Making AutoCorrect more useful in Word 2013

October 30th, 2014

AutoCorrect is a feature in Microsoft Word that you may not even realize you’re using. If, like me, you’re a sloppy typist, AutoCorrect will fix common typos (teh for the, for example) so quickly that you may not notice you’ve made a mistake. It’s also easy to configure; at least it was in Word 2007 and 2010, where you could set it to save a correction by right-clicking on a word that Word had flagged as a spelling mistake.

For reasons unknown, Microsoft has removed that feature from Word 2013, as Jerry Pournelle laments in his October Chaos Manor Reviews column. Fortunately for the sanity of Word users, there he has found a fix that is easy to implement, although it’s not quite as convenient as having it in the context menu.

First, Word has a feature I never even thought about: the Quick Access Bar. This is a series of tiny icons, by default at the top of the Word window. It’s always there, even if you make the rest of the ribbon vanish with control-F1. The Quick Access Bar has been there for a long time, certainly since Word 2007 because I see the little icons now, and in fact I often use one of them, the little curly arrow that undoes whatever you just typed. There’s also the familiar 3.5” floppy icon that now means Save, and which I still use out of habits formed back when you saved early and often or you lost your work.

There are others, but one, which is always on the far right of the Quick Access Bar, is nearly invisible. It’s a tiny hyphen above a tiny down arrow. Mousing it tells you that it’s Customize Quick Access Bar (QAB hereafter). Click it and a confusing – at least confusing to me – menu drops down. At the bottom of that is the menu item More Commands. Clicking this shows you what looks like a large list of commands you can add to the QAB. Some of them may interest you, but in fact you ain’t seen nothing yet. Above that long list of commands is another little window that has above it a label: “Choose Commands From”; this little window lets you select a source for more commands.

Choose “All Commands”, and the list of items you can add to the QAB becomes enormous. The one we’re interested in is AutoCorrect Options, which will have associated with it a little icon that contains a lightning bolt. Click on it, look over to the right for the “Add” button, click that, and Lo! That icon will appear in the list of QAB commands it shows you have enabled.

I’m glad that he wrote about his because I hadn’t noticed the loss of the context menu AutoCorrect option in my personal copy of Word 2013, but I would have found it missing fairly quickly once we get our upgrade at work. And I do have a large and lovingly customized Quick Access toolbar in my copy of Word 2010 that I will have to import or re-create once we upgrade. It’s likely that the AutoCorrect option can be added back to the spell-check context menu using VBA – a project I’ll put on my rainy afternoon list.

Orbital Sciences launch failure

October 28th, 2014

An Antares booster launched by Orbital Sciences Corp. suffered a catastrophic failure shortly after launch this evening, falling back to the Wallops Island launch pad and exploding. The rocket was carrying a cargo of supplies intended for the International Space Station. Initial reports were that there were no injuries, but I expect that there will be more than a little damage to the launch pad, and somewhat more to Orbital Sciences’ reputation.

The video is short but quite spectacular.

The Antares uses two AJ-26 engines which are modified Soviet NK-33 engines – the same engines that powered the ill-fated N-1 booster. You can draw your own conclusions.

Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle with the Islamic State

October 26th, 2014

Here’s an article that explores seven different scenarios that the battle with the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call it) could take. None of them are good. Several of them are backed up with quite a bit of detail.

5. Iran

What can go wrong for Iran in the current conflict? While in the Middle East something unexpected can always arise, at present that country looks like the potential big winner in the IS sweepstakes. Will a pro-Iranian Shia government remain in power in Baghdad? You bet. Has Iran been given carte blanche to move ground forces into Iraq? Check. Will the American air force fly bombing runs for Iranian ground troops engaged in combat with IS (in a purely unofficial capacity, of course)? Not a doubt. Might Washington try to edge back a bit from its nuclear tough-guy negotiations? A likelihood. Might the door be left ajar when it comes to an off-the-books easing of economic sanctions if the Americans need something more from Iran in Iraq? Why not?

Worst-case scenario: Someday, there’ll be a statue of Barack Obama in central Tehran, not in Iraq.

CBC does us proud

October 23rd, 2014

For most of yesterday, I listened to the CBC’s radio coverage of the shooting at Parliament. The CBC radio coverage was excellent, as is usually the case with the CBC. I didn’t see the TV coverage but it’s attracted some notice in US sites, because it was so much better than what passes for TV journalism in the US these days. Here’s an article from

For hours this afternoon, Canada’s CBC News covered the breaking news of at least three shooting incidents in Ottawa. Led by veteran anchor Peter Mansbridge, the rolling coverage was smart, careful, and absolutely un-American.

As Andy Carvin noted, Mansbridge set a respectful, careful tone, calling out interview subjects who had unconfirmed or contradictory information. “So much we could learn from his delivery today,” Carvin told me on Twitter.

On screen, CBC News kept a ticker scrolling, a “Breaking News” bug in the corner, a “LIVE” bug at the top right, and three boxes showing video and live pictures. Mansbridge rarely appeared on camera, even as he took pains to ensure information was correct before reporting anything–particularly the news a soldier shot at Ottawa’s War Memorial had died of his injuries.

As I watched via the network’s live stream in New York, I never heard a second of dramatic music, never saw a full-screen wipe with a catchy graphic like TERROR ON PARLIAMENT HILL, and never, ever heard Mansbridge or any of the CBC’s reporters dip even a toe into the waters of self-promotion.

Here’s another article from Mother Jones.

The broadcast was deliberative and deferential to the facts even when they were sparse. Exacting and painstaking, but never slow or boring, Mansbridge weighed the credibility of every detail, constantly framing and reframing what we knew and, most crucially, how we knew it. He literally spoke the news as it happened, using his experience not to opine nor fill the gaps in his knowledge, but to provide the necessary support for his team’s reporting.

Getting things wrong during fast-moving live coverage is, of course, common. Coverage of the Washington Navy Yard shooting last year got the details wrong early and often: It misstated the perpetrator’s name, age, and how many guns he had. Following the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, there was false coverage about the identity of the bombers, and anonymous sources leading journalists to nonexistent bombs and arrests. On the Media’s handy “breaking news consumer’s handbook” is a great roundup of the reporting errors that get repeated every time there is a mass shooting.

No newscast, especially live news, is immune to mistakes, and during the initial haze of leads and counterleads, it’s easy to point fingers. But for the six-some hours of CBC broadcasting I watched off-and-on (mostly on) today, I never once felt lost in the wall-to-wall speculation that has characterized so many recent breaking-news broadcasts in the United States.

And this is the TV network our prime minister keeps trying to kill.

Escape from Microsoft Word

October 21st, 2014

Here’s an interesting perspective on Microsoft Word from a writer who is not a technical writer and who found himself baffled by some of Word’s formatting idiosyncrasies.  The problem he ran into would not have occurred if he had used a character style for italics instead of applying direct formatting. Of course, Microsoft continues to make it harder and more complex to use styles properly with every release of Word, so I won’t be too hard on him.

I’ve been vaguely aware of Word’s Platonic ideas since I learned, years ago, that I had to create a new section when I wanted to change the page margins. But I didn’t realize how bizarrely Platonic Word can be until I started using it to create the manuscript of a complete edition of Auden’s prose. At the foot of each essay and review, the edition has a line indicating its source, for example, “The New York Review of Books, 2 May 1965,” or “The New Yorker, 27 September 1966.” While preparing the file for the publisher, I applied to all these lines a style named “Article Source”; this style arranged the lines so they were aligned at the right margin, and added a line space above and below. I was puzzled to see that when I applied the style, Word sometimes removed the italics from the magazine title but sometimes didn’t, for no obvious reason. When I applied the style to the first of my two examples, the italics disappeared; when I applied it to the second, the italics remained.

A friend at Microsoft, speaking not for attribution, solved the mystery. Word, it seems, obeys the following rule: when a “style” is applied to text that is more than 50 percent “direct-formatted” (like the italics I applied to the magazine titles), then the “style” removes the direct formatting. So The New York Review of Books (with the three-letter month May) lost its italics. When less than 50 percent of the text is “direct-formatted,” as in the example with The New Yorker (with the nine-letter month September), the direct-formatting is retained.

For what it’s worth, I think the best release of Microsoft Word was Word for DOS, version 5.5. It’s been downhill ever since.

Life at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak

October 17th, 2014

Here’s a harrowing article by an AmeriCare relief worker about what it’s like working at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia.

When traveling to areas devastated by earthquakes and violent storms, the physical damage is often apparent even before you step off the plane. But here in Liberia where the death toll has surpassed 2,000 and continues to climb, there are no flattened buildings or tent camps filled with survivors. Signs of the crisis are more understated. In front of every building, hand washing stations spill out a diluted chlorine solution. Police at checkpoints stop vehicles so they can check temperatures. And murals graphically depicting Ebola’s symptoms scroll along sidewalks and roads.

The virus has the whole country on edge and everyone is more guarded. It is a matter of survival. There is no shaking hands, no hugging, and no kissing. All the schools in the country are closed as it’s believed that having all those children together would create too high a risk of infection. Parents are telling their children not to play with their friends, to stay home. Many foreign-owned businesses have closed their doors, laying off workers, while other Liberian families suffer as the breadwinners become ill, and customers stay home out of fear.