Day: March 19, 2007

OpenOffice vs NeoOffice (on free OS X apps)

In a previous post about my move to OS X, I mentioned that I’d managed to avoid the need to buy any software. The exceptions being Lightroom and ecto.

It has been about a month since I got my MacBook Pro, and today was the first time that I’d had to open a Microsoft Word document. No problem, since I’d already installed the latest version of OpenOffice. That was a bit weird, as I’d had to install X11 from the OS X CDs (ooo, an OS where they still give you the install CDs, that’s a bit novel!). Actually I also needed X11 for The Gimp, so it wasn’t too much of an imposition.

On loading the Word document, I was presented with the following output:

I bet you are thinking, “what lovely fonts!”. So was I.

After a little searching, I came across a suggestion that I could replace the freetype library on my system with a hacked one. I tried that, and X11 wouldn’t launch any more, so I hurriedly backed the change out again!

Then I remembered NeoOffice, the “native” version of OpenOffice. I hadn’t installed it when I’d done my first pass of essential apps, since it appeared to be a version behind the official OpenOffice releases, and I didn’t really appreciate the benefits of having a version of the office suite that used all of the native OS X dialogs and menus. I installed it, and this is how it rendered the same document:

That’s more like it. It also looks far more like an OS X app.

So, good-bye OpenOffice, I think I’ll be using NeoOffice from now on. It is currently a release behind (2.0 as opposed to 2.1) but at the moment it appears to do everything that I want it to – I’ll reconsider if I hit any brick walls in the future.

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Weather forecasting and nuclear physics

Blue Fusion 2007 ended last Thursday, and I took Friday off to relax. I had a complete blast during the week.

As I posted previously, I spent Monday on the weather forecasting activity. The idea was to introduce students to the ideas of scientific modeling – they were given a set of information about the current weather conditions, and some rules about how weather patterns changed (not many of them were yet aware of isobars or weather fronts), and then had to predict the weather for the following 2 days, with a presentation at the end using a map and stick-on symbols. I don’t think any of them would have remember the old magnetic weather symbols that the BBC forecasters used to slap onto the map! It was a cool activity but quite tough for a lot of the groups.

I also hosted the weather forecasting on Wednesday; but on Thursday I was running Blue Fission, which was a simulation of a nuclear reactor. The guys who developed the activity had done a fantastic job building some custom consoles with dials and sliders, and then hooked it all up to the USB port of a Thinkpad (which reported “Windows has detected a Nuclear Reactor on the USB port” when it was plugged in!). The students then had to match the power output of the power station to the demands of the National Grid – great fun, unless you happened to melt it down very quickly…

I’m not sure why I’d never wanted to accompany a school all day, but on Tuesday I finally did so. This gave me the opportunity to spend the whole day with the same group of students (who were polite and enthusiastic, which was great); and also a chance to see all of the activities. Marble Run seemed to go down very well, being based on maths puzzles… the Blue Fission activity wasn’t so successful for us, unfortunately! I actually enjoyed being a school host so much that next year I’ll probably do it a couple of times – there’s a real competitive element to it, and I probably got to interact with the students and teachers more than I did as an activity host, where each group was just “passing through”.

I guess the most important thing is the feedback, and looking at some of the forms it did seem as though most of the schools got something out of the event, as well as providing us some hints as to what we can do differently in the future. The organising team did a great job. Personally, if I’m still able to take part, I’m looking forward to Blue Fusion 2008…

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