Archive for May, 2008


Quacks like a duck

May 31, 2008

In a landmark test case last week, a Washington (state) judge ruled that a person selling software on a site like eBay was entitled to sell it. Some of the commentary about this says that Autodesk (the company that sued the reseller), was hard-pressed to pass the ‘straight face’ test when they asserted that their software was licensed and therefore not able to be on-sold to another party. It seems Autodesk’s own website talked about ‘purchase’, ‘buy’ etc. when referring their software, so to play the ‘licensing’ card in bringing action against the eBay seller was stretching it.  As one commentator said,  “Kudos to Judge Richard Jones for seeing that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.”

I wonder what the long-term implications of this decision are for software companies in how they sell and license software. Almost every piece of software I have worked with or purchased has one of those very long EULAs (End User License Agreement) full of incomprehensible legalese, which you have to click “I Agree” to to install it on your computer.

You can read more about this decision here:

[Thanks to Grant H for alerting me to this decision and some of these websites.]


Magnificent food illustrations

May 31, 2008

For sheer beauty, check out these food illustrators:

Some of my favourites: Matthew Holmes, Fiona King, Derek Grinnell.

[This article was first published in the September 2006 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]


Software for portable devices

May 30, 2008

A friend showed me a couple of neat little programs for my PocketPC. Both are fairly cheap and are downloadable from the internet.

  • Passwords Plus: A password database that synchronises with your desktop and PocketPC. And it’s password protected so you can keep prying eyes out. In addition to passwords, you can store all sorts of other information such as Frequent Flyer numbers, bank account numbers, as well as all those website registrations you have to keep track of. Available from; cost: $29.99 US. (Price rechecked Dec 2007 – still the same!)
  • CityTime: A great companion for travellers or anyone needing to know the time in another city quickly. You can have up to 16 cities predefined, and can click on a world map to see the current time at many more locations. Also gives you the distance between cities, international telephone dialling codes, sunrise and sunset times, and ‘at the minute’ time zone shading to tell you whether it’s day or night in the city you need to contact. And daylight saving time in all locations is automatically updated on changeover. Available from; cost $14.95 US (price rechecked Dec 2007 – still the same!)

[This article was first published in the December 2004 CyberText Newsletter; links and prices rechecked in December 2007.]


Google search ‘mashup’

May 29, 2008

Google has a new search site ( that adds results for images, blogs, videos, and Wikipedia entries in the sidebar of your standard Google search results.

Pretty neat!

[This article was first published in the March 2007 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]


Outlook: Changing your working week

May 28, 2008

Do you work part-time, or work different days than the standard Monday to Friday? Did you know that you can change your work days in Outlook 2003?

Here’s how:

  1. In Outlook, go to Tools > Options, then click the Calendar Options button on the Preferences tab.
  2. Select the check boxes for the days you work; clear the check boxes of the days you don’t.
  3. If you don’t start your work week on a Monday, or don’t work usual business hours, change the First Day of the Week and your Start time and End time settings too.

[This article was first published in the September 2005 CyberText Newsletter.]


Are you being copied?

May 27, 2008

Copyscape ( is a service that finds copies of your content on the web. Simply type in the URL of the page of your original content and it goes to work, finding matching content in seconds. If you find pages that are plagiarising your work, there are also helpful articles and links to legal sites to guide you in what to do.

Update December 2007: For more information on what to do if your website, blog postings. etc. are being copied, see

[This article was first published in the September 2004 CyberText newsletter; links last checked August 2011]


Love oxymorons?

May 26, 2008

If you love oxymorons, then you’ll love this site:

[This article was first published in the September 2004 CyberText newsletter; site last checked December 2007]


Management reviews of technical reports

May 25, 2008

(Shared with me via email a few years ago… If you know the source, let me know so I can acknowledge it.)

Question: How many feet do mice have?

Original Reply: Mice have four feet.

Management comment: Elaborate.

Revision 1: Mice have five appendages, four of which are feet.

Mgmt comment: No discussion of fifth appendage.

Revision 2: Mice have five appendages; four of them are feet and one is a tail.

Mgmt comment: What? Feet with no legs?

Revision 3: Mice have four legs, four feet, and one tail per mouse.

Mgmt comment: Confusing. Is that a total of 9 appendages?

Revision 4: Mice have four leg-foot assemblies and one tail assembly per body.

Mgmt comment: Does not fully discuss the issue.

Revision 5: Each mouse comes equipped with four legs and a tail. Each leg is equipped with a foot at the end opposite the body; the tail is not equipped with a foot.

Mgmt comment: Descriptive but not decisive.

Revision 6: Allotment for mice will be: FOUR LEG-FOOT ASSEMBLIES, ONE TAIL. Deviation from this policy is not permitted as it would constitute misapportionment of spare appendage assets.

Mgmt comment: Too authoritative, stifles creativity.

Revision 7: Mice have four feet; each foot is attached to a small leg joined integrally with the overall mouse structural subsystem. Also attached to the mouse subsystem is a thin tail, non functional and ornamental in nature.

Mgmt comment: Too verbose and scientific. Answer the question.

Final Revision: Mice have four feet.

Mgmt comment: Approved.


Pet peeves: Words

May 24, 2008

  • Myself as in “John and myself went to…”. Whatever happened to “John and I went to…”? And no, it’s not “John and me went to…” as you can’t take away the “John and” bit and still make sense. If John wasn’t there you would say “I went to…” not “Me went to…” so it has to be “John and I…”.
  • Your (ownership, such as “your dog”) versus you’re (abbreviation for “you are”).
  • The use of commence instead of the plain English begin or start.
  • The expression at this point in time instead of now.
  • Chilli: A pet peeve of mine is restaurant menus! While bad spelling gets to me (yes, I know there are more important things in the world to worry about), what REALLY peeves me are blatant inconsistencies on a single menu. For example, did you know that the hot ingredient added to a dish can be spelled chili, chilli, chile (that one’s a country in South America!), chille, chilie, chillie, chilly (cold)…? According to the dictionaries I checked, the first two are both correct. I really don’t mind which of these two they use—just as long as they spell the word the same way in every instance. Is that too much to ask? (Addendum: Someone who shall remain nameless refuses to eat at restaurants that have misspelled words on their menus! That’s probably taking it a little far…)
  • Double negatives, such as “I don’t know nothing”.
  • Complementary/complimentary: Just remember that you would COMPLIment someone on their acCOMPLIshment.
  • May/can: (from K L, Canada) “Many people feel that may is a polite way of saying can. The word may denotes permission or a likelihood/possibility—it does not denote capability. If you are trying to say that the software has the capability to do something or that the option for doing something is available, then you should use can. So, if the system allows the user to do something, say that the user can do it, not that the user may do it. The word may is acceptable in some situations that involve likelihood or permission, such as: It may be possible to…; The licensee may make one copy of the software…; and You may find it helpful to… However, these next phrases need can: The report can be modified… NOT The report may be modified…; You can select… NOT You may select… Someone once told me that not only is may not a polite way of saying can but that using may can actually be an insult to the readers. It implies that the readers need your permission to do something, when they clearly do not.”
  • Lose v. loose: To distinguish the words lose (as in ‘lose the game’) and loose (as in clothes), think of the words ‘lost’ (single O) and ‘footloose’ (double O).
  • there (place), their (belonging to them; people), they’re (they are)
  • baited breath (should be bated otherwise it’s fish breath!)
  • two (number), too (as well; also), to (e.g. to run, go to)
  • weather (rain, hail, or shine), whether (maybe, maybe not), wether (sheep)
  • discreet (private), discrete (separate)
  • For the programmers among you:
    • todo and goto – WRONG! Both are two words—to do and go to—when you are writing for users. Goto may be a legitimate programming expression but it is NOT an English word, so don’t use it on menu bars, in user documentation etc.
    • id/Id/IDid and Id is the ego; the only acceptable usage for identification or identity is ID.
  • Isle (island), aisle (corridor). From a colleague: “Our local supermarket put up some new signs several months ago—Isle 1, Isle 2 etc. These are ‘professionally’ printed signs; I use the word ‘professionally’ in its loosest sense. Despite protests to the owner, the signs are still up. The reply was: “…it doesn’t matter does it?” No wonder the average kid is confused!”
  • That or which: There’s a very simple rule for deciding the correct one to use that works in most instances: Use that if there is no comma; use which if a comma precedes it.
  • Its or it’s: It’s is only ever a contraction, not a possessive, so if you couldn’t say it is, it has, or it was in place of it’s, then you must use its. For example, “It’s raining” can be written in full as “It is raining”. However, the sentence: “The dog rolled in the mud and its coat was dirty” uses the possessive “its” and can never be written in full as “The dog rolled in the mud and it is coat was dirty”.
  • Then (time), than (comparison)
  • Use thank you, NEVER thankyou.
  • Use a lot (e.g. many) NEVER alot. If you’re referring to an allocation, then it’s allot. (And if you want to see what an alot looks like, check out this page:
  • Use always, NEVER allways.
  • Viola (musical instrument), voila! (a French exclamation)
  • Sight (vision), site (place), cite (refer to)
  • Use could have, NEVER could of.

See also:

[This article was adapted from various CyberText newsletters published prior to 2008; links last checked March 2009]


Tips for presentations

May 23, 2008

For some great tips about presenting, take a look at Presentation Zen.

And to see what presentations others have done, or to share yours, check out SlideShare.

[This article was first published in the September 2006 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked May 2008]