AODC, Cairns: Day 3: 5 May 2006

5 05 2006

Last day of the conference today. I’m sitting in Cairns Airport writing this at 9:45pm, so my memory will have to suffice for the list of today’s sessions as the conference handbook is in the checked luggage.

  • Vendor promo of the Elkera XML software (Peter Meyer, Elkera)
  • Brief presentation on single sourcing (Matthew Armstrong, AuthorIT)
  • My presentation on Reviewing screen-based content – I received some wonderful comments from people afterwards, and on and off throughout the day, so I guess it went over well! One person told me she’d given me 6 out of a possible 5 on at least one aspect of my presentation.
  • XML Data Islands (Dave Gash)
  • CSS presentation (Dr Tom James)
  • Presentation on Wikis, Blogs, RSS, Podcasts and other cool stuff (Tony Self)
  • Case study about usability testing of PDF indexes versus full-text search (Carol Barnum)

There were a few sore heads this morning after last night’s Trivia Night… seems some people kicked on for a while afterwards.

After the last session, Tony thanked us all, then Gerry thanked Penny for a great job done in organising another successful conference; those who didn’t have immediate flights to catch adjourned to the adjacent bar for some farewell drinks. It was a great conference, with some terrific people in attendance.

Our flight back to Perth leaves at 10:30pm, getting in at the ungodly hour of 1:30am tomorrow. So it’s been a long day, and it will be another 6+ hours before we get in to our own bed. Our 5 weeks away is almost at an end… It’ll be hard going back to work…

AODC, Cairns: Day 2: 4 May 2006

5 05 2006

Lots of sessions today! Here’s a summary:

  • What employers say they are looking for (Elizabeth Abbott): Summarised a survey done by TechWriter Placements late last year and compared it to a similar US survey. Main point: Writing skills are important but collaborative and similar soft skills are most important.
  • MadCap Flare (Mike Hamilton): Summarised the takeover of eHelp by Macromedia and what happened to the former staff; formation of MadCap Software; short demo of some of Flare’s features.
  • Flowcharts Rule! (Kylie Weaver): Gave a rundown of the various types of diagrams we may be asked to produce, including flowcharts; showed some neat Visio tricks.
  • Word Abuse (“Choco” Munday): Lively, hilarious romp through some ‘un-words’, and made up words.
  • DIY Usability (Gerry Gaffney): Discussed how you can set up usability testing on a shoestring with the main physical requirements being pen and paper; got us to do a quick usability test on a product we had with us – a very interesting and revealing exercise!
  • Windows Vista AP Help Update (Mike Hamilton): Presented slides created by Char James-Tanny and emphasised that everything he said was subject to change, and *if* Help authors were to ever be able to use the help technologies MS will introduce in Vista, it wouldn’t be until at least AP 2.0… if ever. Also emphasised the need to submit thoughts, opinions, and ideas to the AP team via the websites he gave us.
  • DITA or DocBook? (Tony Self): Ran through the features and pros and cons of these two XML formats.

Of course, the BIG thing on Thursday nights at each AODC is “Uncle Dave’s Trivia Night”. We adjourned to the Courthouse Hotel where we waited an absolute age for a meal (they were told that a big group was coming…). Then the questions started. 40 questions in 5 rounds. The questions in the code round hit some groups hard, as did the Septic Prank questions. But most groups did well on the Aussie questions (as you’d expect). I was in the Thorny Devils team and we scored 39/40… even though Tony’s silly marking system meant that our public score was 36.5! The final question was like a Final Jeopardy question – you could wager as much or as little as you liked. We went for broke and bet the lot… The question was really difficult as unless you *knew* the answer, you’d only have been guessing. We guessed right (choosing option B over A, C, and the most likely D), and doubled our score, winning the perpetual trophy and some cool Cairns caps for our efforts. A fun night was had by all!

AODC, Cairns: Day 1: 3 May 2006

4 05 2006

The first day of the AODC Conference began with Tony Self’s typically humorous intro and welcome.

Dave Gash (USA) then presented a session on “Self-Aware Navigation Techniques” which actually made sense to me… please don’t tell me I’m going over to the dark side of JavaScript programming! While I didn’t understand the specifics of the code, I completely understood what it was trying to achieve.

Next, Tony coordinated a fun networking activity where we all got to meet quite a few other people. Morning tea followed, with some delicious muffins and Danish pastries.

Tony’s presentation on “Structured Authoring” was next. I had already attended this session at the WritersUA conference just a couple of weeks ago, so if I’d been on the ball and familiar with the AODC agenda then, I would’ve attended another session at WritersUA. Oh well. It didn’t do me any harm to sit through it again. Tony’s a good speaker and he was a little more on the ball for this one… the one at WritersUA was after the Aussie pub crawl night!

After lunch Gerry Gaffney spoke on “Interactive Design” – a good session that highlighted the need for writers to be involved in the design process much earlier than is typical.

Scones with jam and real cream were available for afternoon tea, then Dr Tom James (from the UK) spoke on how the Salisbury District Council is using XML and common taxonomies to provide service information to people via the web.

The final event of the day was drinks by the pool, sponsored by Pursue-IT (Sydney).

Four of us went off to an Indian restaurant afterwards – Mother India in Sheridan St. The food was OK, but nothing special. But the company (Elizabeth [NSW] and Rowdy [WA]) was good.

Tomorrow the sessions start at 8:30, the exhibitors are exhibiting, and there are some 8 sessions during the day, then it’s the Trivia Night! A big day ahead…

Internet pricing in hotels: Australia

3 05 2006

Question: How come can I pay $40-$80 a night in a US motel and get FREE high-speed wireless connection, but I can't get the same from the thought police and rip-off merchants that masquerade as 4 or 5 star tourist hotels in Australia, even though I'm paying well over twice the price for the room?

I asked the check-in clerk at the Rydges Tradewinds hotel about internet connection and yet again felt that some of these places seem to thrive on ripping people off. We had been told there was wireless access from around the pool and the lobby (but NOT in the rooms). When I asked about getting access I was told that it was via a pre-paid card at – wait for it – $7.00 per HOUR!! Unbelievable. So I asked about local call charges thinking I'd do dial-up as I have a number that's a local number throughout Australia – and the hotel charges 95c per call. Standard Telstra charges for a local call anywhere in Australia is around 25c, so they are marking up this rate by close to 400%. Unbelievable. I know that hotels charge more for calls, and I know that they have to have monitoring systems in place to produce itemised call lists when a guest checks out, but 400%???? It's a bloody rip-off! And the $7 per hour charge for wireless? Even more of a rip-off as you have to lug your laptop and power down to the lobby or pool area (now there's a thought – let's encourage electrical equipment near a pool full of water!) and do your connection in a public place without the benefit of a desk. Thanks Rydges, but no thanks. Reluctantly I'll do dial-up and pay the 95c per call.

FNQ: Day 9: Tuesday 2 May 2006

3 05 2006

A very lazy day today. Dropped Dave off in Cairns early in the morning as he's presenting a half day pre-conference workshop. Packed. Dropped off rental car. Read a bit. Waited until 2:15 when the shuttle bus picked us up and took us to Cairns to the conference hotel – the Rydges Tradewinds on the Esplanade. Unpacked. Wandered about the hotel getting our bearings. Walked along the Esplanade boardwalk to the public swimming area, then had an ice-cream on the way back (I had Ginger with Fig and Honey – delicious! and loads of dried/crystallised ginger and figs in the mix too).

In the evening some of the conference speakers and veterans had dinner at the Rattle and Hum Bar and Grill along the Esplanade. I had the barramundi but it was nowhere near as nice as the barra I had in Palm Cove the night before. After dinner we all wandered back to the Rydges and had a drink before retiring.

FNQ: Day 8: Monday 1 May, 2006

1 05 2006

What a GREAT day today! We went out to one of the Great Barrier Reef's outer reefs – Moore Reef, some 40kms out from Cairns – on Reef Magic Cruises. The water was almost like a millpond the whole day – hardly a breath of wind and no swell to speak of (unlike last week when the swell was 2m). It was cloudy, but that was OK.

The boat only held 140 people maximum, and there were about 110 on it, so it was quite small. The staff were terrific, and all in all the day was quite lovely. We wore lycra stinger suits and they helped keep off the sun too. But they were red – so we all looked like weird red "tele-tubbies" or red aliens!

Red Aliens

The highlight was swimming with and touching one of the HUGE Maori Wrasse that live near the pontoon. The reef there was fabulous with lots of bright, colourful fish – some of colours on those parrot fish have to be seen to be believed… fluoro pinks, blues, greens and yellows.

Me with a Maori Wrasse

A great day, finished off with a meal of Barramundi at Il Forno in Palm Cove. Bit like eating bacon after watching "Babe", but you get that!

So, this is the last day of vacation time. Tomorrow Dave has his pre-conference workshop and we have to pack up and move into the conference hotel in Cairns. All in all, it's been a wonderful week.

FNQ: Day 7: Sunday 30 April 2006

1 05 2006

We did the Kuranda Skyrail today. This is a cable car that goes for about 7.5kms over the top of the rainforest and the Great Dividing Range to the town of Kuranda, inland from Cairns. One option is to take the train (up or back) then the cable car in the reverse direction. But recent heavy rains created a landslide somewhere on or near the railway track, so we could only take the cable car both ways.

It was a terrific trip. Now that I seem to be over my fear of these beasts, I had no problem at all – except coming in to the stations when I scrunched my eyes shut.

The day was gorgeous – no rain, some cloud, some blue skies. The rainforest was as green as. And the views back to Cairns and the ocean were fantastic. On the way up we stopped and walked the rainforest boardwalk at Red Peak Station, and went to the Barron Falls at the next station. The Barron River is in full flow with the recent rains, so the falls were just thundering. We also went to the Butterly world in Kuranda, which was interesting though a little disappointing because there were only about 8 species flitting about. Again, we felt we were ripped off at $14 a head. The tropical butterfly place on Vancouver Island in Canada is better, in my opinion.

Kuranda itself was a bit disappointing. Being a Sunday, it was pretty packed (I suspect all the locals get the hell out if they can!), and there were Japanese tour groups everywhere. The markets and little shops are all catering for the tourist market and as a result, the prices are quite steep. Either that or the goods are cheap – cheaply made, but not necessarily selling at a cheap price. Except for lunch, we didn't buy anything. We had lunch at Banjo's Bar and Grill… well, "cafe where you could buy a beer" was more like it. Hubby and I had the $12.90 Cajun Chicken Burgers (but the Cajun bit seemed to be missing) and Dave had Prawn and Barramundi skewers (nearly $25 for two skewers + salad – as I said, it was a rip-off). Dave raved about his meal, but the quantity was severely lacking even if the quality was there.

This evening my sister, brother-in-law and nephew came over for a BBQ. It was good to see them and spend time with them all.

Tomorrow is the reef trip – the water has been really calm the last couple of days and there's been little to no wind, so here's hoping…