ESC!Webs Blogitorials

Friday, February 25, 2005

Taking the Plunge With InDesign

I've been using Adobe PageMaker for creating documents since before the debut of ESC! Magazine in 1992. With this upcoming issue of ESC! Magazine, however, I will dive eyes closed and headfirst into the shallow end of the pool and produce the entire issue of ESC! in Adobe InDesign CS.

A Little History (whether you like it or not)

Hailed as the revolutionary product that brought pro-level publishing abilities to the masses when introduced as Aldus PageMaker in the mid-80's on the Macintosh platform, PageMaker has endured as the "industry standard" application for professionals for two decades.

Unfortunately for Adobe (who purchased the Aldus line in the 90's), a newcomer on the scene showed up in their rear view mirror in the guise of Quark desktop publisher. Without getting into Quark's rapid ascension in the publishing industry due to its advanced typographical and layout features, suffice it to say that Adobe had its work cut out for it to convince its customers from jumping ship to this seemingly more capable and extensible layout application.

A funny thing happened to PageMaker on the way to the ball, however. Upon adding all the new features and capabilities that would make it the reigning champ once again, Adobe figured enough had been changed in the application to rename it and release it as the new "Quark killer." So what was to become PageMaker version 8, became known as InDesign.

As a user of PageMaker I was quite upset at the notion of being being forced to "crossgrade" to a new product simply because Adobe's marketing department felt that it would be easier to promote a "totally new" product in lieu of shoring up and promoting a well-known and loved application. To their credit, however, Adobe made it cost effective for its client base to accomplish this -- the notion being, of course, that once you've tried it, you wouldn't go back. And to drive the nail into the coffin, Adobe decided to take its former flagship layout proggie and christen it a "business application." Ouch!

Unfortunately for Adobe and my wallet, I tried InDesign and ... didn't like it.

For one, InDesign insisted on using frames to hold the content I wanted to layout. This is a very Quark-like feature and a feature that caused me to abandon Ventura Publisher many years ago in deference to PageMaker.

Second, while I could see InDesign's origins in PageMaker, things ... just ... worked ... differently. I can't explain it other than to say I found it difficult to pick up the program and continue where PageMaker left off. So more often than not my forays into InDesign ended more abruptly than intended with long gaps between my efforts.

This inconsistency to the way I wanted to work (as opposed to the way Adobe wanted me to work) remained ... umm ... consistent throughout the second revision of InDesign. And so while the software may have been installed, it remained unused in the bit bucket of my hard drive.

Apparently I wasn't the only one having these difficulties because, no matter what they tried, Adobe was having a difficult time getting its user base to fall in line. I was relieved, then, to see Adobe create a series of plug-ins for its CS version of InDesign named, appropriately, the "PageMaker Plug-in Pack."

With the release of the Plug-in Pack, Adobe made it easier for us loyal users to transition over to their new program while at the same time getting us introduced to all the "wow" features InDesign had to offer.

So how is it? Well, for the most part I like it quite a lot with these new extensions enabled. Some things I can do without -- and those are the same things I could do without in PageMaker such as the Template Browser, but overall it's a nice addition to InDesign.

What I'd really like to see in Adobe's InDesign (and I've heard agreement from other users) is a PageMaker-like text layout functionality. Sure, frames have their purpose, but those of us raised on the PageMaker method of doing things find it extremely frustrating and time consuming to mess around with frames which fail to work according to our long ingrained ways of doing things.

With the option of using frames, laying text out on a path or using a PageMaker text layout tool, InDesign could truly become the Quark killer Adobe intended it to be from the start.

Here's hoping for version 4!

Oh, and should my declared march to InDesigndom end in unmitigated disaster, I still have PageMaker to fall back on.

And so the cycle continues....

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Cornered Booth

The particular Subway I go to once a week has one thing that many others do not -- a blessing of space. One of the reasons I like this one so much is that there is an entire second floor dedicated to seating. What this gives the customer is room to sit down, breath and relax for an hour or so instead of rushing through your meal while those in line stand above you wondering what kind of sub you got and whether they should get one too.

I'll often head over there around 1:15pm to miss the lunch crowd, grab a corner booth and sit down with my lunch and a magazine (or book) and read for an hour before grabbing my "refill" and heading back to the office. It's a nice diversion from the day.

One day last week I followed all my usual rituals including snagging the corner booth. I'd say there were no more than three others up on the second floor -- most folks missing the sign pointing the way to the stairs in the back of the restaurant, instead opting for the seating on the first floor. Of those three, we were nicely spread out among the 16 or so tables and booths.

That is, until SHE walked in...

Yes, though there were many other tables and booths still open which afforded her the opportunity to maintain this nice friendly dining space, this woman opted to plop herself down at the table running perpendicular to the booth I was sitting in. Her new choice of seating being no more than 4 feet from me or so, she chose to sit down on the side facing me. So with me in the corner, she was staring right at the side of my head -- or so I felt. Obviously she wanted nothing to do with me or my lunch but none-the-less I felt her oh-way-too-close presence burning a hole in my side.

At this point I still had some lunch left so I soldiered on and read my magazine as if nothing was amiss.

That is, until HE walked in...

Sure enough, here comes a dude with his freshly made sub and he opts to sit in the booth in front of me. And (you know this is coming) he sits on the opposite side of HIS booth, so that now I've got TWO people facing me all within 4 feet of my previously tranquil corner. (It's a little like when I'm on the Metra going to work and of all the seats available in the empty train car, someone has to sit rightnext to me.)

Needless to say, that was the end of lunch. Being done with my sandwich, I simply got up and took off.

One of the amazing things about the human race is our diversity and uniqueness bound by our similar outward appearances.

No doubt I hail from a long line of nomadic tribesmen where you had to learn to survive on your own and be at peace with your aloneness in the world while my two new "dining companion's" lineage traces back to the caves of upper Mongolia where closeness meant warmth -- which ultimately meant their survival.

Or maybe their sense of personal space is just a bit off...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Microsoft to Mozilla Firefox: FUD You!

You know Mozilla Firefox is making a serious dent in Microsoft's armor when the Redmond giant rolls out a product announcement for something that hasn't even entered the Beta stage of development yet.

Yes, this week Microsoft announced Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP SP2.

Or, rather, they announced they are working on IE7 with a public beta due ... oh ... sometime around June. The really funny thing is that Microsoft is quoted in the above linked C|Net article as saying that "Microsoft has not determined how or when the final version of IE 7 will ship, but that it is planned ahead of Longhorn." Okay, Longhorn, for those who don't know, is the codename for the bloated software company's next version of Windows due in 2004 2005 2006.

You see, Microsoft is so badly feeling the pressure of Firefox's 25 MILLION downloads since it's release 100 days ago, that they feel an announcement regarding a product not ready for primetime is worthy of a press release. For the first time since BW I (that's Browser War I, btw), Microsoft's browser market share has dropped below 90%. This is due not only to the phoenix-like rise of their old nemesis Firefox (Netscape begat Mozilla begat Mozilla Firefox), but also due to the collective awakening of the computing public to other platforms such as Linux and Apple's stellar OSX and the Mac mini.

So, okay, let's give them some credit by saying that it's nice to see some of the improvements they are planning to make to their long-in-the-tooth browser but it's a case of too little too late. I already have all of the features they're touting for IE7 (and more) ... in Firefox. AND, unlike IE7, I can download Firefox for Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP and 2003 as well as for Max OSX and Linux! IE7 is limited to only those who are using Windows XP SP2 (2003 Server?).

Firefox is a very small download, it's secure and it has the features needed to make the browsing experience pleasant again.

If you're still using Internet Explorer on Windows do yourself a favor and download Firefox TODAY!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Old and ...

... Decrepit

Here I am about one week out from my 38th birthday and I'm a wreck.

About two weeks ago I leaned across the seat of my car to slide back the passenger seat. It was pushed forward because I was toolin' my daughter around in the Papamobile instead of her usual chariot. Anyway, about half-way through pushing back the seat (yes, I SHOULD have gotten out of the car, moved around to the other side and moved it back like a normal person ... but I didn't. Okay?) I heard a “pop” and my side started ... hurting. Really bad.

It didn't feel like anything was, um, out of place (read: “snapped in two”), but it sure felt like something had gone wrong. Because I had just attended a presentation at the local library where we were told that a parrot can exert 40+ pounds of pressure with its beak but it only takes 7 pounds of pressure to snap a finger, I immediately thought “cracked rib.” I was, after all, leaning on the arm rest and putting quite a lot of pressure on my side in my futile effort to “slide” the seat back. It COULD have been more than 7 pounds of pressure. “How much does it take to crack a rib?” was what I wanted to know. My inner dialog through wincing pain notwithstanding, my train was about 5 minutes out and I needed to get on it, so I wrote it off as a pulled muscle and headed for work.

ASIDE: No doubt Mr. Sub Conscious has something to do with this sort of thing happening as I get older because last year (about a week out from my birthday) I slammed my finger in the car door as I was ... moving the booster seat from my car to the other. It took six months for my nail to grow back. The plus side was that if I ever needed someone to leave my office because they were wearing out their welcome discussing everything BUT what they came in for, all I had to do was whip out the ol' mangled finger nail and I could get right back to work. Fortuitously, the smashed nail was also located on THAT finger. Yes, the “middle” one. Thank goodness I never needed to use it in that way, but can you imagine the power of the dreaded “double-whammy” finger? I could have lay a swath of rudeness and “fainting” spells (as the ultra conservative right is prone to do at the slightest whiff of “moral” impropriety – though often left immune to hypocrisy) throughout the US a mile wide with that jobber.
Aside's Aside:Hey! Maybe I can smash my finger again in 2008 and run for president on the “finger” platform. All I'd have to do is wave it around at my campaign stops – the opposition would be SO offended and shocked at the notion of my waving a severely mangled, disgusting looking “rude gesture” on national television, they'd faint with such conviction, they might sleep through the November election!

So, here I was at work getting all sorts of great advice from co-workers and through instant messaging such as “Go see a doctor!” Okay, obviously you guys don't know me very well if you're making THAT ridiculous notion! Another good friend said that it might merely (MERELY!) be “separated.” I'm not sure what that means, but it also doesn't sound very ... good. Considering all the advice and heeding my own of “well, nothing FEELS out of place,” I decided to wait and see what happens.

Okay, if you've stuck with me this far, it gets shorter after this ... I promise.

So the subsequent week went about as one might expect. Terrible wincing pain upon ... well, MOST movement and, of course, most people needed me to actually get off my lazy butt and wander over to their desk to solve their tech problem dujour so I really wasn't able to give my side the rest I had hoped.

When the weekend finally and excruciatingly came (last weekend – Super Bowl weekend) my daughter and I were pretty booked up. On Sunday we went off to Brookfield Zoo to help celebrate Carver the Wombat's birthday. He is, apparently, the oldest living wombat in captivity. Being one who is partial to the little marsupials, I was more than happy to venture out on a partially rainy day to see the old guy. While holding my daughter up so she could see over the throngs of well-wishers (I kid you not, there were throngs....) I could feel (imagine?) things shifting around in my rib cage. A very disconcerting feeling I might add. Truth is, I think it was my imagination or simply “normal” shifting around of the joints because I came out of it with little extra pain – until the cold started.

Yes, of course I would get a cold because nothing feels better on the ol' internal organ shield than a big ... honkin ... SNEEZE. Yep. Each one was a new experience in pain. This new-found problem caused me to start bending in new and unusual ways to avoid the pain while minimizing the expellation of bodily fluids – sneeze stuff.

So already I'm quite the wreck, but these efforts to contain my sneezes in the least painful manner brought on ... back problems. You see, I have “issues” with my back. Over the past four years or so, she (she? why not...) and I have had the understanding that if she doesn't “go out” on me, then I will act in the most respectful and least damaging manner possible to ensure her minimal discomfort. In other words, no insane athletic activity that involves lifting massive amounts of weight or being hit such a manner as to upset the back. In other words, my normal sedentary activities.

And that brings us to today. I feel awful. The cold is in full swing, my back is twinging at the slightest provocation and my rib cage still feels like someone balled up their fist and punched me as hard as they could right in the ribs (but three days ago instead of 10 minutes ago – so improvement!) I have, however, developed a means of coughing that allows me to do so in a way that doesn't actually hurt but it's a little strange. When I feel one coming on, I'll bend over with my hands on the knees like an underutilized right-fielder (“Hey, batter, batter, batter! Sa-wing batter!”) and cough until the tickle is gone. While it's fine for me and just a little strange for those around me, it seems to freak out our two feline friends. Not more than 10 minutes ago I swear Preki (the cat, not the soccer player) ran out of the room yelling, “Mike Cat is going to hack the biggest hairball in history! Get him off the carpeting and onto the wood floor! Aaaaaaaaahhhhh!” Or something like that.

So to summarize:

My side is killing me, I'm sick as a dog ... err, cat, and if I'm not extra careful until this cold goes away I could be looking at months of “back issues.”

Ah, it's great to get older isn't it?

I'm going to bed....

ASIDE: I'm a very private person. I have a few personal pictures up at work, but unless you're a close friend, you're not going to get a lot of details about my weekends or “how I'm doing.” Very likely, if you were a co-worker and asked how my weekend was, you'd get a very polite but short answer of “It was fine” rapidly segueing into “How was yours?” in an effort to quickly deflect the conversation onto the inquisitor. It works, though sometimes I wish I had the mangled finger tip back to cut them off when their weekend turns into a month. In that same light, I don't go around broadcasting when my birthday is. I'm not holding back on celebrating because of any “fear” of getting older – it makes a good joke (see above) but that's it – rather, I simply feel it's a personal matter for my family and close friends.

While this blog is one of my efforts to be more open to the readers of ESC! Magazine, I ask that if you see me in person on or near my birthday (and a few of you do) and you happen to actually KNOW it's my birthday, please don't make a big deal of it because, while I don't mind that YOU know it's my birthday, I don't need everyone ELSE knowing – unless you're planning to buy me an iPod. For a 40gig iPod I'll wear a clown hat and do a Riverdance on the file cabinets outside the boss's office.

Don't believe me?

Try me....