Archive for May, 2010


Free templates for business and personal documents

May 20, 2010

You could search the internet for free templates for Word, PowerPoint and the like, but my experience is that you have to sift through an awful lot of crud to find a nugget worth looking at. And many of the so-called free template sites are just to get you in, then to hit you with the ‘even better’ paid versions or their subscription services.

Another alternative is to check out the free templates offered by many of the printer companies. Naturally, a template designed to suit your printer manufacturer should print better than one designed for another manufacturer, but if there are printing issues with a template from another manufacturer, then you can always tweak the template’s page margins and page size as that’s usually where problems will occur.

So how do you find the free templates on the printer company websites? Easy! Try this list for starters:

And don’t forget the plethora of free Office templates available from the Microsoft site too:

[Links last checked May 2010]


Word: Display styles for each paragraph

May 19, 2010

Do you want to see at a glance what style is assigned to a paragraph in your Word document? You probably know that you can click in the paragraph and check the styles pane to see which style is highlighted, but that’s a tedious process and gets old very quickly on a 100+ page document — or with a list of styles that is too long to see without scrolling.

There’s a better way — switch to Draft view (Word 2007, 2010) or Normal view (Word 2003), and set the Style area to 2.5 cm (1 inch) or more to see all the styles used for the body text. (Unfortunately, table styles never show, but you can see all the others — you’ll just have to check your table styles the slow way.)

Here’s how in detail… (Click the images to see them in full size.)

Step 1: Change your Word settings to display the Style area

Word 2003:

  1. Go to Tools > Options on the menu.
  2. On the View tab, set the Style area width to 2.5 cm (or 1 inch if your units are inches). This width is usually enough, but after you’ve tried it out, you can always change the width to make it smaller or larger.
  3. Click OK.

Word 2007, 2010:

  1. Word 2007: Click the Office button (top left corner), then Word Options. Word 2010: Select the File tab, then Options.
  2. Click Advanced.
  3. Go to the Display section.
  4. Check your Show measurement in units at value (e.g. Centimeters, Inches).
  5. In the Style area pane width… field, enter 2.5 if your measurement units are Centimeters or 1 if your units are inches. This width is usually enough, but after you’ve tried it out, you can always change the width to make it smaller or larger.
  6. Click OK.

Step 2: Change your view of the document

Word 2003:

Change the view from Print Layout to Normal by clicking the icon in the bottom left of the window. Word 2007, 2010:

Change the view from Print to Draft by clicking the icon in the bottom right of the window.

Step 3: View the styles and change them, as required

When you set the style area width and change your view to Normal (Word 2003) or Draft (Word 2007, 2010), your document will have an area on the left that shows the paragraph styles used for each paragraph (see the arrows in the screen shot below). Character and table styles are not shown.

In the example above, you can see that Body Text (yellow) has been used for a bulleted list, whereas a similar bullet list (pink) uses the Bullet 1 style. If I was working on this document, I’d change those Body Text bullets to the Bullet 1 style.

Likewise, a Bullet 1 style has been used for a standard paragraph (blue) — I’d change that too.

The quickest way to change the style is to display the Styles pane, click in the paragraph that needs changing (or select multiple paragraphs), then click on the style you want it to use.


Dealing with negative blog comments

May 18, 2010

I’ve been very fortunate — I have received very few negative comments on this blog. But then, it’s a blog of hints and tips and a place where I share interesting websites I find or am made aware of, not a personal blog. Except when I get ‘professionally angry’ at poor design decisions, I try to keep my personal feelings out of my posts as much as possible, yet at the same time I try to maintain a friendly tone. Hopefully, I succeed more often than not.

However, the same can’t be said for other bloggers, some of whom have to deal with negative comments. The right of a commenter to disagree with a post (providing they also give reasons to support their position) are not a problem for most bloggers. But when attacks become personal, that’s a different story. At best, feelings can be hurt; at worst, lives can be threatened.

So how does a blogger deal with negative comments and complaints?

One answer to that question can be found in this blog post from The Food Pornographer:

(BTW, The Food Pornographer [TFP] is not what you think — TFP takes wonderful pictures of the food she eats and shares her pictures and descriptions with the world; her pictures are known as ‘food porn’ because they are mouth-wateringly good and you just want to devour that crispy bacon, or fresh salad, or bento lunch!)

[Link last checked May 2010]


Here’s why Australians buy phones in the US

May 17, 2010

When Australians travel overseas with their own mobile phone, they can be hit with massive bills when they get home. As a frequent traveler to the US, I have previously purchased $29 throw-away phones with $30 pre-paid cards from drug stores in the US. More recently, I’ve taken my own phone. My recent trips have been fairly short, so taking my own phone isn’t too big a hit to the hip pocket. I *never* use my phone to access email, websites etc. as it’s *way* too expensive even within Australia — I hate to think how much it would be from my Australian phone when I’m in the US.

My American friends don’t understand why I don’t make too many calls or send too many text messages on my mobile phone. And they don’t understand why I don’t check my phone for emails, Tweets, etc. all the time, like they do. I tell them the reason is the cost, but I don’t really think they believe me — they probably think I’m penny-pinching! That’s because the phone/data/cable/bundled plans in the US are incredibly cheap compared to Australia — and the speeds are incredibly fast compared to Australia. No wonder they spend a lot of time checking emails on their phones.

So for all my US friends out there, here’s what it will cost me from 15 June 2010 to make a call in the US from my Australian phone (costs prior to June 15 were similar, but varied according to the US carrier):

Yep. That’s right — these are PER MINUTE charges. So if I want to text anybody, anywhere, it will cost me 75c per message. If I want to call my family or friends in Australia, it will cost me $3.35 PER MINUTE. If I want to call my US friends or family, I think it will cost me $2.19 PER MINUTE (I think that’s what’s meant by ‘National Call’ in the table above). If I receive a call (including voice messages) from anybody anywhere, it will cost me $1.72 PER MINUTE over and above what the caller pays. And if I’m in the US and decide to call anyone who’s not in the US or Australia (e.g. I want to call my Canadian friends), then that will cost me $3.57 PER MINUTE.

Interestingly, they haven’t separated out data charges for sending/receiving emails or Tweets, of checking websites, so I have no idea what sort of charges would be incurred, but I’d have to guess it would be in that $3.35 to $3.57 range.

Here’s quick ballpark figure of what it would cost me to use my Australian phone while I am in the US, working on a rate of say $3.40 per minute for emails/Tweets/websites:

  • Check emails, Tweets, websites for 20 mins per day (working on a rate of  $3.40 per minute; NOTE: 20 minutes is VERY conservative) = $68.00
  • Send four text messages (75c each) per day = $3.00
  • Make four phone calls ($3.35 per minute)  to people within the US per day, averaging two minutes per call = $26.80
  • Receive four phone calls ($1.72 per minute), averaging two minutes per call = $13.76
  • Receive four voicemail messages ($1.72 per minute) = $6.88
  • Check four voicemail messages (call back to Australia @ $3.35 per minute), average one minute per call = $13.40

So, for ONE DAY of very conservative usage, my DAILY bill would be $131.84.

Now let’s say I’m in the US on business or at a conference for 10 days. Suddenly, that’s a $1318 mobile phone bill I’ll have waiting for me when I get home!

You can see why for long trips away, or for heavy phone/text usage to people within the US, I recommend that Australians buy an el cheapo phone in the US, with a $30 pre-paid card (or whatever denomination fits your usage). Your outlay will be about $60, and if you’re not heavy handed with your calls (and if you take advantage of free airtime minutes on weekends that come with many pre-paid cards), you’ll be MUCH better off than using your Australian phone in the US. Sure, you might have to spend an hour or two getting the runaround with activating the phone, but it’s worth it to save potentially thousands of dollars.

BTW, I believe you can flip your SIM card out of your Australian phone and put it into your el cheapo one, though I haven’t done this. This means that you don’t have to re-enter all your contacts etc. However, you have to remember to flip that SIM card out of your el cheapo phone before using your Australian phone when you land back home, otherwise you probably won’t be able to make calls.

See also:

Update June 2010: My Aussie friend Kirsty Tweeted about her data charge for a 6 minute data session while in the US: “Got phone bill from US trip. Ouch. 1*6 MINUTE data session = $AUD 120. Ouchy ouch ouch.”

Update August 2010: Some of the comments on this news story are seriously scary — a $8500 phone bill for ONE WEEK in Malaysia, for example:

Update January 2011: News report on replacing your SIM card when overseas to avoid horrendous phone bills on your return to Australia:

[Links last checked January 2011]


More inexplicable pricing

May 16, 2010

I’ve spoken about Adobe’s inexplicable pricing model and Australian book prices before, but today it’s the turn of a more generalist consumer product — a magazine from the US.

I picked up a copy of Quilting Arts from the local newsagent last week. The sticker price was AU$16.95 for one issue. The price printed on the cover was US$7.99 (AU$9.01 today according to So how does the newsagent justify that massive AU$8.00 price increase, which, by my calculations is an increase of nearly 200% on the exchange rate price? It can’t just be postage/freight/shipping — I think there must be lots of hands this magazine goes through, each of whom are taking their small cut.

I looked through the magazine and saw that I can subscribe directly for US$24 a year for 6 issues (US$4.00 an issue, half the printed price on the cover). They charge an extra US$20 per year for international postage, bring the total for 6 issues to US$44 (US$7.33/AU$8.25 an issue — posted directly to me). That means that if I order the magazine direct from publishers, I can get it for less than half the price I would pay at my local newsagents.

I like to support local businesses, but where there’s a compelling reason to buy from overseas, I will. In this case, the pricing is the tipping point for me. There’s no added value that the newsagent brings to this publication, so I can see no justification for such an increase on the printed cover price, and an even greater increase on the subscription + international postage price.

[Links last checked May 2010]


Funny typography photo

May 15, 2010

Janice G on the Austechwriters email discussion list shared this funny photo from with the group:

[Links last checked May 2010]


How much can documentation save in support calls?

May 14, 2010

Technical writers have often used the argument that good task-based documentation saves on support calls, and thus money (by reducing the need for an overly large support team). But while this argument has been put forward for many years, there’s not really been much in the way of ‘evidence’ to back it up.

With Google Analytics (and the like) you can track the use of your web-based documentation, which is a start. But even with these stats, making the connection between documentation and reduced support calls has been a bit of a black art. Until now…

Ellis Pratt and the good folks at Cherryleaf in the UK, have put together an online calculator where you can put in *your* variables and get an estimated cost of the savings made by reducing support calls with documentation.

The currency symbol used in the online calculator is UK pounds, but just mentally substitute dollars or whatever your currency symbol is. The results may surprise you!

(Click on the image to go to the online calculator.)

[Links last checked May 2010]


1000th post!

May 13, 2010

This is my 1000th post on this blog. Who’d have thought? Not me!;-)

When I started this blog at the beginning of 2008, my intention was to write one post a day for as long as I could. I didn’t know how long that would last.  I figured that 365 articles a year was a big task — especially for someone working full-time — so I thought the ‘one post a day’ promise to myself might last a couple of months.

But here we are — 1000 posts later, and I haven’t missed a day! In fact, in my first year I often posted twice in one day, but that’s rare now since I discovered how to post-date a post in WordPress.

Not only has this blog hit the 1000 posts milestone, but I get between 800 and 1000 visits each work day, mostly from people looking to solve Microsoft Word issues. Since September 2009 (and not counting January 2010), my monthly visits have averaged around 23,150. January 2010 topped at some 34,800 visits!

So I must be doing something right.

However, keeping up with writing a blog post per day is tiring, so I won’t hold myself to that from now on. There will be some days when I don’t post — and that’s OK.

One of the reasons I started this blog was as an ‘aide memoire’ for myself — a place to jot down all those things I learn that I know I’ll forget some 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years down the track! It’s become a brain dump for me, and there are very few work days when I don’t consult my own blog for how to do something that I know I solved in the past. This blog is my ‘little black book’ of hints and tips and tricks, and even if no-one else finds it useful, it’s helped me numerous times.

Thanks for reading and sharing your 900+ comments.

See also:


Assumption: The US *is* the world

May 12, 2010

Like most of the world’s 6 or 7 billion people, I don’t live in the US. I have visited it often, have family and many friends there, and I love the place and its people. But sometimes the attitude of *some* Americans just annoys the hell out of me! There’s an assumption amongst *some* web designers/developers, for example, that the US *is* the world and that nowhere else exists. Otherwise, how can you account for frustrating user experiences like the one we experienced the other day with Rolling Stone‘s website.

Yes, Rolling Stone. That venerable magazine of the music industry, available from newsagents throughout much of the world. The same magazine that talks about music and musicians throughout the world, not just the US. The same magazine that put out a press release on April 19, 2010 to the *world’s* media that told them about making their entire archive of the magazine available on the internet. Our state’s newspaper (in Australia) picked up this press release and ran a small article about Rolling Stone‘s ‘All Access’ archive; I also heard something about it on the radio.

My husband collects information about rock music from the mid-1960s onwards — artists, producers, who played what instrument on what album etc.; the kind of ‘Credits’ information you used to get on album liners in the days when there were album liners. So he was mightily interested in this Rolling Stone archive! He checked it out on their website and found that the subscription was about $25 a year, which is pretty good value for a ‘music detective’ like him. As he’s not comfortable with filling in forms and putting credit card and personal information on to a website, he asked me to help him. And it was during that process  that I got mad — mad enough to write this blog post and to Tweet about Rolling Stone‘s #fail.

Here’s why… Nowhere on their website, their Terms, etc. does it state that ONLY US residents can subscribe to ‘All Access‘. Residents in other countries CANNOT sign up and pay for this service. The screen shots and steps we took below show what we encountered.

Nothing here about ‘All Access’ being available to US residents only.

When I tried to click on the Terms link, I got this message (!). Clicking OK took me to the Terms window.

The Terms have nothing about non-US residents either, so we’re still assuming we can subscribe.

In fact, these General Provisions imply that other countries are included.

Before you can subscribe to All Access, you have to register. For this screen shot, I put in a fake name, email address, and birth date, but the postal code is legitimate for Australia.

My postal code was accepted on the registration screen, so now we’re through to the subscription sign-up screen, have filled in the required details (except state — only US states are listed; we *can’t* choose a state so we choose the blank option), and are ready to pay our money! (Note: The personal details and VISA number used in this screen shot are fake, but when we tried it for real, we used correct details.)

Despite entering a postal code and a VISA number (remember, we *can’t* enter a state as we don’t reside in the US), we get this error message and can go no further.

Some questions for Rolling Stone:

  • Why weren’t we told before we started that this ‘All Access’ facility was only for US residents?
  • Why was our postal code accepted on the registration form but not the subscription form?
  • Why did we get told that the postal code was not legitimate when it is (in Australia)?
  • Why are we berated for not entering a state when we *can’t* as only US states are listed? And what’s this about a ‘Province’? The error message tells us to enter a valid state or province, but there are NO Canadian provinces listed either, so you’ve pissed off the Canadians as well.
  • Why are we berated for not entering a credit card number when we did?

I guess one solution to this inability to subscribe would be to lie and make up a fake US address, though I still doubt our Australian VISA card number would be accepted (I had a similar issue some years ago on Orbtiz — it seems that the first digits of the Visa card designate the bank/country of origin and some places block numbers that aren’t from the US!).

After this experience, I felt like a second class citizen — someone who didn’t matter. That’s not a nice feeling.

This is a call to all web developers/designers:

  • If your company has restrictions on who can access your services, please tell us that BEFORE we get most of the way through the process.
  • Please don’t tell us that our details are incorrect when they are… in our country.
  • If you sell to everywhere in the world, then don’t put up barriers to access such as a list of states that ONLY shows US states, then requires you to select one of them or be rejected. If your research shows that most of your subscribers are in the US, then include ‘International’ or ‘Other country’ or similar in the list of states for the few of us who live in another country but still want to subscribe/join/participate/whatever.
  • If a subscriber chooses ‘International’, then DO NOT run the validation that checks the postal code/city against the state. It will always fail.
  • If a subscriber enters a credit card number, then check that it’s valid by using the checksum algorithm and not the first x digits that identify the credit card’s origin.

BTW, we found an email address for subscription issues and emailed Rolling Stone asking how non-US residents can subscribe to ‘All Access’. Two weeks later and we still haven’t had even a reply acknowledging receipt of our email! They obviously don’t want our money.

Rolling Stone — FAIL!

Update: Three weeks later they responded to the email saying that access is only for US residents ‘at this time’. Why did it take three weeks to respond to a simple question with a simple answer? Why release a press release to the world, when only US residents can access this database ‘at this time’? Why is there nothing on these pages to say so?

[Links last checked May 2010]


Unread messages in Inbox

May 11, 2010

I was at a client site the other day for a meeting. The meeting coordinator — a reasonably high-level manager — had his Outlook displayed on the screen at one stage and I noticed that he had more than 1,800 UNREAD emails in his primary Inbox!

He used folders to organize his emails, but those bold ‘unread’ emails in his main Inbox were a worry — you’ve got to wonder how he can deal with the psychological trauma of seeing that number every day and knowing he had to respond to all those people, or take action as a result of each email.

I always have a few (usually fewer than 10) ‘unreads’ in my main Inbox — I’ve actually read them, but because I need to do something about them, I mark them as ‘unread’ so they stand out from the crowd. But more than 1,800? That’d do my head in…

How many unread emails do YOU have in your Inbox?