Really. I just needed a conference this fall.

Sarah O'Keefe / ConferencesLeave a Comment

In reviewing our conference schedule for this year, we noticed that conference events were front-loaded in the spring: WinWriters in March, TriDoc in April, and STC in May.

I decided we needed to find another conference this fall. Conferences are an important marketing and networking opportunity for us. Some large percentage of our clients first met us because they attended a conference presentation.

I found the following without too much difficulty (this was back in April or so):

  • tekom and the concurrent European Information Development Conference, Wiesbaden, Germany, November
  • STC Region 5 Conference, Arizona, November
  • LavaCon, Hawaii, September

I’ll give you one second to figure out which one I picked. And then I’ll provide some additional justification for my junket to Hawaiichoice of LavaCon.

  1. tekom requires presenters to submit papers for the conference proceedings. tekom takes the copyright to those materials. (This is similar to STC’s policy, but the papers are optional for the STC proceedings. This, by the way, is why so many presenters do not provide materials to STC.) It’s expensive to fly to Germany and, in November, it’s going to be COLD.
  2. STC Region 5. More appealing than Germany on the weather front. But again, we have the presenter policies. This time, presenters are not required to register for the conference in order to present. If they do, though, they receive a 20 percent discount off the cost of admission. A 20 percent discount is really not enough to get me on a plane. I suppose it might cover airport parking.
  3. LavaCon has a trade show component. tekom does as well, but was ruled out due to item #1 above.
  4. LavaCon is primarily targeted at managers, and managers are usually the people who hire us. Also, any manager who can get approval for a trip to Hawaii is clearly someone who knows how to get things done.

Here are some things that I would like to see more conference organizers do:

  • Provide clear information about proposals, proposal deadlines, and proposal criteria. Tell us what you are looking for.
  • Keep the proposal submission deadline as close as possible to the conference. (The proposal deadline for the May 2006 STC conference is August 2005. No wonder it’s hard to find cutting-edge presentations.)
  • Be reasonable about speaking compensation. I prefer conferences at which I get paid to speak (or at least get travel reimbursement), but I will certainly consider others. Understand that increased speaker compensation results in better proposals and more speakers to choose from.
  • Be reasonable about materials and copyrights. We’re in the publishing industry and should understand that content has value. Asking me to give up the copyright to a presentation or proceedings paper–without compensation–is a deal-breaker.
  • Don’t schedule conferences on weekends. A Friday-Saturday conference says that the conference content isn’t compelling enough for attendees to justify two days away from work. I consider conference presentations work–difficult work–and I really don’t like working on Saturdays.

I should mention that two professional conference organizers–Joe Welinske of WinWriters and Jack Molisani of LavaCon–are great to work with and really understand the concerns of their speakers.

Well. I feel better. See you in Hawaii…

Was it something Adobe said?

Sarah O'Keefe / ReviewsLeave a Comment

First, Microsoft announces Metro, the alleged “PDF Killer.” Now, we have Acrylic, which is supposed to take on Photoshop and possibly Illustrator.

Early reaction is not too positive:

Softpedia news

[T]he list of unpleasant surprises continued: difficult menus placed in the strangest locations, the absence of the preview option for functions like Brightness and Contrast or for filters and so on. I think the developers wanted to copy functions from Adobe Phostoshop and Illustrator, and maintain in the same time the impression of originality. Unfortunately, they’ve failed.

[Forest] Key, [a group product manager in Microsoft’s developer division] maintained that Acrylic still could be used by professionals. “The vast majority of users rasterize their files and then incorporate them into other applications,” he said. He added that Microsoft “has had some pro-level graphics tools in the past.” He pointed to PhotoDraw and tentatively added Microsoft Paint to the list.

Paint. Oh, definitely. Adobe is quaking in their boots at that one.


Although the software has only been available for a short time, some testers have already complained via Acrylic’s public forums about what they see as the poor quality of the release.

“This preview just shows me an unpolished, poorly laid out graphics editor that acts more like a glorified (Microsoft) Paint, rather than any type of competition to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro,” wrote one user.

Final recommendation: Stay as far away from Acrylic as you can. It needs so much development work done, it shouldn’t be out of Alpha testing. If this is anywhere close to the final product they are planning to release, then Microsoft should be prepared to eat another few million in lost development funds. There’s no reason you should have to eat it too.

Never write off Microsoft, but this one isn’t looking too good.

Making Friends with XSL

Sarah O'Keefe / News1 Comment

I have a pattern of learning things The Hard Way. That is, get a book, dive in, and just do it. Eventually, some order emerges from the chaos, and one day, it all starts to make sense. This approach has failed once or twice — my ill-fated attempts to learn Perl come to mind.

When I needed to learn XSL a few years back, I expected something like the Perl experience — a language that was unintuitive, annoying, and occasionally painful. To my surprise, I discovered that I actually like XSL!

The XSL language is build on templates. You define a processing template for each element in your XML source file. This means that you can build up your XSL transformation a little bit at a time. You can start with the easy search and replace stuff and move up to more challenging issues, such as building hyperlinks from cross-references, creating tables of contents, and sorting indexes.

In September, I will be teaching our first Transforming XML Content with XSL class. The class will build up just as I’ve described, starting with the easy stuff and moving up to rather complex transformation requirements. We will focus on things that need to be done for publications: paragraphs, inline elements, inline tables of contents, navigation, indexes, and attractive formatting.

I’m interested in feedback on the syllabus.

Oh, let this be an aberration…

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

Today, a caller inquired about configuring FrameMaker on a server. I told her that required a special server license from Adobe. “Oh, but we don’t want to buy copies of FrameMaker for everyone’s workstation. That would be ridiculous!”

It turns out that Anonymous New Yorker (trust me, you couldn’t miss the accent) has purchased one copy of a FrameMaker training workbook, which she plans to provide to her entire office. “They’ll be sharing.”

I declined to provide instructions on how to best configure this server-based installation, pointing out that Adobe’s license — and ours — does not allow such usage.

ANY’s response? “Well, I’ll see how it goes, and if I have any problems, I’ll call your tech support department.”

A suggestion: If you’re planning to use software illegally, don’t call me for advice. And please don’t rub it in by pointing out that you weren’t willing to cough up a measly $119 per employee.

So, how about it, readers? Is this just how the world works?

The State of the Tools

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

The state of the XML tool universe is…strange.

In one corner, we have enterprise tools with enterprise price tags and enterprise implementation costs. This corner consists of the following

  • Big, expensive content management systems (think Vasont and Documentum)
  • Big, expensive served-based content production systems (think Arbortext)
  • Massive, expensive implementation effort

And in the blue corner? Open source tools for those of you who like to tinker (or “basteln” as the Germans say):

  • Open source content management
  • Open source XML editors (list includes commercial, free, and open source tools)
  • Open source XSL processors (Saxon, FOP)
  • Massive tinkering to glue everything together

In the middle? A couple of commercial tools that offer:

  • Lower implementation cost
  • Less automation than the enterprise level
  • More production-ready out of the box than the free stuff

Currently, I think only FrameMaker and maybe XMetal fall into this category.

Finally, we have the category of Tools that Save Content in XML But Aren’t XML Authoring Tools. These include AuthorIT and the not-yet-released MadCap Flare. They are either XML-based (Flare) or can produce XML (AuthorIT). But they do not meet my definition of an XML authoring tool, a tool that allows you to define a structure and then create content that follows your structure.

All in all, the current state of the tools just seems odd. The vast majority of content creators who need XML must fall somewhere between the extremes of enterprise-level implementation and the “build-your-own” approach. And yet, the buzz seems to be at the edges or with the We Produce XML Files category.

What am I missing?

Open-Source Sunrise?

ScriptoriumTech / OpinionLeave a Comment

Jim Rapoza at eWeek had an interesting suggestion in regard to the Adobe/Macromedia merger. He notes that the sorting and sifting that follows most software mergers leads to some products fading away. Some actually get a funeral but often there is simply a loss of interest. Rapoza suggests turning over these orphans to the open-source community.

This probably sounds like folly. Companies just don’t do this sort of thing. However, IBM has certainly demonstrated that moving technology to the open source community can be a valid business strategy.

I have seen an acquiring company become “a deer in the headlights”–as the cost of maintaining/enhancing a product is weighed against the cost of offending customers by killing it. The latter cost isn’t taken lightly since these customers probably license software from both companies. It is not unusual to see critical business applications and processes that have been built around the specialty tools that are most likely the targets of such “alignments”. The integration investment often significantly exceeds that of the underlying tools.

Just a few short years ago this wasn’t even an option. Perhaps Rapoza is onto something.

Tech writers in the media

Sarah O'Keefe / NewsLeave a Comment

I was listening with half an ear to NPR’s Weekend Edition when the puzzler segment came on. During the interview, we hear that the winner, Judy from Lexington, Mass., “leads a group of technical writers at Sybase.” After that, they had my undivided attention as Judy made her way through a tricky set of questions.

I’ve always thought that technical writers and other professional word people should be good at these puzzles. This is the first time I’ve heard a player identified as a technical writer.