Design nadir: MS Word's Templates

I’m at work, trying to parse exactly how MS Word’s templates function. I knew this much better back in 1998, when I was a tech writer. I managed to master much of the workings of Word styles and templates, but it was all still pretty arcane even then. I remember having long debates over conference phones, like students arguing the subtleties of Talmud, with virtual-team members about the order in which to apply one or more templates to a document, and how portable the styles would then be, or exactly how to create a new style and apply to the template so that others would see it. Ad nauseum.

So I’m thrilled and gratified to see that Microsoft has finally explained all of this so clearly, especially since millions of people around the world try to collaborate on documents using their software every day. Just check out this cogent, crystal-clear explanation of the until-now mysterious “normal.dot” template, from Microsoft’s vast knowledgebase:

Working with Microsoft Word Templates-The Foundation

Normal.dot is a special global document template created and used by Word. It is a global template, but is often used as a document template. Unlike other global templates, Normal.dot must be in the User templates folder, and unlike other global templates, it should not be shared. Also unlike other global templates, it shares styles with all open documents (including other templates). When you click the New Document button or go to New option on the File menu and then click Blank Document, by default, you get a document based on the Normal.dot template.

Yeah. Now I understand completely. Thanks.

419 Fun

I read this article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, about “The Perfect Mark” — a man who, in spite of being relatively intelligent, fell for one of the Nigerian “419” scams. (The ones where you get an email saying “I have a million dollars in a blind account and need your help to get it out.”)

I’d always assumed these scams were just quick one-hit stabs at getting a credit card number. I had no idea how deep they actually go, and how sophisticated they are. They strung this guy along for years (and he still wants so much to believe that the characters are real!) and did such an amazing job of reality-twisting. Now when I see these emails, I’m no longer just amused and puzzled but a little creeped out that I just got an email from murderous, organized criminals.

So it feels especially wonderful to run across this site, “Welcome to the 419 Eater” where some clever soul conned the cons. He basically tells them “yeah I wish I could help you, but I’m in the middle of this really big deal that’s making me even more money” and baits them into a similar trap. Only in his case, it’s just an extended practical joke. (He never invites anyone to fly to his country then robs and kills them, for example.)

In this one: http://www.419eater.com/html/john_boko.htm they manage to get a scammer to think they’ll make thousands of dollars by carving strange things out of wood, then claim a hamster has eaten the goods. Hysterical.