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Office HTML Cleansing Revisited


Another file full of villainous Word-generated HTML crossed the geekroom desk today. It had footnotes, which worked fine in Firebird but not at all in Internet Explorer. In that browser, the first footnote number looked like:


That’s ugly!

Following John’s suggestion from last time this issue came up, I installed Mirosoft’s Office HTML Filter to remove all that weird Office-specific markup, and ran it on the file. The results were very agreeable, and the file now renders correctly in IE as well as Firebird.

Editing Docbook


We’re putting together a services provided document for the operational and IT staff here at the Berkman Center. I’ve always kind of wanted a reason to use docbook, and this seems like an excellent excuse to do so. I often find with these sorts of projects that the task of just figuring how to format and organize such a document is the hurdle that stops from me ever getting around to putting it together. Docbook provides a simple (as long as you ignore most of the elements!), straightforward way to organize any informational document, removing that barrier. Moreover, the structure is built into the document, so it’s easier for multiple people to work on the same document — everyone has to use the same organizational structure because it is dictated by the language.

The difficult part of figuring out to make this work was finding a good gui editor that hides most of complexity from the other, non-techy folks who will be working on the document. I’ve settled on XMLMind. I played around with a bunch of options, including Word, OpenOffice, and a bunch of xml editors. Docbook support in Word and OpenOffice is not a good enough fit — I could make it work, but it wasn’t really any easier to learn than writing the xml manually, so they wouldn’t help my non-techy compatriots. Most of the XML editors I tried were functional but hopelessly technical. They all seem intended to make it easier for folks who know XML to create documents, but I want something that will allow non-techy people to edit documents with only a very basic understanding of XML. XMLMind is the only (free beer) editor that was easier enough for non-techies to navigate that I feel comfortable using it for the project. It allows WYSI(almost)WYG editing of the docbook document, handles the conversion to html and pdf automagically (though the free version doesn’t support PDF creation), and has few enough UI glitches to be usable.

Of course, I haven’t turned it lose on my non-techy compatriots yet. I’ll followup once I have and have gotten their responses. and pdfcreator

16 recently released its 1.1 version. In the past, ooo has been funcitonal but clunky, so even though I’ve wanted to like it, I’ve usually ended up using Word on MS or Abiword on linux. The latest ooo release has won me over. The interface is slicker, the start time is drastically reduced, and it just feels a lot smoother. In short, it’s not clunky any more. The MS filters also seem to be much improved, and they were pretty good in the previous version. I feel very comfortable recommending that non-geek folks use this release as an MS Office replacement.

I’m even optimistic that the product will take significant market share away from MS, and if it doesn’t, it will be plain proof that MS’s dominance in the office apps world is a result of its monopoly. Free or $79 for the supported version vs. ~$500 for MS’s product is just too big of a difference to be justified by the very small difference in functionality.

Ooo also has a nifty export to pdf feature, which is quite handy for us, since we have had to buy acrobat for a lot of folks who like to create pdf versions of their word files. However, I’ve recently found another free (speech and beer) program called PDF Creator that provides the same print-to-pdf functionality that we’ve been buying Acrobat for. Even though it’s long been possible to create pdfs for free by printing to postscript and then using the free ghostscript tools to convert the postscript files to pdf, this process is way too burdensome to expect non-geek users to navigate it. PDF Creator uses ghostscript to provide the same ease of use of Acrobat without the difficult process.

Installing Windows – Now Less Fun Than Ever!


Of the past four or so machines on which I’ve installed Windows 2000, two have gotten infected by Welchia. My very first step after installing any Windows machine is obviously always to go to and install all the critical patches, as is Absolutely Necessary for anyone who installs a new Windows machine these days. But it takes a few minutes to download and install them, and in the meantime the machines get infected. That’s frustrating.

I just got us a new win2k install disk which has Service Pack 3, which should help considerably. When you’re installing win2k without any service packs, you have to jump all the way to SP4, which takes a considerable amount of time to install, especially on slower machines. And you need at least SP2 to be able to install the Blaster patch. But now I can install the SP3 version and go straight to windowsupdate for blaster and welchia patches before dealing with SP4 or IE or whatever.

Now I just need a good mnemonic for figuring out which patches are relevant from Windowsupdate, which is not exactly famous for providing detailed information on what the updates it suggests actually do. Typically it says something like “There is a security problem. People might be able to do stuff to your machine. This thing might possibly help. You might have to reboot after installing.” without ever mentioning any useful keywords like “Blaster” or “Welchia”. Arggh.

BloggerCon Webcast Troubles


We had trouble getting a good audio feed for the webcast of the day 1 morning session of BloggerCon. I’m working on fixing the audio as well as it can be fixed, but some of it may be a loss. If anyone else recorded any of the day 1 morning sessions, please send in whatever audio you have. We might end up having to cobble together the best bits that various folks have collected.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to give a go at fixing the audio on the files we have, feel free:



I tried to install a Netgear MA401 wireless card into an evidently broken PCMCIA slot today and was told that the computer had found a ‘FETGEAR EA401 WAREDENESS’ card. When I tried removing and reinserting the card, I got exactly the same card name, so at least the slot was consistent …

How to Add Context Menu Items in Windows 2000


A while back I was looking for a good basic free HTML editor for Windows, to install for a Berkmaniac. I wanted it to do syntax coloring and browser previewing, and to provide some facilities for automating coding. I came across HTML-Kit, which is really quite nice. It’s free as in beer, but seems clean and highly functional. It’s pleasant to look at, and can insert boilerplate table code and such. There are add-ons which you can buy once you’re hooked on the product, but the free version is definitely fine for the basics.

So the user I installed this for wants to be able to right-click on HTML files and have the context menu say “Edit with HTML-Kit”. Here’s how you do that in Windows 2000.

* Open Windows Explorer or “My Computer”.
* Go to Tools -> Folder Options -> File Types.
* Select HTML, or whatever other file type you have in mind.
* Click “Advanced”. You will now see a window called “Edit File Type”.
* There will be some Actions listed. You want to add a new one, so click “New…”.
* Now you can choose a name for the action, such as “Edit with HTML-Kit” or whatever else you want the context menu to say. And you choose which program you want to use. Browse through to the executable you want (presumably somewhere in your “Program Files” directory).

HTML-Kit is actually a bad choice of an example program, since it already knows how to add context menu stuff itself, in its preferences section. But this should work for other programs in the same way.

One problem about this here is that the normal user security settings for win2k don’t allow users to modify this sort of thing, which is a shame. A regular user can’t even modify her default application to view a file!! So the next step is probably to figure out how to loosen up the registry so that people here can set their own settings.

My Favorite HTML References


By popular request, here are a few of my favorite HTML references:

… and of course the list wouldn’t be complete without the
W3C Spec and the W3C HTML Home Page


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