A Stupid Idea for New Year’s Eve

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

So I’m thinking about Linux today, and how it still is completely inappropriate for end users, but maybe things are getting better. (More on why 2006 still isn’t the year of desktop Linux in another post later). I mean, I’ve got about a three year old whitebox PC using a very common ATI video card, and an SGI 1600 monitor that’s circa 1998; but X-Windows still can’t figure out the resolution, even when I tell it what the correct resolution is. That’s pretty poor. It’s certainly not a system I can honestly recommend to my wife or my father or any of my non-technical friends.

Why can’t Linux figure out how to drive the monitor? Damned if I know. The monitor’s a little strange–it’s widescreen instead of 4 by 3. My guess is the right driver is missing, or I don’t have my XF86config file set up just right. I could probably figure it out if I used Linux on the desktop more than occasionally. I did it a couple of times before, before I switched to Mac OS X for most of my work; and it was incredibly difficult and scary each time. Frankly right now I can’t be bothered to do that again. I do know that the exact same hardware works flawlessly with Windows, and the same monitor works without a hiccup on my Macs. Why should Linux be any different?

And then I think again, “Why should Linux be any different?” That’s when I get the stupid idea. I am sure this is a collossally stupid idea. I am sure it is going to be totally obvious to all Linux and video card geeks everywhere that this idea is totally unworkable and completely infeasible and could never possibly work in a thousand years. They are going to fill the comments section with a thousand reasons why this couldn’t possibly work. But then I think, it’s New Year’s Eve. No one is reading this anyway. Why not? So here goes:

Why should Linux be any different? Why can’t Linux use the exact same drivers Windows does? Why should every marginally different piece of hardware that comes off the shelves at CompUSA require a custom driver just for Linux? Instead of rewriting everything from scratch, why not just use the Windows drivers? Of course, this would require some sort of emulation layer, and performance would suffer some; but isn’t this what VMWare already does? Why not write an emulation layer that allows Linux to use all the Windows video drivers? It’s a tough job, but is it really impossible? More to the point, is it harder or easier than continuing to write drivers for every new video card that drops off the assembly line? How stupid is that?

Word Tip 3: Matching destination formatting

Friday, December 30th, 2005

For a while I’d sort of vaguely noticed this little clipboard icon when pasting into Word from some other program or document, especially when copying out of a web page:

Word paste icon

I mostly ignored it, and it seemed to go away without getting in my way. I just figured it was some symptom of Word featuritis, but one day when I was bored I clicked on it just to see what would happen, and am I glad I did. Hiding inside this unassuming little icon was a cure for one of my constant peeves when working with Word.

Word paste popup menu

This lets me change the formatting of whatever I’m pasting in to match the target formatting. Alternately I can paste in as plain text with no formatting at all. This doesn’t matter a lot when I’m pasting in source code from BBEdit or Eclipse, but it’s hugely useful when I’m copying something out of a web page and pasting it into a book or article (with appropriate citation of course). This is major time saver for my workflow. If you’re tired of your copying web text and then having to carefully reapply formatting so all the styles and fonts match up, this little icon is a godsend. I’m not sure when Microsoft added this, but whenever they did I wish I’d realized what it did sooner. (Update: on the Mac this icon seems to have arrived with Word 2004; i.e. version 11.2. I’m not sure when or if it appeared on Windows.)

Word Tip 2: Discontiguous Selection

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Nisus Writer 3.0 introduced discontiguous selection fifteen years ago. This is an unbelievably useful feature, but sadly still uncommon in most products. In recent years Microsoft Word finally caught up. However, the feature has been little advertised, and it’s easy to miss.

To make a discontiguous selection in Word 2002 and later on Windows, hold down the control key when dragging for the second and subsequent parts of the selection. On Mac Word X and later use the Command key instead.

Word discontiguous selection

You can now cut, copy, paste, apply styles to, spell check, word count, or otherwise operate on what you’ve selected.

Word Tip 1: Reapplying Styles

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Have you ever needed to reassert a style in Microsoft Word? For example, change all the paragraphs tagged with body back to the real body style. You can reapply the style to each paragraph manually, but that’s really painful especially since Word persists in getting this exactly backwards and making you confirm each change:

Word reapply style dialog

Instead you can make one quick global change with search and replace. Simply search for the style (no text) and replace it with itself:

Word search and replace dialogs

Click “Replace All” and you’re done. the style will have been reapplied to all occurrences, whether that’s three or three hundred.

Happy Holidays, Bill O’Reilly

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Something interesting happened in New York City this Christmas season: everyone started wishing each other “Happy Holidays”. In fact, I’d venture that “Happy Holidays” is outpacing “Merry Christmas” roughly 10-1.

This is a very recent development. Just last year I’d say that “Happy Holidays” was relatively unusual. You saw it on greeting cards and signs, but people didn’t say it to each other, not even here in Brooklyn, where roughly a quarter of the population is Jewish, and where menorahs are as common as Christmas trees.

Here’s what I think happened: all the brouhaha from Bill O’Reilly and other reactionary wingnuts about “Happy Holidays” actually got people to pay attention to their greetings for the first time; and when they did–Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or anything else–they knew they didn’t want to be associated with those idiots. If the same mouth breathers that had argued for calling homosexuals “queers” instead of “gays” and blacks “negroes” instead of “African-Americans” were now incensed about saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, then “Happy Holidays” had got to be the thing decent people say to each other.

So Happy Holidays to everyone, Bill O’Reilly included, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Makar Sankranti, or anything else. Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2006!

Spam Quotes

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Like most blogs that enable comments, this one has attracted its share of spam. Interestingly I’ve noticed that most of these comment spams start off with something really complimentary. Some examples:

I’m asking myself: How can it be that I’ve never ran through your site before? It’s a great one!

Very nice. You’re site is very helpful.

I guess they hope I’ll be so excited by the ego-boo I’ll promptly approve it before reading on, where I find such Dadaist gems as “Table becomes Small Slot in final when Plane is Game it will Fetch Boy” and “when Stake is Chair it will Hope Cosmos”.