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There’s always a word for that: tmesis

December 23, 2018

I learned a new word a few weeks back. It’s a word that describes another word/phrase, and is ‘tmesis/ (pronounced teh-MEE-sis).

So what does it describe? Well, according to Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary, it’s a noun that describes the ‘separation of words that constitute a compound or construction by the insertion of other elements’.

Macquarie gives these examples: kangabloodyroo or a great man and good instead of a great and good man.

Personally, I prefer the more Aussie colloquialisms like ‘abso-f***-lutely’ or ‘fan-bloody-tastic’. However, I think there’s probably a rule for its use within another word, and I think that rule might relate to the number of syllables of the surrounding word. Of all the words I’ve tried in my head, the only time tmesis really works is with a word of at least three syllables. But not all words of three or more syllables work. ‘Fan-ta-stic’ works, but ‘brill-i-ant’ doesn’t’; ‘ab-so-lute-ly’ works, but ‘gen-er-ally’ doesn’t; ‘un-be-liev-able’ works, but ‘un-us-ual-ly’ doesn’t.

According to Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia, the origin of ‘tmesis’ is Greek, meaning to cut. And its usage was first recorded in the mid 1500s, so it’s been around a while.

 

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Using VLC to split a video file

December 23, 2018

These notes are for me, for when I next need to do this (I always forget steps 7 and 8)! They are based on this CNET article in case it ever goes missing: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-create-video-clips-in-vlc/ and only apply to Windows.

Actually, the title of my post is a little misleading—as far as I can tell, you can’t split a video using VLC, but you CAN record sections of it, which is effectively the same. If you have a very large file, you may have to do these steps twice or more, one for each section you want as a separate file. (If anyone knows how to cut or split a video file using VLC [similar to how you can split/cut an audio file in Audacity] and without doing it in real time, let me know in the comments and I’ll test it and update this post with that information. I also couldn’t find a way to save the recorded video [original was mkv] as anything other than MP4—if anyone knows the VLC setting for that too, I’d be most grateful.)

  1. Open the video with VLC media player. Do not press Play. If it starts playing automatically, pause it.
  2. Make sure you can see the Advanced Controls (View > Advanced Controls).
  3. Use the slider to get to where you want to start recording the new video.
  4. Press the Record button (the one in the Advanced Controls panel with the red dot).
  5. Press the Play button.
  6. Let the video run to the point where you want to stop recording. It will run in real time, so you could be waiting a while if it’s a long video.
  7. Press the Record button again. This stops the recording and saves it to your hard drive. Yes, Record both starts and stops the recording. (The original video will continue playing in VLC if it hasn’t finished—you can stop or pause it if you don’t want to finish watching it.)
  8. IMPORTANT: By default, the recording saves to your default Videos or My Videos folder in Windows (what it’s called depends on your version of Windows). You can change this location: In VLC media player v2.2.4 (the version I have), you do this here: Tools > Preferences > Inputs/Codecs > Record directory or filename — click Browse, and choose the folder where you want your recordings to save.
  9. The file name will start with VLC, have date and time information from when you started the recording (e.g. vlc-record-2018-12-23-11h30m16s), and the original file name. Rename the file as required, then copy it to where you want it to go.

[Link last checked December 2018]

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The perils of global IT support

December 5, 2018

I had an issue with connecting to some of my main client’s network locations today. The second-level support person (in the Philippines?) solved it, but not after checking some stuff in DOS where he saw that the last time I rebooted the laptop was April this year. Um, no. I shut down every night, and had also restarted about an hour earlier before contacting support to see if that would fix it.

He insisted it was April when I last rebooted and highlighted the date on the DOS screen. Yeah, 4/12/2018 is April 12 in US date format, but is legitimately 4 December in Australian date format, which my laptop is set to! He apologised, and hopefully learnt that different countries display their dates in different ways.

I don’t know why the backend of computers don’t store and display the date in ISO date format (e.g. 2018-12-04 — YYYY-MM-DD) — it would solve a lot of issues.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2018]

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Editing: It saves your readers’ sanity

December 1, 2018

Bottom line: Even something as simple as a birthday invitation can benefit from editing!

A client and I have recently been discussing academic journal writing and lamenting why it’s so stilted, wordy, written in the third person, and generally hard for an audience (especially a general audience) to understand. Our email discussion was triggered by an article in The Atlantic: The myth of dumbing down.

A few days later he shared with me a birthday invitation he’d received from an academic he knew. It was some 950 words long! While it mostly used plain conversational language (there was at least one ‘therein’…), it was way too wordy. The essentials of the message were lost or well hidden in the word salad.

I couldn’t help myself—I edited it down to 250 words and sent it back to my client, purely as an example of how editing could keep the message but communicate it in clear, plain language.

Below is the original version (with all personal and place names changed) and my edited version. The original also included the names of those who were attending and those who’d put in their apologies, which I deleted from both versions.

Original version (950 words)

Dear Family and Friends,

This email will communicate (hopefully final) details regarding the re-scheduled 50th-birthday dinner-party for me at Gurpreet’s Indian Restaurant at 280 Highline St., Anytown, on Saturday 1st December.

VENUE: I realise that some of you have eaten at Gurpreet’s Anytown restaurant in the past and so will know how to find it. But for those of you who need instructions about its location I detail them in the following section. The restaurant is on the south side of Highline Street (= Main street of Anytown and Rosella) and is just two-shops east (i.e., towards the Melbourne CBD) of what used to be the Main Town Hotel on the SE corner of Highline Street and Mountain Street (which former hotel is opposite the Anytown Post Office). The restaurant occupies a converted terrace-house and is conspicuously signed at the front above and at street level; its map location is: 2018 edition UBD, Map 32 A6; see also Google Earth image attached).

PARKING: Highline Street is metered along its entire length as are many of the side streets running off it to the north and south. The meters on Highline Street are turned off each day at 7:00 pm but not on the side streets (so I’m told) and resident-permit restrictions apply in some of these side streets after business hours.

There is a 30-minute FREE parking concession along the whole of Highline Street, but you still need to get the relevant ticket from the meter and display it on your dash board. So if you were to find a parking space on Highline Street relatively close to the restaurant after 6:30 pm and obtain a 30-minute free ticket and display it on your car dash, you would not have to worry about getting a parking fine for the rest of the evening.

Nearby to the restaurant, there is also a Council-owned free parking lot on the north side of Battle Street (2018 edition UBD, Map 32, B7) just west of its acute-angled junction with Highline Street at Federal Square (this lot is not exceptionally large off, and possibly ‘busy’ on Saturday nights). This lot is best accessed while driving east on Battle Street (so as not to have to turn left against the oncoming traffic if otherwise driving west). There is a 2-hour time-limit in this parking lot but I think that restriction ends at 6 or 7 pm (read the signs therein); so if you park there after 6:00 pm there shouldn’t be any trouble about being fined (see Google Earth image attached for location of this parking lot).

Additionally, there is free unlimited parking on all four sides of the MacDonald Terrace, a divided-lane street (with very wide intervening green-strip) that runs parallel to Highline Street one block north of Highline Street between Birchbroom Road (on the west) and Roundhouse Street (on the east). There is also free parking on Carton Road (= eastward extension of MacDonald Terrace; see attached Google Earth image). Parking on MacDonald Terrace and/or Carton Road will entail having to walk up-slope for a whole block to the restaurant, so is not recommended for anyone with mobility problems.

Anyone with a disability parking-permit can park anywhere free of charge any time unless signed-posted otherwise.

TIME OF ASSEMBLY: Can I suggest that we start assembling at Gurpreet’s between 6:45 and 7:15 pm? If we are all assembled by say 7:00 or 7:15 pm, then we could begin the dinner at 7:15 or as soon as possibly thereafter. Please try to be punctual so as to facilitate an ordered start to the dinner.

DRINKS: Gurpreet’s is both licensed and BYO. I suggest you buy the house beers (which include both Indian and local brands), but bring your own wine (because the restaurant wines are relatively expensive — this is true of all restaurants because the licence to sell alcohol is very expensive!). A large variety of both Indian and local non-alcoholic drinks are available. Also, there is a bottle shop with a large range of beers and wines just around the corner from the restaurant (= the only surviving licensed element of what used to be the Main Town Hotel), so if necessary additional drinks can be purchased there.

MENU: Some of you I know have dietary restrictions. Hence I suggest that those persons order their main course(s) separately, while the rest of us share the Banquet Menu. Anyone who doesn’t want to share in the banquet menu can order separately. I have already discussed this suggestion regarding the menu with the proprietor and that is OK with her.

RESTAURANT CONTACT DETAILS: In case anyone has last minute problems with attending the get-together or arriving there on time and need to alert the restaurant, it’s landline’s and mobile numbers are: Landline: 5555-5555; Mobile: 0413-555-555

Proprietor: Shivani Singh (= Gurpreet’s wife; she usually now looks after the Anytown restaurant and her husband [Gurpreet] and their two sons [Deepak and Vikas] look after their other restaurant at Highline Harbour and at their Function Centre at Congress; I don’t know whether Gurpreet and/or either of his sons will be at the Anytown restaurant on Saturday night).

PUBLIC TRANSPORT ACCESS: Busses 41 and 57 leave from Stand A at the QVB in the Melbourne CBD and stop in Mountain Street beside the Anytown Post Office (and across the road from the bottle shop). Both these buses will return you to the Melbourne CBD from bus-stops virtually outside the restaurant.

Edited version (250 words)

Details for my 50th birthday dinner

Date and time: 6:45pm for 7:00pm, Sat 1 Dec 2018

Place: Gurpreet’s Indian Restaurant, 280 Highline St, Anytown (almost opposite the Anytown PO); 5555 5555 or 0413 555 555

Food and drinks:

  • Banquet Menu. If you have dietary restrictions, order your main course separately
  • The restaurant is licensed and BYO. Suggestion: Purchase beer there, but BYO wine. There’s a bottle shop around the corner

Parking:

  • Metered parking to 7pm along Highline St (first 30 minutes free—so you could get there at 6:30, but you must display a ticket on your dashboard)
  • Free but small parking lot on the north side of Battle St, near the junction with Highline St at Federal Square; usually 2-hour limit, but check signs as likely no limit after 6 or 7pm. Best access is if you’re driving east on Battle St
  • Free unlimited parking on all sides of MacDonald Tce between Birchbroom Rd and Roundhouse St (parallel to Highline St and one street away). Avoid if you have mobility issues as you have to walk up a hill
  • Free parking on Carton Rd (extension of MacDonald Tce). Also avoid if you have mobility issues
  • Side streets: Avoid; likely only for residents with permits.

Public transport: Take bus 41 or 57. Both depart from Stand B at the QVB and stop in Mountain St beside the Anytown PO (across the road from the bottle shop and restaurant). The bus stop for the return trip is outside the restaurant.

***********

Contact me (details on the About page) if you think your written communications could benefit from editing such as this.

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Word: Create a custom dictionary populated with thousands of terms

November 30, 2018

There are plenty of websites that tell you how to create a custom dictionary in Microsoft Word. But most assume you only have a few words to add to that dictionary. But what if you have thousands? Doing it one word at a time using the usual methods is painfully slow and not ergonomically sound.

I had such a situation a few months ago, but neglected to write up what I did. I had 4000+ Latin and common species names I’d gathered from public lists that I wanted to add to a unique dictionary so that Word didn’t flag them as spelling errors, except if they really were spelling errors or if they were species I hadn’t included in my species dictionary. I wanted a special dictionary file that I could copy and use on other computers, and turn off if I no longer needed it, so I didn’t want these words added to my default dictionary.

The first thing was to find out where the dictionary files are stored. I use Word for Windows, so this information is for Windows. By default, the Office dictionary files (Office 2010 to 2016, at least) are stored in C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\UProof and have a *.dic file extension. (Note: Follow these instructions if you can’t see the AppData folder.)

Now, *.dic files are just text files with a different file extension. This means you can open them in a text editor (e.g. Notepad; I use EditPlus because it has a ‘sort’ option, but Notepad works fine). Once you’ve opened a *.dic file in a text editor, you can add, edit, or delete entries. Just make sure you save the file with the *.dic file extension, not *.txt.

Because *.dic files are just text files, you can also use a text editor to create a new dictionary file. However, I started by creating a new (blank) custom dictionary in Word because I wanted to sort them and run a macro to check for duplicates. The main thing to remember is that each word MUST go on its own line. You cannot have two words on one line (that includes compound words with a hyphen). So, in the case of Latin species names, I had to put each part of the name on a separate line — this is why I had to sort the list and look for and delete duplicates (there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, for example). Once I’d done that I copied them into my text editor, and continued from step 3 below.

In essence:

  1. Open a text editor.
  2. Add your words, ONE only on each line. Press Enter after each word.
  3. Save the file with a DIC file extension (NOT txt).
  4. Save it to the UProof folder (C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\UProof).
  5. Open Word and go to Word Options > Proofing. (You need to tell Word there’s a new dictionary to check.)
  6. Click Custom Dictionaries.
  7. Click Add.
  8. Select your new dictionary file, then click Open.
  9. Select the check box for your new dictionary file so that Word knows to check it.
  10. Click OK.

That should be it!

[Links last checked November 2018]

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Word: Apply a highlight to all tracked changes

November 22, 2018

Over on an editors’ group I’m part of on Facebook, Wendy asked if there was a way to highlight all her tracked changes. Well, tracked changes are already shown in a different font colour and formatted with underlines (insertions) or strikethroughs (deletions) by default, but she wanted more.

As she found, find and replace didn’t work with finding tracked changes. So she was looking for a macro. I’m not good at writing macros, but I’m pretty good at finding them! And then at modifying them for my purposes. A quick search found two possibilities:

I tested them both on an 80p Word document with some 1450 revisions — the first one worked well and quickly (less than 1 minute), but accepted all my track changes and applied a dark green highlight, which I found hard to read. The second was either still going after an hour, or had hung. Whatever, it had stopped Word and I had ‘not responding’ in the title bar. I ‘killed’ Word and decided to only go back to that one if I couldn’t make the modifications I wanted to the first one.

Meantime, I modified the first macro to NOT accept all the track changes and to change the highlight colour to pink instead of the dark green. Here’s my version of that macro in case it ever disappears from the intertubes at that website. Full credit goes to the macro author ‘nixda’.

If you intend using this macro, copy and paste it — some of the lines may go off the page and you’ll miss this information if you type it.

Sub Tracked_to_highlighted()

' Macro provided by nixda, 18 Sep 2014, https://superuser.com/questions/813428/convert-tracked-changes-to-highlighted
' Adapted by Rhonda Bracey, CyberText Consulting Pty Ltd, 22 Nov 2018, 
' to not accept all track changes and change highlight colour to pink
    tempState = ActiveDocument.TrackRevisions

' Turn off track changes
    ActiveDocument.TrackRevisions = False
    For Each Change In ActiveDocument.Revisions
        Set myRange = Change.Range
        ' myRange.Revisions.AcceptAll
        myRange.HighlightColorIndex = wdPink
    Next
    ActiveDocument.TrackRevisions = tempState
End Sub

[Links last checked November 2018]

 

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LavaCon2018: Day 3

October 25, 2018

The last day of LavaCon 2018 was full of breakout sessions, with no plenary sessions. Here are my notes from the sessions I attended.

Diversify your content ecosystem

Bernard Aschwanden took us through a heap of information, a tiny amount of which I captured in notes. I’ll have to watch the recording and view the slides later. The notes I did make were:

  • clarify, simplify, and reuse content
  • track/share costs — you can cut costs by sharing content, but even better is to generate revenue. Docs can reduce costs AND generate revenue
  • content is a core business asset
  • content is cross-department and cross-functional — it shouldn’t live in silos
  • search is a headache, find is a solution (think of searching for your car keys [anxiety] versus finding your keys [happiness/relief])
  • think about components, not complete docs
  • reuse components across business verticals
  • how and what to measure — process efficiencies to reduce costs; revenue growth

Cross-format and cross-silo: Lightweight DITA (LWDITA) for intelligent content

(Michael Priestley, IBM)

  • DITA is a standard, which means it’s portable and scalable
  • Why isn’t DITA everywhere? perceived complexity (too many tags, too hard to customise, steep learning curve) and it’s XML (software developers mostly use XML for data, so when JSON came along, XML was dead for them; bias against XML in favour of Markdown, HTML5, custom formats)
  • Simplify the model — no longer reliant on XML schema; cross-format content standard
  • LWDITA — has only 2 doc types (topic and map), 40 elements types (33 from DITA 1.3, 7 for multimedia support), and 3 formats (XML, HTML5, Markdown)
  • LWDITA is less flexible but easier to learn
  • Full DITA — advanced features, more flexibility, mature tools
  • LWDITA — start simple, eventually more tool support, don;t need XML
  • Tools that support LWDITA include oXygen XML Editor, Author, Web Author; SimplyXML Content Mapper; and others
  • Publishing options — DITA-OT; XML Mind DITA Converter; Adobe AEM Publishing
  • people and processes are the hard part — tools are the easy part!
  • more info: http://docs.oasis-open.org/dita/LwDITA/v1.0/LwDITA-v1.0.html and https://wiki.oasis-open.org/dita/LightweightDITASubcommittee/lwditatools

‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed — cultivating a weed-free content ecosystem

This was an info-filled talk by Helen St Denis, Conversion Services Manager, from Stilo. She talked about pre- and post-conversion tasks for DITA, amongst other things. I tried to keep up with her but these notes may be missing a few points.

Content strategy includes:

  • content modelling
  • taxonomies
  • setting up storage, reuse and publication facilities
  • perhaps style guides

First step is the content audit:

  • what do we have
  • what do we need to keep
  • what’s OK and where is it now
  • what needs to be rewritten
  • what should be moved first

Writing for minimalism:

  • focus on action-oriented approach
  • understand the users’ world
  • recognise the importance of troubleshooting info
  • ensure users can find the info they need
  • remember that every page is page 1
  • rewrite for reuse
  • rewrite for localisation/translation even if not going there yet — consistent terminology, concise, clear (avoid idioms), grammatically complete (don’t forget ‘that’)
  • minimise inline x-refs — move into a relationship table

Content model:

  • topic-based — smallest unit of content that makes sense by itself
  • 4 basic topics — task, concept, reference, and troubleshooting
  • do not include multiple types on content in the one topic — just one

Tasks:

  • only 1 set of steps per task
  • if there are two ways to do something, you need two tasks
  • doing and undoing something = two tasks
  • improve conversion by adding paragraph breaks between <step><cmd> and<step><result> or <info>

Short descriptions:

  • these help with findability
  • either use everywhere or nowhere — not a mix; everywhere is best, but time consuming

Pre vs post conversion cleanup:

  • if you don’t need the docs immediately, convert after
  • if active docs, do pre-conversion cleanup

Really need to do:

  • topics — break out based on heading levels
  • topic types — many not need immediately, but much easier to add at conversion time, not after

Authoring conventions:

  • tasks — look for gerunds, ‘how to’
  • concepts — look for ‘about’
  • references — look for titles with command names in lower case
  • paragraph styles — look for styles like ‘procedure heading’
  • consider adding prefixes in text (e.g. T_ for task, C_ for concept, R_ for reference)

Topic types:

  • can allow conversion to determine these based on content of topic (e.g steps = tasks; syntax diagram = reference)
  • can use in combination

Data model:

  • tasks are trickiest
  • only 1 set of steps per task
  • no sections — stuff before and after MUST be in the correct order

Inline elements:

  • especially important if you will localise/translate
  • some things may not be translated
  • some things will be presented differently in different languages
  • may already have styles/typographic conventions for these
  • character-level style names (if still working on the docs); if not, consider colour highlighting the elements

Don’t need to worry about:

  • tables
  • links
  • variables
  • conditions
  • having all the answers

Other considerations:

  • graphics — supported format; where stored; findable
  • do graphics have superimposed callouts? Are they easily editable?
  • paragraph breaks — watch out for hard and soft line breaks
  • look out for text in the wrong order (e.g. from text boxes, or from inDesign)
  • eliminate superfluous docs
  • some legacy content may have reuse already built in; some is from copy/paste
  • legacy reuse can be at doc level (e.g. Word master docs), phrase level (e.g. Word auto text)

DITA reuse:

  • reuse is at the element level
  • maps can bring in other maps
  • phrase level — conrefs, keys
  • conrefs allow reuse of single DITA element (para, table, single list item, whole list)
  • conref range — first and last elements MUST be the same

Identifying reused content:

  • text inserts/snippets — use the file name
  • create conrefs using the filename as the ID
  • each block level element becomes a conref

De-duplicating (dedup’g) content:

  • prune redundancies
  • spreadsheet to track duplications — very painful and slow! Avoid
  • tools can help ID identical and near match content, but still need a human eye (e.g. Stilo’s OptimizeR, which compares DITA elements, shows diffs, you choose to dup or not, auto creates conrefs, auto adjusts maps to refer to selected topic, gives a report of what has been dedup’d)
  • allow time for implementing a reuse mechanism

Content 4.0

(Pam Noreault and Chip Gettinger, SDL)

  • Landscape: any device can be used to display content
  • Customer demands: By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as a main differentiator

Product content:

  • branded tech product info is 2nd most trusted source (they didn’t state what the 1st was)
  • customer support (phone/online) has dramatically decreased
  • product info must be available in various languages, for various devices and formats
  • customers want to go to one place to get info

Trends:

  • shared content strategy — content mashups, portals, microcontent, blogs, videos, chatbots, Twitter feeds, documentation and product help, KB articles, communities/forums
  • shared enterprise taxonomy — make content findable by applying consistent terminology and metadata
  • device independence — design content for any device; mobile first; responsive design; how will voice interaction affect content
  • design for global customers — plan initially for translation even if not doing so now
  • adaptive personalisation — machine learning, AI, natural language processing in real time

Actions:

  • review info architecture (IA)
  • be flexible and willing to support new use cases
  • consider content granularity
  • taxonomy — seek help from others, including industry experts
  • work within the politics of the organisation to gain allies — get a seat at the table
  • get your IA house in order
  • move ahead in increments
  • gain knowledge through research and people — seek out those who’ve already done it
  • start with a small pilot and expand
  • morph again and embrace change
  • create a global content strategy
  • understand where you are and where you need to be
  • know the gaps and narrow them
  • support your company’s global business
  • improve the quality of your source content
  • don;t create another content silo
  • get the global strategy completed first
  • Google Translate is NOT the solution!
  • research tools, infrastructure and whatever else you need
  • mix strategy with technology
  • empower SMEs, contributors and authors
  • make content findable and relatable
  • connect contextually (e.g. classified searches vs free text)