"A self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration"

I read an essay by Alan Shapiro last week titled "Why Write?" In it he summarizes a letter from Elizabeth Bishop that provides a thought-provoking, unique reason for writing. Here's the passage: Elizabeth Bishop provides a possible answer [for why we write] in a famous letter to Anne Stevenson. Bishop writes that what we want from great art is the same thing necessary for its creation, and that is a self-forgetful, perfectly useless conce...

Reflections on Allison Reynold's Talk on Job Skills for the Workplace

I listened to STC Atlanta's recording of Allison Reynold's talk on job skills for the workplace and what universities should be teaching tech writers. Three ideas struck me during the presentation. They may not have been her main points (there was a lot of audience discussion), but they were what I walked away with. 1. Employers looking to hire candidates for the long-term primarly look for assets such as business skills and leadership qu...

Getting Excited About the Upcoming STC Summit in Pennsylvania

When I woke up this morning, I reread the latest STC email, which said although the deadline for proposals to the next STC Summit is today (Friday, Oct 19), they won't actually download the proposals until Monday morning. This is an indirect way of giving people the weekend to finish their proposals, and also a hint that they want more proposals. (Perhaps after the low acceptance rate from last year, many people were intimidated from reap...

WordPress Tip: Recommended Plugin: Better Comments Manager

If you use WordPress and want to streamline the process for responding to comments, check out the Better Comments Manager plugin. You can respond to all your comments directly from your admin console interface, rather than responding in the comments section below each post. This is one of the more useful plugins out there. Here's a screenshot of the Better Comments Manager interface:

Answering Tough Questions About Wikis -- Interview with Anne Gentle

Listen here: In this podcast, Anne Gentle, author of The Quick Web for Technical Documentation, tackles some of the toughest questions about wikis, such as, How do you reuse and possibly single source your wiki content? If only 1 percent of your users contribute, is the wiki even worth it? How do you deal with the lack of a robust style editor in a wiki? What should you do when you do not like a user contribution? Addi...

The Rockley Group Blog Is Here! I have a couple of DITA questions

At the last STC Summit, I ran into the legendary Ann Rockley and interviewed her briefly about the goings-on at the Rockley Group. One of the new projects she mentioned was the upcoming launch of their stylishly-designed blog. I asked her if blogs were becoming an expected norm, and she said that yes, People expect to see a blog, they expect to see information provided in this way. Ann and others at the Rockley Group are interested in co...

My TechCraft Article: Should You Sit Near SMEs?

I published an article in TechCraft last week called "Should You Sit Near SMEs?" TechCraft is the eNewsletter that accompanies the Technical Writers of India (TWI) mailing list. If you already have a Yahoo ID, here's the link to the article -- scroll down to the September 2007 PDF copy. It's in the "Legally Bland" section. (I'm still not sure what this section title could possibly mean, but it's where my article is.) In case you can't acc...

Implementing WordPress 2.3's New Tagging Feature

I've been waiting for tags to come out for a while. Now that WordPress 2.3 (Dexter) is here, I'm trying to integrate them into my site to the fullest extent. The following image shows the new Tag field that appears below posts. Tags vs. Categories First, to get the concept of tags right, think of tags as index words, and categories more like chapter headings. Lorelle explains, Tags are like your blog's index. They are keywords that repre...

Counterpoints to "7 Blogging Beginner Mistakes"

Tibu Puiu from the Lost Art of Blogging asked me to check out his post on the "7 Blogging Beginning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them." Although I agree with much of what he says, I've decided to play devil's advocate here and see what counterarguments I can find against his points. I've listed Puiu's headings below followed by my counterarguments. 1. Not blogging on self-hosted blogs. Puiu's argument is that freely hosted blogs such as with...

LunarPages Sponsors the Tech Writer Voices Podcast

LunarPages -- one of the coolest web hosts around -- has just sponsored the Tech Writer Voices podcast with free web hosting. We've used Lunar Pages with the Suncoast STC chapter site for 3 years and for the Tech Writer Voices podcast for the past year. They've been an excellent web host that I wholeheartedly recommend. LunarPages has a Star-Trek parody audio commercial that I just integrated into the latest Tech Writer Voices podcast. E...

Usability Research Behind Microsoft's Ergonomic Keyboard

Listen here: In this podcast, Microsoft Usability Researcher Hugh McLoone talks about Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Hugh originally gave this presentation to the Puget Sound (Seattle) SIGCHI group on January 25, 2007. SIGCHI stands for Special Interest Group for Computer-Human Interaction. Heidi, who attended the presentation, says, "As you'll hear, Hugh was a driving force behind the ergonomic keyboard....

New WordPress Plugin Enables One-Click Installation of Plugins and Themes

The OneClick installer plugin from Anirudh Sanjeev won the recent WordPress plugin competition. It may seem hard to believe, but after you install the plugin and its associated Firefox extension, installing a plugin only requires you to right-click the plugin's download link and select OneClick Install > Plugin. Then voila, OneClick automatically installs the plugin and only needs activation from your plugin page. It works similarly fo...

News Posts versus Thought Posts

You've probably heard the latest tech news: Google launched its presentations tool WordPress 2.3 was released, offering tagging Yahoo bought Zimbra for $350 million Adobe announced a tech comm suite of RH, FM, Capt., Flash, and Acrob. AuthorIt released a new version (not sure what it offers) The One Child Per Laptop (OCPL) program is underway The Tech Crunch conference announced tons of new products Sketchcast was released, and Ideablob,...

Five Skills Every Technical Writer Needs

A listener to the Tech Writer Voices podcast suggested I do a podcast on the following: Give ideas to people who are just starting out in technical writing. What is the base of knowledge that every technical writer should have? And so in preparation for the podcast, I offer these five skills or characteristics as absolute musts for the technical writer: 1. Facility with technology You have to be somewhat technical, although there are man...

My STC Intercom article: "Top 5 Podcasts for Technical Communicators"

My article, "Top 5 Podcasts for Technical Communicators," appeared in STC's Intercom today. It's in the Cut & Paste section here (stc login required). I didn't have a lot of space to expand, so I thought I'd take the liberty here. First, settling on just 5 podcasts was agonizing and I thought about it for weeks, constantly drawing up lists and ranking them. I actually submitted 10 podcast recommendations, hoping they would say okay we...