Boom. Splat.

That’s the sound of my brain exploding.

You may recall my computer died a couple of weeks ago.  The reload went pretty well, until… *cue ominous music* …I loaded a new(er) version of my accounting software.

It crashed.  Even my geek skills couldn’t persuade it to work, so I phoned and waded through the usual labyrinth.  Why do companies choose automated telephone systems?

“Hey, let’s take customers who are already frustrated by our product and irritate the shit out of them by making them respond to ten minutes of increasingly obscure menu choices before putting them on hold.”

“Ooh, good idea!  And let’s set it up so if they press the wrong number they have to hang up and start again.”

“Right on.  Should we play music specifically designed to promote speechless rage?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea, but I think we should intersperse it with monotone assurances of how important their call is to us.”

“All in favour?”

“AYE!”  *roars of demonic laughter*

I finally got through to a human being.  In India.  Obviously I missed a point in the decision-making process:

“Let’s route the call to someone with a tenuous grasp of English, an unintelligible accent, and absolutely no hands-on experience with the product.  Both the now-frothing customer and the poor underpaid bastard in India should suffer as much as possible.”

“Support” refused to help me unless I a) paid for the call; or b) bought the 2013 software.  After reflection, I bought the new software, comforting myself that it was probably good to get the latest version anyway.

I installed it… and discovered it’s impossible to update contact names.  Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to direct invoices to the person who’ll actually approve them?

I called India again.  When I finally vanquished the automated menu, the support guy put me on hold for several minutes while he searched for my customer ID.

He couldn’t find it despite the three numbers I supplied from my receipt.

He told me I’d have to pay for the call.  After a terse conversation and some deep breathing on my part, he finally unearthed evidence of my purchase(!) and agreed to help me.

Apparently the definition of ‘help’ was lost in translation.

I explained the problem.  He put me on hold for several minutes while he consulted his helpdesk database before coming back with a completely unrelated answer.

I explained again.  Hold.  Another unrelated answer.

Repeat six times until he grasps the problem.

Then he put me on hold for several more minutes before trying to get me to change the invoice template.  That would solve the problem for the one invoice I’d called about… but completely mess up the umpty-thousand other invoices in the system.

I (not-so-)patiently explained to him how his product works.


Repeat until I bleed from the eyes.

An hour later, I gave up and requested a case number so I could try another day.

Hold for ten minutes.  Then he came back with another useless attempt at a solution.

Slow, distinct enunciation:  “Just.  Give.  Me.  A.  CaseNumber.”

Hold for five more minutes.  He finally spouted a (probably random) number, and I hung up.

I got a survey from the company.  The first question was ‘Were you satisfied with your recent technical support call?’  When I chose ‘No’, their next question was ‘Please explain why your issue was not resolved.’

Boom.  Splat.

Uh… I dunno… maybe because your support system sucks?

I never did complete the survey.  I just couldn’t get past that question.  Can anybody help me out with an appropriate answer?

P.S. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week: Curmudgeon-at-Large wrote a fabulous Fallen Arches post, “Corned Beef on Spy“.  It’s hilarious in its own right, but if you’ve read my books, you’ll get the satire (Updated: Oops! That should’ve been “parody” – I just looked it up) immediately.  I laughed my ass off.  Go.  Enjoy!  (C-a-L, I’m sorry for my brain fart – thanks again for honouring me with your wit.)

Tip: Using Highlights For Editing

Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer.

Drop me a comment below or contact me if there’s something specific you want to know.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Using Highlights for Editing

When I’m writing in MS Word, I use highlights to mark places where my document needs work.  I use a blue highlight to indicate “unfinished”, a green highlight to indicate “needs research”, and a yellow highlight to indicate “needs to be fixed”.  That way, if I’m on a roll, I can just keep writing and come back to the problem area later.

In a 400-page document, it can get difficult to find all the highlighted areas.  That’s a lot of scrolling. 

Fortunately, you can search your document for highlights and jump to them automatically. 

How To Do It:  Highlighting

Step 1:  Find the Highlight button
It looks like this:  

In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Formatting toolbar.  If you don’t have that toolbar turned on, you can enable it by clicking on the View menu, choosing Toolbars, and then clicking Formatting; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, it’s on the Home tab.

Step 2:  Choose your colour
Click on the little arrowhead to the right of the button, and choose a colour from the dropdown box.

Step 3:  Highlight
Click and drag your mouse over the text to apply the highlight.

Step 4:  Stop highlighting
When you’re done, click on the Highlight button again to disable highlighting.

Note:  Removing highlights
To remove highlights, click and drag to select the highlighted text in your document, then click the arrowhead on the Highlight button and choose “No colour” from below the coloured boxes.

How To Do It:  Searching for Highlighting

Step 1:  Set up the search

In Word 2003 and earlier, click on the Edit menu and choose Find; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, click on the Find button on the Home tab.

If the dialog box shows a More button at the bottom, click on it to expand the dialog box.  If you see a Less button, you can skip this step (it means the dialog box is already expanded).

Click on the Format button at the bottom of the dialog box, and choose Highlight.  You’ll notice that your search box now includes the words “Format:  Highlight” right under the “Find What” box at the top.

Step 2:  Search for highlights

Make sure there’s no text in the “Find What” box (unless you want to search for a specific word or phrase that’s highlighted).  As long as the “Find What” box is blank, the search will find all highlighted text.

Click on the Find Next button.  Keep doing this until you find the highlighted section you’re looking for.

Step 3:  Remove Highlight from the search criteria**

In the search box, click on the Format button again, and select Highlight.  You’ll notice that now your search says “Format:  Not Highlight” under the “Find what” box.  Repeat the process, and the “Format:” line will disappear.

Type a word, any word, in the “Find what” box, and click the Find Next button once.  This saves the settings so that you won’t be searching for highlights the next time you use the search box.

Close the search box.

**This isn’t essential to the process, but it saves you some frustration the next time you want to look for words alone instead of highlighted words.

Tip: Readability Statistics

Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer. 

Drop me a comment if there’s something specific you’re wondering about.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Get Readability Statistics For Your Document

Microsoft Word calculates readability statistics based on the length and complexity of the sentences and words you use in your document.  It doesn’t tell you anything about whether your writing is “good” or “bad”, but it can give you a hint if you’re making your readers work too hard.

The Counts are self-explanatory (and you can find them more easily than by using this method).  I’m assuming you know how to find your word count; if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.

The Averages are used in the formulas that calculate the three things that concern me most as a writer:  reading ease, grade level, and passive sentences.

The frequency of passive sentences is an interesting stat for fiction writers.  All the “how-to” books warn against passive voice, and this is a handy-dandy way to see at a glance if you’re overdoing it.

Reading Ease is based on a 100-point scale.  The higher the score, the easier the document is to read.

Grade Level is based on average reading levels in the U.S. school system.

The readability score at the right is for my flash fiction piece “Freedom” (about 1000 words).  It’s told from Dave the trucker’s point of view, and you’ll notice that sentences are short, readability is a whopping 93.5, and it’s written at a Grade 1.7 level.  Dave is not a complicated guy.

Freedom, Too”, the companion piece told from Beth’s point of view, comes in at Grade 4.6. 

Another day, another 1000 words.  Just for contrast, here’s the score for a technical piece that one of my clients requested, describing the ramifications of the Privacy Act here in Alberta.  Trust me, you don’t want to have to wade through this puppy. 

(Disclaimer here:  As a technical writer, I usually write as simply as possible, but this one was full of polysyllabic legalese.  Kinda like those last two words.)

Conventional wisdom states that for most writing, you should aim for minimum readability of 60 to 70, at a Grade 7 to 8 level.  And yes, that includes non-fiction writers.  Despite the complexity of his concepts, Albert Einstein’s papers still clocked in at about a Grade 8 reading level.

How To Do It
Here’s how to get these little gems of wisdom in Microsoft Word (sorry, Mac users, Apple doesn’t consider this a priority.  Readability stats don’t exist in iWork at the moment.)

First, you have to set Word to show the readability stats (this is a one-time thing).

Step 1:
In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Tools menu and choose Options; or 
In Word 2007, click on the round Office Button in the top left corner, and choose Word Options (lower right corner of box.); or
In Word 2010, click on the File tab and choose Options.

Step 2:
Click Proofing (this will be a tab in 2003 and earlier, or a menu selection in the left pane for 2007 and 2010).

Step 3:
Select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox.

Step 4:
Select the “Show readability statistics” checkbox.

After you have this set up, get your readability statistics by running your spell-checker through the entire document.  (I’m assuming everybody knows how to do this, if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.)

Unfortunately, you do have to spell/grammar check the entire document before you get the stats.  When the check is complete, the readability window pops up automatically.