Nancy Allison wrote:

> My document uses some special symbols, like the Omega.
>
> To create it, I type W and then apply a Symbol character tag, which
> applies the Symbol font.

Nancy:

Don't ever do that.  If you really need an omega, get it within a non-Symbol 
font by following the advice near the end of the following rant, which is a 
slightly-edited copy of something I posted a couple years ago to the techwr-l 
list...

Using the Symbol font to produce an omega is bad, but not likely to kill anyone.

With omega/W:

  If you're viewing the document in a web browser that's been
  configured to use your favorite fonts rather than the fonts
  specified by the document, the omega symbols become Ws.

  Google ignores font information in its text searches, so when
  it indexes a page, it sees (and displays in search results) a
  "W" wherever there's a Symbol-font "omega".

  If your browser isn't configured to use your own fonts, the
  omegas will probably look fine there... But as soon as you
  cut-and-paste from the browser window to another application,
  like Frame or Word, the omegas become Ws.

  If you send the document through an email system that strips
  HTML, the omegas become Ws.

  If you send it to a printer that doesn't have the Symbol font,
  the omegas become Ws.

  If you view it on a computer that doesn't have the Symbol font,
  the omegas become Ws.

In most of these cases, the font information is permanently lost once the 
document's omega symbols become Ws.  They never switch back, even if the 
document is subsequently viewed in a system which CAN display HTML or the 
Symbol font.

The W-instead-of-omega problem isn't limited to web pages; I see it ALL THE 
TIME in published datasheets, application notes, user's manuals, trade journal 
articles, etc.

Fortunately, the error is easy to spot, since the erroneous "W" usually makes 
no sense, and the intended meaning can generally be deduced from the context.

However...

If you use the Symbol font to make ANOTHER Greek letter, the "mu", you really 
MIGHT kill someone:

The Greek letter "mu" is often used in engineering and scientific writing to 
represent the prefix "micro-" (one millionth).  In the old days, before we all 
had access to fancy computer typefaces, typewritten documents would use the 
lowercase "u" instead of "mu", since the two letters look very similar.

"Lowercase 'u' means 'mu' means 'micro-'" was a universally-understood 
convention (among engineers and scientists, anyway): usec = microseconds, uF = 
microfarads, uA = microamps... Even uP = microprocessor.  No one was ever 
confused by this, and all was well until some pedantic dumbass noticed that he 
could make the unit names in his documents "correct" by using the Symbol-font 
"mu" instead of the lowercase "u" that we'd all been happy with for decades.

The result, of course, is the same as for "omega", with one small but fatal 
difference:

"Omega" maps to the "W" character, which almost always looks like an error 
(e.g., "4.7kW, 1/8-watt resistor") but "mu" maps to the "m" character, which is 
the symbol for the prefix "milli-" (one thousandth).

Since "m-for-milli" can be reasonably used almost anywhere that "mu-for-micro" 
can, it NEVER looks like an error!

You thought NASA's metric-vs-English mistakes were boneheaded?  In those cases, 
numbers were off by a factor of 4.45, but when the mu-to-m error occurs, 
everything gets multiplied by 1000!  Microseconds become milliseconds, 
microamps become milliamps, micrometers become millimeters... And there's NO 
WAY TO TELL that the error happened unless there's a LOT of context that 
happens to look self-contradictory.

Since it's so hard to identify the mu-to-m error, it's difficult to know how 
prevalent it is, but I'd guess that it happens at least as frequently as the 
omega-to-W error that I see everywhere.

There are actually a few places where a mu-to-m error would be obvious, and I 
often see it there... Like, for instance, in the US Navy's NRaD Writing and 
Editorial Guidelines:

    http://www.spawar.navy.mil/sti/publications/pubs/td/1064/td1064appb.html

It contains a list of abbreviations that includes both micro- and milli- units. 
 It's obvious that a mu-to-m error has occurred, since the list shows "m" for 
both sets of units.

I no longer approve documents that use the Symbol font for any purpose.  I now 
insist that "micro-" be either spelled out or represented by the lowercase "u", 
and "ohm" either gets spelled out or omitted ("4.7k resistor" or "4k7 resistor" 
are both well-understood in my industry to mean "4.7 kiloohm resistor").

Every once in a while, someone actually needs a real "micro" or "ohm" symbol in 
his document.  In those cases, I'm okay -- barely -- with the use of the 
"micro" (U+00B5, ALT-0181) and "ohm" (U+2126, ALT-8486) or "omega" (U+03A9, 
ALT-0937) characters from whatever regular font he's using.

Of course, when those Unicode characters get stripped by an ASCII-only email 
system, or the document's converted to a font that doesn't contain those 
Unicode glyphs, the symbols will still disappear or be converted to an 
ampersand or a copyright symbol or a little black box with a question mark in 
it or something... But at least they won't masquerade as 
reasonable-but-totally-wrong characters that are going to cost my company a ton 
of money or injure someone.

-Andrew

=== Andrew Warren  - awarren at synaptics.com
=== Synaptics, Inc - Santa Clara, CA

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