Some problems with Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Word disclosure triangles
Disclosure triangles in Word's Document Map Pane

Design flaws in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

In my beloved typesetting programme of choice, TeXShop (a Mac front-end for LaTeX), if you click on the “Tags” drop-down menu, it gives you an ordered list of all the chapters, sections and subsections in your document, so you can see the structure of your document at a glance and skip to the part that you’re interested in.

In Microsoft Word, there’s a feature that’s similar to the one from TeXShop. If you open the “Document Map Pane,” you get a little panel along the side of your Word document window that has all the chapters, sections and subsections laid out for you.

Word even indents subsections that are nested in sections above it, so you can see the document structure that much more clearly. This is wonderful.

Finder disclosure triangles
Finder disclosure triangles

What’s confusing is that Microsoft implemented the disclosure triangles incorrectly. There are little triangles beside sections in the Document Map Pane that have subsections, so you can show or hide parts of the document structure. In every other Mac application, disclosure triangles are indented when the section that has subsections is itself a subsection.

I have attached an image of a Finder window in list view with disclosure triangles that are done properly for comparison.

When I first saw the disclosure triangles, I thought that I had somehow messed up the formatting of my document. (Here’s another reason why I wish there was a non-WYSIWYG editor for Word.) I spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out what I had done wrong before I noticed that the text headings were indented, and that it was just either a design decision not to indent the disclosure triangles, or just a bug.

Word—Insert file
Word—Insert file

Dialog boxes vs. sheets in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Sometimes I think that the programmers for Microsoft Office found the most un-Mac-like way to write this programme, while still keeping it functioning.

Word opens up dialog boxes for some things (see attached image, “Word—Insert file”) and then for other things, it uses sheets (see attached image, “Word—Save as”). This is not only frustrating because it makes for an inconsistent user experience, but also because it makes the software harder to use.

Word—Save as
Word—Save as

The nice thing about sheets rather than dialog boxes is that when a sheet opens up, it’s attached to the document window. What’s nice about that? Well, I can still drag the window around while the sheet is open.

For example, when I want to insert a file, a dialog box opens up. Because it’s a dialog box, I can’t move the document window. If I try to click on the document window, I get an angry beep from my computer. Even if I try command-dragging the window, I still get the angry beep. (If you command-drag a window, in most cases you can move it without bringing it to the foreground.)

This is frustrating because when I’m inserting a file, this is exactly the time when I would want to be able to look at things behind my document window. I don’t want to have to click-click-click all the way to the file I want using the dialog box. Often, the file is sitting right on my desktop or in a Finder window right behind my document window, and if I could just see it, then I could drag the file from the Finder or my desktop onto the file selector. But I can’t because the people at Microsoft decided to use a dialog box rather than a sheet.

Other design flaws

I have written previously about how I dislike the way that Word has broken the command-up/-down function. This is one more example of how the programmers of Word have written their software in a deliberately un-Mac-like way.

Also, when I open a large file—and not even a very large file: this happens to ones that are only 6 or 7 pages long—the vertical scroll bar does not reflect the document’s length accurately at first.

You have no idea how scared I was the first time I saved, closed and re-opened the Word version of my thesis. The vertical scroll bar indicator took up most of the scroll bar, which (in every other application) means that the part of the document that is in view is most of the document. When I scrolled down (using the page-down button, since the command-down doesn’t work the way it should in Word), I found out that the rest of the document was actually still there.

Still, this is a bug. In every other programme with a scroll bar like that, the size of the indicator shows you how much of the document is visible in the window, so if you have a tiny indicator, then that means that a lot of the document is outside the view currently displayed.

For the main document view, the size of the vertical scroll bar changes to reflect the size of the document, once you’ve scrolled to the end. The Document Map Pane has the opposite problem—the vertical scroll bar is tiny tiny, no matter how many items are in there. I only have 11 items in my Document Map for chapter 1, for example. There’s space for probably 30-40 in the Document Map Pane, and yet the scroll bar is so small as to indicate (in any other context) that there were dozens of pages of items in my Document Map. If I scroll down, a tooltip appears, giving me the name of an item in my Document Map, and I have to scroll to the very bottom of the window in order to select an item that’s pretty much at the top of the Document Map Pane. This is just annoying.

Serious bugs in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Above were examples of things that are just design flaws. Someone could conceivably disagree with me about whether the things I pointed out were bugs or features.

I will outline one non-serious interface bug, and one more serious bug.

Interface bug with the Document Map Pane

Split view-vertical scroll bug
Split view-vertical scroll bug

When I open files for which the Document Map Pane is open, the split view button initially covers the vertical scroll bar, as shown in the attached image.

The split view button is a useful one that that you pull down when you want to view two parts of the same document but you don’t want to see the intervening space between them.

The offending split view button disappears the second that I resize the window, but it’s really annoying that I have to resize the window every time I open it, if I plan on using the vertical scroll bar.

As far as I can tell, this bug occurs because the split view is not available for some reason, when the Document Map Pane is open.

Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 crashes my computer

The most serious bug that I’ve found is that I have been able to consistently crash my computer by trying to adjust the weight of a line in the Microsoft Word publishing layout. And I do mean crash my computer, not just crash Word. The whole thing freezes up, command-option-esc doesn’t work, and I have to hold down the power key in order to get out of it.

If you want, I can provide you the file I was editing in order to make it happen, and give you instructions as to how to crash your computer too.

I can’t even remember the last time my computer crashed before this, but I am able to consistently and repeatably cause it to do so by using what I would think was a fairly simple part of the programme.

I paid a lot of money (like $1,000,000 in “grad student dollars”) for this software, and the free software did the job a whole lot better.

Maybe Microsoft will release a patch that fixes all these problems to my satisfaction. I can hope, right? ;)

University applications

In a previous post, I was very explicit about just exactly how I feel about applying for university programmes. Today I will continue that rant.

First, I would like to point out that McGill’s website was updated this week to reflect the documents that I sent them in mid-January. That is to say, my application was due a month and a half ago. For this application, all the supporting documents on the checklist were sent two and a half months ago. For those of you who are counting, that means that the supporting documents were a month early. And it is only this week that they are bothering to let me know that the documents were received.

Further, I was emailed two days ago by the person who is processing my application. She told me that I was missing a document!

This shocked me, because there was a checklist on the McGill website that I followed very closely, and I made sure to do every single thing on the list that I could, even to the inclusion of vaccinations and starting to investigate CPR courses. I had a red pen, and I checked off everything on the checklist when I did it, and I got it all done well in advance of the deadline.

Somehow, I was expected to know that another document (a table indicating which science prerequisites I have fulfilled) was required, even though McGill provided a checklist, and this document was not listed there. In their defence, the table is available on their website, but really, if you’re going to provide a checklist of required documents, in a PDF labelled, “Application Instructions,” I think you forfeit the right to complain if one of the applicants fails to submit a document that is not mentioned on that checklist.

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood because I had surgery on my face two days ago, but does anyone else think that I’m being unreasonable to expect that the “Required Documents” checklist on the “Application Instructions” PDF for a university programme be an exhaustive list of required documents?

I was given until the 30th to hand it in. It took all of 15 mins to gather the information. I put it in an envelope and hand-delivered it to the address myself yesterday. I’m still kind of frustrated, though.

I wonder why there aren’t any economic pressures keeping this sort of thing from happening. I mean, if a normal, private, for-profit business was run with this sort of efficiency, it would never survive.

Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?

Today is National Grammar Day. In honour of National Grammar Day, and because grammar is my greatest joy in life, I will give a brief and incomplete list of my favourite grammar- and spelling-related pet peeves, followed by a much shorter list of grammatical mistakes that I’m actually okay with.

  • Internal pluralisation. Wrong: passer-by’s, court martials, iPod Touches. Right: passers-by, courts martial, iPods Touch.
  • Reflexive vs. objective pronouns. Wrong: “You can talk to Peter or myself during the break for clarification.” Right: “You can talk to Peter or me during the break for clarification.”
  • Subject-object disagreement. Wrong: “She say that there’s a problem.” Right: “She says that there’s a problem.” (Usually this one is just a result of failing to check what you wrote after the fact. It’s still really bothersome to me.)
  • Apostrophes for pluralisation. Wrong: “I bought two carton’s of milk.” Right: “I bought two cartons of milk.”
  • Using the past instead of the subjunctive. Wrong: “If I was the president …” Right: “If I were the president …”
  • Using the wrong homonym. Your/you’re, two/to/too, there/they’re/their, whether/weather, past/passed, hear/here. It’s not that hard.
  • Modals. Wrong: should of, would of, could of. Right: should have, would have, could have.

The following are two grammatical mistakes that I’m actually okay with. They are technically wrong, but I don’t get upset about them. Probably because they’re both restrictions that were placed on the English language because neither can be translated back into Latin.

  • Ending a sentence with a preposition. This is something up with which I can put.
  • Split infinitives. If you want to boldly go there, that’s fine with me.

Miscommunication between my professor and me

When I received feedback on the 3rd chapter of my thesis from Dr. Kimmelman, there were three really specific criticisms that didn’t make much sense to me. I went in to his office to ask about them, and he mentioned casually a paper that he had published in Science. (For people outside of academia, Science is one of the most prestigious academic journals in which to have an article published.)

“You had an article published in Science?” I asked.

“Yeah, a lot of your thesis is supposed to be based on it. Are you sure it wasn’t in that package of papers I gave you in September?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Wow. You would have had to do a lot of re-inventing of the wheel, huh?”

I have now read his paper in Science, and everything is so much clearer now. Over the weekend, I was able to write 5 pages on my thesis as a result of reading it. And it was easy writing those pages.

I feel like I’m actually getting some work done now, and like this project is manageable now. Also, I finally understand why my supervisor was so often confused by my confusion over the course of the year.

Endnote X4 and Microsoft Word for Mac

I found a solution to my reference manager problem.

Step one: (Re-)Install Endnote

I had an older version—Endnote X2 installed on my computer from last year when I went to a seminar on reference management at the McGill library. When I installed it the first time, I did not have a copy of Word on my computer. It turns out that if you install Endnote before you install Word, it doesn’t work at all. This caused me some confusion. After upgrading to Endnote X4, it automatically configured itself to work with Word automatically.

Step two: Convert BibTeX reference library to Endnote

I was really afraid that this step would take a long time. And indeed, if I were to do it all manually, it would have taken a long time. That’s why I’m glad I found this: A BibTeX to Endnote converter. It worked really well. Suspiciously well. I’m half-afraid that something is going to go terribly, terribly wrong.

Step three: Insert references into Word document

View > Toolbars > Endnote X4

Then, click on the fourth icon in the toolbar. Away you go.

Step four: Making page numbers show up in in-text citations

This one took me a while to figure out, and if you do a Google search for help on this, you’ll only end up at this unhelpful FAQ.

Here is how I tried to do it: I’d right-click my in-text citation, click Edit Citation(s) > More …, then I’d try adding the page number there, and it wouldn’t show up in my citation. I’d try a million different ways of doing this, and none worked.

Then I tried right-clicking and then choosing “Toggle Field Codes.” This showed me that the page numbers were actually being inserted correctly, but because of the citation formatting choice, it wasn’t being displayed. All I had to do was go back to “Format Bibliography,” then choose a bibliography style that displayed page numbers in in-text citations. APA, for example, works wonderfully.

Things that make me worry about EndNote X4

Maybe this is shallow of me, but for a $300 piece of software, I’d expect the programme’s icon to look a little less ugly. (Don’t worry, I didn’t pay $300 for it. McGill students can download EndNote X4 for free from the Library website.) I mean, it’s an eyesore in my Dock.

Also, the paperclip in the “attachments” column has jagged edges and is not centred correctly.

This sort of thing worries me. It makes me think things like, If they couldn’t even be bothered to fix the paperclip, what else have they let slip through the cracks?

I mean, BibDesk had a nice-looking user interface by comparison. BibDesk’s icon, while it was not beautiful, wasn’t an eyesore. And it was free. The really expensive software looks terrible, and makes me wonder if there’s other things wrong with it.

That said, I’m willing to give it a solid try. It seems to do all the things I want it to, and it has a long list of bibliography formats, including the journal to which my prof wants to submit my 3rd chapter.

How to “castle” in chess

Red pieces on a chess board
Red pieces on a chess board

Unlike the en passant capture, this is a move in chess that I’ve known since I was a child. However, like the en passant capture, it has also caused me grief while playing against my iPod. I will explain why this move can be frustrating below in the “pro-tip.”

This is how to castle in chess: It is a move for your king and your rook at the same time, and it is a great way to develop your rook conservatively. This is a move that should be done early in the game.

It can only be done if neither the king nor the rook have been moved yet in the game. There can be no pieces on the board on the files between the king and the rook, and you cannot castle out of check. If you are doing a kingside castle, your king moves two files toward the rook, and the rook jumps over to the space just on the opposite side of where the king has moved to. A queenside castle is done exactly the same way (king moves two files toward the rook, rook jumps over king to the file immediately past him), but in the queenside case, the rook moves further.

Thanks again to Wikipedia, the abbreviations for queenside and kingside castling are O-O-O and O-O, respectively.

Pro-tip: If you are trying to castle while playing against a video game, computer or iPod, do not move your rook first and then try to move your king. The iPod will think that you are moving your rook in the normal sort of way that rooks move, and it will not think that you are trying to castle. What you need to do is move your king first, and then the computer will automatically realise that because a king can’t normally move two files, you are attempting to castle, and then it will automatically move your rook for you. Just trust me on this one.

How to do an “en passant” capture in chess

Chess board
Chess board

Every once in a while, I play a game of chess against my computer or iPod. Sometimes I win—sometimes I lose, but the most frustrating thing that happens to me every once in a while is when the iPod does an en passant capture of one of my pawns.

This is frustrating, I think, because I never see it coming. That’s mostly because it’s an obscure move that I never took the time to learn how to do. I learned about it for the first time in elementary school, so I could always identify it when it happened, but I never knew what it was well enough to be able to pull it off myself or anticipate it. So, this week, I finally looked it up.

This is how it works: On its first move, a pawn can advance one rank or two. (Don’t worry—I already knew that.) If a pawn has been advanced two ranks in its first turn, an opposing pawn can capture it by moving diagonally into the space where the first pawn would have been, had it only moved ahead one rank.

Note that this can only be done in the turn immediately following the two-rank move of the first pawn.

According to Wikipedia, this “prevents a pawn from using the two-square move to pass another pawn without the risk of being captured”

This time, I’ll be ready for you, iPod!

Practicum journal

I’m really quite proud of myself for the way that I’ve been working all semester at my Practicum journal. I don’t think I’ve ever been so consistent at working away at a small task on a weekly basis.

I remember every once in a while, through grade school, there would be an assignment for a class where I have to make journal entries or something like that, every week over the course of the year, and invariably, I would fail to even think about the journal assignment until the last week of the class, when I would put together a bunch of entries, look up dates for when the entries should have been made, and do a generally bad job of it.

This time, and probably for the first time ever for this type of assignment, I actually did do the work incrementally. The assignment was to write 3 things that we learned from each class in a journal to be handed in on the last class. I’m just figuring out what to write for my last journal entry now, then I’ll print it, and that’s all I have to do. No furious scrambling through my old notes. No forging of dates with my calendar. Just type-type-type, command-P, enter.

If only I had developed this skill of working steadily throughout the year in grade 7. It would have made my French cahier a much less stressful piece of work.

Bell technicians

Today, I finally got the intercom for my apartment fixed. The internet too! It has been a long and frustrating fight, but I finally won, and it didn’t cost me any money.

I called the people from my apartment, and they told me to try plugging the phone into different phone jacks around the house. That didn’t work. So I tried calling Bell, and they sent a technician to fix it, along with the internet, which was also struggling at the time. The technician came, fiddled around with the wires, and eventually left, having given up on fixing anything. So I called Bell a second time, and they sent another technician, who split the internet line from the intercom line, and now they both work.

Now, when I receive packages in the post, the delivery person can call up to my apartment, and I don’t have to chase them all over Québec. It’s really quite fantastic. I’m expecting some books soon, and I’m excited to think that they may actually arrive at my apartment.

Here’s a strange bit of trivia that you might not have been able to guess: From this experience, I’ve learned that Bell technicians spend a lot of time muttering under their breath about the Tabernacle.