Month: December 2007

Chocolate

Mr Cadbury and Miss Rowntree met on a Double Decker, it was After Eight.

She was from Quality Street; he was a Fisherman’s Friend.

On the way they stopped at a Yorkie Bar, he had a Rum and Butter, she had a Wine Gum.

He asked her name, “Polo, I’m the one with the hole” she said.

“I’m the one with the nuts,” he thought! Then he touched her Milky Way.

They checked in to a hotel and went straight to the bedroom.

Mr Cadbury turned out the light for a bit of Black Magic.

It wasn’t long before he slipped his hand into her Snickers and felt her Cream Egg.

He fondled her Flap Jacks, then he showed her his Curly Wurly and Tic Tacs.

Miss Rowntree wasn’t keen to have any Jelly Babies, so she let him take a trip down Bourneville Boulevard via her Party Ring. He was pleased as he always fancied a bit of Fudge.

It was a magic moment as she let out a scream of Turkish Delight.

When he pulled out, his fun size Mars Bar felt a bit Crunchie. She wanted more, but he needed Time Out. However, he noticed her Pink Wafers looked very appetizing. He did a Twirl, had a Picnic in her Sherbet Dip and finished off by giving her a Gob Stopper!

Unfortunately, Mr Cadbury then had to go home to his wife, Caramel.

3 days later his Magnum lolly started to drip. It turned out Miss Rowntree had been with Bertie Basset who had Allsorts.

Cold mornings ahead

A thin layer of white renders the land a frosty glitter. Warm breath floats into the black above. One by one the neighbours emerge from their warmth, and the ritual begins. Engines chug, fans blow, and slowly the ices drips away.

I love such mornings, with the crisp air pinching your cheeks, seeking out the gaps in your scarf, wheedling up coat sleeves. The morning commute made all the more glorious as you rise out of the town to the top of the valley, streetlights gone, the night sky sparkling under the moon glow.

Admittedly it can be a little dodgy on the way down the other side but that’s what traction control is for… yes?

And so we race towards Christmas.

I have two shops left to visit. I will need to do that on Friday afternoon/evening as although I’m off, we need four new tyres and they are getting fitted at 1.30pm.

Saturday and Sunday we are starting the “visits”, dropping off presents and so on. I’m off on Monday but will be finishing the wrapping and generally preparing for spending a couple of days at my parents.

Christmas Day we will see my Gran in the morning, maybe nip to my sister-in-laws to catch my brother-in-law there before heading to my parents for the afternoon, then back up to my sister-in-laws at night (in what is becoming tradition since my in-laws moved to Spain).

Boxing Day we’ll spend sometime with my parents and head home in the afternoon or evening.

27th we are going out with Susan and Ian, for a bite to eat, a little ten-pin bowling (presuming my knee can handle it) and a few shandies.

28th I have a night out with some ex-colleagues, and if past nights are anything to go by then we’ll finish up around 4am in a lake of tequila.

29th we are back through to Balloch to see my mates, Keith, Stuart & Alan, Ian, Bill and Fran, exchanging silly presents and seeing who can come up with the silliest cocktail.

30th is largely about getting home at some point and gathering our energies for…

Hogamanay! Back down to Susan and Ian, for they have the largest house (with a nice big pool table, fosball table and whatnot).

1st is usually a complete write-off, something to do with getting to bed at 6am or later (earlier?).

And no doubt on the 2nd day of 2008 we’ll be back through in Dumbarton to first foot our families.

After that I have five days to recover and do all the things I said I’d do over the festive period. And, to be frank, I’ll probably be looking forward to getting back to work for some sanity.

No doubt everyone else is the same, but it does perplex me why this time of year is so very busy. Why we feel the need to cram it all in to the few days holiday we have I’ll never know but, for all my moaning, I guess I do kind of enjoy reeling from one day to the next.

Let the festivities begin!

Ummmm but not until Friday…

Recently Read

Christmas looms large, and the days are “fair drawing in” as they say in these parts. I’m taking a couple of weeks off to relax and recharge, and no doubt to eat, drink and be (very) merry. As ever this time of year is pretty hectic, so here are few things that caught my eye over the past couple of weeks.

10 Word to avoid in your writing
A short list but the main point is to avoid gobbledygook. One of my pet peeves is the use of long words when a perfectly valid, shorter, word is available. The Plain English website has some excellent advice if you want to find out more.

No-one reads the help anyway

the next time you hear someone say, “No one reads the help anyway,” say, “Yah, no one uses Google either.”
This will lead to a puzzling follow-up question — What do you mean? I use Google all the time.
Then you say, What do you use Google for? To search for answers, solutions, and information when you have questions?

Like some of the commenters, I disagree with this a little. At a simple level it works, but there are flaws. However, as an opening gambit I think it’s a good one. It will make people stop and think, and once you have them thinking about it THEN you can explain the more subtle differences.

AuthorIT Yahoo Group Search
I’m listing this here so I don’t lose it again. Yahoo Groups are great but the search engine frequently falls over. MANY many thanks to Hamish for providing this resource, this is the kind of thing that makes the Internet great.

Building a successful web community

Do not assume that a community, particularly a successful web community, is easily built from the one ingredient of a shared interest – ensure there is also a goal or a purpose in the mix.

Very true. I know that some Technical Communicators are starting to thinking beyond user documentation, and the next step may well be to nurture online communities around your product. This article has some good tips, and I can vouch for them all having struggled to setup a Scottish Blogging site myself.

Technical Communicators and UI Design
Scott Nesbitt spotted an article about User Interface Design and a particular section caught his eye. It states that the documentation must be considered as part of the design, and Scott goes on to say:

“technical communicators need to get involved not only in the design and usability of an interface, but also how users will access documentation from within the interface.”

I couldn’t agree more with this, and recently I’ve been pushing my team to think along these lines, realising that we work with, and develop, “information” rather than “documents” meaning we need to have a greater sphere of influence.

To coin a phrase, we are the interface to the interface.

Weekender

Busy day ahead, so I’ll be brief.

My Office Christmas party was on Saturday night. Drawing up at the main entrance, I was greeted with a red carpet, and gladly accepted a glass of fine champagne. I turned down the partridge and quail

The meal was served in the atrium area of our office (the carpeted section in the photo) and was pretty good. All I really remember was the constant supply of bottles of red wine, put an empty one down, 10 seconds later a full one appeared. It was such a fun game… i think.

Meal finished, it was time for the company awards. I was lucky enough to be nominated for one but didn’t expect to win, and the rest of the awards (6 in total) were all won deservedly. Next up, the raffle. The main prize that everyone was hoping for was a set of “bespoke curtains”. No, wait. That’s not right… ahh yes, the main prize that everyone was hoping for was two return flights to New York. I didn’t win them either, nor the 27″ LCD TV or the bespoke curtains. There were main other prizes but, thankfully, the rest of the draw takes place today (I’m holding out to win the lamb. Yes, seriously. A lamb.)

Then the band started. A few ceilidh numbers at the start before they started pumping out some classic covers. They were fantastic, although there is something odd about being drunk and dancing like a fool in the office. The reception area (you can see it, left of centre in the photo I linked to above), was the bar for the evening, and thankfully no-one fell in the fountain (on the left of the photo, just).

A cracking night.

And it wasn’t finished for me. Jumping in a taxi at 1am, I headed back to the Normandy Hotel were Louise was having her office party night out and which didn’t finish until 2am! I got to meet some of the people she works with, and as I was one of only 3 guys wearing a kilt, got a fair amount of attention. Why are women still surprised that men don’t wear anything under their kilts??

Back to the room at 2.30am and… up at 8.30 after a broken night of fitful sleep. Not sure if it was the bed or unfamiliar noises but I think I managed about 4 hours sleep in total. But that was OK, it wasn’t like we were going shopping or anything.. ohh crap.

I was a complete wreck yesterday (apologies to my parents who had come over for dinner) and ended up in bed at 9.30pm.

What a great weekend. How the hell was yours?

Where do we go from here?

MP3, USB, JPEG, some factors of our technological life are now “standard”. If I get a new gadget and it doesn’t have a USB connection or USB power cable then.. well actually, I probably wouldn’t buy it if it didn’t so that’s a bit of a moot point.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m slowly ripping all my CDs to MP3 (the CDs are now out of the living room and piled 20 high, 3 deep on my desk, which is progress of sorts) and it wasn’t a decision I took all that lightly. Admittedly the bulk of my new music is already in that format and as MP3 is supported widely then it should be OK in the future. Right?

JPEG appears to be safe as well. Every digital camera uses it and it does what it does well enough for the masses.

Ohh and yes, before anyone points out, I KNOW that there are better formats for storing music and photos but ultimately the loss of quality between a 256kbs MP3 and any of the lossless formats is beyond anything I can really detect, and the same goes for JPEG vs RAW images for MY purposes.

Those issues aside I do worry a little about losing these things to the vagaries of time, an issue to which the Kindle from Amazon – an electronic book reader – adds another dimension. One which, for some reason, has me very concerned about where this is all heading.

For some reason, whilst I’m not happy about the prospect, I am resigned to the fact that I may lose copies of photos and tracks. I am reasonably diligent when backing up, but if the worst happens, and I lose both my main hard drive AND my backup drive, then yeah, I’m stuffed. I have considered burning the really valuable stuff onto DVD but that’s way down the “I really should but I just can’t be chuffing bothered” path (a path strewn with many other best intentions and forgotten endeavours).

I’m not entirely sure there is an answer for this. Yes I could return to buying CDs rather than MP3 tracks, but at the rate I consume music the issue of physical space trumps any notion of always having a physical copy. And I can’t do that with photos anyway so I’m still at the whim of various hard drives.

I guess I could invest in a backup for my backup but even then it’s just another thing in the chain that could and, eventually will, fail.

What does all this mean? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Advances in technology means that the vast majority of hard drives can be considered trustworthy and unlikely to fail within a few years of usage (I’ve got two from my old PC which still work quite happily, which reminds me to get an enclosure or something for them).

However, technical issues aside, I’m also wondering if we have become a society where nothing really has value. Everything is replaceable, and we are encouraged to bin the old and buy new. If I did lose all my MP3s then I COULD replace them (at cost). So what’s the big deal? I’d only replace the ones I really missed so it might be a good way to start over and avoid all the dross.

Alas the same can’t be said of photos. Losing them loses the associated memories and emotions, the thoughts and feelings experience can’t be lost but they do dim over time, not forgotten but filed away in the distant recess of my mind. Viewing old photos brings them rushing back into the light, dusted down and ready to relived.

If I lost that there is no price that would can be paid, no way back.

Bloody hell, that’s a scary thought. Guess what I’ll be doing tonight!!

Confusion on the way home

“Ohhh that reminds me,” she said “I’ve got a mince pie for you”.

Considering we had been talking about the screeching fan belt of the car in front of us, this was a bit of a leap. I’m not sure what reminded her but I let that slide, you don’t learning nothing after 10 years of marriage. Quickly my mind caught up with hers and I too started to ponder dinner.

“Great,” I said. “Hmmm, do we have any potatoes in or shall I stop at the shops?”

A simple enough request, one would have thought, yet the silence remained broken only by her bemused glance.

“ummmm, yes there are some in the fridge…” she assured me, with a definite tone of bewilderment.

Unsure of her confusion I continued, “Hmmm, is there any veg? or maybe just have beans with it…?”

Her response was less than satisfactory, unless you are a farmyard animal perhaps, but where I grew up snorting doesn’t really constitute an answer. I glanced across at her and could just see the beginnings of a smile, creeping across her face. What was going on? Had I missed something? I tried to figure out what she was up to but she derailed my train of thought.

“Why?” she asked, with a hint of a smirk.

OK, this was getting annoying. What was she grinning at? Can’t a man consider the dietary requirements of his evening whilst driving home? What is so wrong with enjoying a nice cooked pie with some delicious boiled potatoes, some beans, a nice big slab of butter and a cold beverage. After all, there was entertainment in the form of football later on, so best to set myself up with a hearty meal! Food of kings if you ask me.

So why was my Queen mocking me so?

Determined to find out I pushed aside thoughts of her forthcoming beheading (I may be a handsome king but I rule my land with an iron fist) and pressed on.

“To have with the mince pie for dinner… I was thinking we could just chuck on some bea…. Hey, what IS so funny… what are you laughing at!”

Try as I might I could not get a word from the giggling buffoon sitting in the passenger seat next to me. Perplexed, I left her to it and tried to figure out what it was that was making my wife laugh so hard that she had tears streaming down her cheeks and was starting to have trouble breathing…

Then I realised.

I shall now pause this story to explain that this, dear reader, is why I hate Christmas.

It’s not the rushing about like an idiot to find presents that at least look like you didn’t just pick them up because it was all that was left in the shop.

Nor is it the bombardment of adverts on TV, radio, billboard and newspaper.

It’s not even the “it’s Christmas so everyone must be jolly” attitude that is rammed down your throat at every occasion.

No, the reason I hate Christmas is because I seem to be the only person who makes the effort to ensure that the, somewhat distinct and pronounced, difference between mince and mincemeat is properly communicated.

Yes I know mincemeat used to have meat in it but it doesn’t anymore and, truth be told, I quite enjoy a mince round now and again. Anyway, just because I refuse to bow to peer pressure whilst the rest of you weak-willed, soft-minded idiots happily follow the crowd of sheep bleating “mince pie, mince pie” does NOT make it one and the same thing.

I’m sorry, I refuse to budge. I refuse to yield. I am right. YOU are ALL WRONG. That small, round, deliciously sweet and spicy pie you have with your morning coffee on Christmas morning, is a MINCEMEAT pie. What is so hard about remembering that? Is it the flashy lights on the tree? The brain damage from barging your way through the drinks aisle at the supermarket? Or perhaps you forgot to put the brandy on the Christmas pudding this year because you drank it all and turned your brain to mush, you bumbling, drunken fool.

Regardless. Mincemeat is not mince.

Now, where were we, ohhh yes…

“Darling, I love you dearly, you are the light of my life, the air in my lungs and everything that is good in my world. But for fuck’s sake, STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!!”

Too much info?

I’m losing my marbles.

It is entirely my own fault of course, due to the fact I’m a complete and utter tart. I sign up for the latest widget, doodah or thingymajig at the drop of a hat, and as I am, believe it or not, fairly security and safety conscious, I do try and use different passwords for them all.

Add in the number of websites that I maintain, with different logins for admin screens, blogging platforms, and FTP settings…

THEN add in online banking, email addresses and… well you get the picture. Like most people who spend a fair … ok ok… large portion of their time online, I have, quite simply, too many chuffing details to remember.

Web browsers do their best by helping to remember passwords and so on, but that’s fine until you have to reinstall or use another computer. Then you usually fall back on the password reminder system offered unless, of course, there isn’t one. Then you, ummm, I, am completely screwed.

FTP sites are the worst. Which is no small matter as I have details for about 20 or so, both my own and those I’ve worked on.

So, my dearest readers, how do you handle all this? I’ve tried Keypass, text files, even an Access database back in the day. None of them work. Ideally I need something that is either portable, or encrypted so I can host it on a web server somewhere. Risky? yes I guess so but that’s an argument of ease-of-access versus security and as I’m lazy I go for ease-of-access and to hell with the consequences.. until they, you know, happen. Then, yeah, not so much.

Anyway, hints, tips, ideas, applications… help me!!!

DITA is not the answer

Single sourcing is good, I’m sure most of us can agree on that, but I’ve recently been wondering if perhaps DITA isn’t quite good enough?

The thing is, I’ve been looking at DITA as a solution for our single sources needs for a while now. I’ve attended conferences, read whitepapers, listened to vendors and everything else that goes with it and I’ve got a pretty good handle on things. If applied correctly the benefits you can gain are very large, although the same can be said of any other single source project, yet what seems to be consistently missing during all of these wonderfully theoretical discussions is the cost and impact of getting such a solution “applied correctly”.

A key part of planning to move to single source, of which DITA is only a part, is understanding the business needs and technological requirements of all of the content producers in your organisation. Traditionally that means Technical Communications, Training, Pre-Sales and Marketing, with perhaps other flavours to be considered depending on how your company is structured.

However, if those parts of your organisation aren’t yet ready to move, then the business case changes. At present this is the situation I’m in, so I find myself looking for a short-term (2-3 year) solution that won’t lock us in to a proprietary format and that can give us benefits as soon as possible.

Re-use is our main reason for moving to single source. We don’t (yet) localise, and there is only one other team that has any interest in re-using our content (and even then, they are likely to use it as an source of verification, not a source of content). With that in mind, and with the proviso that I’ve used it previously, we are looking at AuthorIT.

Yes it does mean we forego a lot of the power of DITA but as it will allow us to tag topics accordingly (in keeping with the DITA model) and it does have an XML DITA output option, then it shouldn’t lock us in. I’m willing to put up with a little pain further down the road to get the benefits now.

I’m still not entirely sure what else we are missing. We publish PDFs, HTML and Javahelp, all of which AuthorIT handles, and as yet we don’t have a need to dynamically publish information based on metadata. If that changes in the near future then we’ll handle it appropriately but it isn’t on anyone’s radar.

I am concerned about the versioning capabilities of AuthorIT as we maintain the last 3 versions of all our publications, but I know there are ways to achieve this in AuthorIT. I doubt it will work as well as our current system (FrameMaker files in an SVN repository) but, as is always the case, I do expect we may need to make some compromises to get ourselves moving towards single sourcing our publications. This is our main pain point and so becomes the focus for any possible solution.

DITA remains the long-term goal but, and I’ve said this before, until there is an all in one solution that is easy to rollout it remains marginalised as a viable option. Most of us need to produce some form of business case to justify such purchases and, at present, DITA is still too costly an option. I’m always happy to learn new things, and whilst I would love to be able to invest time and resource into creating and maintaining a DITA based solution, I just can’t justify it.

All of my research suggests that, rather than being a simple installation and conversion process, creating a DITA solution requires a lot of technical know-how and a not insubstantial amount of time and resource. We can handle the first, the latter is (I believe) not yet at a level which makes it cost-effective.

Ultimately, for the moment, DITA costs too much.

Do you agree? Can you prove me wrong? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you have implemented DITA already. I’m keen to hear just how more productive a DITA solution can be if you aren’t involved in localisation. Have you recouped your costs yet?

Perhaps DITA is only really applicable for those with large budgets and the chance to invest heavily upfront. Alas I’m not in such a position. For the moment.

The Calendar Lies

I always forget how much I enjoy winter. Not all of it, I could happily live without seeing a pile of dirty, melting slush, but I do enjoy those crisp, clear mornings which still seem eerie and magical, a light dusting of ice, sprinkled over the land, glittering in the glow of sunrise.

We were in Balloch yesterday morning, standing at the southern end of Loch Lomond, soaking in the view of the snow drenched mountains that march away into the distance. The mountain tops merging with the sky in an endless arc of glaring white, stunning.

Such days are few and far between and should be savoured all the more for it.

That aside, has anyone noticed that it’s only two weeks until Christmas!! Why didn’t anyone tell me…

As ever the calendar is already starting to bulge, I pick up my kilt on Wednesday for the office Christmas party on Saturday. Louise has her party the same night, handily in a hotel near my office so we are staying there rather than face the perils of a £40 taxi fare. I’ve still got a few presents to get, a couple for Louise and a few others. The car is in for a service a week today, and I think either one of us is out every night until Christmas Eve.

What is the rush I wonder?

Still, at least I have a couple of weeks at work to get my head sorted for next year and get some planning done. It’s a bit of a luxury and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

Free Software

Just in case you’ve missed these, TechSmith are giving away free versions of their software. Admittedly they are older versions but you can upgrade them for less than the full price of the newer versions.

Obviously they are hoping people will try them and like them enough to pay for the latest version:

TechSmith have another product, which will capture images and video as well; Jing is available for both Windows and OSX, but it seems to be primarily aimed at sharing the content online.

What I’d really like is Skitch for the PC.