kitchen table math, the sequel: Have I mentioned lately that I am not a fan of credentialism? (and Word is not for writers)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Have I mentioned lately that I am not a fan of credentialism? (and Word is not for writers)

Edel went to a college in Pennsylvania and Melinda to one in New York. Both have undergraduate degrees in elementary education, yet they both recalled how lost they felt when they first stood in front of a classroom. They hadn’t done nearly enough student teaching, they felt, and, in any case, the student teaching they had done hadn’t prepared them to deal with issues, as Edel put it, “like poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger” that she was seeing on a daily basis.

In desperation, Edel sent a note to one of her college professors asking for help. (He gave her a few pointers.) Melinda recalls thinking that even the most basic elements of her job — classroom management, organization, lesson planning — were things she had to figure out on her own, after she had begun teaching. When I asked them what they had learned in college, they shouted in unison: theory! (Denise went on to get a master’s degree in education, which she laughingly described as “not exactly hands-on.”)

Three Sisters (Not Chekhov's) by Joe Nocera | NY Times | Published: September 27, 2013
Speaking of classroom management, organization, and lesson planning, I am trying to figure out how to make my computer act like Google.

Katie Beals told me, a while back, that computers were not designed with writers in mind, and that is soooooo true. I have dozens of copies of exercises, lessons, class readings, handouts, fables, folktales, fairy tales, myths, etc. scattered all over my hard drive, and I can't tell which ones it's safe to throw out because I can't tell which copies really are identical copies and which are different.

Of late, I have taken to dating every single thing I write, create, or duplicate (making duplicates is the real problem)....but that doesn't work, either, because duplication produces multiple copies with the same date in the filename, which doesn't help.

Word does tell me, in the Finder window, which of several documents I opened most recently, BUT if I forget to read the date and open the document without thinking -- which I inevitably do--the history is gone.

I need my computer to do its own personal Google search.

I need it to go find every single copy of a document AND every single near-copy of a document (and I'd like it to find things it thinks may be related to the documents I'm looking for).

Then I need my computer (this part is nothing like Google) to tell me which copies are exactly the same, which ones are not the same, what exactly is different among the four or five copies of the same file, and when I last revised what.

I've tried to develop a habit of including a "Last Revised" notation inside every document I create, but I create hundreds and hundreds of tiny documents -- exercises and lessons and brief passages for my class -- and at any one time I'm juggling so many of them that I have not become a person who automatically and without having to think about it includes a "Last Revised" line in every document.

I will keep trying, but why should I have to become that person, anyway?

Word could easily enter a "Last Revised" line in every document I create, so why doesn't it?

As far as I can tell, Word was created for students, not teachers.

Students and student types.

Word was created for people who were going to write something ONCE, put it out there, then never look at it again.

Word was not created for people who write something once, then revise it after class, then re-revise it one year later, then re-re-revise it after that class, then re-re-re-revise it one year after that, etc.

It's a problem.


Anonymous said...


You need a version control system so that you don't have 6 copies of an almost-the-same document floating around.

You want one copy (the current one) with the ability to get the older ones.

NOTE: If you are willing to run a Macintosh, Time Machine offers some functionality similar (but not as extensive) as this and you don't need to do anything special (other than not create lots of copies...).

But you want to start using a version control system ...

-Mark Roulo

Dennis Ashendorf said...


One of the web's secrets is the superb & free Acrobat word processor that has a sensible version control. Get an account at

I'm not sure that Adobe assigns any more resources to it, but it's still superb after many years.


Michael Weiss said...

Apologies if this is obvious, but something you wrote makes me think you don't know it, so:

Word may not have what you want, but the Finder has many display options; "Date Last Opened" is (as you say) one of them, but "Date Created" and "Date Last Modified" are also options, and are probably more helpful. Just open a Finder window in List view, and go to View > Options to set your preferences.

Michael Weiss said...

Also, if the filenames are identical (or near-identical) a Spotlight search (or a search in a Finder window) can find all files with the same name. Then set your view options to show "Date Last Modified" as I described in my previous comment.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

As others have said, what you need is a version control system, or and editor with version control. Google docs provides a very crude version control system, but you may prefer a more powerful one like Mercurial or Git. These systems also are intended for use with off-site repositories for back up. Popular free ones are GitHub and bitbucket.

Luke Holzmann said...

I used WinMerge [] to compare text files. It allows you to quickly choose which changes you want.


froggiemama said...

Oh Lord, not git! Way too complex for normal people! Yes, I know it is trendy and all, but subversion is more intuitive and would do the trick. Personally, I find that a good reference manager like Mendelay or Zotero works to manage the scatter of documents.

froggiemama said...

Also, just keeping your file system ORGANIZED really works the best. I am constantly astounded by students who do not have the vaguest inkling that such a thing as a file system underlies all those magic Microsoft applications, and who just willy nilly save their documents wherever they may go. Make friends with the file system, and create a folder organization that makes sense. You can nest folders inside folders. It is no different from the way you manage real paper documents - organization is key

Anonymous said...


I think the only people who understand file systems are those old enough to have used the good old DOS prompt.

Glen said...

It's not possible to know the right answer without knowing more about the problem. First, is it even worth solving? Any real solution would require a change of work habits and ongoing effort. Is it one of those problems best solved by griping about it a little, feeling better, and shrugging it off? That could be Plan A.

If it's enough of a nuisance to be worth some effort, then is it a problem has to be solved for all document types, or just word processing docs, or really just MS Word docs?

Is this mostly a question about detecting and eliminating duplicates, and would solving that problem be enough? Or is versioning of the non-dupes necessary?

Do these docs live on one machine? (Mac? PC? iPad? other?) Or do they move around among multiple machines? Are these machines all yours, or do they belong to multiple people?

Are all of these docs written by you? Are some written in collaboration with others? Are some written entirely by others, such as student papers?

Do the docs need to take their versioning info with them? If these docs get emailed here and there or printed out, and you still need to be able to tell which version they are when you see them, the version info has to go in the doc itself.

Trying to solve it all wouldn't be worth doing. Think about where the majority of your problem is, describe that in more detail, and there might be a relatively simple solution.

Hainsih said...

Hi Katharine,

My Mac OS offers the ability to determine when a file was created and last modified, and I can use it to search for a word or phrase in either filenames or file contents. I'd be surprised if your OS didn't have similar features.

But more to the point, why are you creating all these slightly different versions of the same file and leaving them all over the place? It sounds like the best solution to you problem is to figure out what you're doing to create it, and then stop doing it. Creating (and sticking to) some sort of system would probably help the most.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone on this site actually DO something about their complaints? All I see is bitching and moaning about how awful things are, but the sheer volume of whining tells me that those posting are spending their time doing just that. No action, just whining that others are not doing something about the problems they are SOOOO vocal to point out. Lazy as the ones they complain about. I was misled, this is not a site for action - just whiners.

Anonymous said...

"I was misled, this is not a site for action - just whiners."

From the about: "A group blog: parents, teachers, & friends discuss math, reading, & writing - and the politics of public education."

Where on earth did you get the impression that this was a site for action? :-)

-Mark Roulo

Thomas O'Malley said...

Gee Mark, you're so helpful!

palisadesk said...

Anonymous said...
Does anyone on this site actually DO something about their complaints? All I see is bitching and moaning about how awful things are, but the sheer volume of whining tells me that those posting are spending their time doing just that

Obviously, you haven't read much or for very long, or you would know how active a number or regulars (and Catherine especially) have been, and what they have succeeded in accomplishing (often on a small scale, to be sure, but valuable even so).

And here's a contradiction -- you, who don't know from nuttin' about the site over the last decade or so, are whining about whining! LOL.

The internet is big place, I'm sure you'll find other sites more to your taste, whatever that is, but you will find fewer than .01% with the level of educated and informed contribution as occurs here.

Ta ta.