Archive for dogs

Not posted for a while

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by Mike

Between losing Sara the Amazing Swimming Dog, WritersUA, and then getting really sick, I’ve just not posted for a bit.

So I thought I would quickly this morning.

Free Webinar Series

If you have not been paying attention, the free webinar series is going very very well. The one we just did had the most signups ever. I was amazed.

The next one is April 23 at 9am Pacific.

Controlling Costs by Controlling Language
This tool-independent webinar shows how simplified language options can reduce page count, decrease translation expense, and improve comprehension among non-English audiences. But is it appropriate for you? Find out.
Presenter: Brenda Huettner, P-N Designs, Inc

Brenda simply rocks. She knows a lot about our field and this webinar is a great way to learn about controlled language. It may not be right for you, but it would be good to know what it is, in case it comes up.

For more info about the webinar series, go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx.

Dita, Dita, everywhere

In case you didn’t get to go to WritersUA, we’re in beta with Flare Dita. If you have Dita content and are willing to beat the crud out of the software, we want you to join the beta. Send me an email and I’ll pass it along to the guy.

Remember, no Open Toolkit, just Flare and Dita. Output to Webhelp, PDF, Frame, Word, Dita, and more.

More later

See you all at STC International in just a few weeks!

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Generally, a sad day

Posted in Personal with tags , , , on March 5, 2009 by Mike

Today we put my old Cattle Dog, Sara, to sleep. She was almost 15 and had been sick for a while.

Sara at 9 years old

Sara at 9 years old

I got Sara as a gift from a friend when I started looking for a house to buy. She was the first dog I ever had and quickly became my buddy. When I worked from home (which was most of the time for years), she slept on the office floor, between me and the door, in case I left the room.

Cattle Dogs are called Velcro dogs because they bond to one person and then follow that person everywhere. I was her person.

My son taught her to swim the summer we got her. Matthew spent a month making sure she could get in and out of the pool safely. He created a monster.

She usually started swimming by April every year. When she was younger, by mid-July, her red coat was green. She would let you spend hours throwing the ball in the pool so she could get it. Hours. She never tired of the game.

Sara was a party dog; she liked playing with children in the pool on long summer days. She would swim for 8 or 10 hours straight, only stopping when the children stopped. And then collapsing under my chair.

When she was 5, she blew one of her knees out. The options were put her down or repair the knee. We chose repairing the knee, knowing that she would be arthritic when she got old. Six months later, she blew the other one out. We had that one repaired, too. It only slowed her down a little.

When we got the orange cat, Marley, she adopted him as her best friend. She taught him how to be a good dog and was always mad when he got on the roof. Dogs don’t belong on the roof, she seemed to say, pacing and barking at him.

Being a good herding dog, she also herded children. Toddlers were great herding targets. I found her guarding a group of small children, all neatly herded up in a corner of my living room more than once. She looked very proud of herself but the children were crying.

She had a wicked dog sense of humor. I called her Laughing Dog for a reason – she would get the giggles and fall over.

In the last few years, her swimming almost completely stopped because it was too hard for her to step into the pool. Her entire back end was just not working that well. When we got the Aussie 18 months ago, she paced the side of the pool, huffing and barking, looking for the world like she was coaching as we taught him to swim.

She was diagnosed with a slow growing cancer about 4 years ago. The vet said her 5 year prognosis was not good but since her breed usually lives 12 years… We decided to do nothing and just watch. The place it would show up next was her stomach, he said. And it did.

All her life, Sara slept next to my side of the bed, in case I got up during the night. That spot will be empty now, unless the Aussie takes it.

Not the best day in my house. But I wouldn’t have missed having her for the world.

Happy Holiday to you from MadCap

Posted in MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing with tags , , , , on December 19, 2008 by Mike

This is probably my last blog post for 2008. I’m on vacation from the 21st to the 5th. A well deserved vacation, during which I plan to spend time with Current Husband, clean the house of junk, plan the next UC Riverside class, walk the dog a lot, knit, crochet, visit with friends, watch the backlog of DVR-ed TV, and, perhaps, sleep.

But I wanted to make sure I extend to everyone, regardless of the specific holiday you may celebrate, a Happy Holiday from MadCap Software. May your holidays be full of happiness. And may the next year be full of interesting and good things.

Thoughts at the end of the year

I’ve been blogging for 11 months. In that time, this blog has been hit with readers some 9,600 times. As much as I like being the center of attention, it’s a little odd to think there’s potentially 9,600 people who find what I might write worth reading. I’ll keep trying to write useful information or make you laugh or something in the next year.

With the uncertain economic situation worldwide, I urge you to be certain your skills are up-to-date. I preferred to never see another 2002 again, but I think we’re seeing it again. I’m not hearing about large numbers of technical communicators being laid off this time, but still…

With the uncertain economy in mind, MadCap Software is offering free webinars to help you keep your skills up-to-date. I’m talking to several more people about topics this spring. Keep watching this blog and our site at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx

And remember, if you have a topic you’d like to present, contact me and let’s discuss it.

Why are we doing these webinars? Because it’s scary out there. We can’t fix that but we can help a little. If you’re out of work, these webinars might help you get information that helps you find work. If you’re employed, these webinars might help you be more effective.

After all, without you all, MadCap wouldn’t be a success would we? So, in a way, we owe you a lot. This might help balance that.

Off you go!

OK – go have a lovely holiday, filled with the stuff you like and I’ll see you next year.

I’m certain I’ll be twittering while I’m off, so you can always find out what I’m doing that way!

End of the quarter blues

Posted in Flare, MadCap, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing with tags , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2008 by Mike

I seem to like blogging on Saturday morning, when the animals and Current Husband are sleeping, so I thought I’d post.

The free webinars are filling up nicely. We have the info posted on our website now, so you can go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx and sign up there as well, if you like.

We use GoToWebinar and are probably not recording these. I know the time is a problem for people in Asia and that part of the world. If that’s you, send me an email and tell me the names of the webinars you’d like a replay of and I can schedule those just for you all. 6pm for me is about 9am for you all – it’s doable.

And remember, if you want to present a topic, contact me and let’s talk about it. It’s a good line item on your resume and gets your name out. In this economy, anything you can do to stand out is a good thing.

Are you Certified MAD?

Another thing you can do to stand out is be certified, Certified MAD, that is. For $149, a short test, and a small project, you can be Certified MAD in Flare. That lets you use the Certified MAD for Flare logo on your resume, blog, website and other places. Potential employers or clients can call and verify your certification with us.

I like this program a lot. It shows you know what you’re talking about and it’s reasonably priced. I’ve seen these programs before and they were always a lot of money – $1500 or more. We priced this one low because we want to make it affordable for people. It’s a win all the way.

To find out more or to sign up, go to http://madcapsoftware.com/training/certification/.

Want to teach MadCap products?

I’ve been teaching part time for 10 or 11 years. I love teaching because it lets me know I’m doing good things to help people. I’m giving back to the community I love, training people in something I’m passionate about. In a few cases, I’ve been part of changing people’s lives by helping them get the background they needed to start a new career. That’s exciting.

So with that in mind, I’m thinking about starting a program to make our products very available to programs offering Tech Comm classes. If you teach for a program or coordinate a Technical Communication program, contact me at sburton(at)madcapsoftware.com. I’d like to bounce some ideas off you to see if these would work and find out what else you might need.

Finals, finals, everywhere

My students took their finals this week. That means this weekend is one long grading binge until we’re done. Today is grading and tomorrow is putting together the grades and then electronically submitting them.

Bonni isn’t as good in Excel as I am, so I get to put together the grades and submit them. And Sunday is her birthday, so it seems mean to lock her up with a spreadsheet as her birthday gift. Happy Birthday, here’s a spreadsheet.

Vacation, all I ever wanted

I’m taking 2 weeks off around Christmas. I’m cleaning out the garage, my home office, and probably helping a friend who is retiring clean out his office. It’s going to be a cleaning frenzy.

I typically use the last week of the year to clean out the junk and give it away, usually to Goodwill. This year, I’m trying something different.

There is a movement called “Free-cycling”. It’s based around the idea that the more stuff we can keep out of the landfills, the better. So local groups have email lists where you can post what you have to give away or what you are looking for. People respond if they need what you have or they have what you need.

I’ve been watching my local list (found on Yahoo) and I think I’ll be giving away a lot of stuff. I’ve not cleaned the garage in about 5 years, so there’s a lot of stuff that’s perfectly fine, I just don’t want it any more.

In these economic times, this seems a good way to pass on some Good in the world. The stuff will go to people who actually want it for the cost of gas to come get it.

Time to start my day

OK – it’s time to start looking at finals. I can’t put it off any longer. I have piles of sleeping dogs on the floor in my home office, Current Husband sleeping in the next room, I’ve read the ‘Net, posted to my blog, answered emails.

Short of starting laundry, I have no excuse left.

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.

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

A quiet Saturday morning

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal with tags , , , , on July 26, 2008 by Mike

Husband is still snoring, I have dogs sleeping on my office floor, and it’s quiet on the street. This is why I’m a morning person. About 6:30, the sun was streaming thru the wall of windows on the eastern side of the house. I wanted to twirl slowly in the golden light.

It’s a dogs’ life

It’s been pretty animal crazy in my life lately. Our 14 month old Aussie came down with very bad kennel cough and was really sick for about 10 days. Gus (and our other 2) was immunized against the bad common strains, but the vet explained this is like a cold for humans – the virus keeps mutating. As it turns out, the virus that causes kennel cough is related to the bug that causes viral bronchitis in humans.

Gus spent 10 days laying around coughing. He couldn’t walk across the room without a 15 minute coughing fit that wore him out. He had no sparkle because he was just too sick. Finally, Thursday morning of this week, he started recovering. Now he wants to play and run and only coughs a little. A totally healthy dog is not too far away.

In the mean time, the Cattle Dog, Sara, is getting very old and crippled by her arthritis. I know this is her last summer but I’m hoping to give her a last summer (her favorite time of year because she can swim in the pool). Husband and I met with the vet who said “Soon and not long, but not yet” and gave us pain pills to help her. These seem to working OK with her for now. And she continues to wag her tail when I come home.

And, because this is how it goes, the very old Border Collie mix, Lady, is less and less tethered to this life. She’s blind and deaf and losing weight. I expect when we put Sara down this fall, Lady will go to sleep and not wake up soon after. They’ve been together since they were about 8 months old. I’ve never thought one of them would survive much beyond the other.

Surprisingly, the old dogs did not pick up this round of kennel cough. Which is good because at their advanced ages, I think this one would have killed them. Gus is young and resilient; Sara and Lady simply are not anymore.

I’m not excited about this part of having dogs. I like the young part of their lives. I’m not delighted with the old and crippled part of this at all. But this fall, decisions will have to be made, regardless of how much I like these guys sleeping on the floor in my office.

In other news

The week was crazy busy at work—the Importing FrameMaker files into Flare  webinar is insanely popular. And I usually have people with many questions afterwards about their specific situation.

After each webinar, I spend probably 3 hours helping people with their stuff. I love it, because it all teaches me more about what you all are doing with our products and what challenges you face. This will only help me get you better products in the end. I know better what you need and can advocate for it.

We also have MadCamp this coming week, so we were busy getting ready for that, making sure all we need is in place to have that be a success. And I think it is! Whew.

All in all, a week that left my brain vibrating in my head every evening.

This weekend’s plan

So this weekend, I grade student papers because I’m 2 weeks behind and they’re starting to murmur. We have a party at my best (female) friend’s house, a friend is in town on business starting Sunday and I’ll try to have lunch with him tomorrow, I need to do laundry and generally pick up, I have 2 – count them 2! – new fabulous crochet pattern books to start working from (both sweaters and shrugs and the like – yum!), and a husband to talk to. And dogs to pet.

And if I have time, I want to practice my knitting. I took a lesson last weekend and it was hard but fun. I’m such an experienced crocheter that I’ve forgotten how it feels to be new at these handicrafts. Knitting humbled me. I want to get OK at it. I may never prefer it, but I think I should know how to do it competently.

Why? Because I enjoy having a picture in my head that translates to a thing through my hands. I find it calming to work my hands to make something. I like working on a craft (art) that’s been practiced for perhaps a thousand years. I like feeling as though I’m dipping into a sea of tradition that’s been practiced by far more talent than I’ll ever have.

Lastly

And as a last note, today is Michael Stern’s birthday. If you never got to know him, you missed out on knowing an amazing and wonderful man. Michael was my best male friend who died suddenly one night about 3 years ago. Losing a best friend is every bit as bad as it sounds. As I spoke in his eulogy, some things you never get over, you just adjust to. Eventually, I suppose.

Happy Birthday Michael.