Firefox: Can’t open PDF in Acrobat

September 16, 2014

Firefox allows you to set options for how you’d like to deal with a linked file (Tools > Options > Applications). I thought I had them all set properly to open a PDF with Adobe Acrobat:


But PDF links clicked in Firefox would still try to save and NOT open in Acrobat as I wanted!

So after many months of being frustrated by this behavior and setting and resetting those options (for some reason, they reset themselves every so often — I’m not sure if it’s related to the regular Firefox updates or something else), I went looking for an answer. After viewing a lot of websites, I found another setting on that screen that is the critical one — you have to scroll down and there’s Portable Document Format!:



Once I set this to use Acrobat, everything worked fine.

What I want to know is how is ‘Adobe Acrobat Document’ in this list different to ‘Portable Document Format’ and why is PDF under P and not under A as all the other Adobe options are?



Word: Changing parentheses to square brackets while preserving the contents

September 15, 2014

I needed to make a global change to convert numbered citations in parentheses that looked like this (Ref. 1) to citations in square brackets: [Ref. 1].

Sounds simple, right? Just do a find for (Ref. and replace it with [Ref. Well, that would work for the opening parentheses, but what to do with closing ones? I couldn’t just do a global replace for all closing parentheses as that would replace every one in the document, whether they were part of a citation or not.

To complicate matters, all the citation numbers were cross-referenced fields, which meant I couldn’t just search for the numbers 0 to 9 followed by a closing parenthesis and replace those otherwise I’d replace a field code with plain text, thus breaking the cross-reference.

And what about citations that had more than one numeral (e.g. Ref. 25 or Ref. 123)? Or more than one citation separated by a semicolon (e.g. Ref. 25; Ref. 123)?

I needed to find all opening and closing parentheses surrounding one or more Ref. instances, change the parentheses to square brackets and make sure all the contents (text, spaces, non-breaking spaces, and fields) in between were preserved.

This was a job for find/replace using wildcards!

I had to do a bit of experimenting to get the Find expression correct, but once I did I was able to replace all in a few seconds.


  1. In the Word document where you want to make this change, press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box; the Replace tab should be in focus.
  2. In the Find what field, type: ([\(])(Ref.*)([\)])
    Note: There are NO spaces in this string.
  3. In the Replace with field, type: [\2]
  4. Click the More button.
  5. Select the Use wildcards check box.
  6. Click Find Next then click Replace to test that it works fine. If so, click Replace All.



Explanation for how this works:

  • ([\(]) looks for an opening parenthesis. As an opening parenthesis is a special character, you have to ‘escape’ it with a backslash, AND surround that expression with square brackets and then surround the whole thing with parentheses to create a single unit. This is the first part of the expression.
  • (Ref.*) looks for the string of letters Ref followed by a period and any number of characters (represented by the *). This takes care of citations with two or more numbers, and one or more citations within the parentheses. This is the second part.
  • ([\)]) looks for a closing parenthesis. As with the first one, this parenthesis is a special character, you have to ‘escape’ it with a backslash, AND surround that expression with square brackets and then surround the whole thing with parentheses to create a single unit (the third part).
  • [\2] replaces the first part with an opening square bracket, then it replaces the second part with itself (thus preserving the fields and all the content with the parentheses), then replaces the third part with a closing square bracket.



Visio: Error 920

September 12, 2014

This post is for me, as I’ve had this happen a couple of times now, and because I use Visio only a few times a year, I keep forgetting what I had to do to fix it last time!

BTW, reports of this error have been occurring since Visio 2002 and it’s still not fixed!


You get an error 920 message when trying to save a Visio file as a GIF, JPG, PNG etc.

Solution options

There are two possible reasons that I found for this error:

  • One or more objects are outside the Visio workspace. The solution is to select all objects, zoom out, and see if any of the selections are off the page. See here for details: http://alstechtips.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/error-920-occurred-during-action-save.html
  • The resolution is set too high. To prevent fuzzy text in Visio (see the links below), when I save as an image format, I set the resolution to ‘Printer’, which might be 1200 x 1200 pixels/in. or 600 x 600 pixels/in. Sometimes, the image will save at that, but sometimes it won’t and you’ll get the 920 error message, so I select ‘Custom’ and drop the resolution down (e.g. to 600 x 600 if it was 1200; to 400 x 400 if it was 600). The ‘save as’ usually works then, but if it still spits the error, try dropping the resolution some more.


See also:

[Links last checked September 2014]


Conference presentation annoyances

September 1, 2014

I’ve just returned from a great little conference in Sydney — a conference with an audience that was well out of my comfort zone, but they were all very friendly and welcoming and the feedback on my sessions was very positive. As it was the first non-techie conference I’ve been to in many years, it was interesting to find no-one live blogging or live tweeting the sessions ;-).

It was also interesting to observe different speaker styles, and to be reminded of some things you should and shouldn’t do when presenting at a conference:

  • Don’t use ALL CAPS in your slides. And especially don’t use ALL CAPS in a tiny font. These are impossible to read on screen and nearly as impossible to read in the conference notes.
  • Don’t go over your allocated time, especially not 10 or more minutes over. You know the time constraints some months beforehand so practice and hone your presentation until it fits, with a 5-minute buffer for questions. A presentation that goes over time either creeps into the breaks, or worse, you’re setting up the next speaker to fail as they now have to cut their presentation to fit into the remaining time if they are speaking immediately after you with no breaks between. That’s just not fair to the other presenter or the audience. Your failure to stick to the time shouldn’t be the reason the next speaker fails! (Note: I’ll own up to going a couple of minutes over my allocated time for my first presentation at this conference, but it was hard to gauge how long I was over as I started about 5 minutes late because there was no gap between the previous presentation and mine, audience questions to the previous presenter had to be dealt with, a minute or so was spent introducing me, and I had to close the previous presentation on the laptop and find and open mine. Fortunately, there was a 30-minute break immediately after my presentation, but that’s still no excuse for me going over time, and I take full responsibility for that.)
  • Be on time with everything asked of you and honor your commitments. If you’ve been asked to submit your presentations by a certain date for printing and loading onto a laptop prior to the conference, then follow those instructions without fail — and don’t change your presentation after you’ve submitted it otherwise there’s a disconnection between what the audience sees in the printed book and what they see on screen. Gee, here’s a thought… submit your presentation early and maybe you’ll be asked back in following years as you’ve proven you’re reliable! The presentations were all printed in a bound book for this conference. The organizer had booked a printing company for printing and binding on a certain date, and if the slides weren’t in on time, either the organizer and/or printer were now running short of time, or the slides were left out. One presentation had ‘slides to follow’ as the presenters didn’t have them to the organizers on time for printing. I also heard that another scheduled speaker, who was confirmed and listed in the conference promotional material, decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to do it for whatever reason (he had ample opportunity to tell the organizer in the weeks and months before the conference) and a new presenter and presentation on a different topic had to be added at the last minute (Aside: This new presentation was EXCELLENT, but if an attendee had made the decision to register based on the advertised speaker and/or his topic, they wouldn’t have been happy, and rightly so).
  • Watch for idiosyncrasies in your speech. One speaker said ‘actually’ at least 100 times. In one sentence I counted three instances! When you have an idiosyncrasy like this, and the audience picks up on it, then they start counting those words and that’s all they hear, not your message.
  • Triple check your slides. Look for spelling errors, typos, repeated slides (yep, one instance of that too), inconsistent font families, inconsistent graphical elements, etc. And if you’re too close to your slides, get someone else to look them over with fresh eyes (these people are called ‘editors’, and many of them do little jobs like this). Or get your slides ready early, then leave them alone for a few weeks before checking them again.
  • Make sure you have good contrast between the slide background colors and the text. It’s hard to read white text on a dusky blue background, especially from the back of the room. These slides also don’t print well in black and white. There’s an option in PowerPoint to show the slides in grayscale — use it to check for adequate contrast.

I like this quote

August 31, 2014

Attributed to Henry Ford: “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”




Excel table into Word — quick and easy method!

August 25, 2014

I’ve written before about some methods for getting the data in an Excel spreadsheet into Word (see the links below).

Recently, one of my colleagues had a BIG Excel spreadsheet table (all text) that had to be inserted into a Word document. In this instance, inserting a link to the spreadsheet was not an option, and saving it as multiple images and inserting those was problematic too (fuzzy, almost unreadable text mostly). So in despair my colleague asked me for some help.

In the process of testing many options I stumbled on a solution, but then I forgot which of the many combinations of things I tried was the one that worked ;-) So after a bit more testing I got it to work again.

Here’s how:

  1. Save the Excel spreadsheet as either a MHT or HTM file (doesn’t matter which – both work).
  2. Open this saved file in Internet Explorer. NOTE: This method DOES NOT work if you open it in another browser, such as Firefox or Chrome — you must open it in Internet Explorer.
  3. In Internet Explorer, go to File > Edit in Microsoft Word, which opens the spreadsheet in Word as a table.
  4. You may have a little bit of fiddling to do (e.g. remove blank columns, resize columns, change font size), but it shouldn’t be much.
  5. Select the reformatted table, copy it, then paste it into your main Word document (or save it as a new document if you aren’t inserting it into another document).

See also:

[Links last checked August 2014]


Another cute 404 error message

August 22, 2014

This time from the Smithsonian:

Page not found; picture of panda wiping its eye


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