A belated goodbye to PC Plus magazine

Last year, Future Publishing made a loss so something had to be done to address that. Computer magazines such as Linux Format no longer could enclose their cover-mounted discs in elaborate cardboard wallets and moved to simpler sleeves instead. Another casualty has been one of their longest standing titles: PC Plus.

It has been around since 1986 and possibly was one of the publisher’s first titles. It was the late nineties when I first encountered and, for quite a few years afterwards, it was my primary computer magazine of choice every month. The mix of feature articles, reviews and tutorials covering a variety of aspects of personal computing was enough for me. After a while though, it became a bit stale and I stopped buying it regularly. Then, the collection that I had built up was dispatched to the recycling bin and I turned to other magazines.

In the late nineties, Future had a good number of computing titles on magazine shelves in newsagents and there did seem to be some overlap in content. For instance, we had PC Answers and PC Format alongside PC Plus at one point. Now, only PC Format is staying with us and its market seems to be high home computer users such as those interested in PC gaming. .Net, initially a web usage title and now one focussing on website design and development, started from the same era and Linux Format dates from around the turn of the century. Looking back, it looks there was a lot of duplication going on in a heady time of expanding computer usage.

That expansion may have killed off PC Plus in the end. For me, it certainly meant that it no longer was a one stop shop like Dennis’s PC Pro. For instance, the programming and web design content that used to come in PC Plus found itself appearing in .Net and in Linux Format. The appearance of the latter certainly meant that was somewhere else for Linux content; for the record, my first dalliance with SuSE Linux was from a PC Plus cover-mounted disk. The specialisation and division certainly made PC Plus a less essential read than I once thought it.

Of course, we now have an economic downturn and major changes in the world of publishing alongside it. Digital publishing certainly is growing and this isn’t just about websites anymore. That probably explains in part Future’s recent financial performance. Then, when a title like PC Plus is seen as less important, then it can cease to exist but I reckon that it’s the earlier expansion that really did for it. If Future had one computing title that contained extensive reviews and plenty of computing tutorials with sections of programming and open source software, who knows what may have happened. Maybe consolidating the other magazines into that single title would have been an alternative but my thinking is that it wouldn’t have been commercially realistic. Either way, the present might have be very different and PC Plus would be a magazine that I’d be reading every month. That isn’t the case of course and it’s sad to see it go from newstands even if the reality was that it left us quite a while ago in reality.

Creating waterfall plots in SAS using PROC GCHART

Recently, I needed to create a waterfall plot couldn’t use PROC SGPLOT since it was incompatible with publishing macros that use PROC GREPLAY on the platform that I was using; SGPLOT doesn’t generate plots in SAS catalogs but directly creates graphics files instead. Therefore, I decided that PROC GCHART needed to be given a go and it delivered what was needed .

The first step is to get the data into the required sort order:

proc sort data=temp;
by descending result;
run;

Then, it is time to add an ID variable for use in the plot’s X-axis (or midpoint axis in PROC GCHART) using an implied value retention to ensure that every record in the dataset had a unique identifier:

data temp;
set temp;
id+1;
run;

After that, axes have to be set up as needed. For instance, the X-axis (the axis2 statement below) needs to be just a line with no labels or tick marks on there and the Y-axis was fully set up with these, turning the label from vertical to horizontal as needed with the ANGLE option controlling the overall angle of the word(s) and the ROTATE option dealing with the letters, and a range declaration using the ORDER option.

axis1 label=none major=none minor=none value=none;
axis2 label=(rotate=0 angle=90 “Result”) order=(-50 to 80 by 10);

With the axis statements declared, the GCHART procedure can be defined. Of this, the VBAR statement is the engine of the plot creation with the ID variable used for the midpoint axis and the result variable used as the summary variable for the Y-axis. The DISCRETE keyword is needed to produce a bar for every value of the ID variable or GCHART will bundle them by default. Next, references for the above axis statements (MAXIS option for midpoint axis and AXIS option for Y-axis) are added and the plot definition is complete. One thing that has to be remembered is that GCHART uses run group processing so a QUIT statement is needed at the end to close it at execution time. This feature has its uses and appears in other procedures too though SAS procedures generally are concluded by a RUN statement.

proc gchart data=temp;
vbar id / sumvar=result discrete axis=axis2 maxis=axis1;
run;
quit;

Why the delay?

The time to renew my .Net magazine came around and I decided to go for the digital option this time. The main attraction is that new issues come along without their cluttering up my house afterwards. After all, I do get to wondering how much space would be taken up by photos and music if those respective fields hadn’t gone down the digital route. Some may decry the non-printing of photos that reside on hard disks or equivalent electronic storage media but they certainly take up less physical space like that. Of course, ensuring that they are backed up in case of a calamity then becomes an important concern.

As well as the cost of a weekly magazine that I didn’t read as much as I should, it was concerns about space that drove me to go the electronic route with New Scientist a few years back. They were early days for digital magazine publishing and felt like it too. Eventually, I weened myself from NS and the move to digital helped. Maybe trying to view magazine articles on a 17″ screen wasn’t as good an experience as seeing them on the 24″ one that I possess these days.

That bigger screen has come in very handy for Zinio‘s Adobe AIR application for viewing issues of .Net and any other magazine that I happen to get from them. There’s quite a selection on there and it’s not limited to periodicals from Future Media either. Other titles include The Economist, Amateur Photographer, Countryfile, What Car and the aforementioned New Scientist also. That’s just a sample of eclectic selection that is on offer.

For some reason, Future seem to wait a few days for the paper versions of their magazines to arrive in shops before the digital ones become available. To me, this seems odd given that you’d expect the magazines to exist on computer systems before they come off the presses. Not only that but subscribers to the print editions get them before they reach the shops at all anyway. This is the sort of behaviour that makes you wonder if someone somewhere is attempting to preserve print media.

In contrast, Scientific American get this right by making PDF’s of their magazines available earlier than print editions. Given that it takes time for an American magazine to reach the U.K. and Eire, this is a very good thing. There was a time when I was a subscriber to this magazine and I found it infuriating to see the latest issues on newsagent shelves and I still waiting for mine to arrive in the post. It was enough to make me vow not to become a subscriber to anything that left me in this situation every month.

Some won’t pass on any savings with their digital editions. Haymarket Publishing come to mind here for What Car but they aren’t alone. Cicerone, Cumbrian publishers of excellent guidebooks for those seeking to enjoy the outdoors, do exactly the same with their wares so you really want to save on space and gain extra convenience when going digital with either of these. In this respect, the publishers of Amateur Photographer have got it right with a great deal for a year’s digital subscription. New Scientist did the same in those early days when I dabbled in digital magazines.

Of course, there are some who dislike reading things on a screen and digital publishing will need to lure those too if it is to succeed. Nevertheless, we now have tablet computers and eBook readers such as Amazon’s Kindle are taking hold too. Reading things on these should feel more natural than on a vertical desktop monitor or even a laptop screen.

Nevertheless, there are some magazines that even I would like to enjoy in print as opposed to on a screen. These also are the ones that I like to retain for future consultation too. Examples include Outdoor Photography and TGO and it is the content that drivesĀ  my thinking here. The photographic reproduction in the former probably is best reserved for print while the latter is more interesting. TGO does do its own digital edition but the recounting of enjoyment of the outdoors surpassed presentation until a few months ago. It is the quality of the writing that makes me want to have them on a shelf as opposed to being stored on a computer disk.

The above thought makes me wonder why I’d go for digital magazines in preference to their print counterparts. Thinking about it now, I am so sure that there is a clear cut answer. Saving money and not having clutter does a have a lot to to with it but there is a sense that keeping copies .Net is less essential to me though I do enjoy seeing what is happening in the world of web design and am open to any new ideas too. Maybe the digital magazine scene is still an experiment for me.

Changing to CKEditor from FCKEditor for WordPress Content Editing

The post editor that I have been using on my WordPress-powered outdoors blog has not been TinyMCE but FCKEditor. My use of that editor has meant that WordPress’ autosave and word counting features have not been available to me but that was my choice, as strange as it will sound to some. However, there have been times when I have missed the autosaving functionality and lost work. Since FCKEditor has been replaced by CKEditor, there are plugins available for adding that editor to WordPress’ administration interface. Recently, I got to replacing the old FCKEditor plugin with a newer CKEditor one and that has gained me post or page autosaving. The more cosmetic word counting feature is not active until a draft is manually saved but I can live with that. Other than that, the interface remains familiar with all (X)HTML tags on show in the source code view without any being hidden away from view like in WordPress’ implementation of TinyMCE. That isn’t to see that WordPress is doing something wrong but just that there are alternative way of doing things that are equally valid. After all, why would there be choices if there only ever was one right way to do anything?

Like any WordPress plugins, those replacing the default content editor in WordPress can be vulnerable to changes in the publishing platform and there is one of those in the pipeline for 3.2: a minimalist post/page editor that is billed as being non-distracting. That planned new feature is drawing inspiration from the likes of QuietWrite, where you can write content and transfer it over to WordPress or leave it where it was written. Even with bigger changes like this, my experience never has been that design decisions made for new WordPress releases have restricted to any great extent how I use the thing. That’s not to say that my usage hasn’t changed over time but I have felt that any decisions were mine to make and not all made for me. In that light, I can foresee CKEditor continuing to work on WordPress 3.2 but I’ll be doing some testing ahead of time to be sure that is the case.

Deauthorising Adobe Digital Editions software

My being partial to the occasional eBook has meant my encountering Adobe’s Digital Editions. While I wonder why the functionality cannot be be included in the already quite bulky Adobe Reader, it does exist and some publishers used it to ensure that their books are not as easily pirated. In my case, it is a certain publisher of walking guidebooks that uses it and I must admit to being a sometime fan of their wares. At first, I was left wondering how they thought that Digital Editions was the delivery means that would ensure that they do not lose out from sharing of copies of eBooks but a recent episode has me seeing what they see.

One of the nice things that it allows is the sharing of eBooks between different computers using your Adobe account. Due to my own disorganisation, I admit to having more than one though I am not entirely sure why I ended up doing that. The result was that I ended entering the wrong credentials intro the Digital Editions instance on my Toshiba laptop and I needed to get rid of them in order to enter the correct ones. It is when you try doing things like this that you come to realise how basic and slimmed down this software is. After a Google search, I encountered the very keyboard shortcut about which even the help didn’t seem to want to tell me: Control+Shift+D. That did the required deauthorisation for me to be able to read eBooks bought and downloaded onto another computer. Maybe Digital Editions does its job to lessen the chances after all. Of course, I cannot see the system being perfect or unbreakable but a lot of our security is there to deter the opportunists rather than the more determined.