Writer’s Tools for OpenOffice: Awful

Writer’s Tools for OpenOffice is supposed to be a collection of useful tools for writers available in an easy-to-install extension, manifesting itself in-program as an extra menu. What it is is terrible.

To begin with, it doesn’t install properly. Many of the options are totally dependent on a specific database being linked to OpenOffice. Well, it doesn’t link for me. I tell OpenOffice where the database is, hit “OK”, and the database disappears again. Whether this is the fault of Writer’s Tools or OpenOffice, I don’t know. What I do know is that either way this issue should have been addressed as a disclaimer or warning or even as an FAQ somewhere, so users wouldn’t have to deal with this. At the very least an extension should install.

So I can’t talk about the entirety of Writer’s Tools, but I can tell you what I’ve been able to work with, and it isn’t encouraging me to fix this problem:

  • Lookup Tool: gives too many options about where to look up the selected word – everything from Wikipedia to WordNet to a quotations book. It’d be more efficient to give me a Google page at this point.
  • Google translate: requires me to manually input the path to the default browser. Inexcusable.
  • Show on the map: ditto.
  • Every single backup option: virtually useless; you have to back up manually, so really, it’s almost the same thing as hitting “Save As” twice. You’d be better off writing a script. (Double the WTF points are awarded to the “multi format backup”, which “saves the currently opened Writer document in the Word, RTF, and TXT formats”. Why would you ever…)
  • Start/Stop timer: runs off popups, doesn’t keep a running timer anywhere, ugly, stupid.
  • Shorten URL: actually works flawlessly. Bravo.
  • Visual word count: requires you to manually input your goal every time you use it (which can only be a number of words, not, say, pages or lines or paragraphs or any other measurement) and only gives you a popup with a percentage and a progress bar. You can’t edit the document while the window is open. This would have been really neat as part of the status bar or as a toolbar, or at the very least, something that updated in real time. Instead it’s just shit.

Writer’s Tools reminds me of some of the basic Java programs I had to code in the first few classes I ever took of computer science. It’s convoluted, clunky, and overall useless (unless you want to shorten your URLs, that is).

As if this isn’t enough, the extension’s author actually charges $9.95 if you want to read the user manual. Let me make this perfectly clear: the extension’s author, who made an open source extension, charges you almost ten dollars to read the manual. The manual, by the by, is a physical book that is shipped to your home. Oh yeah, it’s also offered as an eBook for $5.95, but what he advertises incessantly (on the Google groups page, the extension page, even the goddamn menu itself) is a physical book.

So you’ve coded an extension on par with a CS student’s homework assignment, and then you have the bloody nerve to create an actual book about it that you expect people to pay real money for? People buy books about operating systems, office suites, programming languages… Dmitri Popov, do you really think your extension is at the same level as these?

Anyway, terrible extension, stay far away from it. If you can point me towards a more useful OOo extension, please do!

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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