Why I’m Avoiding Facebook…Again

It’s mostly disappointment and frustration.

I rant about Facebook a lot. I used to confine my rants to this blog and to Twitter. But recently, I’ve begun ranting on Facebook.

Well, in this particular instance, I didn’t really consider it a “rant.” I mean, I know how to rant and a two or three sentence comment on Facebook falls far short of what I’m capable of. However, it was labeled a “rant” by someone whose opinion I usually trust and respect, so I’ll let it wear that label.

The Backstory

What was it about? Well, it was related to my big rant here, “Stop Asking Me to Echo Canned Sentiments in My Facebook Status,” in which I criticize the popular practice of “sharing,” via copy and paste, something written by someone else and asking your Facebook friends to post it as their status. There are people on Facebook who lean heavily on this practice to fill their own statuses with content. Indeed, some people’s status streams consist primarily of this kind of content. I can only assume it’s because they can’t think of anything original worth posting.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these things were interesting or enlightening in some way. But they usually aren’t. They’re usually gushy sentiments about moms or cancer recoveries or happiness or kids. Like a never-ending stream of Hallmark greetings that don’t even rhyme.

I solved the problem of being bombarded by these things by simply turning off the status updates for the people who did it 90% of the time. That really improved Facebook for me.

Lennon Life Quote

This is an example of what I mean. Yes, it’s a thoughtful quote by John Lennon. My problems with it: (1) seeing it about 10 times from 10 different people over the course of a week and (2) the absolute lack of discussion of what Lennon may have meant by this and what we could learn from it. No commentary; just a bunch of “likes.” (Note the typo in this version.)

But then came the offshoot: a pithy slogan or saying rendered as text on an image, sometimes with a graphic element or photo. People would put these “pictures” on their wall. Although friends weren’t usually asked to share them, apparently lots of people thought they were worth sharing and did so. So the same handful of images kept appearing in Facebook updates posted by my “friends,” over and over.

What I find odd about this is that this practice was picked up by people who hadn’t participated as much in the copy-and-paste status craze. This was being done by a few people who normally share things far more interesting. I couldn’t understand why they had slipped to this level. Since occasionally they’d still post something of interest to me, I couldn’t simply turn off their updates.

So I posted my own update, asking people to stop this practice. Although I got an “Amen!” or two from folks who obviously felt the same way as I did, I was also accused of ranting.

Oh, well.

What Social Networking Means to Me

I think the root of the problem is the way I look at social networking.

I have a primarily solo existence. I work from a home-based office and, other than my dog and parrot, am alone all day. I now live in three different places throughout the year, so I don’t have many solid personal relationships with friends. Sure, there are folks I could call to go out to lunch or dinner or join me for a helicopter ride. But my relationships with these people aren’t so strong that I see them daily or would call one to cry on his or her shoulder.

This might sound like a lonely existence, but it’s not. I’m the kind of person who keeps busy all the time. I’m juggling two careers and often have work to do for either one. And if I’m not working or doing what needs to be done to line up the next job(s), I’m blogging or reading or editing video or exploring my surroundings with my Jeep or helicopter and camera. Or doing countless other things to fill my time and my mind.

The point is this: People who work in offices or with other people get social networking at the workplace. I don’t. People who live in one place and have a network of friends and family members nearby get social networking during their off-work hours. I don’t. Although I can’t classify myself as “lonely,” I also can’t deny that I miss social interaction with other people.

Social networking by computer fills this gap. It enables me to get a dose of personal interaction with other people whenever I need one. Twitter is my office water cooler — and it has been for the past 4-1/2 years.

Twitter vs. Facebook

I was drawn to Twitter right from the start. Facebook….well, not so much.

On Twitter, I follow people from all over the world. The vast majority of them are complete strangers — people who I have never met and likely never will. (I have, however, over the past 4-1/2 years, met quite a few of them.) And I only follow about 130 people because that’s the maximum number of tweeters I can keep up with.

On Twitter, I can be picky and choosy about following people. As a result, I follow people who I feel are interesting. They either tweet interesting or funny or enlightening things or they share links and photos that are interesting or funny or enlightening. I can also keep the signal to noise ratio very high by simply following or unfollowing people.

I learn about current events from what scrolls by in my Twitter timeline when I sit at my desk: the ditching of a plane in the Hudson River, Michael Jackson’s death, the east coast earthquake — the list goes on and on. It’s almost like having a news radio station turned on low in the background while I work. Getting more information about a news story I read is as easy as clicking a link in a tweet or doing a quick Google search.

I interact with the people I follow on Twitter. I do this by replying to them. Often we get conversations going. Sometimes other people join in. It’s a nice break from my work day.

I know a lot about some of the people I follow on Twitter. When I see content on the Web I think would interest them, I tweet it, sometimes with an @mention so I’m sure they’ll see it. Some of them do the same for me. I get links to tons of interesting content via my Twitter friends. It really helps expand my horizons and give me new things to think about.

[It’s interesting to note here that my attention span is longer than two to four sentences. So although so many people on Facebook echo the short, pithy sentiments of others, many of the people I follow on Twitter link to full-blown articles that have been researched and carefully crafted by writers who know how to make a point. It’s substance, not fluff.]

Although there is a tiny handful of people I follow on Twitter that don’t always tweet interesting content, 140 characters seems a lot easier to ignore than longer, in-your-face passages of text or images.

Facebook, however, is different. Until recently, the only way you could “follow” someone on Facebook was if that person agreed to be your “friend.” The relationship was always two-way. (On my account, it still is; I currently don’t allow “subscribers,” although I’ll likely change that soon.) So if a person asks to be your friend and you say no, that person gets insulted. This is particularly awkward if the person who wants to be your friend is a real friend or family member that you prefer to keep at a distance. (This happened to me with my stepsister’s teenage son, who I have not seen since he was an infant and have no desire to be Facebook “friends” with.)

Of course, Facebook recently added all kinds of privacy controls so you can group your friends in a variety of ways and pick and choose which groups see which content you post. This adds a level of complexity that I simply don’t want to deal with. I don’t want to “manage” my friends.

And it’s pretty obvious that the people I’m friends with on Facebook don’t give a damn who sees what they post. One young family member who will soon be entering the job market is posting unflattering photos of herself at parties, along with the kind of inane commentary that may get her resume shuffled to the bottom of any pile it ends up in. And, of course, there’s that constant stream of second- or third-hand quotes and images that apparently everyone has to see.

And that brings up the excellent flowchart shown below. One of my friends posted it on Facebook and its one of the few Facebook images I felt good about sharing. Funny, yet informative and oh-so-true. The one thing my Facebook friend didn’t share was the source; here it is. (Tip: Linking to the source is an excellent way to reward content creators for sharing good, original content. Just saying.)

Where Should You Post Your Status?

Are Facebook Users Addicted to Likes?

Note the two bottom-right icons in this flowchart: Facebook and Twitter. What’s the difference between them? Whether you’re “addicted to likes.”

You see, on Twitter, there is no “like” button. If people like what you’ve tweeted, they can respond in one of two ways:

  • Retweet it. Depending on how they retweet it (via Retweet button or use of the old RT notation), you may never know your content has been been retweeted.
  • Reply to it. If you’re paying attention and actually reading incoming tweets, you can enjoy the pleasure of entering into a conversation with a fellow Twitter user — who might not even be someone you follow. (This, by the way, is how I find people to follow in Twitter; they interact with me.)

I suspect Facebook users are addicted to the Like button. They seem to click it an awful lot. And so much of what they post is what I call “Like bait” — content found elsewhere that other people liked.

So instead of sharing fresh new content and ideas with their friends, too many Facebook users take the lazy way out by simply posting short content created by others.

(Many Twitter users do this, too, of course. I just don’t see it as much because I simply don’t follow the people who do.)

Enter Google+

You may scoff at Google+ — as the above flowchart also does — but when it first started, it definitely had something interesting going for it: people were using it to communicate thought-provoking ideas. Indeed, it was almost blog-like at times, with relatively lengthy posts that had real substance and originality.

As you can imagine, I was really drawn to that.

Unfortunately, when Google+ went public, it attracted some of the same folks who are already on Twitter and Facebook. And guess what? Those folks are posting the same stuff they put on Twitter and Facebook. So the signal to noise ratio has considerably dropped over the past few months.

The good thing about Google+ is that there’s no “friend/friend” relationship. It works more like Twitter, so I don’t have to worry about insulting people. I “circle” the people I find interesting and drop the others. Or use filtering (now also available on Facebook) to narrow down whose posts appear in my stream. (And yes, I realize this is a form of friend management and no, I’m not happy about it; I’ll likely just drop the people I don’t find interesting and skip the filtering.)

Will Google+ replace Facebook in my social networking source list? Too soon to tell, but probably not.

You see, I’m not convinced I need either one of them.

Sucking Time with Little or No Benefit

The reality is, Facebook (and Google+ and LinkedIn and whatever else is out there) is a frustrating time suck. (Twitter is, too, but not nearly as much — at least not the way I use it.)

To me, Facebook is more frustrating than rewarding. I’m learning things about friends that I never wanted to know. I’m discovering that some of the people I thought were intelligent and thoughtful are really kind of dumb and shallow. I’m discovering that some of the people I respected don’t act as if they respect themselves.

I’m frustrated because in Facebook, I see a microcosm of America as a whole: a mostly politically apathetic people who value celebrities, fashion, and luxury goods over meaningful personal relationships and intellectual development, an attitude of caring for their fellow man, and an understanding that there’s only one shot at life and they need to make the most of it.

The time suck problem goes almost without saying. If you participate in social networks, have you ever tracked how much time you spend on them? According to this New York Times post:

Social media account for 22.5 percent of the time that Americans spend online, according to the report, compared with 9.8 percent for online games and 7.6 percent for e-mail.

And this Mashable piece breaks it down for Facebook:

The average U.S. user spent a whopping seven hours and 46 minutes on Facebook in August [2011]. That’s a full 15.5 minutes the average American spends on Facebook every single day.

Nearly eight hours in a month? That’s nearly four full days a year. Do you really want to spend that much time looking at content that really isn’t going to make a difference in your life?

I don’t.

So I’m off Facebook again, at least for a while.

Sure, my blog posts — including this one — will automatically be listed as a Facebook status; that’s done automatically by some Web-based app I set up years ago. And I will stop by to check on Flying M Air and Beaumont Cellars. And you might even read updates about my new books and appearances there as they are released. And I’ll try to come by weekly to follow up on any comments posted to my updates. But I probably won’t hang around long enough to click any Like buttons or challenge the meaning of John Lennon’s wise words. I’ll avoid a lot of frustration by staying away.

And my friends won’t be bothered by my “rants.”

How to Extract GPS Coordinates for a Google Maps Location

It’s a lot easier than you might think.

Like most folks who depend on the Internet as a source of information, I use Google Maps a lot. But rather than use it to track down street addresses and get driving directions, I use it to pinpoint places out in the middle of nowhere that I need to visit by helicopter. There are usually no street addresses, and even if there were, they wouldn’t help much while flying. What I need are GPS coordinates.

You might be in a similar situation. You see a place on a map and, for one reason or another, you need to know its exact GPS coordinates. Fortunately, Google Maps can help. Here’s how to get those coordinates.

  1. Use Google Maps (not Google Earth) to display the location you want GPS coordinates for. In my example, I’ll use satellite view to find a dirt airstrip I know along the Verde River north of Phoenix. You could search for an address if you needed the coordinates for a street address.
  2. Google GPS Step 1Hold down the Control key and click right on the spot you want the coordinates for. A menu pops up. (You may be able to simply right click, but I’ve had limited success with that on my Mac using Firefox; Control-click always works.)
  3. On the menu, choose Center Map Here. The view will probably shift a bit.
  4. Google GPS Step 2Above the map area, in the blue bar, click the Link button. A window appears with two text boxes in it. The contents of the top text box, which are selected, includes a link to the map that you might paste into an e-mail message. It also includes the GPS coordinates, which I’ve indicated with a red box around them. Sometimes the GPS coordinates are not so obvious and you’ll need to scroll through the contents of the box to find them.

Note that the coordinates are in digital format. In this example, they’re 34.160043°N 111.727266°W. (West and South are negative numbers.) Some GPSes use this format; you can usually specify the format you want to use in your GPS’s settings.

If you need coordinates in degrees, minutes, seconds format, you’ll need to do some simple math. Let’s take a look at how it works for the first number: 34.160043.

  1. Take the whole number (34) and set it aside. That’s the degrees.
  2. Take the number after the decimal point and multiply it by 60: .160043 x 60 = 9.60258
  3. Take the whole number from that calculation (9) and set it aside. That’s minutes.
  4. Take the number after the decimal point and multiply it by 60: .60258 x 60 = 36.1548
  5. Take the whole number from that calculation (36) and set it aside. That’s seconds. Keep in mind that if you want a more precise number, you can include the decimal places after it. You might also want to round the number up or down depending on what comes after the decimal point. In this example, the number after the decimal point is 1 so I’d round down and use 36.
  6. Put the numbers you set aside together in degrees° minutesseconds” format. In this example, you’d have 34° 9′ 36″.

My helicopter’s GPS uses a degrees° minutes‘ format, so I’d stop calculating after step 2 and wind up with 34° 9.60258′.

E25 to BFI by Helicopter on Google Earth

My four-day trip, plotted.

I’m a geek. Everyone should know that. This just proves it again.

I use a gps logger to track my GPS coordinates when I’m out and about taking photos, mostly so I can geotag my photos. But on long flights, I often turn the GPS logger on and let it collect my coordinates as I fly. The logger I use has a huge memory and was actually able to accumulate GPS coordinates for my entire helicopter flight from Wickenburg, AZ to Seattle, WA.

Helicopter Flight on Google EarthThe image shown here shows the four days of my flight. Day 1 was Wickenburg to Page, AZ. Day 2 was a photo flight on Lake Powell followed by a flight from Page, AZ to Bryce Canyon, UT. Day 3 was Bryce Canyon, UT to Salt Lake City, UT and then on to Yakima, WA. Day 4 was a bit of scud running to get to the other side of the Cascade Mountains, from Yakima to Seattle, WA.

If you’d like to look at the track points in detail on your copy of Google Earth, you can download them. They show altitude, too, so you can get an idea of how high or low we were for various stages of the flight. You can probably even do some kind of flyby if you have the right software.

Pretty cool, no?

Beggar Spam

A new kind of spam makes me wonder how stupid spammers think we are.

To post a comment on any of my blog-based sites, you need to jump three hurdles:

  1. You need to get past Bad Behavior, a spam prevention solution that can identify bots. If Bad Behavior thinks the a page is being accessed by a spam bot, it simply does not allow that bot to comment. Does this work? Well, during the past 7 days, Bad Behavior has blocked 2,018 access attempts. Does that mean it has stopped all the bots? Sadly, it doesn’t. But it seems to do a pretty good job.
  2. You need to get past Akismet, the WordPress-provided spam filtering tool. Akismet takes the incoming comments that get past Bad Behavior and evaluate them to determine whether they might be spam. If it thinks a comment is spam, it gets put in a spam “bucket” (my term). Does this work? Well, in March it caught 3,830 spam comments, missed only 11 that I flagged as spam, and incorrectly marked only 3 good comments as spam that I rescued. It has caught a total of 54,048 spam comments since October 2008 — that’s just six months.
  3. June 30, 2014 Update
    I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

    You need to get past me. I read all the comments that Akismet approves and either approve them for posting on the site or mark them as spam that Akismet missed. In certain rare instances, I’ll delete a comment that might not be spam but is, in my opinion, inappropriate for the site. (You can read my comment policy, if you’re interested.) I also briefly review what Akismet has flagged as spam and occasionally rescue a non-spam comment from the spam bucket so it appears on the site.

If you’re not a blogger, you probably don’t realize how big a problem comment spam is. Simply said, if I didn’t have Bad Behavior to block the bots and Akismet to filter out spam comments, this blog would attract anywhere from 10 to 1000 spam comments in a day. Spam comment contents range from links to sites selling drugs or offering online gambling to simple attempts to get some “Google Juice” from links to specific sites. Some of it contains crude and offensive words and ideas. If I let it get by me and allowed it to be posted on my sites, it would likely offend most of my readers.

But lately, I’ve begun getting a new kind of spam: beggar spam. The content of the message goes something like this:

I do not believe I get only one chance in life. I am from Guinea so my English is bad. Please give.

WTF?

Of course, this kind of comment never makes it to my blog. It’s stopped dead by Akismet or me. After a while, Akismet will pick up the pattern that identifies it as spam and properly filter each beggar spam message into the spam bucket.

But the real question is this: do these spammers really expect blog readers — or bloggers, for that matter — to send money to some faceless beggar just because they asked for it? Does anyone actually send them money to give them the idea this ploy works?

Which brings up another thought: The Internet has made it so easy for people to try to suck money out of people that they’ll try anything, no matter how unlikely it is to work. Just get yourself an automated commenting bot, set its options to include the message and link you want, and let it go. Sixty seconds of effort and an Internet connection can flood the world’s blog (and spam filters) with millions of scam attempts. If even one of them is successful, the spammer is ahead of the game.

I wonder how much of the world’s Internet bandwidth is used by but spammers and con artists. I’m not just talking about comment spam here. I’m talking about e-mail from Nigerian princes and widows. I’m talking about responses to For Sale items on online services, where the buyer offers a certified check for more than the purchase amount and asks you to give the difference to his shipping agent. Or the people who e-mail legitimate companies, offering to pay more for services than advertised, with the difference going to a “logistics” agent.

I see how many of these things cross my path in a day or week or month. I’m just one relatively well-connected person. What of the people who are better connected than me? Or the ones that foolishly put their e-mail addresses, unencoded, on a Web site so the spam bots can scrape them up for sale to spammers? Or the ones with blogs at the top of Google’s page rank that get thousands of visitors a day?

How much of the Internet is wasted on fraud and spammy self-promotion?

Anyway, I’d love to get feedback from other bloggers or people experienced with spam. What’s the most ridiculous spam you’ve ever received? The one that made you think the spammer thinks everyone is a gullible fool? Use the Comments link or form for this post.

And don’t try to spam me, please. Your comment will never appear on this site.

In Defense of Microsoft Word

It does the whole job.

About a month ago, I was having trouble with my Mac and decided to head off any serious problems by reformatting my hard disk and reinstalling all my software from original program discs. In the old days, before we all had hard drives measured in gigabytes, I did this every single time there was a major system software update. Nowadays, it’s a lot of work and I avoid doing it if I can. My 24″ iMac is just over a year old and shouldn’t have been giving me problems, but I figured I’d try the reformat before bringing it to a genius. (Turns out, it was the swapping out of 2 GB of RAM for 4 GB of RAM that probably fixed the problem.)

For some reason, I didn’t do a typical install of Microsoft Office 2004. I thought I’d save disk space by omitting the proofing tools for the languages I don’t speak — which is every language except English. Word, which I use daily, worked fine — until I noticed that it wasn’t checking spelling as I type. Although my spelling is above average, I count on Word to put red squiggly underlines under my misspellings and typos. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get this feature to start working.

I sent an update to my Twitter account about this as I went about troubleshooting the problem. The result was an outpouring of suggestions from my Twitter friends for replacing Word or Office with other software, ranging from Open Source Word or Office replacements to Google Docs.

Whoa!

I fixed the problem by uninstalling and then reinstalling Word. Life went on. But it got me thinking about Office and Word and why so many people go out of their way to avoid both.

Word and Me

I should probably start off by saying that I have been using Microsoft Word since 1989 or 1990. Although I got Microsoft Works with my first Mac, I soon learned Word and began teaching it in a classroom setting. It was Word 4 for the Mac in those days; I don’t know what the corresponding version in Windows was because I didn’t use it or teach it. I’m not even sure if Microsoft Windows was a player back then.

I’ve used every version of Word for the Mac since then.

My first book about Microsoft Word was The Macintosh Bible Guide to Word 6. Word 6 sucked. It was a processor hog. I remember working with it in beta as I wrote my book about it. I remember whining to my editor, asking if he thought they’d fix the performance issues before the software went out. They did, but not very well. I disliked Word 6 and the way it handled outlines and “master documents.” Everything seemed to be “embedded.” It seemed as if they’d prettied up Word to look more Mac-like and had done the job by pouring maple syrup all over the inside of my computer, bogging things down.

Word 98 was a vast improvement. From then on, each version of Word was an improvement. The interface remained basically the same but features were added and solidified. Some of the features worked with Microsoft server software, which I didn’t have, didn’t want, and certainly didn’t need. All I cared about was that Word did what I needed it to do, using the same interface I knew from years of experience as a user.

The End of the World as We Know It: Office 2007

Then Office 2007 for Windows came out with its ridiculous “ribbon” interface. What the hell was Microsoft thinking? Take a standardized interface that your existing user base knows by heart and throw it out the window. Force them to learn a whole new interface. Keep telling them that it’s easier and maybe a handful of morons will believe you.

I had to use Office 2007 for two Excel books. The only good thing I can say about it is that the complete, radical interface change — I’m talking menus vs. ribbon here, not spreadsheet basics — made a book about the software necessary. How else would users figure out how to get the job done? Fortunately (for users, not authors) Office 2007 adoption is slow.

Woe is Me: Office 2008

Word 2008 Splash ScreenOf course, I’m a Mac user and use the Mac version of Office. I held my breath when Office 2008 came out. Thank heaven they didn’t get rid of the menu bar — although I don’t understand how they could. Office 2008 retains much of the Office 2004 interface. It just adds what Microsoft calls “Element Galleries” and the usual collection of features that 1% of the computing world cares about. Fortunately, you can ignore them and continue using Office applications with the same old menus and shortcut keys we all know.

I would have switched to Office 2008 — I even had it installed on my MacBook Pro — except for two things:

  • Its default document formats are not compatible with versions of office prior to Office 2007. That means someone using Word 2003 for Windows or Word 2004 for Mac can’t open my documents unless I save them in an Office 2004-compatible format. This isn’t a huge deal, but it is something I’d have to remember every single time I saved a document. I’d also have to remember not to use any Office feature that only worked with Office 2007 or 2008.
  • It does not support Visual Basic Macros. One of my publishers makes me use a manuscript template that’s chock-full of these macros. Can’t access the macros, can’t use the template. Can’t use the template, can’t use Office 2008.

(I wrote about these frustrations extensively in a Maria’s Guides article.)

So I’m apparently stuck with Office 2004 — at least for a while.

But do you know what? I’m perfectly happy with it.

Why I Like Word

I like Word. I really do. It does everything I need it to do and it does it well.

Sure, it has a bunch of default options that are set stupidly. I wrote about how to set them more intelligently in an article for Informit.com. (Read “Three Ways Word Can Drive You Crazy[er] and What You Can Do About Them.”) It certainly includes far more features than the average writer needs or uses. And despite what Microsoft might tell you, it’s probably not the best tool for page layout (I prefer InDesign) or mail merge (I prefer FileMaker Pro). But it does these things if you need to.

I use all of the basic word processing features. I use the spelling checker — both as I type and to correct errors. I like smart cut and paste, although I have the ridiculous Paste Options button turned off. I like AutoComplete and love AutoCorrect (when set up properly). I use all kinds of formatting, including paragraph and character styles, tables, and bulleted lists. I rely on the outlining features when preparing to write a book or script for video training material. I use the thesaurus occasionally when I can’t get my mind around the exact word I’m looking for, although the word I want is usually not listed.

I’ve used some of the advanced features, such as table of contents generation, indexing, and cross-references. These are great document automation features. Trouble is, I don’t usually use Word to create documents that require these features. I use InDesign for laying out my books, which are usually illustrated. (And I admit that I’m looking forward to trying out the new cross-referencing feature in InDesign CS4 for my next book.)

I don’t jump on board with every new Word feature. I prefer the Formatting toolbar over the Formatting Palette. I write in Normal view rather than Page Layout view. I create my own templates but don’t use the ones that come with Word.

I don’t use the grammar checker; I think it’s a piece of crap designed for people who know neither grammar nor writing style. I don’t like URLs formatted as links. (Who the hell wants links underlined in printed documents?) I don’t use any of the Web publishing features; I’d rather code raw HTML than trust Word to do it for me. I very seldom insert images or objects or anything other than text in my documents. I have InDesign for serious layout work. I don’t use wizards. WordArt is UglyI think WordArt is ugly and amateurish. I keep the silly Office Assistant feature turned off.

I admit that I don’t use any of the project features that work with Entourage — although I’d like to. I decided a while back to switch to Apple’s e-mail, calendar, and contact management solutions (Mail, iCal, and Address Book respectively) because they’d synchronize with .Mac (now MobileMe) and my Treo. Entourage probably does this now, but I really don’t feel like switching again. Am still thinking about this.

The point is, I use a bunch of Word features and I completely ignore a bunch of others. The features are there if I need them but, in Word 2004, they’re not in your face, screaming for attention. (Wish I could say the same about Word 2008.)

iWork with Apple Computers

iWork '09Lots of people think that just because I’m a Macintosh user — an enthusiast, in fact — I should be using Apple’s business productivity solution: iWork. For a while, I thought so, too.

I own iWork ’08. I just bought iWork ’09. I’ve tried Pages. I’ve really tried Pages. I wanted to use it. I wanted to break free of Microsoft Word.

But old habits are hard to break. No matter how much I tried to use Pages each time I needed to create a document, when I was rushed, I reached for Word. No learning curve — I already know it. After a while, I just stopped trying to use Pages.

Why Use a Bunch of One Trick Ponies?

I know a bunch of writers who swear by one software program or another for meeting their writing needs. They use special outliners to create outlines. They use special “writing software” that covers the entire screen with a blank writing surface so they’re not distracted by other things on their desktops. They use special software to brainstorm, footnote, and index.

I’ve tried these solutions and do you know what? They don’t make my life easier. Instead, they just give me another piece of software to learn and keep up to date and interface with other software. They make more work for me.

I’m not going to forget my Word skills and Word isn’t going to suddenly disappear off the face of the planet anytime soon. In fact, it’s far more likely for one of these one-trick ponies to disappear than a powerhouse with millions of users worldwide like Microsoft Office.

Thought PatternI remember ThoughtPattern, a program by Bananafish Software. I saw it demoed at a Macworld Expo in the early 1990s and thought it was the greatest thing in the world for organizing my thoughts and ideas. I was sure it would make me a better writer. I was so convinced, I bought it — and it wasn’t cheap. I used it for a while and rather liked it. Evidently, I was one of very few people who’d joined the ThoughtPattern revolution. In April 1993, it was discontinued. I was left with software that wouldn’t work with subsequent versions of the Macintosh system software. Worst of all, the documents I created with ThoughtPattern were in their own proprietary format. When the software stopped working, the contents of those documents were lost. (Do you think it was easy to find a screenshot from software that was discontinued 16 years ago?)

So perhaps you can understand my aversion to one-trick ponies that promise a better writing experience.

Will the same thing happen with Microsoft Word? I don’t think so.

I Don’t Compute in the Cloud

Google Docs was one of the solutions suggested to me by my Twitter friends. I guess they think it’s better to avoid the evil Microsoft empire in favor of the “we’re not evil” Google empire. Along the way, I should give up the interface and features I know from almost 20 years of experience with the software and rely on an online application that could change its interface daily. Oh, yeah — and keep my documents on someone else’s computer.

Yeah. Right. Good idea.

Not.

Until I’m part of a multinational corporation that requires its employees and consultants to keep all their documents on some remote server for collaboration purposes, I will not be computing in the cloud.

One of the things I like about keeping my documents on my own computer — rather than a remote server accessible by the Internet — is that the Internet is not always available. What do I do then? Stop working?

Security is an issue, too. While I don’t usually write much of a confidential nature, I don’t like the idea of not having control over my documents. Servers get hacked. I don’t want my work suddenly accessible to people who I don’t want seeing it.

I will admit that I use MobileMe’s iDisk feature to keep some documents on an Apple server. This makes it a tiny bit easier to access them from my laptop when I’m away from home. But I’ve recently moved to a new strategy. I bought a pocket hard drive that’s bigger than my computer’s Home folder. Before I hit the road with my laptop on a trip for business or pleasure, I sync this portable drive with my Home folder. I then have every single document on my computer with me when I’m away. The added benefit: complete offsite backup.

That’s My Case

That’s my defense of Microsoft Word. I rest my case.

Please understand that I’m not trying to convince a non-Word user to switch to Word. If you’re happy with something else, stick with it! That’s the precise reason I’m sticking with Word. I’m happy with it.

I guess the reason I wrote this post was to assure other people like me that there’s no reason to be ashamed of being a Word user. You do what’s right for you. There’s nothing really wrong with Word. If it makes your life easier, why switch?