STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

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Dateline Houston is the newsletter of the Houston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, a nonprofit organization. Six issues are published each year (September through June).

Creating and supporting a forum for communities of practice in the profession of technical communication.

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Managing Editor
Nicole Wycislo
newsletter@stc-houston.org

Editors
Melanie Boston
Robert Delwood
Jamie Diamandopoulos
Jim Hunt

Staff Writers
Deborah Long

President, Cindy Pao
president@stc-houston.org

Executive Vice President,
Rebecca Taylor
evp@stc-houston.org

All chapter leaders

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STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Vol 45, Issue 3

January/February 2006


Features
STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

A Texan's Perspective on Nanjing

by Melanie G. Flanders, Senior Technical Writer, Trend Micro, Inc., China Development Center

Melanie Flanders' comfort food.

Earlier this year, I closed out my life in Houston and accepted a position with a company in Nanjing, China.

Although the summer gets as hot here as in Texas, the humidity here is far less than in Houston. It cools down here at night, and I actually enjoy my late-night bike ride home and nightly walk with my two dogs.

Houston is almost completely air conditioned—you can go anywhere and typically spend no more than five minutes outside in the heat. I miss the air-conditioned offices, restaurants, and stores.

Whereas on a particularly hot day in Houston I might go to the mall or to a movie to cool off, here I go home where my apartment can quickly become a delicious 75 degrees. Ah, heaven! I certainly don't miss the $250 electric bills I would be having in Houston right now.

The thing I love most about Nanjing is the absence of fire ants. However, I have been quite intrigued with this dragon-like insect that occasionally makes its way into my apartment. It is an awesome (and fierce-looking) creature with wings.

A thorough search on the Internet has not produced an identity for this insect. It is not a dragonfly. The dragonflies here are much too delicate to be compared with the helicopter-like dragonflies of Corpus Christi.

People in Nanjing often complain about the traffic. Compared to Shanghai or Houston traffic, Nanjing's traffic is light. Except for peak hours where cars may sit for a bit, the traffic here mostly moves, even if somewhat slowly. In Houston the freeways often double as parking lots.

Now that I ride an electric bicycle rather than drive a car, I have obtained a whole new perspective on morning rush hour traffic.

Instead of sitting through two or three iterations of traffic lights in my air-conditioned car on a city street in Houston, I sometimes sit through two or three iterations of lights at a certain intersection here because there are so many bicycles trying to cross.

The cities do have in common constant road construction and the uncanny ability of all major thoroughfares to be torn up simultaneously.

I have come to terms with the fact that, except for toothpaste and body wash, "giant economy size" does not exist. Instead of driving to my nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter once every four to six weeks to stock up on household items and groceries, I am resigned to having to shop at least once each week.

For someone who dislikes shopping, the planning and execution required to complete the task in China can be frustrating. I remind myself that I cannot carry giant economy size home on my bike, and I cannot manage too much alone even when I decide to use a taxi. Although a taxi can manage the load, I can't manage the loading and unloading at each end unless I can cajole a friend or colleague to come shopping with me.

Wal-Mart and RT Mart here are just as mobbed on the weekends as their stateside counterparts. The free samples may differ, but their presence is similar. In Houston, however, I didn't have to contend with the curious masses peering in my shopping cart to see what I have selected.

Sometimes I wonder whether they are disappointed to discover that I have the same vegetables, meat, buns, and dry goods that they have in theirs. Other than peanut butter, tomato paste, and the occasional six-pack of milk, I don't buy anything that the average Chinese wouldn't buy.

Because I used to spend a lot of time in Houston's rather large Asian community, I am familiar with most of the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that I encounter here. I am also accustomed to buying fish with the head still attached (after living in Japan for four years, I prefer to buy it that way) and one Western supermarket chain was savvy enough to offer a large selection of fresh Asian foods, including live fish and shellfish.

A tech writer's work is never done.

When I go to RT Mart here, I always cruise into the seafood section and say "hello" to all the live turtles, frogs, and eels that I encounter. For a moment I pretend that I am in a pet store, and then I move on to the frozen chicken.

In Texas, you often see the sign "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" at eating establishments. At RT Mart there is a sign that states "No pajamas or slippers." I've noticed people in my community taking evening walks in their pajamas and slippers and thought that a little odd, but I can't imagine going to the store in my pajamas! As I walk and ride the streets of Nanjing, I am constantly amused at the things I notice. I am also reminded that certain human conditions, behaviors, and attitudes transcend culture; they are what make us human.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Exporting from Outlook, Simplified

by Gary Michael Smith, Senior Member

Do you consider the term online help to be an oxymoron? Many do, depending on the product manufacturer and the time that was put into the documentation. But what's worse than bad online help is minimal or no help.

When we decided to evacuate from New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached, I bought a new laptop, knowing that I would have to leave my desktop computer behind. Before fleeing, I tried to save all my e-mail addresses and mail folders from Microsoft Outlook to my nifty Swiss Army Knife flash drive, but to no avail. I'd even spoken with a couple of computer store employees and some friends, and they all confirmed that it can be done, but none remembered how—or even how to find out.

Online help was online no-help, and the options provided in the import/export functions under File in the toolbar simply offered too many options, and I didn't understand them. It wasn't until a couple of months after returning to a soggy Crescent City that I learned how to move Outlook files and folders between computers. And I figured that if I had so much trouble doing this, others have too, which prompted me to write this article. You can also export your profiles so that you don't have to recreate these as well—which is a big benefit if you have more than one e-mail address with your ISP. In a nutshell, if you need to copy all your archived folders, individual e-mail addresses, and address books from one computer to another, follow these simple steps.

To export Outlook elements

  1. In the Outlook toolbar, choose File. If all options don't appear, click the expansion arrow at the bottom of the menu.
  2. Click Import and Export.
  3. In the Import and Export Wizard, select Export to a file, and then click Next.
  4. In the Export to a File window, select Comma Separated Values (Windows)—that is, if you are using Microsoft Windows; otherwise, you might have to experiment to determine the correct format.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Select an item that you want to export, such as Contacts, Calendar, Inbox, or Drafts. Note, however, that if you are attempting to export from Outlook to a less robust program, some functionality might not be exportable/importable. For example, if you export to Outlook Express, the Calendar is not exportable.
  7. Click Next.
  8. In the Save exported file as field, click Browse to locate the directory in which you want to place the file.
  9. In the File name text box, specify a name for the file, and then click Finish.
  10. Repeat the procedure for each item that you want to export.

To import Outlook elements

  1. In the Outlook toolbar, choose File.
  2. Click Import and Export.
  3. In the Import and Export Wizard, select the appropriate option for the type of information that you are importing, and then click Next.
  4. Follow the instructions to indicate the file that you want to import and its location.
  5. Repeat for each type of file that you want to import.

While you shouldn't have to perform this procedure often, keep this article handy for when you do. It will save much time and prevent frustration.

Gary Michael Smith is Senior Publications Specialist with CACI. He's also a writer, editor, and publisher, and can be reached at www.ChatgrisPress.com.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Google: From the Basics to the Features No One Knew Existed

by Robert Delwood

If ever there was a simple application, it's Google (http://google.com). Three new books expose the details and workings of this application. But who needs a book on it, much less three of them? The answer is equally simple: any one who thinks he or she knows Google.

Although everyone knows how to use it (and might even take it for granted), Google goes beyond just being an easy search tool. It's about finding the exact information you need from among four billion Web pages and getting the most from your time. The 31 words on their home page and the intuitive interface hide a surprisingly complexity.

The Basics

In spite of its simplicity, (the I'm Feeling Lucky button is trademarked by the way), the quality of the results you get depends directly on the quality of the search that you specify. The easy stuff first. The default is an AND search. That is, Google will look for pages containing all the words you specify. When you specify:

Olympics synchronized swimming

Google looks for pages with all three of those words.

You can combine logic operators:

Olympics synchronized OR swimming

which is the same as using parentheses to reorder the search:

Olympics AND (synchronized OR swimming)

The results have to have "Olympics" and either "synchronized" or "swimming".

Exact phrases should be set in quotation marks:

Olympics "synchronized swimming"

Finally, you can exclude words and phrases by using the minus sign:

Olympics -"synchronized swimming"

which probably makes for better Olympics anyway.

Another basic search principle is knowing that Google is case insensitive. Word order matters because more search weight is assigned to words in the beginning of the list than later words. Curiously, repeating words affects the search, although Google is not forthcoming about why it does. Small words such as "the" and "an" are usually ignored unless they are in quotation marks or are preceded by the plus sign (+). You can use wildcards but only for whole words. Google does not support stemming (partial wildcard searches). Therefore,

synch*

does not search for variations of "synch," such as "synchronized," "syncopate," or "syncytium." However,

"red, *, blue"

looks for patterns such as "red, white, and blue" and "red, green, and blue."

Google limits searches to 10 items. Phrases inside quotations are considered one item. The wildcard character itself is considered one item, although it can return any number of words. Google limits you (actually, your IP address) to 1,000 searches per day-hardly a problem for anyone except hackers.

Specialized Syntaxes

The searches become more specialized with syntaxes. Syntaxes are searches that specify a part of a Web page only. For instance, the syntax "inurl" limits the search to only the URL. So that:

inurl:help

finds the word "help" in Web addresses. Here are some other syntaxes:

Syntax

Meaning

intext

Searches the body text.

inanchor

Searches the anchor phrase or the text displayed as part of an HREF statement.

daterange
Example:

imclone daterange:2452439-2452441

An undocumented feature allows searching by date range. The numbers are ranges, expressed as the number of days since January 1, 4713 B.C. Perhaps they'll work on this feature a little more.

site

Searches a domain name.

cache

Searches the Google cache for Web pages (handy if you're looking for older Web material).

phonebook

Searches the Google phonebook.

Syntaxes can be mixed with other searches such as:

homeschooling filetype:pdf

Other Google Features

Many (but not all) of these searches are also available in the advanced search page. Google is becoming more than just Web searches. Obvious services on their home page include searching images and news, but they also have groups and Froogle (a price-comparison service and an intentional pun with "frugal"). The More categories are often interesting to look at. These may be additional or experimental services. Google Answers provides a professional research service so that you can ask any question for a fee or, to be technically correct, a tip. You offer a price (usually not less than $25) and if they think it's worth it, they'll find the answer for you. Google Labs provide experimental services, but those are not always officially supported. Subject to change (they've since removed a speech recognition service but added a Froogle wireless one), it's worth the occasional visit.

Although it's the interface that Google is best known for, they're taking Web searches to new dimensions. First, you can write your own HTML code that submits a query. This is convenient if you want to incorporate a search in your own page or to be able to share that search with others. Taking that one step farther, Google released its API (application programming interface) in April 2002 so that you can have programmatic access to Google. Common implementations include a company's Web pages that let you search only their Web site. Third-party companies also make contributions. XooMLe wraps Google results into XML for Web services; search results may be parsed or saved to files. You can also get results back by e-mail. This is useful if you need to schedule queries or if your mobile device (such as wireless phone) handles e-mail better than it does Web browsing.

References

Three books cover Google in excellent detail. Addition details can be found through the links.

Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tricks
Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest
O'Reilly Books, 352 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00447-8
Google Hacks is a programmer or technical approach. It is written precisely and tersely (a touch of light writing takes edge off the hard edge) but is rich in detail with plenty of examples. It covers the use of the search effectively, but most of the book addresses the Google API and programming Google. It provides copious code samples, usually with PERL, but uses .NET also. There are 100 hacks, although 50 seem to be tips.

Google Pocket Guide
Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest, and D.J. Adams
O'Reilly Books, 140 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00550-4
Google Pocket Guide is a variation of the Google Hacks and the same authors wrote it. The book compiles the nonprogramming topics from Hacks and keeps the details and interesting aspects. True to its title, it does fit into a shirt pocket.

Google: The Missing Manual
Sarah Milstein, Rael Dornfest
O'Reilly Books, 311 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00613-6
The Missing Manual explains Google in a conversational tone. Marketed with the tag line question "Why would such an easy-to-use program need (a manual)," the manual not only looks at the basics of searching but also goes into the news, Google groups, Google Answers, and new technology, such as bookmarklets. A chapter covers improving your Google rating for helping others to find you and gives you tips to decrease your rating if you're out for Web anonymity.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Great "Lessons from the Desert"

Tech Comm 2005

by Linda King, Project Manager, Hewlett-Packard Company

The November "Lessons from the Desert" conference—planned and hosted jointly in Phoenix by the STC Phoenix chapter and STC's international Instructional Design and Learning SIG—was a real treat for those fortunate enough to attend. In fact, the small scale of this STC Region 5 conference (2 days and 100 attendees) and the excellent conference facilities made this an exceptional opportunity to meet and share ideas with other technical communicators from across the country, including a half dozen leaders of STC at the Society level. For example, I had dinner one night with Suzanna Laurent, the current Society president, and two Society board members. I also networked with folks representing a broad spectrum of industries, including two from one of my company's vendors.

Because the ID&L SIG cosponsored this event, many conference sessions addressed topics of primary interest to professional trainers and instructional designers. I attended other sessions with more direct application to my current projects. I'd like to share some "nuggets" that I captured in those sessions.

The keynote address by scientist and children's author Conrad J. Storad provided delightful examples of how to analyze a target audience and convey scientific and technical information to them in creative ways. Conrad's target audience is children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. His books, such as Don't Call Me Pig and Lizards for Lunch, are wonderful teaching tools for parents who have children in that age group.

In the "Motion-Media Script Design for Technical Communicators" session, Martin Shelton discussed the psychology of film and emphasized that film and video are kinetic visual media. The mind grasps kinetic images very quickly, but it processes words slowly. In waiting for words to catch up to the visual images, the viewer's mind wanders and information is lost. Shelton said that for optimal communication, at least 75 percent of a "show" should be visual. He emphasized that the storyboard is the basic script format, that it should be developed before the audio script to identify the visual images needed to communicate as much as possible, and that words should be used to communicate only additional information that the audience must know for full understanding. Shelton noted that the power of film and video is that they can manipulate time and space to juxtapose things effectively. He concluded that the keys to effective film and video are to keep them short, simple, and straightforward.

In the session "Riding the Harmonic Convergence of Instructional Design, Training, and Technical Communication," Mark Hanigan discussed how former lines of demarcation among the three professions are fading. He emphasized that technical communicators need to stop thinking of themselves as writers, editors, trainers, etc., and start thinking of themselves as project resources who can wear multiple hats to provide greater value and achieve career growth.

"Surviving the Wild SME Bird Encounter" and "The Writer/SME Survival Kit" sessions were about how to work more effectively with SMEs (subject matter experts). Key points the speakers made included the importance of

  • understanding the various personalities of SMEs to determine how best to collaborate with them
  • using the same skills that we use in developing deliverables to prepare for collaboration with SMEs
  • contributing in any way we can to enhance the product or deliverable
  • "watching the SME's back" (that is, finding possible errors and then privately and tactfully giving him or her the opportunity to quietly fix the problem)
  • making SMEs understand the value that technical communicators can add to projects

"Risk-Resilient Remedies for Technical Communicators" was a hands-on workshop that emphasized the importance of doing thorough risk assessments and managing the risks to project timelines, budgets, and success. The speaker, Karen Graden, led us through exercises of risk analysis, risk prevention, and risk remediation on hypothetical projects. She gave participants a very useful form for analyzing project risks.

In "Magical Numbers: The Seven-Plus-or-Minus-Two Myth," Jean-luc Doumont debunked the long-standing premise that the ideal number of items in a list, sections in a document, or ideas in a section is 7 plus or minus 2. He clearly demonstrated that readers can recognize and recall no more than five items in a list (possibly six for a few people) unless the items are clustered into small groups with significant space between the groups. He particularly emphasized and illustrated the importance of this concept for designing effective websites.

In the optional "STC Community Leadership Workshop," four key leaders of STC at the Society level shared their ideas about what it takes to be a good leader and how to recruit volunteers. These are some of the traits identified as vital in a successful leader:

  • Strong personal character: Get to know the personalities of the people you lead, and work with them accordingly.
  • Integrity: Build trust in yourself, and build the trust of others.
  • Perseverance: Never give up; identify your shortcomings and do something about them.
  • Genuine listener: Be fully present when you interact with others.
  • Flexibility: When something happens, view it as an opportunity. Pay attention to and address the needs of others. Feel protective of your people (volunteers, direct reports, etc.).


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

To DITA or Not to DITA

Choosing Structure in an Unstructured World

by Dean Liscum, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

At a recent STC-Houston presentation about DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), a member of the audience asked, "Is it worthwhile to change the way we do everything?" The presenter responded with a technical writer's equivalent of "Duh!" and moved on to the next topic.

To the professional who makes her or his living from DITA, the answer is obvious. To the writer who's lucky to make a living (myself included), it isn't so obvious. This article is my attempt to justify a little structure in a chaotic but thriving universe information.

The Atomic View: Topics, Topics Everywhere

Information and its fraternal twin, documentation, are basic elements for survival. As with anything essential to existence, humans take information for granted and misunderstand it. Ask John Q. Public what information consists of, and you are as likely to hear "earth, wind, air, and water" as you are to hear "facts" or "things." The developers of DITA have concluded that the smallest relevant form of information is a topic. Everyone has been exposed to this view of information. It's the basis of the 5-paragraph essay we learned to write in elementary school. It's the unit of conveyance in our reference books and in our narratives. It's the unit of our linguistic transactions. Have a topicless conversation with someone other than an immediate family member and see how satifying it is.

DITA uses topics as the unit of its documentation architecture. I'm comfortable with topics, and although the information that I've developed is not divided into topics that are identified by a set of metadata, it easily could be with the help of an intern or two and some clear guidelines. So from a perspective that involves both creation and migration, DITA is worth it for me.

Isn't That Special

Of course topics differ not only in content but in type, tone, and significance. DITA accommodates these differences by providing four fundamental units by which to categorize information: topic, concept, reference, and task. These information types can cover everything from a warning to a prerequisite to a unique procedure in a larger process. Recognizing that these categories are rather basic, the DITA developers made DITA extensible. With respect to information types, extensibility means that you can take a fundamental unit and add (or extend) its defining criteria to narrow the scope of information to which it applies. With this feature, you can create derivatives or subtopics, such as a warning unit based on the fundamental unit concept. Or you can develop a troubleshooting procedure unit based on the task unit. A cursory analysis of document types (reference guide, error message manual, and user guide) and paragraph tags of my existing documentation quickly reveals the inherent information typing that already exists in my documents. For new documentation, these extended, derivative topics can serve as information templates that help you supply the required details. They remind writers what type of information is appropriate and ensure that each topic is uniformly and consistently addressed.

Again, I can envision my technical oeuvre transformed—with the help of a triumvirate of tireless interns and a little tyrannical oversight.

DITA also seems robust enough to handle both a loosely typed information set and a granularly typed set.

Some Assembly Required

So once the world, or rather the very limited world of my problem domain, has been documented in these bits, what do I do with it? My users don't want a pile of topics. They want help. They want structure. They want coherent user guides with which they can fill their briefcases and line their book shelves. Luckily, DITA enables construction of dynamic documents by using property-based processing. I create an outline and specify my delivery type, and a nifty DITA-enabled tool produces a help system or paper user guide or a Web- based decision tree.

Buy, Sell, or Puree

My conclusion is that DITA is a well-reasoned but complex structured methodology that is flexible enough to be customized, yet simple enough to be implemented with the aid of DITA-supporting authoring tool.

Is it work? Yes, but at today's intern prices, I think I can afford it. Is it worth it? I think so. The additional work of providing metadata for each topic isn't really additional work. I've already done the mental work of classifying the information. I just need to capture it in a form that is more persistent than my memory and one that can be readily accessed by a content management or documentation production tool that doesn't come shrinkwrapped with an ice pick and a bone saw.

DITA'd Out? No?

Find more information at http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/xml/library/x-dita1/.

Regular Columns
STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

From the President

Happy New Year!

by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

This month lets me reflect on the old year and toast the new year.

Remembering 2005

The second half of the 2004–2005 program year was a very successful time for our community. Here are some of the things we accomplished:

  • 2005 Employment Share-the-Knowledge (STK): About 50 people attended this full-day session in January that focused on employment and on helping consultants and independent contractors build their businesses.
  • STC Board Meeting: The STC board met in Houston in January, and STC Houston threw them a reception at the Canyon Café.
  • STC Houston Word Seminar: Region 8 Director Beau Cain educated Houston writers about the virtues of creating books in Microsoft Word.
  • Associate Fellows: Pat Bishop and Melanie Flanders were named STC Associate Fellows!
  • 2005 STC Houston Awards Banquet: A new location at the Houston Club brought glamour and fun to this annual event. Remember the lava cake?
  • New Member Luncheon: New members of STC Houston had lunch together and listened to Donna Marcotte talk about the virtues of being an STC Houston member.
  • CIC-SIG Workshop: STC Fellow Avon Murphy visited STC Houston to share his wisdom with our consultants and independent contractors.
  • High School Science Writing Competition: STC Houston awarded scholarship money, books, and gift cards to the winners!
  • Volunteer Recognition Event: Everyone who volunteered in STC Houston during the year was invited to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for lunch and an educational visit to the exhibits.
  • Distinguished Chapter Service Awards: Former STC Houston treasurer Wayne Schmadeka and STC Houston past president George Slaughter received this STC honor. Do you remember how surprised George looked?
  • 2005 STC Annual Conference: Eight STC Houston members presented sessions in Seattle, and STC Houston won Chapter of Distinction!
  • STC Houston End-of-Year Party: I got to recognize the admin council for all their hard work, and we named Jewel Darby Volunteer of the Year!
  • University of Houston-Downtown/STC Houston STK: Aggressive marketing by Dr. Ann Jennings and her Professional Writing Program crew, as well as scintilating speakers, led to one of the best-attended STKs ever.
  • Leadership Transition Meeting: Outgoing and incoming STC Houston administrative councils came together in June to plan for the 2005–2006 program year. Even a few new volunteers attended!

An Exciting Ride

After the leadership transition meeting, work on the 2005–2006 program year progressed quickly. Here's what we've done so far:

  • Innovative Thinking, Strategic Thinking, and Leadership STKs: STC 2nd Vice President (and still STC Houston member) Linda Oestreich returned to Houston from her home in California to help us remember how to be creative and innovative. Then she hung around a little longer to work with STC Houston leaders.
  • STC Houston program meetings: Dean Liscum recruited some timely and interesting speakers. And who can forget his speaker introductions?
  • Hurricane Relief Committee: STC Houston took the lead of a local committee chartered with providing help to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  • STC Houston Budgets: The administrative council created and approved budgets for almost all of our community activities.
  • STC Competitions: STC Houston found a trading partner, collected a record number of local entries, judged entries from STC Atlanta, and sent out banquet invitations.
  • 2006 Employment STK: Planning for this annual STC Houston event got underway.
  • 2006 STC Annual Conference: Several STC Houston members learned that they will be presenters in Las Vegas.

The year 2005 was, indeed, an exciting year for STC Houston. I am honored to have been your leader for both halves of the year.

Looking Forward to 2006

Do I want to keep this momentum in 2006? You bet I do!

Taking the Chapter of Distinction award at the 2005 annual conference is one moment I won't forget soon. The dedication and hard work of every volunteer in our community makes the award so sweet!

I'm looking forward to 2006, and I hope you share my enthusiasm. It's our combined enthusiasm that makes STC Houston successful. So join me in a toast: Here's to STC Houston in 2006. Cheers!

Keep in Touch

If you have ideas or want to help out, let me know. My e-mail address is president@stc-houston.org


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

From the Editor

Phoenix Rising

by Nicole Wycislo, Managing Editor, Dateline Houston

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda. Last year was a major downer. New year, same ol' broken resolutions, same ol' mess . . . whatever! Are these your thoughts? Well, I thought and spoke them . . . whining, looking for a little cheese and crackers on the side. Who wouldn't have a negative outlook after reflecting only on the lowlights of the past year? Well, after I got sick of hearing myself (and after my husband telling me to look on the sunny side), I was able to enter the 2005-way-back machine and actually see the year for what it was instead my depressing thoughts about it.

Guess what? What I discovered in the way-back machine is that I grew. Growth is transformation. Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, a new me emerged from the old me. It happens every year to everyone, regardless of what else happens. I expanded my capacities for change, uncertainty, breakdowns, and adventure. I also learned to have fun along the way, to chuckle at the absurdity of life, and most of all, to laugh at myself . . . to lighten up a bit. Growing is the single thing I can count on doing every year without fail. Knowing that I can't fail is a great way to kick off the New Year and the perfect way to start each day. Have successful year, as it's yours for the claiming.

My best, Nicole


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Member Spotlight

Articles: [STC Houston Welcomes New Member] [BMC Star Award]
[New Arrival][Put Your STC Houston Team Member in the Spotlight]

STC Houston Welcomes New Member

Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Technical Writer, AspenTech

STC Houston rolls out the welcome mat for new member Joyce Evans!

When Joyce decided to embark on an editing career, she was encouraged by the fantastic support she received from members of STC and their network. Eighteen months ago, she entered the communication field as a technical editor, initially honing her skills while interning with a senior editor. Joyce has since established herself as a contract editor, currently providing services to the oil-field engineering community. Joyce has experience with style guides for a number of professional engineering and geosceince journals and enjoys assisting professionals to achieve high communication standards in their professional papers, engineering data sheets, and marketing communications. Joyce's past professional career as a petroleum industry geoscientist enables her to apply a broad background of knowledge to copyediting and proofreading technical documentation of all types. Each document brings refreshing, new challenges and rewards realized through a supportive editor/author relationship.

BMC Star Award

by Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Deborah Silvi, Mary Cameron, and Bill Gearhart

The BMC Star Awards are given quarterly to less than 5% of employees who exhibit exceptional behavior by achieving objectives that significantly impact organizational goals, providing outstanding performance and leadership, streamlining processes, contributing to the development of superior products, and implementing innovative new ideas. Employees are nominated by their peers and selected by executive management.

The STC Houston Membership Committee would like to congratulate the following STC members for winning the BMC Quarterly Star Award.

Therasa Dunson
Theresa Dunson received the award for her contributions on a new and innovative documentation deliverable-the Parameter Reference Database (PRD), which she helped produce.Theresa, in response to receiving the rewards made the following comments: "To me it is always an honor to be recognized for one's efforts; however, I was very fortunate to work with several people whose ideas and work contributed to the success of the project. So while I am grateful for the recognition, I'm truly grateful to those people who worked alongside me through the ups and downs in the delivery of this project. I don't know what I would have done without them."

Paula Green
Paula Green received the award for her efforts in delivering a customer-centric user guide for MAXM Database Advisor for IMS 2.0. Paula worked full throttle to not only meet but exceed the project requirements. Paula shared the following comment regarding the award: "Kimberly Kilman, who was the other writer on the project, nominated me for the award. I believe that her skillfully written message to the award committee was the reason why they chose me from among many worthy candidates. The respect and praise that Kim expressed in her message means more to me than the corporate recognition."

Melody Locke
Melody Locke received the award for her contributions to the development of Portal 1.2 and SDK 1.3 releases documentation. Melody produced outstanding results in creating information customers and partners can use to quickly understand, use, and value these high-visibility products.

Joy Thompson
Joy Thompson received the award for her contributions to the CM&P RTV (Route To Value) solution guide. This guide was a huge undertaking that will fill a unique need for both the field and BMC customers. Joy worked tirelessly on this effort and should be commended for thinking outside of the box, writing in a new style, and delivering something that BMC hasn't offered before.

Joy shared the following comments about winning the award: "It's always an honor to be recognized by my coworkers and by BMC. I am a member of a team of three who received the award. My teammates-Bob Massa and Julia Osgood-are in Waltham, Massachusetts. They are two of the best technical communicators you'll ever meet. We went out on a limb to produce a solutions guide about managing virtualized data centers by using integrated, complementary software solutions from two business units, spanning four product lines. BMC had never done this before, but BMC allowed us to do it. That speaks volumes, doesn't it?"

Bill Gearhart
Bill won the award for his advocacy of the Technical Publications group and for reorganizing his group to match the lines of business at BMC.

New Arrival

by Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Membership Committee Manager, STC Houston

Alyssa Fox
Congratulations to the Fox family on their new arrival. Alyssa Fox is the proud new mommy of Ronin Adler Fox, a beautiful little boy, who joined us on November 29, 2005. We send happy thoughts and good wishes to both Alyssa and Ronin.

Put Your STC Houston Team Member in the Spotlight

by Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Membership Committee Manager

The STC Houston Membership Committee wants your assistance in identifying and spotlighting the outstanding work and accomplishments of our local members. We feel that it's important to share the accomplishments (promotions, awards, volunteer work, etc.) of our local members-not only to honor those involved, but to encourage those working toward their own goals. The stories that you share will appear in a new column in Dateline Houston, titled "Member Spotlight."

To share a personal accomplishment or the accomplishment of an STC member you know, complete the Member Spotlight form at http://www.stc-houston.org/memberspotliteform.html.

News
STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Chapter News

Articles: [Volunteer Spotlight] [The STC Houston Forum] [Awards Banquet] [November 2005 Program Review] [Program for January Meeting] [Administrative Council Meetings] [Employment Committee]

Volunteer Spotlight

Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

Thanks to all of our STC Houston volunteers. Plainly put, you are the best!

October Volunteers

With a dedication to STC Houston that's just plain scary, these October volunteers lent a hand:

Luette Arrowsmith

Cathy Bettoney

Pat Bishop

Jewel Darby

Robert Delwood

Jamie Diamandopoulos

Trena Fellers

Alyssa Fox

Bill Gearhart

Pat Golemon

Jim Hunt

Mac Katzin

Linda King

Ann Liggio

Dean Liscum

Deborah Long

Jowell Lydon

Mitch Marcum

April McAnespy

Sherry Michaels

Paul Mueller

Elizabeth Navarro

Rick Sanchez

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Deborah Silvi

George Slaughter

Jennifer Smith

Meredith Tabor

Rebecca Taylor

Jocelyn Williams

Nicole Wycislo

Melanie Boston

November Volunteers

Gobble gobble! These volunteers weren't too stuffed to help out during November!

Veronica Acevedo

Patrick Caldwell

Jim Casey

Kate Compton

Jewel Darby

Jessica Dickerson

Ann Diebel

Trena Fellers

Carol Hale

Molly Johnson

Linda King

Ann Liggio

Dean Liscum

Deborah Long

Jowell Lydon

Elizabeth Navarro

Cindy Pao

Debbie Phillips

Lori Pinder

Crystal Rawls

Sandra Rybarczyk

Maureen Sahualla

Rick Sanchez

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Mark Stevens

Joy Thompson

Jocelyn Williams

Who's Missing?

Maybe I've made a mistake-forgotten to include a name or two? Or maybe we're missing your talents on our volunteer force! If you're up for a challenge or a new skill to add to your resume, let us know! Cathy Bettoney, vice president over volunteers, wants to hear from you. You can send her an e-mail message at vp4@stc-houston.org.

The STC Houston Forum

Creating and Providing Value

by Rick Sanchez, AspenTech, Inc.

The management of the STC Houston Forum would like to recognize the efforts of Steve Brunet, STC-Louisiana Co-Manager and Forum Moderator, who has called the members of the STC-Louisiana Forum into action.

In his post http://www.stc-houston.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1315, Steve addresses the need to gather and use the forum as a "key means of communication, information sharing, and discussion of issues, announcements, and news affecting technical communicators in our state, chapter, and profession." Steve's suggestion embodies the basic premise behind the STC Houston Forum. Moreover, in his subsequent post, http://www.stc-houston.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1323, he employs the tool for its intended purpose. He uses his post to call the audience members into action. Steve expertly initiates a discussion in the STC-Louisiana forum by highlighting his involvement in technical writing and suggesting many interesting discussion questions that entice the reader to ponder his or her own involvement in the field of technical writing.

The management of the STC Forum hopes that by highlighting Steve's efforts, his call to action will be well received and that other members of the community will be encouraged to take on a similar and proactive approach to forum participation.

Getting Involved
A reminder: these interactions are taking place between registered users. You can view these interactions by visiting the STC Houston Forum at http://www.stc-houston.org/phpBB2/index.php; however, if you want to post a comment, you must become a registered user.

Getting Started
Begin by using the "Getting Started" forum, which provides instructions for registering and provides help to use the features of the forums. To register, follow the instructions provided in "STC Houston Forum Registration" at http://stc-houston.org/phpBB2/download.php?id=727.

Questions and Comments
The STC Houston Forum is here to serve you, so take advantage of this local benefit. If you want to learn more about the STC Houston Forum or if you want to express your concerns, ideas, or recommendations, please contact Rick Sanchez at rick_sanchez7@hotmail.com.

Awards Banquet

Honoring the Winners

by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

The conclusion of the STC Houston 2005-2006 competitions is close at hand, with the Awards Banquet right around the corner. On this very special night we will gather together to honor technical communicators who have been judged the best in the area. I hope you will join Mistress of Ceremonies Susan Tacker, the administrative council, and me!

Location
The Houston Club
811 Rusk

Date
Friday, February 3, 2006
6:30 p.m. networking and entry viewing
7:30 p.m. dinner and awards ceremony
9:30 p.m. additional viewing and entry pickup

Cost
$35 (members)
$40 (nonmembers)
$35 (student and unemployed members)

Banquet Invitation Lost in the Mail?
Banquet invitations were mailed to all STC Houston members in December. If you did not receive your invitation, please check your mailing information at http://www.stc-houston.org.

November 2005 Program Review

DITA and XML with Tom Magliery and Bob Manning

by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

We have seen the future of structured authoring, and it is XML!

Tom Magliery and Bob Manning stopped by Houston in November to tell us about DITA-which stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture-and XML, these being hot topics in the tech comm world.

Tom, an XML Technology Specialist with Blast Radius, gave an overview of DITA and later gave a demonstration of the Blast Radius product XMetaL. Bob, a Senior Systems Engineer with Idiom, gave us more information about DITA and also demonstrated his company's product, WorldServer.

DITA
DITA 1.0 was adopted as a standard in June of 2005, and the DITA technical committee is currently defining DITA 1.1. DITA technology lets you reuse content, automate producing and publishing, and globalize your content faster and cheaper. A DITA architecture incorporates topics, maps, content reuse, and specialization to produce information deliverables.

You can also use DITA document types to produce different kinds of documents. For example, you might have one DITA for software, but a different DITA for hardware. Using topics and maps, a writer can create individual units of information and then use a map to organize the topics in different ways and create different documentation deliverables.

The presentation also addressed some of the "gotchas" of implementing a DITA architecture. You or your company must plan carefully so that you minimize the effects of the learning curve and adoption of the new technology.

Product Demonstrations
With the Blast Radius tool, XMetaL, you can create DITA content in a graphical user interface, rather than manually coding. The Idiom tool, WorldServer, is a centralized system through which you can author, globalize, and produce documents. The WorldServer product can work in conjunction with XMetaL.

More Information
If you would like more information about these presentations, check out the STC Houston website, where the PowerPoint presentations are posted. These presentations contain links to websites with more information about DITA.

Program for January Meeting

Employment

by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

To inspire you to contemplate your current state of employment and help you change it, should your ruminations prove unsettling, the January meeting is all about employment. The beginning of the year is a time for thinking about the future. Unless you're independently wealthy, your choice of employment will consume a large portion of that future.

Terry Devlin of TCM International will discuss networking and rapport building. Robin Kessler of The Interview Coach will explain how to write an effective resume.

About Terry
Terry Devlin is a career counselor with TCM International in Houston. He holds a Master's degree in counseling from the University of Houston and is a licensed psychotherapist. He has more than 15 years of experience guiding clients in career-related areas.

Terry will be speaking on the topic of networking and rapport building. "Opportunities present themselves at third-level contacts!" That's a mantra that he guides his clients to understand.

Terry will explain the importance of third-level contacts and provide a method for helping people extend their networking to that level.

About Robin
Robin Kessler is the co-author (with Linda A. Strasburg) of Competency-Based Resumes: How to Get Your Resume to the Top of the Pile. Robin is president of The Interview Coach, a human resources and career consulting firm that is based in Houston.

Robin also teaches interviewing skills and business and professional communication as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston-Downtown. She has more than 20 years of experience improving resumes, interviews, presentations, and organization communication as a human resources professional, consultant, and career coach.

She has written articles about speaking skills and organization communication for publications including HR Magazine, Employment Relations Today, and the Houston Chronicle. A native Houstonian, Robin received her BA and MM (MBA) from Northwestern University.

Location
Hilton Houston Westchase
9999 Westheimer

Date
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
6:20 p.m. announcements
6:30 p.m. program

Cost
$10 (members)
$15 (nonmembers)
$5 (student and unemployed members)

Administrative Council Meetings

The STC Houston administrative council met October 11, 2005 at Net IQ Corporation. The minutes from the September 13 meeting were approved, as were the Reconciliation Summary, Transaction Detail, and Balance Sheet reports from September. Employment committee manager Gary Foster presented the STC Employment Survey results for 2005. Final discussion and adjustments were made for next year's budget, and the budget was approved. An executive session was held to discuss Associate Fellow nominations.

The administrative council also met November 8, 2005. The minutes from the October 11 meeting were approved, as were the Reconciliation Summary, Transaction Detail, and Balance Sheet reports from October. The STC Employment Survey, newsletter articles, banquet ticket rates, and administrative council holiday dinner were also discussed. The administrative council did not meet in December.

The administrative council will meet January 10 at the Hilton Houston Westchase, immediately following the STC Houston program meeting. For more information, contact Cindy Pao at president@stc-houston.org.

Employment Committee

Honoring the Winners

Gary Foster, Employment Committee Manager.

The Employment Committee has been staying busy covering the Internet and Houston Chronicle and then posting all findings on our Employment Bulletin Board. A special thanks goes to Louise Horton and Elizabeth Navarro for researching the Internet and Chronicle.

The market for technical writers has been a little above average for this time of year, although November and December are typically flat months due to the holiday season. I am not saying there aren't jobs out there, but companies will typically wait until after the first of the year to hire.

Employment STK
The Employment Committee has been busy making plans for the upcoming STK. Members of the committee have been discussing different topics and presenters. Yes, the Employment STK is scheduled for January 28. It will be held at the Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2353 Rice Blvd, from 1:00 to 5:00. So come prepared to spend the afternoon with us and learn.

A special thanks goes to Janis Rudd for coordinating with the church and contacting individuals to present topics of interest.

More details will follow within the next few weeks as we firm up our topics. Be sure to visit our web site for the latest job posting.

The 2005 STC Houston Salary Survey was completed in October. Many thanks to the people who participated in the survey. The survey results should be posted on the Employment web page.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Society News

Articles: [Call for Papers: Currents 2006] [Call for Papers: Localization Wor]

Call for Papers: Currents 2006

STC Atlanta Conference

STC Atlanta is proud to announce Currents 2006, its 17th annual technical communications conference, March 24–25, at the Atlanta campus of Mercer University.

Currents 2006 includes a full-day workshop on Friday, March 24, and a full-day conference on Saturday, March 25. BreakPoint Books will be present on Saturday with technical communication-related books for sale.

For more information about Currents 2006, point your browser to http://www.stcatlanta.org/currents.htm. More details will be posted to the Web site as information becomes available.

Share your professional expertise with fellow technical communicators at Currents 2006. Submit your proposal no later than Friday, January 13. Your proposal should include:

  • 100 to 400 words about your topic, including the complete title, purpose, author(s), company name, and complete contact information
  • session format (such as panel, workshop, or presentation)
  • complete list of all audiovisual requirements, and any additional presentation requirements
  • one-page biographical sketch, including the specific business community that you support

For more information about proposals, go to http://www.stcatlanta.org/currents06/callforspeakers2006.pdf. Authors of accepted proposals will receive detailed instructions about preparing their papers for publication.

Call for Papers: Localization World

European Localization World Conference

Localization World has announced a call for papers for Localization World Barcelona, Spain. The conference, scheduled for May 30–June 1, has the theme "Working-Together!" The deadline for submissions is January 31.

The focus is the old, yet new, trend of industry collaboration. Suggested topics include internet-based sharing of translation memories, open-source translation technologies, volunteer and virtual translation teams, cross-company project teams, unified industry terminology, new forms of alliances in online market places, and authoring and translation collaboration. The conference will also focus on translation industry collaboration and software, government, and nongovernment institutional translations. For more information, go to http://www.localizationworld.com.

Call for Papers: SIGCHI

CHI 2006: Interact.Inform.Inspire

The Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) has announced its conference on human-computer interaction, April 22–27. The conference theme is "Interact.Inform.Inspire."

SIGCHI is accepting late submissions in the categories Doctoral Consortium, Student Design Competition, Special Interest Groups, and Work-in-Progress. For more information, go to http://www.chi2006.org.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Networking Opportunities

If you have a networking opportunity to share, please tell us! Go to www.stc-houston.org/contacteditor.htm.


STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Upcoming Seminars

Event: Textual Bloopers and How to Avoid Them

Date and time
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
12:00 p.m.–1:30 p.m.

Event Information:
Members (US$): 99 (your net fee may be different if you have a discount coupon)
Non-Members (US$): 149 (your net fee may be different if you have a discount coupon)
Seminar Level: All levels
Seminar Type: Web-telephone
Registration closes 24 hours before the event.

Description
This seminar covers common textual bloopers that occur in computer-based products and online services. We'll identify the most insidious types of bloopers, such as these:

  • Too much text
  • Speaking Geek
  • Inconsistent terminology
  • Inconsistent style
  • Clueless error messages

A short quiz will provide practice in recognizing these errors. We'll also discuss techniques to keep errors from occurring and discuss the importance of developing and adhering strictly to a project lexicon.

About the Panelist
President and principal consultant at UI Wizards, Inc., a product usability consulting firm, Jeff Johnson has worked in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) as a user-interface designer and implementer, engineer manager, usability tester, and researcher. He is the author of GUI Bloopers: Don'ts and Dos for Software Developers and Web Designers (2000) and Web Bloopers: 60 Common Design Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (2003).


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P.O. Box 42051, Houston, TX 77242-2051 | 713-706-3434
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