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IT jobs shortage? Slide over to security

IT jobs are getting scarce again, and I believe it. I don’t have a cure but I have a suggestion: Specialize. Specifically, specialize in security.

Why? Turnover. Turnover in my department is rampant, because other companies offer my coworkers more money, a promotion, or something tangible to come work for them. I asked our CISO point blank if he’s worried. He said unemployment in security is 0.6 percent, so this is normal. What we have to do is develop security people, because there aren’t enough of them.

I made that transition, largely by accident, so I’ll offer some advice.Read More »IT jobs shortage? Slide over to security

Fixing a Word 2010 table of contents that updates with incorrect pages

I had an issue with a Word 2010 document whose table of contents entries were ridiculously off–entries being on page 45 of a 24-page document, for example.

The problem appeared to be due to track changes. The pages it was putting in the table of contents seemed to correspond with the page numbers of the marked-up document. Unfortunately, the only way I found to fix the issue was to accept all the changes in the document, but after I did that, the table of contents updated correctly.

How to fix blank table of contents entries in Word

A system security document I was editing had blank table of contents entries in Word. This was in Word 2010, but my research indicated it can happen in Word 2007, 2003, and very possibly earlier versions as well.

Since the table of contents is often the first impression of the document, you want to get it right. Many readers will assume that if the table of contents has errors, the rest of the document will too. They may be wrong, but you may not get a chance to prove it.

The particular document I was looking at had two blank entries in the table of contents. When I clicked on the links, they led to the entries right below them in the TOC, making them completely extraneous.
Read More »How to fix blank table of contents entries in Word

How to organize your thoughts and notes

I know a lot of people keep notebooks pertaining to their hobbies. Any time they find something good on a discussion forum or elsewhere, they made a copy, print it out, punch holes in it, and put it in the notebook. Some people even put their own notes, from experience or discussions, in there.

These notebooks are a good way to learn a lot and retain it–you may forget some things over the years, but reading through the notebook again will refresh your memory.

There’s just one problem with notebooks–finding the information buried within.Notebooks are, after all, reference works, not something intended to be read cover to cover. The key to a good reference work, though, is a good table of contents and index.

Who wants to spend the time putting that together? But that’s the perfect use of the piece of software I discussed yesterday.

Just install LyX, learn how to insert a table of contents and index, learn how to flag something for inclusion in the index, and then, as you find things, copy and paste them into your “virtual notebook.” As you add things to it, you can print new copies of your notebook, and your notebook will have page headings and page numbers and a table of contents and an index so you can find stuff quickly. Keep your working copy for adding new stuff in LyX, but output a PDF from Lyx that you can read on your computer(s), and print a copy that you can keep in the basement where you’re actually going to use a paper copy.

The better you organize it, the better it’ll work, but even that isn’t strictly necessary since you can flip to either the front or the back to find stuff.

I can’t think of a hobby that this wouldn’t help. I don’t believe that information overload is so much a problem of too much information as it is a problem of not being able to sort through the information available to find the bit that you really need.

Where’s this software been all my life?

Playing around with LyX

In what little free time I’ve had the past few days (we have a project that has us in the midst of a death march at work), I’ve been messing around with LyX, a typesetting program for Windows, Unix, and most other operating sytems. I remember messing with it about six years ago, when there wasn’t much else resembling a word processor available for Linux, but this time, I’m more impressed with what I see.LyX is a front-end for a typesetting system called TeX. TeX was developed by the legendary computer scientist Don Knuth when he was dissatisfied with the appearance of his galley proofs for the second edition of The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth had an eye for fine typography, and because hand-set type was increasingly being replaced by machines, he looked for a way to make a computer play by the same set of rules that experienced typesetters have used for the past 500 years.

I had my first exposure to TeX when I was working on a business analysis project with Charlie Sebold. There was a department Charlie and I both did a lot of work for, and supporting these 8 users had ballooned into a full-time job in itself. We had an expensive contractor billing an average of 45 hours a week to the department alone over the course of a year, and when I replaced him, I wasn’t able to knock that down much below 40. We believed there was something wrong with a department of 8 users spending $200,000 a year in computer support. Come to think of it, that may have something to do with why I don’t work there anymore, but I digress. Charlie and I embarked on a project to figure out what we could do to cut those costs. I don’t remember anymore how the writing duties got split up, but Charlie typeset the report in TeX. I remember him being surprised to hear that I didn’t know much about TeX, especially since I had written a book for O’Reilly at that point, and if you look at the early O’Reilly books, they look like they were produced by TeX on the default settings.

Well, intentionally or unintentionally, using TeX for the report was a stroke of brilliance, because the most influential people in the department were design snobs, and TeX produces better-looking output than anything PageMaker could ever do. The text is beautifully justified, with no rivers through it, and the kerning is always set just right, and it will even use ligatures when appropriate. Basically, it does all of the hallmarks of elegant design that they taught me in journalism school–stuff that takes hours to do by hand–and it does it in minutes.

So when Charlie handed that report out at the first meeting, he got us a whole bunch of instant credibility.

What I like about LyX is that it removes the markup stage from TeX. You apply an appropriate document style–book, letter, article, report, or whatever–and you mark lines as whatever they happen to be–standard paragraphs, headings, chapter titles, document titles, author, or whatever–and it handles all of the layout and everything else for you. It’ll even generate the table of contents for you. And if you want an index, just flag words as you write or edit, and it can generate an index.

It also handles the most frustrating aspect of writing that I faced when I was writing my book back in 1999. A good book shouldn’t spent a lot of time repeating itself, so there’ll be times when you’ll refer the reader to a specific chapter, or even a specific page. The problem is, these things change. I not only re-ordered the chapters about halfway through the writing process, I actually took a couple of chapters, combined the like topics, and turned them into two completely differently titled chapters. Finding my cross-references and keeping them straight was such a pain that I really didn’t do it all that much. With LyX, cross-references are easy. You just label a section, and insert a cross-reference to the label, and it inserts the page number and the name of the section for you. You can put a cross-reference on every page and not slow down a bit.

Now that I’ve spent a few hours with it, I heartily recommend LyX. In college I found I got better grades when I turned in papers using fonts other than Times and Arial, and the output from LyX adds a whole new degree of elegance to it. Succeeding in college is as much about playing the game as it is anything else, and LyX gives you that slight edge.

And, as you might suspect, I’ve been playing with LyX for a reason. I’m writing again. Over the course of the past year, I’ve prepared a 133-page manuscript (that’s single-spaced Times with no pretty pictures or formatting, so it’s more than it sounds). I’m in the process of editing and typesetting it now. It’s highly specialized, so I’ll be self-publishing it, rather than using a publisher. I’ll be happy if it sells 1,000 copies and thrilled if it sells 10,000, and no publisher is willing to touch a book anymore if they think a book will only sell 10,000 copies. If it sells 1,000 copies, it will have been worth my while to write. Modern print-on-demand technology makes that a much safer risk than it was in 1999, when I wrote and published my first book.

And while there are times when the help of a traditional publisher definitely makes a better book, I think this is a case where I can create a better product working on my own.

I’ll keep you posted.