularly like them floating over my workspace, so my Table Toolbar is down the left hand side of my screen. However, when this comes on, it takes up some additional space in your application window, so OOW reformats the screen display to recenter your document in the window - generally pushing it to the right by a centimetre. Seriously disconcerting.

But easily fixed! Follow the destructions....
  1. View | Toolbars | Customize....
  2. Click on the Toolbars Tab
  3. Click the "New..." button
  4. I called mine PlaceHolder, whatever, give it a name
  5. I did add a button to mine (the Toolbars button in fact) but I've just checked and you don't actually even need to have a button, you can just leave it empty.
  6. Hit OK to close the customize dialogue.
  7. Now, View | Toolbars | select your new toolbar (PlaceHolder in my case)
  8. Drag it to the wherever you have docked the context sensitive toolbar that's annoying you (it may not be the tables one after all!), and position it either at the top or bottom (I went for the bottom).
  9. Now, the space is already allocated in your application window for a toolbar in that position, so when the Context Sensitive one is activated, your document position doesn't get adjusted. Phew!
Thanks to the Open Office forum for the answer on this one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

OOW switch - Milestone achieved

I am delighted to announce that I have just successfully completed recreating my monthly report template in Open Office Writer. I still need to create a new version for each report, but with the template done, that will be simple.

NB: today's efforts were on my work machine - so Win XP Pro.

Things that took a bit of investigation, but now that I know how are easy (details where appropriate in later posts):
  • formatting the first page so that everything on it is aligned vertically centered. (using frames)
  • Creating unnumbered headings in a document that uses outline numbering
  • changing cell colours in a table (not the whole table, just a cell - slightly counter-intuitive in that you have to go to 'Table' not 'Cell' to format this.)
  • Getting the layout of my Table of Contents right - this merits some more play-time.
  • Creating custom colours in the palette - Tools | Options | | Colors
Things that surprised me in how easy they were:
  • paste special - Ctrl+shift+v and then select your format - useful for pasting in Excel graphs (choose Bitmap) - actually, these came through flawlessly, which was also unexpected based on past experience (and they print nicely to boot!)
  • creating a table from formatted data - I wanted to copy a table of data from excel, but pasting it straight in brings in all sorts of revolting styles, so instead I did a paste special | unformatted text and then just selected the text and hit the table button. Hey Presto! A perfectly formatted table of data.
One thing that marred the experience slightly:
  • Early on in this, but enough into it to annoy me because I hadn't saved, Open Office Writer hung. Completely and irretrievably. I had to kill the process. I lost everything I'd done, and I was up to page 3 by this stage! At least it was all easier the 2nd time around for knowing what I was doing. But this behaviour is one I'm wary of!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on Fields - mutliple formats - especially dates

I've been thinking over the last few days that when I was raving about OOW's implementation of fields, I had neglected to test a couple of things which I actually use extensively in my documents, and honestly, I was preparing myself to have to write my first "word does this better" post. I was wrong again. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

What I hadn't tested: using a single date field (call it 'Release Date') multiple times in a document, with several different formats.

So for example, using July 25th 2009 as the date in question, the following formats are required:
Front page: July 2009
Headers: 25/07/09
Creation date: -Jul-09 (I will be manually entering the day number as I create the doco)
QA Date & final revision date: same as creation date, but of course, I'll still be entering the day number manually.

In MSW, I have to go to Insert Field | Document Information | DocProperties, select the "ReleaseDate" field (which I defined earlier from another menu), then click the Field Codes button and remember the highly obscure string to append after the field - "\@ "MMMM yyyy".

Sometimes, if I haven't done this for while, I have to search through Help to try and remember what on earth the correct string is - I simply cannot seem to find a way to do this by selecting GUI options, it does seem you really do have to remember 'backslash at-sign' and then the appropriate format. Again - why was I so forgiving of Word for putting me through this torment???

Anyways, using multiple formats in OOW is a cinch. Lets assume you've already defined your field, but haven't inserted it yet.

Front Page "July 2009"
  1. Click at the place you need the date field, hit Ctrl+F2, make sure you have the Variables Tab selected
  2. Select User Field in the left column, your 'Release Date' field in the middle Selection Column, then
  3. In the right column, click on Additional Formats....
  4. Select Category of Date, and then scroll through the list of formats
  5. if your desired format isn't there, select something close and then modify the format field down the bottom - in this case "MMMM yyyy"
  6. Hit ok, hit insert. Close the dialog box and proceed to your document history section in the document, ready to use the field again.
Document history "-Jul-09"

So, you're at the insertion point
  • repeat as above up to 4
  • this time, you pretty much will have to do a custom format, so in the Format Field type "-MMM-yy" (again, you can pick something similar and then just modify the code - it will create you a custom format automatically)
  • and again, hit ok, hit insert, close the dialog, and continue inserting the date field in as many formats as you require.
But wait! I want to use this document as the basis for the new report in August!
No problem.

Changing the date
  • Double click any* one of the dates you've inserted, where the format includes all 3 of day, month & year.
  • You'll probably notice that the value is now just a number and seriously doesn't look like a date. Don't worry. Just type in the date you want it to be, lets say 21 August 2009, or, 21/08/09, type either in and click the tick.
  • Close the dialog box.
Hey Presto! ALL of your Release Date instances have been updated to the new date, and the correct format preserved for each one.

Extra for Experts (and geeks)
* that little star unfortunately means that while testing this, I did come across a somewhat unexpected behaviour. To avoid encountering it, just follow the instructions I've given and make sure you select one of the date entries that includes the day, month and year before updating the date.

What I found:
When I double clicked on the instances that didn't have the day, but just the month and year and tried to update the date, OOW got seriously confused, changed all the instances to whatever format I inputted and then I had to go back to another of the fields (with all 3 parameters) and update it, but it still wouldn't change to the new date, so I closed the dialog, and then double clicked the same one again and this time it would update them all. So no harm done (alll of the instances still have all the correct formatting), but if you tell OOW that 'december 2009' now needs to be '21 January 2009' it doesn't know what to do with that 21. So, yeah, programatically that makes sense, but from a usability perspective, it means I needed to be more specific in my instructions.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

OO CD Jewel Case Template

Indeed I can upload my template to and indeed I have. (but you won't find the snazzy upside down text in this example - it occurred to me there was a better way).

Find it here. And even I do say so myself, it's MUCH better than the other 2 jewel case templates I found.

OO Writer - upside down text in a table

I just found out how to do this and it's a little quirky, so I need to make a note of it for next time I need it and have forgotten.

You may ask why you would need upside down text. Well, I needed to print a CD jewel case, so I went to 'more templates online' and grabbed one of the 2 jewel case templates that came up (thank you for making this so easy OO), but frankly, the implementation was stupidly ineffecient.

I wanted to recreate it using tables & fields so that I could enter the title once and have it appear in the 3 required places for a jewel case. And yes, on the sheet that goes in the back of the jewel case, the text needs to have its baselines facing each other. I have no idea whether you can do this in Word or not.

Firstly - this must be done in a table, it uses some of the table formatting controls to achieve the affect.

EXPERTS: the below instructions put succinctly, as I found them in the OO forum:
"Format Character, rotate 270° + Table, Text Flow, Right to left vertical."
  1. Select the text that you need to display upside now (in my case it also happens to be field/variable)
  2. Right click and select Character (or go to Format | Character)
  3. Change the rotation to 270 degrees. (Bear in mind that this is going to stuff up the height of your row - so if you're needing fixed cell heights like I did for the jewel case, once you've finished this exercise you're going to have to go back and correct the cell height).
  4. Now select the Row in the table that contains this text
  5. Right click and select 'Table...'
  6. Go to the Text Flow tab
  7. Change the Text Direction to Right to Left (Vertical)
  8. I'd also suggest changing the vertical alignment to center. Depends on what you're trying to achieve though.
  9. Click ok, and then, as mentioned in point 3, go back and fix up your row height if required. Lovely upside down text. QED.
And yes, I do need to submit my fancy-schmancy field enabled efficient jewel case template back up to OO. I assume that's something I can do.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Word to Writer - part 3 - Fields (variables)

After my intro update the other night, I sat down that evening on my home computer and worked through some of things I was anticipating to be problematic - with the intention of re-familiarising myself with the specific problems I was having and then starting to identify some helpful websites that may have the answers, or at least some helpful hints.

As it turned out, either version 3.1.0 has made a whole lot of improvements from last time I tried to use Writer in any seriousness, or I actually learnt quite a bit last time around but just hadn't realised. My suspicion is that's a combination of the two. If I write up everything I went through, I'll be here all night, and I'll lose you in the fine print, so I'll just cover one aspect per post.

For your reading pleasure, the topic of the night is.....

Seriously - OOW seems to do this soooo much better than Word, once you know how. But lets face it, file | properties | fields is hardly intuitive now is it? (nor is Insert | Text | QuickParts | Fields as it is now located in word 2007 - that took a while to find! And Quick Parts???? Is that kind of like, ok, no, this is a family show).

Define A Field
  1. Insert | Fields | Other (or Ctrl+F2)
  2. Click the variables tab
  3. Under Type, select User Field
  4. Select a format (data type) (if you need a date, you can use the 'additional formats' option)
  5. Down the bottom, give the variable (Field in Word speak) a Name, and then a Value, and then click on the tick.
If you're not ready to insert it, no problem, just click the close button.

To Insert a Field
When you reach a point in your document where you want to insert the field/variable:
  1. Hit ctrl+f2
  2. Click the name of the variable/field you want
  3. Click insert (or double click the variable name)

Update A Field
And this is the bit I REALLY love about the way OOW does this.
If you need to change the contents of a field, say it's your name and you decide you want to include your middle initial: (and see below for tonight's revelation on a MUCH easier way to do this).
  1. Ctrl+F2
  2. Click the variable in the Name column
  3. Down the bottom, change the Value, click the tick.
That's IT. Every single instance of the field will be updated throughout your entire document. No farting around with Ctrl+A, F9 then going into headers & footers and doing the same, and repeat for every different section header/footer containing the field. Update the value. That's it. Why was I so accepting of the hoops that Word made me jump through to do this????

OH MY GOD! It gets better!!!

I just went back to my test document, found a field, and I double clicked it - and now I can just update the value. Brilliant. And seriously, I am usually really really really hard to impress when it comes to software.

Also, after double clicking a field in a document, you can use the < > buttons to step through every instance of the field in the document. Bliss.

Next topic coming up some time during the week. It'll either be outline numbering, or the fascinating task of changing the orientation of a page in the middle of a document.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Challenge - Technical update

Just a quick update on this little project.

Immediately after posting the previous post, Open Office kindly informed me that version 3.1.0 was available, so I have upgraded to that version.

Also, I have now installed OO 3.1.0 on my home computer, where I am using Vista Home (yes, I am) and Office 2007.

And a couple of additional keys to success:

4. The ability to manage different headers/footers depending on the page - ie Different First page etc.
5. Something I've previously found quite nasty to do in OO (although to be honest, it's not exactly simple in Word unless you know how either) - having a page, or a couple of pages in the middle of a document with a differnt orientation - so in a 20 page portrait doc, have pages 7&8 as landscape pages.
6. Just occurred to me - printing needs to be predictable and repeatable as well (have seen others in the office having issues with this in the past).

And as a teaser to my next actual update on how this is going, I spent a couple of hours last night working through some of the milestones, and to my suprise, I was seriously impressed. And at a technology level, I have high expecations and am not easily impressed. Watch this space, will update this weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Challenge - Part 1

Ok, I've been thinking about this for days now, actually, I've toyed with it years, but I've been seriously thinking about it this time around for days. No more thinking, time to take action.

The challenge: switch from using MS Office Word to Open Office Writer.
The fear: oh dear god, there are so many!
  • I am a power user in Word, and have been for years. I don't so much use VB to simplify things like I used to, but I am completely at home in Word and am confident I can make it do whatever I need it to, and I tend to ask more of it than the average user.
  • I love efficiency & I love, no, EXPECT logical, intuitive interaction with technology - now admittedly, what I'm calling intuitive, may simply be more about familiarity in this instance - I'm now simply too familiar with Word to be able to judge if it is in fact intuitive or not.
  • I have used Open Office Writer and so far, my experiences have ended in frustration, disillusion and a sigh of relief as I have returned to using Word. (Not to mention getting seriously agro with Open Office apps randomly crashing in the middle of operation.)
The motivation:
  • I work for a company that is passionate about Open Standards, (which I get) and Open Source - which I kinda get, but not as much as I want to. (I confessed all of this to my manager the other day and did seriously wonder if I was severely impacting my future career options! He responded with a comprehensive reading list - which I'm working through (in fact, I just stopped reading "The Cathedral & The Bizarre" to write this.))
  • I don't do things by halves. I'm not comfortable with being passionate about the company I work for, but not being fully on board, or at least not fully understanding, the things that my employer is passionate about.
  • I'm not a programmer (although I did learn to be one), and I'm no longer a hands on tech (and haven't been for years) but I am technically savvy, and most importantly, I am passionate about 'Invisible Technology' - ie - a user should NOT have to think about using technology, they should just be able to do the things they need to do. Full stop. (I need to write a more detailed entry on this as it will take more than a couple of sentences, but you'll have to wait for that one! Suffice to say - ease of user experience is high on my list of priorities).
  • Other than email, a word processor is probably the most common office tool people use in a work environment, or at the very least, it's right up there. (ok, I'm also not quite ready to let go of my Excel comfort zone - yep, power user there too, but one step at a time!).
3 keys to success

Without thinking about it too hard, I can think of 3 things that I am going to have to get comfortable & confident with in Writer to consider my switch a success.

(Oh - important point - this HAS to be a success, I am not even considering failure as an option - I am confident that I can become as confident & at home in Writer as I am in Word and can hopefully contribute some helpful suggestions for others making the switch as I go)
  • Beat outline numbering into submission - this is a challenge that has caused me to give up this quest in the path - despite reading multiple articles and spending some considerable time, I have never managed to fathom the logic in Writer's particluar implementation of Outline numbering (and maybe I'll read back on this and wonder what sort of dunce I was in the past to have not got it, but there it is for now).
  • Fields - I use fields extensively in Word documents - especially for monthly reports & contracts where the same name, term, number, word etc. needs to appear in multiple places throughout the document (including in headers and footers). And yes, this is another thing that I have so far failed to master in OO Writer.
  • Interoperability - and yes, I appreciate this one could be a big ask. I will have a need to copy graphs from Excel into Writer. I'm not the only one (I tend to be the go-to person for all desktop apps). If I have to go via OO Calc, so be it, but I need to be able to do this and have the graph turn up in Writer looking professional and not mangled - which has been my experience to date, and also my observed experience where I am receiving Writer docos from other people needing to do this.
Technical bits
Version of MS Office Word: 2003, SP3
Version of OO Writer I have currently installed: (waiting for it to open................) (can you see I'm really very apprehensive about this??? :) Rest assured, I am committed (and am still waiting)) There it is! 3.0.1
OS I'm Using: Windows XP Pro, versio 2002, SP3

So there it is. I'll update as my journey progresses.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another confidence trick

Huge day tomorrow, starting with an interview (I'm conducting, not attending!) at 9am, so unlikely that I'll get a spare moment to post my thought for the day. So, instead, a lesson from last week:

Another trick if you're not feeling all that confident:
Be prepared.
Find out as much as you can about the situation while you're approaching it. Ask questions, plan your approach, dwell on your desired outcome (not your feared outcome!)
If you walk in knowing you've done as much as you can to face the situation as well equipped as possible, you'll have that to believe in and consequently you'll walk in taller, stronger and far better placed to come out even more successfully than you've planned to. (and of course you've planned to be successful - that's the 'dwelling on the expected outcome' part of preparation - and worth a 2nd mention!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How you think about it (preaching to myself)

If you're faced with a situation that you perceive as being "stressful", "bulls***" or god forbid "impossible", then you're hardly going to get through it with a sense of calm or satisfaction or anything vaguely positive.

Instead, approach the situation with confidence, knowing that you will get to the other side (sometimes you may have no choice but to do so!) and that you do have the resourcefulness or the creativity to rise to the occasion.

With a confident approach, you're far more likely to have a satisfying outcome. (and if you don't feel confident, tell yourself you are anyway, square your shoulders back, stand tall, and stride on in boots and all! Make them steel capped if you need an extra boost!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Another one (or: mixing metaphors)

You're accommodating. Fine.
Make sure you have some house rules, respect them yourself and make them clear.
Otherwise you'll find yourself sleeping on the street after you've accommodated everyone else. (and without house rules, they may never leave, and almost definitely won't leave things as they found them)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jane's Thought for Today

Be consistent.
If you expect it of yourself, why not of others?
Conversely, if you won't expect it of others, why do you expect it of yourself?