Dear Microsoft Word,

mac-vs-pc.JPGI thought I understood what was going on.
I mean, it seemed fairly reasonable. I’m writing this new story, and I’m using a lot of footnotes — a LOT of footnotes — and I’ve never used them before, and for all I know that cross-referencing and so forth might require a lot of behind-the-scenes data-tracking 1 to handle — the fact that my 35+ page document was already one and a half megabytes in size… around 1750k… well, it surprised me, I’ll admit, but I assumed it was mostly my fault for using all those footnotes.
But something happened yesterday, Microsoft Word. I was using a different laptop than normal, one on which I had tried to put my copy of Office 7. But it didn’t work — you decided that I’d hit my limit on the number of home computers on which I could install the software THAT I HAVE PURCHASED, so not only is the new Office not working, but the install wiped out the old Office 2000 install that HAD been on there.
So, out of desperation, I grabbed a copy of Open Office 3 and installed it. It was quick (the entire software suite is the same size as just the Word 7 installation), it was easy, and it was free, but even more importantly it actually let me install it on as many computers as I liked. I’ll admit that I was nervous that if I opened my super-hyper-complicated-footnotey story in Open Office, that I’d lose formatting or the footnotes would all become endnotes or the world would drop to a Blue Screen, or something.
But none of that happened.
I shut off Open Office’s inexplicable word-completion option, set hot keys for the two main special functions I needed (“Insert Footnote Here” and “Word Count”), toggled off two settings in the screen appearance, and off I went.
When I was done, I saved it and emailed myself a copy.
During the save, Open Office warned me that I might lose some OpenOffice formatting options if I saved to the Microsoft Word format — and that the size of the file itself might be affected. I sighed and confirmed the save, knowing that if the venerable Microsoft Word couldn’t squeeze my story down under a meg, the open-source, free Open Office was probably going to hand me a file that was barely small enough to be attached to an email.
The save completed, I attached the file to my email, and checked the file size.
Less than 1/12th of the size it had been before.
I reopened the file in Open Office, in a bit of a panic. All my precious words were there. 1
I opened it on another machine using Microsoft Word… and the formatting was perfect.
In short, nothing was wrong; my story’s file was just much, much much smaller.
I’m sorry to tell you this way, Microsoft Word, but we need to break up.

  • You’re using too many of my resources.
  • Your new Version 7 outfit is distracting. And not in a good way.
  • You won’t go all the places I need you to go.
  • Finally… and I hate sounding so superficial, but you’re just… you’re getting too big. And you make all my friends fat, too.

Please don’t call me; it will be hard enough seeing you every day at work.
Best regards,

1 – By the way: “behind-the-scenes” is three words, and “data-tracking” is two. According to you, those five words only count as two; it seems like a small thing, but the way I write, believe me when I say it adds up. I like working with someone who gives me credit for what I do; you’re just not there for me when I hit Ctrl-Shift-G.

Humorless excerpts

I’m currently working on two stories, one of which is called Humorless; sort of a horror comedy1 about the intra-dimensional invasion of an otherwise harmless clockpunk-fantasy world. The cast currently includes:

  • Grayson Dawes, antisocial alchemist and captain of the airship Humorless
  • Hugh, his friend
  • Emma Elsa Eliza Cassini, math-wiz
  • Her suspiciously competent horse
  • Grand Duke Jonathan Jacob Jorgen Cassini
  • Simon Sayers, the Duke’s youngest and most gifted adviser
  • Rebecca Vaughn, senior engineer aboard the Humorless
  • Thaddeus Vaughn, one of the most gifted spies within the League of Professionals; bit absentminded, though

As the title of the story clearly conveys, this is meant to be be somewhat funny2, and I thought I’d share a few bits I like.
The Humorless:

The bag of the dirigible was oblong from starboard to port as well as stem to stern – like a fat cigar that had been stepped on – and was woven of asbestos and glass silk. The whole of the thing was encrusted with sensor arrays, weapons, armor plating, landing platforms for smaller craft, several clockwork mechanisms of undetermined and likely illegal purpose, and one transplanted roof garden. The overall effect, when viewed from the city below, was that one was looking up from the bottom of a pool at a fat woman floating on the surface, wearing an ugly dress and too much jewelry.

Bit more on the zeppelin:

No one in Bodea-Lotnikk looked particularly surprised that their city was talking; it wasn’t a terribly common occurrence, but it happened often enough that most people knew what to expect when it did.
A talking zeppelin, though; that was something else entirely. That was something worth paying attention to.

A bit on the city below:

The irregular, winding, and most of all narrow streets of Lotnikk reminded Thaddeus Vaughn (not uncomfortably) of the moment of birth. That was always the first impression that came to him – claustrophobic, yet disconcertingly Oedipal.

Thaddeus encounters the worst that the world has to offer — professional adventurers:

It goes (almost) without saying that the man had companions. Professional adventurer types almost never travel in packs of less than four and, if separated, have a preternatural habit of ‘accidentally’ stumbling upon their lone companions just before or just after said companion is about to attract some kind of potentially profitable violence to their person.

There’s a few other bits that I’ve emailed out to the defenseless folks on in my contacts list, but these are what’s caught my eye today. Cheers.

  1. Too many re-viewings of movies like Army of Darkness, House, and Shawn of the Dead, I think. There’s been (so far) only one or two scenes that went in the way of the Spooky, but I think they came off fairly well. My goal is to try to convey (through showing) the kind horror-via-non-euclidean-wossnames that Lovecraft enjoyed telling about.
  2. Being funny, as others have already said many times, is exhausting. I don’t really know how some authors manage it.3
  3. There’s also quite a lot of footnotes.

Borromean rings – Wikipedia musing

Borromean rings are a configuration of three rings arranged so that no two rings are interlocked but all three together are.
Let me put that another way. If you look at any two of the three rings, and were able to take the third ring out of the equation, the first two rings would have nothing linking them; nothing in common. But once that third ring is introduced, all three of the rings are basically inextricable.
I find the concept fascinating, especially as I (immediately) tried to find a parallel example within human relationships, especially considering this key fact: the circles (people) comprising a Borromean Ring cannot be perfect — in order to actually work, they need to be imperfect — they have to be, in a word “eccentric” to greater or lesser degrees.

Historically, people have used such rings to symbolize strength in unity (A and B would fly apart, were it not for C), and that’s interesting… but equally interesting 1 is the interpretation that A and B could fly apart, if it weren’t for C.

I still can’t quite get my head around a ‘real’ example. To a degree, it’s easy: “Divorced Man A and Divorced Woman B would have no connection were it not for Shared Child C”; okay, yes, that works. Except that in order to be a true social Borromean Ring, the following would also have to be true: “Divorced Man A and Shared Child C would have no connection were it not for Divorced Woman B” and vice-versa.

I’m not saying such an example doesn’t exist — where, in a group of three people, any of the two would fly apart in the absence of the third — I just can’t seem to think of one.