Tag Archives: 2016

Excel 2016 – how to fill a series… backwards

I’ve used Excel for a very long time, but I literally just discovered this neat trick so I’m going to share. ðŸ™‚

Ok, to start at the beginning, I started an Excel spreadsheet to create a super accurate timeline of the Vokhtah story. To track the number of days of the timeline, I created a column and ‘filled’ it with a sequence of numbers. Most people know how to do this but I’ll cover it nonetheless:

Step 1 Type in two consecutive numbers and then select both together:

Selecting these two consecutive numbers tells Excel the step order – i.e. 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4 etc. If you typed in 10 followed by 20, Excel would know the step order was 10 + 10 = 20, 20 + 10 = 30, etc.

Once Excel knows the step order, clicking and holding the small square [as shown below] allows you to drag that step order to as many cells as you wish:

In the screenshot above, I dragged the handle down to the 7th cell, filling all the cells with the correct sequence of numbers.

So far so good? Stay with me. This is where it gets exciting. Being able to fill a series of cells with consecutive numbers was perfect for tracking how many days there were in the timeline, but that didn’t help me work out on which calendar day the journey/story began.

To put this as simply as possible, imagine a task takes you 10 days to complete, and you finish it on the last day of March [which has 31 days]. Now imagine if someone asked you which day of the month you started the task. If it’s only a few days you can easily count backwards, but if it’s more than a few days, you might have to drag out a calendar to work it out.

On Vokhtah, there are no months per se. Instead, there are 4 seasons which have an irregular number of days. Book 1 of Vokhtah takes place during the season of Tohoh, which has 100 days. To find out which calendar day the story began, I needed to do a backwards fill. This is how I did it.

1. Click in a vacant cell.
2. Look at the top right corner of the Excel toolbar and click the small arrow next to the ‘Fill’ icon:

This will display a small, drop down menu.

1. Select the ‘UP’ option from the drop down menu.
2. Now type the last number of your desired fill sequence in the cell.
3. Next, type the second last number of your desired fill sequence in the next cell up.
4. Select both cells.
5. Click-hold-drag the small square box UP to fill the cells from last to first [or any point in between]:

In the example shown above, I only dragged the small square as far as the number 4. In my real spreadsheet I dragged it from 100:

to Tohoh 42 – i.e. the day of the season on which the journey/story began:

I know a lot of writers out there will be shaking their heads right about now. “Use a spreadsheet? No way!”

To be honest, as a pantster, I would never have thought of using a spreadsheet to work out how the story should progress. But once I started writing books in a series, I had to make sure that info. in the first book married up to info in the second and third books. And that’s where Excel comes in because it allows me to outline in reverse.

So there you have it. Outlining in reverse aided by a backwards fill from Excel. It’s been a good day. ðŸ™‚

cheers,
Meeks

How to Modify Styles in Word 2016

The following excerpt is from my unpublished how-to called ‘How to print your book with Createspace, a step-by-step guide for Absolute Beginners’. The specific instructions are for the layout of a book, but you can change the settings to be appropriate for any document.

# # #

Word Styles

Styles contain pre-set groups of commands that determine how headings and paragraphs appear.

The most commonly used Word styles are found on the Home tab, in the Style gallery [as shown below]:

Even if you did not select any of the styles in the Style Gallery while writing your book, there is one style that you would have used without even being aware of it. That style is â€˜Normalâ€™.

Note: the only time the Normal Style is not used automatically in a Word document is when the document originated in another software program and was imported into Word. For example, the Windows program â€˜Notepadâ€™ creates documents in Rich Text Format. RTF documents can be opened in Word but the Normal style must be applied manually.

Every time you create a new document in Word, it automatically sets that document to the â€˜Normalâ€™ style settings. These include:

• the default font [Calibri],
• the font size [11],
• the font colour [automatic â€“ i.e. black],
• the text alignment [left]
• and a host of other less immediately visible options.

As part of the design process, you can modify some of these options for your book.

Modifying the â€˜Normalâ€™ style

In Word, the easiest way to modify an existing style is to right click on its name in the style gallery. This will cause a small menu to be displayed. On that menu is an option called â€˜Modifyâ€™:

To change elements of the â€˜Normalâ€™ style in your document, right click â€˜Normalâ€™ in the Style gallery and select the â€˜Modifyâ€™ option from the drop down list [as shown above].

You should now see the â€˜Modify Styleâ€™ dialog box:

The first thing to note is the radio button down near the bottom left corner of the dialog box. The option â€˜Only in this documentâ€™ is pre-selected to ensure that any changes made to the â€˜Normalâ€™ style of this document do not become standard for all Â Word documents.

Editing the style name

Up near the top of the dialog box you will see the style name. Editing the name is not necessary, but it can be useful as a reminder that the style was changed.

To change the name of the style, simply click inside the Name text box and type in a new one.

Editing the font, size, colour and alignment

You can change the font and font size just as you would on the Home tab. Remember to also select the â€˜Justifyâ€™ alignment option.

To change the colour of the font, click the small arrow next to the box that says â€˜Automaticâ€™ [as shown below]:

Click the colour of your choice or leave it as Automatic, i.e. black.

Editing the paragraph options

All of the less common stylistic functions are hidden behind the â€˜Formatâ€™ button which is located on the bottom left hand side of the Modify Style window.

Click â€˜Formatâ€™ and select the â€˜Paragraphâ€™ option from the menu:

The paragraph dialog box is now displayed:

As you can see from the screenshot, the alignment is already shown as â€˜Justifiedâ€™ because we set it in the first dialog box along with the font and font size.

Indentation – leave the Left and Right settings at zero, but under â€˜Specialâ€™, click the small blue arrow [as shown above]. Now select the â€˜First lineâ€™ option from the drop-down menu. For By: type or select an indent width for the first line of the paragraph.

Check the preview pane to see how the first line indent appears.

Spacing – ensure that â€˜Beforeâ€™ and â€˜Afterâ€™ are both set to zero. These numbers control the blank spaces inserted before and after each paragraph.

Finally, make sure that the â€˜Line spacingâ€™ is set to â€˜Singleâ€™. When you are satisfied, click the â€˜OKâ€™ button.

If you are using Word 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016, any text already using the â€˜Normalâ€™ style will be automatically updated to the new settings..

In earlier versions of Word you may have to manually update the text using the modified style.

# # #

These same techniques can be used to edit any of the Word Styles, not just ‘Normal’.

cheers

Meeks

How to fix an error setting the bottom margin in Word 16

It’s always the little things…

If you keep getting an error message when you try to set the bottom margin of your Word document below a certain measurement… disconnect your printer.

Yes, that’s right, disconnect the printer, and not just via the cable but from Windows as well.

For those using Windows 7:

1. Click the Start button,
2. Select ‘Devices and Printers’

This will display the ‘Devices and Printers’ window. Under ‘Printers and Faxes’, you will see your printer. It will have a bright green tick next to it to show it’s the default device.

2. Select ‘Remove this Device’

Now when you open Word and set the margins to the lowest pre-set measurement [1.27 cm or 0.5 inches], Word will do your bidding without bitching and going “Nah ah, not gonna happen.”

This may seem like a drastic ‘fix’, but printers are ‘plug and play’ so Windows will re-install them again without issue.

Now, why on earth would you need to completely disconnect the printer in the first place?

The reason is that Word takes the dimensions for the ‘printable’ area of a page from the printer.

This is not a problem for most Word documents, but it can be a huge problem if the printer you want to use is CreateSpace. Or, to be more exact, if you want to set non-standard margins for the book you want CreateSpace to print for you.

This is exactly the problem that’s been vexing me for days. Printing in colour is expensive so I didn’t want to waste precious page space on unnecessarily wide margins. But do you think Word would co-operate? It allowed me to set all the margins to 1.27 cm, except for one. For some reason I could not fathom, Word kept telling me that the bottom margin had to be a minimum of 1.68 cm. For my US friends, that’s 0.66 inches.

I have wasted hours of my life searching Google for an answer, and it was not until I remembered a problem we had with Word at DVLC [the community centre where I help teach computer literacy to adults] that I began to wonder if I was experiencing something similar. At DVLC, there are multiple printers, but the student workstations are not allowed to access all of them. If the wrong printer is specified for a given workstation, Word chucks a wobbly and won’t even show a print preview.

So, could the printer be the problem?

Step 1 was to disconnect the printer cable from the pc.

Success? No.

Step 2 was to get stubborn and uninstall the printer from the pc.

Success? YES!

So there you have it, a simple solution for a rare problem. You’re welcome.

cheers

Meeks

Office #Word 2016 really is a piece of…

Shyte.

What follows is a raged induced rant so look away now.

-breathe-

I’ve just wasted an hour trying to fix the Word 2016 dictionary. It started with ‘Mira Than‘.

No, actually, it started with the combination of two big episodes of Innerscape into one very BIG Word 16 document. How big? 375 pages. Apparently, Word still has issues with very big files. That’s the reason I originally migrated my writing to a dedicated writing package [StoryBox]. Unfortunately, to publish a print version of Innerscape, I have to go Word >>PDF>>Createspace.

Anyway, after spending hours wrestling with Word’s section breaks [more on that in another post], I began doing a this-is-absolutely-the-last edit, when I realised that every time I typed in Miira Tahn, Word would ‘correct’ it to ‘Mira Than’ as soon as my attention moved elsewhere.

I tried getting Word to ‘Ignore All’, but it wouldn’t – and no, it wasn’t just variations on the name, like ‘Miira Tahn‘s‘ etc. And then it began throwing up other ‘errors’, all to do with US spelling. So, naturally, I used the nifty option at the bottom of the Spell Check pane to change the dictionary back to UK spelling:

My efforts obviously confused Word because it suddenly switched to the French dictionary. -growls in rage-

The French dictionary finds every word written in English to be incorrect…

I changed the dictionary back to English UK.

Nope…Word now wants to stay in French.

I look up fixes to the problem. I attempt to reset my language preferences. I restart Word…

Now Word wants to use the US dictionary again BUT the page full of French ‘errors’ is still set to the French dictionary. And then Word stopped working.

It’s back now, but I haven’t been game to check my document in case I end up throwing the monitor across the room. There are many basic, useful formatting functions in Word, and it works well for short-ish, business type documents, but the more Microsoft tries to automate the process, the more mangled and unstable it becomes. Especially with big documents.

I hate to think how convoluted the Word code must be because Microsoft almost never delete anything. They just keep adding to it, and adding to it, and adding to it…

Sadly, while this rant did make me feel a little less homicidal, it’s only a temporary distraction from the main event. I have to get this stupid piece of shit to play nice or I may never get my hands on those lovely, shiny books. ðŸ˜¦

Thanks for letting me vent,

Meeks

Carrie Fisher – October 21, 1956 â€“ December 27, 2016

If ever I doubted my own mortality, the death of Carrie Fisher has brought it home to me.

She was only 60, and like George Michael, Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and so many other icons from my youth, she died too soon.

2016 has been a cruel year in so many ways. Nevertheless, I draw comfort from one thought – all those creative people will be remembered because they were creative. In particular, I know that long after Princess Leia is a dim and distant memory, Postcards from the Edge will live on, and with it, the book’s author, Carrie Fisher.

I read Postcards from the Edge many years ago, and the writing stayed with me when so many other works became mere footnotes to other memories. That is why I know that Carrie Fisher the writer will live on. It’s the only kind of immortality I believe in so I’ll end this post with:

Carrie Fisher, Remembered In Peace.

Meeks

Christmas 2016 – Hope not Hate

The lead up to Christmas 2016 has been grim, but I hope that from here on in, a little of humanity’s brighter side can shine through.

I don’t believe in any religion, but on a good day, I still believe in humanity. Let’s show that the Naked Ape is capable of more than just hate. Hate destroys. Only Hope has to power to build a better future.

May this Holiday Season be full of Hope, Charity and most of all, Joy.

love

Meeks

Berlin, 2016

How can you tell an act of terror? It is a violent, deadly effect without a cause.

My heart goes out the the people of Berlin who must face Christmas without loved ones whose only mistake was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ðŸ˜¦

Andrea Flory

Australia, 2016

New #music – Valkyrie by Jo Blankenburg

Valkyrie is big, epic music but with Blankenburg’s iconic melodies woven through each track. This Youtube link is to a 20 minute collection and well worth the listen:

Jo Blankenburg and Thomas Bergersen [Two Steps From Hell] both have the ability to write achingly beautiful melodies. I love these guys. Great music to edit by. ðŸ™‚

cheers

Meeks

To the mothers of Yarra Warra Pre-school in #Warrandyte [1]

Ladies, I know you have small children, and I know you’re run off your feet. You never have a minute to yourself, and sometimes you can’t even go to the loo on your own.

Am I right? I know I am. Nevertheless, as a mother too, albeit a very old one, I ask that you have a look at the questions below:

1. Do you live on a bush block – i.e. a block with a lot of native vegetation, including eucalyptus trees?
3. Has the wind blown eucalyptus leaves up against the house and fence?
4. Does your partner work during the week – i.e. is your partner away from the house from Monday to Friday?
5. Is your bushfire plan to leave?
6. Have you ever tried to reach the bridge over the Yarra during peak hour traffic?

The more times you answered ‘yes’ to these six questions, the more this post relates to you.

Questions 1 – 3 relate to how bushfire prone your house and land may be.

Questions 4 – 6 relate to what you intend to do if a bushfire threatens. In a best case scenario, the bushfire strikes during the weekend when your partner is home. You all evacuate early and the traffic moves in an orderly fashion. The fire has been an inconvenience, but it never even got close to the house so after a couple of hours, life continues as normal.

But fires do not respect human schedules, so it is far more likely that a bushfire will threaten you on the five days of the week your partner is not at home. You still plan to leave with your children, but you get stuck in the bottleneck around the bridge, along with all the others planning to leave. What then?

Or in an even worse case scenario, what if you’re human like most people, and decide to ‘wait and see’ whether it’s worthwhile packing grumpy kids into the car along with even grumpier pets. By the time you do decide to leave, getting stuck in the bottleneck over the bridge may be a million times more dangerous than staying put.

But…you always planned on leaving so neither you nor your partner bothered reducing the fuel load around your house. Now you’re stuck. You can’t leave and you can’t stay. To my mind, this is the worst possible scenario and it happened, on Black Saturday.

I’m not trying to be a scaremonger, but I am trying to burst the ‘she’ll be right’ bubble. If you want to live in Warrandyte you must plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.

And that brings me back to questions 1 – 3. Even if you plan on leaving very early on every single high fire danger day over summer, you must make sure you have a fighting chance in case things go pear-shaped and you can’t leave.

In order to have that fighting chance, you must make time to:

1. gather deadfall into heaps – in clearings, not under trees, and
2. burn the piles off while the weather is cool, damp and NOT WINDY!

Yes, ladies, I’m using the word ‘you’ for one, very good reason – no matter how conscientious your partner may be, he is only going to be available on weekends. That’s 2 days out of 7. What’s the chance that the wind is not going to blow on the day he has free? This year? Less than 50/50.

I don’t know what’s happened to the weather this year but it seems to have been blowing a gale every second day. That, or it’s pouring with rain. Clear, calm days on which it’s safe to burn off have been rare, so it’s become vital that burning off happens whenever the weather allows. Sadly that may only be during the week…when your partner is at work.

What? You expect me to light fires with tiny children hanging around my feet? Are you crazy? Not possible!

Sadly, I’m not crazy, and it is necessary. It is also possible, but not without effort.

I don’t have a small child anymore, but at 63, I know exactly how tiring this job can be because I’m the Mama-Papa in our family. In your family, you may need to ask slightly older children to help Mummy pick up sticks and put them in lots of little piles. You may have to light those tiny piles while the kids are having a nap, or are at pre-school, or with Grandma. You may have to form groups with other pre-school Mums and help each other with child minding while the rest of you do the burning off.

However you do it, though, reducing the fuel load is a must because Warrandyte is a tinderbox waiting to burn. Most of the area is densely covered in Red Box and we are only allowed to clear trees in a ten metre radius around the house. To clear any further out, we have to apply to Nillumbik council for a permit and those permits are never granted.

Red Box are eucalypt trees, and like most gums, their leaves contain volatile oils that burn exceedingly well. The idea behind this evolutionary development is that the oils help the fire sweep through quickly, burning the branches and leaves but leaving the trunk intact. Once the fire is over, eucalypts can re-grow from the trunk, not just the roots. Great for the trees, not so great for us.

The following excerpt is taken from gardening advice developed for NSW but is appropriate for Victoria as well:

Plants in the Myrtaceae family, such as Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Leptospermum, contain oil glands in the leaves and are more inclined to burn and to spread fire. Plants such as these should be well away from houses. Tall trees, at an appropriate distance from a house can make good barriers to ember attack. The key is to not plant a grove of the same species, but to have trees such as a gum tree or tea-tree in isolation with a well-cleared area below.

Here in Warrandyte, we don’t have the option of not planting ‘a grove of the same species’. For this reason, clearing the fuel load beneath the trees becomes vitally important. If we can stop a fire from getting up into the canopy, we have a fighting chance.

In the next article in this series, I’m going to assume that many women with pre-school children are as clueless about burning off [safely] as I was. I’ll explain about the best weather conditions in which to do domestic burning off, and I’ll detail how I do things.

cheers

Meeks

#gene editing vs #GMOs

I just read an article about a scientist at Umea university in Sweden who was given permission to grow ‘gene edited’ cabbage in his own garden because…gene editing is not the same as genetic modification.

The regulations around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products have been tricky to navigate, and plants that fall within the definition of a GMO effectively can’t be grown in the field in Europe.

To overcome this, the team at Umea University appealed to the Swedish Board of Agriculture to allow its particular strain of cabbage to fall outside the definition of a GMO. And it worked: since the mutation that causes a lack of the PsbS protein is naturally occurring in some cases, simply intervening to deliberately switch it off is acceptable, as long as no foreign DNA is introduced.

And therein lies the supposed difference between edited and modified genes:

• modified genes have something added,
• edited genes merely have something turned off.

The fact that both techniques produce a change in the DNA of the organism is, apparently, ‘a mere technicality, Mr dear Watson’.

I am no geneticist, but I am interested in the field and I can remember when it was thought that genes were all that mattered. In fact, large sections of DNA were considered to be ‘junk’ because they did not ‘do’ anything. Then, as years went by, scientists discovered that this ‘junk’ DNA wasn’t junk at all. They also discovered that genes can be turned on and off and that it is this malleability that is important. Then they discovered that groups of genes, turned on and off, had an effect in combination…

My point in all of this is that genetics is still an evolving science. Geneticists do not know all there is to know about DNA. At best, given the current state of knowledge, they can make educated guesses, but following through with those guesses involves an element of risk. That risk is recognized in the creation of new medicines which must go through years of clinical trials to reduce the likelihood of adverse reactions amongst those who will take those medicines.

With food plants, however, slippery language has allowed geneticists to alter the DNA of plants without having to subject them to the same rigorous testing as medicines. Monsanto began the ‘spin’ by convincing the FDA that genetically altered plants were ‘substantially equivalent’ to their commercially grown cousins, and therefore did not require the same degree of testing.

The argument behind ‘substantial equivalence’ is that farmers have been breeding – i.e. changing the DNA of – plants for millenia and genetic modication is no different, just a bit…faster. The fact that back then, genetic modification was a shotgun approach, literally, by scientists who knew a whole lot less than they do now, did not seem to bother anyone, least of all the FDA. And the fact that US consumers were given no choice in the matter still doesn’t bother the US authorities.

Now, Umea university is playing fast and loose with language again. Why? In order to get around the law as it stands in Europe. New tool, new language, same old spin, same old lie.

The following is an email I sent off just before writing this post:

I don’t expect to receive a response, other than perhaps something derogatory, but I had to make the effort because we in the West are dying of spin, dying of lies, dying of hypocrisy.

Is it really so much to ask that our leaders, and the most emminent minds of our scientists act with integrity?

We are not children, and we are not stupid. If the only way you can get what you want is by trying to fool us, then what you want is not worth having.

Meeks