How to justify text in Publisher 2013

I couldn’t figure out how to justify text in Publisher 2013, but I finally found the way. Here’s how.

I did some layout in Publisher 2013 after having not done page layout in a decade or more, and Publisher 2013’s interface confused me a bit. I finally found two ways to justify text.

The fast, easy way: Highlight the paragraph you want and press CTRL-J. Done. I love keyboard shortcuts. Justify starts with “j,” so that makes the keyboard shortcut pretty easy to remember.

The harder, slower way: In the paragraph tab, click the down arrow in the lower right corner. In the “Indents and Spacing” tab, there’s a dropdown box called “Alignment.” Select “Justified,” then click “OK.” Scout’s honor, I looked past that option at least 17 times.

Oddly enough, once I used full justification, then I got a little icon in the paragraph section of the ribbon for that, but I’m 100% certain that option wasn’t there before.

Pro tip: If you’re going to justify text, make sure you enable hyphenation. Click inside the text box, then click “Format” under “Text Box Tools” under the ribbon. Justified text looks much better when hyphenation is on. Hyphens reduce the number of spaces the computer has to insert. Fewer spaces mean fewer “rivers” in the text, and that makes for a better-looking page. Here’s more on hyphenation if you’re curious.

Why I’m a one-space-after-a-period guy

I found this argument in favor of two spaces after a period. I favor the single space, but not for any of the reasons he explained.

I’m also not a graphic designer. I had to take a couple of classes on design and layout, and I was competent. But mostly efficient. I was known for being the first one in the room to finish a design, and it would always be at least middle-of-the-pack. On a tight deadline, I was the guy you wanted finessing QuarkXPress. Read more

The trouble with routers

I see the advice going around, again, to disable the Windows firewall and rely on an external router, the justification being that it makes your computer “invisible.” It doesn’t. Only IPV6 can do that–and then, only if you don’t use it for anything.

The trouble with that advice is that there are botnets targeting routers. Routers are nothing special; they’re small computers running Linux on an ARM or MIPS CPU, typically outdated versions with old vulnerabilities that can be exploited by someone who knows what to look for. One example of this is the Aidra botnet. Typically Aidra is used to attack outside targets, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for an infected router to turn on and attack the machines it’s supposed to protect. And if you’ve turned off your firewall, then you have no protection against that.
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Wookie suits at work

I have a coworker who owns a Darth Vader costume. If you ask him really nicely, he might dress up as Darth Vader to scare your kids. He’s proud enough to own that costume that he keeps a picture of himself in it on his desk.

Someone–I forget who–had the idea this past week that his cubicle neighbor ought to get a Chewbacca the Wookie suit. Because nothing goes with Darth Vader like Chewbacca, right? Several of us even reached for our wallets in anticipation of taking up a collection to fund this Chewbacca suit, and then someone threw out a stipulation–that the two of them need to wear their costumes to work.

For some reason, I still have my copy of the corporate dress code, so I got it out to see if it would be legal to wear Chewbacca and Darth Vader costumes to work. Read more

Yes, SSDs are “finally worth the money.”

Slashdot asked today if SSDs are “finally worth the money.”

I’m wondering since when they haven’t been. I’ve been buying SSDs since 2008. And their price has been falling at a rate faster than hard drives did, historically. Read more

What to the rich do with their money?

Charlie brought up the question of what the rich do with their money in response to the theory of trickle-down economics. This seems timely, as one of my coworkers and I talked trickle-down just yesterday.The theory is often maligned, and usually by people who don’t understand it very well. But frankly its proponents don’t always understand it either.

The classic justification is that if you tax the rich less, they’ll use that savings to buy things like boats and luxury cars, creating jobs for people who build and sell things like boats and luxury cars, and for the suppliers of those companies. And the argument is that this economic activity spreads the wealth better than the government taxing and redistributing wealth, due to government overhead.

At least that’s the simple, back-of-a-napkin explanation you’re likely to hear from a conservative activist when you ask the question. It’s the one I’ve always heard.

The theory is more complicated than that. For most of the 20th century, the fabulously rich were taxed at extremely high rates–70 or even 90 percent. The economist Arthur Laffer argued that if one taxed the rich at a lower rate, then tax revenue would actually increase–the reason being that someone who had the ability to make $10 million probably also had the ability to make more than that, but would probably be more willing to try to make more if the government weren’t taking 90% of the spoils.

Ronald Reagan lowered that upper tax rate to 50%. And sure enough, revenue went up, because 50% of $20 million is more than 90% of $10 million. So both the entrepreneur and the government won.

But contrary to what the modern Republican party seems to think, Laffer didn’t argue that the less you taxed, the more revenue would increase. Tax revenue is a more like a bell curve–tax at 0%, and revenue will be $0. Likewise, take 100%, and revenue will be $0, because nobody will work (or they’ll hide it if they do). The question is what percentage puts tax revenue at the top of the bell curve. I believe that history says it’s somewhere around 38%. Ironically, it was a Democrat who demonstrated that rate. (Hint: it wasn’t Jimmy Carter.)

And when Democrats malign trickle-down economics, they ignore one important fact: When Reagan cut taxes, revenue did rise–a lot. And when Bush I cut them further, it rose even more. The problem was that spending in Washington outpaced revenue growth during the 1980s and most of the 1990s. In the waning years of Clinton’s presidency, revenue finally caught up with spending, and for two years in a row there was actually a small surplus.

And in all fairness to Bush II, that’s been the biggest problem with his economic policy the past 8 years. Revenue went down slightly when he cut the highest tax bracket. But the bigger problem is that Washington spending increased beyond Reagan levels. Had spending stayed in check, we might still be talking about small deficits and occasional surpluses. Instead, he kept taxes low while signing budgets that made Clinton look like a fiscal conservative.

But that’s enough about trickle-down economics. Let’s talk about the rich.

A little over three years ago, I was walking out to my car after work when a couple of well-dressed men approached me and asked for a jump start. I pulled my Honda up to their rental luxury car, we hooked up the cables, got the car started, and they went on their way.

I now believe one of the men that day was the man who soon became the CEO of that company. I won’t name him or the company. Perhaps he was interviewing for the job that day. Not long afterward, he got the job, and as a result of one of his earliest decisions, I lost mine.

So I did a favor for a guy who made $4.81 million last year, and the thanks I got was unemployment.

The soak-the-rich attitude comes from stories like that. When we think of the rich, we think of CEOs who take over large, failing companies, get rid of lots of people, bring in their people, and in the end the companies don’t really get much better, but in the meantime they pocket a few million dollars every year. And when they lose their jobs, they get a golden parachute of a few million more.

But the majority of the rich aren’t like that. They’re more like the owner of the next company I worked for. It was a small consulting company, but it was smaller when he bought it. He bought it during a dark time in its history, brought in some good people, and together they worked hard to make the company profitable again.

In 2006, not long after I met him, he sold the company to a much larger competitor and turned a nice profit for himself. They only retained him for a short time, but he’s not hurting for money. Shrewdly, he didn’t sell them the building, so the company is still paying him rent every month.

Nobody knows what his future plans are, but some people who know him better than I do believe he’ll start another company at some point.

Read books like The Millionaire Next Door, and you’ll find the majority of millionaires are unassuming people who park their Ford Crown Victorias in front of ranch-style houses every night. They’re often self-employed, and usually made their first million by saving a lot and investing in themselves.

I have little respect for the first CEO I talked about, because he has his job mostly because he looks and acts the part. He dresses well, looks like a movie star, and when he talks, he can convince you he cares. But let’s talk qualifications. During his first year on the job, his company’s shares were worth about $1.20 apiece. Now they’re worth 42 cents per share and the company is $1 billion deeper in debt. That’s not all his fault, but it’s hard to argue that he’s done much to turn the company around, and it’s even harder to argue that those results are worth $4.81 million a year. I would think they could outsource his job to India and get comparable results for $100,000 a year and bank the savings.

At least they’d save more than they saved by outsourcing people like me.

I have a lot of respect for my other former employer, because he took a bad situation and turned it around, and he got the job because he bought a company with his own money. He invested his time, energy, and money in it, and besides making himself wealthier, he also created jobs–about 200 of them at his company’s peak–including one for a 31-year-old newlywed who was down on his luck and had worked for two other employers that same year.

The problem with trying to use tax policy to soak people like the first guy I mentioned is that it’s very difficult to do without also hurting the second one I mentioned. And if tax policy hurts him, he might as well just stay retired and play golf or whatever he enjoys doing, rather than starting a new company and making some new jobs for people.

And frankly I’m not sure what we gain when we make people like the first guy pay. I guess we feel better for a while. But the main thing we do is motivate him to hire the very best accountants and lawyers to find and exploit every loophole they can. So he still keeps most of his money, the government gets less than it projected, and the masses are blissfully ignorant, thinking they got some fat cat to finally give up his fair share, whatever that means, but they never see any tangible benefit.

Outlandish CEO pay and incestuous boards of directors loaded with conflicts of interest that perpetuate these outlandish compensation packages really are a separate issue, and the tax code isn’t the appropriate place to try to fix it.

But back to that tax code, and the second guy–the one worth worrying about. For what it’s worth, neither of the two major presidential candidates is likely to do anything that would singlehandedly persuade the second guy to stay retired. A return to Reagan’s or Carter’s income tax levels might, but neither candidate is proposing something like that. The difference between the two is much narrower than either of them want the rest of us to think, and their political rhetoric reflects that.

The most thorough article to date on the decision not to prosecute

Steve Pokin, the journalist who broke the original Megan Meier story, published an account today of the decision not to press charges.

Some of the things in the article trouble me.It troubles me that Jack Banas interviewed Lori Drew and perhaps Curt Drew, but didn’t interview Ron Meier at all, and talked only briefly with Tina Meier.

His justification: He has a property destruction case pending against Ron Meier. In a way that’s considerate of him–he could have used the opportunity to get Meier to testify against himself–but I can think of one way around the problem. Interview Meier with his attorney present, so that if Meier were to start to incriminate himself, his attorney could cut him off.

If I can come up with this workaround, then a prosecuting attorney ought to be able to as well.

It bothers me that each time something Drew said contradicted the many news reports that have been written, it means the news reports are wrong. It was obvious from the very first police report that Drew was trying to cover her tracks–in the report, she stated that somehow others were able to get access to the Myspace account and send messages to Megan. That’s an indirect quote, but it’s pretty close to the wording in the report.

The Meiers’ story has been remarkably consistent, even when they are visibly exhausted. The police reports on Smoking Gun aren’t forthcoming, and they aren’t consistent with what Drew is saying now.

I know from personal experience that when a traumatic event happens, your memory of it is generally very good–nearly photographic. Sometimes people refer to them as “flashbulb” events for that very reason. I can tell you every little detail about the car crash I was in four years ago, just as plainly as it happened yesterday.

So if someone has difficulty consistently recounting the events of a flashbulb incident, that suggests to me that he or she is lying.

I don’t know about law enforcement in St. Charles, but in journalism, if I’d ever come to one of my editors with an important story and I only interviewed one side, and I relied solely on two old interviews of one of the other participants (Ashley Grills), something bad would have happened next. Really bad.

For that matter, Grills and Drew dispute whose idea it was to create the account. Each say it was the other. Both women had different reactions to Megan Meier’s suicide. Drew felt less guilty after she heard Meier had attempted suicide before. Grills threatened suicide herself and ended up getting psychiatric treatment.

All of that is solid evidence that Grills has a conscience, ability to feel guilt, and knowledge of right and wrong.

Both Grills and Drew have track records of deceit and changing the story afterward. So which liar should you believe?

The safer bet is to believe the one with a conscience. She’s less likely to lie now.

Finally, I take issue with Banas’ statement that Drew never intended to “harm, stalk, endanger or harass.”

The police report Drew filed last year stated that some of the communication was of sexual nature.

Let me ask a question. If it turned out that Michael Devlin had made such a statement, would Devlin be in court right now, facing charges of harassment?

If it’s harassment if Michael Devlin does it, then it’s harassment if Lori Drew does it. Period.

Besides that, in a story published in The Age, an Australian newspaper, a neighbor states that Lori Drew told her about the fake account, laughed about it, and said she would “mess with Megan.”

So an Australian journalist halfway around the world found someone willing to say this was intentional harassment. Yet Banas won’t give this neighbor’s testimony equal weight with the testimony of an already established liar and deceiver.

I don’t live in St. Charles County but a friend of mine does. He tells me Banas has three more years in office.

This is precisely what recall elections are for. If you live in St. Charles County and see a recall petition, sign it. If you don’t see one, call the St. Charles Election Authority at 636-949-7550 and ask how to start one.

And failing that, I wholeheartedly endorse whoever is running against Banas for St. Charles County Prosecutor in 2010. Whoever that might be.

I’m sure I have company.

How I fought the insurance company and lived to tell about it

My dad was a doctor. Dad told me on several occasions that if I ever came home and said I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor too, he’d lock me in my room for seven years. One of the reasons for this was because he hated dealing with insurance companies. I vividly remember going out to the mailbox one day and finding a letter addressed to Dr. Farquhar, with a very angry note written on the front of the envelope: PLS LET THE DR READ THE LTR. I asked what this was about, and Dad said insurance was refusing to pay for a patient’s treatment. He said it happened a lot.

Now I’m 33, and my insurance was refusing to pay for treatment my wife needed. The best-case scenario without her medication would have involved numerous hospitalizations. The worst-case scenario? Coma or stroke if a lot of things went wrong. If everything went wrong, death wasn’t out of the question.

Here’s what I did about it.This isn’t exactly how I wanted to tell everyone, but my wife is pregnant. She’s also diabetic, and diabetes and pregnancy aren’t exactly the best combination. It wasn’t long before she was complaining about nausea. That wasn’t anything new; she can get bad nausea at times even when not pregnant. We try to keep a decent supply of Emetrol (or a generic version) on hand because of it. But we didn’t know if it was safe for her to take that while pregnant, so I suggested she ask her doctor. The doctor put her on a generic version of Zofran, a powerful anti-nausea drug.

The difference was like night and day. Without the drug, she couldn’t be up and around for more than 3-4 hours at a time. With the drug, she could function almost normally.

But after a month, the party was over. The insurance company refused to pay for the drug any longer. The doctor protested, but to no avail. So the doctor prescribed alternative anti-nausea drugs.

None of them worked.

She started a rapid decline. Within days, she couldn’t keep food down. Four days after that, she couldn’t even keep water down. She went to the doctor, and her doctor sent her straight to the hospital where she was admitted and treated for dehydration and severe morning sickness (I don’t remember the medical term). They kept her in the hospital overnight.

When her doctor visited, I asked him what to do. He said insurance companies do this all the time.

"Let me get this straight. This guy with no education, who’s never seen her, knows better than you do what’s best for my wife?" I asked.

He said he sees this every day, and he’s sick of it.

"So do I need to look into getting a lawyer and suing this company for malpractice?" I asked. After all, there was at least one time when Dad said a patient needed one treatment, and a different doctor decided to do a different treatment and the patient died. The patient’s family, based on what Dad said, sued the other doctor for malpractice. If a doctor can be sued for practicing medicine badly, why can’t an insurance company be sued when it practices medicine badly?

He said if I did that I’d probably end up on CNN and he’d love to see the public pay that kind of attention to the insurance industry, but it wouldn’t help my wife any.

So I asked about buying the drug outright, without insurance. It was going to cost more than $400 a month. That’s outside of most budgets. I probably could have made it work, by making some cutbacks on food purchases, taking on some extra work, and if all else failed, borrowing some money, but it shouldn’t be necessary. This is why we get insurance in the first place–to cover these kinds of expenses.

So I looked into what it would cost to import the drug from Canada. The best price I found was $330–not much help.

I called my boss and told him what was going on, originally for no reason other than to provide justification for why I wouldn’t be at work the next day. But the more I told him, the more apparent it became that the situation offended him too–and not just because I was missing work over it. And that gave me an idea.

If the situation offended him, then it probably would offend the decision-makers at the company too. I decided I needed to talk to my boss and ask if I would be going over his head by talking to the higher-ups about the situation.

He gave me the OK, so I wrote a letter to my employer’s upper management. It wasn’t very long. In point by point fashion, I described my wife’s medical needs, what the doctor had done about it, what happened after the insurance company stopped paying for the drug, and what risks were involved with my wife not getting the treatment that she needed. I spelled it all out in lay terms. I also tried to be very matter-of-fact about it. They didn’t need my opinions on the matter–the facts spoke for themselves. Nobody would want their wife or daughter to have to go through what my wife was going through. And that was what I was counting on.

My letter climbed up the corporate ladder and over to HR very quickly. Not long after that, the HR director had the insurance company’s representative on the phone. Before the day was over, my wife had her medicine, and by the next day, she had a case manager assigned to her.

I believe this is the only approach that would have worked, and this is why:

1. I have an acquaintance who once worked for an insurance company, in the IT shop. He told me the majority of insurance adjustors who make decisions about what the insurance company will and won’t pay for are frustrated people with minimal education (sometimes just a GED) and they get their jollies by overruling doctors. It’s a power trip, and it’s what gives their lives meaning. Calling up the 800 number on the back of the card and complaining doesn’t do any good because it just proves to them how much power they hold. And calling the number and treating whoever answers the phone to a profanity-laced tirade (or even just asking the person where he or she went to med school) really drives home how much power they hold.

2. I’m just one customer and I have no control. The insurance company doesn’t care if I leave, because all they lose is a bad customer. Remember, customers who pay into the system and don’t take anything back out cause profits to rise. Customers who take money out of the system cause profits to fall. And besides that, I have no say in where my company buys its insurance anyway. The only way for me to change insurance providers is to change jobs, and that’s not only impracticel, it’s also very difficult.

What I had to do was to take my case to the people who do make that decision, and appeal to them. Working from the assumption that none of them would want the same thing to happen to their wives and daughters, I just presented the facts and let them come to the conclusion that the insurance company would do the same thing to anyone else in that situation too–including them. After all, they’re covered under the same plan I am. And of course they wouldn’t want that. What I basically did was raise the stakes. The insurance company wouldn’t be sorry to see me go, but what insurance company wants to risk losing a whole company’s business?

3. I kept my cool. By my own admission, to call me a loose cannon is an understatement. If I don’t like something, everyone around me knows it. But I wasn’t going to make any friends by saying "You guys are idiots for choosing to buy insurance from [company x] because they’re trying to kill my wife and unborn child." My emotions and opinions were more likely to make them get mad at me, and I needed them to be mad at the insurance company, not me. So I trusted them to be reasonable, rational people and come to the same conclusion I would when presented with the same seven basic facts.

So that’s how I got an insurance company to let my wife have a drug they decided they didn’t want to pay for.

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