I've revamped my approach to software. For years, I assumed that any problem I was having with software probably was because of my lack of knowledge. I believed there had to be a way to get a program to do what I wanted, if only I knew the secret passwords -- the "Open Sesame" commands or features that would beat it into submission. It never occurred to me that I would go beyond the designs of the software, since most software packages have features I would never dream up in the first place.
Then I spent some time really digging into Microsoft PowerPoint.
For those of you that have worried about computers taking over the world, I have good news for you: you are smarter than the software. I'm reminded of this almost every time I use PowerPoint. As a PowerPoint guru once noted, PowerPoint is a "walk, then chew gum type of program." In other words, it is highly sensitive to scattered thinking. PowerPoint prefers that one -- and only one -- thing happen at a time. For PowerPoint to be happiest (read: function), you have to give up on the concept of interactivity.
For example, once I spent a week trying to figure out how to add annotations to a movie (.avi) file. I wanted the avi to play, and for text boxes to appear at various intervals to explain the action in the avi. I didn't think this was a terribly novel concept, and, in fact, had run across clunky ways of doing this very same thing in other programs.
So, I figured the task might be equally awkward in PowerPoint, since it offers no way to pause a movie once it begins. PowerPoint likes to do one thing, finish it, then move on. Walk, stop, then chew gum. It starts and keeps going until it's finished, ignoring any attempts at interuption. I thought I could fool the program with a series of movie-stop-text box annotation, movie-stop-text box annotation, walk-stop-chew gum layers. Not so.
I discovered the hard way that avi movies, in particular, grind the gears of the PowerPoint machine. Once an avi is added to the mix, it supercedes any layer activity; it's always on top, no matter what layer you have it in, effectively bullying its way to the head of the line. Try as I might, I couldn't find a way around this difficulty, outside of adding the annotations into the avi itself. I continued to look for the secret doorways, variations on a theme, all to no avail. After much struggling, I bitterly concluded that it just couldn't be done.
This defeat led to my revelation: sometimes, it's not that the features aren't there, or that you don't know how to use them, or don't know how to get around them. Sometimes, you are smarter than the software.
I admit, this concept shouldn't have been such a revelation. Software is, after all, designed by people, not some all powerful being (despite Microsoft propaganda to the contrary). It has limits, as all people, even groups of creative people, have limits. Perhaps what surprised me so much is that my own skills have advanced to a level that actually taxes the software. The basics are finally feeling basic to me. I confess, I feel a little smug about having asked more of PowerPoint than it could deliver.
Now, having written this, I fully expect someone will tell me that there was a magic password all along, and it was just me the whole time. I might just have to walk home, stop, and chew a lot of gum to feel better.