Archive for Tech Comm

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!

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!

We owe you all a big thank you!

Posted in MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2009 by Mike

For 10 years, Red Herring has been awarding exceptional start up companies who are changing the playing field. MadCap Software has won a Red Herring award! We are in the top 100 companies internationally, which is a huge honor.

Previous winners include Google, Skype, YouTube and others.  To see us listed and learn more, go to http://www.herringevents.com/global08/redherring100.html.

As we were talking about how great this is, we realized that this award is really all about our community of users. Four years ago, we had this idea that we thought might change the world a bit. It must have been a good idea, because many people have joined us.

Without people using our products, we’re not even a good idea.

But because people use our products and love our products, we’re successful. We really do owe it all to our user base.  So thank you!

In other news

The free webinars are going very well. I’m planning some new ones for April and May, so stay tuned for those. They should be posted in late February.

We’re offering tool-neutral free webinars to give back a little to the community. Expect topics that may not have much to do with our products at all but should forward your knowledge of the field.

Because these are recorded, they are more available for all time zones. So now you have no excuse!

As always, feel free to send me topics you’d like to know more about and I’ll see what I can do.

Personal notes

I just received word that I’m been accepted as an STC Associate Fellow! I’m delighted.

I knew I was nominated but working for a vendor might have changed things. Most of what I’ve done in the field has been teach and support tech comm in every place I could, which is part of why MadCap hired me, but… It could have been an issue.

This feels really good. I need a new dress.

Too much to do this week

I need to record more short demos this week and other stuff, so that’s all the time I’ve got right now.

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.

Cheeseburgers in Paradise

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2008 by Mike

I feel compelled to tell you that’s it’s in the upper 80s and is expected to stay there for the next 10 days. The sky is that heart break blue that we get this time of year. You want to send a Thank You card to someone or just applaud.

May and October are my 2 favorite months in So Cal. If I have time to do errands, be sure I’ll put the top down and pop Jimmy Buffett in the CD player. Because nothing says Cool like blasting “I’m looking for a smart woman in a real short skirt” in my convertible on a glorious day.

You may have noticed I sometimes play off song titles in some of my blog headings. Today is more obvious, as it’s a Parrot-head sort of day.

School boy heart, novelist eye

I’m going to Boston and then on to Germany in the next 3 weeks. Both places will be almost freezing at night and the 50s during the day. A crashing disappointment, weather-wise.

But I bet both places will be interesting and I’ll meet some great people. I may have time to walk a bit and perhaps take photos.

Son of a son of a sailor

I was hired in large part to bring Blaze to market. And a year after I arrived, it’s released. I’m delighted to announce we’ve had our first review and it’s really good. I’m so proud. To learn more, go to http://blog.editorium.com/2008/10/21/262/

It’s been…interesting bringing a product to market and trying to get attention drawn to it. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve met a bunch of people. But most important to me personally is I think we delivered a product that you can actually use. It has features that make your life easier and actually helps.

He went to Paris looking for answers

I’ve spent my professional career trying to do the best tech comm work I was capable of. It’s mattered to me that the users of my documentation felt they were getting useful information. If I didn’t help my users, I failed.

Moving to product management, I bring the same passion for helping. I want to develop products that make a difference to your daily work life. Being a tech comm professional is hard enough – you shouldn’t have to fight your tools, too.

That’s what makes me happy about Blaze. I think we made a useful product and the review confirms that. It makes me really happy.

A pirate looks at forty

We finished this round of public webinars this week. That was very exciting. The attendance was out of sight for all of them. The survey questions sent the next day said that people found them really useful.

If you wanted to participate and couldn’t, we’ll be doing more again this winter. Keep watching here for details. We’re hoping that GoToWebinar will have VoIP when the next round starts.

If you have a suggestion for a topic you’d like an hour on:

If you have other ideas, suggest them. I want to be helpful.

One particular harbor

I’ll try to blog while I’m on the road but don’t panic if I can’t. I will when I come home, after I sleep, see Current Husband, and pet the dogs. I have my priorities.

DITA

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap, MadCap software, technical writing with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2008 by Mike