Archive for November, 2009


All sorts of JavaScript tooltips

November 30, 2009

Do you want to add a bit of variety to your tooltips? Then take a look at the range of free JavaScript tooltip offerings available in a downloadable file from the people at Dynamic Web Coding:

The example below shows a tooltip with an image, something you can’t do with standard tooltips:

[Links last checked November 2009; thanks to @dmnguys for Tweeting about this site]


There are no words for the stupidity of this

November 29, 2009

Seen on Amazon (

A laptop shelf for your steering wheel... What were they thinking?

The tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) customer reviews on the Amazon page for this product are hilarious, and some wags have — rightly — added photos of major vehicular pile-ups. I wonder when Amazon will take this down?

[Link last checked November 2009]


Kathy Sierra on readable user manuals

November 28, 2009

This was tweeted around the world about a week ago. Says it all really…

(Translation for those who aren’t tech writers: RTFM = Read The F****** Manual)

[Originally seen here:]


Very cool Google image tool

November 27, 2009

I was meandering the Google Labs (as you do…), and came across Google Image Swirl (, a new image search tool from Google.

Now, I LOVE Google’s image search, but the biggest problem is that when you enter a keyword, you get all sorts of stuff and you have to hunt through many pages of images to find what you really want. Google Image Swirl, however, categorizes the images and puts like images together. As you click on a category, you get shown all related images.

For example, I did a search for ‘note’. Here’s the main page of results:

Initial results for 'note'

When I clicked on the notepaper image (top left), I got this:

Results after selecting the notepaper image

I could keep drilling on down through related images, or click back into the ‘home’ image on the right.

I can see this saving me a lot of time! Way cool!

[Links last checked November 2009]


Looking for a new camera?

November 26, 2009

Then look no further than Flickr! Flickr? Yes, Flickr!

Why? Because Flickr has a Camera Finder (look under Explore > Camera Finder, or go direct to “Big deal”, you might say. “How can this help me find a new camera?”

Well, you may already have some idea of the camera brand and model you want. So once you get to that page, you can see which cameras are most popular on Flickr, but more importantly, you can check out thousands of photos taken with those cameras.

You can drill down by brand and model, then when you’re at a model, go to the Now Showing drop-down list and select from a range of photos taken under different conditions — portraits, landscapes, night shots, macros etc.

If you’ve done all your research and have narrowed the field down to a few brands and models, this unbiased Flickr option might be a great way to help you make your decision.

However, don’t forget that a good photograph is more than the result of a good camera — the person behind the lens plays a big part too, in framing the shot, selecting the lighting conditions etc.

[Links last checked November 2009]


Vista: Create FTP shortcut with login details

November 25, 2009

Warnings and Disclaimers:

  • Do not do this on a public computer.
  • Be aware that putting your username and password into any saved setting may compromise your computer security.

Do you need to quickly upload a file to your website or an FTP site, but don’t want the hassle of opening your FTP program, going through the connection steps, etc.? Well, you can set up a shortcut in Vista — with your credentials already populated — so all you have to do is click the link on your desktop and you’re in.

Here’s how:

  1. Open the Computer folder (Start > Computer [on the right panel]).
  2. Right-click anywhere in a blank space, then select Add a Network Location.
  3. Click Next on the first page of the Add Network Location wizard.
  4. Select Choose a custom network location, then click Next.
  5. Enter the following into the Internet or Network Address field, substituting your own username, password and FTP address as appropriate:
  6. Click Next. Give the FTP address a more meaningful name, if required, then click Next.
  7. Click Finish.

This network location will now appear in your Computer folder.

You can create a desktop shortcut for it too — just right-click on the new network location, then select Send to > Desktop (create shortcut).

Now, if you need to quickly upload a file, you just need to double-click on the shortcut and you’re in!

Note: This trick probably works in Windows 7 too (I don’t have Windows 7 installed on any of my computers yet), but I couldn’t get it to work in Windows XP.

[Thanks to Australian Personal Computer, October 2009 for alerting me to this shortcut trick.]


2009 WritersUA Annual Skills and Technologies Survey

November 24, 2009

The 2009 WritersUA Skills and Technologies Survey is in progress:

This popular survey is designed to provide a snapshot of the skills and technologies we most value in our software development work. If you’re a technical communicator please contribute your experiences to help improve the value of the results. And tell your colleagues.

No login is required. You can answer as much or as little of the survey as you choose. When compiled, the results will be freely available on the WritersUA website.

[Link last checked November 2009]


WritersUA 2010 Conference for Software User Assistance

November 23, 2009

If you’re thinking of going to the Annual WritersUA Conference in Seattle next March, you can get $200 off the registration fee if you register by December 18, 2009.

As I said last year, in my opinion this is one of the best conferences around. Even though it’s fairly small as conferences go (typically, about 500 people), it’s extremely well-organized by Joe and his team, is targeted specifically to those of us involved in software user assistance (online Help and the like).

The attendees and presenters are top-notch. In the one place you can mingle and share stories with the top people in software user assistance world. And people come from all over the world to attend this conference—North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.

In 2010, the conference will cover some 70 topics, delivered by more than 50 industry experts, over three busy but very productive and energising days of learning and networking.

(And I’ve been invited host the closing session — a all-female panel discussion focusing on future trends and predictions for our industry. This will be my fifth time at WritersUA—2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and now 2010. Woohoo! I get to ‘swim with my own fish’ again!)

Hope to see you there!

BTW, the 2010 conference is at the same venue as the 2009 conference — The Westin in Seattle. Great choice — it was a terrific venue in every way last year.

[Links last checked November 2009]


Typographic howlers

November 22, 2009

We’ve all heard of or seen the bloopers and technology howlers in movies (like the guy wearing a watch in a chariot scene from Ben Hur). In fact, there are TV shows, websites, blogs etc. dedicated to the science and technology portrayed in movies and how correct (or not) they are compared to real life.

Movie studios spend many dollars getting costumes and settings just right. But sometimes they miss the small things — really small things, like the typeface used on the objects.

It seems there are typography purists out there who watch movies and see their own howlers, like this one:

Take “Titanic,” in which the numbers on the dials of the ship’s pressure gauges use Helvetica, a font designed in 1957, some 45 years after the real “Titanic” sank. (from

I wonder how many others there are — I suspect thousands, as I’d imagine the set designers don’t really think about the suitability and age of a typeface on an object.



Sketch out your car accident

November 21, 2009

If you’ve been involved in a car accident, my sympathies. You have quite a bit of running around and inconvenience ahead of you, to say nothing of recovery from injuries.

One of the tasks you have to do is complete a police report and possibly one or more insurance claim forms. In my state, you get a tiny space on the police form to sketch out what happened and to which car. But with, a free, web-based sketching tool you can drag and drop all the elements onto a drawing ready to save and print out.


(The site’s designers are German, so the English instructions are a little odd, but that doesn’t take away from the usefulness of this site. [After I posted that comment, they asked me how their English instructions could be improved. I emailed them a list of suggestions for their front page, and they implemented them almost immediately. That’s a terrific response!] And did I mention it’s free?)

Update 23 November 2009: If you live in Western Australia, you can now report your accident online at  This is a joint initiative from the Insurance Commission and the WA Police, and I understand that it links into the Department of Transport database, so any information you provide about car ownership etc. will be verified against official records.

[Links last checked November 2009; thanks to Jason at PC Guru for mentioning this site in one of his newsletters]