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.

authors & audience grammar & speech

Absolute and relative points

On the first day of the New Year my brother would tease that I hadn’t bathed since last year. Well neither has the poor guy who lives under the bridge. Let’s see which reference determines who’s more fragrant.

If today is January 1, then ‘since last year’ could refer to yesterday. I haven’t bathed since Monday means that I do bath with regular frequency. For others a different set of reference points apply. Perhaps as a street dweller I’d understand ‘since last year’ to mean any arbitrary period. I haven’t bathed since whenever means you won’t need bloodhounds to track me down.

lists & tables tech light

A sorted mess

Imagine you are searching through job postings. You’ve got a list and now you opt to sort by date, or location or other relevant category. Each column can be sorted. Typical options are some kind of logical progression. A job seeker might sort jobs to list the newest ones first.

I recently saw a job listing whose sort routine made sense only in theory. In practice, the result was neither sorted nor logical. However you sorted it, the list was a sorted mess.

Here’s what the date sort looked like:


Here’s a rule to break; don’t sort dates numerically or alphabetically. Who cares about a group of jobs that were posted on the 27th of every month. Not useful. In the context of a job posting, a date must be sorted chronologically.

terms & abbreviations

Daylight saving

It’s that time again. Time to skip east by one time zone in search of saving daylight hours. Alaska (daylight) Time becomes British Columbia’s Pacific (standard) Time. Each successive time zone changes the clock by one hour, until Newfoundland Time.

Here, it’s offset by a half hour. So neighbouring Atlantic Time broadcasters tell listeners to stay tuned for the news at 6:00, 6:30 in Newfoundland.

Funny thing about time zones, when you include all the offsets like Newfoundland Time, the zones add up to more than 24 – and that’s a lot of daylight hours partially saved.

time zones
time zones
grammar & speech terms & abbreviations

Happy 2,010!

unmarked calendar
a new decade

Happy new year, and now the great debate begins… How to say the next decade. Words from the last decade got sorted out. It wasn’t the more familiar sounding “nine-one-one” that stuck but rather “nine-eleven”. I don’t recall a debate about calling the  2000-2009 period the ‘oughts’.  Is that even how you say it?

Two things are for certain; the year 2000 happened with nary a Y2K glitch, and the XXI Olympic Winter Games are called the 2010 Winter Olympics. Psst, just say ‘twenty-ten’ and everyone will catch on.

language & style

Style guidance on numbering

Today’s news reported that Sen. Kennedy’s surgery was successful. His surgeon told the press, “The surgery lasted roughly three and a half hours and is just the first step in Senator Kennedy’s treatment plan. One article reported that the surgery took about 31/2 hours. Notice there’s no space between whole number and fraction.

Another report said he was awake during the 3 1/2-hour procedure.

I suppose another report states the duration as 3.5 hours.

Whether using a fraction or decimal, each way shows how company style guides can and do differ. Clearly, the duration in the reports is the same; one style just writes it clearer.