When Microsoft Word Fails

SBODMicrosoft Word failed me last week.  I could no longer save files or continue using the program once I tried. In every instance I got what I call the spinning beachball of death. (external link) After that I’d have to force quit the application. (I’m on a Mac.) The problem is still not completely solved but I am coping with it. Here are some things that are getting me through this.

A Google Docs account

Google Docs (external link) permits you to open and save Word documents. You can keep  working on your most important files while you’re troubleshooting. Google Docs may not have all the features of Word but it has a good set of basics.

Using Dropbox

I’ve recommended Dropbox (internal link) many times before. Your files are stored in the cloud so you can easily access them from another computer. When your computer is tied up with a bug or virus you do not want to be shuttling files from one computer to another computer that isn’t infected.

Using My Laptop

I have both a desktop and a laptop. My laptop was unaffected so I was able to work on that machine when I needed to. Word is part of Microsoft Office. A personal license gives you five installs, so it costs you nothing more to have Word on a laptop than it does on your desktop.

Get Plenty of Paper

I’ve been in touch with both Mcafee and Microsoft. Talking to each will require extensive notes and taking down case numbers and telephone numbers. Write down the names of any reps who help you.

Switch to Text Messages or Online Chat Sessions

Unfortunately, your representative may have an accent that doesn’t allow you to easily understand them. Online chat sessions work best for me. There’s less confusion for them, too, since they don’t have to try to understand you. And you have a written record of what is going on.

Get all Your Passwords In Order

Most likely the representative will want to take control of your desktop. Make sure you have all your passwords available so you don’t waste time looking them up. They can only go as fast as you allow them.

Get a Credit Card Ready

You may have to buy into a virus removal service so be ready. I paid $129 to McAfee for this, as well as a year of tech support. They ultimately found no virus on my computer, however, they have been trying to find a solution that lies beyond a virus.

Set up a Second User Account

On a Mac you can have a number of users. Like if you are sharing the computer with a family member. Everyone gets their own account and uses a different password. Mcafee had me set up a separate account like this and when I did, Microsoft worked again. Well, for fifteen minutes. When a program on a Mac no longer responds, this is still a good method to try.

Set Aside a Large Block of Time

McAfee and Microsoft spent at least five hours controlling my desktop. You have to be prepared to wait it out with them, so you can provide passwords and answer questions when needed.

Test Any Fix or Solution By Turning Your Computer On and Off

Before you discontinue that chat session or end that phone call, reboot to see what happens. Word is working for me now but I haven’t shut down my computer. I’ll do that after I’ve finished some writing and at some point when I can spare the time to resume troubleshooting.






Magazine article

The Background on my Third Rock&Gem Article

Today I received my writers’ copies of Rock&Gem’s August, 2016 issue (external link). It details my trip to Garnet Hill, Nevada. Garnet Hill is just outside Ely (pronounced EEE-LEE), some 240 miles north of Las Vegas. The collecting site has been scavenged for over a hundred years and is still producing. At least for most folks.

While I didn’t have much luck finding garnets, I did enjoy my trip. Ely is a brave, isolated town with much to see. There’s a world class railroad museum and Great Basin National Park is only an hour away.

Look for the full 2,800 word article at a large bookstore near you. Barnes&Noble should have it soon. Here’s the opening:

References to Nevada’s Garnet Hill kept popping up whenever I scoured my rock and gem guides. It’s just outside Ely, in the central far-east of the state. The site seemed promising by its very name. Gold prospectors have a saying: “Find gold where it has been found before.” That should apply, too, to any gem or mineral. A closer look at my books revealed Garnet Hill to be a century old collecting site. The garnets might be dark and small but they were there. I was planning a trip from Las Vegas to Sacramento in late April. Making no sense at all, I decided to take a huge detour to Ely and then on to California. 562 miles’ worth of detour.

As a disclaimer, I should say that I found little on Garnet Hill. It is a better side trip and not an end destination if you don’t have at least half a day to look. But I did gain some important insights that should help you on your visit. This trip reminded me of my gold seeking adventures. I might get skunked but I also might find antlers. No gold but perhaps the sight of a soaring Bald Eagle. On the drive out of Ely I saw my first antelope. That’s worth something to me. Perhaps to you, too. . . 


Always nice to see a nice layout.


Garnets are dear to Ely’s heart.


View from the hill. I went in late April when it was still snowing lightly mixed with rain. Gigantic copper mines in the distance. These copper mines are close to the city of Ruth. In unadjusted dollars, copper has produced more money here than Nevada’s silver and gold Comstock strike.


This soft pink rhyolite contains the garnets. You have to look long and carefully to find them. Professional ecologist Jim Boone identified the lizard. “Your new friend is a Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), or using the subspecies name: Great Basin Fence Lizard (S. o. longipes). They are also commonly called ‘Blue Bellies.'” Jim’s fascinating website is here (external link).


What you are looking for. This garnet has been separated from the rhyolite matrix.


Sturdy picnic tables. Good tent or small RV camping. No water or facilities on the hill. This is BLM land in Nevada, which generally means camp where you want.

Uncategorized Writing tips

Vigorous Writing

What can you cut out to make more vigorous writing?

From least vigorous to most vigorous:

In my opinion we should get together and burn down that bookstore.

We should get together and burn down that bookstore.

Let’s burn down that bookstore!

Burn down the bookstore!

“I think” and “in my opinion” are rarely needed.  Who else are you speaking for save yourself? Isn’t it clear the writer is the same in the first sentence as in the last?

Don’t worry about excluding what might seem essential elements. In the above example are the ideas of getting together and of promoting united action. You can put those thoughts in other sentences if needed. Or rewrite your key sentence.

I shouted at the group, “Burn down the bookstore!”

We find what is vigorous by constantly paring our writing.







Magazine article

Look Now for the August, 2016 Issue of Rock&Gem Magazine

Rock&GemAugust2016It’s almost here. My third article this year for Rock&Gem magazine (external link) is in their August, 2016 issue.

I’ve written about this field trip article a little, (internal link) without giving away the name of the locality. Now it can be told.

I went to Garnet Hill, Nevada on my way to Sacramento, California. A long detour for what turned out to be very meager findings. But I learned many things during my trip and it was that information that formed the basis of the article. I think the advice I give will help other rockhounds who visit the Ely area.

I do not want to reveal too much about this 2,800 word article because Rock&Gem owns it. When it gets online you can download a copy of it on your mobile device. Or pick up the hardcopy on major newsstands. Barnes&Noble usually carries it.

Waiting for the magazine to arrive is the tough part. The publisher did a great job of laying out the text and pictures for my last two articles, so I am really eager to see what they came up with this time.

And like those two last articles (internal link), I will write a background report here on what it took to bring the current article about. I’ll have pictures which Rock&Gem decided not to use as well as some additional notes about my road trip.

Stay tuned.

Writing tips

Different Approaches to OCR Work

09/25/2016: Update. I’ve discovered a great online OCR tool. It does better than anything I used below. Go here to read my post about it. (internal link)

Original Post

I’m doing research for my anthology project (internal link). It requires scanning old newspapers and books and converting the resulting text images into manipulable files. Optical character recognition hasn’t progressed much over the years, at least at the consumer level.

Take a look at this image. It would make any OCR program throw up:


Here’s how an inexpensive program called Elucidate converted it:

“h «Ila! daalaaauaa nauaa a «Imago lav aa Ia “can?”St oIlI»aluminadnllarInnauonbaabomlrdmmum . M. at has In”. NH Mun-an hon-ta an rhamng aa mm It Iasy5Labortaam!map“hatup:lhcpm“naIamaa- !Ittll)‘ lush mleml charm-a. Mn anybody I talk Io‘ Fer ham. form Japan. \‘od amply cannot pay Irma pram.Than M an the Japan-u. mm «(mm ta In Ian M Fm panama: a on hotel Garment. Toll ma: “TunaJanina—I’d met arc-n bum-um to but at out an lud- all mm. mm ha uaa W. In all: “I’ll buy an small? ” “A; Java” beam-\me an m lama: an the Soon: Padnt. TM an a mum: 9am to: [our hundred ma my“ tam. mm”. to but) alumnus that lea lake any but a! mammal.

This wasn’t really a fair test. Even Adobe Acrobat’s $500 software would give up. But there’s a way around it, at least to a degree. Dictate it using Word’s built in dictation feature. I’m a beginner at using this tool but the results below are what I got on a first try. Although there is a great deal to clean up, at least the problem is approachable:

Value weighs seven making a difference for us in Mexico.

Not the slipping dollar. Inflation has boosted prices just like it has here. New Mexican hotels are charging as much as you. S. Labour is still cheap what UPS the price is fantastically high interest charges

Front everybody I talk to: Forget friends. Forget Japan. You simply cannot pay those prices.

The new rich are the Japanese. Friend of mine is in town from Fiji twisting a new hotel development Area told me: quote this Japanese– I’ve never seen before–asked to look at our new 18 hole golf course. When he was through he said I’ll bite how much

Paragraph 50 Japanese businessmen are now touring all the South Pacific. They are a scouting party for 400 coming later I Just jacked up: Goodbye anything that looks like any kind of investment.

Typing out the newspaper clipping might be just as fast as rescuing Word’s results, but how much typing can you do in one day? Do you really want to type out all the articles you collect?

I’m also trying (external link) for a month. Their OCR software does a pretty good job. They may have found a cleaner copy of the newspaper that what I have in the image above. Here’s what their OCR finding looks like:

“Is dollar devaluation making a difference for us in Mexico?” Not the slipping dollar I n f l a t i o n h a s boosted prices just l i k e it has here. New Mexican hotels are charging as much as U. S. Labor is still cheap. What ups the prices is fantastically high interest charges. From EVERYBODY 1 talk to: Forget France. Forget Japan. You simply cannot pay those prices. The NEW rich are the .Japanese. Friend of mine is in town from Fiji pushing a new hotel development. Told me: “This Japanese — I’d n e v e r seen before — asked to look at our new 18-hole golf course. When he was through, he said: ‘I’ll buy it. How much?’ ” F i f t y J a p a n e s e businessmen are now touring ALL the South Pacific. They are a scouting party for FOUR HUNDRED more c o m i n g l a t e r . Objective: To buy ANYTHING t h a t looks like ANY kind of investment.

On the positive side of things, I am getting good results by scanning and converting my documents with Scanner Pro 7. (external link) It’s an app for the iPhone. Although it still can’t process mush like the above example, it does a much better job than my flatbed scanner. And it’s portable, of course, so I can use it easily at a library. I can even take images off my desktop computer.

Anyone out there have any OCR tricks? Let me know.



Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Morning Musings on Writing

If I had more time I’d write you a shorter letter. Variously attributed

Is shorter writing more vigorous writing? All things being equal, is a 300 word essay on penicillin more vigorous than a 3000 word essay? It could certainly not be as detailed, but do we need those 3000 words? Or are we writing those 3000 just to satisfy an editor’s demands?

The only writer we surveyed in my Creative Nonfiction Workshop (internal link) who wrote briefly was Seneca. His meaning might be debated but we did not have to read him at length to begin arguing.

I’ve written three articles this year for a magazine that requires pieces to be between 2,500 and 3,000 words. That’s just an editorial insistence, they are a long form publication and articles of that length fit with what they want their magazine to be. But could I get my points across in half that space?

It seems axiomatic that it is easier to tell a story in 3000 words than in 300. But where does the ideal word count fall?

“Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White is richly detailed. He  pulls off a complex tale in 2800 words. Could he have made a better essay, though, with more words? He obviously arrived at the right length because it is a brilliant work. How, though, did he arrive at that length?

Put it another way. At one point do we lose the essential elements of an essay? At 2400 or 1800 or 1000 words? And on the other side of the argument, at what point does taking away from detail subtract from our story?

My rough draft for our final assignment started out at 2,900 words. I’ve now cut it down to the minimum 2500. I’ve removed sentences and phrases I very much liked, just to keep the story moving. But I’ve lost details that other people might like to see.

My newspaper article and web writing are all pieces in the 500 to 750 word range. Nuance and detail and mystery are all completely forbidden. As it should be. We need to get the essential details to the reader and then be on our way. A caution: what do we lose with this sort of writing?

Deadlines are another matter. We could endlessly edit our work without any deadline. But should we? At some point the article or essay must get out the door. How much more work should we do on a piece to make it just a little bit better? I often send off an article early so I can get going on other things. Putting 90% more time and effort into something may yield only a tiny return.

Clarity and brevity in our assignments have not been stressed yet, nor have deadlines. Perhaps these topics are for another class at another time. Perhaps we adjust our writing style for these things once we have found our voice.


Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Writing Guidance From Online Tools

Is your writing fit or flabby? Enter your text into this writing tool to see: (external link)

The reasoning behind this tool is somewhat complicated but understandable with study. Besides its website, the tool is discussed at length here: (external link.)

Another good tool to know about: (external link)

I’ve written about the Flesch formula before. (internal link). It’s built into every modern word processor, including Microsoft Word. It keeps your writing from being too verbose. I used it in my last Rock&Gem article (internal link) to ensure I was writing at the Reader’s Digest level.

Few of us are fortunate to have an editor when we write. These online tools will give you another set of eyes, something we can all use.





Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Anthology Questions and a Catch-22

I’d like to put together an anthology but I’ve run into a dilemma.

Reprinting another writer’s works requires permission and payment. How much? That depends. Who is your publisher? What is the print run? How many pages will be in the book and what will be the selling price? Those are just some of the many questions a typical publishing house will ask before they tell you how much reprint rights will be.

Here’s the problem.

I don’t have a publisher. And I won’t go through the arduous process of finding one unless I know in advance that the anthology will be economical to put together. Why solicit a book deal when you can’t afford to bring it about? I’m left unable, therefore, to estimate what my anthology would cost.

This is what my generation calls a catch-22. It’s a noun and it means “a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.”

Read Joseph Heller’s book of the same name if you want to know more about impossible contradictions. And if you know more about putting together an anthology, give me an e-mail.


Thoughts on writing UC Berkeley Extension Workshop

Update on the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’m Taking

I’m near completing the Creative Nonfiction Workshop I’m taking through U.C. Berkeley Extension. (internal link) While it has had no immediate applicability to the newspaper or magazine articles I write, it is always good to try different things.

We write in class in two ways: 1) a short amount in a writer’s forum about essays we’ve read in the textbook, and 2) a longer amount as our writing assignments. Here are the subjects of those assignments. Lengths range from 500 to 3000 words, with the longest essay the last:

  1. A profile of yourself as a writer, “[E]xplaining as best you can where you’re coming from and where you hope to go.”
  2. An essay about the essential roles you play in your life.
  3. An essay on an experience you had as a child that remains puzzling to you.
  4. A profile of someone interesting, either living or dead.
  5. A book review of a non-fiction book approved by the instructor.
  6. A 2500 to 3000 word personal memoir.

The course is founded squarely on the personal essay. I don’t see the market for this as I have no hope Harper’s or The New Yorker would ever publish my memoirs. I do not concentrate on literature, an extremely crowded field, and instead on pieces that apply directly to people’s lives.

My newspaper articles inform people about community life. My Rock&Gem articles act as an introduction to a gemstone and as a travel guide my readers might use. My previous technology pieces were interesting to anyone fascinated by the history of communications. It would take tremendous effort to interest someone in why my pet beagle once bit my hand. Or how I was bullied in third grade because I wore glasses.

I don’t mean to disparage the course. I have read many essays I would not have ordinarily read and I’ve written on topics I would not have otherwise written about. All writing practice is good. Our last assignment is a monster, a 2500 to 3000 word personal memoir. It’s due July 29th and I will need every spare moment this month to complete it. Wish me luck.


Uncategorized Writing tips

Vary Your Writing By Deleting or Adding Commas

Vary your writing by deleting or adding commas and rearranging sentences:

On his way to find gold, Yosemite Sam found tungsten.

Yosemite Sam found tungsten on his way to find gold.

Since we couldn’t find our way back, we decided to take another path.

We decided to take another path since we couldn’t find our way back.

While I was eating, the cat scratched at the door.

The cat scratched at the door while I was eating.

Because her alarm clock was broken, she was late for class.

She was late for class because her alarm clock was broken.

If you are ill, you ought to see a doctor.

You ought to see a doctor if you are ill.

When the snow stops falling, we’ll shovel the driveway.

We’ll shovel the driveway when the snow stops falling.