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Microsoft Word is my fourth favourite writing tool1.

I rarely use Word to write stories or blog posts. Yet, I never hesitate to renew my Office 365 subscription.

It sounds contradictory. That NZ$165.00 Office 365 subscription is good value. That’s true even though I don’t use Word to write and I almost never open Excel. I go out of my way to not let PowerPoint into my life.

At this point you might think this is throwing money away. Open source fans reading this will be aghast.

But there is a method in my madness. Writing is my work. A typical year’s work is 250,000 words. My writing output was even higher for a few years. After more than 40 years in the business, I’ve written, and publishers have paid me for, at least 10 million words.

Most, not all, of the time, I’m paid by the word. Which means my ability to produce quality writing puts food on my table and a roof over my head.

Writing is talking to people, researching, checking then putting it all into words. Sometimes it is about reviving my own work or dealing with words others have sent to me.

Microsoft Word is not optional

Like it or not, Microsoft Word is the lingua franca of digital writing. Almost everyone in the business uses it. It’s been more than two decades since an editor expected copy in anything other than Word format.

At this point, people who dislike Word might be thinking: “Yes, but everything else can save in a Word format. So it isn’t necessary to buy a subscription”.

They have a point. Except that sooner or later, something doesn’t convert between Word and another format.

The most troublesome issue is with edits marked using Microsoft’s Track Changes feature.

Yes, many non-Word writing applications can understand and deal with Track Changes markups. But this is not always straightforward.

The cost to me of failing to deal fast with one edit incident can be greater than the subscription price. It’s rare, but over 250,000 words, it happens a few times every year.

It costs even more than the subscription when we take into account it includes licenses for other family members. In effect my personal subscription costs 25 percent of $165, that’s $40 plus change.

Don’t go there

Even a quick dive down the troubleshooting rabbit hole costs more.

Multiply this by the two or more incidents a year and you can see that paying the subscription leaves me ahead. It’s a solid investment.

Open source fans tell me this attitude is wrong and that I’m paying a tax or even a ransom to Microsoft to be able to work. You could see it this way.

Yet it isn’t Microsoft that is holding me to ransom, it is the editors and publishers who commit to Word. If everyone accepted plain text2 I wouldn’t need to pay the fee.

It might be better to frame the fee as paying for membership of the hireable professional writers club. Either way, it’s a bargain.


  1. In my world it ranks behind IA Writer, Byword and Pages. ↩︎
  2. Text was fine for a long time. That changed about 20 years ago. ↩︎

Jake Voytko posted a long, considered and comprehensive post about his experiment comparing DuckDuckGo and Google Search. It’s a subject that has fascinated me for years.

Voytko’s blog post headline makes his conclusion clear: DuckDuckGo is good enough for regular use.

He writes:

I haven’t tried a new search engine since I tried Bing in 2009. It was time to find out how good DuckDuckGo is in 2020. What was the biggest difference that I found?

Voytko concludes that Google works best for what he calls ‘low intention searches’. He says Google throws out so much information from so many sources that it often returns something close enough to what the searcher wanted.

Broad searches, narrow searches

He found Google shines at broad searches. That’s when you have a less clear idea of what you are searching for.

It wins hands down when you search to buy a product.

Voytko discovered that, in general, DuckDuckGo does a better job when searches are more specific.

Interestingly, the places where DuckDuckGo struggles are also places where Google struggles.

He concludes that DuckDuckGo is good enough for everyday use.

And so it is. Except where it is not.

New Zealand missing in action

Sadly, the place where DuckDuckGo fails me every time is when I search for New Zealand specific information. DuckDuckGo often misses obvious things.

It almost feels as if the search engine is biased against New Zealand. If Google produced the same quality of local results, search engine experts might deduce it had imposed what search professions call “a search penalty” for the entire nation.

I might, say, search for a New Zealand act of parliament, use the correct name of the legislation and yet DuckDuckGo might serve up a Canadian or UK law with a vaguely similar name at the top of search results.

Sometimes the results are totally bonkers, even when I click the New Zealand box at the top of the page. I’ve seen Te Reo names interpreted as spelling errors even when they are commonly used words in New Zealand.

As an aside, it doesn’t do a good job indexing my site either. Google has everything, finding one of my stories on DuckDuckGo can be a challenge.

And yet DuckDuckGo still works for me

Despite all these whinges, I’ve moved all my search to DuckDuckGo because when I’m searching for something specific, say a piece of background for a story I’m writing, it regularly beats Google.

If the results are disappointing, you can always search again and use the G! command to have the search sent through to Google. It’s quicker than opening another browser tab.

I find DuckDuckGo cleaner, easier to navigate than Google. I rarely see advertising, that could be something to do with the New Zealand neglect. Or maybe not. Feel free to enlighten us all if you know what’s going on there.,

One of the best features of DuckDuckGo for my writing work is that you can copy and paste the URLs in the search results. I do this if I use a URL in a blog post. I also collect useful URLs for later use. Google mangles URLs for some reason, making them harder to copy and paste.

“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”

As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.

Source: Why businesses aren’t picking domain names | ITP Techblog

At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.

She is right. Branding is important.

Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.

A site of your own

Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.

If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.

This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.

The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.

Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.

Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.

Pulling the plug

Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.

Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.

Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.

Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.

Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.

The case for your own domain name

On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.

It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.

Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started.

The important thing is the site is entirely your property.

I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.

Technology commentator Bill Bennett looks at how the millennium bug is back – because it never exactly went away. In trying to solve the problem, programmers pushed it back 20 years. And time’s up. He’ll also look at how Volvo is experimenting with adding noise to near-silent EVs, after research showed pedestrians were twice as likely to be involved in an accident with EVs than those with traditional engines. And is working remotely back in fashion in response to corona virus?

Source: The Y2K bug makes a comeback | RNZ

I’m on RNZ Nine-to-Noon talking about technology.

The digital services churned out by the world’s computer centres are multiplying. Their energy use is not, thanks to cloud computing, a new study says.

Source: Cloud Computing Is Not the Energy Hog That Had Been Feared – The New York Times

The New York Times story refers to a study published in the journal Science: Recalibrating global data centre energy use estimates.

It starts:

Data centres represent the information backbone of an increasingly digitalised world. Demand for their services has been rising rapidly. Data-intensive technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart and connected energy systems, distributed manufacturing systems, and autonomous vehicles promise to increase demand further.

Given that data centres are energy-intensive enterprises, estimated to account for around 1 percent of worldwide electricity use, these trends have clear implications for global energy demand and must be analysed rigorously.

Efficient cloud computing

There’s a common belief that accelerating data processing means the energy used to power data centres is rising fast. It turns out it is not.

Data centres did six times as much computing work in 2018 as in 2010. Yet their power consumption increased only six percent.

There’s also evidence computing means less pollution and greenhouse gas than we feared.

The reason for the new optimism is the amount of work that has shifted to the cloud. And not just any old cloud. Most has moved to the bigger and more energy efficient services.

Low carbon

Cloud giants like AWS and Microsoft run huge data centres. Many place their data centres where they can use low carbon energy. Hydroelectricity and solar power are favourites. Some are located in naturally cold places. This means less need for air conditioning.

Big cloud companies use technologies that pack more computing and storage into ever smaller hardware. Small hardware is usually more efficient.

Energy efficiency is good for the environment. It’s also good for the cloud companies. Energy is often a significant cost. Cloud companies love to boast about their clean energy. It also helps them win business.