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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Not your usual colonial poet

Yes, another hint about what I am up to, though it also serves to mark National Reconciliation Week.

I am in pursuit, this week, of a mysterious Hugo.  He (or she, but I will use "he" hereafter) burst into print twice in Sydney in 1831, and I have reproduced his first poem below.  It is curious: in the first of the two poems, he uses an archaic spelling of waratah, he is clearly familiar with the plants of the area, and he shows a strong empathy with the Aborigines. These were not common characteristics in colonial Sydney in 1831.

Hugo's second poem suggests that he was quite religious, but I can't think of anybody in that era who fits the bill. I think 'Hugo' was a currency lad (or lass), but what happened to him or her?

The poem was first published as "Original Poetry" in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 July 1831, 4.

The Gin
"Where spreads the sloping shaded turf
By Coodge's* smooth and sandy bay,
And roars the ever-ceaseless surf,
I've built my gunya for to-day.

"The gum-tree with its glitt'ring leaves
Is sparkling in the sunny light,
And round my leafy home it weaves
Its dancing shade with flow'rets bright.
A waratah ('warretaw'), Telopea speciosissima.
This is quite a large shot: click on it to enlarge it.

"And beauteous things around are spread;
The burwan*, with its graceful bend
And cone of nuts, and o'er my head
The flowering vines their fragrance lend.

"The grass-tree, too, is waving there,
The fern-tree sweeping o'er the stream,
The fan-palm, curious as rare.
And warretaws* with crimson beam.

"Around them all the glecinæ*
Its dainty tendrils careless winds,
Gemming their green with blossoms gay,
One common flower each bush-shrub finds.

"Fresh water, too, is tumbling o'er
The shell-strewn rocks into the sea;
'Midst them I seek the hidden store,
To heap the rich repast for thee.

"But where is Bian?—where is he?
My husband comes not to my meal:
Why does he not the white man flee,
Nor let their god his senses steal?

"Lingers he yet in Sydney streets?
Accursed race! to you we owe,
No more the heart contented beats.
But droops with sickness, pain, and woe.

"Oh ! for the days my mother tells,
Ere yet the white man knew our land;
When silent all our hills and dells,
The game was at the huntsman's hand.

"Then roamed we o'er the sunny hill,
Or sought the gully's grassy way,
With ease our frugal nets could fill
From forest, plain, or glen, or bay.

"Where sported once the kangaroo,
Their uncouth cattle trend the soil,
Or corn-crops spring, and quick renew,
Beneath the foolish white man's toil.

"On sunny spots, by coast and creek,
Near the fresh stream we sat us down ;
Now fenced, and shelterless, and bleak,
They're haunted by the white man's frown.'

She climbed the rock—she gazed afar—
The sun behind those mountains blue
Had sunk; faint gleamed the Western star,
And in the East a rainbow hue

Was mingling with the darkling sea;
When gradual rose the zodiac light,
And over rock, and stream, and tree,
Spread out its chastened radiance bright.

So calm, so soft, so sweet a ray,
It lingers on the horizon's shore;
The echo of the brighter day,
That bless'd the world on hour before.

But sudden fades the beam that shone,
And lit the earth like fairy spell;
Whilst in the East, the sky's deep tone
Proclaims the daylight's last farewell.

"Fast comes the night, and Bian yet
Returns not to his leafy bed;
My hair is with the night-dew wet
Sleep comes not to this aching bead.

"The screeching cockatoo's at rest;
From yonder flat the curlew's wail
Comes mournful to this sorrowing breast,
And keenly blows the Southern gale.

"Avaunt ye from our merry land!
'Ye that so boast our souls to save,
Yet treat us with such niggard hand:
We have no hope but in the grave."

Thus sung Toongulla's wretched child,
As o'er her sleeping babe she hung.
Mourning her doom, to lead a wild
And cheerless life the rocks among.

Their health destroyed—their sense depraved
The game, their food, for ever gone;
Let me invoke religion's aid
To shield them from this double storm

Of physical and moral ill;
We owe them all that we possess
The forest, plain, the glen, the hill,
Were theirs;—to slight is to oppress.


The following terms, asterisked above may need some translation. I am a passable botanist, but glecinæ had me beaten for quite a while.

Coodge: Coogee
burwan: burrawang
warretaw: waratah
glecinæ: probably  Glycine sp., a member of the Fabaceae

This poem represents early instances of several words like gin, gunya and waratah, but as I have a strong interest in such things  I have since found an even earlier case of waratah from 1804. Oddly, there seems to have been no other mention of the plant until 1826, when the modern spelling first appeared. By 1831, Hugo was out-of-date.

I continue to wonder who Hugo was, but I am working on it.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not your usual bushranger

Well, I seem to be clear of the last of my commitments for the Big History Book, so more hints, of sorts, about where I am headed.  It's not the whole story, but I am looking at bushrangers at the moment.

People seemed to have a soft spot for them, but for the most part, things ended badly for the bushrangers.

To my extreme annoyance, most studies of bushrangers do no more than scratch the surface, so I am looking for the unusual tales that surround them. Quite often, they got shot, like Ben Hall, seen on the left (above) as he was depicted in the press of the day. Others, like Ned Kelly (right, above) went to the gallows.
A shoot-out involving the Clarkes in 1866: bet you never heard of them!!
Shoot-outs, however, excited the most interest, I have found.  The amazing thing to me, though, is the huge number of bush rangers who were around, and the number who died with their boots off, reformed characters, so to speak.

For the most part, they had pretty miserable lives, and that's part of the story I plan to tell, but even those who weren't bushrangers could have a nasty time of it.  That brings me to Frederick Turner, who fell foul of the Bushranging Act in 1838—and he wasn't even a bushranger!

Frederick sailed to Hobart  in 1832 as a cabin boy on the Norval, and then left the ship with his employer's agreement, worked in several jobs before taking a 12-month post with Doctor Imlay of Twofold Bay. He completed his contract, and as workers had to do in those days, he had Imlay write him a certificate to say that he was a free man, not a runaway of any sort, and headed for Sydney looking for work.

In a statement that he made later, which was published in The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, he explained that this certificate said something like:
''The bearer, Frederick Turner, who arrived in the colony a free immigrant, has served me for twelve months at Twofold Bay, and is now on his way to Sydney to seek employment.''
Arriving in Goulburn, he was offered work as a waiter at the Goulburn Inn, at a weekly wage of twelve shillings, which was reasonable pay.  He liked the work and might have stayed, but after three weeks, a passing walloper quizzed him.

He answered frankly that he was a free man, and on the request of the mounted policeman, produced his certificate, but the law's officer dismissed it with "Oh! this will not do anybody can carry about a thing like this!" and had another constable haul him off to the watch-house, where he was locked up for the whole of that night, then taken before a magistrate called Stewart who had the "runaway reports of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land" checked, but no matching runaway was on the list.
Descriptions like these were issued for all prisoners who absconded: in those
days, with no photography, this was the best the authorities could do.
Source: The Sydney Monitor, 15 September, 1836, page 1S.
Well, said Stewart, the fellow must be a runaway from the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney Town: he must go there and be examined.  So it was back to the watch house for Frederick, where his hair was cropped close to the skull before he was thrust into a crowded cell, about 13 feet by 12 in dimension. Here, there were  some 25 to 30 convicts and felons living upon bread and water.

Each night, they were handcuffed and chained to each other in a hot cell at the end of summer (it appears). After a fortnight, nine of them were chained up, and they set out to walk to Sydney, some 200 km away.  Each night, they moved from lockup to lockup: Bargo, Stonequarry  Creek, the Cowpastures, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Parramatta and Sydney.  At the Hyde Park Barracks, Mr. Ryan, the Chief-Clerk, referred to the records, but could not find any runaway of Turner's description.

That ought to have been that, but Ryan declared that he must detain Frederick until he could produce some respectable person to identify him as a free subject.  After a fortnight detained in the Barracks, he recalled that a Mrs. Collins who had come to Australia on the Norval should be in Sydney. He named her, she came, identified him, and he was released with no money, little in the way of clothing (he had sold most of his clothes to get food on the way to Sydney), and no papers.
It occurred to me to ask Mr. Ryan for the certificate which Dr. Imlay gave me, and which I had been compelled to deliver up to the Police Magistrate of Goulburn. Mr. Ryan evinced not the least feeling for my misfortunes, though he now knew, that I had been brought down 150 miles in handcuffs innocently; for he told me rudely and roughly ''to be off,'' not condescending to say whether he or Mr. Stewart of Goulburn had my certificate in his possession.  Yet Mr. Ryan must know, that if with a certificate I had been thus imprisoned three weeks, and put in irons as if I had been in an ironed gang. I was more liable to the same treatment without a certificate.
Turner had been banged up for five weeks, and now he was tossed out on the street. Two constables questioned him, but unlike the Goulburn push, they believed his story, and advised him to see Mr. Mitchell, the Chief Constable, who they said would probably do something for him.  Instead, he went to see the Collinses, and Mr. Collins gave him shelter and found him work the next day.

This wasn't an isolated case, he said. He explained that two other free men were confined as well as himself at Goulburn, and one of them was actually flogged for what was deemed insolence to the Magistrate.

So if that was how they treated free people, who can be surprised if a few felons went, well, just a bit feral?  I have been searching for later traces of Frederick Turner, but it's a common name, and I have no traces that I can link to him directly.  But I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn later that as soon as he could raise enough for a passage, or find a berth, young Frederick Turner quitted the colonies for good.

I will, however, be looking further into George Stewart, P. M. at Goulburn, appointed in 1836, because I know a little of the magistrates in the area, and there isn't a lot to admire.

I doubt, though, that I will ever embark on a work called Not Your Usual Judges, because, to be blunt, there was no standard of normality among them, not in the early days.  There's just too much material altogether.

Now I'm going back to look more closely at that subset of bushrangers who managed to get pardons, men like Walmsley (a murderer), Frank Gardiner (a bit of a thug) and Moondyne Joe, a lovable rogue who was pardoned for being good at escaping.

Once, Joe shot through from Fremantle Gaol in his underwear, and somehow managed to acquire a suit made of "marsupial skins" (or so he claimed).  That story explains his peculiar garb in the only extant photograph of him.

That's him, there on the right.  I lifted it from Wikimedia Commons, which claims that it is in the public domain.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Not your usual treatment

Keep an eye on that title.  It introduces a new theme that will pop up from time to time over the next couple of years.

No, there will be no more than that, because you know what they say about the best-laid plans, but if it comes to fruition, this is where it all began.

One aspect of that is quacks and quack medicine.  I will be mining that vein on and off, as part of the grander plan, for the rest of this year.

I plan to look, for example, at Perry Davis' famous Painkiller, even celebrated in Tom Sawyer:

One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack when his aunt's yellow cat came along, purring, eyeing the teaspoon avariciously, and begging for a taste. Tom said:"Don't ask for it unless you want it, Peter."But Peter signified that he did want it."You better make sure."Peter was sure."Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you, because there ain't anything mean about me; but if you find you don't like it, you mustn't blame anybody but your own self."Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth open and poured down the Pain-killer. Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round and round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment, with his head over his shoulder and his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went tearing around the house again spreading chaos and destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window, carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him. The old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peering over her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with laughter.

That Painkiller really existed, and it was apparently just as painful as Twain made out: I have the word of a New Zealand shepherd for that, by way of one Lady Barker, but I will hold that in reserve for now.

The claims made for patent medicines were completely uncontrolled.  In the 1890s, (Heinrich Hermann) Robert Koch had made quite a name for himself as a meticulous discoverer of bacteria like the cholera germ. Using his name like that was fine, because they didn't claim that it was the same Dr. Koch: they just threw the name up and waited for the punters to make a false inference.

If there was any Koch involved with the nostrum on the right, I doubt that it was he. This one cure seems to be able to defeat viruses like smallpox, bacterial infections like consumption, erysipelas, gonorrhea and syphilis, cancers, deficiency diseases like scurvy, and even physical problems like piles and sciatica.

About the only thing that it failed to do, it seems, was cure snakebites.  Still, in colonial Australia, there was a wonderful range of snakebite treatments, and I am looking into those as well, for another chapter.

Whoops!  I just blew it.

Ah well....that's only a small corner of the Grand Plan.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Macro tricks in Word, part 2

This completes a series that started with a previous series that began with Effective Science Writing Part 1.  The other three parts of this second series are listed at the end of this entry.

I will now return to less brain-hurting stuff in the next few posts, because I am currently in pursuit of bushrangers, rocks and crash remedies and all my hurt brain facilities are overloaded.

Creating a macro

A macro is simply a collection of recorded key strokes that can be run again, using a shortcut. These are created in a form of Visual Basic that looks quite worrying if you try editing a macro, so don't bother (yet), just be aware that you can create and record complicated sequences without knowing anything at all about how they are coded.

The starting point is Tools - Macro - Record New Macro, but before you get to that stage, you need to know what you will name it, so you need to do some experimenting to see what macros already exist for you, created by the Microsoft boffins. If there is a standard shortcut like Control-C for copy, and you overwrite it, that can be really annoying.

Macro ideas

The first thing to be said is that it is hard to keep track of the macros and what they are called. It is also important to know that some of the special key commands like Control-C, Control-V, and Control-X, (copy, paste and cut highlighted text, respectively) are valuable. Word is set up with those (effective) macros ready to run, and you need to experiment to see if you need Control-I, Control-B, or Control-U, which convert highlighted text to italics, bold and underline.

I give every macro a name that makes sense and also tells me what keystrokes bring it into operation. Macro names cannot have spaces in them, so I capitalise every word when it starts.

Note that macros can call macros, so if you build up a good library, you can wreak major havoc - until you know what a new macro does, always save your work before you test it out!

Paste unformatted text, PasteUnformattedCtrlU-my only failure

From time to time, you will get text such as HTML or fields and if you insert a table of contents into a document, the table is not real text, which can be a nuisance in some cases. The same thing applies if you are using Excel, and later want to paste material into Word: if you hit Edit-Paste Special-Unformatted text, you can avoid this, but I have never yet been able to make a macro to do this. If any reader succeeds, please tell me how you did it!

Note well: If you copy a text cell from Excel use Control-V, you will end up with the text in a table which then has to be converted.


As mentioned above, this character is something I need all the time, so I have a macro to do it. All the macro does is produce the appropriate degree character ° (of course, if you hold down the Alt key and type 0176 on the numeric pad, that does the same thing).

Multiple operations

There are times when I need to do the same thing, many times over: it may be as simple as finding all the carriage returns that are Heading 4 and converting them to Heading 3. You can do that with a simple replace command, but suppose you want to autonumber the header paragraphs (using Insert - Field - Autonum): in that case, you need a macro. First, you search for the next instance of Heading 4, change the paragraph to Heading 3, hit Home to get to the start of the line, and then insert the field.

In all probability, this is not the sort of macro you will need very often, so I save things like that as Temp1, for which the code is Control-Shift-Z. I also have (and in spite of their names, they are permanent), Temps, Temp3 and Temp4. These are coded by Control-Shift-XControl-Shift-C, and Control-Shift-V. Look at the keyboard to work out my logic here.

The next bit is where it gets interesting: Temp2 is merely ten repetitions on Temp1 (whatever that may be), Temp3 is ten repeats of Temp2, and Temp4 is ten of Temp3, so when I hit Control-Shift-V, I create a thousand repetitions of Temp1.
Then, if I want to run some existing macro a thousand times, I just create a new Temp1 which is just a single instance of that macro.

Jumping in and out of Excel

Call me weird if you will, but I have written a whole book in Excel. Not on Excel, but in Excel. There was a reason for doing this: it was an illustrated children's book on reef life, and I needed to offer species lists for each page for the artist. Once I had created a record on a single line for a fish that was on page 5, complete with references to where the artist would find models or photos, I could make extra copies of that line and assign one of the lines to page 9, and another to page 14, where the same fish was also to appear. Other lines had the text for the page, and so on.

I knew, of course, that one of the earliest users of Visicalc in Sydney was a 'Sun' sporting journalist who used the program to create stories, and when I heard the yarn, I guessed straight away what he was doing. The old tradition of hot-metal print was the use of 'copy-paper', octavo sheets on which a single paragraph was typed, double-spaced. At the end, the pages were numbered and passed to a sub-editor to be marked up for setting.

Now as you do a story on copy paper, you often move a paragraph-page to a new place, and I suspect that this cunning journo was adding numbers in a separate column, and then sorting on that column before he printed out the story and handed it over. Whether he was doing that or not, I thought it a good idea, and I decided to adapt it, more or less.

When I set out to research a new book, I use a spreadsheet at the start with three columns: ch (chapter), pt (part) and ss (section). Then I add columns like Name, Location, Date, Keywords, Text and Source. Any text which is lifted directly from another source goes in as italics, to remind me not to use it as mine (failing to recognise direct quotes as such gets many writers into trouble). I add other codes that seem appropriate.

At any stage, I can sort my entries by any three of the headings I have assigned, including ch, pt and ss. In any chapter, values of zero for pt and ss ensure that the synopsis comes at the start, but I can also sort by name, and see that two of the Blamey references in chapter 9 really belong in chapter 3, and so on.

Complex? One book that I wrote was based on a set of 5000 selections from journals of the explorers, some gleaned from Project Gutenberg, some from obscure learned journals, some from microfilm, typed into my Palm Pilot with a portable keyboard, then transferred to Word, with other details pasted in using tabs between fields before going into Excel. The total is about a million words, the book will be about 70,000, but along the way, I needed to see what different writers have said about crocodiles.

Problem: the early writers used 'alligators', or even 'alegators' or 'gavials', so how do I pull all of those out. The answer was to use keywords, but keywords can go wrong, so I created a set of mnemonic codes, where z indicates animals, d indicates dangerous and c is crocodiles. All I need do is add the code \zdc to tag it as one of the 54 croc-related incidents. (The logic here: if I type the descriptors in full, that is onerous, and some will be wrong, which means they won't show up in searches. But if I use short mnemonics, I should avoid much of that. Not all, but much of it.)

Later, though, I wanted to convert all of those codes to real words that ordinary people can interpret, and that gave me a set of problems. It can be done with macros, but with 220 codes, it would be a big job.

That was when I began generating Word macros in Excel. Hold onto your seats, because now the ride gets a bit bumpy. We start with a piece of code from inside one of the macros that I use to convert the keyword codes:
With Selection.Find
.Text = "\
.Replacement.Text = "
female explorers, "
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

All this does is to look through for instances of a particular code, and replace them. In this case, \enfm is replaced by the phrase 'female explorers', with a comma and a space  added, the bits in bold if you are reading this in Word. All the blue text (in the example above) is a constant. (As a side note, there were more female explorers than we encounter in the history books, but to find out about that, you may need to read my book. It's called Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, Pier 9.)

The careful observer may be wondering why I am talking about this Excel stuff when I ought to be talking about Word. The answer is that I couldn't get a Macro to work in Excel, so I port an entire column across to Word, alter it there, and then transfer it back. I could have just typed all the keywords, but sometimes I want to change a phrase, and universal search and exchange can be a pain.

I thought there would be some way that I could use a look-up table in Excel or somewhere to go through all of the permutations, but that didn't work. I could have created my macros by laboriously typing in all of the codes and their meanings, but that failed to attract. I turned instead to a lovely Excel command, =CONCATENATE.

This is used to chain strings together, bits of text. Each complete macro has five bits: a fixed start, a first variable, a linking bit, a second variable, and all of the end material. All I need to do is add those three constant sections to a spreadsheet in which the two columns, text and replacement, are given.

Whoops, not quite. Those pesky carriage returns are about to get in the way. I need to take out the line breaks and replace them later, so now I look at the macro like this:

With Selection.Find# .Text = "
\enfm "# .Replacement.Text = "
female explorers,
"# .Forward = True# .Wrap = wdFindContinue# .Format = False# .MatchCase = False# .MatchWholeWord = False# .MatchWildcards = False# .MatchSoundsLike = False# .MatchAllWordForms = False#End With#Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

Then I just delete the two variables and because there are 293 characters in he last string, which Excel may gag on, I will chop it into two bits, just in case. I take a new worksheet, paste the codes and their translations into columns A and B, paste the fixed strings into cells F1, F2, F3 and F4.

Then in cell C1, I have 

=CONCATENATE(F$1&A1&F$2&B1&F$3&F$4): note the lack of spaces, and note the $ symbol, which makes that an absolute address. When I copy this into C2, it will read 

=CONCATENATE(F$1&A2&F$2&B2&F$3&F$4), and this will continue all the way down. I copy C1 all the way down to C220

Now I can grab column C and paste it into Word (it has to be pasted as unformatted text, so you must use Paste Special), and I can replace each # with a carriage return.

Now I have all of the codes I need to convert all of my keywords.

No I haven't, not quite - I omitted to allow for the fact that I have codes \zd (dangerous animals) and \zdc (dangerous animals: crocodiles). I need to change all the cases of \zdc before I attack the cases of \zd. Not a problem: in column D, I add =LEN(A1) and copy that all the way down. Now I select the 220 rows, click on Data- Sort, and I choose to sort by column D in Descending order. Now the macro will come to and deal with \zdc before it converts \zd.

One thing I discovered is that there seems to be a limit for the size of each macros, possibly a limit of around 32768 characters, but I decided to put just 60 conversions in each macro. That raises the question: how do I insert them?

My solution is a kludge, but it works I create KeywordConv1CtrlShG, KeywordConv2CtrlShH, KeywordConv3CtrlShJ, and KeywordConv4CtrlShK, each of which converts <\enfm> to (leave out the angle brackets). Now I have dummies that I can work on.

I go to the Word file that has the codes, and I select the first 60 (I look at the spreadsheet to see where the cut goes). I CUT these, then I go to Tools - Macro - Macros (or ALT-F8) and I choose Edit and scroll down to KeywordConv1CtrlShG and click the Edit button. Then I carefully select the target portion, the same bit that I quoted above, and click on Control-V to paste in the material that I cut before. And voila! a neat and tidy macro.

I suggest reading that three times to get it right. OK, maybe four: it's worth it, because this can save you significant effort.

Running the keywords macro

We aren't finished yet: we need to run the macros in order, but I often forget where I am at, so I have created a super macro, KeywordsAllCtrlShL, which simply runs the four conversion macros. Then having pasted the spreadsheet column over and having run the macro, each paragraph ends in a comma and a space.

Remember that we can search for a carriage return? I can target the ends by replacing ,<^p> with <^p> - leave out the angle brackets, of course.


My thanks to Bryn Jones who reminded me to mention the use of abbreviations that are converted by Autocorrect.

The other bits

Planning a book with a spreadsheet;
Practical use of macros and spreadsheets; and
Macro tricks in Word, part 1.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Wherein we go walking

The idea was to get a train to Gerringong, walk to Kiama, get a train home.  That's on the coast, a couple of hours' drive or train ride south of Sydney.  We were using the train, because we wanted to go one way only on the selected track.

That entailed walking to a ferry, riding the ferry, and walking uptown to Martin Place, where the train would pass through, almost an hour after we got off the ferry.

Three flies in the ointment: trackwork being done which meant the last 60 km would be in a bus (that was fly number 1).

Fly number 2, you can see on the right: fog, that slowed the ferries right down, but we still made it, even though the fog ate half an hour of our discretionary time. We met Lyn and Warren, with whom we were walking, got the train at 09:29, and shortly after noon, we were on the road.

The track is about 6 km along, winding over open country close to cliffs that look out over the Tasman Sea (a branch office of the western Pacific).

Third fly: there is about 3 km of walking at each end, before you get to and from the designated track, but we were up for that.

I plan to let the pictures tell most of the story, with a few comments about the geology and biology of the area.  For enthusiastic walkers, we started at noon, walked steadily, and got to Kiama station as night started to fall.  From Kendall's Beach onwards, it was suburban walking, but if I did it again, I would go on an earlier train,
Gerringong War Memorial Hall: after the Great War, they brought in a law that allowed communities
to erect memorial halls which, because they were War Memorials, were tax-free.
Looking to the south, a line of Norfolk Island Pines, Araucaria heterophylla,
which I rather suspect are Australian natives.  They were certainly described
first from Norfolk Island, but some early views of colonial Sydney show trees
that are well-developed.  More research needed, but they are a typical coastal
tree in settled areas, and you will see a few more of them, if you look hard.

And these markers will help you relate the time stamps to distance.  This is being done on the assumption that a few walkers
will chance on this and need the raw data for their own sums.  This is it.
The track is well signed and marked, with good interpretation.  The coastal area was once rain forest, despoiled to provide cedar and then cleared to provide pasture.

The area is a weird mix of sedimentary rocks and volcanic flows (we will see more of that later) so the soil is rich, but a coastal fringe has been clawed back for the public.

The track is minimalist, apart from being slashed or mown, and there isn't much biology there.

But, the scenery is nice!

Keep in mind that this walk was done on May 12, in autumn, less than six weeks from mid-winter.  In Australia, that's still walking time!

The track officially begins as you pass the point where, in times of rainfall, Werri
lagoon breaks through to the sea. In Australian parlance, a lagoon is a dammed up
creek (which here, as in America, is fresh water, not an estuary, as in Britain, but
just to be contrary, Werri lagoon is quite salty.
Here is a section of the track.  We are off!
Reminder: this is the east coast, so this is a view to the south with what they call
a wave-cut platform.  Second reminder: this is Australia, so the sun is to the north.
A look north at a most peculiar pillar, 2 km from the start.  More Research Needed!
A small remnant of the original rain forest hangs on grimly at 2.5 km. We walked
inside to take a closer look at this fig. Those rocks are all volcanics of some sort.
In places, the track comes close to the edge of the cliff, but never dangerously
slow, and as you will notice, you can usually see a long way in front and behind.
This might be the place to mention that there is no water on the track, and no
toilets, either.  There are lots of pebbly beaches, most of which you can get to.
Like this one!
The left-over of a dyke, an igneous intrusion that pushed up through the sandstone
of the platform, but which has since weathered out.  We didn't have time to go and
examine it, but my guess is that there is contact metamorphism where the hot rock
touched the sandstone, turning it to quartzite, which sneers at mere waves!
Another view of that pebbly beach. There would be interesting stuff down there
for people who didn't need to get back to Sydney!
Almost at half-way, now, looking back at the track behind us.
Going down to the beaches, though, calls for a degree of wariness. Past half-way, now.
What is it about me and pebbles???
One of the better platforms, and the track, following the cliff line.
Another view of the same bay: this is when date stamps come in handy!
We have now completed 5 km, 1 km to go...
See how far you can follow the track.
This is an white-bellied sea eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, but we just call them sea eagles, and they don't seem to mind.

These are most ungracious birds: they always sneak up behind you at a time when you don't have your camera out.

The wing span of an adult is ~190 cm, more than six feet, and they are found all around the Australian coast line.

When I got this shot, we were just at the end of the official track, but with quite a long trudge over rather poorer ground in places.  The track is usually either clear enough or reasonably well signed, with one exception that I will come to.

Just across from the track's end, houses of ostentatious vulgarity abound. I took
this shot for the rocks in front, where waves break up onto them making pretty
little intermittent waterfalls.  We had to go around the head of the bay and along
the grass below the houses.
Looking back, the headland is composed of sandstone (the lighter rock) overlain by the Blowhole latite.  On the right, the top of
the sandstone goes below the sea.

Around Kiama, where the rocks were on offer, the early farmers made dry-stone walls.  Sensibly, somebody has built a stile here
so Mr and Mrs Public don't damage the wall.  On the right, there is barbed wire to underline the message.  Good!

I have always been fascinated by the way waves shape beaches and beaches shape waves.
With the light fading fast (there is a high escarpment to the west, we made it to the Little Blowhole.  Kiama is famous for its
giant Blowhole, but last Sunday, according to a lady who was there, it wasn't working, unlike the Little Blowhole.  It's all a
matter of tides, swell direction, wind and luck, but when a wave crunches into a cleft, water spouts, as you can see here.

At this point, the track is hard to follow. Take the path west, downhill and uphill, then find a paved roadway, over to the left, go up to the street, and obey the Blowhole signs to get to Kiama.  You turn tight at the road, right again at the end, and walk down into  a turning circle. On the far side, there is a right-of-way, going over to the cliff edge.

Once we were on that beach, we were in civilisation with concrete paths to follow.
All in all, the walk is a strenuous one, but well worth doing.  Of course, as four senior citizens, we all travelled on $2.50 all-day tickets that covered everything.  We got the 20:45 ferry to Manly, across a thankfully fog-free harbour.

Not a bad day out for the middle of autumn!

Macro tricks in Word, part 1

Warning: I am out-of-date, and still use Word 2003.  YMMV!

Note also that I am a seriously old code-hacker and my mind is convoluted from all the time I have spent being smart-lazy.  That means I look for back doors and handles that I can use to turn things on their heads.  In 1981, with no word processor available to use on my Commodore PET, which had a massive 32k or RAM, I wrote my own—in BASIC!!

So yes, my mind is a bit weird, but if you work through these pieces, you will gather some useful tricks, and save yourself a lot of time.

It was furst drafted back in 2005, but never actually saw the light of day, because it was too hard to clarify, and I was busy. I revived it to help people to make sense of the talk I gave in 2012. Use it as a source of practical solutions which can be pillaged.

Using Macros in Word, and other tricks

Some years back, I mentioned on a list that there are many things that can be done with macros. I was asked to explain in more detail and I ducked, being a bit busy, but the time has come to actually talk to the issue, because there seems to be a bit of a lack of good background on the tricks of the trade. I am going to start several steps back, because the effective use of macros works best if you have set the document up in a particular way, which brings us to styles. You don't have to do it my way, but if you are going to follow my discussion later on, it relates to how I use a particular setup.

I plan to discuss ways of improving productivity by spending a short period to get things right, and as well as macros, I will talk about autocorrect, which can be another useful tool. You will find that this relates closely to what I do (and why). My aim is to introduce you to some wrinkles that you can sift through for the ones that fit you. The adept will adapt and adopt, I hope.


I only use Times New Roman: I can change that if I need to for a special purpose, but I like to keep stuff plain and simple. Almost everything I do uses 4 levels of heading (18 point, 16 point, 14 point and 12 point bold), a Normal (no indents, 12 point, left-justified) and Normal indent, which is like Normal, but with the first line indented by 1 cm. Styles can be set up to specify what the next paragraph will be: when you hit 'Enter' from one of my Headings, the next paragraph is automatically normal, and when I hit enter again, the paragraph after is Normal indent, as are the paragraphs that follow that. Eventually, I add another heading, and the cascade starts again. 

For special cases, I may add a style called qquote, which is 10 point Times New Roman, justified, indented 1cm each side, with a box around it. The paragraph that follows is Normal again - this being the usual print convention. 

You set up styles by going to Format - style and choosing a style to modify. If you are unfamiliar with this, it is worth doing carefully. To make them permanent, you need to open the file (it is a good idea to make a back-up copy first!) which is a template - then modify the styles and save the result.

Getting creative with styles

This is a bit of a side-issue, but I have spent a number of years in my life working rather closely with multiple choice questions, and this led me to consider the time wasted in getting multiple choice questions to come out just right. That was when I had the bright idea of creating styles called Stem (the question part) and OptionA, OptionB, OptionC and OptionD.

As you will see later, these can be used in a macro that saves lots of time, but let's just look at the styles for now.

The style that is specified to follow Stem is OptionA, and the style after that is OptionB and so on. The style after OptionD is Stem once more. OptionD is different from the others, since it leaves a larger spacing after it (12 points instead of 3 points), and unlike the others, is not flagged with "keep with next", a neat little option that says in effect "keep all of a set of paragraphs on the same page" - so the questions never split over two pages.

The main part of this trick is that, having established the style for the first line, all of the rest is automatic. Now let's look at some of the handy things you need to know.

Did you know?

Some of the tips here do not relate directly to my topic, but were thrown in because I happened to think of them. If you are creative, you may see a way to use them. This is my blog, and I will amble and ramble as I please. Walk along with me!

Carriage return, tabs and other specials

You can search for a carriage return, and end of paragraph marker, by telling the Word program to look for ^p, while a tab is ^t and a soft return is ^l. (By the way, 'carriage return' is one of those leftovers from the era of the electric typewriter and the line printer, a character that required the system to perform a line feed, down one line, and back to the start of the line. A soft return is Shift-Enter, and it does not start a new paragraph. See the section on sorting for an application of this.

To see what else you can search for, click on Edit - More - Special to see a drop-down menu of things you can search for. Note that when I give you a sequence like that, we begin with the top menu bar, and after that, you need to look for a tab or a button that leads you to the next stage. If you are going to make Word work for you, you need to have explored most of these.

While you are in the area, click on Edit - More - Format to see how you can select only (say) for a word when it is in italics, or in a heading. Also, look over on the left to see that you can specify matching case, whole words only, and wildcards. I have never used "Sounds like" or "Find all word forms", so you are on your own there.

One key choice that you have in the extended search and replace dialogue box is to search up, search down or search all. This is of less use in a macro, but it can be very handy indeed.


The Table - Sort function is excellent when you have a whole range of, say, dictionary definitions, because it sorts paragraphs (usually alphabetically). There is a catch, though, if you have the title on a separate line. The solution is to use soft returns, achieved with Shift-Enter, so that the whole lump of text remains a simple paragraph. Later, when the sorting is done, and you have saved the text, you can use Edit - Replace to get rid of the soft returns (^l), replacing them with carriage returns (^p).

I usually put a # on a separate line as an end-of-entry marker when I do this. It can be deleted later, but if I want to, I can create a macro that finds the # character, moves to the next paragraph (the title of the entry) and formats it, say, to Heading 4. You have to set that up first, and that is why every system needs to be thought about before you begin.


Because I write a lot of historical material, I often need the £ symbol, and it is a nuisance recalling the code that generates it: I will get to those later. Because people in the US refer to the # symbol as 'pound' sometimes, I have an Autocorrect setting that converts the string #$ to £.

This text was written in Word. Given that, you may wonder why #$ was not converted to £ here: the answer is that it was, but pressing backspace once undoes the autocorrection. You do need to think through the Autocorrects that you use, just in case something else, where you wanted that string to stand, gets converted.

For example, I created an Autocorrect to change dC to °C, but there is no case sensitivity here. That meant I got into trouble with DC current and Washington DC, so I made degC the trigger, though mostly, I just use a macro that inserts a ° symbol: I will come to that later.

As far as I am concerned, I would only ever type NEJM when I meant the New England Journal of Medicine (I write about science, OK?), so I am happy to have the autocorrect change NEJM to New England Journal of Medicine.

To make that happen, I type the phrase I want to see appear, italicise it, highlight it, and go to Tools - Autocorrect, when a dialogue box comes up, with the completed phrase on the right. Then I add the letters NEJM to the left-hand side and click on the button for formatted text, and it is all ready to go.

This is useful for things like company names as well as schools and the like. Just think of the long phrases that you do all the time, like your name and your address, and set them up as autocorrects.

Another application of autocorrect is to handle El Niño and São Tomé: at one stage, when I was writing about sugar and slavery, some years back, I set up Autocorrect to deal with the special characters in São Tomé, and I discuss El Niño often enough to have the tilde added to the second n as a matter of course.


If you happen to write about hominin fossils a lot, you can use either Autocorrect or Autotext. I have added Sahelanthropus tchadensis to my Autotext, and I need only type the first four characters. When it comes to Australopithecus species, though, I have a number to deal with, all with the same genus name, so I need to use Autocorrect codes like A.afa and A.afr for Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus respectively.

Codes for special characters

There are two systems of coding for special characters using the ALT key and the numbers on the numeric pad. One set is ALT-xxx, the second is ALT-0xxx. These are not to be confused with each other: ALT-129 is ü while ALT-0129 is  which is pretty useless.

Note that you need to hold down the ALT key, type three or four numbers on the numeric pad (really annoying when you have a laptop!!) and then let go the ALT key.

You can also do special characters by using Insert - Symbol and selecting the appropriate character. If you look closely when you mouse over the character you want, you will often see that there is a keyboard shortcut. Where I create ñ by typing ALT-164, I can insert it from the symbol menu which says that I can also do Control~ then letting go and typing n (note that ~ is a shifted character, so you need to hold down the shift key as well - fiddle with this one, because it also gives you ã and õ, if you ever need them. The menu also tells me to get £ by typing ALT-0163.

Suppose I want a degree symbol. This is °, which I can get with Control-Shift-2, followed by a space, but I have always found that too hard to recall, so I have a macro, coded by Control-Shift-D, which does it for me.

Word count and other toolbar bits

As you can see, my toolbar contains a lot of extras, but the most valuable is Word count, which tells me both the number of characters in a selection and the number of words in either the selection or the whole document. To add things like this, go to Tools - Customize - Command and explore, understanding that you can drag interesting commands up onto the tool-bar.

Word count is found in the Tools sub-menu. Explore!

Planning a book with a spreadsheet;
Practical use of macros and spreadsheets;
Macro tricks in Word, part 2.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Practical use of macros and spreadsheets

This follows on from Planning a book with a spreadsheet.  It will make more sense if you read that first.  There are two more to follow: the links are at the end.

A word of warning: this is written for the sort of people who think "hacker" is an honourable designation, people who consider Notebook an excellent application for writing web pages, the sort of people who grok this:

Real programmers type COPY CON PROGRAM.EXE

This item based on tricks I developed while writing Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, ISBN 9781741960488, published November 1, 2007 by Pier 9 in Australia.

Cover, Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools That book owed a lot to a lot of people. Most of them gave their time selflessly to contribute to Australian scholarship. I used what they did to make a book, but I believe it is worth acknowledging and explaining what I did.

This explanation is for people comfortable with macros and jumping text from Word to Excel and back again. If this is not you, don't go past the fourth paragraph!

In the first place, I owe thanks to the people who collected and collated a large number of historical records which were printed in limited editions, a few of which I found in libraries. Then there were the volunteers who transcribed some of the mss, saving me from having to puzzle through unfamiliar handwriting.

Most of all, though, I owe a debt of gratitude to the people at Project Gutenberg Australia. These lovely people have scanned and proofed most of the journals of the explorers, and that was my starting point for a database. I added text from original material and even papers, pamphlets and transcribed documents, but my major source was Project Gutenberg Australia.

If I describe what I did with their pieces, that effectively covers what I did with the mss and other sources as well, so read this with a bit of imagination.

First, I downloaded the text files, then I trimmed the Project Gutenberg end matter and pasted the rest into Microsoft Word. I have a standard macro which takes all double carriage returns and converts them to &&##, then it converts all single carriage returns to a space, before converting &&## to a carriage return. That fixed almost all of the paragraphs, but next, the macro replaced any double carriage returns with singles (3 times) and replaced double spaces with singles (5 times).

This left me with fairly neat text, which I was ready to work on. My aim was to select paragraphs to go into a database. I faced a major problem, in that spelling often differed: a crocodile in one account might be am alligator in another, or even an alegator! So I decided to add keyword codes to the entries.

I also needed to attach a date, the name of the explorer and other details, and I knew that with some 5300 entries, mistakes would creep in, unless I let the machine do the hack work. I needed to be able to sort by day of month, month and year, so these were separate fields.

I will let you in on a secret: I have been living with repetitive strain injury since 1981, and I maintain a gruelling writing schedule. I survive because I know how to make the machine do the work. I decided that rather than enter into Excel by pasting, I would do the initial pasting in Word, so I set up a couple of macros to add tab-delimited fields to a paragraph. Later, these fields would distribute into different columns.

I created a paragraph header like this: 

21{TAB}July{TAB}1847{TAB}John{TAB}Smith{TAB} -- in this case, the first entry in Smith's journal was 21 July 1847.

I copied this, and then set up a macro that added that on the front or a paragraph, highlighted the paragraph and changed the text to blue (to make it stand out -- my colour vision is deficient, and blue is better than red) and then added a string of tabs at the end. At the right point for the keyword codes, I added a single backslash -- I will come back to this later.

Then I started to go through the journal. If I chose a paragraph, I just ran the macro: if the passage I wanted was less than a paragraph, I selected the portion I wanted, made it into a paragraph, and ran the macro.

If there was more than one selection from a given date, I had a field, just after date, where I manually added a sequential number -- in the sorting that would follow, I wanted to make sure paras could always be returned to their order.

When the date changed, I pasted the old header, changed the date, and copied it to the clipboard.

When I had been right through the journal, I sorted the paragraphs. Then I cut the ones at the top, all the ones starting with dates, and pasted them to a new file before closing the old file (I did not want to save THOSE changes!).

Now I was ready to add keywords, but I did not need massive amounts of typing and occasional typos that make a mess of later searches, so I used mnemonic codes. \ta was transport animals, \tac and \tah were transport using camels and transport using horses and so on. So now I could add labels like \dac for dangerous animals crocodiles or \das which was snakes, and so on. Now I went to the leading backslash and added the appropriate codes. There were no spaces anywhere in the codes.

Now I was ready to paste the results into an Excel scratchpad where the dates and sequential numbers were converted to a unique value that I could always sort on to get the entries back in order. Then I could add the journal name in the top row and copy that down, and add a unique record accession number before pasting back into Word as unformatted text.

There usually seemed to be a few extra clean-ups needed to remove extraneous spaces, then I was ready to add the data to the database. While I sometimes ported the results into Access, for most purposes, a flatfile database in Excel was all I needed, and I made Excel the native format.

I repeated this for each volume, and then I was ready to convert the keyword codes, which were in a separate Excel worksheet. The codes were in column A, the meaning was in column B.

Creating a macro to convert 200 codes was a bit hairy. First, I had to sort the codes in Excel, according to length: it was essential to convert \tahf before \tah before \ta -- think about it! Now macros in Word (yes, Word -- bear with me!) are large and sloppy. Trial and error revealed that macros converting more than 50 codes fell over. I also knew that macro conversion is tedious, so I wrote a macro to convert just three codes and broke into it.

Once you have some repetition, parsing the code is easy. I identified the whole sequence, then using the =CONCATENATE command in Excel, I put the entire code for a conversion in column C. There were a few problems like line breaks and quote marks, but I used stray symbols for those. Then I copied all the conversion codes into Word, replaced the stray symbols with the necessary line breaks and quote marks.

Now I was ready: I selected and copied the first 50 codes, opened my macro with the editor and pasted over the codes.

I now opened a new file, and carefully copied the key codes column and pasted it into that file, ran a search and destroy to remove ANY spaces and ran the macro. Then I went back to the codes file, moved the second fifty codes into the macro, went to the other file and ran the macro, and so on. At the end, I ran a check for any outstanding back-slashes. These were the invalid codes, and each was then converted manually, once I worked out what it should be.

Next, I took the file of converted codes, and pasted them back into Excel. Now I had the tool I needed, ready to group the events of a given day, or to find the instances of dangerous insects, or whatever. Everything was in Excel, and could be manipulated into other formats as needed.

And now for something completely different: 

Handling bibliographies.

The figure above shows how I set my bibliographies out in a spreadsheet. The important thing to notice is Column G, where all of the information stored in the other columns is pulled together by an =CONCATENATE command. There are three of these: one for books, one for journals and one for web resources, and they read as follows:

Book resources (from G2)

=CONCATENATE(B2&", "&C2&". "&D2&": "&E2&", "&F2&".")

Journals and periodicals (from G425)

=CONCATENATE(B425&", '"&C425&"'. "&E425&", "&F425&".")

Web resources (from G433)

=CONCATENATE(B433&", "&C433&". "&D433&", "&F433&", last viewed "&E433&".")

From there, you are on your own. Note that Excel is very unforgiving about the syntax in these strings. Extra spaces, missing brackets and forgotten ampersands will all make it baulk.

So why do I bother, when there is brilliant software that does this sort of thing? It wasn't around when I started, and because I always use the same format and often come back to the same references in other works, it suits me to be able to port stuff across, rather than use Endnotes or whatever. That's just me.

One of the good things about this is that I can assign priorities in another column, sort by that or by the "seen" field, and within a given library, sort by call number, making shelf searches easier. A file name for a PDF or a GIF is my short-hand way of reminding myself that the file in question is on my computer. There is also a comments field for me to note the references which proved to be absolutely useless.   You need that, sometimes.

As indicated, there is more to this series, which actually began with Effective Science Writing, Part 1.

Planning a book with a spreadsheet;
Macro tricks in Word, Part 1; and 
Macro tricks in Word, part 2.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Planning a book with a spreadsheet

The first thing to be said is that any factual book involves huge amounts of research and planning, and you will invariably wish you'd made a note of something you saw, six months ago. And if you did, where did I put that notebook, and if I have found it, where, oh where is that note in the many, many pages of crabbed illegibility?  That is why I transcribe my notes into machine-readable form, as soon as possible after I leave the library or whatever, but it still needs to be organised.

The second thing is that, having dabbled around with fiction, managing the facts doesn't seem to be any easier there, either.

Here's a way to keep track.  I have used it many times, though this account is based on some of the work for a book I haven't written yet. Let's just say that a small part of the context is Australian and centred on the goldfields, it's mainly historical, and this sample is wildly misleading, because many of the lines were added from other researches. Don't waste your time guessing!

Sample spreadsheet, gold

The spreadsheet format shown here is one that I have developed over a long period of time. The key thing to note is that you can sort by three columns at once, so I can sort by ch (chapter), then within that by pt (part) and then by no (number).

So how did it come about? The answer is that I got my grounding as a writer as a student journalist, working on honi soit, the University of Sydney newspaper. Back then, each paragraph was typed on an octavo (roughly A5 size) sheet of newsprint paper, double-spaced. As the sub-editor went through these, pages might be removed, switched in order or marked up in various ways.

Some years back, I heard of a sporting journalist at The Sun in Sydney (I think) who had been using the first-ever spreadsheet, Visicalc, to write news stories. As I pondered why, it hit me that he was using this as a way of juggling paragraphs, just by numbering in another column and using the SORT function. If you want to insert a paragraph between number 4 and number 5, your new para is given the number 4.5—and now you should be able to see what got me started.

There was more to it, though, once I had the general idea. At other times in the planning, I might wish to bring together everything that happened on a given date or in a given year, or at a given place. At another time, I might need to review all of the items relating to (say) theft. Right now, most of those are still linked together in this example, because part 40 of what is chapter 7 for now is mainly about crime. Later on, some of the pieces will be switched to other chapters or parts, just by changing a couple of values and sorting again.

Then there was the advantage that I could store the exact reference for later back-tracking, but there are also all of the other tabs that you can see down at the bottom of the screen-shot. I store all of my references, along with where I heard about them, where they are located, and comments about their usefulness. I also store all of the bits, which is why there is a tab labelled "discards".

One of my basic rules is that nothing is ever ditched, because I have regretted such decisions far too many times. Even if something is no use in the current book, it may come in handy later, like most of the lines that currently sit in this planning sheet.

As a rule, the spreadsheet starts at least six months to two years before I start writing the book. I have a rough chapter structure laid down, and I work within that, but most of the time, that will change entirely during the writing.

I have been trying my hand at historical fiction, and the results are less than satisfactory at this stage, mainly because I need more historical detail than I can track down, so the project is on hold. The plots for the eight planned books are all in spreadsheets, but I also have a record of the characters recorded under 12 headings: surname, Fname, Details, born, eyes, hair, height, weight, education, character, characteristics, accent. Each entry also records which books each character appears in, which helps to remind me of who has been where and done what, because the series required me to write across all eight titles at once.

So if you want to write, maybe you can do worse than learn how to subvert the spreadsheet and use it in a way that it was never intended to be used. You don't have to do it that way, but if your mind works like mine, you may find it remarkably convenient.

In the next three blogs, I will go into some rather hair-raising detail.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is the first of a series of four blogs about getting lazy-smart, using computers, and they all reflect my background as a hacker from a time when hacker was an honourable occupation. The precursor to this was a three-part series which began with Effective Science Writing, Part 1.

These are the others, and they will, in due course, be made into links: