Archive for December, 2009


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]


You want a picture with that stick figure?

December 20, 2009

Wow! Is this the future of picture compositing and photo montage? Will you be able to trust ANY picture any more? Sure, high-end graphics manipulation applications can do some pretty amazing things with photos, but this goes quite a few steps further.

Watch this 4 minute concept video of Sketch2Photo, which was presented at the Siggraph Asia conference earlier this year (2009):

[Link last checked December 2009]


Great communication — NOT

December 19, 2009

I renewed my STC membership the other day, and got an email letting me know that my official receipt and membership card would be available from their website in a few days. (As an aside, STC is no longer sending out printed membership cards; instead, we get a PDF we can print ourselves. I have no problem with that as I suspect printed membership cards were an expense that had little benefit — I wouldn’t think that many places or events required you to hand over your membership card; I’ve certainly never been asked for it in Australia or when I attended the STC Conferences in the US from 2001 to 2004.)

Anyhow, I log in to the STC website today to get my receipt and membership card, and this is what greets me:

The thing is that the subsequent pages have my correct name, but not this ‘Welcome’ page, where I am just a number! And it already knows enough about me to know that I’m already logged in.

This is NOT good communication from a society that is focused on communication, usability, and the like. And a society that prides itself on being personable to its membership — the receipt even says ‘We are committed to serving you…’ But in my opinion it’s not good service or good public relations to greet me by my membership number! I have a name and STC knows what it is, as evidenced on the subsequent pages.

[Link last checked December 2009]


Wow! Great advice for new college/uni students

December 18, 2009

If you have a son or daughter about to start college or university, point them in the direction of Derek Sivers’ advice to newly enrolled Berklee College of Music students. His blog post details his speech, and he includes a 10-minute video of his ‘6 things I wish I knew the day I started at Berklee’.

In summary, his advice is to:

  • Be one of the few that is clever enough to make money making music instead of pretending it doesn’t matter.
  • Be one of the few that has the guts to do something shocking.
  • Be one of the few that takes your lessons here as a starting point, and pushes yourself to do more with what you learn.
  • Be one of the few that knows how to help yourself, instead of expecting for others to do it for you.
  • Be one of the few that does much more than is required.
  • And most importantly, be one of the few that stays in the shed to practice, while everyone else is surfing the net, flirting on MySpace, and watching TV.

[Link last checked December 2009; thanks to @KathySierra whose Tweet led me to this article]


Round-up of useful usability resources

December 17, 2009

Some people collect stamps; I collect URLs of interesting sites, products, etc., some of which are related to usability and accessibility. Here’s the latest batch garnered from Twitter tweets and some technical writing discussion lists I monitor:

Finally, an EXTENSIVE listing of resources on “Recommended Usability, UCD, UX Links and Tools” here:

[Links last checked November 2009]