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xFig font selection

It’s a bit 20th century, but I like it.

xFig is an idiosyncratic but useful vector drawing program that comes with most Linux distributions. It also works under Cygwin and on Mac. It’s still maintained and it works well with LaTeX. These are the fonts it gives you — the famous 35.

An example of each of the available fonts.

The fonts available in xFig, default install.

Just put here for reference.




Non-breaking en dash in Word

I call them en rules, but I’m out-voted on that one.

Anyway, in line with one commenter on this post, I’ll point out how it can be done.

If you are in Word and type ’15–34′, the ’34’ can end up on the next line the en dash is breaking. But, Word does the breaking after the en dash.


Option 1

Type ’15– 34′ where the gap after the dash is a nonbreaking space (Ctrl-Shift-Space in Windows, something else in Mac) and then select the nonbreaking space and type Ctrl-D (or go to the Font menu from the Home ribbon). Go to Advanced, then select the Scale drop-down menu and type something like 1%. It does not accept 0%, but a space 1% of the width of a normal one is close enough to invisible. The nonbreaking space after the en dash does not break on either side, so fixes the problem.

Screenshot showing the Font dialogue brought up using Control-D.

Nonbreaking en dash between 14 and 34 using a 1% width nonbreaking space.

Option 2 (the better one, as suggested by Daniel)

After typing/inserting the en dash, go to Insert and then Symbols and select Special Characters and choose No-Width Non Break. If you need it regularly you can assign a shortcut to it.

Screeshot of the dialogue box.

Selecting the No-Width Non Break.

They sure like capitalising everything! No-Width Non Break.


Thanks, Dan!

PerfectIt 3 vanishes

PerfectIt is  a really valuable editing tool that helps with consistency and style checking. I use it on all my documents, whether my own or prepared for a client.

Screenshot of PerfectIt at work on a document.

PerfectIt at work.

It is very reliable, but one day recently I opened up Word and PerfectIt 3 was simply gone from the toolbar. (Windows 7 32-bit and Office 2010.)

Went to their website and followed the instructions (here) to find it in the Add-Ins list and so on, no luck. Tried all the options. Eventually got down to ‘try uninstalling, restarting and reinstalling’ option. They emphasise ‘without running any other programs’. (

So I did that. I used the Control Panel to remove PerfectIt, then rebooted. I downloaded the full installer (PerfectItSetup.msi) instead of just the web installer, since I guessed I might be running it over and over again (…). I checked for previous versions (there were none) and made sure Office was not running, and no components were running in the background. Made sure Windows update was not running. Finally, Ran the installer. Accepted all default values. Did not launch the ‘getting started’ guide.

Opened Word.

PerfectIt was not in the ribbon.

Looked for it as an Add-In (File → Options → Add-Ins)

Not in the list.

Went to Manage COM Add-Ins in the drop-down at the bottom of the Add-Ins page

Nothing in the list.

Looked for disabled items in the drop down.

Nothing in the list.

OK, tried the more desperate measures.

Website suggested I uninstall other Add-Ins. But I didn’t want to toast my customisations to suit one product.

Also, I could download and run — but do I want to do that? What’s it going to do to my settings?

OK, a less invasive suggestion is to go to %appdata%\Microsoft\Templates\ and rename normal.dotm and force its re-creation. Tried that.

Attempt 1 (from the PerfectIt website):

Change the name of your default template. To do that, make sure Word is closed. Then in Windows, click ‘Start’ and then ‘Run’ and type %appdata%\Microsoft\Templates\ into the Run / Search programs box. Windows Explorer will open in the folder that contains your template. In that folder, find ‘Normal.dotm’ and change that filename to ‘Normal.bak’. Then restart your computer and restart Word.

Only problem is there’s no such folder. There is C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates.

OK, renamed normal.dotm to normal.bak.

I then rebooted the computer then started Word. Nothing.

OK, ran this ‘Fixit’ thing.

Attempt 2: Closed Word and ran the Fixit thing from (File is or just

Well, it said it fixed some problems.

Didn’t say reboot, so ran Word again.


OK, tried reinstall PerfectIt having run the fix.

First, used the PerfectIt install program (rather than Windows Control Panel) to remove PerfectIt.

Then reran the Fixit program.

Then rebooted.

On reboot (one of many in this process) Windows installed an update — that was new.

And re(re re re)installed PerfectIt.

Let it launch the quick-start guide.

Nope. Nothing.

Attempt 3: From PerfectIt website:

Make sure you’re not running Word/Windows in XP compatibility mode. To make sure this is not the problem, find the winword.exe file (same location as above), right click it and select Properties and look for the compatibility tab. Make sure it is not being run in a compatibility mode for a previous version of Windows. Details are here. If it is, untick that box and PerfectIt should run.

OK, try that.

Well, it was not in XP mode or anything, so tried asking for Win 7 mode, but made no difference.

Attempt 4: Examine log files.

C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Intelligent Editing\PerfectIt 3\Logs

No file show any issues. For example, file adxregistrator.log ends with:

09:42:32 0132 Registration success.
09:42:32 0132 The add-in registration process is completed with HRESULT = 0.

So there’s nothing there to fix!

Attempt 5: OK, I do not want to disable MathType, but what if I uninstall PerfectIt then disable MathType and then install PerfectIt and enable MathType?

Try that.

File → Options → Add-Ins → Drop down → Word Add-Ins → Uncheck MathType

Disappears from ribbon. Close Word.

Install PerfectIt.

Launch Word.

MathType reappears.

OK, weird thing: Deactivate MathType (as above), run PerfectIt installer and select ‘repair’ option, while Word is still open. Nope.

OK, remove MathType ..... dotm from C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\STARTUP and just temporarily put it elsewhere. Uninstall and reinstall PerfectIt (no reboots).


Attempt 6: Install PerfectIt to a different directory, one without spaces in the path (replace with underscores).


Attempt 7: Run installer as admin. First uninstall then reinstall as admin (by running from an elevated command prompt).

Should make no difference since it installs to local AppData anyway, but maybe it’s trying to write a file somewhere else and failing silently.


Uninstall and leave it for now. Re-enable MathType.

Attempt 8: Now reduced to random messing around. File → Options → Add-Ins → Drop down → Word Add-Ins → XML Schema tab → Activate ActionsPane, reinstall — nope.

Try install from net downloader instead of msi. (perfectitsetup.exe). Error. Run as admin? Nope.

Redownload installer(s).


Attempt 9: OK, uninstall MathType, uninstall PerfectIt, reboot, reinstall PerfectIt.


Attempt 10: OK, after removing MathType rereun the Microsoft FixIt thing and run it as admin. Then try reinstall — nope.

Attempt 11: OK, Remove YWriter. Maybe it looks like Word to the installer — I mean, who ***king knows? But I’m told I really can only afford to have one version of Word. Which I do. But then I’m stuck. Desperate measures.

Control Panel → Add or Remove Programs → Windows features. Does anything look suggestive? No, not really.

Turn off:

  • IE11.
  • xps services and viewer
  • tablet PC components.


I mean, there’s no way this can help but WTFK?

Reinstall Perfect It.


Attempt 12: OK, set PerfectIt msi installer to compatibility mode ‘earlier versions of Windows’.


Attempt 13: Copied C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\PerfectIt3\PerfectIt.cfg from a backed up version of the computer.


Attempt 14 and final: Maybe there’s some strange setting somewhere in account management in Windows preventing the Add-In from showing up.

Created a brand new standard account.

Logged into it.

Downloaded PerfectIt msi installer, first thing, in brand new account.

Ran it.

OK, now it showed up in Word. All seems in order.

So there was some strange account setting that was making it barf but without any information going into the logs.

Now I need to reattach all network drives and suchlike, copy some files from the old working account and reinstall MathType, rebuild my working environment. Bit of a pain.

But it works.

Further notes: Some USER registry settings were not what the vendor expected, but changing them did not make any difference. Still don’t know what the problem was. Vendor was very quick and tried to help, so service is good. Despite these issues, PerfectIt is a very useful product and comes highly recommended.


Nothing’s perfect.

File creation from command line in Libreoffice

I would like to be able to just type

$ libreoffice /path/to/filename.odt

and create as well as open an odt file. This would save messing around with GUI file dialogues.

This is sort of possible.

$ libreoffice newfile.odt

does not work.

$ libreoffice --writer newfile.odt

does not work.

$ libreoffice -n newfile.odt

does not work.

$ soffice --writer newfile.odt

does not work.

$ soffice --writer 


$ libreoffice --writer

opens a blank Writer screen but you then have to use the Save dialogue to name the file.

$ touch /path/to/filename.odt

$ libreoffice /path/to/filename.odt &

sort of works. touch creates an empty file, which libreoffice (or soffice) will open as a text file. If you hit Ctrl-s within LibreOffice you will have to tell it to save as odt, but you don’t have to navigate to the folder you want.

Sadly, giving an extension (odt, odp, ods) does not help LibreOffice choose the right program to use to open the file. They are always treated like plain text and always opened in Writer, even if you type something like

$ touch test.odp

$ libreoffice --impress test.odp

So that’s less than optimal. if one can be bothered, there is a bodge that lets this happen more cleanly. I opened LibreOffice Writer and created a blank file, called blank_writer_doc.odt and put it in ~/bin, and similar for Calc. I don’t use the other tools enough to bother.

Then in ~/bin created the following script, called Writer:

$ cat Writer
if [ -f "$FILE" ]; then
  echo "File $FILE exists. Replace? y for yes, anything else for no."
  read replace
  if [ $replace = "qy" ]; then
    echo "File $FILE overwritten with blank document."
    cp ~/bin/blank_writer_doc.odt "$FILE"
    libreoffice "$FILE" &
    echo "Opening existing file."
    libreoffice "$FILE" &
  echo "File $FILE does not exist. Created."
  cp ~/bin/blank_writer_doc.odt "$FILE"
  libreoffice "$FILE" &

And now I can type

$ Writer newfile.odt$

and it works.

The bit with adding ‘q’ to the response means that the response is never empty, so the if does not barf if the user just hits ‘Enter’. (If if is asked to work on an empty response, you get:

 line 5: [: =: unary operator expected


Successful science writing and editing

Recently I attended a workshop called ‘Successful science writing and editing‘, facilitated by Kath Kovac, a freelance editor and trainer who often works with Biotext, my employer. Kath did a great job. She has a lot of experience in writing and editing technical material, built up over many projects working with CSIRO and many other organisations. She wears the erudition lightly, which is great.

While a lot of the material was familiar — after all, I work in the area — it was good to see how another professional thinks about it and talks about it. Every editor has their own set of things that irk them. It seemed to me Kath is particularly attuned to pointless openings to sentences. Sentences that begin with ‘There are’ or ‘There is’ or (worse) stuff like ‘It should be noted that’.

For example:

Instead of: There are many sentences that, like this one, are longer than necessary.

How about: Many sentences, like this one, are longer than necessary.

It seems like a small change, but if every sentence gets a little sharpening, the whole document gets an amazing lift. It becomes more engaging, clearer and easier to read and understand. Some writers do this instinctively, the rest of us have to make conscious checks.

I also enjoyed the contributions of the attendees. No matter how familiar the material, the people are always new when you’re training or educating, and that keeps it fresh. A microbiologist gave us the definition of biosolids. We explored structuring documents, and the example was a fact sheet about the benefits of eating quoll.

All in all, a very enjoyable and illuminating experience! Though we never got to taste quoll.

I even got a certificate.




A document about inserting nonkeyboard glyphs when working in Microsoft products

See for a PDF. It’s just a short document about inserting nonkeyboard characters into Word documents and other Microsoft products.

That’s it, f-f-folks.

PDF booklet-y stuff using pdfjam and pdftk

Say you scan an A5 booklet by opening it flat and scanning each pair of pages. You can then print it out in landscape, stapled on the left and you can read the whole booklet in order. But the pages are out of order if you want to make a new saddle-stapled booklet.

So, let’s say I have a PDF like this one:

Scrteenshot of the pdf, showing the arrangement of pages.

Spread from the PDF of the booklet — pages 4 and 5 scanned onto a single landscape A4 or letter paper page.

And I want to rearrange it so that I can make it into a proper (roughly A5-sized) booklet, stapled in the middle rather than along the edge. Well, there might be a tool for this, but …

(1) We open it in gv and find out that it’s 788 wide, half of which is 394. It’s also 598 high.

(2) Use to make 2 PDFs, one of the left half and one of the right half.

$ -t "0 0 394 0" quietriter.pdf quietriter1.pdf
$ -t "394 0 0 0" quietriter.pdf quietriter2.pdf

Looks good. (Hint: Some PDF viewers don’t view the cropped files correctly — if it looks wrong, try a different viewer before messing with the dropping commands).

Page order in quietriter1.pdf is: back cover (24) inside front cover (2) 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Page order in quietriter2.pdf is: front cover (1) 3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 19 21 23

(3) Now, for booklet order, the simplest thing to do would be to put these in order (1, 2, 3, …, 24) then use pdfbook (part of pdfjam).

Sounds like a job for pdftk …

First, we’ll put the first page of quietriter1.pdf to the back. From what I can see, this should work:

$ pdftk quietriter1.pdf cat 2-12 1 output quietriter1a.pdf

(This conCATenates the selected page ranges in the order given.)

(4) Then we interleave 1a and 2 using shuffle, which is designed for just this sort of job:

$ pdftk A=quietriter1a.pdf B=quietriter2.pdf shuffle B A output quietriter_inorder.pdf

(5) Then we use pdfbook to reorder into booklet order.

pdfbook quietriter_inorder.pdf

That gives quietriter_inorder-book.pdf.

(6) We print the file double-sided with flip on long edge. (I just printed it from Acrobat, having done the command line manipulation running the PDF tools within Cygwin.)

(7) Looks good! Of course, there are no bleeds, but a quick saddle staple and then trimming with a guillotine and it looks very nifty, and a lot like an original booklet.

photo of the typewriter and manual.

The Remington Rand (Sperry Rand) Letter-Riter (what a terrible name for a typewriter!) with a facsimile of the manual, produced as outlined here.



***king Articulate360

Just a note that as of June 2018 Articulate Storyline or 360 or whatever it’s called does some weird and dangerous file handling.

[Note: Apparently the sudden loss of your precious precious work can be mitigated by avoiding unusual characters in file names (spaces being considered unusual) and by working on a local drive (“C:” in Windows world) rather than a networked drive. I am currently trying this to see if it helps.]

So … the context … I am working away, modifying an existing presentation. I click somewhere, and suddenly get bounced back several slides and all my changes for the last X minutes get lost — even if I have saved the file!

The first time it happened I thought, right, I better save the file every change. But that does not help! It is like it is reverting my last few changes and then forgetting them so I cannot redo them — sometimes as many as 6 slides of work is lost!

This is just not acceptable. Especially since people have been having similar problems for years.

In the end, I find I have to save regularly (like every minor change unless I want to repeat it) and after any big changes I close down the program completely then reopen it. I also work on local files (ie on my computer, not the server).

So far, that seems to have reduced the issue to manageable proportions.

Also, no nonbreaking spaces. In 2018, no nbsp. Not impressed.

As of 2018 Alt-0160 does not work in Storyline360, whether using number row or numeric keypad or even the Symbol menu where it is called ‘NO-BREAK SPACE’. Pretty underwhelming — though that is not to say they are not taking the issue seriously — they are.

Does not work regardless of Num Lock setting. I have tried inserting Alt-0160 with and without Num Lock and using Insert → Symbol and choosing character 0160 from the character map. Just does not work. I get a space, but it’s a breaking one, I’ve tried inserting a nonbreaking space in a word document and then copying and pasting that into the Articulate document (this works in PowerPoint, for example) and that does not work either.

Pasting from Word using the different options (like Keep Source Formatting) does not work either.

If I paste a nonbreaking space in from Word (or PPT) and then copy and paste it back from Articulate into Word (or PPT), it turns into a regular space. So Articulate is somehow converting it to being the wrong character. FWIW, en rule Alt-0150 works fine.

I installed the program less than a week ago, so it is completely up to date.

Anyway, that’s my experience of this thing — that they want to charge over $1000 for!

Far out.

Thanks anyway.

Printing PowerPoints with notes two (or more) to a page (repeat)

This is just a text-only version of the previous iteration with some new details. Just for the record. I had to work up the documentation, so why not post it?

This is what I did to print out PowerPoint slides two per page including the notes underneath.

There is (as of 2018) no option in the PowerPoint print dialogue for this. Note also that I do not have access to a full version of Adobe Acrobat Professional or whatever they are calling it at the moment.

(1) ‘Designed’ notes text in PPT; something like 12 pt for notes and 9 pt for refs/sources (Myriad Pro, though Univers works well too). Formatted notes consistently. To work with the slide notes in the text block under the slide, used ‘Notes Page’ under View. Can resize and so on and get WYSIWYG while formatting.

(2) Used CutePDF ( to print to PDF file. Went into Advanced settings for CutePDF and made sure paper was A4. Set Print Quality to ‘1200 DPI’, Set TrueTypeFont setting to ‘Download as Softfont’. Under PostScript Options set PostScript Output Options to ‘Optmimize for Portability’ and TrueType Font Download Option to ‘Native TrueType’. Other PDF print options might be acceptable; don’t know. Mac tends to work better with PDF than Windows. Cannot just use ‘Save as PDF’ option from the File menu because that does not give the notes pages.

The Print settings for PowerPoint (rather than the printer) were:
* Color (sic)
* Portrait
* Collated
* Notes Page (Print slides with notes)
* Print all slides (or the range you want)
* Printer: CutePDF
* No header or footer

Then printed and saved the file.

(3) I decided to crop the resulting PDF using a command line tool, because that is highly reproducible — I can get exactly the same cropped box every time.

I used in Cygwin. Cygwin ( is a Unix-like environment for Windows; would probably work seamlessly in a command line terminal on a Mac if the software tools it draws on were already installed, possibly through Macports or similar. is available from, and also from

The command looked like this:

$ -t "105 112 105 112" infile.pdf outfile.pdf

The four numbers are how much to crop from left, top, right, bottom; I worked them out by opening the PDF in GSview (, a Windows-based viewer for PostScript and PDF files that gives coordinates of the pointer, so I could just move my mouse to where I wanted to crop and note down the coordinates.

I know there are graphical cropping tools, but this works and can do lots of pages. Feel free to use whatever tool works for you, but keep in mind that the ability to make exactly the same crop box every time is very useful. An automatic cropping of white space is not ideal since might vary from slide to slide or vary with alterations of the PPT file. It will also fail to remove any page numbers or footers/headers that are present.

(4) I now had a PDF file with the pages, including notes, cropped to have narrow margins. The next step was to put two onto a single landscape page. You can do this by opening the cropped PDF in say Acrobat and then printing to PDF again, after selecting ‘2 pages per sheet’ or equivalent in the print dialogue.

My preference was to use a command line tool. pdfnup (version 2.08 when I used it) is part of pdfjam, which in turn builds on the pdfpages stuff that is part of LaTeX:

$ pdfnup --batch --suffix '2up' outfile.pdf

This takes the ‘outfile’ from the step and makes a new PDF with two pages per page and adds the suffix ‘2up’ to the file name, so the final file is ‘outfile-2up.pdf’

I have noticed that pdfnup gives less white space around the slides (and thus bigger images and text) than printing two per page using Acrobat.

Darren Goossens

29 May 2018

VT220 time

Note that the quote marks work fine if I force ‘straight quotes’ rather than smart ones — the is my mistake, not the font author’s…


Font of the week: Glass TTY VT220, a font to look like a DEC VT220 screen, obtained by reference to how the glyphs were actually implemented by the CRT.

File is: Glass_TTY_VT220.ttf

Available from:

Here’s an example, just screengrabbed from LibreOffice — and I forgot to turn off curly quote marks..

bitmap image showing the text sample; text of sample is repeated below in readable form.

An example of the font Glass TTY VT220, a TrueType font to mimic a DEC VT220 terminal. I suggest viewing at full size.

Here’s the text:

Hello, here is my amber screen, looking pretty good, eh? The font is Glass TTY VT220, available from
It is designed to mimic what you’d see on the screen of a DEC VT220 serial terminal from about 1985. Not all the characters are available, although everything that could be entered on such a terminal is there.


You’ll note the quote marks don’t quite cut it, but otherwise it’s pretty nifty.

As noted, the quote marks do cut it. Maybe I’ll suck it into FontForge and see if I can come up with some ‘smart’ quote marks that match the spirit of the font.

Nice, though.