by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Writing”

There's Always a Silver Lining

Posted 13 August 2008 in by Catriona

Just to balance the frustration of the last post.

At least having to go through Appendix C—the index to fiction in one of the Victorian periodicals my work addresses—has reminded me of some of the fabulous titles of these serials and single-episode tales.

I never read most of them: the index covers the journal between 1864 and 1881, so I was hard-pressed just to read the hundred-odd works by my core author. But I regret not reading some more than I regret others.

I do regret not reading “She Scorned His Love—And Yet She Loved Him.” I’m sure it’s fairly awful—but it’s a brilliant title. No room there for thinking, “Ooh, I wonder what that one’s about?”

I’m also partial to “Foiled by His Own Features,” a single-episode tale, for the opposite reason: I have no idea what this could be about. Foiled how? Doing what? And what is it about his features? Is he scarred or just really familiar? I’m sure it’s the usual girl-loves-boy, girl-pretends-she-doesn’t, girl-and-boy-get-married-anyway narrative, but the title makes it much more exciting.

But my favourite?

“How Daisy and Violet Paid The Rent.”

I haven’t read the story—but Nick and I have our own, thoroughly libelous opinions about how Daisy and Violet paid the rent.

Sometimes, when you’re indexing the fiction content for seventeen years of a Victorian penny weekly, you have to make your own fun.

End of My Tether

Posted 13 August 2008 in by Catriona

I’m starting to become intensely frustrated with the process of turning the thesis into a university-specific PDF for submission.

It shouldn’t be so difficult.

Or, if it really needs to be so difficult, it shouldn’t be in the hands of the harassed postgraduate student whose thesis it is.

I’m entirely in favour of the electronic submission of the thesis; I think, in the long run, it will only help promulgate postgraduate research, once people aren’t committing to either travelling to the library in which the hard copy is held or paying a fortune to have the thesis copied onto microfilm.

But the process itself is showing more potholes than anticipated.

We started out this afternoon with a checklist of things to do.

Item 1: Set up an account at the printery, so I could download the PDF-conversion software. Easy. Slight problem in the fact that they didn’t tell me my password had to be limited to a certain form until after they’d rejected my first choice—which always annoys me slightly—but that’s a minor pothole in the road.

So I ticked that one off the list.

Item 2: Download and instal the software. Should be easy—until I get a message telling me that an error had prevented installation.

So I can’t even instal the necessary software.

Neither can Nick.

And we’re stuck on Item 2. It’s a public holiday, so I can’t even contact the printery—I did send them an e-mail, but I’m teaching tomorrow, so that’s another delay.

Oh, well—what can you do? Except deal with the other items on the checklist.

Because the really fun thing, the thing I didn’t realise at first, is that all images in the thesis have to be in TIFF format.

Mine are JPEG—but JPEG is unacceptable for the conversion process.

So that’s the sixteen images in the thesis itself that need to be deleted and replaced with TIFF versions.

(Of course, the images are on Nick’s computer, because he has the fancy editing tools, and so far he hasn’t been able to locate them all. I suggested they should all be in a folder labelled “Images for Treena’s PhD: VERY VERY IMPORTANT,” but apparently they’re, and I quote, “all over the place.”)

But, even more fun—if you have a particularly loose definition of “fun”—is Appendix A. Appendix A is over fifty pages long, and it’s all images. All in JPEG format.

Appendix A was built once in Word. But when I showed the final draft to my supervisors, they felt that some of the images—the photographs of holograph material—were too small to be legible, and had to be blown up.

So I re-built it, again in Word. But I failed to back it up before my computer exploded in February (I’d only finished it the day before) and it was lost in its entirety.

So we re-built it, in Pages this time, because I was desperately short of time, and Nick thought Pages was more efficient. That version got me through submission.

Then I copied it into Word again, so I could—theoretically, it seems now—turn it into a PDF for submission. And Word randomly changed font sizes and even fonts themselves in all the captions, so I had to go through and re-format all of those.

Now, it has to be re-built once again, just to turn those fifty-odd images into TIFF format.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m at the end of my tether. The corrections to the thesis themselves only took a couple of days, but this conversion process has been dragging on for weeks. In fact, I’m getting perilously close to the two-month deadline for submitting the corrected manuscript.

Surely the struggle with a Ph.D. should be in producing the thesis itself, and not in this process. I realise we’re the guinea pigs, with all that that entails.

But I think I used up all my energy to get this thesis submitted in the first place. I’m not sure how much I have left to deal with a document-conversion process that’s well outside my area of expertise, even if it weren’t constantly hitting potholes.

Yeah, That's . . . Really Not OK, Computer

Posted 2 August 2008 in by Catriona

Basically, I’d written an extremely ranty—but eloquent and amusing—post about the fact that Microsoft Word all but destroyed my sanity this afternoon, causing me to waste five hours on what turned out to be thoroughly wasted time.

And then things just became worse, since the computer insisted, when I tried to save the draft, that I wasn’t connected to the Internet, and the entire thing disappeared into the ether.

(Still, I suppose it gave me a chance to make a bad pun. It’s also an ignorant pun, since I’ve never actually listened to OK Computer. I mentioned this recently to a friend to whom the album is essentially a religious experience and, even though we were talking via instant messaging he still managed to infuse a distinct sigh into his “Oh, how I envy you!”)

So now I’m even more disappointed by electronic communication.

(It doesn’t help that I’m stuck on Lego Indiana Jones: I managed to leap from a rope to a moving column and across a lake of lava to collect an artifact, but I’ve died over twenty times trying to leap back onto the rope. I may never be able to leap on to the rope, but then I’ll be stuck on this level for ever. A dilemma, but I can’t see my way out of it.)

I don’t have the heart to repeat my rant about the ways in which Microsoft Word attempted to drive me either into Bedlam or into an early grave, but it comes down to this: once I had finally compiled my three appendices (which alone took well over a year to put together) into a single Word document—with a view to converting them to the university-specific PDF format, sending them to the Graduate School, and having the degree conferred—Word suddenly had a conniption.

Apparently, the file was too large for Word to handle.

It seemed to feel that this could best be dealt with by taking the third appendix—my pride and joy, in its way—deleting fully half of the words on each page, and filling the resultant gaps by randomly spacing out the remaining words.

This was after a serious of events including randomly removing my columns and refusing to allow me to insert a page break at the end of a section.

I would wash my hands of the thing altogether, but I really do need to get this PDF sorted out. It’s the only way the Graduate School will accept the thesis.

And so there’s nothing for it but Microsoft Word.

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