Archive for January, 2008

Marley the orange cat/dog

Posted in Personal with tags , , on January 31, 2008 by Mike

My husband and I like animals – or at least I do, which under the rules of marriage, means we do. We have 5 total:

  • Gus, the 8.5 month old Aussie puppy. He’s our sweetie and makes us laugh a lot. At about 55 lbs, he’s also the biggest guy in the house, but he doesn’t know it. He should top out at about 70 lbs, we think – 2x as big as the next larger dog, Sara. We got him last summer because we know that we’re going to lose one of the older dogs in the next year or so – they’re both well past the expected life span for their breeds.
  • Sara, the 13.5 year old red Australian Cattle dog. She blew her knees out when she was 5 and suffers badly from arthritis now that she’s old. She’s also losing her hearing but is still Queen of the house. She’s my first dog and clearly the best dog ever. When she was younger, she swam in the pool every day when it was warm – by herself if needed. She can’t step down into the pool now and stopped swimming last summer. Which broke my heart.
  • Lady, the 14 year old Border Collie mix. She’s almost totally deaf and blind and has never been happier. She’s always been a morose little dog and now no one can bother her. She’s also getting a little senile.
  • Xibalba, the 16.5 year old black cat. I got her when she was about 5 weeks old. She’s a little crazy but in a sweet way. She has almost no teeth now, but the vet says she should live to 20 or more. She’s finally adapted to the old dogs but the puppy has her worried. I’ve had her through my son growing up, 2 husbands, graduate school, just so much. Her name is the Mayan word for the Underworld, as my focus in Anthropology graduate school was the modern Maya.
  • Marley, the 9 year old orange cat. He’s been Sara’s best friend since he arrived at 12 weeks. They play games, chase each other around, curl up together to sleep. All the animals in the house think he’s a dog.

Marley hasn’t come home for 2 days and I’m worried. I’d hate to lose him – he’s Sara’s best friend. He’s also my bedtime buddy. He goes to bed with me at night and we spend 20 minutes in a petting frenzy before he lays down on my feet and goes to sleep. He’s a very good cat, even though he thinks he’s a dog.


Topic Based Content Development

Posted in MadCap, Tech Comm with tags , , on January 30, 2008 by Mike

Remember when you moved from Word to FrameMaker and spent the first 6 months really just confused? I do. I moved from Word Perfect 5.5 (I think it was) to FrameMaker back 1991. I spent the first 6 months on the phone with support, owned by the FrameMaker Corporation at that time. I had the support people’s first names and knew who would understand what I was asking and who not to talk to. I’m sure I was a pain in the neck.

And then one day, a light went on for me and I understood the paradigm of FrameMaker; I understood, a little, how it thought. That was the break-through I needed to eventually become a Frame expert. I started to understand the choices I made and why they were important towards developing the kinds of information I was developing.

Paradigm shifts

Part of the problem moving from Word to Frame is this paradigm shift. Some of it is expected when you move from one product to another. Things are called different stuff in Frame – there are publishing words being used to describe things instead of word processing words.

But it goes deeper than that. In Word, you open a blank document and start typing. Want a Table of Contents? No problem, just click in your document where you want it to appear and make your menu selections. Word even helpfully provides preformatted Contents so you don’t have to think about it.

In Frame, you’re faced with thinking about the structure of your document- We need a Contents, an Index, a List of Figures, some chapters, and they all need to be in a certain order. We need a book file to organize and relate these items together. It’s a different way of thinking about your information and a tough shift to make.

When I’ve taught FrameMaker, I tell my students that the power of Frame is that you have absolute control over almost everything. The downside to Frame is that you have absolute control over almost everything. It is a double edged sword. Usually, about week 4 of a 6 week class, my students tell me that they’re just confused. “Good,” I tell them. “It’s working! You’re starting to learn Frame.”

Paradigm shifts can make your head hurt

We’re finding that when people start using Flare or Blaze, they can get confused. They don’t understand, for example, when they import existing documents, why they have to make these choices about how to split a perfectly fine document into little pieces. It worked just fine in Frame or Word, why cut it up now?

And the truth is, in Flare or Blaze, you could open a new topic and start writing until the topic is 200 pages. There’s nothing to prevent you from using Flare or Blaze the same way you used Word or Frame. But that’s missing the real power of these products and keeping you from leaping into the future with them.

You need another paradigm shift.

But I was just getting comfortable with my current paradigms

So why on earth would you use either product if you have products that generally do what you need and you know the paradigms already? Because the nature of how we Tech Comm people do what we do is undergoing another sea change.

As the last 8 years have shown us, we really have too much to do and not enough time to do it. At the risk of sounding trite, we really do have to do more with less. At my previous employer, I went over the new year’s development roadmap with my boss, a Development Director for the company. We scoped the work for each project and then presented this to his boss.

Bottom line: We had 7 writers. We needed 25 writers to do an adequate job for the product release schedule for the next year. Not a great job, an adequate job. “Nonsense,” my grandboss said. “You can’t build an empire. We don’t need more writers – we need more developers to meet these aggressive schedules.” Sigh. (I guess he really thought that elves came in the dark of night and wove the blank paper into manuals)

And while it’s always gratifying to share that story with other Tech Comm managers, it’s been this way since at least the dot com crash. Fewer writers, more developers, faster schedules. You can’t force management to get you more writers, you can’t work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. So how do you cope?

You start developing information from your users point of view – you start doing Topic-based Content Development. And that’s where you can leverage power of Blaze and Flare. That’s what they’re designed to do.

OK – more about this information development paradigm in the next post in a day or 2.

Blaze stuff

Posted in Blaze, MadCap with tags , , , on January 30, 2008 by Mike

We have some exciting Blaze news coming at the end of February. I’m not telling what it is but it’s really exciting. We spent about an hour yesterday in deep discussions and decisions. Now I have to put a lot of stuff in place in the next 4 weeks!

If you’re in New Hampshire Feb 13th, I’ll be speaking at the New England STC Chapter. Feel free to come by the meeting and chat with me. I’m always interested in meeting people and hearing what you want in a product. If not New Hampshire, I’m at the Central Iowa STC chapter Feb 26th and you can drop by then, too. Or the Silicon Valley STC Feb 28th.

Part of my job is to listen to you, whether you use our products or not, and find out what you need, what problems you’re facing. We really want to make products you want to use and you can tell us what you want. So drop by at one of these meetings and chat me up. I want to know what you’d love to see a product do!

By the way, I’ve been asked how one might set up an RSS to this blog. I’ve looked around the settings in WordPress and I don’t see anything I set for that…  I think it’s automatic – when I look at the blog in IE7, I have the RSS icon enabled and I have an option to set to watch the RSS for this page… After that, I don’t know.

Rain, rain go away. Please?

Posted in Blaze, Flare, Personal with tags , on January 28, 2008 by Mike

It’s been raining for about a week. Not that much if you’re from somewhere else but a lot for So Cal. It’s getting a little depressing and I’m ready for it to stop. As is my puppy, who can’t go play at camp in the rain. Which means he’s bored and a bored Aussie is not a good idea!

Time to get in the shower and head to San Diego for work. It’s a busy week this week, as we are getting ready to send Flare 4/Blaze 1 to a fairly large pre-beta test in the next 10 days or so. I also have to make travel arrangements for my trip in February. I’m going back east and to the midwest because I can’t get enough cold!

Whither Blaze?

Posted in Blaze, MadCap with tags on January 25, 2008 by Mike

We are in the last weeks of development. Soon, we’ll be putting it out to Alpha testing to have people find issues that we can’t find.

One of the things about product development is that no matter how much you bang on a product in testing, your users will immediately do stuff it never occurred to you to do. And, of course, the product breaks. So we want to get it out there to people so they can do their wierd things that we won’t think of.

And no matter how hard you work, no one ships a bug free product – you can’t any more. Technology is simply too complex. The best you can do – and we at MadCap do this very well, I think – is to fix things quickly. We can usually fix stuff in a matter of a day and release a patch. Other companies keep a list of things they’ll fix one day – no names here but you know who I mean.

 If you want to see Blaze, make sure to go to and sign up for the Blaze demo – the link is on the Blaze page.

Analyzer – Adding stylesheets to your project

Posted in Analyzer, MadCap with tags , on January 24, 2008 by Mike

I was playing around in Analyzer, thinking about some of the questions I get asked in demos and such when I found a neat thing.

What if you have another stylesheet you want to add to the current project? Or you want to apply another stylesheet to a topic?

There’s no reason you can’t do either in Flare (or soon, Blaze) but if you’ve got Analyzer open, why not just add or change the stylesheet while you’re here? Here’s how you do it.

  1. Open a topic in Analyzer.
  2. On the Tools menu, click Stylesheet links.

Now if you click Add, you can add an existing stylesheet to your project.

You can also see what stylesheet is being used by the current topic. If you want to change the stylesheet that’s associated with this topic, just click the one on the left and move it to the list on the right. Now move the one you want from the right to the Current Links area.

Pretty sweet!

Analyzer Tips and Tricks

Posted in Analyzer, Blaze, Flare, MadCap with tags on January 22, 2008 by Mike

I demo-ed MadCap Analyzer today and it went really well. I like Analyzer a lot because it finds and helps solve problems in Flare and, soon, Blaze projects. It’s fun to show it to people so they can understand what issues they can take care of if they use Analyzer.

What Analyzer does is scans your Flare or Blaze project and finds “issues”. Some of these issues may be real problems and some may be housekeeping problems that would be good to clean up but don’t have to be.

One of the things I really like showing is the Topics Not in Index list. Open the first topic you want to start indexing. Then go to the used Index Words list and press F9. Now you see what topics need to be indexed and  your existing index entries for this project. You can start indexing the topics that haven’t been indexed with the existing keywords right there for you. indexanalyzer.png


Really, nothing else comes close to this. Not even IxGen for FrameMaker, a tool I love if I’m in Frame. I really hate indexing and I know that a solid index is really needed by the users. This makes indexing a lot easier.