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helpstuff blog - August 2008

helpstuff blog

Helping end-users since 1981

Archives for: August 2008


Permalink 11:18:53 am, Categories: Cooking, 362 words   English (US)

Are you a good omnivore?

From Serious Eats comes a push to Very Good Taste, which posted The Omnivore's Hundred ("a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life").

If you don't recognize everything in the list, Wikipedia usually has the description. The goal is to try everything eventually, although you can cross out those things you plan on never trying.

From Very Good Taste:

  1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

Here's my take on the VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare
  5. Crocodile (actually, I had alligator)
  6. Black pudding
  7. Cheese fondue
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari
  12. Pho
  13. PB&J sandwich
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart
  16. Epoisses
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream
  21. Heirloom tomatoes
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters
  29. Baklava
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
  33. Salted lassi
  34. Sauerkraut
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar
  37. Clotted cream tea
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects
  43. Phaal
  44. Goat’s milk
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi
  53. Abalone
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (but not for years!)
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini
  58. Beer above 8% ABV
  59. Poutine
  60. Carob chips
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads
  63. Kaolin
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
  68. Haggis
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini
  73. Louche absinthe
  74. Gjetost, or brunost
  75. Roadkill
  76. Baijiu
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers
  89. Horse
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake

So...how good an omnivore are you?


Permalink 10:08:52 am, Categories: Just Stuff :-), 37 words   English (US)

Read "Anatomy of a Malware Scam"

Jesper Johansson, Microsoft Windows Security MVP, recently took the time to fully disect a malware spam that he found in a blog comment. If you blog...or if you click links!...you'll want to read this article.


Permalink 03:04:12 pm, Categories: Conferences, 178 words   English (US)

Upcoming conferences...

Q3 2008 is jam-packed with conferences that cover a variety of technical communication topics. Note that in some cases, the registration deadlines are coming soon!

  • UA Conference - Europe 2008. 18 to 19 September 2008 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Produced by Matthew Ellison Consulting in association with WritersUA, this two-day conference includes topics about language, tools and methodologies, wikis, portals, and more.
  • DocTrain EAST. 29 October to 1 November 2008 in Burlington, Mass, USA. This four-day conference, produced by Pubsnet, includes pre- and post-conference workshops that are included in the registration price. Topics include instructions on specific tool functionality and information on project management, content convergence, XML, and more.
  • tcworld conference. 5 to 7 November 2008 in Wiesbaden, Germany. Produced by tekom, this conference draws the largest number of technical communicators. Topics include processes, localization and translation, tool instruction, XML, and much more.
  • LavaCon, run by Jack Molisani in conjunction with Project Management Institute. 6-8 November 2008 in Honolulu, Hawaii, US. LavaCon includes proven best practices in the fields of technical communication and project management, presented in tracks. Topics include conflict resolution, XML and DITA, localization and translation, and more.

Good luck choosing :-)


Permalink 01:26:27 pm, Categories: User Assistance, 424 words   English (US)

Michael Hughes explains why he hates PDFs...

Do you know (or know of) Michael Hughes? If you don't, you should. Mike has all sorts of credentials (if that matters to you)...he also has a wealth of knowledge about usability and writes a column for UXmatters.

And he just wrote a blog post (that I wished I'd written) about how he hates online user manuals that are distributed as PDFs, especially those that are formatted for printing.

If you're going to distribute an online PDF as a user's manual instead of one of the many appropriate online formats, then at least make it easy for your users. Follow Mike's tips: set them up for simplex printing, not duplex. Make the page numbers match up so that page 100 in the PDF uses 100 as the page number that's displayed. Get rid of the "book" overhead like front and back covers.

In addition, I'd add a few more:

  • Don't use independent chapter numbering (where each chapter restarts from 1), unless your goal is to frustrate your users beyond belief. (Picture this: you open a PDF that's 300 pages long. You want to read the information in the last chapter before the appendices, which starts on page 6-1. As you look at the vertical scroll bar in the window, where do you think you should scroll to to find page 6-1? To the middle, maybe? To the end? What page number should you go to? Will you find 6-1 on page 100 of the PDF? Page 200? Page 295? Think of how much easier it would be to search for page 200 in a 300-page PDF, especially if page 200 is really the 200th page.)
  • Forget "picture-perfect" layouts. I don't mean that you should not care at all, but if your company isn't going to be printing these PDFs for your customers, then relax your standards a little. Don't require that every page element is perfectly placed. If you're not careful, you'll spend more time fixing layout issues and using up the budget before the content is finalized.
  • Put the "important but not a priority" stuff at the back. For example, copyright doesn't have to be at the front. Yes, copyright is important (see some of my other posts). But if a user is opening the PDF, it's typically not to read your copyright...it's to find the answer to a question. It's already a harder process than it needs to be because it's a PDF...moving this kind of content to the back makes it easier for the user.

(BTW, I find Mike very credible, even if he does provide quotes from The Gladiator. ;-))


Permalink 12:10:10 am, Categories: User Assistance, 429 words   English (US)

What's a topic?

Back in 1998, I defined topics as "'chunks' of information in a Help file that answer one question or provide focused, specific content." Ten years later, I typically use the same definition. However, there have been some changes in how those "chunks" are developed.

In the beginning, we mostly used Microsoft Word to create topics, where codes or styles in the doc file divided the output into topics. One topic in the Word file became one topic in the output. With the advent of HTML Help, we moved to HTML files, and what we saw in development was what we saw in the output. The best we could for reuse was using a topic in more than one place in the table of contents.

This was because most of us used file-based tools. But now we have more features. For example, snippets are included (or embedded) in the core topic. Variables let us define reusable bits of content (and sometimes we can override them when publishing). Build tags, conditional tags, and variants let us choose which topics are published. And when we publish, the file that we created in development becomes the file that is used for the output. (One exception would be those using Word for WinHelp, HTML, or HTML Help...but again, the topic that is defined in Word becomes the output topic.)

With XML, however, things are a little different. Topics in development may only be part of the topic that is published. For example, a topic may reference another topic. In development, you see the reference, and in the output, you see the topic.

And with XML and database tools, there's another level of differences. Topics are organized with maps or tables of contents. Different settings control if the individual topics in development will become individual topics in the output or if multiple topics in development will be merged to create only one topic in the output.

What I think we will be faced with is a terminology change. Sometimes I call topics in development "topic objects", as they may or may not be the final topic. These topic objects are still chunks of content, but now their content is determined by their reusability. (For great articles about reusability, see Michael Hughes' blog. He mostly focuses on DITA...after all, he works for IBM...the concepts can be used with any authoring tool.)

Do you use different terminology to explain the difference between topics in development and topics in the output? Do you think new terminology will help? Or will it just make this more confusing?


Permalink 10:14:33 am, Categories: Announcements, 104 words   English (US)

FrameMaker support lists

FrameUsers is dead. Again. Still. (I think.) For some reason, the fact that no one can access the site this week is causing consternation, yet as I understand it, the site hasn't been available for awhile.

To solve the problem, folks have been creating new user groups. Now, there's nothing wrong with user groups...I run several myself.

Thing is, a perfectly viable list is already available (and has been...it's not a new start-up).

So, if you need a place to talk about FrameMaker issues, visit OmniSystem's Free Framers group.

And for a more humerous take on this whole thing, visit TechCommDood's blog.

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