Month: October 2008

News Headlines

Gosh, things are bad aren’t they. Awful. Credit Crunch apparently. No no, recession now. Or is it still a ‘downturn’? Hey it can’t be bad, did you hear the profit announcment from BP?

Enough of that, what about Brand and Ross? What a fuss! Fine them and be done with it. Everyone knows what they are like, and whilst that’s no excuse (and they should be dealt with) is it really the only news of the day?

What about the preview of Windows 7? No?

OK, a cat update. Last night he brought us a dead mouse and this morning, as I opened the front door to leave the house, he appeared with a tiny dead bird. Now I’ve had words with him about this before so he knew fine well that I would be taking the bird from him and disposing of it immediately.

I’m sorry but he needs to learn. Anyway, I have promised him that, the day he brings home a bloody magpie (in every sense of the word), he is free to de-feather, disembowel and generally torture the noisy thing all he likes.

And finally, Pro Evolution Soccer is taking some getting used to but it’s slowly winning me over.

Ummmmm.

So.

How are you?

RunKeeper



runkeeper, originally uploaded by Gordon.

First run with this and it’s BANG on the money, you can even see which side of the road I ran down. Brilliant.

It’s still early days, and doesn’t have the same depth of information that a website like Fetch does but it’s quick and works far better than the Nike+ website.

How do we move to single source?

I’ve waffled on about single source and our plans for long enough so, as we are finally starting the process itself, I thought I’d capture some information as we go along. However, it’s probably good to set the scene, so I’ll cover that stuff first. Over time you’ll be able to see all the posts related to this work here.

How? – how do we do it?

Once we’d agreed that single source would provide us with a good solution (it’s still not ideal, but nothing ever is..) the next question was “How?”.

Having followed the technologies in this area quite closely over the past few years my immediate thoughts went towards a DITA enabled solution. The basic topic types and methodologies fit well with an Agile environment so there would be fairly immediate benefits once we got the system up and running. We spent some time investigating our content and planning how best to leverage DITA to our advantage and once we were happy that it would meet our needs (with less over head than adopting DocBook) we looked at the technological challenges of adopting a DITA based system.

And that’s where we hit the biggest block. DITA is an excellent methodology but still lacks simple/cheap tooling support (it would take upwards of several thousand to fully implement a DITA solution, whereas a bespoke solution could cost considerably less). Other considerations (we have JavaHelp as our online help format) also came into play and, after some investigation of other XML based tools we decided to go with Author-it and base our working practices around the DITA methodology and topic types.

We did consider upgrading our legacy applications (FrameMaker and Webworks) and configuring them to give us a solution that would meet our needs but even the rough estimates for that work took us beyond the cost of our chosen solution.

One caveat to this is to note that I have used Author-it previously and, whilst it is not without its foibles (which application isn’t) it hits the sweet spot of functionality versus cost. None of the rest of the team have used it but that would be the same for any other new tool and was considered as an upside to keeping the FrameMaker + Webworks solution.

A second caveat is that I’m fully aware that, in due time the tool vendors will get on top of this problem (MadCap already seem to be ahead of the others in this area), but alas the timescales don’t suit us. Worst case scenario is that we ditch Author-it in a few years, export the content to DITA XML and import to a compatible tool that meets whatever needs we have at that time.

Aimee Mann

It was my first visit to the Old Fruitmarket venue in Glasgow last night, to listen to ‘that woman who had several songs on the soundtrack of Magnolia’, Aimee Mann.

I can’t quite remember how I discovered her, but it was only recently that I purchased her previous album Bachelor No.2 and, quite liking it, I soon found I was a bit late to this party. She won’t tick the boxes for everyone and if I’m honest I’m surprised I like her enough to go and see her live.

Still, she has a way with lyrics that I like and a knack similar to Guy Garvey for capturing gorgeous imagery even if she is overly preoccupied with the freaks and failures of life. She does have a great ear for a tune and last night she picked several songs from her new album which does feel a little more upbeat than previous offerings.

The Old Fruitmarket is a small venue so the night had a nicely intimate feel to it, although it probably helped that I was four rows from the front. Aimee has a nice laidback on-stage persona which lends itself to a low key gig that felt well paced and never rushed. I admit I was expecting things to be a little ‘rockier’ than they were but it was far from a disappointment.

Halfway through the main set, she asked for requests and considering how they stumbled through “Dear John” (it took a member of the audience to remind her of the opening line) it was certainly a genuine performance. Supported by a very slick band it was a surprise when they reached the end of their main set, time flies and all that.

Back out for four songs, all requests and then off to politely raucous applause (everyone stayed seated), it was an intimate if somewhat removed show. Highlights included the requested singing of one of my favourite songs, 4th of July, and a solo acoustic version Red Vines which was mesmerising and hauntingly gorgeous.

On not running

Not jogging today as I have a twinge in my back. It happened at some point at work on Friday, just a wee tweak of a muscle I’m sure but I really don’t want to risk it. I’ll try to go out tomorrow night I think.

The jogScotland programme helps when this happens, it’s a slow build from one level to another, so missing one run doesn’t set you back. This morning I had planned, after my run, to go and support some co-workers who are running a local 10K with the aim of supporting Cancer Research. I might still wander down…

But having looked at the weather, maybe not. It’s one thing to go for a run in the howling gales and lashing rain that we’ve experienced this past week, quite another to just stand about it in. A lot of people have expressed amazement that I enjoy running in the rain and the only way I can explain it is to say that it’s very much like being a kid again. Sploshing through puddles and not worrying about getting dirty, it’s fab!

The wind? Yeah not so much, and I’ve already got the running tights looked out for the first of the snow.

What? Ohhh shut up…

Why we are moving to single source

I’ve waffled on about single source and our plans for long enough so, as we are finally starting the process itself, I thought I’d capture some information as we go along. However, it’s probably good to set the scene, so I’ll cover that stuff first. Over time you’ll be able to see all the posts related to this work here.

Why? – why single source?

A quick summary of our current situation. We currently maintain (and add to) ~2000 pages of documentation. The same content is used for both the PDF manuals and the online help provided with the product (exactly the same, no restructuring). There are various levels of coverage (some good, some bad), we are embedded within an Agile development environment, limited publications resource. On top of that we have an aggressive release schedule and a two-tier product which includes a development kit and an application built by us using that development kit.

Whilst we have made good strides in improving how we work with the software developers – we have a technical writer embedded in each new feature team and the benefits are evident from both sides – we know we need to be focussing our efforts in the correct areas, and providing information in a structure and format that meets the needs of our audience. Luckily we have direct access to the largest section of the audience as they work for the company.

Better structured information is one of the requests, and to allow us to get the most of our current documentation we would need to reuse a lot of the content we have already, but it’s locked away in FrameMaker files, sometimes in the depths of a 100 page long chapter. What to do?

Ultimately we believe that the ability to reuse our content will make producing the content faster – the current documentation set is unwieldy and hard to search, a little digging reveals some duplication already exists – and make us much more flexible when it comes to providing useful sets of information for our audience/customer.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that we already single source our documentation and online help from the same FrameMaker files, but as we don’t reconstruct the online help into something more intuitive and useful it is, essentially, an HTML rendition of the manual. Not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

My name is important

If you get a moment go check out www.mclean.com or for that matter www.mclean.co.uk. I own neither unfortunately.

Both are high-level domains, both are classed as desirable (read, expensive) and both are currently being used… for nothing. Well I’m sure they bring in money for the person who owns them and has them sitting their forlornly with nothing but adverts on them.

It’s rather sad.

And very bloody annoying.

I pay for the domain names I have and I don’t mind doing so but having contacted the owners of these particularly domain names, domain names which obviously I might, maybe, be interested in using (dear first time reader, let me introduce myself, I’m Gordon McLean). Alas I’ve either heard nothing or the topic turnst to money and some rather large amounts are mentioned.

So, I’m setting up a blog appeal to raise sufficient fu…. no, I’m not really.

I just wanted to say that, you know, it’s annoying. My Mum and Dad have put HUGE amounts of effort into tracing our genealogy and where better to start putting the information than in the domain name for our family.

To be frank it just seems mean that these people are allowed to sit on these domain names and do nothing with them or than earn money for hosting adverts. Isn’t the internet supposed to be better than that?? They are the worst kind of leech and whilst I know that this blog post isn’t going to change their opinion (I’m sure they will point to the $xyz dollars they earn each year by sitting on those domains) it’s just a bit… crap.

iPhone Apps

I’m still loving my iPhone, despite it’s foibles (why can’t I send a link of my current location from the Maps application to another iPhone user? Or even a weblink to Google maps? Or.. you get the point).

To capture my current usage I thought I’d jot down the apps I currently have installed. Because, you know, blogs, lists.. etc etc. So without further ado other than the default applications my iPhone runs:

  • Twitterific – paid version – still a little buggy but easily the most used application other than the SMS and phone functionality.
  • Mobile Fotos – after ditching my Windows Mobile phone a couple of years ago, one thing I missed was Shozu which allows you to upload your photos to Flickr. Shozu is available for the iPhone but Mobile Fotos is a more rounded application.
  • Digital Clock – I have a dock, and can set this application running, set an alarm (turn on Airport mode) et voila, my own alarm clock. Oh yeah, you need to change the screen timeout as well. ONE app to do all of those settings would be worth money to me.
  • Instapaper – paid version – a simple bookmarklet which I was already using to track articles to read later on. The iPhone app lets me read them when I get a few spare moments (yeah, on the loo!).
  • Airsharing – free version (was only available free for a limited time) – lets me easily moves files to and from the iPhone meaning I can do away with my other USB drives.
  • Zenbe – a list application that syncs from the iPhone app to my online Zenbe account and vice versa. Has replaced TaDa lists for me purely because of the iPhone app.
  • Here I am – a simple app that emails your current location (long/lat). Haven’t used it much, kept ‘just in case’.
  • Movies – to quickly find the latest movie times, not used often but v.useful.
  • Palringo – a bit like Trillian, lets me log into multiple chat clients on my iPhone. Not used often.
  • Light – cos sometimes you need a completely white screen when you don’t have a torch handy.
  • VNC – so I can VNC to my computer. Works FAR better than you’d think!
  • WeightTrack – in an effort to lose some weight I thought I’d gadget/geek up and use my iPhone. Had the application for 3 weeks and entered 2 weights so far. Must do better!
  • iChoose – a coin flipper/decision maker type app. Silly but.. MAY be useful someday?
  • Cube Runner – simple tilt based game. Navigate the ‘ship’ through the cubes as you fly through them.
  • Lightsaber – ohhh shut up. I’m a geek and I like Star Wars, I can’t NOT have this on my phone!
  • iPint – really should delete this…
  • Monkey Ball – another tilt based game, guide the monkey in the ball through the courses. Simple, frustratingly hard!
  • Brain Challenge – a nice diversion which has the added benefit of stimulating your brain, keeps track of your progress too.
  • HoldEm – poker game which is curiously addictive and has helped me understand poker a LOT better.
  • Oblique – an iPhone app of the Brian Eno Oblique Strategy cards designed to inspire you to think different.
  • Last.fm – installed after a recommendation, have yet to do much with it.
  • Simplify – iPhone app to hook into the Simplify Media server which runs on my home computer (primarily to let my PS3 see my ‘media’).
  • TV Plus – tv listing application that can hook up to your Sky account and send remote record requests! VERY slick and waaaayyyy better than the sky website. In saying that I think my Sky box needs set up again or something as it’s not managed to work for me, yet.
  • PhotoFrame – nice idea this, if you set the screen timeout to never turn off, run this app you get a digital clock, date and picture slideshow. Only 6 photos at present but looks good. Another app that would be way better if IT could change the settings for the screen timeout (if it’s docked and getting power, leave the screen on).
  • Exposure – location based photo app (amongst other things) which I don’t really use. Can pull Flickr photos based on location… interesting but not hugely useful.
  • Vicinity – location based app that will give you listings of useful numbers (restaurant, taxi and so on) depending on where you are. Not often used but COULD prove useful in the future.
  • Google – quicker than firing up Safari and going to the search bar there, that’s the only reason I use it.

I also have home screen links to Google Reader and the new iPhone optimised Flickr webpages

Blimey, that’s more than I thought. There are a couple there I should remove and I’ve installed at least twice as many as listed here but ultimately these are the ones that currently work for me.

I know a few of you have iPhones (and yes I know a few of you think they are over-hyped) so do let me know if I’m missing out on the MUST HAVE application, won’t you?

Back on track

Whilst I can’t say the words are flowing all that freely the past few hectic weeks are behind me and, whilst the next few are still full of plenty of things that need done/attend, they are all mostly things I can envisage and plan for so that, somehow, seems like things are better.

Which makes it sound like things were bad, they weren’t, just busy (and even then a lot of that busyness was mainly in my head).

So. Hello! Welcome to my blog.

Ohhh now there’s a thought. I wonder what it must be like to start a blog afresh, free from conceptions and restrictions, a blank canvas on which to paint which version of myself I choose, an empty space to fill with those areas of my mind which I keep closed off to even myself.

Might be interesting.

But no, don’t bother searching, I don’t have an anonymous blog. Not yet…

Twitter remains a good outlet for the odd random thought and nonsense, which oddly should allow this this blog to go full circle back to the origins which brought it to life. I even switched away from having a miniblog once twitter came along, although I still share links via my delicious account.

But I guess the comforting thing is that my blog has never really had a distinct focus, and as it took quite a while for me to figure out what my ‘voice’ was, I have the luxury of blogging about whatever I want, whenever I want. Doubly so now my other blog is given over to more considered posts centred around my profession.

That said, I did recently clear out a load of old draft posts that I’ve kept hanging about for months in the vague hope I might one day complete but as I’ve not managed that up to now I decide, what the heck, and bye bye draft post.

I’m hoping to take a little more time to consider my posts here, and part of me covets a Post of the Week award, mainly for the pleasure I get from writing. But hey, don’t count on it. Knowing me the next few posts will be about my iPhone.

Ohhh, actually, now I come to mention it…

Changing Roles

Where does the ‘documentation manager’ fit in an organisation?

As our company grows and we push ourselves to be better it is envitable that some people will end up in slightly different roles than they envisaged. Thankfully my current company isn’t too bogged down on job titles and org charts, preferring to make sure that roles and responsibilities are defined and allow people to get on with getting things done.

So, I currently find myself conducting a mini content audit, across most of the company, in an effort to find the big gaps that may or may not exist (ok, that definitely do as every company has them) and working with a couple of other people in different areas of the company to make it happen.

It’s a switch away from concentrating on writing and managing the product documentation but it is an area I’ve long since considered something that someone in my position SHOULD be driving forward.

This exercise has given me the opportunity to touch base with most other areas of the company, and it’s telling that very few have a full product view. In fact I’d say it’s fair to say that none of them have (and rightly so) and so I often find myself pointing out that documentA is already in progress by teamB, so teamX doesn’t need to do write their own.

It also means that, once we have finished the audit and written up the missing information, we should have a cohesive and complete story through all the various touching points our customers have with our company. It should make our offering easier to sell, easier to understand and back up the fact that our product is excellent and our staff are a bunch of smart people!

I have a double interest at play here though, as I also have a developer community which I need to feed far more regularly than I have been, so any content is ‘good content’ as far as they are concerned.

An interesting time which, once again, reminds me why I love this profession of ours, after all who else gets to stick their finger in so many pies.