Transferring ODT files between programs

January 27th, 2015

TechRepublic looks at how well OpenOffice ODF files transfer between Google Docs and Microsoft Word. As you might expect, there are issues, although nothing that couldn’t quickly be cleaned up, at least for short documents.

Fortunately, Google re-enabled support for ODF in December 2014. That means you can leverage the collaborative capabilities of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, then export your completed work to a file in an open, non-proprietary format.

The ideal document would be a file that works — and looks — the same in all applications. I tested how well an ODF file transfers information between Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online.

Spoiler alert: On balance, both Google Docs and Word Online handle ODT files reasonably well.

Unexpected Uses for Conditional Text

January 26th, 2015

I use conditional text a lot in my documents, both in FrameMaker, which has had the feature built in since its inception, and in Word, with aid of SmartDocs or WebWorks ePublisher. There are obvious reasons for using conditional text; for example, creating multiple documents that apply to different versions of a product. Less obvious ones include putting notes in a document about content that might need special attention; for example, something that might need to be reviewed by a specific developer before inclusion.

In Unexpected Uses for Conditional Text, Matt Mayerchak explores the use of conditional text in Adobe InDesign. While the illustrations in the article are specific to InDesign, the techniques he talks about are generally applicable to using conditional test in other programs.

nDesign’s conditional text feature is great for creating multiple versions of text, such as different languages, or switching between US and European prices in a catalog. But even if you don’t create documents that are released as multiple versions, there are other ways that conditional text can be very useful during production.

If you’ve ever had a filename like “2014_Catalog.FINAL.FINAL.FINAL_r3a_mm_cb_11.13.15.indd”, you actually DO work on multi-version documents. And conditional text can be very handy during the early stages of a project for inserting production notes into the text. You can place them right where you want them in the flowing text, make them stand out so they are easily spotted, and best of all, you can click one button to turn them all off and work on the layout as if they weren’t there. Here are a couple unexpected uses for Conditional Text.

My phone is now a slide rule

January 25th, 2015

Earlier this week I was thinking about all the different things my Samsung smart phone could do. Not counting pure Internet applications like IMDB or Cineplex, I came up with about thirty. Now I can add another one to the list – my phone is now a slide rule.

Slide Rule

A slide rule? What’s that, some of my younger readers may be asking. Wikipedia has a good, detailed explanation:

The slide rule, also known colloquially in the United States as a slipstick,[1] is a mechanical analog computer.[2][3][4][5][6] The slide rule is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry, but is not normally used for addition or subtraction. Though similar in name and appearance to a standard ruler, the slide rule is not ordinarily used for measuring length or drawing straight lines.

Slide rules come in a diverse range of styles and generally appear in a linear or circular form with a standardized set of markings (scales) essential to performing mathematical computations. Slide rules manufactured for specialized fields such as aviation or finance typically feature additional scales that aid in calculations common to those fields.

I took university math and physics courses before electronic calculators became a household item. We used slide rules for all our calculations to an accuracy of one decimal place. For anything that required more accuracy, we used one of the new and expensive desktop electronic calculators ($3.000 for a machine that had less power than a  modern $20 scientific calculator) or wrote a Fortran program and gave it to the guys in the glass room.

I really don’t need a slide rule; I have a couple of perfectly good and powerful scientific calculator apps on my phone. But it is cool to play with. And for quick estimations, a slide rule can be faster than an electronic calculator, especially one with a lot of buttons and little legends that nearsighted eyes can’t read.

Moving ebooks between devices

January 23rd, 2015

If you own an ereader or tablet, you may decide that you want to upgrade or change your system – perhaps to move from a Nook to a Kobo or a Kobo to an Apple tablet. Even though these devices all nominally use EPUB as the base format, the DRM (Digital Rights Management) software they use to prevent piracy makes this task difficult, and potentially impossible.

This ABC news article explores some of the options.

Amazon.com Inc. distributes its e-books in a proprietary format that isn’t compatible with other devices and systems. Other companies have embraced a format called EPub. In theory, that means books bought for one non-Kindle device can be read on another.

This is important because the device you own today might not be the one you’ll want five years from now. You won’t want to buy all your e-books again.

Unfortunately, trying to move my EPub books around gets frustrating. I should be able to read on Barnes & Noble’s Nook devices the books I’ve legitimately bought for Kobo devices, for instance. But it isn’t easy to figure out how to do. Instructions, if any, tend to focus on how to bring in books bought elsewhere, not how to move them out. And it took lots of Google searches to find some missing steps.

I should note that the article doesn’t mention or recommend removing the DRM. This is technically illegal the US and Canada, although it’s highly unlikely that you’d ever be prosecuted for doing it for your own personal use. If you want move ebooks between Amazon’s Kindle and another ereader, it’s your only option.

What if Ebola becomes endemic?

January 22nd, 2015

Efforts to stamp out the Ebola outbreak in Africa have been remarkably successful. Despite the fact that almost 10,000 people have died, it could have been much, much worse. But it’s now almost a year since the outbreak started and it’s not contained by any means. What happens if Ebola can’t be completely eradicated, and keeps flaring up in different places, or worse, spreads to other, more populated countries?  Discover looks at this disquieting scenario.

The implications of an endemic Ebola are equally muddled. Epidemic risk management consultants Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman wrote on their website about one worst-case scenario: that visitors to the region will always be at risk of Ebola, which could result in “sparks” unpredictably landing in other countries and causing catastrophic economic and public health effects.

However other serious diseases, some of them more contagious than Ebola, have long been endemic in various developing countries. For example tuberculosis is endemic in major trade and tourism destinations including India, China and Brazil. But so far large-scale transmission to the U.S. has been avoided, even after drug-resistant cases of tuberculosis surfaced.

Google invests in SpaceX

January 21st, 2015

Google has made a major investment – $1 billion dollars – in SpaceX. They’ll get a 10 percent ownership stake in the company. Google apparently wants to put up a network of satellites that could bring Internet services to almost anywhere in the world. They may also be planning to launch Earth observation satellites to improve the quality of the imagery in Google Earth. I like this news – a lot.

Google likes its ambitions sky high. This time, it has gone a little further.The Internet giant, along with Fidelity, has invested $1 billion in Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the private rocketry company founded by Elon Musk. The move could help Google achieve its aim of bringing satellite Internet to remote corners of the world while giving SpaceX more money for its founder to pursue dreams of going to Mars.

In addition to a payoff on its investment, Google may be seeking to put itself into orbit. Last year, Google bought Skybox Imaging, a maker of small, high-resolution imaging satellites, for about $500 million. Google already offers satellite imagery in its Google Earth product, but must purchase these images from multiple sources, often receiving what company executives have said is uneven image quality.