Archive for June, 2007


How *does* Google work?

June 30, 2007

The traditional search engine optimization methods of using good and descriptive meta tag information on web pages has proved a furphy for Google for some years now. More conventional wisdom is that your Google ranking is related to how many sites link to you. But that’s not matching with what I’ve discovered in the past few days.

Back in July 2006, I shared my excellent 20 year old blueberry muffin recipe on this blog. It has consistently rated as my top post. In fact, of some 9000 hits on my blog since I started it, this recipe post alone has garnered over 4,500 hits, yet it has only received 2 comments from outsiders.

Earlier this week my blog stats jumped sharply, from an average of about 50 a day to over 100. And they’ve stayed there. Again, it’s the blueberry muffin recipe that’s getting hit the most. So I thought I’d try being a ‘user’ and go searching for blueberry muffin recipes on Google. Two days ago when I entered “blueberry muffin recipe” (without the quotes), I was listed 5th; today, using the same search terms, my post is listed 2nd! And that’s out of 653,000 results. When I add an “s” to “recipe”, I rank 7th in the 655,000 results. When I add quotes to make the search a phrase (“blueberry muffin recipe”), my post is ranked #1 of 14,000. And this all without me doing anything!!

Working on the theory that Google rankings work on how many sites link to you, I did a Google link search (link:<url>) and found that NO sites link to this post, except other posts on this blog.

So now I’m wondering just *how* Google works? Why is my blueberry muffin recipe post on the top ranked search results in Google? It can’t be who links to it as no-one does, except me. It’s not advertising, as I don’t have any advertising on this blog. And it can’t be metadata as I can’t add metadata to a post, only categorize it and use a good title.

Curious minds want to know…


“How to write like a wanker”

June 29, 2007

It seems this piece has been around for a few years, but I only heard of it and read it today. Very funny, but if you’re offended by certain four-letter words, be warned.

Here’s the article:

(BTW, a “wanker” is a vulgar term used in Britain and Australia, and perhaps a few other places as well. Check


Vale George

June 28, 2007

I heard some sad news today. George Mena, a Californian technical writer I met at the 2001 STC Conference in Chicago, and with whom I had corresponded on and off over the past 7 or so years, passed away last December aged only 53. Another of the Californian tech writers on one of my email discussion lists found out and posted the sad news.

George was a man who was larger than life in every way. He was a big man with a big heart. He was incredibly knowledgeable about tech writing for manufacturing and the military, and willingly shared his knowledge with our group of lone writers. When you asked a question, George never just gave you a quick answer – he’d give you chapter and verse, with references and citations. Sometimes you just needed a quick answer! Despite the extra information, you always learnt something from George.

I fondly recall meeting him at that conference, and him falling asleep during the very early pre-breakfast business meeting of our Special Interest Group! He really was up long before his usual time. We chuckled over that and gave him a hard time about it! George joined in all the networking activities – at the bar and at the lunches and dinners – and his presence was felt by all who met him.

53 was way too young. Rest in peace, George. You touched many lives.

George’s obituary.


Reading is power!

June 26, 2007

One of my daily technical writing Google Alerts (a great service, BTW) listed this “RIP into a Good Book” blog entry yesterday. Once I’d ignored the political mumbo jumbo (‘mumbo jumbo’ to me as I’m not an American and do not live in the US), and looked at the essence of what this guy was saying, I had to agree for the most part. Here are some of his pertinent points:

What the hell are these people [Library of Congress, Disney, et al.] thinking? WHY do they automatically assume that fiction is the highest form of reading?

As a writer of fiction — novels, short stories, “true” first person stories, etc. etc. — I decry but accept the reality that the vast majority of “reading” is nonfiction. Even more so when you include all of the reading that is never documented as “books” read or “magazines read.” Emails, notes from your spouse, cable TV synopsis screens, signs, instructions, medicine and food labels, and, yes, ads: all are writing that we read on a regular basis. And blogs, like this one.

But for many years, the well-intentioned institutions have been missing the point. Who cares if “Reading Is Fun?” Reading Is Power, baby. Why aren’t we advertising that?

Now, when you are selling “reading” why aren’t you selling the fact that reading and writing are the keys to power in nearly any field you care to name? The Southern Plantation aristocracy considered reading so dangerous to their power that it was banned on pain of DEATH. And you’re selling this … power as “fun!” That’s like selling Coke because of the neat swash on the can. It’s like selling a vacation to the Caribbean for the neat seashells you could find.

Bill Gates may have dropped out of college, but I have a feeling that without an amazing capacity for wading through reams and reams of dull technical writing he wouldn’t be playing gazillionaire globe-trotting philanthropist today. And many of us wouldn’t have the software that’s allowing this to be read over the internet.

Throughout history reading rates have fluctuated greatly, but one fact remains unyielding amidst the chaos of history: the literate classes have always ruled society. If there is 2 percent literacy, that two percent will be running things.

What has possessed generations of “educators” and “librarians” to try and sell reading as a competing media? You know, like playin’ on the computer, watching TeeVeee. Watching videos. Playing videos, surfing the ‘net … (All of which are better the better you know how to read, BTW)

Reading isn’t “fun.” It’s the power at the base of our entire civilization.

Reading ain’t “fundamental.” It’s elemental, and that’s power.

“Reading is Power, kids! So RIP into a good book!”

That’d sell reading. Might not sell a lot of copies of the Narnia trilogy, but it WILL sell reading. Not reading novels. Not even reading books. Sorry librarians, and sorry fiction writers.

Instead, what we have is a series of free ads for the Disney ‘Narnia’ movie (which they hope to turn into a franchise), coloring books, happy meals, fruit rollups, backpacks, notebooks, glitter pencils, etc. etc. etc. Why are our public airwaves being turned into a free ad campaign for a series of … books, and a WORSE movie from Disney?

That shouldn’t be what we’re selling. We need to sell that reading is essential to attaining power, status or celebrity in this society. That’s what we should be selling.

READING is power. Reading manuals. Reading news stories, reading supreme court decisions, reading the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual. Reading instructions, reading regulations, reading signs, reading charts, reading Monopoly Reading Railroad cards, you name it.

Reading is power.

Now, I have to add here that I was a school librarian in a previous career. One thing that always bothered me was the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude of some of my colleagues at the time who thought that the only ‘good’ reading was reading fiction. My view was broader than that. I figured that if a kid was reading – whether it was the side of the cereal box, the Illustrated Shakespeare, comics, car manuals, books on snakes, or whatever – then that was the most important thing. Not whether they were reading a particular type of writing – fiction.

I don’t know whether the “reading fiction is good” brigade was a uniquely female construct, but I suspect so. Most school librarians at that time were female, and girls at school were always the biggest readers of fiction. Most pre-pubescent and adolescent boys (except those into fantasy and science fiction) avoided fiction like the plague. So all those well-meaning female librarians spent a lot of time and energy on trying to get boys to ‘read’ (read fiction, that is), when they weren’t the slightest bit interested in it. In some ways, their English teachers (again, mostly female) and the English syllabus were worse, as they forced certain fiction texts onto kids. At least in the library, reading fiction was optional.

Of course, I’m making some sweeping generalisations here, but in my long experience in schools and school libraries, I can’t recall it even being hinted that the ability to read was power. Reading (fiction) was promoted as a leisure activity. Maybe those days have changed – I sincerely hope so – but on reading this guy’s blog post, I suspect not.


Wikis in Plain English

June 23, 2007

Following on from CommonCraft’s excellent video on how RSS feeds work, they’ve added a new one on how Wikis work.

If you can’t see it from this site, view it directly on YouTube:


Updates to store

June 16, 2007

Last week I created a technical writing bookstore, and today I added some more items – some software that I use, a couple more books, and some miscellaneous recommendations. Check out the new additions here:


Blogs by technical writers

June 16, 2007

A few weeks ago, Tom Johnson (of I’d rather be writing and Tech Writer Voices fame) set up a Wiki of blogs by technical writers. Initially, only a few blogs were listed, but, as the word has spread, there are now heaps, many from some of the best minds in the business.

So, if you’re a tech writer or technical communicator of any sort, and you blog, head on over to the Wiki and add your details. And check out some of the blogs by your peers.


Technical writing books

June 12, 2007

I received a lovely pile of books from Amazon the other day (oh goody! Christmas already!) and figured I may as well join up with their Associates program again. (Aside: Way back in another life -1996? – when I was working as a captive employee, we joined Amazon Associates, but it was so new and so early in web development that it didn’t really fly. Anyhow, that episode in my life is a story for another time…)

The books I received were some I couldn’t get here in Australia, and some were just so cheap compared to local prices (even including freight) that it was a no-brainer to buy them from Amazon. Much as I’d love to support Australian companies, when the difference is more than $100 AUD you start to think more globally.

The upshot of all that is that I figured other technical writers might like a synthesized list of what’s on *my* tech writing bookshelf. So I created an Amazon store for my recommendations. You can visit it here:

BTW, *any* item you purchase from Amazon after linking via my store, brings me a dollar or two. No difference to you – you still pay the normal Amazon price – but I get a small percentage.

We’ll see how it goes…