The computer continues to (?)

I will find a new topic soon, because I will have to. The computer continues to misbehave. This is so far from sustainable—in any way, emotionally, financially, creatively, you name it—that it taxes the imagination to consider or describe.

The book that was supposed to go to press on 8/15 has had its schedule pushed back as far as possible, to 9/15. Thus I am two weeks from going to press and what I am about to recount is what is happening at the end of today. I am working to get the content of the pages of the book settled so it can be both proofread and indexed. Not all of the illustrations are complete and in place yet because of the time I have spent on the basic layout, doing and re-doing many tasks repeatedly because the computer problems keep undoing what I just did, often in a way that makes it hard to fix.

With luck, this post will be coherent. I am worn out with the computer problems, which I have traced back to February 2007, although between February and September 2007 they were primarily hardware related and from October 2007 on they appear to be caused by software and to persist on three different machines and through the complete reformatting of hard drives, total reinstallation of software (multiple times), tests of new user accounts, changes of antivirus software, removal of font management software, and more.

Layout software uses what are called styles. You apply them to paragraphs (paragraph styles) or words or letters (character styles) that you want to have treated the same way typographically. Microsoft Word does some of this. Layout software does it in a big way, with a lot more control. USUALLY control.

Here’s just one of the things that is happening more often than not right now.

Keep your eye on the first full paragraph of text in this section of a page, the paragraph that starts, "Although I prefer to make Aran sweaters. . . ." The page looks odd because the layout aids, like gridlines, are showing:


In this next version of the same image, notice how some of the paragraphs are aligned with the baseline grid. They are supposed to be. Notice also that some of the paragraphs are a half-line off. This is wrong. Late in the day today, I noticed that it was happening.


I checked the particulars of my paragraph styles (which involves looking at details in multiple windows, because a style comprises many options). The styles are defined as they should be. However, the styles that are in effect on some of these paragraphs are not the styles that I applied to them.

An apparently minor shift like this matters not just because of the niceties of typography but because it can blow the entire book out of whack.  Text no longer sits near associated images. Blank pages appear in awkward locations. Chapters don’t conclude within their previous boundaries, slopping over onto the following pages and messing up everything that follows.

Because of similar but not identical problems with type and styles, I have already reviewed and adjusted the entire 172-page layout at least twice over the long weekend; some parts needed extra passes. Reviewing and adjusting is slow. The days have been tedious, too much like long hours of rolling Sisyphus’ rock up a hill.

So at the end of today I went to reapply the style that used to be on that paragraph and should still have been there, because I had not changed it.

Here’s what I got:


This type of swapperoo when I apply a paragraph style only happened with captions at first, starting a few weeks ago (more, different problems date back to last fall). Then this random application of font, color, and size happened with what’s called "general text" (the narrative parts of the chapters), although that seemed to straighten out yesterday after I closed everything down and rebooted the computer. Now it is happening with the project instructions.


I went to another page to fix the same problem: unrequested style applied to text; same substituted style, same re-applied style. The style I wanted went into place without a hitch.

Fonts are notorious for causing problems, although I haven’t had many difficulties with them in the five years I’ve been doing this work at the high-quality print-production level. I’m careful to get my fonts from reliable sources, to use the most trouble-free versions of fonts (exclusively Type 1 or OTF-Type 1). I normally use font management software that routinely checks the integrity of fonts (this software has currently been uninstalled as part of my troubleshooting). If a font does anything questionable, I remove it.

The sharpest-eyed among us may also note that the numbers inside the ovals look funny. In particular, there is a white line to the left of the 1 that accompanies "Work the body." One of the fonts I have removed was the one that provided these numbers; I removed it because the blue-funny-font substitutions were putting that font in the place of the different blue-funny-font you see above. It’s hard to find a substitute for that numerals font. I need the numbers 1 through 10. Many fonts provide 0 through 9 (and in almost all of these cases 1 + 0 does not yield 10). The font I have located allows me to build the numbers I need from components, but getting those components to join together seamlessly appears to require individual adjustments for the various occurrences. An adjustment that works fine for 2 leaves a gap in the 1 combination, and causes part of the 0 in 10 to be truncated. I have not been spending time on that matter today. I can build the numerals I need in Illustrator and then use them as inline graphics, but that’s a slow enough job that I’d hoped to find a far simpler answer. Obviously, however, removing the font that was showing up in bizarre places did not resolve my underlying problem.

Often fonts will be fine during design and will act up when the files are sent to the printer, although that’s much less of a problem for printers now that almost all files are sent to press in PDF form. To have anything concerning fonts going wrong at this stage is alarming, to say the least. When these bizarre substitutions and alterations started happening, I redesigned the entire book using fonts that are known in the industry to be extremely stable. Even so, I’m not at all convinced that the problems are being caused by the fonts.

Paragraph styles are complicated, especially with nesting and based-on and next-style options. Paragraph styles link to each other in intricate and complicated ways, and they interact as well with character styles, which are be applied within the paragraphs. I’ve looked in detail at all of the connections that are supposed to be happening (or not happening) and I’m not seeing any crossed wires.

I have an open tech-support ticket on this issue, and have already worked through several types of removal and reinstallation of the software. I have exported the entire project to an interchange format and reimported it, which usually fixes any corruption of an individual file. Twice. Once was today.

Not only is this project—which reflects significantly more than a year of my time and a similar amount of the author’s creative effort—at risk because of this problem, my whole endeavor of operating an independent publishing company is teetering on the edge. The technology that makes it possible to do this work may also be making it impossible.

It’s not like I’m new to this. I have literally thousands of hours of experience with layout, type, fonts, and the computer work that is creating this apparently insurmountable barrier. Yes, I could be missing something: human error could be causing some of the difficulties. But I sure can’t locate the source of the malfunctions anywhere, with the help of all the resources I can muster, and I don’t think human error is causing all of the glitches that I’m experiencing.

I’m going to bed.


The good news for the day was that it’s Monday, and even though today is technically a holiday (the self-employed don’t get paid days off, even Labor Day) the knitting group met this evening at the coffeehouse a half-mile from my house. Even though I forgot to take the work I wanted to do, I did have several bags of fiber with me. Fiber is good.

At the end of my time in the circle, I felt better. The company was superb. Kristi’s zucchini bread helped. And among the several small textile tasks that I accomplished, I combed, spun, and plied a small sample skein of yarn. It’s a Teeswater/Bluefaced Leicester-cross wool I got from Spirit Trail Fiberworks. It’s a gorgeous soft, silvery gray. Shiny, too.

The spindle worked just fine. My high-whorl Magpie spindle always does exactly what it was designed to do, supremely well. I’ve never had to call tech support about it. It’s pretty, too. I’ll take a photo some day when the light is good. It’s really dark out right now. No, on second thought, I’ll take whatever photo I can get right now. We need to end this on a good note.


And I think I’ll wash my skeinlet and hang it to dry on my way to bed.


5 thoughts on “The computer continues to (?)”

  1. Empathy, thoughts, prayers, anything that could help!? More zucchini bread… This too will pass…

    Dang, this is beyond patience can bare!

  2. Wow. How horribly frustrating. I wish I had a fix for you, but I’m clueless here.

    Total WAG: I’m assuming you have lots of memory in the affected computer(s), yes? Any way to tell if the memory is all working correctly?

  3. argh.

    Those dingbatted paragraphs are too frighteningly familiar — I once had a contract job, printing out PDFs on demand to some high-end B&W laser printers and cerloxing them.

    Invariably, when there was a large rush order (twenty copies of a seventy-page document, for example), I’d add the document to the queue and visit the printer ten minutes later to discover every single page was covered with dingbats.

    Legions of IT geeks later, the cause was determined to be “Windows issues.” (sigh)

    I found swearing at it helped, though — not in getting everything out, but for my peace-of-mind.


  4. Lotsa RAM. All the RAM the OS is capable of recognizing. All checked and re-checked and double-checked and then, just in case, checked.

    It’s not just dingbats that are substituting. I’ve had other fonts showing up. However, they tend to be BLUE almost all the time. I do have a blue swatch. There is blue in the book. Just not *there*. . . .

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