Tag Archives: what’s e-new

What’s e-new? Technology terminology

Of bits, nerds and cookies

Computing has added many words to our vernacular, as well as bending the meanings of others and repurposing them. This article explores the roots of some common terms we take for granted or might have been bemused by.

Acronyms, abbreviations and portmanteaus

Computer terminology loves acronyms, abbreviations and portmanteaus for their ability to create a simpler term from something more long-winded. Your computer is bristling with these – disks are connected by USB (Universal Serial Bus) or SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment); data is copied into RAM (random-access memory); the images reach your monitor via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connector, and data is sent around in bits (binary digits).

Many acronyms and abbreviations come from people’s names. For example the RSA algorithm, which is at the heart of most security on the internet, is named after its authors: Rivest, Shamir and Adleman. Meanwhile the Linux operating system takes its name from its original author, Linus Torvalds, who wrote it as a version of Unix.

Technology has often relied on abbreviations for practical reasons. In the early days of text messages, abbreviations were essential to fit a short message length with limited typing capability. Early computing systems used modems to connect to the internet, and transmission speeds were slow (remember the fun of waiting for an image to download with a modem?), so abbreviations slimmed down messages. This has carried over into social media today. One example pertinent to editors is TL;DR, which means ‘too long; don’t read’. Perhaps we should reclaim this as NAE – needs an editor.

Inventions

Some words are complete inventions. For some reason, customer support seems to provide a rich seam of these. Maybe this says something about the job? Two examples are PEBKAC (problem exists between chair and keyboard) and the error code Id10t (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself). Terms for the user seem to be a common theme – perhaps this confirms the stereotype of computer people not always being people people! My favourite has to be ‘wetware’ or ‘liveware’, which interfaces more or less neatly with the hardware and software.

Repurposing

Repurposing or flexing the meaning of language has always happened, and the terminology of technology is no different. Many of the most common terms have come to us via this route.

One good example is the term ‘surf’, as in ‘surfing the internet’. One of the first uses in the computing context was in 1992. Before that the term for the practice of riding on boards on waves can potentially be traced back to 15th-century Hawaii. In the 20th century surfing became more popular in the US, especially in 1960s California. It seems to be around the 1980s that some new uses started to appear – ‘van surfing’ (dancing on a van roof); ‘train surfing’ (riding on the roof of a train) and then ‘channel surfing’ (hopping from channel to channel using a TV remote control). I suspect it was a short hop for Silicon Valley to borrow and adopt the term from there.

Your average computer geek’s (originally meaning ‘fool’ or ‘freak’ in Middle Low German, but has become a slang term for a slightly obsessive enthusiast) reading matter often draws inspiration from some odd sources. Nerd, another term for the stereotypical slightly obsessive computer person, appears to come from the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo. Cookie, a term for a small packet of information passed between a web browser and web server, came from ‘magic cookies’ used by programmers, which in turn has its roots in fortune cookies, as it is a small container for information.

Often history has had a hand in the repurposing of words. Patch is a good example of this. The term is now used to describe a series of changes to computer code to fix problems or improve the code. If you look at the update history on your computer, you can often see references to patches. This comes from the time when paper tapes or punched cards were used to put information into computers. When you needed to change a program, you had to cut out part of the tape and patch in a new bit. Meanwhile ‘bug’, used to describe an error in computer code, is often wrongly attributed to Second World War computing pioneer Grace Hopper, who tracked down a problem to a moth caught in one of the computer’s relays (a sort of mechanical switch). She taped it into the logbook for the computer with the word ‘bug!’ written next to it. However there are earlier records of bug being used to describe defects in mechanical systems as far back as the 1870s, and Thomas Edison certainly used the term in his notes.

Problems

Some computing terminology has, like any language, acquired problematic terms. Recently I worked on a computing book that referred heavily to the ‘master–slave system’. This term refers to a computing system (or part of one) where one piece of equipment or component has a controlling (master) function. The term is decades old, and a recent article in Wired found that in 1976 67,000 US patents used it. Unfortunately, this means it is deeply embedded in many technologies, despite being rooted in unacceptable practices and discriminatory language.

In the book I worked on this led to a lot of discussion, as the term is so well understood that really it needs an industry-wide agreement on what to use instead. Fortunately the company whose technology the book was about was happy to implement its own approach, using ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ instead.

The issue raises a lot of questions within the industry, highlighting yet another area in society that suffers from a lack of diversity. Wired’s article on this, ‘Tech Confronts Its Use of the Labels “Master” and “Slave”’, is an interesting insight into why changes like this take so long.

As you can see, like any new innovation, technology has adopted, stolen, repurposed and occasionally mangled existing language in order to describe itself. And these new words have then been incorporated into more general English usage, often with further repurposing.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cookies by Jason Jarrach; surfer by Jeremy Bishop, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Open banking

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at open banking, and how it can help with keeping track of personal and self-employed finances, and tax obligations.

Open banking is an innovation that aims to open up what has until now been a very conservative industry – banking. The UK regulation enabling this, the Payment Services Directive, came into law in 2018, but we are now seeing more services that use open banking becoming available. Originally the intention was to open up competition, particularly in personal banking, but it has led to some entrepreneurial companies offering new services to us based on how we spend our money.

A style guide for money?

The idea is to create an application programming interface (API) – which is a way of describing how two pieces of software communicate, kind of a combined dictionary and style guide – for the financial industry. This enables new companies to get involved with the finance industry, for example by creating an app that can bring together all your financial information in one place, so you can see multiple bank accounts and credit cards together. The API is run by a not-for-profit company called Open Banking Ltd and is regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority and Information Commissioner’s Office.

Keeping it safe and secure

Most people’s first thought when they hear about this might be to run a mile, as security immediately springs to mind. The key to open banking is that the account holder has to give explicit approval (or not) to any data sharing. The sharing is done in such a way that your bank and you are the only places where your password is accessed. This means that the system should be at least as safe as your regular online banking. As a further check, all the providers of open banking services have to be regulated by the Competitions and Markets Authority, and there is a list of regulated providers here: openbanking.org.uk/customers/regulated-providers/. Set against this is the fact that more organisations have potential access to your data, so the potential points at which hackers could access things increases. So far security in the banking industry has been good, as it must be to keep our trust, so I personally don’t think this makes me significantly more vulnerable to hacking.

The best way to look at the advantages of the system are through some examples. I’ve picked three – Money Dashboard, Coconut and PledJar – that illustrate the range of services that are now on offer.

Money Dashboard

Money Dashboard is an example of a personal financial dashboard – an app or program that allows you to bring your finances together in one place, analyse your spending, and set and monitor goals. It uses open banking to connect the bank accounts, savings accounts and credit cards that you choose (over 40 are currently supported) to the app and share your transactions with it.

The app then allows you to look in detail at your finances. It will show you all of your regular outgoings in one place, so you can see your direct debits and standing orders, and based on that project through to your next payday, allowing you to see whether you have enough to get through. It will also try to categorise your payments, allowing you to analyse what you are spending on and informing your decisions. You can then also set budgets to help you manage those spend categories. This is all backed up with presentation features such as bar charts that make comparisons simpler.

Many banks are building similar features into their apps, and are increasingly enabling you to display transactions from other accounts in one place. There are other apps, for example Yolt, Spendee, OpenMoney, Moneyhub and Cake, that will do something similar. I would expect some of these to be bought out by traditional banks and incorporated into their apps over time, but I think this type of offering will be one of the most common applications.

Coconut

Like Money Dashboard, Coconut is a dashboard type of app. What sets it apart is that it is focused on the self-employed. It helps you to monitor your business performance by estimating tax, enabling you to set aside money for taxes, PAYE and savings; it also helps you to recognise your expenses and get your finances in better shape for your accountant, and send your invoices.

Coconut sells itself as a simple system for organising your business finances and simplifying tax returns. It doesn’t market itself as a bookkeeping system, but it has a lot in common with one. Open banking links also support a number of the online accounting systems such as QuickBooks, FreeAgent, Quickfile and Xero to add bank reconciliation and other features to a more traditional accounting package.

PledJar

PledJar markets itself as the digital alternative to collecting tins. It works by rounding up transactions to the nearest pound and then donating the difference to a charity of your choice. PledJar allows you to connect to a number of charities and, should you wish, make additional one-off donations. It will also allow you to register for Gift Aid through the app, so that that is applied to all your donations across several charities.

While PledJar is aimed at charity giving, it is illustrative of a type of application – one that helps you to save by using the idea of rounding up transactions. Beanstalk is another app that takes this approach to help you save for the future.

Other applications

There are a range of other applications too. There are many that focus on comparison of financial products – suggesting loans, savings products or credit cards based on how you earn and use your money. There are also several products that aim to make payments simpler and cheaper. Apps like Wise (formerly TransferWise) target specific areas such as foreign transactions. Credit score management is a further field this reaches into – whether this is an app like CreditLadder that helps tenants to improve their Experian score, or some of the comparison products that give you a better indication of what financial products might be most suitable.

The big banks are starting to incorporate this type of technology into their offerings, but some are adopting it quicker than others. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: online banking by Austin Distel; coconut by Corentin Largeron, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? How to be your own IT department

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at how to cope when things go wrong with your technical set-up, from initial troubleshooting to simple fixes, and where to look for more help and advice.

The article covers:

  • Backing up before you start
  • Being methodical
  • The power of the off button
  • Diagnostic tools.

As self-employed professionals, we have to wear a number of hats. One of the least popular and worst fitting is the IT hat. Let’s face it, for most of us faced with IT problems the challenge is avoiding a rapid descent into playing laptop frisbee. But there is a lot you can do to resolve IT problems for yourself and build your confidence and skills in tackling those in future.

Before you start

If you read no further, please, please, please take this one thing on board. Back up all your important files regularly. Also, do it before you try making changes to your system. If you have Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 this should be automatic for a lot of your documents, but here’s how to do it: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/back-up-your-documents-pictures-and-desktop-folders-with-onedrive-d61a7930-a6fb-4b95-b28a-6552e77c3057. If you use a Mac, it is a little more complex: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/office-for-mac/how-to-use-onedrive-for-backup-on-mac/m-p/29589. Both Mac (Time Machine) and Windows (Backup/File history in settings) have good internal backup systems that also back up the Windows or MacOS. Take a little time to learn how to use them, buy an external disk drive and set them to automatically back up on a regular basis.

When you have a problem with IT there are typically three areas: simple hardware, like a loose plug, covered below in ‘Be methodical’; simple (often inexplicable!) software issues, covered in ‘The power of the off button’; and more complex problems, covered in ‘IT A&E’.

1. Be methodical

When a problem occurs, you need to step away for a moment and be really methodical about it. Say your printer isn’t working. The first port of call in the absence of any other clues (such as a message on screen) is to check physical things: Is it switched on? Is the power plugged in? If it uses a cable to connect to the computer, is that plugged in? At both ends? You don’t need to know much about computers to check these things – you need to look carefully, wiggle plugs to make sure they are fully pushed in, and follow cables to make sure the right ones are plugged in. But the point is to be methodical and thorough.

2. The power of the off button

If a program appears not to be working then closing and restarting it is a good starting point. If the program has frozen, then in Windows, press Ctrl, Shift and Esc at the same time. This causes Task Manager to pop up, and from here you can right-click on the frozen application and select ‘End task’ to close it. On a Mac you use the Option, Command and Esc keys, select the app in the Force Quit Applications window, and then click on ‘Force Quit’. If you then reopen the application, it should run normally.

If this doesn’t work then try restarting the computer. I’m always slightly concerned by how often turning something off and back on is a solution to software issues, but it is nevertheless a fairly reliable method. This can cure some apparently serious issues. For example, if I try and do a reboot on my laptop, I get an alarming-looking blue screen saying ‘Do you want to start Windows in Safe Mode?’ when it restarts after shutting down. With a little help from Google I quickly realised a) this was not a drastic problem, and b) I couldn’t fix it easily, and if I simply used the power button to switch off and then start up again all was OK.

A related solution worth trying if you are having Word issues in Microsoft 365 is to use the repair function. In Windows 10 if you go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Apps’ and find Microsoft 365, click on ‘Modify’ and you will get a pop-up that prompts for a ‘Quick repair’ or ‘Online repair’. Try a Quick repair, and if this doesn’t work run the Online repair (but be prepared to be patient).

3. IT A&E

If you have an error message or make no headway with the earlier fixes, then you need to try some diagnostics to get to the bottom of things.

Google is one of the simplest diagnostic tools to use. If you have an error message, search for the text and any error number in Google. For Windows and Word issues it will often have answers from Microsoft’s knowledge base near the top. These can sometimes be a bit techy, but they are generally accurate and safe. As you get away from Microsoft and Apple’s pages be prepared to be cynical and critical about where the information comes from, as there are bad sites out there. (For example, I would trust a reputable technology site or magazines like Tech Republic or ComputerWorld over a random post on Reddit.)

Device drivers (the software that speaks to the hardware) have a reputation for being a source of problems. With Windows 10 these are generally updated automatically, but occasionally a manual install can resolve a problem. This windowscentral.com article – windowscentral.com/how-properly-update-device-drivers-windows-10#page1 – can guide you through the various options in the order in which you should use them. If you can use the first method, it will be the safest as it uses drivers that Microsoft has tested.

Both Microsoft and Apple provide inbuilt diagnostic tools that can help to identify issues, particularly in hardware. For example, Windows has a number of these tools:

  • Task Manager – Run this using Ctrl-Shift-Esc to see what software is running and how much memory and CPU effort it is using. This can help you spot programs that are doing something odd (for example using a lot of CPU %).
  • Performance Monitor – This can give you an idea about what might be slowing your PC down. You can find it under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu. You can also see something similar under the Performance tab in Task Manager.
  • Reliability Monitor – This is quite well-hidden, but it allows you to visualise how reliable your system is and get historical access to error messages. The easiest way to find it is to search for ‘Reliability history’ in ‘Settings’.
  • Windows Disk Management – This can flag potential issues with disks. This is under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu.

As you go along, it is worth keeping notes on things you fix, preferably not on the computer. This will help by reminding you of what you have done, so you can fix things that happen again. It’s also a good thing to look back over and realise how much you have learned.

Finally, it is worth finding a local computer repair person and building a relationship with them for the times when you can’t fix it yourself.

Summing up

The article has looked at:

  • The importance of backing up files before performing fixes
  • Where to start with diagnosing and fixing problems
  • Simple fixes
  • Finding out more about problems
  • Where to go for more help

What else is e-new?

Andy has written many articles demystifying software and technology. Check out:

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: dog desktop support by Pavel Herceg; blue screen by Joshua Hoehne, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Passwords

By Andy Coulson

Passwords … We all have dozens and dozens of them. But how many of you have not changed the default password on something you’ve bought, or use the same password for lots of things? If so, you are not alone – the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that ‘Less than half [of people surveyed] do not always use a strong, separate password for their main email account’. The NCSC did a large survey in 2019, and the summary of the results makes interesting reading.

So, what can you do about this? The NCSC has a list of six key actions:

  • Use a strong and separate password for your email.
  • Create strong passwords using three random words.
  • Save your passwords in your browser.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Update your devices.
  • Back up your data.

This is a good list to work through, and I’ve discussed some of these before, but I’m going to dig into others a little deeper.

Strong and separate

Ideally, you should have a different password for each login. But, like me, I bet you have some types of account that you use the same password for. However, I don’t do this for important things, like banking or email. The NCSC highlights having a different password for your email as being the one to start with. The next problem becomes how to remember all these different passwords, and I’ll pick up on that with password managers, below.

So, what is a good password? You’ve probably seen a password security meter on some sites, where the password is rated from poor/weak to good/strong as you type it. Can you think what gets you into the strong category? Broadly, it’s more characters – the longer the better.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. You need to avoid repeated or sequential characters (like ‘aaa’ or ‘123’) in the password, as these weaken it. It is also crucial to avoid personal information – your name, parts of your address, date of birth, family members’ names and so on – as part of the password.

So where does that get us? ‘B7meapofngh04psnf’ is a strong password, but is a bit tricky to remember, so I’ll let you into a little secret. Most of the time, three or four random words as a phrase will create a really secure password. For example, the password at the start of the para is considered very strong, but so is ‘CanteloupeRiverArtichoke’. Which is easier to remember?

Many sites ask for a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Where sites or apps require this, you can always add a symbol and number to a phrase, such as ‘CanteloupeRiverArtichoke+3’.

So, our four takeaways from this are:

  1. Use separate passwords for at least email and banking, but preferably all your accounts.
  2. Make passwords long and as random as you can.
  3. Don’t use personal information, repetition or sequences in passwords.
  4. If you need to remember a password, use a three- or four-word random phrase.

Testing and checking passwords

Before I dive into this, a word of warning … If you are going to put a password into something, make very sure you know what you are putting it into. It would be very easy to run a ‘check my password’ scam website! However, the sites listed here are, to the best of my knowledge, safe and legitimate. I mention potentially compromised passwords below. This does not mean that someone is misusing the password, it just means that there has been data stolen from somewhere that potentially contains that information. Often these thefts are so large that many passwords are not used, so if your password is ‘potentially compromised’, simply take action and change it as soon as you find out.

First of all, if you use Google there is a built-in password check-up. If you go to your Google account online you will likely see this on the home page. If you click on ‘Take action’, it will highlight passwords potentially compromised in data breaches. You can then go and change those. It will also flag weak passwords and those used on multiple accounts.

Another good resource is ‘have I been pwned’, which sounds rather spammy, but is a highly regarded source of information about data breaches. You can use the site to check if your accounts have been affected by a data breach.

Finally, many websites have a password strength checker that allows you to get a sense of how good your password is. However, if you want to play around with ideas there is a good checker on the bitwarden site (bitwarden is one of the password managers discussed below). This also gives you an idea of how long a typical modern password cracker tool would take to work this out.

Managing your passwords

Many security experts suggest using a password manager to hold your passwords. These are software packages that keep your passwords in a highly encrypted online store, allowing you to use the passwords and logins across devices – so on your laptop, phone and tablet. Essentially you need to remember one, very strong, password to access all your accounts, but each account can then have a different, very strong password. That master password is never stored on the provider’s computer, so even if they are hacked the hacker only accesses the encrypted gobbledygook. Needless to say, your one password needs to be one you can remember, and it needs to be kept safe!

The NCSC article mentioned earlier explains that most modern browsers (Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox) have a built-in password manager. These work well, but it is worth spending a little time understanding the limitations of these. I’m especially impressed with Firefox’s Lockwise, though I’d rather use a separate password manager as it spreads the risk around.

There are a number of well-regarded standalone password managers on the market that provide similar features and a mix of free and paid-for versions. You need to be looking, at a minimum, for end-to-end encryption (this means your passwords are never available as plain text – they are always scrambled except on your device); cross-platform applications (ie you can use them on your laptop, tablet and phone) and secure password generators. Most of them also offer (but you may have to pay for) options such as secure sharing, which allows you and a partner to both have access to a shared account or service, in case, for example, one of you falls ill. I use one called bitwarden, but other well-known packages are LastPass, 1password, KeePass and Dashlane. Dropbox has just added a password manager to some of its paid plans.

2FA – a further level of security

2FA is short for ‘two-factor authentication’. You may be familiar with this from your bank; banks have upgraded their security in the last year or so. This is where, after entering your password, you need to enter a code that is texted or emailed to you, so you use two factors to log in. They often use your phone for one of the factors, as you often have it on you and this means it is more likely to be you.

Many services support using 2FA, including Google and most of the password managers. If you can use 2FA to secure key tools and services it is worth doing, as it makes hacking your accounts even harder.

Good luck and stay safe out there!

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


In previous What’s e-new articles, Andy has covered accounting, working efficiently in Microsoft Word, Word’s Editor, and useful online resources related to fixing computers, managing time and keeping fit.


Photo credits: padlocks by Georg Bommeli; purple artichokes by Joanna Kosinska, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? 21 for 2021

By Andy Coulson

In keeping with the theme of ‘Practical tools to boost your business’, I’ve come up with a list of 21 tech tips for 2021. These are all things I’ve tried and tested myself.

1. Have a system

This is the single most important tip of the lot. Find a system to organise and manage your work that works for you, and use it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook and pen or a complex program. Keeping good records and knowing what you have done and what you still have to do saves you time and effort (and stress!). Some of the tools below will help with that.

Word

2. Learn Word

I suspect that for most of us, Word is our most-used tool. Within this there are lots of really useful smaller tools that can help you edit faster and more efficiently. Tools like styles, templates and wildcard Find and Replace can all help. Take some time to learn how to use these – the CIEP offers a ‘Word for Practical Editing’ course that covers them. Also, look into customising Word’s various autocorrect and autoformat options, which can save you a lot of time and heartache.

3. Macros

While we’re on the subject of Word, macros are another timesaver. These allow you to automate certain actions, so a couple of keystrokes can run a series of actions that would normally take multiple keystrokes. Karen Cox and Paul Beverley both gave excellent presentations on the subject at this year’s CIEP conference. Paul’s ‘Starting Macros but Slowly’ video on YouTube is a good place to start.

4. PerfectIt

Staying with Word, PerfectIt is an add-on that allows you to check consistency and apply style rules to documents. It comes with a number of good style files, but you will benefit from investing time in learning how to edit and customise these. Daniel Heuman also gave a useful presentation on customising PerfectIt at the CIEP conference. Intelligent Editing’s website, the PerfectIt Users Facebook group and the CIEP forums are also good resources.

Office

5. Learn Excel

I’m guessing you bought Microsoft Office to get Word? But it also means you have access to other programs that you may not be using to their full extent. Take Excel – it lets you do lots of things involving numbers or data. You can manage your accounts, keep lists of jobs and record the time and quantity of work involved. Maya Berger’s presentation at this year’s CIEP conference was a great introduction to this. Excel’s in-built help with formulas walks you through using them, allowing you to experiment.

6. OneDrive

With Office you also get access to Microsoft’s OneDrive online cloud storage. Some of my clients have expressed concerns about the terms and conditions on other cloud storage services, but so far OneDrive seems to be a broadly accepted solution. I use this to back up all my files, and it has an easy-to-use share feature that allows you to share a folder with a client. This is a reliable way to return finished files – simply right-click on the file or folder, click ‘Share’ and then send the file or copy a link and send that via email.

7. Windows App Explorer/Mac App Store

Just as on your phone or tablet, the major computer operating systems now tend to have an App Store. It is well worth having a poke around in these, as there are often some little gems available.

8. OneNote

One such gem (although it can be a real Marmite application!) is OneNote. This is available as an app or as part of the Microsoft 365 subscription. It is a digital note-taking app that allows you to capture freeform notes. On a tablet it supports freehand drawings, too. I’ve used it as an alternative to a pad for making notes as I work.

Clipboard tools and text expanders

9. ClipX

ClipX is a small, free clipboard expander. It lets you access a list of your most recent clipboard entries and reuse them. It also supports add-ins, one such being Stickies, which is an editable list of sticky items that you can paste in. I use that for common tags or comments when I have to tag a file.

10. TextExpander

Text expanders take a short key sequence and expand them into a longer piece of text, eg typing ‘\pfa’ might expand into ‘please find attached the requested file’. TextExpander works across the programs on your computer and allows you to build a library of replacements and retain formatting.

11. Phrase Express

Phrase Express is an alternative to TextExpander. It seems to be aimed at corporates with multiple users, but is still very usable on a single machine.

Time

12. toggl track

The recently rebranded toggl track is probably the best-known time tracker. The website, browser plug-in and app allow quick and easy time tracking. You can group these by project and customer, and break projects into smaller steps (eg by chapter). The free version is very usable, and the paid plans can also handle billing.

13. Harvest

Harvest is another time-tracking app, but is more focused on billing. It has a free trial period, but after that it is paid for.

14. RescueTime

RescueTime tracks your time in the background and allows you to see where you have spent the time on your computer and your phone. It is intended to help you manage your computer time and see where your time-wasters are. I find it helpful as a back-up to toggl track. If I forget to start a timer, RescueTime can tell me I spent five hours on Word, for example.

15. Pomodoro

Pomodoro is a productivity technique that involves breaking your work up into chunks (typically 25 minutes) with short breaks between. This is supposed to help with focus, but I use it from time to time just to remind myself to get up and move. There are many good apps to support this, but look out for ones where you can adjust the times to suit you. Search for Pomodoro timers in your search engine or app store.

16. Break timers

Break timers encourage you to step away from the screen for a bit. There are many options available. I like Workrave, which is free, configurable and features sheep.

Dictionaries

17. Lexico/OED

We all need a dictionary, and the OED recently created a free version called Lexico. It uses the same interface as the full subscription product, so it remains easy to use. (The full product is often available through your local library.) You can also access other dictionaries online for free, such as Collins and Merriam-Webster.

PDFs

18. PDFCandy

I’ve talked about PDFCandy before. I think it creates the cleanest, most accurate Word files from a PDF of any of the tools I’ve tried, even with multi-column magazine layouts. The web-based tool is free to use.

Organisation tools

19. Todoist

If you like using to-do lists to organise yourself, then Todoist is my favourite tool to manage these. It will work on a computer or on a phone or tablet (and will sync across platforms) and has both free and paid for versions.

20. ClickUp

ClickUp is my organisation tool of choice. It has quite a steep learning curve because it is very flexible. It enables you to capture information about your jobs and organise and present that in a lot of different ways. I use it mainly for tracking progress, record keeping and planning my availability.

21. Explore!

Many of the tools mentioned are free, have a free version or allow a trial period. It is worth experimenting with tools to see if they can improve your system. Always try and run them together with your existing, tried-and-trusted system while you test them out.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: partially open laptop by Tianyi Ma; hourglass by NeONBRAND, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Free and easy accounting

By Andy Coulson

Accounts are a fundamental part of your business, but like many people, I loathe doing them. For a long time, I’ve used Excel and an accountant to deal with mine, but have been exploring accounting packages for some time. I experimented with FreeAgent, which offers a discount to CIEP members, and found it clear and easy to use, but eventually gave up on it because I found it really fiddly to pay myself. My accountant sorts my payroll, but FreeAgent seems to insist I run payroll, or else have to go through a real rubbing my tummy while patting my head process to record it. I suspect that if you are a sole trader or happy to run the integrated payroll this would be easy (ie you are not trying to bend things to your will!).

This led to me discovering QuickFile, a largely free, UK-based accounting package. QuickFile doesn’t include payroll, so I can simply add the salary and categorise it as a PAYE salary payment, which I find simpler. I can leave payroll to the accountant. I say largely free because you won’t pay anything if you have fewer than 1,000 ledger transactions per accounting year. There are also some optional chargeable items, like open banking links that enable you to auto-update your accounts from your bank. This costs a very reasonable £15 per year.

The initial setup of QuickFile is very straightforward. You add details of yourself (and your company if you need to), set up your bank accounts and the opening balance for when you want to start using QuickFile, and you can get started. You can then manually import bank transactions and set up open banking feeds if you wish.

Like most other accounting packages, QuickFile is built around a dashboard. This gives you a quick, clear overview of what is coming into and out of your business and quick access to your bank accounts.

Invoicing and purchasing

Invoicing within the system is straightforward. You can customise your invoices around a number of templates, allowing you to add your own branding to invoices. The system allows you to create your invoices or estimates and have a nice clear ‘Draft’ stamp on them until they are ready to send. The system also includes client management, so you can build a database of the people and organisations you invoice, making repeat invoicing simple. There is an option to import clients from a spreadsheet, and the program has guidance on how to do this, but you will need to have a bit of skill with .csv files in spreadsheets to use it. Once your invoice is ready, you can send it from within the system using a customisable email. Your invoice list then gives you access to all your invoices with clear amber (sent), green (paid) and red (late) status flags. An outstanding invoices report allows you to keep track of these, and you can also set up automatic reminders for when an invoice goes over its due date.

Purchases are similarly easy to manage. You can enter these as one-offs or as recurring – for example, my hosting costs are paid monthly, so I set up a recurring payment each month for these. You can also enter them retrospectively (I’m sure I heard my accountant tut there) via the bank account screen, so that you enter the details when the purchase is paid for. While this is perhaps not good practice, it is simpler when you have a small number of outgoings. Like many other packages, it allows you to scan receipts straight into the system or import them, and the freely available app enables you to scan these on the go. As with invoices, you can build a list of suppliers.

Reports and support

Reconciling everything with your bank account is a chore that I don’t think anyone likes, but QuickFile keeps the pain to a minimum. Clicking through to your bank account gives you a list of transactions with money in, money out, a running balance, status, space to add notes, and a search tool to find similar transactions. The status shows in red until a transaction is tagged. Clicking on this gives you a short menu with the main types of transaction. Clicking through on, say, ‘Payment to a supplier’ or ‘Payment to a customer’ will attempt to find a matching purchase order or invoice, allowing you to reconcile quickly and flag these as paid.

QuickFile also has a comprehensive set of reports, allowing you to produce everything you need for year end, tax and VAT (should you need it).

The system has comprehensive community-based support that provides quick, helpful answers to most problems. This works something like the CIEP forums, with users and support staff from the company involved. There is also a good online knowledge base that covers a lot of common items and has some ‘get you started’ guides. These are really well-written and have been helpful to get me into using the system.

QuickFile provides a professional, easy-to-use accounting system for small businesses. The fact that it is largely free is astounding. Looking into the pricing structure for more than 1,000 transactions annually, the £45 + VAT per year cost looks remarkably good value. If the system isn’t right for you, you can export your data to import into another system, so I would recommend you look at QuickFile as an alternative to other online accounting systems.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Accounting calculator by StellrWeb; paying online by rupixen.com, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? The efficient guide to Word

By Andy Coulson

This issue of The Edit has a theme of working efficiently, so let’s take a look at how we can persuade every editor’s favourite tech tool to work efficiently.

1. Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a great little time saver. Think about what you do when you use a mouse – you move it about to try to line up a pointer on a (small) target. You then click and, depending on what you want to do, perhaps repeat this two or more times to get to your command. But with a shortcut you press two or three keys together, and away you go. ‘How-To Geek’ has a really good list.

You don’t have to accept Microsoft’s default choices, either. If you go to Options > Customize Ribbon you’ll see an option at the bottom to customise keyboard shortcuts. This allows you to set up shortcuts for any commands. You can also allocate shortcuts to macros (see below).

2. Styles

Styles offer you a way to quickly format elements of the document. However, they can be a bit fiddly to use. In Word 365, the styles appear in the Home ribbon, as well as in the Quick Access Toolbar at the top. Often you’ll find you use the styles already in the document, and you simply apply them by putting your cursor in the block of text you want to style and then clicking the style name.

But, what do you do when a client says ‘make file A look like file B’? Word has a mechanism to copy styles between documents, but it’s well hidden. You can add the Developer tab to the ribbon, which you do by going into File > Options > Customize Ribbon and selecting ‘Developer’ from the list on the left. Make sure ‘Main Tabs’ is selected at the top of the list on the right and then click ‘Add’.

In the Developer tab, click on ‘Document Templates’, and then ‘Organizer’ in the ‘Templates’ tab of the pop-up box. You will see two lists. The one on the left should have the file name of your current document underneath. On the right-hand one, click ‘Close File’, and this will clear the list, then change to ‘Open File’. Click on it and select the template or document you want to import from. You can then simply select the styles you want and click the ‘Copy’ button to import these to your document.

3. Wildcards

If you use Find and Replace, learning to use wildcards will transform your searching. These allow you to look for patterns rather than specific words. For example, ‘?ed’ tells Word to find ‘ed’ preceded by any other single character, so it would find ‘red’, ‘bed’, ‘Red’ or ‘Bed’ and so on. This can get complicated, but it can also be a real time saver. One of my favourite applications is cleaning up question numbering in textbooks where I can’t use auto-numbering. Here, searching for ‘([0-9]{1,2})\)^s’ and replacing with ‘\1^t’ would change one- or two-digit numbering like this: ‘1.<space>’ to ‘1<tab>’.

There are an awful lot of options, and one place to find help on these is Jack Lyon’s Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, which is available as a PDF ebook. I have it open in my ebook reader most of the time I’m editing in Word. Geoff Hart’s Effective Onscreen Editing also has a chapter on making the most of Find and Replace.

4. Macros

Macros are short programs that build on the capabilities of Word. They often link together a number of functions within Word to achieve a more complex task, be that something which finds information about the document, changes what you have selected or makes global changes.

Many of you will be aware of Paul Beverley and his macros, and I can’t suggest a better way in to macros than Paul’s Macros by the tourist route. This is a really good introduction to using macros, and will lead you to Paul’s amazing macro library. Once you get into using these you can really start saving time on your work in Word.

Among my favourites are DocAlyse, which runs a range of tests on a document to flag the types of issues it may have; WhatChar, which identifies any character; SpellingErrorLister, which creates a list of potential spelling errors; and HyphenAlyse, which identifies the frequency of hyphenated words (and their non-hyphenated equivalents) and checks common prefixes.

The CIEP has also produced a fact sheet about getting started with macros.

5. Add-ins

Add-ins go a step further than macros. They are programs that work within Word to add more functions. Many of you will have heard of PerfectIt, and this is a good example. PerfectIt will check consistency in the document in a way that Word’s tools simply can’t. You can install stylesheets to suit particular clients (or create your own). I recently had a job using Chicago style (CMOS), and through the forums (thanks, Hilary Cadman!) found a ready-built one that was a big help.

PerfectIt is not the only add-in you can use. I’ve talked about ClipX before, which is an add-in to Windows rather than Word. It’s a clipboard expander that allows you to see the last 25 entries in your clipboard, so you can reuse them. I’ve just discovered it too has add-ins and one, Stickies, maintains a constant list of entries. I use this a lot when I’m manually tagging a file, so I can quickly insert tags.

6. Learn Word

I’ve saved this for last, but perhaps it should be first. Invest some time in learning to use Word to its full potential, as it will repay you time and again. Many of the things above are rooted in a knowledge of how best to use Word. As you get more familiar with Word you’ll be able to customise your set-up, helping you to use it more efficiently. A great resource to help with this is the CIEP course Editing with Word. This will give you a good introduction to many of the things I’ve talked about above.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: keyboard – Halacious; tourist map – pixpoetry, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Emma Easy, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Microsoft Editor

By Andy Coulson

By now many of you who use Word 365 will have noticed the new Editor pane that handles spelling and grammar checking. Microsoft describes this as an ‘intelligent writing assistant’, as it also brings in ‘Refinements’ – looking at, and suggesting alternatives for, things such as conciseness and clarity. Editor uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the language used, and suggests amendments to improve the overall readability of the text.

So, the big question is: ‘Is it any good for editors?’ Well, that’s a very mixed answer, as a lot depends on personal taste. For instance, Editor opens in a bar at the right of the screen. I like this presentation, as it is clear and makes good use of white space around the text, making it easy to read, often in comparison to densely packed manuscripts. However, Paul Beverley makes a very good point in ‘Taming Word 365’ that this takes a lot of screen area, which is true. As an aside, Paul is developing a macro that will work like the old spellchecker. Your set-up and preferences, such as the type of screen(s) you use, may colour your view of this. I suspect it will end up being a very Marmite (for non-UK readers, a love-it-or-hate-it) type of feature.

Personally, I’m not sure how much the underlying spellchecker and grammar checker have changed. They can work with multiple languages (provided those are selected in the document). The defaults are broadly sensible and reflect good practice – for example, double spaces at the start of sentences are now flagged. Both give you alternatives and suggestions about changing the flagged word or phrase. The new sidebar allows you to review and amend things in a much more intuitive way than the right-click menu options (which I must admit to a particular dislike of). The options against each of the choices are also kept to a short list and are, broadly, sensibly chosen. One interesting feature is that there are Read Aloud and Spell Out options, and while I’m not sure how useful these are to me, I can see where they might be a help.

The grammar checker is very customisable, with simple descriptions in the options backed up by more comprehensive descriptions in the options (even via the dreaded right-click), perhaps backed with examples so you can decide whether or not to use the option. I noticed that it doesn’t, for example, check for the use of ‘which’ versus ‘that’, so it is not necessarily comprehensive or foolproof. There is still plenty of room for judgement, experience and author voice.

The big addition is the Refinements section that gives suggestions under the headings of Clarity, Conciseness, Formality, Inclusiveness, Punctuation Conventions and Vocabulary. These are all quite configurable through the options. I’m not a heavy user of this, so I don’t know whether the AI will improve the results, but my initial use left me underwhelmed. In some areas it was, to my mind, overly prescriptive and in others (eg Inclusiveness) it does not pick up very real problems. Again, I think the options could be better explained to give a sense of what the broader intention of the check is, allowing the user to make a more informed choice.

My main conclusion is that this feature is not aimed at editors, but at writers. The clue is in the name – it is targeted at being an editor replacement. At present I’m not overly worried about my job, but it is certainly a useful complement to a human editor. Compared with PerfectIt or Paul Beverley’s macros, it is clearly quite a blunt instrument. However, I don’t think that is an entirely fair comparison. Looking at it as a language professional perhaps misses the point of it. PerfectIt and macros allow you to focus in at a much more detailed level and adapt what you do to suit different clients. This is a level of depth that I’m not sure many writers will go to, particularly if they know the text will be further reviewed or edited. Editor will help many writers but tends towards homogenised text. This still leaves plenty of room for human editors to bring out the nuance and texture in the writing, and also to deal with the narrative thread through a piece of writing.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Windows monitor – Johny vino on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new?

By Andy Coulson

At the time of writing this I am in lockdown at home and realising the changes and compromises this means. Thinking back to when I started, technology has evolved so much that it has helped with these challenges in a way I couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. So, I’ve compiled a list of technology-based or focused resources that I hope will prove of some help.

1. Help! How do I fix my computer?

I suspect this may be something we will all come up against sooner or later. The good news is that there are lots of good resources that can walk you through common problems. Even if your PC or Mac is down you can search on a smartphone and hopefully get yourself running again. Sites like wikihow.com; helpdeskgeek.com; dummies.com; techrepublic.com and Microsoft’s own answers.microsoft.com and support.microsoft.com are all helpful.

A carefully thought-through Google search will often be the best approach. For example, ‘Word 365 normal template’ gives good answers as to why Office 365 keeps flagging the normal.dotm as corrupted. It contains the version of Word and the specific item that is causing the issue. If your computer is giving a fault code or description, include that in the search too.

I’ve written before about backing up, spring cleaning and virus scanners, and all these tips and tools are still relevant. I’ve recently been pointed towards Microsoft’s Safety Scanner, which is an additional, occasional-use virus checker. It is good if you suspect you have a virus, as you can download and run a clean copy of the scanner (if you do have a virus, that may have compromised the scanner on your system).

Finally in this section, Microsoft Word itself is a prime cause of the air turning blue around my workspace. Again, Microsoft’s own support pages can be really good – support.office.com. Our own forums are also a good source of support (forums.ciep.uk), with many experienced word-wranglers being regular contributors. One of my favourite sources of help to answer ‘how to’ issues in Word is wordribbon.tips.net/index.html, and it is well worth subscribing to their newsletter.

2. Managing your time

While I’m at home I find I am facing two opposite problems with managing my time. The first is that it can be difficult to focus and stick at what you are doing. The second is the polar opposite of that: using work as a distraction and spending too long nose to screen. But we can use technology to help in both cases to nudge us in the right direction. I’ve written in the past about approaches based on the Pomodoro technique, which encourages you to keep going for a fixed amount of time, or conversely take a break from work after a fixed period of time. The suggestions here are two examples on that theme.

Forest is an app that tries to help you focus by making a game of focusing on a task. You set the timer for as little as 10 minutes through to 2 hours. Each time you start a stretch of work the app plants a virtual tree. Complete the stretch and you start a forest. Quit and your tree dies. It’s a simple idea and strangely addictive. You could use this either to build up your focus or to remind you to take a break.

Workrave is aimed at helping people recover from RSI, but is also a useful tool to encourage you to take breaks from the keyboard and mouse as you work. It produces gentle reminders, which you can configure, to take frequent microbreaks and longer breaks to step away from the computer, and you can even set a daily maximum.

3. Staying fit

Keeping healthy is one of the key things we are being encouraged to do, and there is a massive number of resources that have been made available in response to the lockdown. YouTube is a particularly good resource, and all the suggestions below can be found there.

Normally I’m a keen swimmer and cyclist, but am not getting very far (yes, pun intended!) with either at the moment. However, the Global Triathlon Network has a number of very accessible workout suggestions, despite the elite-sounding name.

If you have kids at home (or even if you don’t), Joe Wicks’s The Body Coach TV channel has a regular PE-with-Joe session. He also has a range of other home workouts that need little or no equipment and cater for a range of abilities.

Yoga is another home-friendly exercise, and I find it also helps undo the damage done by sitting in front of a computer for long periods. Yoga with Adrienne and Five Parks Yoga both offer a range of sessions, from basic, short beginner sessions through to longer, more advanced sessions. Headspace have also put a series of Move Mode sessions on YouTube, which are not traditional yoga, but more a meditative approach to movement.

Finally, I’ve really got into meditation as a way of having a break from everything. Headspace, Mindspace and Calm all have a range of shorter (10-minute) meditations freely available on YouTube. I am particularly enjoying some of Headspace’s Meditations from the American National Parks where you are encouraged to focus on sounds or colours instead of your breath.

I hope that is helpful to you. Stay safe, and we’ll hopefully get back to some more techie stuff next issue.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Forest – B NW; keyboard Christian Wiediger, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Liz Jones, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.