Sarah O'Keefe / News1 Comment

We have watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with horror. North Carolina has some experience with killer hurricanes, such as Fran (1996) and Floyd (1999).

Katrina will be an least an order of magnitude worse than Floyd, with deaths numbered in the thousands, not the hundreds. The devastation is unimaginable.

Please consider a donation to the Red Cross.

We have some space available in our Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, office. If you know of a displaced technical writer who needs a temporary office, please have them contact us. We can provide phone, fax, Internet access, computer, and assorted technical writing tools, including of course FrameMaker.

Ignorance. A continuing series.

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

In an earlier post, I wrote about using a new craft to develop a better sense of what users face in learning new technology. I took my own advice a few months back, and have taken up crochet. In this series of posts, I’ll address the lessons that technical communicators can take away from such an exercise.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the “sense evolution” of the word crotchety is “obscure.” I beg to differ. It obviously derived from somebody who was trying to learn to crochet.

1. Jargon presents a formidable barrier.
Crochet patterns are written with abbreviations such as this:

* Sc in center ch of next ch-5 loop, work 8 dc over next loop, sc in center ch of next loop, ch 5, repeat from * across to last loop, ch 2, dc in last sc. Ch 1, turn.
Complete pattern

Before you can begin to comprehend this, you need to know what sc, ch, ch-5, loop, dc, and turn mean. The preceding pattern is rated “easy.” A pattern for experienced crocheters looks more like this:

Sl st into ch-3 picot lp, 1 sc in same lp, ch 4, sk next picot lp, 1 sc in first picot lp of group, ch 4, in next ch-7 lp work (1 sc, ch 3, 1 sc), * (ch 4, sk next picot lp, 1 sc in second picot lp of group) 2 times, (ch 4, 1 sc in first picot lp) 2 times, ch 4, in next ch-7 lp work (1 sc, ch 3, 1 sc) *; rep from * to * 2 times more, (ch 4, 1 sc in second picot lp) 2 times, ch 4. Join with sl st to first sc.
Complete pattern

Trying to read jargon-laden documentation feels like learning a new language. Can you avoid the jargon? If not, how will you support your readers in learning the new terminology?

Ignorance as an asset?

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion1 Comment

There’s a recurring debate over how technical a technical writer should be. One faction argues that ignorance of the technology being documented forces the technical writer to think at the same level as the target audience — the end user.

The other faction argues that the ability to pretend ignorance may be valuable, but that the more the writer knows, the better.

I definitely fall into the latter camp, but I do recognize that being able to empathize (or maybe commiserate) with the end user is useful. I suggest that you periodically take up a new craft, like woodworking or crochet. This allows you to relive the experience of being adrift in ignorance, with little or no help available. Or try home remodeling (preferably on nothing of structural importance).

Corel, ArborText, Interleaf, plus Adobe and Macromedia

Sarah O'Keefe / News1 Comment

What do they have in common?

Back in 2003, Corel was acquired by Vector Capital.

In July 2005, PTC announced it was acquiring ArborText.

Adobe and Macromedia are working on a merger.

And now, BroadVision (which makes Interleaf) has announced that it is going private (it’s the opposite of an IPO) and being purchased by Vector Capital.

I think it adds up to a trend.

What does consolidation in this industry mean for us?

A different perspective on digital rights

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

This week is apparently DRM Week here at Palimpsest…

Neil McAllister writes in InfoWorld:

[E]very business, and indeed every consumer, has information they want protected. Trade secrets are the obvious example. But closer to home, think of your employee records, your personal health care history, or the estimated 40 million credit card numbers that were exposed in the CardSystems Solutions security breach in June.

The thing about these kinds of records is that, in fact, they need to be shared, albeit in a controlled way. Your insurance information should be available to some parties, for example, but not to others. You don’t want to give it out willy-nilly. You want to license it. All that’s missing is a software infrastructure that would let you do that in a way that’s explicit, granular, and secure. DRM would provide such an infrastructure.

In praise of Digital Rights Management

He argues that the DRM vendors are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of locking up music and videos (which makes consumers unhappy), they should focus on managing rights to enforce privacy (which makes consumers happy).