Archive for Personal

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.

Releases everywhere

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , on February 25, 2009 by Mike

By now you’ve heard MadCap Software released the new versions of Lingo, Mimic, and Capture. Good products, great updates. Our guys worked hard to do great products.

Big picture stuff

I’m not going to tell you all the new stuff here; you can click the links and go to our website and see what’s new. But here’s a fast overview of the stuff I think is cool:

  • Lingo: Imports Word, DITA, RTF, and more source files. So if you’re writing in these formats, you can use Lingo to translate your files.
  • Mimic: MovieSync is a huge deal in Mimic. Here’s how that works.

Let’s say you have a screen movie of a tutorial for creating reports in your product. You have call outs, mouse movements, all that stuff. And then they changed the application – perhaps a new version. With MovieSync, you start the application, open Mimic, and re-record the movie. Open both the old version and the new version in MovieSync. Now you can specify to move some callouts, all the callouts, what frames get what, and so on.

Think of the time you can save by not having to manually re-do each thing you did on each screen. Wow.

  • Capture: Conditions from the Flare or Blaze project are now available in your Capture files. Variable have been available for a while, but now you can conditionalize stuff in your Capture files with the same conditions from your Flare or Blaze projects.

We did a lot more in these products, this list is just the 1 thing I think is a big deal for each product.

No, seriously, they’re tools-neutral

It took 5 webinars but the word is getting out: the MadCap Webinar Series is in fact tools-neutral. Unless we state the webinar is specifically about our products, the webinar may not even mention our products.

So, if you thought you’d like some Technical Communication related training but thought we were doing some clever bait and switch, we’re not. Go sign up at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx for the ones coming up or to see the ones you’ve missed.

The next one is Neil Perlin talking about Using your HAT as a Content Management System, March 12 at 9am Pacific.

We’re getting 150 to 300 people signed up for these, so go see what you’ve missed!

Personally

Yesterday was my grand daughter’s 4th birthday. She had a tummy thing and spent the day throwing up, so no cupcakes for her. She managed to open the knit sweater and the crochet hat her Nana made and sent.

To see a picture of her looking a little green around the gills but wearing the stuff Nana made, go to here.

Happy Birthday, Tally! May you have a century more, my baby.

I’m cold and tired of rain

Posted in Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2009 by Mike

Remember that wonderful warm weather I talked about a few weeks ago? I barely do. It’s been cold and wet for the last 10 days.

OK, So Cal cold but my bones are still cold and I’m tired of wet. I know we need the rain, but I’m still tired of it.

And we have about another week of cold and wet to go, at least.

Free webinars!

The free tech Comm webinars are going well. We did the one about making the Business Case for Moving to Topic-based Authoring today. It went very well and the response has been very good.

We’re consistently getting 150 to 250 people signed up per webinar and I’m so happy. That tells me there is a need for these and people are really interested. I like that. It’s my project and I’m just really delighted with how it’s going.

One person wrote to me today:

…I was delighted at all the extra tips you gave to help persuade Management if one were presenting a use case. I’m just delighted at the spreadsheet and information that you shared with us all…

All good stuff. To find out more about these webinars, sign up, or view the recorded ones, click here.

In the future

We’re going to run a series of 3-5 webinars on CSS. The first few will be product independent, in that they will be about CSS, regardless of the tools you re using. The last one will be an Advanced CSS in Flare or Blaze but you should be able to do this stuff in any CSS-based tool.

We’re thinking of these as a 3-5 hour crash course in CSS. Even if you don’t use our products, I think even the last one or two will be valuable to you because you should be able to hack your current tool in the ways we show you in Flare.

Watch our site for more details. I’m writing the description for the first one in the next day or so.

Happy Valentines Day!

I hope you are doing something fun on Saturday. Current Husband and I are splurging and going to our favorite romantic resturant for dinner.

It’s where our friends took us for dinner after our wedding. We save this place for special evenings, where we hold hands and remember why we like each other so much. I’m really looking forward to it, even if it’s cold and wet, like it’s supposed to be.

Catching up

Posted in MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by Mike

It’s 6:45a on a Sunday morning for me. Current Husband is sleeping, the animals are all asleep, and I’m awake. I’ve been up for an hour and a half, because the old dogs wake me up at 5am to go out. And once I’m awake, I’m up.

In a way, I don’t mind being up so early. I’m home and it’s quiet. I have so little time at home to myself, it’s rather nice.

Other stuff I do

Saturday morning, I taught my first Crochet class at my favorite local yarn store. What does this have to do with Tech Comm you might be asking? Oh, lots.

Friday night, I realized that if I were teaching crochet to people, they needed a thing. So I had to come up with a thing that could be made easily with simple stitches. I could teach the stitches in class and then send them home with the pattern. So I wrote a very simple hat pattern and quickly made a sample to show in class.

In class, I had them start with the simplest stitches and then do those over and over until they were confident. Then we did the next one. And so on, until they had practiced all the stitches they needed to have to make the hat. After 2 hours, I sent them on their way with the pattern.

Coat of many Tech Comm colors

Teaching this crochet class was Tech Comm in action. I identified the:  

  • Audience: Knitters
  • User goal: Learn the basics of crochet
  • Learning attention span: About 2 hours
  • Skills needed for the goal (that fit with the above): 4 stitches
  • Order to teach the stitches: from simplest to more complex, building and reinforcing skills from one stitch to the next
  • Opportunity for reinforcing with self learning: The simple hat pattern

My Tech Comm background was very useful in putting this class together! I had a good time teaching it and several people are now able to crochet. I’ll do another class on Tunisian crochet in March sometime.

It’s fun to get slightly outside my usual life and teach new skills to people. I think that when we stop learning, we spiritually die. It’s why I love our field so much – I learn new stuff every day.

Work, work, work

Work this week was long and busy. We have a new promotion you may want to look at for the month of February. It’s a screaming deal and should help you get noticed if you’re looking for work or think you might be looking for work soon.

We did the second of the webinars this week as well. These are so successful, I’m working with several people and scheduling June and July now. Keep watching our website for more webinars on various Tech Comm topics.

Between the new promotion for Feb and the webinars, your skills should be so up to date, you can’t help but be successful!

The rest of my day

I have a fairly busy day ahead of me. I need to do laundry, meet a former student for lunch, work on the sweater I’m making for my grand daughter, watch Super Bowl and spend time with Current Husband.

Be very good if I could get the oil changed in my car and get it washed, too. That would be a productive day!

Off I go!

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!

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