Mark Pendolino

October 19-2004


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Pulling an All-Nighter Without the Booze: Yet Another Microsoft Word Mystery

I can remember many evenings of my youth turning into mornings without sleep.

A continual progression of exploration, excitement, drama and climax, soundly followed by acute resolution. And all fueled by booze. Yes, I remember. . .or maybe I don't(?).

Seems age and technology have twisted the definition of the once revered all-nighter. No more are the pointed ebbs and flows of alcohol-induced youth. No, now it is a steady, monotonous course of solitude by the glowing LCD. I speak from recent experience. Let me share.

Last Tuesday, I worked the majority of the day on a large proposal for an extremely important potential client. The document had traversed several hands and computers, been marked-up, tossed around, put away wet. The whole gamut. This type of document ultimately lands last on my desk, me being the manager of Marketing Communications, the one who gives the last gloss and ensures it is edible for client consumption. The document, for which I will here forward refer to as "The Demon Seed," did not reach my inbox until 3:00 pm. Of course I had class that night, and did not want to miss it. So I made the pledge to go to class and then return to finish the document. Could only be a couple hours worth of work (HA, what an optimist)!

The bus delivered me home at approximately 10:30pm and I (thankfully) had brought the file home with me. I could course through The Demon Seed, make my edits, clean up, and deliver via e-mail to our account representative in Chicago, who would then deliver to the client at 12:00 noon Central time on the following day. No problem. Or so I thought.

And here begins the interaction with technology that is simultaneously fascinating, exciting, and horridly frustrating.


Interacting (or not) in Solitude

I moved the Microsoft Word document from my work laptop to my home computer. My home computer has a lower version of Word - Word 2000 - whereas the laptop ran Word 2004. I figured going down in versions wouldn't be a problem, as the converse is usually where difficulties emerge.

The document was in pitiful shape. It was well over 150 pages long and there were several accompanying appendices that were full of mixed fonts, colors and typos. I worked on the main document, sitting in the dark, chugging coffee, trying to stay awake.

As usual, I felt as if MS Word was trying to overpower me, change my decisions and my input. As the file grew larger (it was nearing 7MB) it became unstable and unpredictable. This is the problem that Chris Crawford had clearly laid out in his book about interactive design: The slowest gains made in conversation between computer and humans is the Listening aspect. It just wouldn't listen to me. And the interactivity was gone.

I soon realized that I was in for a longer haul than I had previously anticipated.






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