Monthly Archives: January, 2005


I’ve been playing with Apple’s new Pages word processor for less than an hour, but so far, it’s very nice!

It has opened every Word document I threw at it, including some fairly complex ones, and preserved formatting and underlying structure to a greater degree than I remember seeing in any other Word processor. The docs I’ve tried exporting in Word format and opening in Word have come across beautifully.

The templates supplied are beautiful and the overall template system is very simple and works well; it’s very easy to create your own templates and the ‘placeholder text’ concept is efficient and easy to understand.

I like the fact that the underlying document format is a package (a directory) containing XML files and any images, rather like OpenOffice’s. I was able to unzip the XML within a Pages document, change some text, re-zip it and open it again in Pages – everything worked fine. Pages can even produce quite reasonably HTML, though it isn’t really designed with this as an emphasis.

There are, of course, lots of features that Word has and that Pages doesn’t, but I consider myself to use quite a few more features than the average user, and I haven’t yet seen many things that I would miss. I certainly appreciate the fact that I can get it with its Powerpoint-like companion for only UKP 49; less than a quarter of the price of Word alone. It does like a pretty speedy machine, though; users of older Macs may find it rather sluggish.

At the very least, it’s a good option for somebody not sure whether they want to splash out on Microsoft’s offering. I’d certainly recommend it for anybody who isn’t sure they need Word. The fact that Word has crashed numerous times in the last few days for me makes me more receptive to alternatives. And, of course, Pages is much nicer to look at….

Follow-up: My friend Hap has pointed out the missing feature most likely to be a problem for us when it comes to corporate use: the lack of a ‘track changes’ facility. If this, or similar features like automatic cross-referencing, are likely to be something you need, then you may need to stick with Word. If you don’t like or can’t afford Word, then NeoOffice/J, the Mac version of OpenOffice, is becoming really quite good. Not so pretty, though! I’d still rather use Pages for most things.


My friend Martin & I went for a wonderful walk in the Suffolk countryside this afternoon. We enjoyed seeing the sheep and the deer, but at one point the footpath took us rather closer to this handsome chap than was entirely comfortable:

A bit of a bully?

He’s huge (that’s quite a big fence) and beautiful, and more so when you’re only 20 feet away, but those horns do look as if he’s been sharpening them specially for you. He didn’t make any threatening movements, though, and neither, I can promise you, did we…

A bit of a bully?

Blogs and DTP

We tend to overestimate the short-term impact of technological change and underestimate its long-term impact. This is a frequently-quoted maxim, in several variations, and is attributed to many people including Heinlein and Winston Churchill. Whoever it was, they were right.

It’s a bit like saying that people have a rather short-term memory. Any telephone poll of ‘the greatest albums of all time’ will suggest that a remarkable number of them were released in the last year or two. The same is true for films. I think it would be much more interesting to run such a poll with the added restriction that anything from the last 5 years is automatically excluded. A very good way of judging the quality of anything, in my opinion, is how well it stands up to the test of time. But the point is that we overestimate the importance of the recent.

Anyway, what actually got me thinking about this was a Podcast I downloaded from IT Conversations. It was a discussion with Dave Gillmor about the effect of blogs & podcasts, and the likely effect on Journalism (with a capital J). I started to think that there might be some significant parallels with Desktop Publishing. Remember when the phrase ‘DTP’ was everywhere? When everybody thought they could do graphic design, and the leaflet ostensibly about the Village Fete told you more about the number of fonts on somebody’s hard disk or the quality of their dot-matrix printer?

In the long run, of course, people calmed down a bit. Graphic designers and publishers didn’t, in general, disappear, though some of the bad ones probably did. But I think the general public gained more understanding of the field, and if more amateurs proved to be quite good at it when given access to the tools, there was also greater appreciation by the non-professionals of those who were really experts. Giving a man a fishing rod is rather different from teaching him to fish.

A similar thing has been happening over the last few years with video production. There was a time when you needed a professional if you wanted to make any kind of video. Now you just need one to make a good video.

Well, now it’s the turn of journalism…


It’s been a while since Oxford, Cambridge and some other key UK universities have been adequately funded to provide the quality of education for which they are famous. The tuition fees charged to UK students are set by the government and are very low by international standards, which is a good thing, but the top-up provided by the state doesn’t come close to covering the costs, even though the overall costs per student of Oxford and Cambridge are tiny when compared, for example, to Harvard, Stanford and Yale.

The Labour government has a dilemma: it can’t be seen to be subsidising heavily what are still thought by many to be toffs’ universities (despite the positive discrimination in favour of state schools in recent years). But neither do they want Oxbridge to ‘go private’ and become even more exclusive, though I think this must be inevitable in the long term.

This Times article talks about plans at Oxford to reduce the number of UK students in favour of more international ones, who can be charged higher prices.

The concept of paying for excellence is so far off anybody’s political map these days that it’s not worth discussing…

“A rose” by any other encoding would smell as sweet?

Joel Spolsky writes a lot of good stuff on his Joel on Software site. If you’re a programmer, or even vaguely interested, and are bamboozled by this Unicode stuff and wish it would all just go away and be ASCII, like in the good old days, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. But there’s a gentle introduction in The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!)

Newspaper archives and advertising

Dan Gillmor encourages newspapers to open their archives and raise revenue from advertising rather than an entry charge. If people can search the archives, the advertising could be targetted. I agree – this is a much better model, though I don’t see the trend being in that direction at present.


I’ve recently turned on the website for Exbiblio, our current project. It doesn’t tell you much yet, but watch this space…

Quentin’s thought for the day…

…is to do with managing your to-do list:

It’s easy to be motivated to do the high-priority items.
The art of organisation is motivating yourself to do the low-priority ones.

Of course, rather than listening to my advice, you’d do better to get David Allen’s book, “Getting things done”.
I recommend the audio version. I listened to this in the car while commuting and found it much easier than finding the time to read the book.

Irresistible job opportunities

From the Cambridge Weekly News job section today:

Would you like to help develop the community waste sector in the east of England?

There’s no field like home

I always enjoy my regular trips to Seattle, and the more time I spend there, the more I like it. Too many visitors only get to see the city centre, which is pleasant enough but most of it is not, I think, noticably different from, say, Denver. The great thing about Seattle is the surroundings; the islands, the amount of water, the spectacular mountains within a couple of hours’ drive. And the variety of interesting places for, and ways of, consuming caffeine.

But I’m always glad to be back home in the UK. Increasingly so, as time goes on. This may be a natural side-effect of getting older. It’s certainly not a general value judgement. The more I get to know parts of America, and certain Americans more specifically, the more I like them. Yes, it’s easy to find people and places who fit the brash, stereotyped view of America that we so often have in Europe. But I’m also aware of a respect, a courtesy, a gentility, in very many Americans which is getting ever harder to find in the UK. The subtle differences between countries are often much more interesting than the things that strike you on first visit.

There’s no doubt in my mind, though, about which country I’d rather live in. As I flew in to Heathrow yesterday, we came in on my favourite flight path, which goes right over the centre of London and affords spectacular views of the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge etc. It wasn’t that view that made my heart skip a beat and showed me how glad I was to be back, though. It was shortly before, when I looked out of the window and saw the patchwork of irregular, small, odd-shaped fields with tree-lined public footpaths between them. I don’t know where it was. Warwickshire, probably. But it sure as hell ain’t America.

Google Mini

Apple’s not the only one introducing a ‘Mini’ – Google Mini is a smaller version of their very expensive search appliance; the new model costing just $5000.

iPhoto libraries

A hint: If you’re experimenting with iPhoto, and you want to make sure your old library is preserved, just rename the folder before starting up iPhoto. It will then tell you it can’t find the library and offer to use a different folder or to create a fresh new library

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser