Archive for November, 2008

Start of a new week

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writing with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2008 by Mike

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, if you celebrate Thanksgiving. If you are not a celebrant, I still hope Thursday was a good day for you. Current Husband and I had a pleasant time with his family and ate lots of yummy food.

I don’t see my mother-in-law as often as I should, but I think of her. I try to bring her gifts when I do see her. This time, I brought her a crocheted shrug and a crocheted sweater. She seemed to really like them and showed them off to the other female relatives as they arrived.

I crochet in the evenings and on the weekends. It’s a way to force my mind to be quiet and still after a 12+ hour day or a week of 12+ hours days. It’s meditating with a useful result.

A brief tech comm side step

Apparently, the Japanese are crazy about crocheting but were frustrated with the lack of patterns in Japanese. So they came up with a way to show any pattern as a picture.

The most complex pattern can be created as a diagram that shows all the stitches as symbols and how they all go together. You don’t need language to follow the pattern, making the craft available to anyone with the materials. For an example, click here.

Knitting and crocheting are kinesthetic activities, by definition. I’m not a visual learner; I’ve stated that before. But I find the graphic to be very helpful if I’m working on a complex project. I can see how this goes together and what to do next when the words make no sense to me. The best patterns include words and a graphic of the pattern to help “see” what to do if you get lost.

This is a brilliant way to think about the information. How much of the information you are working on could be reduced to a graphic? Are you using graphics as supporting materials for people like me who are not visual learners but would like the visual to help them stay on track when the words make no sense?

If a strongly kinesthetic activity can be reduced to pattern pictures, what can you do to support your users and reduce confusion?

The week ahead

This week I’m planning and scheduling free webinars for January and February. WIth training budgets gone in the economic meltdown, we’re hoping to help by offering tool-independant topics and topics about our products.

I’m thinking about (in no particular order):

Moving to topic-based authoring—the last one had 225 people signed up with 170 attending. Hopefully, there’s still interest out there.

Planning for content reuse—regardless of the tool you use, how do you migrate legacy content? How do you start? What about new content?

Building the business case for topic-based authoring—how to make the case to your boss. How to state the issues in a business way and then show the solution so your boss understands why this is the right move.

What’s new in Flare 4—an overview of new features in Flare 4 that will make your life so much easier.

If you have more ideas for other webinars on topics that interest you, go to my poll at this link.

Virtual is good

If you’re interested in learning more about our products or about tech comm topics (such as the above), I’m always available to do a virtual meeting for STC, AMWA, PMI, QA/Test and other organizations. All you need on your end is an internet-connected computer, speakers, a microphone (so people can ask questions) and a Skype account (or a speaker phone and phone line) and we’re good to go.

This is a great way to get a demo or other topic for your professional group at no real expense and reduce the carbon footprint. I was responsible for finding speakers for 2 STC chapters over about 5 years. It can be really hard to find speakers month after month on topics that interest your members.

Contact me (sburton(at)madcapsoftware.com) and let’s set it up!

Fly away duckings, fly away!

This upcoming week is also the last time we see this crop of baby engineers. The last lecture is Tuesday night and then they go into their finals. I’m never ready to let them go.

We only get 10 weeks with them and we have to let them go, assuming they don’t fail the class. As much as I don’t want to let them go, I also don’t want them to fail, so there we are. Off they go!

We get a whole new crop in January. The U is so happy with what we’re doing with the undergraduate students, they offered us 2 more classes. Starting with this Winter quarter, we’re doing Technical Communication for the Graduate students – a huge honor. Probably starting in Summer 2009, we’re offering User-centered Design, 10 weeks about designing for humans and what that means at every step of the process.

Time to start my day

Time to start my day. I have a pot of soup to make, a house to pick up, lunch with a former student, a dog to take to the U to run off leash, laundry to fold, and other household tasks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in MadCap software, Personal with tags on November 26, 2008 by Mike

If you’re in the US, tomorrow is our annual feast day. So to my US readers, happy Thanksgiving!

If you’re not a US reader, then I wish you a happy day of family, food, well-being, and other general feast day goodness.

Jet lag update

I’m adjusted to this time zone, finally. I’m sleeping normal hours and don’t feel like I’m dragging all the time. This alone is reason to celebrate. I feel human again.

Personal notes for a feast day

Current Husband is Puerta Rican. His parents are from NYC and half his siblings were born in New York and half were born in LA. Current Husband is the youngest of 6 kids. All of which (except Current Husband) have children and now many of those children have children of their own. All of them live in the LA area. His mother is a great-grandmother.

I’m 2nd of 4 in my sib group (my father had 8 kids in 3 sib groups but that’s another entire story). Both my parents and one of the brothers are gone. My sister and I have kids. We live all over the country with my son (and his kids) and my sister in Tulsa. We’re dispersed.

Family holidays are often spent with Current Husband’s family. Not all of them go to his mother’s house, just many of them. She lives in a small house but we can squeeze a lot of people in that house. All of them loudly talking over each other while children run about.

Family gatherings

My mother-in-law can cook. I mean really cook. Dinner will include tamales, Puerta Rican rice, turkey and many other wonderful things. We’ll stuff ourselves with food. This is how she shows her family she loves them. And there were some hungry years when the kids were growing up, so this holiday is her way of showing those years are gone.

Then we’ll all go to one of his sister’s houses nearby. She will also have dinner and we’ll sit down and eat another entire meal. Because that sister will feel we like Mom better if we tell her we’re too full to eat another bite. “You don’t think my rice is as good as Mom’s? I spent all day making that turkey. Eat!”

And then we’ll all go to another sister’s house. (You can see where this going, can’t you?) Where we’ll sit down to another meal. And if we don’t eat there because we’re too full, that sister will think we liked her mom’s or sister’s cooking better. “I bet you ate a lot of food at her house. And she doesn’t make rice as good as I do. Eat up!”

Guilty strategies

We’re working out half century old sibling rivalries over stuffing. And they’re not my siblings. I’m just along for the ride.

It would seem the strategy is to eat a bit at each house. It doesn’t work. They monitor how much I’m eating and pile more food on my plate. And comment about how skinny I am and I need to eat more. “Besides, we never see you. Eat!”

Current Husband and I will finally leave about 8pm, so full that we’re unconscious and drive the 60 miles home. We’ll be laden with leftovers from each woman because everyone wants to be the most generous with the leftovers. We’ll have enough food for a week.

The family is a lot of fun and there will be much laughter and maybe some dancing. I could do with a little less forced feeding but it’s all motivated by a genuine love for their brother, my husband.

Heavily seasoned with competition.

Another Saturday morning

Posted in Blaze, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, MadCap software, Personal, technical writing with tags , , , , on November 22, 2008 by Mike

And I’m still jet-lagging. I pass out at 8pm and then wake up at 4:30am. I really tried to stay awake last night – I fell asleep sitting on the couch. Next thing I knew, Current Husband woke me up and sent me to bed. At 8:15p. I felt like it had to be really late.

So here it is, 6:30a and I’ve been up for 2 hours. I’m a relentless 2 to 3 hours off my current time zone and it’s annoying, to say the least.

Driving along in my automobile

Yesterday, I went to Sylmar (yup, 100 miles away) and showed Blaze and the X-Edit family of products to a customer. They’re interested in using the workflow in these products to do a better job of writing, managing, and producing proposals.

The VP of Engineering wants to save money and do a better job of more accurately producing proposals for their projects. In the current recession, this is a very reasonable thing for the company to want. They need to still get new projects but keep costs down on the bidding for projects part.

Workflow improvements

I showed how breaking the proposal into bits (topics) and then essentially assembling them on the fly (using Outlines) would let them leverage the content they already have, reducing the cost of new proposals. They can send the bits out for review from Blaze, using X-Edit Review to review those bits and then get the comments back into Blaze.

We talked about Snippets and how these let you make even smaller bits, like company information, reusable and would reduce errors in this content, while letting you reuse in many proposals.

They liked that they could still let people author content in Word and it would import into Blaze. They also liked X-Edit Contribute, letting them author in an easy to use Blaze template.

Content is different than format

They also liked the part where Blaze separates the content from the formatting. They sometimes need to build a proposal with their company branding but sometimes they need the proposal to have the parent company branding, for example. They liked how easy this would be to swap out in 2 easy steps.

All in all, it was a great look at Blaze and X-Edit and I had a great time showing our products. It made the 3 hour drive home worth it.

Funny story from Germany

I had one day to really see Munich, my last day in country. It was a lovely late Fall day, the temps were in the low 50s and the sun was shining. I walked to the Residence and spent about 3 hours looking at this amazing museum and walking the garden. Great time.

As I was walking around the central part of Old Munich, I saw a banner on the Glokenspiel that said: “german word, german word, Nazi, german word, german word.

Well, I thought, that combined with all the police and police vans and the barricades must mean something. But who knows? And it’s all in German so I’m sure it doesn’t affect me at all. I’ll just go into this wonderful book store I wanted to visit and see if I can find a book.

When I was done at the bookstore, I started back to my hotel. I was about 2 blocks from the hotel when I saw a whole bunch more police and barricades being set up and police vans. And another banner that said: german word, german word, german word, Nazi, german word. I looked behind me and there were a lot of people marching towards me.

So I asked a man standing at the corner with me. He said: “There is a pro-Nazi protest coming from over there (pointing to from whence I came). There are anti-Nazi protestors marching from there (pointing to where I was going). They will meet here (pointing to our corner).”

Ah, I thought. So I’m Belgium right now. Perhaps I should just go back to my hotel room and hang out for a while. Maybe pack and read my new book.

So I did.

Later, I found pictures on the Internet from this protest. Yes, much shoving and police force and such. My absense went unnoticed.

The plan

It’s supposed to start raining this week so I need to get the yard set up for winter, get new tires on the car, and do other household sorts of things this weekend. I’d also like to stay awake after 8pm.

They’re modest goals but they’re my goals. We have to start somewhere.

Jet lag

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by Mike

Germany is 9 hours off the US West coast. And I’ve always found it harder to go from Europe to the US. As a result, I’m seriously jet lagged. My brain woke me up at 2am this morning, convinced that it was 8am and I’d overslept.

Oddly, I’m 6 hours off, not the 9 I would expect.

I looked at the clock yesterday, thinking that it had to be mid to late afternoon. It was 10am. This was so disturbing, I found Current Husband and verified. It was the correct time, he said. But it was wrong, according to my normally accurate internal clock.

Sigh.

Lord, I was born a rambling woman

After being on the road for 3 weeks, I’m taking 3 personal days to recover, do laundry, pet the dogs, and see Current Husband. I was hoping to get adjusted to the new time zone, but it isn’t going so well. I did do 6 loads of laundry, tho, with another 4 to go today, so that’s not so bad.

However, I teach tonight and have to stay awake until we’re done so this may help. I have no idea if I will be even slightly coherent. Thank the gods that Bonni co-teaches with me so if I become incoherent, she can step in and say things like: “What Sharon is trying to say is…” while I nod off for a few minutes.

You would think these very bright Engineering students could get right on that Teleporter technology. Talk about an interesting problem to solve. What a group of under-achievers… 🙂

Homecomings

This trip is the longest Current Husband and I have been apart and neither of us liked it much. We recognize that these trips need to happen, that once I’m in Europe, the best thing I can do is maximize that time for the company.

But it was really hard to be apart that long. Thank the technology gods for Skype and Yahoo IM (sharonvburton). It saved us several times. We’re just glad that these very long trips will only happen once or twice a year.

The dogs had given me up for dead, I think. When I came thru the door, Gus looked at me like I was a dream and then leaped, grinning. We spent about 10 minutes on the floor while he sat on me, wiggled, and licked me. At 65lbs, you notice that.

Sara came in the room, stopped, looked (she doesn’t see well anymore), smelled, and then moved as fast as I’ve seen her move in a while. She wagged as tho her butt was going to fall off and licked my face.

Lady wandered in and sat behind me, out of the way of all the excitement so I could reach back and pet her. She gets nervous with all the motion because she can hardly see anything.

All the way, very fun. And no one has gotten too far from me since.

Oh, that’s enough about me. Tell me, what you think about me?

(That’s a Groucho Marx quote from, I believe, Coconuts, if you’re curious. I’m a huge Marx Brothers fan. Hey, I’m jet lagging here…)

If you are at all interested in our DITA solution, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go to our website and sign up for the beta. We want to build tools that do what you need but we can’t do that without your help.

One of the many things I learned from my Second Husband was that I just completely suck at reading minds. It’s just not something I’m good at. So I don’t know what you want or need, after some basic guesses, which, as it turns out, isn’t enough to keep a marriage together.

We need you to help us develop the tools that do what you need them to do. That requires you participate in the process.

Stay tuned for the beta. I think you’re going to like what we’ve done: https://www.madcapsoftware.com/downloads/ditasignup.aspx

Munich in November

Posted in Analyzer, Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2008 by Mike

I’ve been traveling for 13 days. I’ve been to Boston, Wiesbaden, and now I’m in Munich. Another week and I go home.

Boston

The DocTrain East conference was wonderful. We announced our DITA solution the day the show started and were flooded with people who wanted to talk about it. The 3 days are sort of a blur, but I showed a lot of Blaze and Flare and talked about what our DITA thing is going to be.

Just before I left, the guys were able to give me an early alpha build of DITA Flare, Phase 1. I can import DITA documents and create a branded help file in Flare. I can change skins, add corporate logos, and all the stuff you would expect after you get content into Flare. It’s a good alpha – it works mostly.

We had a hard time getting across to people that our solution is not based on the DITA toolkit in any way. Our developers looked at it and decided that it was easier to modify Flare/Blaze. So no programming, no toolkit, just Flare or Blaze.

But we’d explain that and people would say, disbelieving, “So how does the Toolkit integrate here?” “No Toolkit. All Flare or Blaze.” “Right, but how do I get the Toolkit installed to work with Flare?” ‘You don’t. Flare and Blaze deal directly with the DITA content. No Toolkit in any way.” “OK… But I don’t understand how this works with the Toolkit…” and so on.

But when the light went on, people were super excited. I guess the Toolkit has some challenges.

Where everyone knows your name

Saturday, while Mike was doing a post conference workshop, I met my oldest friend and we walked around Boston. Tom grew up in Boston and we had a lovely time on the walking tour. We would up in Little Italy and got to speak Italian to the waitress in Mike’s with our cappuccino and pastry.

Tom and I met when I was an Army wife, married to my first husband, and attached to the NATO base in Naples, Italy. He was Navy, doing shore duty at the Navy base in Naples. Now, we get to see each other about every 7 to 10 years, so this was great fun. Good man and I had a wonderful time. We rode the subway back, which was delightful.

Germany

Mike and I flew from Boston Logan to other airports, arriving at different times, in Frankfurt where we connected up with Anthony, who came in on yet another flight. We took the train to Wiesbaden and got checked into our hotel. We’d all slept 3 or 4 hours on the flights, so we screwed around in town until a normal bedtime. Mike and I were only(!) 6 hours off, as we’d adjusted to Boston.

Tekom

Tekom is an amazing show. It’s about 2500 Tech comm professionals, gathered together for 3 days of learning. The entire trade show happens at the central convention center and it’s packed with people and vendors. Apparently, they sold out the vendor halls. Trust me, that’s a lot of vendors!

We had our own booth this year for the first time. In the past, we’ve shared space with one or more of our resellers but we decided we needed to stand up on our own this year. We’re big enough. Here’s how the booth looked after we finished setting it up:

The booth after we set up and before the show opened.

We had a young woman to help us with translations. Most people speak English to some degree but the Tech Comm vocabulary can be specialized. I’m from So Cal – I speak Spanish. I can almost be basically polite in German.

Corrina was a delight. She has a degree in Tech Comm and works in Zurich. She’s young, passionate about our field, knows her stuff, and is beautiful. I delighted in watching the German-only speaking men lean towards her as she talked about our products. They were captivated by this bright, lovely, passionate woman. We called her our “Portable Language Device” and she giggled. She giggles a lot.

Mike was Flare boy. I was Blaze, Analyzer, and X-Edit girl. When the sessions were out, we were hopping, especially the 2nd day. I missed lunch that day.

I showed Alan Houser our DITA solution. He was impressed at the mix and match you can do. You can import a regular Word document, a Frame book, and DITA content into one project and then mix the output from these. So your help file can have topics from some of each, if you want.

He said that no one else can do that or even come close. Made my day.

Munich

Yesterday (Saturday), we all slept late and then went to the train station. Corrina was going home to Zurich, Anthony was going back to the States, Mike was off to Amsterdam, and I was heading to Munich. We all changed trains in Frankfurt and said our goodbyes. I won’t see Mike or Anthony for another 10 days or so.

I arrived in Munich about 4 in the afternoon, just before dark. By the time I checked in and unpacked, it was dark. But today I walked around downtown Munich, took (bad) photos and generally enjoyed the nice day. I wore only a sweater because it was about 50F. But when the dark clouds blew in and the temperature dropped, I walked back to the hotel.

I’m doing product shows for our resellers Tuesday thru Friday in Munich and Stuttgart. It’s going to be really busy so this down time is nice. We don’t get a lot of this when we’re doing shows and I’m appreciating it.

General thoughts about Germany

One of the things that’s cracking me up is that I seem able to only speak Spanish or English to these nice Germans. Apparently, my brain is fine with another language and if another language, then I must be speaking Spanish. I spend a lot of time laughing at myself.

It seems that everyone speaks English to some extent. But I was trained as an anthropologist and I want to be polite. In Spanish, apparently, which helps me not at all. But I have to admit, sitting in an outdoor cafe, in the late fall sun, drinking coffee, surrounded by German speakers this afternoon was fun.

When I was 20, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe in Naples in the sun, one lovely spring day looking at the Bay, at Castel d’Ovo right there, Mount Vesuvius behind me. I’m living in Naples, I thought. How utterly extraordinary.

I’m in Munich. How utterly extraordinary.