Portland, OR

9 10 2007

Woohoo! I got an email on Sunday accepting my proposal to speak at the WritersUA Conference in Portland, Oregon next March. Now to get started on the preparation…

Meantime, the most recent thing I know about Portland are the lyrics from the Loretta Lynn/Jack White duet “Portland, Oregon”:

Well Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz
If that ain’t love then tell me what is
Well I lost my heart it didn’t take no time
But that ain’t all. I lost my mind in Oregon

In a booth in the corner with the lights down low
I was movin’ in fast she was takin’ it slow
Well I looked at him and caught him lookin’ at me
I knew right then we were playin’ free in Oregon

Next day we knew last night got drunk
But we loved enough for the both of us
In the morning when the night had sobered up
It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon

Well sloe gin fizz works might fast
When you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass
Hey bartender before you close
Pour us one more drink and a pitcher to go

And a pitcher to go [repeat]

Our conferences really aren’t like that – or at least, not the ones I’ve been to! Maybe I’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd… đŸ˜‰

It’ll be interesting to see Portland again. I can’t remember if I last saw it in 1986 or 1993, but it was a while ago. I just remember the azaleas and the drive up Pacific Highway 101.

Aeron chairs have arrived

5 10 2007

My Aeron chairs arrived yesterday! Woohoo! So far, they are GREAT. I spent a few hours editing a PhD thesis last night after a full day’s work, and doing it like I usually wouldn’t—but only because the chair allowed me to.

I ramped up the font size in the Word doc to some 250%, sat back in the chair, and was still close enough to the keyboard and mouse to make the punctuation and spelling changes I needed to make on this first pass. One of the features of the chair is the ability to adjust each arm’s height, so I had my left arm resting nicely at the height of the desk/keyboard and the right arm adjusted slightly higher to account for the mouse.

The body of the chair is also really comfortable too, but not like ‘fall asleep on the sofa’ comfortable—a good working comfort. The seat base and back are made of some high tech flexible material which adapts to your body and allows it to ‘breathe’. And there’s great lumbar support.


Wiki ‘suicide missions’

17 09 2007

I’m currently reading Wiki for Dummies, and came across this delightful piece in Part III, Chapter 9:

Don’t go on wiki suicide missions

Wikis don’t have magical powers. They cannot create camaraderie where none exists, nor can they streamline an out-of-control operation. They are not powerful information magnets, nor will they make your team better writers, more organized, or more intelligent. In short, without a strong guiding hand, wikis are useless.

Wikis cannot promise instant returns or unbelievable creativity. Wikis allow users to quickly and easily update and upload information. Wikis are no substitute for holding a meeting, contacting your team members, or doing hard work yourself.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Handy software development references

27 08 2007

I *love* being a member of the Lone Writers Special Interest Group of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). Someone always has something neat to contribute, and in amongst all the helpful suggestions and discussions, there are the occasional gems of reference material… like these shared by one of the members last week:

I’ve put them here to share, but also so I have a central place where I can refer to them again (yes, I know I could use Del.icio.us, but I don’t—it’s just another place I’d have to remember to look for my ‘stuff’!)

One way to document a confusing user interface

27 08 2007

Someone on one of my technical writing lists posted a link to an unofficial user guide for a piece of software used to report building maintenance issues at the University of Pennsylvania. From reading this guide, it is clear that this software is far from user friendly. Called “The Legend of FacilityFocus“, this underground guide for students is written as though logging a maintenance issue is part of a role-playing game. For example:

This [software] provides wonderful new functions for automation and integration and tracking — but from the point of view of a College House resident trying to get a light-switch fixed or a sink unclogged, the … web interface is not exactly user-friendly.

In fact, you can win only if you know which screens to visit in which order, which fields to fill out and which to ignore, which secret codes to use, and so on.

… [later] OK, you might think that since you want to request work, you should click “Work Request”. But DON’T! That will lead you off into a series of twisty little passages, all alike, where you’ll be eaten by goblins.

Go on, read it – it only takes a couple of minutes.

Crying over your work

16 08 2007

A fellow technical writer, editor, and all-round great person wrote this to me in an email today, and all I could think of was “How true!”. Thanks Suzanne for making me laugh.

I’m writing text for a website that deals with death. Whenever I research it I find a really sad eulogy somewhere that makes me cry. Not many writing jobs make me cry. Lots of editing jobs do …

Get rich slowly…

14 08 2007

Two months ago, I set up an Amazon Store with technical writing books I recommend. Since then I’ve added other personal recommendations of books, DVDs, produce, appliances, etc. to the store. It was never meant to be a ‘get rich quick’ scheme… in fact, I just wanted it to be a reference source for other technical writers out there. If I made a few dollars in the process, that would be a bonus.

Well, the “bonus” after 2 months is $10.01 from seven sales. Amazon don’t send me a cheque (they don’t do PayPal…) until my ‘referral fees’ reach $100. So I could be waiting a *long* time.

Social Bookmarking in Plain English

11 08 2007

Another excellent video from the people at CommonCraft – this time on using Del.icio.us and similar social bookmarking sites.


Great error message

10 08 2007

I have a new title: “Wiki gardener”! It’s a term used on JSPWiki.org for those who have the responsibility of keeping a Wiki weed and bug free, and it’s what I’ve been doing the past two days with a Wiki that was set up a year or so ago but that nobody’s taken care of since then. Just like an overgrown garden…

Anyhow, while I was reading the documentation over at JSPWiki.org (yes, Virginia – technical writers *do* read other people’s work!) and testing some stuff out on the Wiki, I got an error message. Standard incomprehensible stuff followed by some possible solutions, followed by this:

And don’t worry – it’s just a computer program. Nothing really serious is probably going on: at worst you can lose a few nights sleep. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.

It made me chuckle!


7 08 2007

Thanks to a link on one of my technical writing discussion lists, I came across this great article written in 2005: “Wikiphilia – The New Illness“.

Normally, I’d just skim such an article as my only real exposure to Wikis has been via Wikipedia (as a user and very occasional editor) and on the periphery of Wiki implementations in software support and development teams.

However, for my new client I am likely to be very involved in organising one team’s Wiki. From the looks of it, this Wiki was set up about a year or so ago and since then it’s become a bit of a dumping ground—’disorganised chaos’ would seem to be the best description, even though it’s an oxymoron. And it doesn’t seem as if people use it to its potential. For example, I haven’t noticed much in the way of collaborative discussion, which is what I thought this Wiki was meant to achieve.

I’m having a teleconference meeting about it on Thursday, so we’ll see what comes from that. Meantime, this article is a good read and I think it summarises very well the inherent problems with a Wiki that I’ve observed from a distance. I particularly liked these two paragraphs:

“And so the Wiki becomes a dumping ground for fragmented and incomplete files, textual sound-bites and aborted attempts to catalogue. And therein lies the second great failing of Wikis as information repositories – the absence of accessible organization and indexing. Although the basic Wiki functionality includes a simple search facility, there is little to no built in support for indexing or cross-referencing below the page level. There is no reading path made available to newcomers so that they might work from fundamental to more advanced material. Cogent explanation does not result from snippets of conversations; and exchanges of opinion need not be illustrative or informative.

Attempts to collate existing “content” into more substantial portions are easily defeated by the free-for-all editing of others, and further inhibited by the user group’s conflicting notions of the worth of the content and the best means for its explication. Just try and find something when the content, un-indexed, is constantly changing under foot.”