Between lists

A computer printed list with a pen lying on top.

I know that I’ve not written any more about our IVF journey for the last few months, but there’s really not been anything to report. Until now.

We moved over from Edinburgh to Cellardyke in April, and the day after we moved in we made an appointment with the local GP to find out what would happen next. Jane’s previous conversations with people in Edinburgh and Fife had been positive, indicating that it was likely that we could stay on the IVF list in Edinburgh. The GP confirmed this and said that it was more than likely that we could stay on the Edinburgh list, as Fife Health Board didn’t do IVF and so potential parents were sent to other health boards, such as in Edinburgh and Dundee. He said that he’d write and confirm this.

On Friday Jane opened a letter from the Edinburgh Fertility & Reproductive Endocrine Centre to say that we are no longer eligible for NHS-funded treatment in Lothian and that we may be able to be referred somewhere else, and go on the list as from 5 October 2005. Only Dundee don’t allow that. It came as quite a blow. Which might actually be the understatement of this post.

So at the moment we’re between lists, in no man’s land. Or maybe that should be “no children’s land”.

Less the centre of the universe

A couple of things that have floated my boat this week. (I don’t literally have a boat, it’s just a turn of phrase.)

Less

Cover for Less album, shows lots of black and a woman's face.Listening to music the other night, I had WinAmp Pro on random play, and from the 9,431 tracks from which it could choose it happened to land on a track called “Don’t Fear Me” by a band called Less.

“Wow!” I said, suddenly paying attention to what had been until then largely background music. “What’s that? … it’s great!”

I pulled WinAmp out of the notification area/system tray and had a look. Less? I don’t remember buying that. Where did I get that from?

A quick Google search later I discovered that, sure enough, I hadn’t bought it: I’d downloaded it. Less have made available to download from their worldwidewebsite (www.less.com) both their full-length albums: “Cover, Protective, Individual” (2004) and “Piano Wire Smile” (2001) in that most popular of modern audio formats, MP3.

As an aside: if you prefer your music to be governed by DRM then you can also download these albums in .m4p format via the mighty Apple iTunes application.

Less have been described as a strange cross between Tool, Rage Against The Machine and Nine Inch Nails, or like Alice In Chains, or Godsmack, with elements of Led Zeppelin thrown in for good measure. I happen to think that most of those descriptions are right, but there is also an element of Primus in there somewhere too — not in terms of fat bass licks, but in their bold creativity and their ability to surprise at each turn.

The two albums, each named after three unconnected words, are very different offerings. The first record “Piano Wire Smile” is awash with bouncy tunes and twisted distorted guitars; the second, “Cover, Protective, Individual” is heavily acoustic. I’ve now downloaded both albums in their entireties, plus the separate track song “Painstripper”, featured in the movie “Need”, and made a donation to say thank you. This album will certainly get a lot of play in my car to and from work in the next few weeks.

Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe

Cover of Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe
A quick read this week was Danny Wallace’s new — and hilarious — book, Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe, conveniently published in a new “Quick Reads” series by Random House.

Danny lives in East London, not far from Greenwich which of course houses the line that marks GMT … the line that splits the earth into two and from which countries take their time. Greenwich, the centre of the earth (not its core!). Which got Danny thinking about where the centre of the universe might be, and after a quick search on Google he was surprised to learn that the Centre of the Universe is actually in Idaho, USA. In a small former silver-mining town called … Wallace! Co-incidence?

The book is hilarious. It is charming, beautifully written and very funny. And Danny, as ever, is just himself throughout: interested, open and friendly. Here’s one of my favourite passages in the book — having been in one of his books myself, I’m glad to see a connection in this passage:

8.03pm
‘Never call a midget a midget,’ says Ed, standing outside a bar, having a smoke. I’ve asked him what lessons he’s learned since living in the Centre of the Universe, and that’s what he’s said. Never call a midget a midget.

‘Those little guys, they don’t like being called little guys. Or dwarves. Or midgets. You gotta call them little people”. I know. that now, because I got myself in trouble one time.’

‘Why?’ I say. ‘What did you say to a little person?’

‘I didn’t know I had to call him a little person. I didn’t know what to call him. I panicked.’

‘What did you call him?’

‘I called him a gnome.’

‘A gnome?’

‘I called him a gnome,’ says Ed, taking a drag. ‘Yuh. I called him a gnome.’

‘How did he react, when you called him a gnome?’

‘He looked a little pissed.’

I nod my head.

‘That’s gnomes for you,’ he adds and stubs out his cigarette.

There’s no excuse not to buy the book: it’s only £2.99, and on Amazon UK you can pick up a copy (not literally as Amazon is a virtual bookstore, you’d have to order a copy to do that) for as little as £0.73. Seventy-three pence?! That’s 1973 prices for a book!

What better recommendations could you get from a blog post than two free albums and a funny book that you could buy for 73p (plus postage and packing)?

Quick review of Microsoft Office Word 2007

Screenshot of Word 2007 Beta 2
Screenshot of Microsoft Office Word 2007. (Click image to see larger screenshot.)

This afternoon I installed a few of the applications that come bundled with the Microsoft Office 2007 Professional Beta 2 package that I downloaded a few weeks ago, including:

  • Access 2007
  • Excel 2007
  • PowerPoint 2007
  • Publisher 2007
  • Word 2007

There were a few applications that I didn’t install, such as Outlook 2007 and InfoPath 2007 that I didn’t install, partly because I didn’t want them to interfere with my current Office 2003 applications, or because I currently have no use for them. There are also a few stand-alone installations that I’ve not yet checked-out, such as Visio 2007 and OneNote 2007.

As many of my friends will attest to I have long had a love/hate relationship with Microsoft software. While I’ve admired certain products, such as the Windows family of operating systems and Visio, I’ve disliked (with a passion) most of the Office applications pre-Office 2003. I found many of the Office products to lack an intuitive user-interface, and while many of the applications did speak to one another there was no continuity about how each presented common dialog boxes, for example. In trying to make the user’s life easier by integrating applications it was inadvertantly made harder by forcing users to have to learn subtle differences within each product.

While some of these niggles weren’t completely ironed out in Office 2003 the Microsoft boffins certainly improved a great many of the things that I disliked about earlier incarnations. The menus were now more intuitive, the commands that I wanted at my finger-tips (or at least at the end of my mouse pointer) were now there — and if they weren’t then I could customize the menus and toolbars.

I’ve been using Outlook 2003 for the last year or two, and it has some fabulous features that help me to focus on getting my work done, replying to e-mails, organising my task list and calendar. Word 2003 had improved so much, that I am now using it more than Lotus WordPro Millennium (which sadly appears to be in some kind of stagnation just now, in terms of development. Lotus/IBM still haven’t fixed a simple bug that doesn’t allow you to save files within your My Documents folder!) which I’ve been using since 1999. Similarly, I’m now beginning to move over to Publisher 2003, having been using Publisher 2000 since … well, since 2000.

Word 2007

So, having read about the new GUI that has been developed for (certain applications within) Office 2007, particularly the new “ribbon” toolbar I was delighted to be able to try them out for myself this afternoon.

And, I have to say that I really like it. I’ve had a quick jaunt through the other applications, but I’ve spent most time with Word 2007 this afternoon and evening. The application loads fairly quickly, in around 3 seconds, which is good. It looks clean and fresh and most importantly usable.

The ‘Ribbon’ toolbar

Gone are the confusion of menus, replaced with a much reduced menu bar of tabs which change which icons are viewable on the ribbon toolbar, which replaces the standard Windows menubar of yesteryear (and today). The icons are arranged logically and are grouped together well.

When you open Word there are five groups on the ribbon bar: Clipboard, Font, Paragraph, Styles and Editing. Enough there to get you started, and in fact take you quite a long way. The other ribbon configurations which, as I said are accessible via the reduced menu bar, are based around Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review and View. It’s a genius idea, and it works! No more hunting for simple and powerful features which are buried deep within a hierarchy of menus, everything is presented for you right there.

The Pearl

In the top left of the window is ‘The Pearl’, a Microsoft Office icon that when you click offers you a list of recently used documents and options for what to do with your documents: New, Open, Close, Save, Save As, and Print, but here you can also Publish to a blog or document server, or Send the document via e-mail or fax.

To the right of The Pearl is a small, customizable toolbar called the Quick Access Toolbar which can hold your most often used icons from both this menu, such as Save and Print, and the various ribbons.

Resources

The new features and new ways to do tried and trusted things with your documents are really fairly intuitive. The only thing that I’ve found myself puzzling over is how to view the About… information, which in Office 2003 and previous could be found by clicking Help > About. In Word 2007 you click the Pearl and select “Word Options”, from the resulting dialog window About is found under the Resources tab.

Here you can also check for updates, diagnose possible problems within the Office 2007 suite of applications, contact Microsoft, and register for online services. I particularly like the options to check for updates and diagnose problems. By moving this latter facility away from Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs it makes the product much more accessible to less technically-savvy users and makes it a more usable application. I wonder if it is also a recognition that there are problems to be found in a suite this big and complicated.

Problems

The only problem that I’ve encountered so far is that since installing these Office 2007 applications the junk mail filter in Outlook 2003 is now broken. And in order to test whether I’ve fixed the problem or not I’ve been in the strange situation of sitting in front of my PC all evening willing for people to send me spam!

(I’ve not fixed it. I suspect I’ll have to either live with this for the foreseeable future, as I check out Word 2003 even further, or uninstall Office 2007 Beta 2 and restore Outlook 2003 to its former spam-catching glory days.)

Live previews

One great feature of Word 2007 is that when you hover over the various styles, for example, you are presented with a preview of what your current paragraph will look like if that style is selected. (Styles are another of my soap-boxes, which I’ll cover in a later blog post.) This is true also for tables, and text colours, but oddly not for other text formatting options, such as alignment and bulletted lists.

File formats

One of the interesting things about Word 2007 is that its default file format is XML-based. I won’t go into details about what this means — because I’ve already done it once with Jane, and while I got all excited and started waving my arms around, she just looked at me like I was mad — except to say that it’s exciting.

Well, as exciting as file formats can be. If you do get a chance to check out Word 2007 try the following:

  1. Open Word 2007, write a quick document, and save it in your My Documents folder as test.docx format. (The ‘x’ says that it’s a Word XML-format document.)
  2. Now rename test.docx to test.zip.
  3. Open this file (test.zip) with your archiving application or choice, such as WinZip.
  4. You’ll discover that the new .docx format is simply a collection of XML-related files and folders which have been zipped together, with an appropriate level and type of compression.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that Microsoft are definitely onto something. Word 2007 is by and far the best, most intuitive and enjoyable word processor application that I’ve ever used, and given that along with Outlook (e-mail and calendar) and Firefox (browser) my word processor is my most used application that’s most definitely a good thing.

While I might not agree with Microsoft’s mission and methods for world domination, I can’t deny that this is a jolly good piece of software. And come next year when Office 2007 hits the shelves, I really do think that I will upgrade. What I will need to find out first, however, is whether Outlook 2007 will still synchronize with my Psions.