Archive for the Blaze Category

Long over due update

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writing, webinars on August 17, 2009 by Mike

It’s been 5 months since I posted and that makes me the worst blogger ever. Now that I’ve accepted fault, let’s move on. Don’t hold onto the past.

So where have I been?

You may have noticed the economy took a nose dive from October to at least March. In March, MadCap and I agreed that we should cut my hours. I still work part time for MadCap, doing demos, running the webinar series, and helping where I’m needed. But that’s a small part of my time now.

So that’s where I’ve been.

What does this mean to you?

I can help you even more now.

If you bought Flare or Blaze (or other products) and are looking at getting the products integrated into your workplace, I can help. I can provide

  • Training
  • Advise the best way to start importing/converting/using legacy content
  • Advise the best workflow for you
  • Creating branded stylesheets/master pages/etc
  • Set up your import rules
  • Do the conversions
  • Create relationship tables for your content
  • And a lot more

I can help with small and large projects, at your site or off-site.

For example, I’ve been helping a company convert a lot of legacy RoboHelp content into Flare. This lets their writers focus efforts on generating new content to meet their deadlines. With the staffing cuts from this recession, this makes financial sense for them.

Contact me to start talking about how I can help you get productive.

In other MadCap news

The webinar series is back on after a short summer break. We have coming up:

Sept 9th Cascading Stylesheets (Part 3) Images

Sept 29th Indexing Boot Camp

Oct 20th Task Analysis for Developing Policies & Procedures Content

Stay tuned for an API docs webinar about October 7th and part 4 of the CSS webinar series on October 14th or so.

In personal news

We lost our other old dog in April. Lady went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She was 15 years old, blind and deaf. After a good long life, Lady was gone.

The Aussie was lonely and he wasn’t getting happier, so in May, we went to the local rescue shelter and found a new friend. Olivia (because an Augustus needs an Olivia) the Leonberger is about 10 months old now and a delight. She is a very large dog with a lot of puppy left in her. 70lbs of excited puppy. She’s the red dog in the photos to the right.

She hadn’t been worked with much, so we’ve spent the last few months doing basic training. Olivia is smarter than Gus and has picked up the training faster than he did.

She also loves swimming. And when I say loves, I don’t mean likes it a lot. I mean adores the water. Any water.

Gus and Olivia play chase attack kill and collapse in a pile together. They are both very happy.

We’re so glad we went to a rescue shelter to find our next dog.

Posted by: Sharon

And a Happy New Year to you

Posted in Analyzer, Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writing on January 4, 2009 by Mike

I’ve had a lovely vacation, thank you. I stayed home, cooked a lot, cleaned a lot (my garage looks really good!), and knitted a lot. Current Husband and the animals are very happy to have had their fill of me. It’s back to San Diego with me on Monday.

As the new year starts, I’m also brimming with ideas. My brain had time to think. One of the (very very few) things I don’t like about my job is there isn’t a lot of time to just think. We’re just really busy all the time. Sitting quietly and thinking is a luxury. But 2 weeks off gave me time to think and clear my head.

Thoughts

So what have I been thinking about?

I’ve been thinking that we need more free webinars this spring. The response to the ones we’ve scheduled so far is amazing.

I’m looking for people who have a topic that’s interesting to the profession and want to get their name out there. That’s doesn’t mean that you have to change the world. Nor does it mean that you have to use our tools.

Perhaps you:

  • have some insight into your users that changed how you created or delivered docs
  • can talk about learning more about your audience
  • are good at project planning and estimating
  • are implementing Simplified English and have learned something useful

and many other topics.

Doing a webinar costs you nothing but some time. You don’t even have to be in the US to do it. I may be able to get you some product in exchange for doing one, but no promises on that.

Doing a webinar sets you up as an expert and helps you professionally. It also helps the field as a whole by adding to the cumlative knowledge. And it’s fun to do!

More thoughts

Personally, this year I need to become an expert at screen videos and audio. It’s something I’ve not done before in my career; it’s simply never come up.

I’m an online help and printed document expert. I’m good at designing documentation for usability. I can identify audience and then design to meet those needs. I’m good at project planning and managing writers. I’m even pretty good at designing ads and writing copy, I’ve discovered.

But multimedia is new to me. And I need to be expert at it.

So next week, I’m locking myself up in a room and becoming good at it (and trying to keep people away from me while I do it). My goal is to be expert by March.

The learning never ends, does it? And that’s why the webinars are a good idea!

Cool Flare or Blaze trick

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, technical writing with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by Mike

We met with a user and we went over some of the high end stuff she wants to do with Flare to support her move from Frame/RoboHELP to single sourcing all her content in Flare. It was a great meeting and Mike and I learned a bit.

One trick we learned is so cool, I have to share it.

Mixed media

Let’s say you’re working in Flare or Blaze you want a printed cover page with art and text on it. Further, let’s say the art needs to go the height of the left side.

Let’s start with a page layout that looks like this:

Page Layout with Text frame

Page Layout with Text frame

The grey area is the Body frame, where you will put text from a topic. Now let’s drop a Decoration Frame on the page, making the frame a little larger than the graphic we’re going to put on the page.

Page Layout with Decoration Frame

Page Layout with Decoration Frame

With the Decoration Frame selected, press F2 and click No. The Frame Contents view opens.

Now, on the Insert menu, click Picture. Find the picture you want and click OK. The graphic appears in the Frame Contents view.

Right-click over the graphic and click Object. Make any changes you want, including positioning. Click OK when you are done.

Save and close the Frame Contents view. Now you can see the graphic and it appears where you expect it. You can move the Decoration frame around to be exactly where you want it.

Page Layout with graphic

Page Layout with graphic aligned

So why is this useful?

Because the cover of your printed manuals usually need corporate art for the branding. Now you can have it. You can set up the page layout and use Variables in the topic that populates the Body frame to provide the name of the book.

And think of DITA. When we release the DITA solution, you can easily use page layouts like this to brand your content when you publish.

Cool, huh? I’m impressed.

Ryan, our young support fellow, showed me this. I think he’s smarter than I am.

Goings on at MadCap Software

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2008 by Mike

Mike and I are finally home from traveling. Fall is a travel time, with shows all over the place. But we’re both home until probably late March, which is good for our families.

Since we’re home, we have time finally to do things. One of the things I remember from the recession of 2001/02 was that training budgets were cut right out. But training needs remain.

It’s important to stay current, to know what the hot topics in our field are, and what’s coming. If you’re looking for work, it may be even more important to know about the new stuff.

Free webinars

Toward that end, we’ve created a series of free webinars. [Updated: We have VoIP for the webinars now so you don’t have to make a phone call!!!]

Almost all of these webinars are tools independent. You’re not going to get a sales pitch about MadCap products. You’ll get good information about topics that further your knowledge or show you Best Practices, regardless of the tools you’re currently using.

The tools-specific webinar is clearly identified in the title. It won’t be a sales pitch, though. It’s Mike showing you really advanced stuff that probably even I don’t know. But I’m going to learn from the master!

When you click a link below, you will see more information about that specific topic and a sign up form.

Topic Based-authoring: Doing more with less

15 January 2009 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/961665594

In this tool-independent webinar, you learn about topic-based authoring and how it can help you.

Advanced Publishing Techniques in Flare V4 or Blaze V1

29 January 2009 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/812049597

This webinar focuses on producing high quality, high value documents for your customers using Flare V4 or Blaze V1. Learn ways to efficiently assemble and deliver your content.

DITA 101 — Why the Buzz?

5 February 2009 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/598015341

In this tool-independent webinar, Sarah O’Keefe discusses DITA concepts, the business case, and typical scenarios where DITA is used to evaluate whether DITA makes sense for you.

Moving to Topic-based Authoring: Making the Business Case

12 February 2009 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/706899386

In this tool-independent webinar, Bonni Graham explains how to make the business case for topic-based authoring to your management. You know the savings, now you can show your boss!

Planning for Content Reuse: Best Practices for Legacy and New Content

24 February 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/647207434

In this tool-independent webinar, Eddie VanArsdall discusses Best Practices when planning the move to topic-based authoring.

Can your HAT be a Content Management System?

12 March 9am Pacific

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/187845873

In this tool-independent webinar, Neil Perlin discusses how you might use the hidden features in your existing HAT tools as a Content Management System.

I hope you’ll come play with us

I really hope to see you on one or more of these. I’m doing support Chat for almost all of them so I’ll see you in the chat if you’re there.

If you have other ideas for webinars, contact me and I’ll see if I can’t add them to the line up. If you would like to present one, contact me and let’s talk your idea through.

Feel free to spread the word.

See you soon!

Briefly

Posted in Analyzer, Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software with tags , , , , on December 4, 2008 by Mike

We released updates to Flare 4, Blaze 1, Analyzer 2, and the X-Edit family of products yesterday.

If you own these, you’ll see a prompt when you open them (assuming you’re connected to the internet). Just follow the prompts and you’ll be automatically updated.

Mostly these are performance fixes and import fixes, many of which were reported by our users. A shout out goes to our Dev team for making this happen. Good work, guys!

On a personal note

The day started yesterday with the awful news that Adobe laid off up to 600 people. My heart goes out to those laid off. It’s never good and in this economy and with Christmas 3 weeks away, this is just bad all the way.

And AT&T announced layoffs this morning – I have a friend there. I hope he gets thru this OK. Just bad.

We at MadCap wish all those laid off a swift and painless journey to your next good thing. I’m so sorry this has happened to you.

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.

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.