Thursday, May 26, 2011

LinkedIn Connection Timeline

I checked out the new LinkedIn tool for visualizing one's career over time. Results are here:

LinkedIn Connection Timeline

Insights I gained from this:
  • I need to convince my Hungarian dendrologist friends that they need to be on  LinkedIn, although I'm not sure they do. They are very well-connected within their own circles.
  • LinkedIn shows people I overlapped with in grad school, even though I did not know them in grad school, because they were at the same university at the same time.
  • Although I have connections to my current clients, they don't show up in the timeline because they don't work for Janet Egan Technical Writing. I'm not sure how to fix that.
  • I'm not sure what this visualization is useful for. What problem is it trying to solve?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

museum of printing

As part of the content development process for New England Day Trips At Hand, I visited The Museum of Printing in North Andover on Friday.

The Museum of Printing
The museum tells the story of producing printed documents starting with hand-set individual foundry type and ranging through mechanized hot-metal typesetting, offset printing, and computerized photo typesetters, where Massachusetts high-tech companies played a dominant role. The Merrimack Valley was actually a hotbed of innovation in computer typesetting at one point. Who knew?

an early press
There were lots of artifacts of 30+ year old computer technology related to typesetting. I didn't know I'd see one of those old removable disk packs in a museum of printing.  This one holds about 300MB. The micro-SD card in my phone holds more than 6 of these giant things.  I told the guide and the other visitors a story of lugging an RP06 pack the length and depth of The Mill one night when I had standalone time on a marketing machine in the fishbowl, when I was trying to reproduce a bug. Imagine carrying one of these things up and down 5 flights of stairs.
disk drive and removable disk pack
I posted some of these pictures on Facebook and got lots of comments from tech writer colleagues who remembered the print days.  That's when it dawned on me that back then content development was separate from production, kind of like the  division between writing and information architecture in the DITA model -- a schism, so to speak, sort of similar to the schism mentioned in  Sarah O'Keefe's predictions for 2011 back in January.
Interestingly enough, the museum had a copy of QuarkExpress in the old cardboard box with the old Quark logo, but they didn't have FrameMaker or (gasp, shudder) Interleaf. Given that FrameMaker is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, you'd think it would be a museum piece by now.

With the smart phone projected to be the primary means of content delivery real soon now, it will be interesting to see if content development and content delivery become two separate specialties like writing and printing were in the olden days.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More Points on Technical Writing (humor)

Looking for early references to technical writing and technical writers, I found this advice on how to develop a technical writer in an article written in 1920 by R. S. Mcbride in Engineering and mining journal, Volume 11 by American Institute of Mining Engineers. I particularly like the advice to "obscure your meaning, and you will become famous."

During the course of a dinner at which the members of the Bureau of Mines staff gathered recently, John L. Cochrane, the director of the Bureau's publicity division, was asked to discuss the following topic: "If you had the power to develop a writer of technical matter, what course would you adopt?" A portion of Mr. Cochrane's reply is as follows:

First of all I would catch him young and feed him on alphabetical crackers to insure that he became a man of letters. Then I would give him a careful diet of raw bull to strengthen his nerve—the one most essential thing to technical writing.

I would teach him that the other man in the same line of work is always wrong: can't possibly ever be right. (You could prove that through the fact that he indulges in technical writing.) I would attempt to teach him that clearness is fatal to any technical writer. I would drill into him daily, "Kid, obscure your meaning, and you will become famous." Then it will give you a convenient loophole to escape if you ever have to. If anyone attacks you then you can very easily call him '"another," because in reality you, yourself, if honest with yourself, as you sometimes should be, do not quite know what you mean yourself. In that way, you'll have it on him, even though he won't know. Anyway, conscience is sometimes convenient, even to a technical man.

If you want to throw a few additional smoke screens into the article, which is always desirable, puncture it with stars, asterisks, crosses and other mysterious marks, the harder to understand the better. Then have a number of footnotes that correspond, but mean nothing. Be sure that you refer as authority to some society that you defy him to find out anything about, such as "Flannigan in the May, 1852, proceedings of Erin-go-Bragh." Make it as difficult as possible for your reader to follow; that's genius.

And here is some advice that ought to be italicized: If you disagree with another author and want to pillorize him before your technical disciple (you really care about nobody else) put in an extra footnote and refer to him as the authority for something you know is wrong. If done naively, it has the effect of T.N.T. The ordinary effort of the layman in such matters is childish in comparison.

Always quarrel with your scientific brother in a dignified manner. Begin with, "May I have the honor to explain." The beauty about such open, gentlemanly controversy is that you may quite as often be as near right or as near wrong as the other fellow. I stress this, because I feel it is an important accomplishment in technical writing. How fully equipped is a technical writer who can tell a man he is a damn fool in language that leaves him flattered!

Then by all means, if you are a Government technical employee, have at least three or four other technical employees read critically your manuscript before it is ready for the printed page. The beauty here lies in the fact that when they get through with it all such annoying superfluities as personality of the author have disappeared. Don't bother about the lack of capabilities of those who read the manuscript. The chances are that unconsciously they may improve it, as in the case of the hitherto homely person who developed into a handsome man after a horse had stepped on his face. And during this process of critique, if you ever wince when they put the hot iron into your soul, you will never make a technical writer, and therefore there may be some hope for you.

And please remember as a technical writer that nothing is ever perfect. If you are in a great art gallery and the simple-minded folk are admiring the Venus de Milo in their crude, enthusiastic way, remember your training and take issue with the work. Suggest that it is not true to nature because it does not have one or two warts on the feet. Point out that there are no varicose veins on the leg.

I almost forgot to say that brevity, being the soul of wit, has no place in a technical article.

If the dream child that I have instructed (and he is no synthetic kid) can follow me, it may be said of him with apologies to Kipling "Then you'll be a man, my son; you'll be a man."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

mass innovation night #MIN26

The 26th Mass Innovation Night was another great time with lots of interesting people and products. I made the rounds of as many demo tables as possible,talking with 77Sparx and GaggleAMP about how marketing strategies, choosing colors for custom earbuds, and rehydrating with Biba.
The buzz at the tables just beginning
Doing a little research for the upcoming launch of our New England Day Trips at Hand app from At-Hand Apps, John and I chatted with 77Sparx, makers of educational mobile games for young children and toddlers about their marketing strategy, and checked out how GaggleAMP, social media amplification, might help us get our message out.

John of At Hand Apps talking with 77Sparx about their marketing strategy

77Sparx table in the Hall of Innovation
I ran into Sean from Biba Beverages, the ultra hydration soft drink, who still looks an  awful lot like one of my cousins, and met one of his investors.

Biba Beverages Investor
The Presenters
Presenters were:
  • CustomBuds -- Customizable headphones with up to 425,000,000 color combinations. That's a lot of colors. They're young and socially conscious. Impressive.
  • ViaClix –  Make TVs smarter, the Internet more relevant, and the whole thing more interactive.
  • GaggleAMP -- Amplifying your social media message by engaging your social network and the networks of all of your stakeholders.
  • Ripplefunction -- Getting the word out about events and putting people in the seats, again using your social network and the networks of your friends.
ItsmyURLs, online presence in a barcode, not only has a great concept but also had the best t-shirts.
It was quite a night for age diversity with 16-year old entrepreneurs presenting and retired executives from SCORE offering their experience in the Experts Corner. The folks from the local SCORE chapter obligingly posed for my "experts looking expert" shot.
Experts Looking Expert

Monday, May 9, 2011

the future is now

Started this post several days ago with this paragraph:
At the coffee shop I'm hanging out at this afternoon, a rap song on the sound system tells me some things change and some things stay the same. It also tells me this is Africa, but I'm pretty sure I'm in downtown Lowell. Anyway, change and lack of change are with us all the time wherever we are. Why do somethings change and others not? What's this got to do with technical communication? Well, you guessed it, in techcomm some things change and some things remain the same.
Was about to abandon it yet again when I noticed that some of the links being tweeted around today are from 2006 and 2008. Given that the world of #techcomm and social media changes every twenty minutes, what is up with recirculating stories from 3 or 5 years ago? I guess some things really do remain the same.

Computer Programming: Ten Skills Needed for Success from 2008 tackles the subject of learning new programming languages. With the exception of "top down thinking" and possibly  "ability to read specifications" the list of skills pretty much still applies in 2011.

Technical writing: the new black gold of India from 2006 makes note of the boom in technical writing in India.  How much has the tech writing field grown in India in the last 5 years? How much of that has been at the expense of tech writing jobs in the USA? Well, it's certainly still booming, still growing, according to Larry Kunz's blog post about the recent STC India Summit. It's hard to tell whether the boom in Indian techcomm is affecting the availability of tech writing jobs in the USA.  Depending on which blogs or listserves I read, techcomm in the northeast corner of the USA is either going to hell in a handbasket, already deader than a door nail, or just fine thank you. The same sources seem to regard techcomm in Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, and everywhere but here as still going strong in terms of number of jobs, but stuck in the mud as far as tools and media.

So what's a tech writer to do? Learn Drupal? Become a master of Facebook and Twitter? Move to India? Move to Silicon Valley? Learn Joomla? Take up UX design? Set the way back machine to 1968?  We will always need to learn knew skills and languages. We may need to move more often to follow the jobs. The main point is:

The future is now. We are here now.  Il faut cultiver notre jardin.