Sunday, June 19, 2005

An Original Copy

I've been introduced to the site "Oxymoronica." My preliminary conclusion is that I love it. The word is defined by the site owner as

"[a]ny compilation of phrases or quotations that initially appear illogical or nonsensical, but upon reflection, make a good deal of sense and are often profoundly true."

But shame on me. I have been using the singular word oxymoron to refer to the plural occurrences of the phrases.
"When you have more than one oxymoron, what do you call them? The typical answer, of course, is oxymorons. But, technically, that would be wrong. The correct plural form of the word is oxymora.... If you want to be precise, oxymora is the word to use.
This is the kind of information that Oxymoronica provides. Important stuff, wot?
"[I]f you say oxymora, purists will nod approvingly, but average people may think you're a pretentious show-off. It's a judgment call.
I love this guy!

Dr. Mardy Grothe, the creator of the Web site, describes how he coined the word oxymoronica:
If erotica and exotica describe things that hold a special interest or fascination, then why not oxymoronica to refer to this special interest of mine? Just like that, a new word was born.
Yes, why not?

So, if you are like me, proclaim your love of oxymora with proud humility. Speak clearly ambiguous phrases, such as "Be careful what you wish for; it may come true," with premeditated spontaneity.

You never know, it may lead to planned serendipity in your life.

Who Needs Copywriters?

This is a good morning for a rant.

I'm not sure what prompted Jason Fried to write about writing for software in the "Signal vs. Noise" blog, but I always appreciate a good plug for technical writers. I agree with his point: pay attention to your writing.

I'm just not sure what prompted him to call it copywriting.

To me, copywriting is what marketeers do, and it involves words like scalable and cross-platform and verticals. Writers write. Marketeers write copy. I'm not the only one who thinks this.

I'm not sure why I'm so cranky about the term CopyWriting. I guess I think it's just overdone. The word Writing gets the point across, doesn't it? What more do you communicate by adding Copy to it? What else might I be writing? Dishes? DishWriting. As Jason notes, you should not use seven words when four will do. I add: don't use a double word, when the single one will do: writing, not copywriting.

CopyWriting seems like a wiki word to me. I'm cranky about them too.

So, despite my ranting, I urge you to do as he means, not as he says. Do not skimp on writing or writers. Pay attention to writing. It's an important part of the UX.

Allen -- visualizing interactive supply-chains leveraging world-class deliverables
um, and working as a writer. Need one?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Beethoven Symphonies for Free

I got another tidbit from the Keith Soltys' Core Dump blog: the BBC is putting recent recordings of the 9 Beethoven symphonies online for downloading for free.

Downloading music is not one of my core competencies. I don't have an IPod or other cool storage device. I'm lame enough to use the Windows Media Player for online broadcasts.

Downloadable classical music could change that for me. Especially if its stuff that's not available otherwise and is in the public domain.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

On the 7th Day, God Created the Primate Discovery Center

Part three of an irregular series

The story so far: As I mentioned in my This Day in History: Scopes Indicted post, zoo owners benefitted from the hype from the Trial of the Century. More recently, a monkey prayed at a Hindu temple in India, showing that religion can benefit from zoo tenants.

Now we've gone full circle. According to CNN, The Tulsa Zoo will add a display featuring the biblical account of creation. To me, this shows the brilliance of the anti-evolutionists. They are going to where the monkeys live to recruit them as PR fronts.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Like a Consultant for the Very First Time

Like Madonna, I have to reinvent myself.

OK, so I don't have quite the mass appeal that Madonna does, I don't live in the UK, I don't have piles of money, and I'm not from Michigan. But I am 46 and so is she. And people don't buy everything I have to sell, just as they don't for Madonna. Or so she says.

So, Madonna and I have to work at it. Her? She's pushing another children's book, her fifth in the last three years. Me? I'm taking a stab at consulting, my second in the last two years.

By the way, some call us contractors. We, in the biz, prefer "consultant." We don't charge as much as contractors.

So I'm out there beating the bushes, marketing myself, trying to get people to pay attention to what I have to offer and to buy it. So is Madonna.

It makes me feel better to know that she has to work too.

Friday, June 03, 2005

It's Not My Job, Dude

The June 2005 issue of Communications of the ACM has an article called "IT professionals as organizational citizens."

Not a catchy title, but there was a reference to Dilbert, so I read it.

Bottom line, while doctors are taught to "do no harm," those working in information technology are conditioned to get their own work done, but help others on their own time.

Is the Help Desk Helpful?
The first concept here is that there are certain organizational citizenship behaviors that help the company work well. These "OCBs" are "workplace behaviors that promote effective organizational functioning but are... not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system."

(There had to be a three letter abbreviation here;
after all, this is a scholarly journal.)

The finding is that folks working in information technology were not as helpful to their co-workers than their colleagues in non-IT areas of the companies.

I Don't Get No Respect
It appears that when people think that their company is fair to them, they are more likely to play nicely with others. It probably comes as no surprise to those who work in IT, who who read Dilbert, that IT workers don't have so much trust in their supervisors or confidence in the fairness of their companies. Instead of practicing OCBs, folks think more in economic exchanges: what's it worth to me?

With Truth and Justice for All
I like the idea of organizational citizenship. I want to get along well with others while helping the company succeed. After all, people are more interesting than the work. But then, I'm not a typical IT worker; I have a nice supervisor.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Late Bloomers Rejoice

As a geek, I'm required to read Slashdot. Today, I read a posting that made my much-older-than-20-year-old heart swell. Inventors are older than they used to be.

Weebles are Not Fisher Price

My wife and I have been fighting over preschool toys on this dreary Sunday before Memorial Day.

I thought Weebles and Fisher Price were one and the same. Myfanwy knew otherwise. This, in itself is not unusual. It's also not unusual that I've gotten my childhood completely wrong. My youngest sister had the Little People from FP and I thought they were weebles.

I think my bad memory makes me a better writer. Who needs reality? What say you?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Who Was That Vermilion Monkey?

Just a followup to my Scopes trial post from May 25:

Today the Boston Globe ran an editorial on stemming the evolution of intelligent design. Like killer bees, the anti-evolutionists are coming closer. The Globe writes that "The theory is itself spreading like an evolving virus" and urge informed voters to run the bums out of town.

At the same time, in India, a monkey appeared at a Hindu temple, and completely followed protocol by praying with folded hands then putting vermilion on its forehead.

I reported earlier that zoo attendance went up 50% after the Scopes trial, and I wondered if church attendance would go up similarly after a new trial by the anti-evolutionists. However, now I realize that temple attendance is rising, driven by potential zoo inhabitants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Day in History: Scopes Indicted

From the "Eighty Years Later, The Debate Goes On" file:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.

Let's Light a Fire Under Someone
Early in 1925, Tennessee had passed legislation forbidding the teaching of evolution.

In his book Summer For The Gods, Edward Larsen recounts that the local head of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Co., George Rappalyea, didn't like a new Tennesee law . Rappalyea instigated the search for a teacher who would agree to go to court. Scopes, a substitute biology teacher, was their man.

According to the New York Times, the indictment stated that Scopes taught "certain theory and theories that deny the story of Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and did teach thereof that man descended from a lower order of animals."

Honey, Do I Look Like That?
Jeffery Moran, in his book The Scopes Trial: A Brief History With Documents, notes that after the indictment, zoos in the south saw a 50% increase in attendence.

Trial of the Century
William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow were the lawyers at this "trial of the century." Bryan, as prosecuting attorney poked fun at the theory of evolution, noting that the theory had man descending,

"not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys. (Laughter.)"(From the trial transcript)

On the 7th Day...
...the trial ended with a guilty verdict; Bryan had lost. Six days after that, Bryan died "not of a broken heart, but of a busted belly," according to Darrow.

Now what?
When the intelligent designers, in their infinite wisdom, bring this issue to trial again, will churches see a 50% rise in attendance?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Automatic Documentation of XML Schemas

For those who are using XML, using schemas instead of DTDs with the XML, and need to document the schemas for humans, xsddoc might be just the thing. Got this from a Core Dump entry. Keith got it from the Software Documentation Weblog.

xsddoc is an open source project and the authors describe the output as "JavaDoc like."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rock the Torah!

A story in the Boston Globe today caught my eye: "My big fat American bar mitzvah," written by Mark Oppenheimer, who has a book just published about bar and bat mitzvahs in America.

The Jewish celebration was on my mind. Yesterday I had a conversation with some friends about a bar mitzvah celebration they will be attending. The day will start seriously enough: the Torah recitation, "Today I am a man," speech, and tasteful reception. But the day will end with a dinner and dance cruise around the harbor, hosted by the parents.

So when I read Oppenheimer's piece, stating that bar and bat mitzvah celebrations are getting bigger and more expensive, I nodded knowingly, something I do often when reading the Sunday paper over coffee. However, I did manage to restrain myself from exclaiming "Oy!"

Other gentiles are not showing such restraint. With all the Mitzvah Envy going around (not surprising in our country's continuing theme of lavish spending), it appears that some gentiles are feeling the need to keep up with the Cohens. Non-Jewish teenagers are feeling left out of party and are getting their parents to host faux-mitzvahs.

Oppenheimer concludes that bigger is not necessarily better, but it is also not necessarily bad. Religious commitment is not inversely proportional to the cost of the party (I gather this does hold true for the faux-mitzvahs). Better to spend money on celebrations of youth and accomplishment than flat-screen TVs.

According to the Globe, Mark Oppenheimer edits the New Haven Advocate and wrote ''Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America," published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Also see "Bar Mitzvah Madness" in Slate magazine

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Save the Republic

It doesn't happen that much, but today made me smile:

"Today, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith opens at theaters nation-wide. And weirdly enough, the plot of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest films in movie history revolves around a scheming senator who, seduced by visions of absolute power, transforms a democratic republic into an empire."

Check it out.

Good Looks, Sensitive, Charming, and Genuinely Sincere

That's me, it appears.

Several months ago, someone in the office came in with a Mr. Wonderful doll. Soon after, women started sauntering by my cubicle, staring. I do love being at the center of attention, but I also like to know why.

Turns out that Mr. Wonderful and I share a look. And a sense of style.
Mr. Wonderful is 12" tall and dressed in khakis and a blue, button-down oxford. When you squeeze his hand, he always says the right thing:

  • "You know, Honey, why don't you just relax and let me make dinner tonight."
  • "Why don't we go to the mall. Didn't you want some new shoes?"
  • "Let's just cuddle."
  • Here, you take the remote. As long as I'm with you, I don't care what we watch.

So my profile photo now represents the true me...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Microsoft is to Darwin as Apple...

Direct from the mouths of indexers: "There's still a lot of unfindable information."

Now there's a statement that the creationists, er intelligent designers, might jump all over. "If it's unfindable, how do you know it was ever there?" And speaking of school boards, Microsoft may indeed be Darwin. If so, Apple is the Intelligent Designer.

Microsoft and the Origin of the Index
Microsoft has a new operating system coming out to replace XP. It's code-named "Longhorn," and with it, Microsoft proves that evolution is the way, the light, and the truth. Longhorn will have a new help system. Microft has been heard to say that its help system will not have an index, only a search engine. That's because "no one uses" indexes, or so Microsoft thinks. Its index is dying out from underuse.

Apple doesn't think so. Apple's next help engine will include a new form of indexing. Indexing is big with them.

Technical writers have to think about help systems when designing help. They design and write help to work with the system supported by the operating system. The kinds of things that a help system supports cause tech writers to stay up nights and write in their blogs.

Seek, and Ye Shall Get A Lot of Hits
Searching is all we need, right? Google rocks (much to the dismay of Microsoft's MSN, by the way). People tout their abilities to find anything in the universe in no more than two Google searches.

I don't think search is the human to the ape of an index. Ever been frustrated by a search engine? Ever given up trying to find something in a help file because the 17,452 results you got were a bit too many? Why do some bloggers categorize their entries? Too much time on their hands, perhaps? Doubt it.

No, I didn't Read the Book. I'm Waiting for the Index
Jan Wright has an article about the future of indexing called, appropriately, The Future of Indexing. In it, she states that "It's about aboutness." It still takes humans to help provide context so you can find what you want. I found it interesting.

I believe in the index. I love a good index. Buy Apple. Save the index!

Vintage Paperback Art

I'm fascinated with with J-Walk Blog (from the guy who brought us the Google Content Blocker and caused me to pen a theme song)

He has a link from his blog to the BookScans project, whose goal, "is to provide a visual catalog of ALL vintage American paperbacks... printed before 1960 and/or having a 25¢ cover price."

Perry Mason rocks

Pocket Books

By the way. Did you know that the kangaroo that adorns Pocket Books was named "Gertrude" after the publisher's mother-in-law? Back story. Back story. I want the back story!

Act Now

Send 50 scans from your personal library of vintage paperbacks and receive a free CD of the entire collection from BookScans!

Monday, May 16, 2005

"What's this blog thingamajig?"

If you are like me, you have a mother who doesn't understand blogging.

Amy Gahran posted a piece that may help you explain blogs to Mom, mine or yours, or it may help you understand blogs yourself.

Among other things, Amy notes that blogs are simply Web sites that are united by these characteristics:

  • Format (newest stuff is at the top)
  • Linkability (I can get back to this)
  • Content management tools (blogging tools)
  • Common features (comments, archives, searches, etc.)

I like it when people de-mystify things. Blogging, trackbacks, permalinks -- they're just fancy names for boring things. How about "my thoughts," "people who liked my thoughts," "a bookmark for a specific thought" -- these don't sound so scary to me, and maybe not to other people.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Perry Carp

When I started this entry, I thought it was about popcorn. It's actually about geeks and popcorn.

A few weeks ago, several us were standing around talking at work, when someone mentioned she had heard that researchers had figured out why some popcorn kernals don't pop. Every single one of us knew what she was talking about:

...the key factor that appears to influence popping quality is the chemical structure of the pericarp, or outer hull.... During heating, the corn pericarp acts like a pressure cooker that locks moisture inside the corn kernel. The heated moisture leads to a pressure buildup until the kernel eventually ruptures and pops, essentially turning the kernel inside out and producing the fluffy white product that we eat. (source: Science Daily)

Better pericarp, fewer old maids. Simple as that.

I won't get into the research issues -- whether it is strange that people study the hull strength of popcorn -- others are much more qualified than I about that subject. But what about the fact that my coworkers all knew about the findings of people who study the hull strength of popcorn?

I haven't done a rigorous scientific study on this, unlike the popcornists, but I believe that maintaining a mental roster of relatively useless facts is a well-known trait among geeks (it's probably a trait among pericarpenters, too) . But the kicker for those who work with software, at least on the development side of the house, is to bring up those facts at inappropriate moments.

Moments like this one. Um. Okay. Gotta go.

Double Chocolate Popcorn Balls!

All hail to the Popcorn Board (striving "to raise the awareness of U.S. popcorn.")

Thursday, May 12, 2005

See the Ads, Tuppence A Bag...

For those of you who despair that there's just way too much stuff on the Web.

Install the Google Content Blocker.
And sing along with me...

Sung to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from the movie "Mary Poppins."
Play the tune for me, please!

Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
All because the subject matter's
Never what you wanted.
Now the stuff is really gone,
And you can surf undaunted.

Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
Because all of the text obscured
Most of the lovely ads.
An interstitial popped-up quick,
To help me with the fads.
But then one toolbar I installed,
It saved me so much time.
All of the content was forestalled,
The rest was quite sublime.

All because the subject matter's
Never what you wanted.
Now the stuff is really gone,
And you can surf undaunted.

Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
I clicked and surfed around the Net,
And everywhere I went.
I'd use the toolbar and would see
The absence of content.
A site with Flash or JavaScript
Is not to a me a shock.
Because my browser's well equipped,
With Google Content Block.

All because the subject matter's
Never what you wanted.
Now the stuff is really gone,
And you can surf undaunted.

Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay
So when the content's in the way,
There's no need to shut down.
Just summon up the blocker,
And you'll never see a noun.
But better use it carefully,
As no doubt you'll see.
One night I clicked upon my blog,
And now I'm content free!


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Have You Heard of ID Theft?

You have? Could you tell NBC for me?

Consider these quotes from today's (May 10, 2005) NBC Nightly News piece called "ID theft epidemic:"
  • "the massive problem of ID theft"
  • "a national crisis"
  • "a situation that's clearly out of control"
  • "yet another brazen scam"
  • "financial information swirling around in cyberspace"
  • "the exploding underworld of ID theft"
Why do they use such hyperbole?
Yes, I'm worried about criminals impersonating me. I know people who have had money stolen from their bank accounts. I've been amused and terrified by the CitiBank commercials. In fact, I don't know anyone who hasn't heard of ID theft. That's probably due in large part to the media.

Hyperbole is a most effectively used to persuade. Why does NBC think it needs to persuade me? Does it think that I need to call my senator or representative? But Congress is already responding. As Bill Nelson, Democratic Representative from Florida exclaimed in the NBC piece, "If we don't do something about this, Mr. Chairman, None of us is going to have any identify left!"

No identity left?
Sometimes I just appreciate print journalists. For example, in today's Boston Globe, David Abel wrote a story called "ATM cards pirated for plenty, police say." It contained information about who had been arrested and for what. It contained a graphic showing how the guy stole PINs and ATM card information (oh, and by the way NBC, PIN stands for Personal Information Number. Its just a PIN, not a PIN Number).
The story contained practical advice on how to prevent such ATM skimming with such low-tech methods as using your hand to hide the keypad as you punch in your PIN. There was no massive, exploding, brazen swirl in the story. Just the facts, Ma'am.

ID Cloning
I think so-called ID theft is more like ID cloning. After all, even if someone is pretending to be me, I'm still me, aren't I? I agree with Bruce Schneier in his essay, "Mitigating identity theft" in which he writes that identity theft is not theft at all, since an identity is not property to steal. It is impersonation using private information leading to fraud.

Schneier's bigger point is that that those who are trying to fix the problem concentrate too much on making personal data harder to steal when they should be working on how easy it is to commit fraud with personal data. He suggests that when financial institutions are liable for fraud losses, they will find solutions.

Not Valid with Signature
I agree with Schneier. Recently I used a credit card at Sears. I swiped my card and waited. The little card reader then told me to hand my card to the cashier. As I did, the cashier looked at me blankly and said, "What? I don't need that." Yes you do, Sears. You could be at the very least validating my signature on my card with the one on the screen.

But Congress is feeling the heat from the media as much as it is fanning the flames itself. Stung by such hard-hitting questions from TV journalists as "The question is, why hasn't more been done?" and the fear that there won't be any identities to vote for them, Congress will likely pass some kind of knee-jerk law that will require me to sign a pledge that I won't ever reveal my PIN to anyone, even criminals, and go merrily about their ways. Or worse, they'll come up with legislation that costs money but doesn't have any incentives to stop the fraud, and make it more expensive for me to go to the bank or use my credit card. It's been done before...

So, NBC, tone it down, OK? We get it. Give us a few more facts and a lot less hype.

Monday, May 09, 2005

RoboHelp Plays Nicely with Word

Those of you who use RoboHelp as your help authoring tool are probably already bored of the discussions about its future, now that it appears not to be the darling child of Macromedia/Adobe.

In the midst of all the hyperbole about the sky falling, some of the clearest advice I've seen reminded people that RoboHelp will not stop working even if Macromedia/Adobe fires all the RoboHelp developers tomorrow. It's a piece of software. It works today, and it will work tomorrow.

But what I hadn't seen discussed, at least not until I posted it to HATT - the "Help Authoring Tools and Techniques" group, is that RoboHelp HTML is dependent on Word in a very specific case. The two applications must play nicely together in order to generate any print documentation. In other words, if you want to generate Word or PDF output from RoboHelp, RH has to be able to access Word directly.

When Microsoft releases a version of Word that is not compatible with the current release of RoboHelp (X5), you won't be able to have that version of Word and RoboHelp X5 on your computer and expect RoboHelp to output printed documentation.

So, RH may continue to work for a long time. It just may not workwith the next version of Word.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

UX Against Them

I really hate abbreviations sometimes. There I was, on a quiet Sunday morning skimming the latest issue of the journal interactions when I kept reading "UX." Maybe it was because of the hour, but I couldn't work out what the author meant by UX. Since interactions is concerned with human-computer interactions, I figured the U had to stand for user, but the X had me stimied. User InteraXtions? User TransaXtions? No. X meant eXperience.

User eXperience
Are we so stingy with space and time that we can't type user experience but have to reduce it to UX? And what about my user experience? I spent more time searching for the meaning than I did reading what the author had to say. And I guess I'm an UX professional. At least I get paid to be concerned about the user experience.

I think my reaction to UX is where my training as a writer trumps my training as an UX. I think you should do what you can to keep the reader reading. And if that means writing "user experience" time after time after time so that the reader doesn't have to stumble through a field of UX, then that's what I have to do.

Usability and User eXperience (UUX)
As I kept reading I learned that another professional organization I belong to, the Society for Technical Communication, has an group called "Usability and User Experience." So, the STC has a SIG for UX professionals called UUX. Can UUXX be far behind?

interactions is ACM's magazine for designers of interactive products. The May-June edition is a special issue about who owns the profession currently known as User eXperience. But even in the introduction the editor wonders if the controversy over the ownership of user experience is legitimate.

Are You For UX or Agin UX?
I suppose this discussion about ownership is one of questioning legitimacy. Some who spend time being concerned about users' experiences feel that they don't get no respect. Those in charge command respect. Therefore, we'll reckon with each other about who's in charge of user experience so that others will realize that we must be reckoned with. But for me, it's a boring discussion. I would rather spend my time learning how others make the user experience better rather than whether they think I'm an owner or an employee of UX Corp.

The American Idol Syndrome and the Proper Episcopalian

This is the first post of my first blog. I want it to be pithy, clever, and scintillating. But I imagine it won't be, and that categorizing an entry is like whispering a wish out loud -- the thing can never come true.

I've avoided setting up a blog until now for a few reasons (that I remember):

  • I already know that I'm self-interested. So do my friends. But I don't want to be appear to be solipsistic (not trying to be "preachy" by linking to the definition. However, even as I knew this word existed, I couldn't remember it and had to ask my wife. I figure if I couldn't remember the word then maybe others won't remember the definition). And having been brought up as a proper Episcopalian (is there an improper one?), I know about the power of appearance. ("Whatever you do, make it look as if you meant to do that!).
  • I think I'm much less interesting than most people who blog. I was talking about blogging with a friend recently and we agreed that while we enjoy reading blogs and find out lots of really interesting stuff from them, neither of us thinks we have anything worthwhile to post ourselves. I think this attitude must be the opposite of the "American Idol Syndrome," people believing that they are better at something than they are.
  • I'm a bit of a coward. I also doubt that my skin is thick enough for the "collaborative" nature of blogging.

But my fascination with ideas has overcome my reluctance. I'm not sure what content I'll post or what themes I'll keep to, but whatever they are, I'll be posting them because they are interesting to me. Oh, and I'll probably think they're all pithy, clever, and scintillating.