A tale of misery and (file format) woe

Filing cabinet fence
Creative Commons License photo credit: hradcanska
As we were car-less in the UK last year, we would rent wheels at various times when we needed to move all three of us and lots of stuff over what passes for long distances on the small island. Our last rental, for our last week between Spain and our return back to the U.S., was from Enterprise. When we dropped the car off at the airport their desk was closed, so I just plopped the keys in their little return safe.

Today I got an e-mail with the receipt. As an attachment. In “.MDI” format. Whatever the hell that is.

I was pretty sure we were going to find out that this was a M$ format before I’d even bothered looking, as it’s almost always people that have been sucked irretrievably into the M$ vortex that blithely send out files in annoying proprietary formats without considering the possibility that not everyone has sunk loads o’ dosh and a major organ into M$ software. I was right. It turns out that it’s Microsoft Document Imaging format, which apparently scans physical documents and converts them into TIFFs. But instead of then using the open, nigh on universally supported TIFF, they wrap (I’m guessing) that in their own goofy MDI format so people like me can’t open the documents.

Charmed. I’m sure.

Nothing I tried (and I tried quite a lot of things) would open this MDI file up, so I (nicely) wrote back and asked if he could re-send the file in an open format, like plain text or PDF. A model of restraint, I was. Really.

They promptly sent a second message with a new attachment in “.doc”. Good on the promptly. Less winning on the “.doc”, since that’s clearly not an open format. Happily, however, NeoOffice was able to open it up, sparing me a second round of e-mails with this nice person.

And what, after all this fun, did this remarkable M$ Word document contain?

A single, small image.

The image looks like a scan of a small bit of a spreadsheet. A small bit. No names (theirs or ours), dates, or any other standard “invoice” information. Just 10 lines of text, four of which are labels, four of which are actual entries (the rental amount, VAT, etc.), with the rest being sub-totals and totals.

In other words, a ton of machinery to obfuscate a quite small bit of information.

I just hate it when that happens…

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Can we please remember that M$ hasn’t completely taken over the world?

I just had to take four on-line safety courses here at Essex in order to get money from our research grant. I’ll spare you the horrors, although I did twitter on about of some of them as I went as a sanity saving device, and will share a couple:

“Keeping your workstation and office tidy is crucial to short-term and long-term health and wellbeing.” I am doomed.

[The] Irony of spending much of an hour wading through a tedious online lesson on risks of spending too long at the computer is not lost on me.

As if the exams themselves weren’t annoying enough (and trust me, they were), the people that assembled them implicitly assumed that everyone in the world is in Microsoft’s pocket. I eventually became so frustrated that when I’d verified that I’d passed them all, I sent the following along to the folks that put all this together:

While I’m here, I should mention that there were several pieces of media that seemed to assume that one was on a Windows box. Quite a few images (clip art, I assume) didn’t load on either a Linux box or a Mac. Also the PowerPoint in the “Working at height” lesson assumed that you had PowerPoint or some compatible viewer, which isn’t always going to be true.

None of these problems were fatal for me. There didn’t appear to be important content in any of the images that I couldn’t view, and I was able to view the PowerPoint file in another program. Still they were confusing and frustrating (especially at first), and it would presumably be fairly easy (if somewhat tedious) to convert them all to a more standard and open format.

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