Archive for April, 2012


Word: Compare documents not working

April 30, 2012

I’ve been working with Word for a couple of decades (!) now, but still it surprises me with what it can do. There are some things I rarely use (such as mail merge), so I’m not familiar with how they work, and then there are other things I just didn’t even realize were in Word — like ‘compare documents’ — because I’ve never had any need to use those features.

However, a work colleague uses Word’s compare function quite often and was having trouble when comparing two versions of the same document. She asked me for help, and then I discovered the value and the speed of the ‘compare’ function.

But first, I got the same error as her (“Word was unable to compare the documents”) when I tried to compare these documents on my computer, thus eliminating her PC as the problem, but once I’d changed some settings, everything worked superbly.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I first tried to compare the two documents without making any changes to them and keeping all the default settings for the comparison. To compare two documents, go to the Review tab, Compare group, click the Compare button, then select the Compare… option.
  2. I browsed to the two documents, left all the settings as they were, then clicked OK.
  3. After a minute or two of processing, I got the same error that my colleague got.
  4. Document A (the original version) had been created in Word 2003 and so was a *.doc document. To eliminate that as the reason for the error, I saved it as a *.docx document. This reduced the file size considerably (a side bonus).
  5. I also accepted all track changes in Document A, then saved Document A under a different name (just so I didn’t mess up the original!).
  6. Document B (the revised version, and already a *.docx document) also had Track Changes turned on, so I accepted all those and saved that document with a new name too.
  7. I then ran the compare again, again with all the default settings selected, but still I got the error.
  8. I tried again, this time clearing all the check boxes for the things that didn’t need to be reported as a change in the final document. This time it worked!

For this 250p document, the comparison took very little time (maybe a minute or so) and I got a document that showed all the changes I’d selected to report in the new document. I still had to accept the formatting changes for the tables and the cross-reference field changes, but that was all.

If you ever get this error message when trying to compare document versions, turn off some of the default selections for comparison and run it again.

For the reasons why there were still table formatting changes marked even though I’d turned off formatting, see this blog post that details the ‘hierarchy’ of what gets turned on and off when you change these settings:

[Links last checked April 2012]


Excel: Convert seconds to minutes

April 27, 2012

You’d think that converting seconds to minutes in an Excel spreadsheet would be simple, but it’s not. You can’t just divide by 60 — the result of that will be minutes and decimal fractions of a minute, not minutes and seconds. For example, if you divide 78 seconds by 60, you get 1.3, but 1.3 is NOT the same as 1:18 (1 minute and 18 seconds). Likewise, 247 seconds divided by 60 is 4.11, whereas 247 seconds is actually 4 minutes and 7 seconds. If you only have a couple to do, no big deal — just figure it out in your head. But if you have hundreds or thousands of these conversions, you need a formula for doing that.

To convert seconds to minutes, you have to divide the seconds by the total number of seconds in a day, then tell Excel to display the result in mm:ss format. Simple, huh? ;-)

Here’s what I did…

  1. Column G in the screen shot below has a long list of seconds. Because I need to reference column G and put the results into a new column, I inserted a new column (H) and called it mm:ss.
  2. However, inserting a new column isn’t enough — I have to format the cells in that column so that they display the result in minutes and seconds. To format the column, select the column header, right-click on it, select Format Cells, select Custom on the Number tab, then select mm:ss from the list of types. Click OK.
  3. Go to the first cell in the new column that pairs with a cell in the seconds column. In my example, that was H4.
  4. In the formula bar, type =G4/86400 then press Enter. The seconds convert into minutes and seconds! (But where does that 86400 come from? That’s the number of seconds in a day — 60 x 60 x 24 = 86400. And the G4 was the reference cell for my H4 cell.)
  5. Now, click in the H4 cell and ‘grab’ the bottom right handle of the cell marker and drag it down the other cells in column H. (See below for how to apply it to ALL cells in the column.)

  6. When you release the mouse, all those cells you dragged this formula over will be converted to minutes and seconds.

To apply this formula to the entire column:

  1. Copy (Ctrl+C) the result in the first cell with the formula (H4 in my example).
  2. Select the entire column (column H in my example) by selecting the column header.
  3. Paste (Ctrl+V).
  4. You’ll have to rename the column back to mm:ss, but you’ll have that formula now applied to every row of your spreadsheet.

These sites helped me figure out what to do:

[Links last checked April 2012]


Word: More find and replace with wildcards

April 20, 2012

I needed to make a global change to some text that the author had written incorrectly (i.e. not according to our house style guide).


They had written [Ref 1] for a reference instead of our style of [Ref. 1], which not only has a full stop (period) after the f but also uses a non-breaking space to separate the full stop and the following numeral. All the numbers were different. Some were a single number, while those from References 10 and higher were two-digit numbers. There were a LOT of references like this in the document.

So I used my knowledge of find and replace wildcards to globally make the change in just a few seconds.


This solution works in Word 2003, Word 2007, and Word 2010.

  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)( )([0-9])
    Note: There is only ONE space in this string — it’s between the two parentheses that don’t appear to enclose anything. The 0-9 bit is a zero, not an ‘o’ for orange.
  3. In the Replace with field, type: \1.^s\3
    Note: There are NO spaces in this string and the s must be in lower case. Don’t forget the full stop!
  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:

  • (Ref) looks for the string of letters: Ref
  • ( ) looks for a space immediately after Ref (i.e. no punctuation)
  • ([0-9]) looks for any number that follows immediately after Ref and its following space. The square brackets indicate a range — in this case any number from 0 to 9 will be found. It doesn’t matter whether the numbers are one or two-digit numbers — the critical thing the find/replace is looking for is any numeral after Ref<space>.
  • \1 replaces the first part of the Find string with itself (in other words, Ref gets replaced with Ref)
  • .^s replaces the second part of the Find string (the space) with a full stop followed immediately by a non-breaking space. For a non-breaking space, you MUST use a lower case s and precede it with the ^ (Shift+6). Note: If you just want an ordinary space — not a non-breaking one — then use \2 instead of .^s.
  • \3 replaces the third part of the Find string with itself (in other words, the number found gets replaced with the same number).

WritersUA Conference 2012

April 17, 2012

Better late than never… Here are my notes from the 2012 WritersUA Conference I attended from March 11 to 15 in Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve been snowed under with work since I got back and just didn’t have time to blog about the conference until now.

Day 1

Opening session (Joe Welinske and panel)

As he’s done for the past few years, Joe opened the conference with an interactive Q&A session, gauging the pulse of the room from the answers we submitted via a wireless clicker to questions that he and the panel asked about our use of technology, user assistance, etc.

As someone who works from home, I was most interested in the responses to the question about telecommuting. However, the results were pretty much the same as the previous two years, when 12% said they telecommuted full-time; this year that figure increased marginally to 13%, but the figure for telecommuting part of the work week seems to have increased so maybe more employers are realizing that you don’t have to watch someone like a hawk to get good productivity from them.

Other interesting snippets from my notes:

  • Most attendees used an iPhone, but Android’s share is increasing, while those who admitted to using a Windows Phone were negligible.
  • Interestingly, after HTML Help’s dominance in software for many years, 90% of attendees reported that they no longer produce it; 63% reported high or moderate usage of browser-based Help; 68% reported high or moderate usage of PDF; 60% reported high or moderate usage of multimedia; and 76% reported minimal or no usage of printed documentation (excluding PDF).

Embedding User Experience in the Product Development Life Cycle (Michael Hughes)

Mike Hughes’ presentation focused on how user experience (UX) can positively influence the various development phases in the product life cycle (requirements definition, design and validation, development and testing, and deployment and support). He gave examples of opportunities where UX professionals can offer value. Some takeaways:

  • Requirements are a terrible way to communicate about a product — they tend to be manager-driven and focus on design and ‘how to’, whereas they should focus on what the user needs to accomplish. At Mike’s organization they replaced requirements docs with scenario/solution docs.
  • Will the customer find value in ‘the new thing’? If you have a new product idea, check first if customers want to pay for it (and how much they are prepared to pay) AND if it can be built.
  • UX people have a role as ‘interpreters of the law’ (i.e. standards, compliance)
  • User data — nice to talk about, but very hard to get
  • As users, we typically assume we’re stupid because someone made it easier for us to do it wrong than do it right.

CSS Current techniques and the Promise of CSS3 (Mike Hamilton)

Mike Hamilton outlined some of the things that were available now in CSS that we may not be aware of, and some of the new things promised in CSS3. While some browsers support CSS3 already, others don’t, or only some features so far.

Highlights of current CSS:

  • Multiple list level styles for nested lists
  • Simple explanation of the box model (TIP: make the borders visible before adjusting margins or padding — you can always make them invisible later)
  • Indent control
  • The power of DIVs
  • Captions
  • Keep with next (e.g. use page-break-inside: avoid; in a DIV class called nobreak)
  • Positioned content and the float attribute (e.g. for a non-scrolling region)

Coming in CSS3 (some already available, but use with care as not universal browser support):

  • Curved borders
  • Text handling — word-wrap and text-overflow
  • Fonts — using @font-face

HTML5 and CSS3 to the Point (Scott DeLoach)

Tying in nicely with Mike Hamilton’s presentation was Scott’s. He started with a list of elements in HTML5 and CSS3 that are supported in the various browsers, with examples of syntax for many of them. He also covered mobile- and print-specific styles, and other goodies.

The Very Cool Adobe Captivate Effects Feature (Joe Ganci)

Joe discussed and demonstrated the new Effects feature that is available in Captivate 5 and later versions. He demonstrated:

  • Slide transitions
  • Object and object path effects (tints, colors, motion paths, etc.).

Day 2

I only attended two sessions today as there was little in the afternoon sessions that appealed to me — instead, my friend Char and I played hooky and went to Graceland and did the historical walking tour of The Peabody. Both were awesome!

eBook Production Workflows (Joshua Tallent)

I didn’t expect this session to focus on InDesign as much as it did, so I was a bit disappointed with the direction and content of much of it (I don’t use InDesign). That said, Joshua knows his stuff! Some takeaways:

  • Most HTML5 and CSS3 features are not possible in eBooks — EPUB2 and EPUB3 specifications have not adopted them
  • InDesign is was designed for print, not eBook production, so there are a lot of tweaks you need to make either before or after eBook processing. InDesign CS5.5 is better at eBook production.
  • Lot of steps to convert EPUB to Kindle format; same for authoring in XML first. Joshua detailed these steps.

Adding Gusto to Glossaries (Leah Guren)

Even though she was likely very jet-lagged (she’d arrived in the US only hours before the conference started), Leah’s enthusiasm and energy shone through in her presentation on glossaries. And we even got a chance to create our own definitions, which was harder than it seems. Leah discussed:

  • what should terms should go into a glossary (product and feature terms, workflow concepts [including task terms, action verbs with special use, audience/user group names], domain concepts [technical terms, concepts, acronyms]
  • what should go into an effective definition (classification [what sort of thing the thing is], right length [not too broad/narrow nor self-referential], an example/analogy).

Day 3

ePub: Pulling it all together (Scott Prentice)

Scott opened his session with some EPUB basics, talked about popular reader applications and dedicated reader devices, then got into the meat of his session looking at the structure of an EPUB file, how to create one, major EPUB authoring and conversion tools, etc. Most of the rest of his session was on tweaking the EPUB file and best practices. The final part of his very informative session looked at packaging and validating the EPUB before publishing/distributing it.

Like Joshua on Day 2, Scott advised us to create in EPUB2 format as support for EPUB3 by the authoring tools and reader devices is patchy at best.

Minimalist Writing to Improve Writing and Translation Workflows (Bernard Aschwanden)

I hadn’t been to one of Bernard’s sessions before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a dynamic and energetic speaker who knew his stuff.

This first session I attended was subtitled ‘Reduce Content to Reduce Documentation and Training Cost’ and that’s exactly what he focused on. He gave us some best practice advice, then showed lots of examples of minimalist writing, using a large healthcare organization for his case study. He then translated the reduction in words into monetary terms, particularly the huge savings in translation costs and reuse into training materials, but also the unquantifiable benefit of clearer, simpler instructions.

Metrics to Document the Costs of Documentation (Bernard Aschwanden

Bernard’s second session was on measuring documentation (time, costs, resources, productivity, quality, efficiency, customer satisfaction, etc.). He focused on getting a baseline of ‘what is’ so that later comparisons can be done to see whether improvements have been made.

He warned us against using any sort of ‘per page’ model as it is fraught with all sorts of exceptions (different page/font sizes, layouts, illustrations etc.). Likewise, he cautioned against a ‘per topic’ model for measurement as some topics are more complex than others, and may be written by authors with various skills.

He then looked at methods of identifying critical costs, determining what information units you will apply costs against and how you will apply these, then showed us an comprehensive Excel spreadsheet of costs for a particular organization.

Other conference factors

Conference sessions are the prime reason for attending a ‘face-to-face’ conference, but plenty of other less tangible benefits accrue from attending. There’s the social networking, the catching up with old friends and making new ones, and the sense of belonging to a group of people who actually understand what you’re talking about! It helps that this conference provides breakfast and lunch each day, as there is a lot of opportunity for making the most of those less tangible benefits. While the sessions go from around 8:30 am to after 4 pm, I was typically out of my room from 8 am and was rarely in bed before 11 pm.

Full kudos and congratulations must go to Joe Welinske and his lovely wife Shannon, who together organized this conference down to the last detail. This was Joe’s 20th year and he’s got the process down to a fine art. That said, something can always go wrong, but if it did, none of us who were attending were aware of it.

Joe and Shannon are also to be congratulated on the inspired choice of The Peabody Hotel in Memphis as the conference venue. The WritersUA conference is usually held somewhere on or near the west coast of the US (Las Vegas is the furthest inland I can recall in recent years), so to hold it in Tennessee was stepping out of their comfort zone. The Peabody was a wonderful venue, made even more special by the renowned southern hospitality of its staff.


Windows Media Player database

April 16, 2012

My husband’s data drive (D:) crashed a couple of weeks back. He got his computer back late last week, with a new hard drive. The old D: drive was irrecoverable (scratched on the inner circle of the platter and even the ‘almost 100% guarantee’ data recovery people couldn’t get the data off it). His C: drive was fine, which meant we didn’t have to have a complete OS reinstall plus the agony of reinstalling all his apps. But D: was where he stored his data. He lost a LOT of documents about musicians, songwriters, discographies, etc. as well as all his music files.

While he had a backup from some months ago, he asked me if he could get a listing from his Windows Media Player (v11) of the albums he had added since the last backup. Not so easy at first glance, though I was able to find a way after some Googling.

Here’s how to get a copy of the database and a text listing of everything in the database (but WITHOUT the metadata, unfortunately).

  1. DO NOT open Windows Media Player (WMP) until you are told to in these steps. (Step 4). If you have the ‘delete files’ option turned on, as soon as you open WMP and it can’t find the files, it will start deleting them before your eyes!
  2. Make a copy of the *.wmdb file (in Windows XP, this database is located here: C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Player — this may be a hidden folder for you, so make sure you turn off the setting to hide system and hidden folders).
  3. Paste the copy of the database (the *.wmdb file) to another location for safekeeping (e.g. somewhere else on the computer, a thumb drive, an external hard drive, etc.).
  4. Open WMP and IMMEDIATELY go to Tools > Options > Library and TURN OFF the Delete files from my computer check box and click Apply. Do this as quick as you can, because if it is turned on, it will start deleting unfound files straight away.
  5. Now turn off these options in WMP too (I’m not sure if they made any difference, but with them all turned off, none of the listings in the WMP library database disappeared):
    • Tools > Options > Devices: turn off the When deleting playlists option
    • Tools > Options > Library > Monitor Folders > Advanced — select the drive that no longer exists and click Remove. You can add that drive back in later after you’ve copied across whatever you’ve got still remaining from your backup.
  6. Close WMP.
  7. Go to the Microsoft site and download and install the Winter Player Pack 2003 (
  8. Once installed, WMP re-opens with the Media Info Exporter window hovering nearby.
  9. Click Properties on the Media Info Exporter window and choose the application to use to open the list (Excel is selected by default) and give the text file a name and location. Leave the encoding as it is. Close the Properties dialog.
  10. Click Export.
  11. Media Info Exporter exports all the main data (titles, albums, artists, file format, bit rate, etc.) to a text file and opens the text file in Excel. Save it as an XLS file. (This export takes only seconds.)

You now have a list of everything that was in your WMP library database.

What you don’t have is all the metadata that you may have added, altered etc. This is the blood, sweat and tears for anyone who’s into music ‘liner notes’ data, so it’s loss will be sorely felt. This was a very hard lesson for my husband who has been collecting this sort of music metadata information for years.

Supposedly the Metadata Backup software is meant to back up that metadata ready to restore it, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get more than one song listed in the resulting XML file, even though the software told me it had backed up 70 of my test MP3 files.

And yes, he now has two external backup drives with software installed to automatically back up changes to files as he makes them…

See also:

[Links last checked April 2012]


Minimal punctuation

April 13, 2012

Another post inspired by a writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues.


Bottom line: Eliminate unnecessary punctuation, as long as it doesn’t change your meaning

The most recent edition of the Australian ‘Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers’ (2002) advocates the use of ‘minimal punctuation’. However, ‘minimal punctuation’ doesn’t mean NO punctuation, nor does it mean removing punctuation that might change meaning. What it does mean is getting rid of punctuation that serves no particular purpose and that is possibly a hangover from your school or university days.

Full stops (p97): Do not use a full stop (‘period’ in the US) after:

  • headings
  • page headers and footers
  • lists that comprise short items
  • captions
  • certain types of shortened forms (see below for examples)
  • symbols for units of measurement.

Shortened forms (p152–153):

Type Description Punctuation Examples
abbreviations first letter of a word, perhaps some other letters, but NOT the last letter use a full stop after the abbreviation Mon., Dec., fig., no., etc., e.g., Vic.
contractions first and last letters, sometimes other letters in between no full stop Mr, Dr, Qld, Rd, dept, Cth
acronyms strings of initial letters pronounced as a word no full stops ASEAN, TAFE, Qantas, SIMOPS, SEWPaC
initialisms strings of initial letters NOT pronounced as a word no full stops WA, QMS, ROV, MOF, LNG
symbols such as SI units no full stop km, %, kW, mL
academic degrees/qualifications no full stops or spaces BA, BEng, BSc, CPA, PhD

Bullet lists (p142):

  • colon (:) immediately after the lead-in to clarify the link between the lead-in and the information that follows
  • no punctuation at the end of dot points that are not ALL full sentences (exception: the last point takes a full stop to show that the series is complete)

On a related note, the Australian  Style Manual (p144) states that ‘there is no need to add and at the end of the second-last dot point. …the clear wording of the lead-in material [is] sufficient to show the relationship between various items. … A carefully worded lead-in is also usually sufficient to show when dot points are being presented as alternatives [and thus or is also often not required].’


(Of course, you may use quite a different style guide and its instructions — especially regarding bullet list punctuation — may well be contradictory to this advice. Always follow your own organization’s style guide.)


Office 2010: Paste Options button not displaying

April 12, 2012

I have a new computer and I’ve installed Office 2010 on it. I was setting up a template for a client over the Easter weekend when I noticed that the hovering Paste Options button in Word 2010 never displayed and all I could get on the Paste icon on the ribbon was ‘paste as unformatted text’. That’s not usually a big deal as I often want to ‘paste as text’, but not always.

I compared my Word 2010 settings on my new Windows 7 PC with my Word 2010 settings on my Vista laptop (which did have the Paste Options hover button); the settings were EXACTLY the same, so something else was at play here.

Off to my friend Google, and after a few fruitless hits, I found the solution… and it’s not what you’d expect! In fact, it’s so far removed from what you’d expect that I’m surprised the person who found the answer even twigged that a small setting in Program A might be affecting a small setting in Program B (Word 2010 in my case, but all the Office 2010 products too).

And what’s the solution? A Skype add-on to all browsers that makes a phone number clickable to make a Skype call! Who knew??

So here’s what I did to get my Paste Options button back:

  1. Closed Word 2010.
  2. Opened Skype, went to Tools > Advanced > Advanced Settings and cleared the check box for Use Skype to call callto: links on the web. (I’m not 100% sure that this did anything, but I figured I should turn it off anyway.)
  3. Opened Firefox and went to the Add-ons Manager and disabled the Skype Click to Call add-in. Restarted Firefox when asked to do so.
  4. Opened Internet Explorer, clicked the settings icon (cog in top right of screen in IE9), selected Manage add-ons, selected Skype Click to Call and then clicked Disable. I didn’t have to restart IE9.
  5. Opened Word 2010 and tried pasting some text from another source. It worked! I had my Paste Options button back!

Please note: You have to disable this add-on in ALL browsers on your computer, including IE, even if you don’t use IE. I initially only disabled it on Firefox but I still couldn’t get the Paste Options button to display. I had to disable it on IE9 as well. Then it worked.

I found the solution to this issue here:

I sincerely thank Martin who somehow figured out that a Skype browser add-on was affecting a setting in Office 2010. That was a moment of pure serendipitous genius.