Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dennis Ritchie Day

The power vested in Tim O'Reilly has decreed today Dennis Ritchie Day. C and UNIX is the underlying "stuff" that makes the modern world work. Slashdot's post makes the point that this is a reaction to the overreaction to Steve Jobs' death. However, if we only appreciate Dennis Ritchie in the light of comparing his contribution to that of Steve Jobs we're missing the point that much important work has gone unrecognized. Dennis and the Bell Labs folks built on the contribution of Ken Olsen who died earlier this year, and though his passing was acknowledged by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the media did not make nearly enough fuss about the depth of the change that DEC brought to the world. KO was a modest man. dmr was a modest man. Neither were showmen. Yet, we stand on their shoulders to this very day.
One of  funniest moments of my life involved a reference to Dennis Ritchie. I was signing copies of Writing a UNIX Device Driver at a  LUG meeting in Nebraska when someone said that meeting me was second only to meeting Dennis Ritchie. Given that I am not worthy to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Dennis Ritchie, I responded with stunned silence followed by nervous laughter. Fortunately, other attendees also laughed because Dennis Ritchie was such a modest man that he would not have enjoyed being lionized either. We all had a good laugh.
The Onyrix blog posted a wonderful picture of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson working at a PDP-11. That photo totally expresses what I just tried to say above about the link between the contributions of the Bell Labs folks and DEC.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, October 17, 2011

misleading technical writing in 1898

I came across this article while perusing 19th century tech writing on Google Books.  My favorite line is
"But the difference between the mistake of a competent writer, and the absurd effusions of one ignorant concerning his topic, is very marked."
Here's the whole article for your #techcomm amusement:

Misleading Technical Writing

The above is the caption of an opportune editorial in the American Machinist.
The writer quotes, for example, two answers to questions, taken from contemporaries, which are, he claims, misleading and absurd. He deplores, and rightly, too, the fact that publishers of technical journals will maintain departments without competent editors.

The position of the American Machinist is, of course, correct in this matter.

If only well-informed men were to read the writings of the would-be teacher of what he himself does not understand, little harm might follow, except the loss of the reader's time—and temper. But it is the uninformed that have the greatest need of the technical Journals' helpfulness, and, therefore, to be misinformed through this channel is, to such, a great misfortune, and an inexcusable outrage.

Of course, as the editor says, all writers will make mistakes; and, it may be added, they will also speedily correct them if they know how.

But the difference between the mistake of a competent writer, and the absurd effusions of one ignorant concerning his topic, is very marked.

It is the duty of the technical journal to teach the best practice, and for a publisher to be careless in this respect is dishonorable.

We have read articles on foundry practice, written by men who, of course, were strangers to the "sand-heap," whose only merit was that they afforded amusement to the knowing reader. These could be excused but for the fact that the unknowing must he misled.

Obviously, this evil is hard to combat; but it will be well to publish wide the fact that it exists, and so, wise publishers will therefore be on the alert to weed out the incompetent members of tbeir staff.

The Foundry, Volume 13 -- 1898

the Twitter feed is back

After removing it because it didn't work with Internet Explorer, I have put the Twitter Updates feed back in again. I'll try to remember to start tweeting things as @eganwriter again to display them on this blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Launch (#MIN31 part 2)

One of the highlights of #MIN31 was a tour of Launch@CenturySuites, a brand new shared office space at TradeCenter 128.  I've been scouting out co-working spaces in anticipation of needing to move my freelance tech writing business out of my house, so have been keen to check out Launch.

MIN attendees checking out Launch

In a convergence of good luck and hard work, the rain held off for us to trek across the parking lot and the folks at Launch had all the finishing touches added just in time for Wednesday's event.  The designer (in the orange sweater) pointed out features and told us which walls weren't there Tuesday night. We were impressed.

Everybody looking around

Launch offers a variety of month-to-month plans and prices, making it affordable for entrepreneurs and freelancers to get out of the house, get connected with like-minded people, and get their business to the next level. There are open desk plans, reserved desk plans, conference rooms by the hour, and day rates. The Launch website describes the options very well. Do check it out.

Desks and conference areas
All the important office amenities are available: fax, copying, WiFi, and coffee and shower access.  They even have the same balloon alien that I have in my home office! Guess I won't need to bring mine with me.
Launch Reserved Desk Area
There's plenty of whiteboard space for brainstorming, several conference areas for meetings,  storage lockers for premium customers, and access to a lobby and reception area. space can accommodate about 20 people. You can even get mail service for an additional fee.

Being at TradeCenter 128 is almost like being in a small city. There are places to eat, the obligatory Dunkies, dry cleaning, bank, medical offices, and access to public transportation. All that and close proximity to the global headquarters of Carlton PR and Marketing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Successful Mass Innovation Night #MIN31

Wow! A huge space, big screen, tablecloths, an excellent food spread, and a great atmosphere for Mass Innovation Night at Trade Center 128.  Cummings did a great job hosting this month's event. I toured the new Launch co-working space at Century Suites too.
A Huge Space and a Huge Screen Await the Crowd - Note Percussion CM1 Table on the Right

It was an eclectic lineup of new products with mac n cheese, design-your-own shoes and bags, social media analytics, content management, kids' arch supports, and more. It's fun to see the diversity of entrepreneurship happening in Massachusetts these days. The size of the space made it easy to get around to everybody and check out their products. I always enjoy talking to people about their products, even if they're not techies. I love a good geeky talk about content management and love mac n cheese, but it's fascinating to talk to people about how fast kids outgrow their shoes, designing your own handbags and shoes, and the service economy too.
Sarah from Good Tastes <3 Mac & Cheese
Sarah from Good Tastes was handing out samples of awesome frozen mac n cheese. I tried the Brie & Fig and the Wild Mushroom and can't wait to get some more of the Brie & Fig.

Shoes and Handbags
Imagine designing your own shoes and bags. That's exactly what Open Runway lets you do. It is a "design your own fashion" platform where you can create and share your own made to order handbags and shoes.
Speaking of shoes, why is it that all the innovations in kids' sneakers are about bling and not about comfort? Kids need comfort too.  Arch Angels® are the first children’s comfort insole on the market designed specifically to meet the needs of active children’s feet.

Arch Angels
The four presenters were:
The crowd packed the space for the presentations, some even watching from the stairs or upstairs in the Experts Corner.
The Crowd
It's about time somebody came up with a tool to help you use Twitter to reach the audience you want. Terametric Optimizer for Twitter does just that, integrates real-time analysis with guidance on what to tweet, when to tweet it, and whom to target on message. They also had nice swag, with T-shirts and hats.  Since this wasn't a Cambridge event, they weren't actually wearing the T-shirts, but I'll award them best costume anyway because nobody was doing the matching shirt thing this time.

There are a ton of Content Management products out there, but small to medium enterprises are still spending too much on 3rd party services firms to roll out and update their online presence. Percussion CM1 returns the power of content management to the content owner  with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface.  Marketers can manage just about every component of their site without a whole lot of web expertise. The folks from Percussion were fun to talk to and had good swag, with yo-yos and pens and stuff in bright orange. One thing I have observed at MIN and other events is that geeks love orange. I don't know why, but they do.

The Experts Corner was upstairs and the experts were looking expert as always.
Experts Looking Expert

What if drawing a sophisticated diagram online were as intuitive as drawing it on a piece of paper or a white board? Grafpad is a web app for creating legible diagrams online that combines the simplicity of drawing your concept/idea on paper with the power of applications like Visio. It uses image recognition to let you draw by hand instead of fiddling with complex menus. You don't need a manual and training to draw your idea on a napkin. The app is essentially a smart napkin. Those who remember how much of computing technology was designed on napkins can't help but appreciate the simplicity of Grafpad.
It was great meeting Leo from VKW Virtual Knowledge Workers, trying out Ravid's simple video messaging application, and chatting with Jon from Splitwise too. I had so much fun at #MIN31 that it won't all fit in one blog post! Stay tuned to this space for more on my tour of Launch and more on virtual knowledge workers.
Leo from VKW
Networking at MIN31

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the consultation of many works of reference

Nobody at all conversant with the subject requires to be told that any technical writing needs the consultation of many works of reference, as indeed does the general work of a Botanic Garden.

-- Botany bulletin By Queensland. Dept. of Agriculture and Stock 1897

another 19th century #techcomm quote

Technical subjects don't admit of much sentiment, and technical writers do best who deal only with matters of fact. Any attempt to wrap technical writing in ambiguous language, detracts from its usefulness and lessens its value; it was truly written :—
"Of writing well, these are the chiefest springs. To know the nature, and the use of things"
From The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works, Volumes 6-7 By Society of Estate Clerks of Works, London -- 1893