Sunday, April 5, 2009

Joy of software: What you see may NOT be what you get

We are all used to software claims that “What you see is what you get.” The long acronym for this feature is WYSIWYG (pronounced wizzi-wig). Of course, often it is not. The definition in Wikipedia waffles by saying that: “content displayed during editing appears VERY SIMILAR to the final output” rather than identical.

Even little things like carriage returns and line feeds can get messed up when you cut and paste from one application to another. Spaces can disappear or extra blank lines can appear. Symbols can be replaced by apparently unrelated ones. Fonts can be replaced by other fonts. When you go from one computer to another, watch out!

For example, if you go look at the March 25, 2009 post by Sims Wyeth on one of the FastCompany blogs about Coaching and Training for Public Speaking and Effective Sales Presentations you will see the following (my italics added to highlight missing spaces):

The FiveDon’ts of Sales Presenting

When transforming your house into a dream home,talk to three architects.

When getting heart surgery to transform thequality of your life, talk to three surgeons.

And to transform your sales presentations intoreally good sales presentations, talk to three consultants.

Those four missing spaces are the digital equivalent to a stutter. They started in March but seem to have gone away in his April 1 post.

Last week Mitch Ross discussed how PowerPoint fonts do not transfer properly from a Mac to a PC. Last year I found out that fonts may not even transfer in PowerPoint 2003 from my desktop PC to my laptop PC. Apparently some uncommonly used fonts like Matisse just never got loaded on my laptop. Microsoft Office was loaded on those machines about a year apart, so I may simply have chosen different options because the laptop had a much smaller hard drive. The moral is to always check your presentation before show time.

I first ran headlong into the font portability problem on word processors back in late 1993. Two colleagues and I were writing a tutorial article for the Society of Automotive Engineers on “Spot Weld Failure Analysis for Accident Reconstruction” (SAE Paper No. 940570).

As senior author I drafted most of it on my PC. Then one of my co-authors drafted the next sections on his Mac. His boss, the third author, read the printed versions of both. Then he added his text, comments, and changes. The boss’s administrative assistant next tried to put everything together into one coherent manuscript on her PC. She was going to have to send it to Detroit as camera-ready copy.

There were 12 equations and a list of 15 symbols with many subscripts. Almost nothing had moved intact from one machine to another. Even the symbol for the constant pi π got changed to another character. We spent several hours going through the manuscript before it finally was ready to print out and mail in.

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