Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two formats [updated]

Punch & Judy

Two pieces of recent news offer an interesting commentary on the continuing evolution of office document formats and applications.

In Germany, following last year’s pained presentation on its attempts to adopt ODF, the city of Freiburg, along with a number of other European public administrations, has been funding an open source project to improve OpenOffice’s support for the OOXML format — the goal being to advance the case that users can switch from MS Office suite to an open source alternative, confident in the ability to interoperate between the two. The project is bearing fruit, with its first results claiming to have fixed “three of five biggest OOXML support issues”.

The news is timely with – it seems – a vote imminent in Freiburg’s city council to decide whether to “end its floundering migration of OpenOffice and to stop using the Open Document Format” … it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

[Update 2012-11-21: It appears Freiburg has voted to abandon its plan to migrate to OpenOffice (and for them it seems this means ODF too)].

Meanwhile, in Portugal …

But ODF advocates need not despair. While in Freiburg it might seem that ODF is the boat anchor holding FOSS office suites back, a thousand miles away in Portugal the Portuguese Government has published a list that mandates a number of open standards to be adopted in the Portuguese public administration. ODF is there; OOXML is not. The only wrinkle is that the version of ODF specified is 1.1 — which, interestingly, is the very version of ODF that MS Office currently happens to support.

Double the fun?

This raises the intriguing possibility that in one part of Europe officials may be using FOSS office suites to work with OOXML documents, while elsewhere MS Office will be used to work with ODF documents. If nothing else, this kind of thing is likely to accelerate the demand from users for developers and standardizers to address the remaining areas where format interoperability remains less than clear-cut — but in this scenario I’d also have to say I’d feel sorry for the users – especially those working on more complex documents – where those “less than clear-cut” areas are likely to be all-too apparent …

When to sharpen?

Unsharpened original

I have been fretting recently about sharpening, particularly of images being shown on the web, in blogs such as this one. Common wisdom has it that sharpening should be the last thing done to an image, but when images are being hosted by third-party photo services, it can be difficult to control exactly how sharpening is applied. More...


When photographing big things, whether natural or man-made, one basic photographic problem is getting the subject into the frame so it at least looks reasonable. Here is St Marys and St Nicholas Church in Beaumaris taken with a 24mm lens.

The problem (1)

Standing in front of it, with the camera completely level, it’s only possible to get a partial shot: the lower portions of the church. More...

Adobe acquired Typekit: sigh

Last October Adobe acquired Typekit, a handy service that serves out fonts for web pages, and which this blog uses, for a fee of $49/year.

Logging into Typekit today to fiddle with fonts (easier and sometimes more satisfying than actually writing content), I notice that customers are now being prompted to update their accounts to use Adobe ID. Sigh. Perhaps I have an Adobe ID (I blank out the tedium of creating all these IDs and accounts as you buy things on the web), perhaps not. But I don’t particularly want to change, and I don’t see why Typekit wants me to — this has everything to do with the internal structures of their business and nothing to do with the customer. It smells like the infamous Yahoo ID putch that marked the beginning of Flickr’s decline after being acquired by Yahoo! If the same pattern is followed, it is only a matter of time before the new ID becomes mandatory.

So perhaps I should investigate Google web fonts? If I’m going to forced to use some corporation’s ID scheme to get the fonts I want, at least with that one I won’t be charged at the same time …


Last of the Clexane
Last of the Clexane by alexbrn

Five weeks ago I left hospital after undergoing an open partial nephrectomy to remove a suspicious 3cm tumour from my right kidney. The experience was not as bad as I anticipated. Hospital itself was made bearable by an internet connection, and the tweets, chats and emails from well-wishers (thank you all – it makes a huge difference!). After three nights I was back home. After a week I was off pain-killers. After three weeks I found myself bounding up stairs two-at-a-time again — and now … I am almost back to normal, with only an occasional twinge to remind me of my wound.

Today I returned to Addenbrooke’s to discover the results of the histopathological analysis that had been performed on the tissue removed from my body. The findings were:

  • As suspected, the tumour was cancerous. The cancer is Renal Cell Carcinoma without any complicating sub-types. This is the most common type of kidney cancer.
  • The tumour is categorized as Stage 1 (on a scale of 1 – 4) – that is, small and completely contained within the kidney.
  • There is no evidence of spread to surrounding tissue.
  • The tumour’s Grade is II (on a scale of I – IV); where I is the least aggressive, and IV the most aggressive, cancer.

“How long have I got?”

I was slightly annoyed in the the run-up to my operation by a publicity exercise from Macmillan Cancer Support, whose publication of updated figures for median cancer survial times was accompanied by a widely-reported sound-bite from their chief executive:

“Finally we can answer the big question: ‘How long have I got?’”

Well, no. We can’t answer that question as everybody’s situation is distinct. If our lives were governed by probabilities I would not have cancer in the first place! A more scientific (and, maybe, more optimistic) approach to making sense of cancer statistics comes in Stephen Jay Gould’s excellent essay The Median Isn’t the Message. In my particular circumstances however the outlook is good: Cancer Research UK reports that for Stage 1 cases such as mine:

[w]ith a less aggressive cancer (grade 1 or 2 kidney cancer) about 94 out of every 100 people (94%) diagnosed live for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

So, especially given that the sample for these figures will contain a large proportion of elderly people, I will cheerfully take those odds.

Watchful waiting

So life returns, if not to normal, then at least to some semblance of it. My next medical appointment is a follow-up CT Scan in three months to check the result of the surgery and state of my organs. All being well, the follow-up regime may revert to a yearly ultrasound scan – since I am “young” it would be unwise to accumulate a large radiation dose from repeated CT scans for the rest of my life, which (I am told) I can now reasonably expect to last a long time …