November 04, 2010

DITA webinar on Sharing Nicely

I put the DITA webinar presentation on SlideShare for posterity:

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March 05, 2010

DITA topics = Interchangeable parts

I'm working on a presentation about DITA, and thought up a great analogy from my days in manufacturing engineering.

DITA is just like the discovery of interchangeable parts.

Interchangeable parts, if you remember from Manufacturing 101, got a big boost in the USA when Eli Whitney did his famous demo in front of Congress back in 1798.

Picture of Eli Whitney from Wikipedia Commons

As the legend goes, Whitney, the Demo God of his day, dumped a pile of parts onto a table and proceeded to assemble 10 working muskets, picking a part at random each time.

This was totally revolutionary (pun intended, it was just a few years after 1776, right?). No longer did you need a craftsman to hand-shape the entire product from start to finish. You could divvy up the work to multiple contributors and still come out with working product when everything came together.

DITA does the same thing--reuse a topic anywhere you like, to produce as many different outputs as you like (it's just XML after all).

I could probably title the presentation The Book of Eli but I think that title's been taken recently. :-(

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January 12, 2007

TreeLine as a DITAmap Editor?

Just came across this nifty freeware utility called TreeLine. TreeLine stores text in a tree structure, so if you're a compulsive list maker, you can expand and collapse your lists without the overhead of using a word processor (like MS Word's Outline View).

Screenshot of TreeLine node data

The cool thing about this gizmo is that it can import and export XML, and you can configure the data types of each node's fields. So even though it's got a GNU GPL license, meaning if I had some semblance of Qt/Python skillz I could hack the source directly, I might be able to get a ditamap out of it without any coding.

Cool, huh?

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November 13, 2006

DITA's Future's So Bright...

...ya gotta wear shades. Used to be that the only search hits you got on "dita" was the XML content model we all know and love and Marilyn Manson's wife.

But an inadvertent visit to led me to the cool shades all the popular kids, like Jessica Simpson below, are wearing these days:

Photo of Jessica Simpson wearing Dita sunglasses

Luckily, I'm so uncool I was still wearing my Ray Ban aviators even during the "itsy bitsy eyeglasses with 4 button suits era", so I'm now a with-it kind of guy. Or at least I'd like to think so.

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March 09, 2006

FrameMaker and Tang Soo Do

Holy cow, I never thought I'd be able to do a cross-category blog title like that one. Framemaker and Tang Soo Do in the same post? Talk about your single sourcing!

Anyway, turns out that Kay Ethier, Frame guru, DITA 2006 conference organizer, and co-author of the XML Weekend Crash Course, has kids taking TSD, and wanted them to learn their mahki from their chagi. Framemaker to the rescue, of course. A judicious application of some Frame single-sourcing fu and voila, one instant book + CD set.

Learning Korean: Martial Arts Terminology

Between Frame-enhanced Tang Soo Do and Springfield's XML tactical handgun light, there are a lot of choices now for tech doc folks who want to kick some butt.

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October 27, 2005

DITA in DocBook?

Norm Walsh, King of All That Is DocBook, posted his experiment to do DITA-like things in DocBook.

Most telling, to my weary eyes, are the comments, which Norm graciously leaves in. (Unlike this blog, where I get so much spam that comments are turned off).

It reminds me of the whole Browser Wars thing all over again. Back then proselytizing a particular Web technology (remember the MARQUEE tag? JavaScript Style Sheets?) meant increasing share and thus increased revenue.

But DocBook and DITA are open standards now. Even the people who stand to make money from the use of either standard, the authoring tool and CMS vendors, support both standards, so they shouldn't really care which one people choose, right? (Ok, with the exception of marketing hype, and resource allocation for function development, but fundamentally, you know what I mean).

So the people who would truly lose out if DocBook "loses share" are the folks who do just DocBook--consultants and so forth. But as we've seen in other technologies, those folks usually just gravitate to where the money is--from WinHelp to HTMLHelp to MAMLHelp, from Pivotal to Siebel to OracleCRM, and so on.

In that case the approach Erik Hennum describes in his comments to Norm's experiment post make the most sense. Let both standards thrive to the extent the "market" lets them. Let people move stuff back and forth. Because I can see writing a Cisco Press-like book in DocBook, but wanting to pull in a bunch of DITA tasks written by the tech doc folks so I don't have to rewrite them.

And fo' shizzle, DITA is smack-dead-on for Help development. We were going to try to do a similar typed topic scheme in NetHelp, using the aforementioned JavaScript Style Sheets and what was then considered "DHTML", but never got a chance to implement.

DocBook, DITA, DITA, DocBook: Can't we all just get along?

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May 13, 2005

STC Seattle Conference Thoughts, Part 2

NetHelp2 graphic by Heather Winkle

One thing that was kind of disturbing, although it didn't really hit me until later, was ComponentOne's use of "NetHelp" to describe their Web-based online help functionality in the new Doc2Help:

Doc2Help banner

I talked to the vendor rep at the conference expo, and he said I was the first person to ask about it. I guess I'm the only person who remembers the original NetHelp, or cares about it. It was my baby after all.

I'm pretty sure we did a trademark search when we started using the "NetHelp moniker though. Back then, most Netscape products were coming out as "Live", but somehow "LiveHelp" didn't really sound right to us. Can you imagine JavaScript being known as "LiveScript"? Almost happened, ya know.

"NetHelp" leveraged the Netscape brand, which was smokin' hot at the time (1997). I guess we didn't bother trademarking it, and even if we did, would AOL care nowadays? Probably not.

But now that I'm back in the Tech Pubs industry, it's a bit sad to see the name being used by someone else for essentially the same thing. It's one thing to see your company domain get snapped up by a link chaser (to wit: It's another to see the name get usurped.

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May 12, 2005

STC Seattle Conference Thoughts, Part 1

Back in the office after spending the week at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) annual conference in sunny (ok, for a couple of, hours) Seattle WA. I'll post some more detailed thoughts later, but here are a few quickies:

  • There's a lot of angst among the tech writer population about tool directions. Should I ditch Framemaker for XML? What do I do now that Robohelp is gone? I guess that's good news for "tools guys" like myself, whose business is answering such questions for our users in the Tech Pubs department. It's also a big opportunity for tool software vendors, if they can capitalize on the current Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) running through the community.
  • DITA really dominated the tools-related tracks, with at least five sessions by the IBMers, and even some by other companies (Autodesk with their modified version). Can you spell "momentum"?
  • The tool vendors kept a low-profile. Blast Radius, makers of XMetal, stealthily infiltrated the audiences with people--I took that to mean that they're seriously looking at the Tech Pubs market. Arbortext wasn't around, oddly enough. Even Adobe fielded a booth, and given the recent controversies around their products (including the former MACR/eHelp/Blue Sky), being there was a brave thing (and the right thing) to do.
  • The tech writer community hasn't really changed much since the last time I went to one of these conferences (Toronto 1997?). I don't know what I expected after being away in land and the various states of IA, CS, and UX.
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January 23, 2004

Hidden Messages

When I look at the sparsely highlighted numbers to the right in the monthly calendar the MT folks have so thoughtfully provided for us bloggers, I can't help but think: If you post just on certain days of the month, could you spell out something really vile?

Reminds me of some stunts I heard some tech writer pulled a long time ago:

1. In your manual's index, provide entries that when sorted and aligned, the first letter of each entry spells out something nasty.

2. Hide your nastygram in a screen shot or console display, etc.

I never got the chance to try any of these. Honest!

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