Daily Archives: September 4, 2007

If you have more than one computer in your home then you have a home network

Do you have two or more computers in your home? Have you ever wanted to create your own home network so that your computers could share resources such as printers within your home? Have been putting off doing this because you didn’t know how? Which cables to buy? What software to use?

Not to worry. You already have a home network in place, though you may not realize it. Others haven’t realized it also; see for example Wikipedia’s Home network.

I just realized I already had a network in place when I created two PDF files on the Ubuntu Linux machine I use for my volunteer efforts and wanted to move them to a Windows XP machine. Though I plan to create my own home network when I have the time, I haven’t yet had the time, and I did need to move them over.

I started out by writing the files to a USB flash drive. That’s easy to do using Ubuntu. But when I went to plug the drive into my Windows machine I realized there was no free USB slot available. I usually use a separate keyboard and mouse, and my Windows laptop only has two USB slots. I knew I could power down the machine, unplug the keyboard and mouse, and bring it up again so I could plug in the flash drive, but doing so would have required several minutes.

Then I thought of a better approach. Both machines were connected to the web. So I logged into my gmail account from the Ubuntu machine using Firefox, composed a mail to myself using an address that would cause it to be delivered to my Windows machine, included the two files as attachments, and sent it on its way.

I then logged into gmail from my Windows machine using Firefox, saw my note had arrived, and saved the attached files on my Windows machine.

Mission accomplished.

The key point is not that I used gmail but that both machines were connected to the internet, and so could use the internet to share resources.

A home network is not just the computers in your home.

There is a silent, virtual computer out there that is already part of your home network, at no cost to you. It’s called the internet.

And then I appreciated this has been going on for some time. I live in a two-level house. My wife’s home workspace is on the upper level, mine on the bottom, far enough apart that we can’t communicate by voice except by shouting, which we both find annoying. So from time to time when I check my mail downstairs I see that my wife has sent me a note.

Using the internet this way may not be efficient as having a “real” home network in place. But it does work, and is already there, so you can put off doing that home network while you are busily blogging away, checking out your MySpace account to build your own personal network, or checking baseball standings as the season draws to a close.

Then again, you can forget about all this computer stuff and unplug yourself from the internet so you can go upstairs to give your cutie-pie a hug.

Oops! The Gray Lady missed a beat covering the OOXML beat

Only a few hours after writing the post Microsoft Favored to Win Open Document Vote that was based on a story in today’s New York Times, I just learned that the Gray Lady got it wrong:

Microsoft’s bid for ‘open’ document format is unexpectedly rebuffed.

Both stories were written by the same reporter, the Times own Kevin J. O’Brien.

A bad day at the Office, both for Kevin and Microsoft.

On reading the OOXML specification

As part of my shallow dive into OOXML, the new document format that Microsoft has proposed be made into an international standard, I decided to see if I could locate a copy of the the specification and try to wrap my arms around it, to get a feel for what the community was being asked to deal with. I also wanted to see if I could do this solely using Ubuntu Linux.

First, I had to find the specification documents. It didn’t take long to find Wikipedia’s Office Open XML. It begins by noting that “the neutrality and factual accuracy of this document is disputed.” That wasn’t a surprise, but I assumed the location of the specification itself wouldn’t be controversial, and that led me to Standard ECMA-376 Office Open XML File Formats, (December 2006) . When I visited that site I found the specification comes in five parts, and each part is available in two formats: DOCX and PDF.

I knew about PDF, but wasn’t sure about DOCX. A web search revealed that DOCX was the format used by Microsoft Office itself, at least in some of its versions. See for example, Microsoft’s Introducing the Office (2007) Open XML File Formats, which says in part:

Learn the benefits of the Office Open XML Formats. Users can exchange data between Office applications and enterprise systems using XML and ZIP technologies. Documents are universally accessible. And, you reduce the risk of damaged files.

To open a Word 2007 XML file

  1. Create a temporary folder in which to store the file and its parts.
  2. Save a Word 2007 document, containing text, pictures, and other elements, as a .docx file.
  3. Add a .zip extension to the end of the file name.
  4. Double-click the file. It will open in the ZIP application. You can see the parts that comprise the file.
  5. Extract the parts to the folder that you created previously.

That looked promising. Microsoft says that DOCX documents are “universally accessible.” Well, I reside in the universe, so I should be able to access them.

Since I’m limiting myself to Ubunto to read the specification, I tried to download a copy of Microsoft Office for Ubuntu but was unable to find it. That wasn’t too surprising, but perhaps it is on the way. Towards that end, here’s an open letter to Microsoft:

Steve Ballmer,
Redmond, Washington

Dear Steve:

I’m trying to read the OOXML specification and see it is available in DOCX format. Indeed, your company’s web site says that DOCX documents are “universally accessible.” I’m in the universe and I would like to access one of these DOCX documents, the OOXML specification.

But I’m using Ubuntu and don’t yet have a copy of Microsoft Office that I can use to read the files.

In order to make the specificiation accessible to me, could you please ask your team to prepare an implementation of Office for Ubuntu? Please send it first to the Debian folks, so don’t forget to include copy of the OSI-approved open-source license you’ll be using when you send the code out. Once they have scrubbed it and made sure its meets their high standards, I’m sure the Ubuntu folks will incorporate it into their distribution.

Take your time. I’m a patient guy, and I appreciate it is better to get it right than to rush something out in haste.


Since MS Office is not yet part of Ubuntu, I couldn’t use the DOCX variants, so I deleted them, leaving only the PDF files.

It turned out the file names had blanks in them, so I found it necessary to use the find command to get rid of them while I waited for Steve’s team to finish their work.

$ find . -name ‘*(DOCX).zip’ -exec rm {} \;

I then moved the remaining PDF files to a working directory, renaming them to just be 1.pdf, 2.pdf, and so forth on the way.

I finally had five files that were easy to work with. First, to get an estimate of what I had to deal with I found the total size:

$ cat *.pdf >pdf.all

$ ls -l pdf.all

And found they totalled almost 52MB. Wowsers, that’s a big spec indeed! There probably are thousands of pages inside.

Ubuntu provides several programs to view pdf files. I played around with them, and eventually settled on kdpf (“sudo apt-get install kpdf”). Here are the page totals I came up using the “kpdf” package:

Part Pages

1 178
2 131
3 473
4 5220
5 43

That gives 6045 pages, confirming there are really over six thousand pages!

So much for wrapping my arms around the spec. I would need a couple of new cartridges for my laser printer and over twelve reams of paper just to print it out, and to boot would require a forklift to deal with that printout.

Working with OOXML is a constant source of surprise.

For example, the specification itself is over six thousand pages in length, and is available in only two formats, DOCX and PDF, each a proprietary format controlled by a commercial software vendor (Microsft and Adobe, respectively.)

And I thought this was an open standard…

I then moved on accessing the PDF documents. PDF itself is worth a post, one that will soon follow.

HTML is Many Things

HTML is many things:

  • It stands for HyperText Markup Language
  • It is a simple data format
  • It is used to create documents

HTML can be used to format text in bold, italic

, and to stikestrike out an error

You can use it to divide your writing into paragraphs.

You can use it to created undordered lists:

  • apples
  • oranges
  • bananas

You can use it to create ordered lists:

  1. one
  2. two
  3. three

You can use it to quote text:


You can use it to create tables:

number square
1 1
2 4
4 16

You can link to documents on the web: The Wayward Word Press.

Those links are the key feature. It’s the links that have made the internet into the World Wide Web.

HTML is also an open standard: Hypertext Markup Language – 2.0

You don’t have to understand the standard. The important point is the folks who wrote the browser you are using to read this document had to read it very carefully. You can only read this document because a wise, honest community created that standard and another wise, honest community went to great lengths to implement it.

Here is an example of HTML:


<TITLE>HTML is Many Things</TITLE>

<p>HTML is many things:
      <li>It stands for HyperText Markup Language</li>
      <li>It is a simple data format</li>
      <li>It is used to create documents</li>
<p>HTML can be used to format text in <b>bold</b>, <i>italic</i></li>, and even to <strike>stike</strike>strike out an error.

<p>You can use it to divide your writing into paragraphs.

<p>You can use it to created undordered lists:

<p>You can use it to create ordered lists:

<p>You can use it to quote text:

<p>You can use it to create tables:
<table border="1">
 <tr><td>1</td><td>1</td></tr>	 </tr>

<p>You can link to documents on the web: <a href="https://daveshields.wordpress.com">The Wayward Word Press</a>.</p>

<p>Those links are the key feature. It's the links that have made the    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet">internet</a> into the    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web">World Wide Web</a>.


<p>HTML is also an open standard: <a href="http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/html-spec/html-spec_toc.html">Hypertext Markup Language - 2.0</a>

<p>You don't have to understand the standard. The important point is the folks who wrote the browser you are using to read this document had to read it <i>very</i> carefully. You can only read this document because a <a href="https://daveshields.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/george-washington-on-standards/">wise, honest community</a> created that standard and another wise, honest community went to great lengths to implement it.


Microsoft Favored to Win Open Document Vote

Turns out I am but one of many trying to navigate the murky waters of OOXML. Our squadron has been joined by Kevin J. O’Brien, who has sent in a report that can be found in the Business Section of the New York Times, September 4, 2007: Microsoft Favored to Win Open Document Vote

Kevin’s report says in part:

Amid intense lobbying, Microsoft is expected to squeak out a victory this week to have its open document format, Office Open XML, recognized as an international standard, people tracking the vote said Monday.

The move would help Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, maintain its competitive advantage in the expanding field of open document formats.

“After what basically has amounted to unprecedented lobbying, I think that Microsoft’s standard is going to get the necessary amount of support,” said Pieter Hintjens, president of Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, a Brussels group that led the opposition.

The underlying code of an “open” document is public, allowing developers to improve and derive new products without having to pay royalties. The first open format to become an international standard, in May 2006, was OpenDocument Format, developed by a group led by International Business Machines.

Microsoft sought a similar status for Office Open XML so it could also sell software with open characteristics, which are increasingly being demanded by national and local governments in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil, as well as by Massachusetts in the United States.

The issue has split the groups, with some members asserting that the I.S.O. and I.E.C. should not be endorsing the commercial product of a single company.

Others say a standards designation would reflect reality, because more than 90 percent of electronic documents are in Microsoft format.

According to Mr. Hintjens, whose group has been tallying the votes of participants, countries including Japan, Canada, India, China, Brazil, France and Britain voted against Microsoft’s proposal. France and Britain made their votes conditional, meaning they could later change them to yes, should Microsoft alter its 6,500-page standard to allay technical and liability concerns.

Switzerland, the United States, Portugal and Germany supported Microsoft’s bid, Mr. Hintjens said, as did some smaller countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and Ivory Coast, some of whom became active late in the voting at Microsoft’s urging.

Trinidad and Tobago? Kenya? Ivory Coast? With the support of such powerhouses as these in the international standards arena, Microsoft may indeed coast home to victory.

It’s too bad that Trinidad and Tobago’s support only brings with it one vote. If they could split the country, that could yield two votes …

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