Archive for December, 2009


Revisiting another year of blogging

December 31, 2009

Around this time last year, I summarized the stats from the first year of this blog. At that time, I had written about 500 posts and was getting about 400 ‘hits’ a day, averaging around 8000 hits each month.

It’s a bit of a different story today, two years on from when I started. For example:

  • Total number of posts written (from Dec 2007 to Dec 31 2009): 866
  • Average views per month: Has increased from around 9000 in January 2009 to around 24,000 per month in December 2009. The reason for this exponential increase? One of my posts got picked up and promoted via StumbleUpon and it continues to be the most viewed of all my blog posts, with most of its traffic coming from StumbleUpon. That post went viral!
  • When do they come?: The pattern of views hasn’t changed from last year — most views are still on business days, with obvious drops on weekends.

The top 10 posts and the long tail

Chris Anderson wrote about the Long Tail and my blog stats show that my posts definitely follow the Long Tail pattern — some 20 or so are very popular, but then there’s a really big drop off for the remaining 800 or so. However, most have had 30+ views, so they ‘earn their keep’.

The ten blog posts below have been the most popular, based on number of views. In fact, they account for ~90,000 (about one-third) of the ~260,000 total number of views this blog has had in the two years since I started it (stats as at Dec 31, 2009):

Except for the first one, all the top ten posts are related to troubleshooting and helping people do a task. Which is what my job as a technical communicator is all about!


So, what were the people who found my blog searching for? Here are the top ten search terms, from my blog’s WordPress statistics:

Where do they come from?

No surprises here — StumbleUpon was the biggest source of my blog’s visitors:


I implemented a new ‘feature’ this year — if a troubleshooting or task-based post of mine helped you, I asked that you buy me a coffee as ‘thanks’.  So far, only a few people have said ‘thanks’ that way… Interestingly, despite the statistics, number of views, and obvious value that some posts have, I get very few comments. But those I do get are either asking for further help, or are effusive in their thanks, such as these:


To all my readers, thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ve learned something. And I wish you all the best for 2010 and beyond.

[Links last checked December 2009]


PowerPoint 2007: Set language for all text

December 30, 2009

I can’t believe that PowerPoint 2007 (which I like much more than PowerPoint 2003) doesn’t have a ‘set language’ setting for all text in a PowerPoint slide deck!

How did I find out that it doesn’t? I downloaded a slide template from the Microsoft Online site that happened to be set to French Canadian. I noticed that common words were coming up with the red squigglies, and when I right-clicked to check, the spelling options were in French and the language on the status bar said so.

I tried to select all slides and change the language to English (US), as I believe you could do in PowerPoint 2003. No such luck. When you select all slides from the thumbnails on the left or the Outline view, the Language option on the Review tab is grayed out in PowerPoint 2007 and there’s nothing in the PowerPoint options that allows you to set the language for the current slide deck. The only way the Language option works is if you go through your presentation slide by slide, selecting the text boxes on EACH slide and resetting the language for that slide. Painful!!

Off to the internet… There’s very little about this on the Microsoft Office Communities forums (as an aside, despite being one of those people who’s willing to spend the time looking for an answer, I find those Microsoft forums really frustrating to use and search, and half the time the selected post on a thread doesn’t display for me in IE8).

However, I had a bit better luck with a Google search. Here are a couple of solutions I found, both of which involve macros.

I used the first one and it worked well. I changed the ‘msoLanguageIDEnglishUK’ language  in that macro to ‘msoLanguageIDEnglishUS’, then ran the macro on the current slide deck. I understand this macro only works on the slide deck it is assigned to, so it’s not a solution for changing multiple slide decks at once. But at least I didn’t have to go to every slide and change the language setting for the text boxes on each one.

I still can’t believe that what I consider basic functionality in Microsoft Word, does not exist in PowerPoint 2007. At least, not without adding and running a macro, something that I suspect is outside the understanding of most standard PowerPoint users.

[Links last checked December 2009]

Chocotooth macro:

<br />
<pre>Sub SetLangUK()<br />
'set language to UK for all slides and notes:<br />
Dim scount, j, k, fcount<br />
scount = ActivePresentation.Slides.Count<br />
For j = 1 To scount<br />
fcount = ActivePresentation.Slides(j).Shapes.Count<br />
For k = 1 To fcount 'change all shapes:<br />
If ActivePresentation.Slides(j).Shapes(k).HasTextFrame Then<br />
ActivePresentation.Slides(j).Shapes(k).TextFrame _<br />
.TextRange.LanguageID = msoLanguageIDEnglishUK<br />
End If<br />
Next k<br />
'change notes:<br />
fcount = ActivePresentation.Slides(j).NotesPage.Shapes.Count<br />
For k = 1 To fcount 'change all shapes:<br />
If ActivePresentation.Slides(j).NotesPage.Shapes(k).HasTextFrame Then<br />
ActivePresentation.Slides(j).NotesPage.Shapes(k).TextFrame _<br />
.TextRange.LanguageID = msoLanguageIDEnglishUK<br />
End If<br />
Next k<br />
Next j<br />
End Sub<br />

Visual dictionary

December 29, 2009

Here’s a handy resource for students.

Merriam-Webster have an online visual dictionary (, with pictures arranged in broad categories. Some pictures have descriptors of the various parts either in the picture or below it, while others show varieties of the object.

For example (click the pictures below to show them in full size):

[Links last checked December 2009]


System and network security abbreviations

December 28, 2009

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently published System and Network Security Acronyms and Abbreviations (PDF; NIST Interagency Report 7581, September 2009), in the hope of bringing ‘some order to the sometimes inconsistent and often confusing world of IT (information technology) acronyms and abbreviations by publishing a glossary of commonly used terms.’ (

While this is a great list, the description of the conventions used may be helpful to anyone else who has to develop a list of acronyms and abbreviations:

In the latest report, NIST adopted a set of conventions for acronyms and abbreviations and their definitions.

  • Abbreviations and acronyms generally appear in all capital letters, though there are exceptions — for example, meter (m) and decibels referenced to 1 milliwatt (dBm).
  • Technical terms are not capitalized unless they are proper nouns, which include the names of people, places and groups, and the formal titles of protocols, standards and algorithms. For example, certification and accreditation (C&A) is not capitalized, but Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is.
  • Collective nouns are not capitalized — for example, wide-area network (WAN).
  • When two or more definitions of the same acronym or abbreviation are given, the acronym or abbreviation is italicized and repeated for each definition.

[Links last checked November 2009]


Contract renewed

December 27, 2009

For the past 15 months, I’ve been working on a HUGE resources project in Western Australia. My contract started as a three month one, and has been renewed about every 3 months since then. But a week or so ago, I got notice that it would be renewed for a further 12 months, at three days a week (three days a week is my choice).

Gotta be happy about that!


‘Twas the night before Christmas…

December 26, 2009

And the Tweets were flying in the Twittersphere. Well, not so much, but here’s a cute little story from a couple of technical writing colleagues whom I follow on Twitter.

The players

  • Kirsty: Lives in Brisbane, Queensland; I know her via US conferences, the Australian Chapter of STC, and the Author-it user community. Have met her ‘live’ a few times.
  • Hamish: Also lives in Brisbane, Queensland. Have never met him, but I introduced him to his current employer and he took over my technical writing job with them (I worked remotely from Western Australia for that client). Very active in some of the technical writing communities I’m in, and a fellow Author-it Certified Consultant.

The situation

A few days ago, Kirsty (or her husband) dropped a heavy mortar (as in pestle and mortar) into the kitchen sink, breaking the sink in the process. She was able to purchase a new sink before Christmas, and had lined up a plumber to install it on December 24. She had Tweeted about it.

What happened on Christmas Eve

See the conversation below for what happened on December 24 (read from the bottom up):

The outcome

Unfortunately, the plumber Hamish had at his house didn’t do sink installations (a plumber who doesn’t install sinks? Then who *do* you get to install a sink???), so it didn’t turn out as well as it might have.

But it was a nice conversation to observe from the sidelines and a good example of the power of Twitter to bring people together and get things done. All this happened within a few minutes, and no phone calls or running around was required. Of course, if any Brisbane-based plumber had been monitoring Twitter at the time, he or she may have picked up a new job unexpectedly. I suspect that Kirsty would’ve paid whatever it took to have her sink installed before Christmas!


Creating a PDF of a multi workbook Excel 2007 spreadsheet

December 24, 2009

By my own admission, I’m not a big Excel user. I can add a column of numbers and enter data, but not much more than that. However, I was asked if I could create a PDF from an Excel 2007 spreadsheet that contained multiple workbooks. I had no idea if I could or not, so I tested it out and here’s what I found.

Full Acrobat method

If you have the full Acrobat installed (e.g. Acrobat 9 Professional), then you should have an Acrobat tab on the Excel 2007 ribbon.

  1. Click the Acrobat tab in Excel 2007.
  2. Click Create PDF.
  3. Select the Entire Workbook option.
  4. Click OK and you’re done!

Of course, you might want to tweak your conversion settings on the Acrobat tab if  the PDF doesn’t come out just as you’d like, but for a basic conversion, this method works well.

Save As PDF method

  1. Click the Microsoft Office button  (the pizza orb thingy!) in Excel 2007.
  2. Select Save As.
  3. Select PDF or XPS.
  4. Click the Options button below the File Name field.
  5. Select the Entire Workbook option.
  6. Click OK to exit all the windows, and the PDF gets created.

Interestingly, the file size of the PDF created from the Acrobat tab (110 KB) was half that created using the Save As method (220 KB). The same spreadsheet was used in both cases.


New website for software documentation and user assistance

December 23, 2009

Marc Achtelig, in Germany, has developed a website with a heap of useful links and information for technical communicators involved in software documentation and user assistance.

In addition to about 250 useful links for technical writers, the site provides checklists and up-to-date market surveys of more than 350 help authoring tools, screen capture tools, screencasting tools and other utilities for technical communicators. All information can also be downloaded as a PDF booklet (approx. 100 pages).

Marc’s website is here:

[Link last checked December 2009]


“You’ve come a long way, baby!” Really?

December 22, 2009

A slight deviation from my normal blog posts…

I’ve read some disturbing articles and blog posts recently, and as a result, I’m wondering just how far women have come in gaining parity with men in many aspects of the working world — at least in the so-called developed, democratic countries like the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and the like.

Each of these articles has made me question how much of this ‘equality’ is just lip service. There seem to be some deeper, underlying prejudices (even hatreds), beliefs and values at play here that thwart women from being equal members of society — even without us (women AND men) realizing it or being aware that it’s occurring.

I had thought that many of the barriers to women in the workplace had disappeared over the past three or four decades, but now I’m starting to question whether that’s case. I’m not sure we’ve come very far at all.

The articles and events that have led to this post are:

  • James Chartrand has gained an enviable reputation as an excellent copy writer and is one of the people behind ‘Men With Pens’ (, a Canadian web design and copywriting company with an international reputation. Recently, James revealed that he is really a ‘she’. She had to take on a male name in order to be taken seriously and to earn a decent wage to support her family. The comments on this blog post are also worth reading, but there are hundreds of them, so grab a cup of coffee before you start!
  • This article opens with: ‘Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.’ and goes on to describe what life is like for women returning from the frontline to a society that doesn’t acknowledge what they’ve done and gone through.
  • What happened to Danah Boyd when she spoke at a Web conference. This Twitter ‘backchannel’ issue is not just relevant to female presenters; however, female speakers may be subject to more sexual innuendo and outright sexual harassment in the remarks than men might be. After reading about Danah’s experiences, I wrote about this disturbing ‘backchannel’ phenomena here:
  • Death threats against Kathy Sierra in 2007, which resulted in her canceling all speaking engagements for a few years, and meant that she stopped sharing her brilliance by ceasing to write any more articles on her ‘Creating Passionate Users’ blog ( These threats put fear into her and her family that no-one should have to experience. You can read a little about this in the ‘Controversy’ and ‘References’ sections of this Wikipedia article:
  • Finally, this article came out in the same week as the first two, and I read it a day or so after those others. It  appears to be a ‘tongue in cheek’ article — but perhaps not. Normally, I would have found it funny. But after the events described in the earlier articles, I found this article quite sad, and just a little disturbing. I suspect it was written in good humor, and, under normal circumstances, I’d have taken it that way. But not after reading the earlier articles and remembering the Danah Boyd and Kathy Sierra incidents.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2009]


Recent surveys from WritersUA

December 21, 2009

In the past few days, WritersUA has:

[Links last checked December 2009]