Microsoft Word Rage

Way back in the dim distant past (well, the 1980s, for those who remember), whilst a PhD student of theoretical physics, I noticed a distemper amongst my colleagues attempting to write their theses using a word processor. It involved much swearing and cursing at the computer, slamming of doors, and running full tilt down the corridor screaming at the top of one’s lungs.

To be fair, it was not just Microsoft. Microsoft Word did exist at the time, but this was well before its market dominance. Other word processors existed, and were used, but all seemed to suffer the same flaw.

What was the cause of this most antisocial behaviour? After having added more than a handful of equations, or graphical images, the program developed its own personality, remeniscient of Beezlebub. Equations and figures would be randomly selected for deletion and sometimes (if you’re lucky) insertion at some random point elsewhere in the document.

I took heed, and joined the document processing revolution. In particular, I started using LaTeX, and never looked back. I have written 4 books (including my thesis) using hardware that is considered laughable today, and it was a joy to use.

However, this is not a post for exhorting the virtues of LaTeX.

What prompted me into writing this is that one would have expected that with two decades of computer development in both software and hardware (with the hardware being 10,000 more powerful now than when I wrote my thesis), this condition of “Word rage” would be a thing of the past. Not so. My son recently was writing up a report on his school science assignment. This was no book! It was around 30 pages, and yes, had quite a few figures and tables, but I found him swearing at the computer, complaining of Word “crashing and running slowly” in an eerily similar way I noticed my PhD colleagues do all those years ago.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Libre Office is much better than Microsoft Word.

We need a word for this phenomenon. The obvious Greek neologisms “lexicomania”, or “leximania”, having already been taken for an excessive obsession with words, and as a synomym for logorrhea (ie verbal diarrhea) respectively, are no longer available. Hopefully with more visibility of this problem, the frustrations of scientists and technical writers might finally be addressed by the writers of our word processing software.

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How I got bitten by the Tiger.

I have had a mediocre experience with Tiger – the first couple of
flights were delayed significantly – taking 5 hours to travel between
Melbourne to Sydney each way, and more recently being caught up with
recent CAA grounding of the airline in July of this year, and having
to make alternate travel arrangements.

But to be fair, there were times when the Tiger experience went well,
and was about what you’d expect from a budget airline. I thought I’d
give Tiger the benefit of doubt.

However, I just recently tried to book tickets for a return trip
Sydney to Melbourne, and discovered after I received my booking
confirmation that my forward leg was booked for a different time to
what I had selected. Since I am meeting someone flying in on a different
flight, this was unacceptable.

I cannot explain what happened. I do know that I missed the flight
details in the small box at the bottom left corner of the web page
(where it is typically not visible on a netbook’s screen). I was
expecting a more prominent “review order details” page before
committing to the flight. I also did not expect that my flight
selection should have changed, either.

Just like other people have found, it is very difficult to contact
customer support to rectify the issue. Given that the problem was
detected only minutes after the order went in, it would be no skin of
Tiger’s nose to correct the order to what I originally requested then
and there. However, it took some hours before I was able to get
through to customer support on the phone. In the meantime, I filed a
website problem report about the issue, to which I have yet to receive
a response.

Customer support, instead of being helpful, decided it was more worth
their while spending more than half an hour arguing with me than to
fix the problem.

I then attempted to change the flight details of the forward leg,
thinking that even if I end up not getting the $50 change charge
refunded, I might still be better off than if I flew with an
alternative airline. Two problems occurred – my debit card maxed out,
so the transaction was declined, but more importantly, even though I
selected two flights earlier than the current flight, the system
booked me on the previous day! Now customer support refused to reverse
this entry as well, and the upshot is that the return leg (which was
booked correctly) is now unusable. It is actually cheaper to start the
booking all over again, than to pay an additional change fee.

This is just not worth it. Tiger’s booking system is a roulette, with
no customer service to fix up problems when they occur. I have no
faith that spending another $120 will get me the flights I need.

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Banned from Fabric of Reality list

On Thursday 25th of August, I was banned from posting to the FoR discussion list by the moderator Alan Forrester, on the basis of flouting a newly made up posting rule, without warning, or it appears, even reply.

Many people have written to me privately in support, or posted public expressions of support the the FoR list. Thank you for your kind words.

At the request of a number of people, I have now established an alternative discussion list free from the tyranny of arbitrary censorship.

Alan Forrester’s Notice
My response to Alan Forrester
The posting that caused the ban

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