Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Day After...Yesterday (and Geek Wednesday)

Now that we've gotten past the End Times (whew, that was close—me, without a laptop, having to go all the way to Hell), the moment has come to continue our series on what's good about America. Well, what could be more challenging than facing Armageddon? Maybe finding out...

What's Right About the Media

Ugh. Satan, I'm ready—come and get me, brother!

All right, there must be something good and useful about the American media. I'm sure there are others better at this than I am (in fact, I know it—just check, for example, World Wide Renaissance)—but nevertheless, let's get out our shovels and dig...

Bill Moyers: The Dean, Laureate, and Conscience of Journalism. If you haven't heard and watched his recent speech to his colleagues at PBS, hit the link in the sidebar and spend some time with it. Then expose yourself to as much Moyers as you can. You won't regret it.

NOW: The program that Moyers started and nurtured into a mature validity and vibrancy is still going. The link will take you to a synopsis of their excellent study of the net neutrality issue.

Democracy Now!: Amy Goodman is perhaps the least-acknowledged national treasure that we have in American journalism. Bookmark the site and watch her programs regularly. She's a pearl.

Countdown: Keith Olbermann consistently probes beneath the surface and past the spin, often taking on issues and celebrities that others avoid. In other words, he does the job of a journalist. If you have cable TV, watch it regularly; if not, check for occasional videos from his show at the site and here.

Paul Krugman: To my mind, this man is the premier op-ed columnist in America today. If you haven't spent the $50 on an annual subscription to Times Select, two doses of Krugman per week is surely worth it. My personal hope is that in a future and smarter administration than we have now, Krugman would find a position in the cabinet. He's that insightful, his voice that clarion, his integrity that complete, his wisdom that simple and profound.

Greg Mitchell: His column appears in Editor and Publisher, and the link will take you to his panegyric on the career of war reporter Joe Galloway, whose name will be worth recalling later. Galloway has done some of the most honest and journalistic war coverage of anyone in the media. He has now retired and is working on a book that I know I'll want to read once it arrives. If, after reading Mitchell's piece, you feel the same way, just note the name and check the new releases in a year or so.

BBC News: If you really want "fair and balanced" in your media coverage, go here. It's far from perfect, but the quality of the journalism across the pond is as sunlight unto moonlight compared with what we get here. Until we get the second coming of Edward R. Murrow, we'll have to turn on a PBS station and catch the BBC news if we want to be informed about what's really happening around the world.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: These two are to the media of our time what Jonathan Swift was to 18th century England, or Juvenal to the Roman Empire. If you're like me and lack cable TV, go to Norm Jenson's site to receive occasional doses of these two hilarious and amazingly trenchant para-journalists.

Then there's the blogosphere: just spend an hour or so sometime hitting the links in the Blogroll over on the sidebar, and you'll uncover a world of insight and opinion that will both challenge and illuminate you. From Truthout to Altercation to Ehrenreich to Deficient Brain to Free Press to Current Era to Daily Kos—the great and the small of them, the famous and the little-known—you'll find enough there to sift out the truth for yourself. And that's what journalism is supposed to be about.


Geek Wednesday

For GW today, I have another encouraging (and shockingly positive) note to offer. For today, we begin a series of reviews on the beta 2 edition of Microsoft's Office 2007. I also just got my invitation to Google's new assault on MS Office, Google Spreadsheet; and we'll have a review of that product soon here at Geek Wednesday. First, a look at what is still the leader of the pack in word processing land, MS Word, in its MS Office 2007 incarnation.

Warning: I would never have tried this (nor the download of the IE 7 beta, reviewed here previously), if I didn't have my trusty iMac as my primary computing environment. So unless you've got a backup system or are just nuts, don't do this at home. This evening, for example, when I turned on the Wintel box (this is four days after I'd downloaded Office 07), I got one of those mysterious "lost profile" messages on bootup. Fortunately, when I restarted the box everything came back normal, but it was a reminder that when you mess around with Gates betas, you might as well be flossing your teeth with a razor blade. So once again, if you don't have backup, don't do it. Now, on to the review.

Office 2007

I began with the download, which went flawlessly over my 54mbps wi-fi connection to a five-year-old Gateway machine with a P4 1.3 GHz processor and 640MB of RAM. The download took about a half hour for a huge file (435MB compressed), and the actual installation took nearly as long. I got no prompts to add Taskbar items, and there were no additions made to my desktop or start menu. Therefore, I had to go into the Program Files folder, find the .exe files, and add them to the Taskbar. I added Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, and MS Publisher (a surprising addition).

Word 2007

The most notable thing about Word ’07 is the interface re-design. I hope you like blue—specifically, a pale robin’s egg blue that perhaps is meant to be a sky-blue. It’s the common color for all the application toolbars and windows in Office 2007.

Next come the changes to the menus and toolbars. The era of the drop-down menu is soon to end for MS Word users. Instead, clicking on each part of the main menu delivers a single graphical toolbar, laid out horizontally across the top of the window. “Home” (there is no “File” menu item) brings up a toolbar of font, styling, paragraph settings, and clipboard options; Page Layout delivers page setup, background, theme, and paragraph settings. Above these (or below, depending on how you’d like it) is a customizable “Quick Toolbar” that contains save, undo/redo, and print icons, beside a larger, circular Windows graphic that delivers the only drop-down on the main panel.

Like anything new, this may take some getting used to, but it’s a remarkably smart, efficient design for a UI—especially considering it’s from Microsoft. Clearly, it rewards the mouse-dependent and may frustrate those who rely on keyboard shortcuts. But even there, the keyboard user is remembered: hit the F10 function key and a map appears onscreen, with shortcuts overlaid onto their respective commands in the menu and toolbar items.

Another new feature is something you may have read about in the news: the ability to convert Word docs to pdf format. Word 2007 does it, and it also converts documents to Windows' own XPS format (which required a runtime download before I was able to even test this function). Both of my test conversions opened successfully in Adobe Reader and in IE / XPS (Firefox couldn't understand the format, and failed to open the xps file). However, it's starting to look as if some legal action may delay the implementation of this feature in Word 2007 when it becomes available to the public, early next year (so we hear).

Beyond this, there is little of note in terms of enhancements to Word. Memory usage seems generally unimpaired over current versions, though the real test of that will be to see it running within Vista, Microsoft's next OS release, also scheduled for early 2007. As one might expect with a beta, file compatibility is completely chaotic: I couldn't open 2007 files on my Mac except as massive streams of code. One major distraction is the lack of support for the mouse scroll wheel. I have to assume that this is just a bug in the beta. Clicking the scroll wheel activates the scrolling function, but Word will not respond to rolling the wheel. Surely this will be corrected well before there’s a final release of this product. Another annoyance is the failure of Word to import styles of the previous edition: none of the styles I had set up in Word 2000 were present in the Home toolbar in Word ’07. This reinforces the warning above: if this were my primary machine and my styles had been kicked off into cyberlimbo, I'd be pissed. Fortunately for me, the bulk of my writing is done right here on the iMac in Word 2004 for Mac (which has a Photoshop-style floating toolbar).

Next week, we'll have a look at Excel 2007, and perhaps run it side-by-side with Google Spreadsheet.

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