authors & audience career exploration

My centred life

My identity blurred the day I become chapter president and employed. Leaving only pockets of time to savor summer, I relished one late afternoon, on a rooftop patio, sipping coffee and being interviewed about work.

Let me back up…

STC Canada West Coast recently launched a service that connects senior technical writers with people exploring a tech writing career. The idea flowed from a planning chautauqua. Thirty days later, a big idea became a new service. The information interview was born and already had a waiting list.

Part bedside manner, part job shadow, the information interview aims to entice students and job seekers to join professional associations. The interviewer gets questions answered and receives free admission to a professional program in exchange for a donation to the local chapter. Ostensibly, the interviewer gets a glimpse of a day in the life of a tech writer. As it turns out, this form of coffee break may yield fruit.

Learn more about the Information Interview Service.

production & publishing

A case for terminal punctuation

The key is knowing how tools work, whether a job takes physical strength or mouse clicks. I used the latter to find a handyman. My needs were simple.

  • Loosen shower handle so that it turns easily.
  • Adjust shower doors so that they slide fully from end to end.
  • Align bi-folding doors and adjust hinge hardware.

An online rating service helped pinpoint the ideal handyman. In describing the smallish job, I learned the estimate would cost the minimum charge. Exactly two hours later I was a pleased customer. My turn now to rate the worker.

When you can’t be sure how content will be presented use terminal punctuation. Omitting punctuation in a text box could display something unexpected. While the feedback form let me list a few items, the online version de-itemized the list.
text box word clump

design & typography

I am Courier

An app I stumbled upon pegs anonymous quiz takers to one of 16 typefaces. It’s a twist on the game asking what kind of animal you are. To analyze yourself, typographically speaking, you must answer four questions.

Question 2 asks:

Does something feel right or does something have a 1 in 2 chance of being right?

The analysis tells me I am Courier, the typeface designed to resemble typewriting. It has rhythmical insistence, is democratic for its even spacing and stands steadfast with its slab serifs. I am just your common character, amused by the personality of type.

Curious about your typeface?  I’d love to point you to the quiz from Pentagram but it no longer exists. Sorry.

authors & audience

Feeling the pull

expecting the pull

I followed the unexplainable to do this thing called president. Now I’ve stepped in it. Going to lead the Canada West Coast chapter for the 2011/12 year.

It’s an honour, really. Engage with the world’s largest professional association serving technical communicators.

The Society for Technical Communication has 11,000 members in over 100 chapters. We work in high-tech, health care, natural resources, legal, utilities, business services and government. The CWC chapter is a geographic community rich with technical communicators.

Past presidents set the model for doing good and giving back. I hear you: uphold this standard!

My chapter has given me tools to profit. So that’s my reason to follow this path. My vision, while still taking shape, will seek ways to engage our 118 members.

authors & audience

The Stanley Cup, unedited

Ice hockey’s top prize is presented to players on the winning team. The quest for every NHL team is to win the Stanley Cup championship, then to have your name inscribed among the greatest names. Some 2,163 names of players and staff decorate the cup.

Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada

photo by John Biehler

Inscriptions and bits of human error

As for naming… There’s hockey hall of famer Bob “GAINY” instead of Gainey. I sympathize with misspelled names. But misspelled teams? How is it possible to slip up TORONTO MAPLE LEAES? BQSTQN BRUINS? NEW YORK ILANDERS? Perhaps someone jotted down Long Island’s team but c’mon, that’s not the paper scrap to give to the engraver. So much for knowing your subject matter!

As for consistency… Call yourself lucky to be named more than once. Count ’em, five variations on Jacques Plante and Dickie Moore. So much for style guidance!

As for corrections… On the trophy? Why the name of a player’s father made it on the cup is an odd problem. But how the mistake was amended is beyond ugly. What’s left of ‘Dad’ is a row of pretty Xs. So much for the first draft.

As for care and feeding… This cup is handled with gloves. This cup has a vault. This cup looks nothing like the bowl Lord Stanley awarded a century ago. Despite its amusing flaws the Stanley Cup remains a gleaming thing to be hoisted.

design & typography production & publishing

A blogoversary sparks a makeover

My starter project, Shorter Documents, turned three years old this month. To celebrate I give it a makeover. Why a makeover? Self-paced publishing is fun until mechanical glitches hit — links break, colours fade, tags need tuning.

What stays, what goes

The vision stays — write commentary about technical writing. What began as a collection of anecdotes grows by the week. Still, I’m keeping it short — in scale and name. Oh, and the blog naming thing? That toys with my height.

A grand redesign takes shape

I approached this makeover in three stages and imposed a one week deadline to get it done. Here’s what I did.

First, deal with data. Analyze categories and tags for duplicates, relevance and one-offs. Control categories using 7 ∓ 2 rule. Manage tags as subcategories or rethink tagging later.

Next, deal with content. Observe how headings breathe, text flows (around images), tables break. Test links, image enlargement, media playback and revise postings that uncover these problems. Pause to assess effort and roadblocks before deciding whether to tweak your template or swap it for something newer.

slide-o-matic home
slide-o-matic home May 2008

Preview, preview, preview. Hunt for the perfect WordPress theme. There are thousands to choose from so look for functionally that fits. How many columns do you need? Choosing the right grid system is like choosing the right sized stock pot. Leave enough room to add your own rhythm and spice. Voilà! Your data and content are remixed.

Koi home
Koi home May 2011

Counting down to the fourth blog anniversary.

production & publishing writing & editing

Free: May issue of STC Intercom magazine

Who doesn’t like free? Well, this month’s issue of STC Intercom magazine is free and available to the public. Nice move STC!

Feature  You May Be an Instructional Designer
Multimedia  Content Evolution in the Translation Industry
Career  Now Is the Time to Design for User-Defined Content: It’s All About Metadata
Writing & Editing  The Technical Communicator’s Machine
Business Matters  Medical Writing and Editing Opportunities for the Independent Consultant or Contractor
The Strategic IA  Introducing the Strategic Information Architect

STC Intercom magazine May 2011
STC Intercom magazine May 2011
production & publishing

A blogger’s go-to place

The Vancouver writing and editing community lost a son last week. Derek K. Miller blogged for a decade until death by cancer made him stop. On news of The Last Post, a wave of traffic clogged his website. The sympathetic outpouring was instant and global.

I knew of Derek’s passion for electronic media and technology and wordcraft. I heard him present to the Editors’ Association of Canada–BC. He gave a thought-provoking talk called Life, Death, and the Blog in which he revealed why he wrote about cancer. He also explained what needs to be in place to keep one’s site going.

Back in March 2008 the audience was allowed to envision the future archive. A new tech world some three years hence preserves Derek’s writings at

book types & parts design & typography production & publishing

Fast food transformation

An operations manual is a 24/7 reference tool. It helps guide someone unfamiliar with your business through the day-to-day operating procedures. In 1958 McDonald’s Corporation created a 75-page operations and training manual. It specified how each menu item should look—french fries cut exactly 0.28 inches thick, hamburgers placed on the grill in six neat rows.

Fast forward fifty-plus years where fast food cooking instructions are designed into kitchen equipment. Crew members rely on panels of images. Instructions that must be printed are written at a fifth grade reading level in English and a second language.

Your operation functions without you

To transform the production-line prototype, redesigned kitchen equipment had to be intuitive. R&D obliged by developing cookers that work only one way. The easier equipment is to use, the easier it is for global fast-food restaurants not to have to train workers. Recognizing high turnover within fast food establishments, fast food execs aimed for “zero training” as documented in Fast Food Nation.

authors & audience

Magicians, mystery shoppers and technical writers

birds tweeting

These occupations require keen observational skills and stealth at blending in anonymously. Workers unite through professional organizations such as the Society for Technical Communication, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

Workers are guided by codes of their professional community.

  • Respect the rights of authors, creators and inventors and obtain permission before using their tricks.
  • Follow principles of honesty, professionalism, fairness and confidentiality to guard the interests of the public and clients in order to promote good business practices.
  • Evaluate communication products and services constructively and tactfully, and seek definitive assessments of our own professional performance.

These occupations are among the top 10 in the Philippines.

A talented magician can earn up to 173.45 USD per party.
A mystery shopper can earn 81.64 USD per project to dine, phone or test a service.
A passionate blogger can earn more than 69.38 USD for an article.

It’s someone’s job to produce something from nothing but it’s unknown who shops for market researchers or writes a manual for magicians.