Month: June 2009

The joy of the lyric

So, I posted a photo from it but I wanted to mention the Emiliana Torrini gig I attend last week. The venue, Oran Mor, is quite small and intimate, occupying the top floor of an old church and holding maybe 400-500 people, tops. The stage wasn’t set very high and, upon taking to it, the diminutive Ms. Torrini admitted she was a bit taken aback that everyone was ‘right there’.

Musically she’s a tricky one to pigeonhole. Her Icelandic roots make the leap to Bjork a bit too obvious and she’s certainly more grounded in traditional songwriting arrangements than her Icelandic counterpart, but that’s not to say it’s all acoustic guitars and winsome melodies. Her last album covers such tracks as well as a reggae tinged number as well as bringing a pop sensibility to things. It makes it her most accessible album and probably accounts for the range of ages in the audience.

But it’s her turn of phrase that caught my ear when I first chanced upon one of her tracks, and allows me to suggest that she’s not far short of Mr.Garvey (Elbow) for a nicely visioned lyric.

A good gig then, an excellent venue that was small enough to be intimate, and a pretty slick set from the band. Her voice, whilst sounding quite delicate at times, can certainly hold it’s own against 5 and 6 piece band, and her desire to give the audience the background story to most of the songs was endearing.

Not sure how she’d fair at a larger venue and whilst I hope she continues to build her fanbase (she’s released three albums so far) part of me hopes she sticks to this size of venue as it seems perfectly suited to her sound.


Is it wrong that a little part of me is a tad disappointed I didn’t quite manage to clock up 80 hours at work last week?

Is it wrong that when faced with a proper cooked dinner, served at approximately the normal time for said meal, that I wonder how on earth I’m going to eat it and couldn’t I just have a roll and ham, then some crisps, then some chocolate, then some more crisps, a few digestives (or whatever else I can find lying around)?

Is it wrong that I’ve spent a large part of today wondering what I’ve forgotten?

Is it wrong that because I’ve been working so much I’ve now got even more things to do? Things I didn’t get done at home, and things that cropped up last week at work that I didn’t have time for (and this week I’ve only, currently, got one morning and one afternoon to myself as it is).

And is it wrong that I’ve spent the last hour daydreaming of retiring early and going to live on a beach somewhere?

No, I don’t think it is either.

Coming soon…

As we approach the end of our migration from FrameMaker 7 to Author-it, I’m going to try and pull together some lessons learned, some tips, and useful links that I’ve found along the way. I’m not claiming to be an expert (I’ll leave that to Rhonda Bracey and Char James Tanny, amongst others!) but, as they say, a problem shared is a problem that you might just find via a Google search… or something like that…

Pre-empting this, I thought I’d open things up to anyone who might have any questions about the process we’ve gone through. So, if you want to know my thoughts on migrating content (how NOT to do it, perhaps?) or anything specific to Author-it then leave me a comment.

Over to you!

Bye bye STC

Before I say anything on this topic I’ll confess that I am not fully versed in the history of the organisation. I am not a member, this is merely my take on some of the blog posts I’ve read on this matter.

And there in is the my main point.

I’ve read a lot about the issues the STC are currently facing but have yet to read anything from the STC itself. No doubt there is an STC mailing list ablaze with such news but given the amount of negative press currently floating about on blogs and on Twitter I’ve yet to spy any sort of formal, or informal, word from the STC.

I’ll let you read into that what you will.

Elsewhere there are plenty of suggestions to solve the initial woes, and many ideas of how to help the STC modernise and become the organisation the members want and, as I’m not a member, I can allow myself to suggest that perhaps the time has come to wrapup the STC and let a new organisation grow from the ashes.

Those who are interested, and who believe our profession needs such an organisation will rally round and rebuild something. If there is not enough interest then perhaps that is a further indication that the STC has had its time.

I’m not suggesting that technical writers do not need an organisation like the STC, there are many many good benefits, and I’m fully aware there is a lot of history and hard work that has gone into creating and building the STC. But sometimes it’s better to cut your losses.

Of course, a large part of me hopes that it won’t come to that.

But I must admit, part of me is intrigued to see what would happen if it did.

New Bathroom

With only one minor hiccup, our new bathroom is now complete and usable and already stocked with new towels and other such things. It’s not big, or flash but it’s been long overdue and leaves only one more major job to get done before we have the entire house properly modernised.

Landing Pads

Helicopter landing pad

I’m guessing that you don’t want to miss that landing pad because if you do you’ll end up ditched in the ocean, floating around aimlessly and with no real idea of what to do next. Can you imagine how horrifying it would be if that happened? Floating there, unable to get back to land and with who knows what swimming around underneath you…

Yet this is the predicament that many users of online help find themselves in, having strayed into the online help they have been cast into an ocean of information with no real idea of how to get back to shore. Ohhh sure, we tell ourselves that the there is an easy way to get to the information they want through our carefully crafted Table of Contents, or perhaps a more direct route can be navigated using that Index you toiled over for hours, or better yet if they use the Search functionality they’ll find what they want. Right?

And, ultimately, yes these mechanisms work. If you know how an Index is structured you can quite quickly navigate to a keyword that probably matches the information you are searching for and should, hopefully, take you almost directly to the very help topic you need. Same goes for the Table of Contents although they are a little more prescriptive and you need to know what you are looking for to be able to find it, and of course the Search will provide you with several help topics that are, probably, what you are looking for.

Meanwhile the sharks have gathered and are nibbling at your feet!

At the UA conference last year, Matthew Ellison gave a presentation on what he termed “Keystone Topics” and in the Summer edition of the ISTC Communicator magazine (again, chock full of good stuff, it’s worth the price of membership alone if you ask me) Paul Filby covers something similar, outlining how to provide “The perfect help-system landing page”.

And so, with all of that in mind that is my task today (yes, a Saturday).

The concept is simple enough. You create a single topic that will be displayed to the user when they bash our old friend the F1 button. That topic is unique to the help system and, based on context, can be used to display a smarter set of links to potentially useful information. If you have the means you could display the most commonly viewed topics or, as I’m doing, you can point to the start of several paths covering the most commonly used areas of the product.

I don’t expect to get ours right the first time round, but hopefully the concept will work. I’m including a small addition to the foot of each such topic, asking users to contact us if they have improvements. It’s only on the landing pages but I’m hoping it might drive a nice little cycle of innovation with direct feedback from the users driving the content of the landing pages in the future.

Hopefully the landing pages will give our users some where dry to stand and survey the land a little, with clear signs to help them get to where they want to go.

Colour and smiles


The sun was shining when I left work, a great brilliant light, dazzling me as we started to commute home. I’d been in a foul mood shortly before but there is something about that light that lifts my spirits no end. Even sitting in the traffic jam in the one way system in Paisley I was still smiling away to myself.

Looking up at the skies, in the direction of home, there was nothing but grey clouds, big deep dark clouds that threatened rain, and the closer we got the darker they grew until the first few big fat spots started to fall. My smile vanished, my mood returned to grey.

It didn’t turn into more than a quick deluge but it was enough to soak the roads and, driving with the sun behind us, brought a wonderful, beautiful effect of nature into play.

Not only was there a bright and vivid rainbow overhead, but from the spray of each car in front of us a tiny fragment of colour flashed and glinted. It was quite mesmerising and beautiful.

At one point it even looked like the car in front of us had driven THROUGH the end of the rainbow, such was the brilliance of the colours. The smile was soon back on my face as I tried my best to capture this wonderful moment so I could repeat it later, but sometimes words just aren’t enough, nor are photos (Louise did try with her mobile phone though).

It’s a shame, I’d loved to have shared it with you.

So, with a spring in my step I fair bounded through the front door to find that our new bathroom has progressed well. Tiles on the walls, shower installed, units built and installed, new radiator in place and the new counter top basin in place, with the taps installed on the right of the sink.


We asked for the taps to go on the left.


The countertop was the last one in stock, the nearest other place that does them is in Edinburgh, but hey, that’s not my problem but will, no doubt, delay the job. The bathroom certainly won’t be finished tomorrow, and even Saturday might be pushing it.


Still, that rainbow was really something.

Dust covered

Home last night to view the latest bathroom work and we now have gyproc’d walls, floorboards and a bath. A great big, deep, long, WHITE, bath with centre mounted taps.

We also have a very dusty cat.

Whilst part of me knows that cliches are such because they are, usually, true, there is no doubting the fact that curiosity is very much in the nature of a cat. I think he’s explored every single inch of the stripped out bathroom that he can reach, including clambering up onto the windowsill to stick his head up the gap where the pipe work disappears into the loft and if he’d been able to I’ve no doubt he’d have clambered up in there.

He’s obviously a little stressed too with men in the house all day, thumping and crashing about, not to mention all the new smells and that big climbing frame that is currently in the hall (the stack of boxes containing tiles, sinks and other bathroom parts).

Oll-E does two things when he’s a bit stressed, he sleeps a lot and becomes a right wee sook *.

Whilst most nights he’ll sleep, well anywhere he wants really, including the occasionally venture onto the foot of the bed, last night found me lying on my side with a small black furry creature, purring loudly enough to wake the dead (but not Louise) curled up in the gap between my stomach and the edge of the bed.

Which is very cute but makes rolling over a tad tricky!