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This problem has driven me to distraction with frustration ever since I upgraded to my (now not so new and already partially broken ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  ) new laptop.

I use spreadsheets a lot and for multiple purposes. I’m also not a super technology-type person.

Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

My issue boils down to learned behavior. You know, when you do something so much that it’s an automatic reflex.

Typing is a learned behavior once you really know how to type. You know what words and numbers you want and your fingers do it without you having to consciously focus on them.

On my day job, in every program we use including Excel, it’s the same date format: month day year. All day, every day, Monday to Friday. Month day year. Month day year. Month day year. An endless stream of typing month day year in the same format: 5/27/21

My previous laptop was the same: month day year.

I’m so used to it that it’s an actual burden to have to stop and think to type anything other than month day year. It’s the same typing format always and it automatically translates to show the date in any form you formatted it to, whether it’s the short numerical form (8/15/21), short date form (Aug 15/21), or long formal date form (August 15, 2021). You can even set it to show day month year or any other order after you type 8/15/21.

  • 5/27/21
  • 6/30/21
  • 3/18/21
  • 2/28/21
  • 8/15/21
  • 5/5/21
  • 5/8/21

    .

You get the idea. Consistency is golden. Your dates are always correct when you enter them consistently, in my case month day year. You don’t have to stop and question, or go back and verify anywhere, was that May 8 or August 5th.

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Why oh why did Excel suddenly demand a new date format?

The issue and where the frustration lays is that when I reinstalled Microsoft Office on the new laptop, it flat out refused to use the ‘month day year’ date format.

I periodically tried repeatedly to reset the date format in Excel to take month day year. But no, it persisted in only accepting day month year. My dates kept coming up wrong and I ended up taking the more lengthy process of entering them as text instead of dates: ‘May 8/21 instead of 5/8/21.

I periodically tried researching how to fix it with no luck finding any answers.

Yeah, it sounds like a minor issue. But entering dates as text renders all formulas using those date boxes unusable.

    .

I like formulas. They make life easier.

For example, if I submit to a publisher who does not respond unless the story is accepted, but instead tells you to assume you’ve been rejected if you don’t hear from them in 75 days.

If I enter the date I submitted as May 8/21 text, I have to count 75 days on the calendar to find the date I should assume they rejected my story.

On the other hand, let’s say in the spreadsheet box K11 I entered the date I submitted my story properly (5/8/21), Excel now sees it as a readable date number. In box M11 where I want the assumed rejection date of 75 days after May 8th, I add the very simple formula =K11+75 and Excel automatically finds that rejection date (Jul 22/21) for me in the fraction of seconds it took me to type =K11+75 (in this case actually =<arrow over two boxes>+75, which is even faster).

With the ability to use formulas that use date boxes, you can also create formulas that will average how long a particular publisher you submit to frequently takes to respond, the longest time it took them to respond, or the same for all publishers’ responses.

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For me, not being able to use formulas on Excel boxes with dates is the equivalent to the dating dealbreaker. It’s just a big fat NO.

     .

The Solution to the Excel Date Entry Format

There is absolutely nowhere in Excel or any Microsoft Office program that allows you to change your date format to determine whether you should enter mm/dd/yy, dd/mm/yy, yy/mm/dd, or any other variation of 5/15/21.

The key date format is in your operating system. Windows, for example. That is where you need to fix it.

Microsoft Office pulls the date format it uses from your operating system.

Buggers.

I’m not familiar with Apple, so if you have a similar issue with a program I you can maybe try a similar fix, but for Windows here is where you need to fix it:

*What you see depends on what version of Windows you are running.

  1. Open your Control Panel (Settings).
  2. Click on Clock, Language, and Region (Time & Language).
  3. Click on Change date, time, or numbers formats  (Date, Time, & Regional formatting – scroll down to it).
  4. Under the Formats tab (scroll down to Related Settings), click on Additional settings (Additional, Date, Time & Regional Settings).
  5. Click on Time (Region: Change date, time, or number formats).

Make your changes here and click Apply and OK:

   .

You should see the little clock in your computer taskbar change to show your new date format if you changed it, for example, from day month year to month day year.

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I’m still working on fixing the why my Microsoft Word documents are all such smaller print on my laptop screen now at 100% scale. My eyes are not going to get any younger!

Changing the Windows screen resolution settings just makes everything in every app and on the Windows desktop …

SUPER BIG!

Or small like Word. It also completely messes up some programs that require a specific screen size/resolution to work properly.

And yet, I’ve downloaded word templates that are normal sized on my screen.

That’s a problem for another day.

   .

Keep writing my friends.

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

 

We’ve all heard the age old trope, “Back up your work.” This has been repeated as long as computers existed in the writers’ world.

It’s so easy to say, “Yeah, I know.” It’s just as easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Especially with today’s beyond busy lifestyles.

We all get it. We’ve all been there, busy as all heck. As a writer, you are probably juggling the “paying job”, school, family, kids, pets, friends, other activities, and all (or many of) the things that make your house function day to day (you know, the dreaded laundry list of cleaning, cooking, shopping, and other chores). And all this is in addition to trying to put that precious time into writing, editing, revising, more revising, schmoozing, and promoting yourself.

Nothing brings home that reminder to back up your work like having a sudden unexpected computer emergency.

 

 

 

I have been dealing with this for the past weeks. I even have a dedicated external hard drive that exists for just that very purpose – to back up my work. It used to be a dual purpose drive, until one of my kids decided to ‘borrow’ it and dropped it. Everything on the drive was irretrievably lost, but luckily the important stuff, writerly stuff and family photos, were only backed up on it and not the only copy.

So, I bought a new external hard drive and declared it a, “Keep your hands off my frigging hard drive this is for writing and photos backup only!” drive. I dutifully backed up all my important stuff.

Once. Like a year ago. (Or was it longer?) Okay, it was definitely longer.

 

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Flash forward to yesterweek, when my laptop decided to die an unplanned and untimely death. I faced the loss of more than a year of my life. Three books that I completely redid, spiffing them up better than before, after getting my rights back, plus the completion of the fourth in the series. Three other books finished and published since I backed up, and another book on the verge of publication.  Plus the hours spent on other writing projects and my writing bookkeeping files, among so much more.

At least it was better than completely and totally losing everything, my entire writing library and my self. I still had the older stuff from when I backed up, however long ago that was.

I was lucky this time. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time I am caught unprepared and un-backed up. Once again, my work was saved. My awesome fantastic can fix and make anything better mechanic (yeah, I know, that is not a professional computer person) came to my rescue and was able to retrieve all my files. It looks like it wasn’t the laptop hard drive that quit, thank goodness. The bad news is the laptop itself is un-repairable.

Once again, I have everything backed up. I swore to back up every day. I’ll probably push for backing up every week once I am back up and fully functional again, and hopefully between life and everything I can keep to that.

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

And so, I will leave you with this extremely very don’t lose yourself and everything you are by losing all your writing files important piece of advice: BACK UP YOUR WORK! REGULARLY! PLEASE.

Not just once. One backup copy is great. Two is better. Best, is to have those all important backup, backup’s backup, and your backup’s backup’s backup. But, what if your house burns down? An offsite backup is good too and maybe another, and … okay, we might be going overboard now, maybe.

 

 

 

But there are alternatives. There are the now getting bigger and better thumb drives. But in my world those are much too easily lost. External hard drives are bigger and harder to lose.

How regularly you back up your work depends on how much time you put into writing. If you do a spattering of words here or there, you probably don’t need to back it up so often.  However, if you write daily or near to daily, I would recommend a weekly backup. Or more. More is better. If you just put in hours writing voraciously, I would suggest backing up at the end of your writing session. Trust me on that.

 

Now, let’s talk backup drives.

There are basically two classifications of hard drives:

HDD: Hard Disk Drive: These drives have more capacity and are cheaper. They are basically a bunch of magnetic discs spinning like a CD with a head that reads and writes data on the magnetic surface of the disks. They are slower and require the head to be reset to a new location every time you want to read or write data. If you drop these they are probably now a paperweight! Moving parts = it breaks if it is jarred too hard or dropped, particularly when the head is not parked off the disc. Think of a vinyl record needle skipping across, only it’s a much more fragile CD disk instead of a more durable vinyl record.

SSD: Solid State Drives: These are probably your better option for a hard drive. Too bad you will probably only find it as an option for an internal drive, but I do strongly recommend it if you are working on a laptop. Data is stored in memory (flash) chips, so there are no moving parts to damage. They also cost more and are faster, but don’t come in the capacities of HDDs.

However, backing up means external backup drives.

There are two main types of external hard drives:

Both are based on SATA drives (the most common connectors used in laptops) and external drives are of the HDD type.

2.5″ magnetic drives: These are smaller drives powered by the port they are connected to, so they are more portable external hard drives. They mostly connect using USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) or USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)

3.5″ drives: These are a larger version of the 2.5”, but require their own power supply. So, instead of being powered through the USB plugged into your computer, there is a second power cord.

While the 2.5″ is more convenient, portable, and easily stored, the 3.5″ is typically more heavy duty and reliable, and tends to be faster because of the dedicated power supply. If you could find an SSD external hard drive, you would be golden! JUST DON’T DROP IT! (Like I said, paperweight. Just ask my kid.)

But now if you want a backup to your backup, something protected from break-in thefts, fire, you name it, you are looking at offsite storage. While you could keep a backup drive at a friend’s or relative’s house, it’s not very convenient for doing those regular back ups.

Luckily for us writers, there is a Cloud for that.

There are options that are free, available for minimal costs, and the pricier options, all depending what meets your needs. Once I am fully up and running again, I will definitely be looking into the cloud backup option in addition to my external hard drive backup. The downside to backing up on the Cloud is it requires internet to access it.

Here is PC Mag’s list of The Best Cloud Storage and File-Sharing Services for 2019:
https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/306323/the-best-cloud-storage-providers-and-file-syncing-services

Some of you probably use an online writing platform, so you don’t have the fear of losing everything when and if your computer or other device decides to die an untimely and unplanned death.

Even users of online writing programs and platforms need to back up their writing files somewhere else in addition to having it there. I have seen people in writing groups online desperately seeking ways to retrieve lost files when something went wrong on those sites and their writing project was lost.

So, no matter how or where you write, back up your files. Back up your back up. And, maybe even back up that too. You will thank yourself some day, probably.

 

 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The search for a new laptop is entirely another thing. 

I researched any and every use I could possibly use it for and the recommended specs, which is quit different from the minimum specs.  Minimum specs are the minimum it needs to function, and that’s about all you will get. It will function. Barely.  The “recommended specs” is what it needs to function properly and usably. And then I looked for something a little better than that for a cheap price because I’m a writer and I’m broke.

DO NOT buy the first “affordable” computer you find that meets your specs. No. Nope. Bad idea.

DO thoroughly seek out reviews on the computer you are considering purchasing and ask questions. Like, “What is an ‘unfriendly keyboard’?” I saw that on a review and it sent a chill down my back even a Stephen King novel cannot elicit.

Further reviews on that particular item included a lot of complaints like, “I have to use Cortana to do anything because the keyboard is crap!” A laptop with a useless glitchy non-responsive keyboard. For a writer. The thought is more terrifying than any story I can write.

Another laptop that had a mix of both a lot of glowing reviews and bad reviews included a few reviews warning that they were offering a FREE $100 headset to anyone who gives them a glowing five-star review. I ignored every single good review after that and read only the bad ones. And they were bad. And a lot.

We finally found one that ran me $1121 CAD after taxes with free shipping to the store. The only bad reviews were the pad on the laptop not working. I don’t use the pad. I don’t like the pad. That I can live with. It’s only been a few days, but so far the pad works. Hopefully it keeps working for those rare moments my mouse dies an untimely and unplanned death, leaving me mouse-less and forced to use that horrid pad.

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Photo by Trần Toàn on Unsplash

Photo by Trần Toàn on Unsplash

Have you opened that Microsoft Word document to start editing or writing to find to your horror that you are staring at those ugly glaring little red squiggles bringing to your attention two words strung together missing the space between?

Then the horror deepens when you realize the document is littered with them. You think, “What the Hell?! That wasn’t there before.”

You second guess yourself. “That wasn’t like that before, right?”

You wonder if you missed it. But how? And so many?

No, you aren’t losing your mind, and yes, maybe Word is gaslighting you.

It is real. It’s a thing. You are not trapped in The Twighlight Zone or in a Tales from the Dark Side.

If you are like me and running ancient software, you will occasionally run into issues caused by the age of your program. Sometimes these problems come up only when you have to reinstall them.

Due to an unforeseen computer problem, I had to reinstall my Microsoft Office. I’m running 2007. Sometimes I’m on another machine running Word 2010.

I now find myself regularly coming up against this problem: When I open a Word document last saved in one version in the other, Word is losing spaces in the translation from one Word version to the other. A lot of spaces.

This is a huge formatting and editing headache when you are getting an entire novel ready for publication.

After some research I learned the issue is a known glitch in Word 2007 and specific to the conversion between 2007 and 2010 versions.

The good news is Microsoft developed a fix for it and it was likely fixed in a patch to Word 2007 years ago.

Now here is the bad news: I found the Office fix, installing the patch, but it won’t work.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2633585/spaces-are-missing-between-some-words-when-you-open-a-word-2010-docume

The problem with this fix is that Microsoft is no longer supporting Word 2007, so the patch is no longer available.

Since installing the patch is no longer possible, that leaves other workarounds involving either getting creative or spending money.

1) The Money Fix: Throw money at your computer. Literally. No? Okay, figuratively.

You can uninstall Office and purchase a bare bones one device only Word, Excel, and PowerPoint only Office package with no service available for the one time purchase price of $169 CAD.

Alternatively, you can get more with a monthly subscription for $8 per month ($79/year) or even more for $11 per month ($109/year)

*prices at the time of the article

https://products.office.com/en-ca/buy/office

While I’m not a “starving artist”, I am an author and I am broke. So, I’m going to look at what is behind door number 2.

2) The Creative Fix:

Workaround 1: Before saving that Word document you can do a “replace all” to replace all single spaces with double spaces. After opening the document in the other Word program repeat the replace all changing all double spaces with single spaces. This is clunky and impractical, but a workaround. You will have to do it every time you will be working on or sending to someone using a machine with the other Word version. And, there is no guarantee it won’t occasionally drop a double spaced double-space.

Note: to make this work I had to show all paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols before doing the replace all.

Workaround 2: Both Word 2007 and 2010 saves files as a .docx document. So it’s not as simple as looking at the extension on the file name.

I will note here that the curious thing is the issue with Word dropping spaces does not happen with every document I have. It seems random and yet specific to certain documents. This led me to this fix.

I tried saving as .doc

Instead of just saving as “Word Document” (.docx extension), I selected save as “Word 97-2003 Document” (.doc extension)

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/deployoffice/compat/office-file-format-reference

While this is not a perfect workaround, and it will show “[Compatibility Mode]” at the top of your document, it fixes the problem for now until I can afford to update my Office program to the current decade.

I’m pretty sure when I tested this theory Word knew what I was doing, because when I opened the document (.docx) last saved in Word 2010 in Word 2007, EVERY SINGLE SPACE WAS GONE. Not just random spaces, every one.

The Word 97-2003 document (.doc) on the other hand was just fine.

Go technology!

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