To be, or CSV, that is the delimiter

From time to time I receive emails requesting support for some of the scripts that I offer through the site. Since InDesign began to support semicolon separated text files for data merge, one particular issue began to receive more requests than normal.

The emails were consistent in nature – users had downloaded the data merge single or pro script and ran the script on files they had prepared. Instead of users being able to select from the fields to the left, all of the fields appeared in one line.

This behaviour usually occurs when the script runs a data merge database that had a CSV extension, but was actually separated by semicolons rather than commas. I’d explain this back to the user and ask them to try a different CSV export from Excel, or use my preferred file export of UTF-16 text from Excel.

However, many users who had exported from Excel to CSV said that this did not change the issue and the problem persisted. Usually the problem was that – despite choosing CSV from Excel’s export options, the software was still using semicolons as a delimiter rather than commas. Luckily, exporting to UTF-16 text usually resolved the issue.

On that note, I was uncomfortable with this issue and tried to replicate an Excel export from CSV that would use semicolons as delimiters rather than commas, but I couldn’t replicate this behaviour. But then I stumbled across the following article.

In short, the article says that Excel uses the user’s locale to determine what delimiter to use for CSV files. In short, if you use a comma to separate a dollar value from cents rather than a full-stop, then a CSV will likely export with semicolon delimiters rather than commas.

Adjusting this setting is not so simple, especially for Mac users like me – the adjustment is to change a system preference that uses the appropriate currency format, but that changes lots of other related information, so this isn’t an option.

Ultimately, if you are using the data merge to single record script, and are doing so with data exported from Excel, I highly recommend that you do so with a UTF-16 Unicode Text format.

I’ll admit this was a phenomenon I was unfamiliar with, and somewhat frustrated that a file format that itself stands for comma separated variables – isn’t actually separated by commas but is in fact separated by semicolons… depending on what system locale your computer is set to and that Microsoft Excel obeys.

I dislike YouTube’s decision to hide dislikes

The posts here on Colecandoo usually relate to prepress issues via Adobe Acrobat; or tips and techniques for page layout applications such as Adobe InDesign. On this occasion, this post relates directly to YouTube, and more specifically, a decision taken in late 2021 to disable the ability to view the amount of dislikes on any YouTube video.

Background

In November 2021, YouTube announced a change to the like/dislike feature on their platform that has been on their platform since 2010. The change does not affect the ability to like or dislike a video, but the viewer’s ability to determine the amount of dislikes on the video. Their video explaining the decision is here.

My own experience

At the time of writing this post, the way I consume the majority of video content is via YouTube on a smart television. I no longer watch free-to-air television in my own home, and now only watch free-to-air television at friends or relatives’ houses; or while at the gym. I do consume other video content such as TikTok, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc, but the lion’s share of video content I consume is via YouTube.

I will watch YouTube not only for entertainment, but for training in the form of tutorials; education in the form of documentaries and science-based channels, and news by going to the free-to-air channel’s own YouTube page, in this case, usually Australia’s ABC.

I acknowledge that YouTube as a social media platform is far from perfect, and has had its share of issues over the years, whether it be the “Adpocalypse”; the brief Google Plus account stint; or recent issues content creators have had concerning demonetization of their content. However, I do appreciate the creators who are on the platform who create worthwhile and meaningful content.

My take on YouTube’s decision

After watching YouTube’s video explaining their decision, I feel that they understand the purpose of a visible like/dislike ratio, have misunderstood how handle abuse of the feature and are focussed on dealing with the issue of downvote brigading – a phenomenon where some – or all – content on a particular YouTube channel is downvoted by many viewers, usually at the direction of an instigator. Examples of this include:

  • YouTube Rewind 2018;
  • Baby Shark Dance;
  • Ghostbusters 2016 Trailer;

Brigading isn’t always in the form of downvotes, and one instance in particular had encouraged subscribers to a particular YouTube channel to unsubscribe from it due directly to their perceived efforts to trademark the word “React” – an action that cost the channel over 600,000 subscribers at the time.

To quote from YouTube’s explanatory video:

“seeing the number of dislikes on a video helps us know, as viewers, if it’s a good video or not, if it’s a helpful tutorial or not, or if what a creator is saying in their video is generally agreed with or not”.
“unfortunately, research teams at Youtube have found there’s this whole other use for disliking a video” “…and it’s usually just because they don’t like the creator or what they stand for.”

It is my opinion that YouTube’s solution to combat the abuse of the like/dislike ratio is on par with cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer. In order to assist victims of brigading, they have done so at the expense of every viewer’s ability to determine the potential quality of content before it is viewed.
This is a sentiment also echoed by YouTube’s co-founder Jawed Karim, who – in the last line of the updated description of the first video he posted to the platform, wrote:

‘In business, there’s only one thing more important than “Make it better”. And that’s “Don’t f**k it up”‘.

Jawed Karim, Co-Founder of YouTube

I personally find the like/dislike ratio helpful for the following reasons:
As a viewer:

  • I can tell at a glance if the video accurately reflects its thumbnail and description, and wasn’t clickbait at best; or nefarious at worst;
  • I can determine whether the video was worth watching or not; and if I agree or disagree, leave my own feedback to help others;

As a creator:

  • Having a high like to dislike ratio tells viewers that my content has substance and is worth watching;
  • Lets me know if a video I’ve made is bad, that I need to work on – or remove – the video in order to edit and correct it.

As a YouTube content creator myself, I appreciate the feedback that I get in the comments, and have also gone to extra lengths to value-add my videos by:

  • making sure that my content is thoroughly researched and checked prior to publication;
  • providing closed captions so that the episodes can be watched without the volume, whether that is because the videos are being watched in an open-plan office without headphones; or that some viewers may find my accent difficult to understand;
  • adding chapter markers to my videos so that viewers who do not need the background to a video can just scrub ahead to the important parts.

All is not lost

As necessity is the mother of invention, it is – on desktop versions of YouTube at least – to return the ability to see the dislike amount by using browser extensions such as “Return Youtube Dislike” – enter this exact phrase into the search engine of your choice to find the extension for your browser.

In sporting terms, that’s just not Cricut

For the last year or so, I’ve been using a Cricut Maker as a cutting plotter to prepare bespoke labels, and in recent months, have been using it to mock up box and carton prototypes.

What is a Cricut?

For those unfamiliar with Cricut, it is a brand that makes several models of cutting plotters aimed not at my industry of printing, but of the maker space community. Along with the cutting plotters, the company also retails consumables associated with the plotters such as various vinyls and substrates; tools such as additional blades or adapters for other functionality such as scoring or perfing; and additional hardware such as a mug press and heat press of sorts.

Originally, I was going to write a piece about the Cricut on what I’ve been doing with it and what uses others may have for it, but a recent development has spurred me to write a different take on the article.

How does it work?

However, unlike a printer that can be printed to from any software, the Cricut Maker is interfaced directly from companion software called the Cricut Design Space.

When the Design Space is opened, it shows the recent projects, tutorials, and then dozens of projects that are available via a one-off payment or via Cricut Access – a subscription service that provides access to thousands of premade projects and fonts.

But if I make a new project, I’m taken to the Cricut Design Space where I can make a project from scratch…

…Well I could if there were any useful tools. The templates button puts a picture in the background that can be traced over but can’t be manipulated; the projects and images buttons take you to assets that can be purchased or accessed via Cricut Access; so the only drawing tools available to me in the software itself are Text and Shapes. These are limited too, with many fonts having to be purchased for use (or again available via Cricut Access) unless they are already on my system.

The shapes tool is also rather limited, not even allowing for a freeform line.

In order to make anything that I’ve prepared in other software such as Adobe Illustrator, I can import it using the Upload button. It can’t accept my PDF or AI file but can take SVG or DXF files.

From here, I can then effectively determine if the import took the graphic in correctly, and if so, I can save the project and proceed to sending it to the Maker to cut the shape as required.

Here is the rub

In an update on March 12, Cricut announced that uploads to the Cricut Design Space will be limited to 20 per calendar month unless you subscribe to Cricut Access for USD$10/month (it’s hidden right down the bottom of the page, but this link will take you there).

What that effectively means is that each graphic file that is uploaded using the Upload button counts as an upload. As implied earlier, the Design Space’s drawing tools are rather lacking and it is unimaginable that anyone making their own unique design would do so using the shape and text tools alone, but would instead create their design in Adobe Illustrator or alternatives such as Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, or Inkscape; and then use the Upload button as an effective import tool.

No workarounds (yet)

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to simply cut and paste the design from Adobe Illustrator into the Design Space as that would save a lot of issues. Similarly, it isn’t possible to print directly to the Maker as a cutting plotter – the only way to interface it is to use the Design Space.

My thoughts

I purchased my Cricut with an aim to sell my own branded merchandise that I would design myself, as well as gifts for friends and relatives. My recent use of my Cricut for prototyping cartons and boxes is an added benefit.

That said, I didn’t expect to have to pay a subscription service for what I consider to be a cutting plotter that I had – in good faith – purchased outright. For me to create any workable design, there’s no way on earth I could design an entire project using the Design Space’s own tools and therefore must rely on the Upload button to do nothing more than import a design I’ve already to created to a cutting plotter I’ve already bought. It’s the equivalent of buying a car and then the manufacturer saying “you can turn right 20 times a month but if you want to turn right more than that you have to subscribe to our turn-right service”.

I can’t begin to describe how frustrated this makes me feel. It is up there with bad ideas such as the Juicero (a subscription juice service best described by Youtuber Critikal – language warning), or the Fine Bros attempt to trademark the word “React”.

Cricut’s own shot in the foot is also a perfect opportunity for rivals in the space such as the Silhouette Cameo will take advantage of this situation and use it as a unique selling proposition (i.e. we won’t make you pay to use this software).

If the idea of the subscription for uploading art is to fund the servers where the art is stored, perhaps give users the opportunity to save files locally, provide better import options or better overall tools that are available on services such as Chili Publisher or Canva.

Designers in my space are already paying subscriptions such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Office 365, Dropbox and the like… and this is a tool aimed at a home-based maker community that do this as a hobby.

I hope that Cricut realises it has made a terrible mistake and reconsiders its decision; and in the meantime there is a petition on Change.org to let Cricut know the opinions out there.

Can I get a (Microsoft) Word in edge-wise?

Further to my article in April 2017 the InDesign team have certainly received the message loud and clear, and have now implemented some long-awaited improvements to InDesign. To their credit, the InDesign team have also made their communication with their technical staff far more transparent with the “wishform” page, where InDesign feature requests and bug reports can be viewed in real-time, along with their progress. The team have also made it easier to see what will be available in future versions with greater access to the prerelease program.

While I am not in the prerelease program myself, I like to have a look at the feature requests for InDesign to see what may or may not be coming to the next version. My own submissions for feature requests  are usually as a result of:

  • A recent issue I’ve encountered during a project or forum request;
  • An innovation by one of InDesign’s competitors, such as Quark, Scribus or Serif;
  • An innovation in a complimentary application such as Acrobat, Illustrator or Photoshop;
  • Simply finding a bug and reporting it

During the 2018 Adobe Symposium in Sydney, there were frequent mentions of Adobe’s recent innovation, Adobe Sensei. Apart from the obvious submission to the feature requests page for InDesign to adopt Adobe Sensei technology, I was reminded of certain features that I knew existed in Microsoft Word.

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For the first five years of my working life, Microsoft Word was my workhorse. I’d started my working life in an office performing clerical duties, and I would routinely use Word. Through my employer at the time, my job was slowly integrated into the printing and stationery arm that it had, and once I’d entered my next job exclusively in the printing industry, Word clearly took a back seat. I would refer to Microsoft Office products to import content into the applications I’d used over time, such as PageMaker, Quark Xpress and of course, Adobe InDesign.

That said, new or recent users to InDesign aren’t always from a marketing or graphic design background, but can be self-publishers, clerical staff, project managers, or simply anyone who has been told by their printer that they won’t accept Word files, but InDesign files are fine.

It is important to consider that users of Microsoft Office products can struggle to grasp concepts of usage that are present InDesign, and the learning curve can be steep. I’m also concerned about how new users of InDesign are acquiring their skills, given that hands-on training doesn’t appear to be a big part of this, but rather, methods such as:

  • Teaching themselves
  • On the job training from colleagues
  • Video courses from training sources
  • Video courses from anyone with screen capture software (yes, this includes my Youtube channel)

While reading InDesign forum requests lately, I have noticed InDesign users asking about features they are used to in Microsoft Word, and answers usually range from “InDesign wasn’t set up for that” or “InDesign can’t handle that”.

My question is: “Why not? Word can do this quite easily, and has done for decades!” Personally, there are many features of Office products that I think InDesign could easily benefit from, such as:

  • Macros
  • Calendars
  • Basic print impositions (a Publisher feature)
  • Mail merge
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Autoformat
  • Citations
  • Equations
  • Shapes
  • Smart Art (e.g. flow charts, venn diagrams, etc)
  • Charts and graphs

It is true that many of the features listed can be accomplished by third party scripts or plug-ins, but I would argue that if software with a lower price tag can accomplish these tasks without having to make further financial investment in a plug-in that may be obsolete upon the next CC update, how about adding these features to Adobe InDesign? It would make it easier for Office users migrating to InDesign, and would give veteran InDesign users some handy tools that were not previously available.

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