Sunday, February 28, 2010

3 Pleasing Things: Office software, wireless router, and boots to boot

Too often a blog post ends up as a vent or rant about stuff that annoys the blogger (been there, done that). When I started writing this post I was pretty annoyed by a head cold I caught at a trade show last week, but I figured that expressing this in a blog post was not going to make it go away, so I decided to focus on the positive and ask myself: Can you name three things you're pleased with?

OpenOffice.org in Action

Well let's start with Open Office, a suite of software I've been using a lot lately, on both my Mac and my PC. I can definitely say I like this a LOT.

This is great software. If you tried it in the past and found it slightly flaky, you really should give it another go. As far as I am concerned there's no need to buy Microsoft Office any more.

Today, Open Office is what you want for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, document layout, databases, and drawing tools. It really is free, it supports many languages,  and it works well on both Macs and PCs. Here's how the OpenOffice.org web site describes it:
...the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.

All true. And in some cases it works better than Microsoft Office. I know because I just used Open Office to create a new set of product literature for Monetate. These are pretty fancy documents--like the one shown above--and they are not something I would feel comfortable creating in Microsoft Word. They are made to be downloaded as .pdfs from the company web site but they also get sent to a high-end printing press to create sell sheets for shows.

[Just a quick reality check--in case you're wondering who this guy Stephen Cobb is to be passing judgment on software--I wrote my first software review for BYTE Magazine in 1987, was tech editor of one of the first books about Microsoft Word, wrote my own book about Microsoft Excel, wrote scores of software reviews for UK computer magazines, and I've written and published books using both Quark and Adobe PageMaker.]

For previous versions of those Monetate product literature documents I used a page layout program like Adobe PageMaker or had a designer create them in Adobe Illustrator. So why create these complex docs using Open Office Writer? First, I wanted an easy way for people on the team to edit the documents. Open Office Writer is as easy to use as Microsoft Word and thus very accessible to a wide range of users.

But at the same time, and this is the second reason for using Open Office Writer, it offers better control of multiple elements on a page. You can arrange text boxes, backgrounds, and imported images with great accuracy and ease. And the layouts are stable, not given to crashing like they tended to in Word. Typographic control is very good too, with fine-grained adjustments to things like paragraph spacing and leading. Then there are the sensible changes from typical Word menus, like moving page formatting to the format menu.

Hopefully I will get some time to describe examples of these features in action. For now though, take my word for it: you can replace Microsoft Office with Open Office (note that the "official" name of the software is OpenOffice.org--I'm not sure why this is, but you can read all about it here).

belkin-n-wireless-routerAnother pleasing thing is our new Belkin wireless router. I had been using a Cisco Aironet 1100, a high end WiFi access point that I bought about five years ago when I was Chief Security Executive at STSN/iBahn, the folks who provide broadband to a lot of hotels. Because STSN/iBahn used these devices I bought one for myself, so I could experiment with it and better understand its settings and capabilities. Unfortunately I did not learn enough to figure out why it kept showing up as a VPN when it was scanned by HughesNet, my satellite Internet provider (who claimed this was the cause of problems on my satellite connection).

So there I was in OfficeMax a couple of weeks ago and this Belkin N Wireless Router was on sale and I figured what the heck, I will give it a try, despite the fact that I have not had good luck with this brand in the past. Well, things must have changed at Belkin because this baby plugged right in and made itself right at home with zero fuss. The signal is strong throughout the house and onto the porch and it does seem to be playing nice with the satellite modem. In short, acquisition and setup was totally painless and in use the Belkin is totally transparent. What more could you ask for in a wireless router?

hi-tec-bootsThe third pleasing thing is the pair of Hi-tec boots I got this Winter from Dick's Sporting Goods (the online store, not a brick-n-mortar store). Although I am something of a techie, I don't really look for technology in my footwear. My outdoor footwear of choice for the last 15 years has been Sperry Top-sider deck shoes, which are pretty low tech.

When we moved into this cabin "Up North" a pair of Ahnus was added to my wardrobe to handle the chillier weather. When the weather got really cold, I turned to a pair of North Face snow clogs I had bought on a trip to Alaska in 2004. These became my favorite Winter footwear because, like the Top-siders and the Ahnus, I can slip them on and off quickly, without bending down. But then came the big snow.

We have had a LOT of snow this year and the North Face clogs are not boots; wear them to walk the dog in foot deep snow and your ankles are going to get cold and wet. So I needed some Winter boots that would slip on and off but stand up to deeper snow. The official name of the ones I got is: Hi-Tec V-Lite Eiger 200 Quik Zip Winter Boot (Mens). I won't bore you with details of the insulating, waterproofing, moisture-wicking vertical build technology; let's just say they are very comfortable and very warm and yet don't make my feet sweat. And I can slip them on very quickly. For short walks I don't bother with the zipper, but I do zip them up when there is serious snow slogging to be done. The zips face in, rather than being on the outer side of the boot, and I was initially concerned that they might snag on each other but this doesn't seen to be a problem. I look forward to many warm-footed Winter walks with the dog.

So there you have 3 things I'm pleased with, with no ranting (and my cold is almost gone now).


Too often a blog post ends up as a vent about stuff that annoys the blogger (been there, done that). When I started writing this post I was pretty annoyed by a head cold I caught at a trade show last week, but expressing this in a blog post was not going to make it go away, so I decided to focus on the positive and ask myself: Can you name three things you're pleased with.

OpenOffice.org in Action

Well let's start with Open Office, a suite of software I've been using a lot lately, on both my Mac and my PC. I can definitely say I like this a LOT.

This is great software. If you tried it in the past and found it slightly flaky, you really should give it another go. As far as I am concerned there's no need to buy Microsoft Office any more.

Today, Open Office is what you want for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, document layout, databases, and drawing tools. It really is free, it supports many languages,  and it works well on both Macs and PCs. Here's how the OpenOffice.org web site describes it:
...the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.

All true. And in some cases it works better than Microsoft Office. I know because I just used Open Office to create a new set of product literate pieces for Monetate. These are pretty fancy documents--like the one shown above--and they are not something I would feel comfortable creating in Microsoft Word. (You can view them here.)

[Just a quick reality check--in case you're wondering who this guy Stephen Cobb is to be passing judgment on software--I wrote my first software review for BYTE Magazine in 1987, was tech editor of one of the first books about Microsoft Word, wrote my own book about Microsoft Excel, wrote scores of software reviews for UK computer magazines, and I've written and published books using both Quark and Adobe PageMaker.]

For previous versions of those Monetate product literature documents I used a page layout program like Adobe PageMaker or had a designer create them in Adobe Illustrator. So why create these complex docs using Open Office Writer? First, I wanted an easy way for people on the team to edit the documents. Open Office Writer is as easy to use as Microsoft Word and thus very accessible to a wide range of users.

But at the same time, and this is the second reason for using Open Office Writer, it offers better control of multiple elements on a page. You can arrange text boxes, backgrounds, and imported images with great accuracy and ease. And the layouts are stable, not given to crashing like they tended to in Word. Typographic control is very good too, with fine-grained adjustments to things like paragraph spacing and leading. Then there are the sensible changes from typical Word menus, like moving page formatting to the format menu.

Hopefully I will get some time to describe examples of these features in action. For now though, take my word for it: you can replace Microsoft Office with Open Office (note that the "official" name of the software is OpenOffice.org--I'm not sure why this is, but you can read all about it here).

belkin-n-wireless-routerAnother pleasing thing is our new Belkin wireless router. I had been using a Cisco Aironet 1100, a high end WiFi access point that I bought about five years ago when I was Chief Security Executive at STSN/iBahn, the folks who provide broadband to a lot of hotels. Because STSN/iBahn used these devices I bought one for myself, so I could experiment with it and better understand its settings and capabilities. Unfortunately I did not learn enough to figure out why it kept showing up as a VPN when it was scanned by HughesNet, my satellite Internet provider (who claimed this was the cause of problems on my satellite connection).

So there I was in OfficeMax a couple of weeks ago and this Belkin N Wireless Router was on sale and I figured what the heck, I will give it a try, despite the fact that I have not had good luck with this brand in the past. Well, things must have changed at Belkin because this baby plugged right in and made itself right at home with zero fuss. The signal is strong throughout the house and onto the porch and it does seem to be playing nice with the satellite modem. In short, acquisition and setup was totally painless and in use the Belkin is totally transparent. What more could you ask for in a wireless router?

hi-tec-bootsThe third pleasing thing is the pair of Hi-tec boots I got this Winter from Dick's Sporting Goods (the online store, not a brick-n-mortar store). Although I am something of a techie, I don't really look for technology in my footwear. My outdoor footwear of choice for the last 15 years has been Sperry Top-sider deck shoes, which are pretty low tech.

When we moved into this cabin "Up North" a pair of Ahnus joined the Top-siders. When the weather gets really cold, I turn to a pair of North Face shoes that I bought on a trip to Alaska. These became my favorite Winter footwear because, like the Top-siders and the Ahnus and the ZSDf, I can slip them on and off quickly, without bending down. But then came the snow.

We have had a LOT of snow this year and the North Face asdfs are not boots; wear them to walk the dog in foot deep snow and your feet are going to get wet. So I needed some Winter boots that would slip on and off but stand up to deeper snow. The official name of the ones I got is: Hi-Tec V-Lite Eiger 200 Quik Zip Winter Boot (Mens). I won't bore you with details of the insulating, waterproofing, moisture-wicking vertical build technology; let's just say they are very comfortable and very warm and yet don't make my feet sweat. And I can slip them on very quickly. For short walks I don't bother with the zipper, but I do zip them up when there is serious snow slogging to be done. The zips face in, rather than being on the outer side of the boot, and I was initially concerned that they might snag on each other but this doesn't seen to be a problem. I look forward to many warm-footed Winter walks with the dog.

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