Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Magic & Mental Models

Jared (Spool) is saying it's the first time he's done this presentation, and trying something new, expects it to be challenging.

One skill we don't talk about that often, and it plays a role: magic. Magic conferences are a lot like developer conferences.

The user's model is different from the designer's model. Traditional tech comm is all about explaining the designer model to the user.

Google complexity hidden in the background, the foreground simple experience makes users feel empowered. Company creates an illusion. The illusion has to be maintained.

It's hard to do this, and not everyone does it well.

Perception of time turns out to be a difficult thing. We perceive time differently, depending on what's going on.

Perceived performance doesn't measure the actual speed of a site. It measures the success of the user.

The role of delight, the Kano Model, has to do with performance. Some features, as the features go up, you get a payoff, the payoff grows as you add more features. But some things, you can't get above neutral satisfaction. Take a calculator, at some point, you can't improve the multiplication function. Idea of delight, of creating excitement. Items you can add, don't have to be great quality, but if you do it the right way, you get a sense of delight.

You can create delight by paying attention to the user.

Delight by functionality is just doing the right thing. Can;'t begin to do the delight stuff until we understand the basic stuff we want to do, else the delight stuff doesn't matter.

People want magic in their lives.

The End Is Near

About ready for Joe to do his closing announcements, followed by Jared Spool.


This was a tough one., Dave Gash--a great speaker, always with highly tech-y topics--is speaking now (his only session this year) , and there's also a session about creating great personas, but I'm here listening to a session about iPhone development. It was a toss-up for the last two, and because mobile is going to have a big future, I decided to land here.

Christopher Garrett says that he changed a number of his slides. Ugh. But apparently there's a slide sharing spot. He'll give the URI later.

Early experiences developing for mobile devices involved lots of barriers for developers. The ability to purchase content was also a painful experience, and another barrier.

2007, first release of the iPhone, people wanted apps for it, but Apple said use Safari, so people created mobile web apps.

Want to develop applicaitons for the iPhone? You need an iPhone (or at least an iPod Touch). Duh. And a Mac (because Apple has locked its development tools to the Mac OS (for now). Also need to read the docs here:

2008, released an SDK for developing apps, "barriers were gone."

If you want to develop for iPhone, you need an iPhone (or an iPod Touch). Duh. And a Mac (Apple has locked its development tool to the Mac OS, for now.) And you need to read the docs here:

Stick with the UI standards. Which means that you have to download lots and lots of apps and see what they do, what they do right and what they do wrong. And something done one way elsewhere doesn't mean that it's the right way for the iPhone (or other mobile app).

If you have a native app that you think requires a sign-on, think again.

Where there are 25,000 apps in the AppStore, there's no reason to release an app with a poor interface.

When you delete an app from the iPhone, you're given a chance to rate it. And if someone's deleting it, it's likely because they don't like it. And so you're likely to get your overall app rating skewed downward.

What if the reader can't read?

That's the intriguing title of Tony Self's 10:00am presentation. Even Tony introduces it as being "controversial."

Reader is king. We don't write for ourselves or our bosses.

Audiences are changing. Tony showed this very interesting video:

Grammar rules used to be an indication of social class, but it now serves the purpose of speed and social interaction.

Texting (txting) is a new grammar.

Really talking about "digital ethnography."

Tony then showed another interesting video,, which referenced this site:

An Akami study in 2006 found that 75% of people would not go back to a website that takes more than 4 seconds to load. 4 seconds!!!

Mike Hughes suggests that we shouldn't be using tasks, that we should be using just conceptual information for user assistance.

Readers don't believe in manuals, but they do believe in collaboration, which is seen as legitimate.

Bosses will eventually realize that writing stuff isn't effective, but videoing stuff is.

As in this video, about how to use a blog, from

One of our most common jobs in the next 10 years will be a deleter. The cost of storage is so cheap, it will become worthwhile to have somone who sifts through the data and throw out that which is not valuable.

Content models

Decided to hit the "double scoop" case study session out-of-the box on editing. Both speakers are from Microsoft, and the first, Richard Carey, is talking about content modeling.

Long-term tech writers will have to understand the XML model, the reuse strategies. Content modeling: powerful end-to-end development model. More relevant and consistent experience for users. A "programmatic application of basic technical writing principles."

"Topic" and "document" synonymous.

When users get to topic, they get solution that is relevant and easy to understand. Use links to get to larger concept. Solution is standalone, but can get context if they need it.

Been writer-centric, need to start thinking content-centric. XML universe brings the tools to us.

Break end-to-end story into solutions your customer can use.

Next, Microsoft's Terry Lee is talking about the value of editing.

Editors just want to make your excellent writing shine, and we let you take all the credit.

Quality content drives customer satisfaction, contributes to customer productivity and trust. It strengthens the brand. Dissatisfaction with content can engender dissatisfaction with the product that it supports. IEEE study showed that 70 out of 100 times were able to predict satisfaction with product by measuring satisfaction with content.

Editors reduce errors before publication, translation costs, support costs, and legal liability. Always cheaper to get it right the first time that to fix it later, even in a web-based environment.

Gave example of an error message that was technically accurate, but so cryptic that it drove support calls, became the #1 call driver, and created added cost of $1 million/year.

What if you don't have an editor? Use a peer-editing process. Have a style sheet. Have product names, capitalization. Have one person maintain the style sheet. Check cross references (especially TOC). Don't always rely on spell checker.

Bottom line: clarity trumps everything (including eloquence, parallelism, editorial idiosyncrasies).

Last day!

Ugh, 8:30, two days in a row. I am *so* not a morning person.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Marketing time

Decided to listen in on the Adobe presentation, not paid a lot of attention to those in recent years. Interesting that Rick Stone and Peter Grainger, both active on the HATT list and longtime help experts are on the dais.

Talk about "cloud computing," don't need anything more than Acrobat reader to contribute. Cloud at, free service when you have TechComm Suite. Save from FrameMaker as "ubiquitous PDF," anyone with Reader can review and contribute. does the authentication of reviewers.

Demoing several people adding comments to a PDF document, some from IE on Mac with Acrobat Reader. Comments, sticky notes, etc., all added. Then FrameMaker can add PDF comments.

Giving a quick explanation of Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), claim 100 million downloads to-date. Flash player plus HTML rendering engine (same one as in Safari) plus PDF reader all built in.

Demo of Captivate 4 project review within AIR.

AIR-based help can update local help content from server when topic is opened without need for full software patch.

AIR-based online word processor Buzzword at Heehee, Buzzword (currently in beta) doesn't use AIR for its help, but "plain" HTML.

Demoing commenting (social networking) within AIR-based help system. Cool. Users can click "Add comment" and either keep comment private or share (with Adobe ID) so that everyone who uses the product can see (as soon as it is approved by Adobe) the addition.

Visual Thinking

Am in the last session of the day, "Using Simple Pictures to Communicate Complex Ideas" by Donna Safko. Was thinking about the Adobe AIR one, but this looked more interesting--and more compelling.

What is visual thinking? Can be used by anyone. Don't have to be an artist. Don't have to be a visual learner. It's a process of using simple drawings to improve understanding.

Broken down to look, see, imagine, show, like at

Stick figures have become popular now. community.

4 levels of belief: nonbeliever, like to view others' drawings, use as a tool, great way to communicate.

A lot of adults associate drawings with humiliation. Usually from some single childhood experience. Socienty places higher value on skills other than art (writing, reading, math).

Academia tells you that zs you mature, you like more complex subjects and longer words. "But I believe in each of us there's a child that refuses to grow up." We're intrigued with simple drawings and few words.

"We do not pay attention to boring things." Drawings, even stick figures, are interesting. They make us feel less intimidated by the subject matter being presented.

Artists quickly recognize shapes and differences.

Drawings do not have to be more complicated that the houses you drew as a kid with squares and triangles that you drew as a kid.

User Assistance in Web Forms

Luke Wroblewski is the Sr. director of Ideation & Design at Yahoo! and has written a book about web form design.

"Forms suck," but form design matters, in commerce, in engagement, in access (membership).

People look for the first input field, and then just go straight down, and if your stray from that line, users will have trouble.

Have a clear flow. (Illuminate a clear path to completion.)

Best practice: Clear path to completion.

Top aligned labels are quick to complete. People see the label and the field in one "stop." Works better for translation. But it takes more vertical space.

Right aligned lables, also clear association between label and field. Left rag makes scanning difficult.

Left aligned labels, enables label scanning, if need to pick one or more out. People make association, but takes longer. Label length change may impair layout.

Showing eye-tracking data of different layouts. Cool stuff. Top-aligned labels 10%, 20%, faster completion.

Best practice: top aligned labels for speedy input, left aligned for unfamiliar or advanced data entry.

How about labels within fields? Make sure that assistance text goes away when people are providing answers. Problem: as soon as you start provide an answer, the label goes away, makes it hard to go back and check answers.

Required field indicators are useful when lots of field, but few required. Likewise, optional field indicators are useful when few optional fields. Not useful when all fields are required.

Best practice: tell people what is required and what is not.

Help & tips useful when asking for unfamiliar data, but too much can be overwhelming.

Best visible and adjacent to where it applies.

Automatic inline help is useful when users are unsure about how or why to answer.

On-the-fly validation is tough.

In Yahoo Answers, use inline validation to help users form good questions, so they can get good--and quick--answers.

Not all form actions are equal. Reset, Cancel, Go Back are secondary, rarely used. Save, Continue, Submit, are primary actions. Differentiate. Make primary actions primary looking.

Best practice: avoid secondary actions (if possible), align primary actions with input fields. (The clear path to completion thing again.)

When there's an error on the page, it's the most important thing on the form.

Wikis as user assistance

Listening to Paul Mueller now, talking about using wikis for user assistance.

Some interesting ideas early. Notes that not all users are online, some prefer docs or "traditional" help. Also noted that communites can be good, but kind of a "wild west" (my term), there users have to look through many posts to find answers, and responses that interate over potential solutions.

The benefit of a wiki is it's collaboration on one common solution.

Wikis can also create a collaborative environment with tech support, who would previously opy content from help and put in KBs. Then, when a new release came out, verifying that duplicated content might by bypassed because of no time. But you need a community here, both ecgternal *and* internal, including tech support and members of the engineering staff (well, in addition to you, of course, because technical communication is properly an engineering discipline too).

Paul says that our jobs will be less about delivering content, but about delivering a structure for content. Users work with us as partners to extend and enhance that knowledge.

They used the ePublisher platform, by Quadralay.

Delivering different media (help, online, etc.), so have to decide what information goes where. Wiki will be "latest and greatest" content. If you don't go to wiki, and look at local content, you have what was known at the latest release.

Wikis do have weak areas. Out of the box, wikis don't have navigation. Content appearance can be less polished. verified and "extended" content is difficult to tell apart.

Mary-Jo Foley

An interesting format: not only are there two morning keynotes this year, they are in an interview format. This morning, Matthew Ellison is interviewing Mary-Jo Foley, who wrote the book "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era.

Foley is being really blunt in her assessments. She tells some good stories too, like the time she fisrt met Bill Gates. She had arranged to interview him at a trade show, and she was interrupted. Worried that her time was limited, she interrupted, whereupon Gates asked her if she knew who that was. When she replied no, Gates told her it was Steve Jobs.

She talks about Bill vs. Steve (Ballmer). The Bill guys were the engineers, where the Steve guys were all about marketing and sales. With Bill backing out, the Bill guys are leaving, adn there's a shift in power.

Now moving to consumer products, Microsoft believes that if someone buys an XBox 360, then they will see that Sharepoint is a Microsoft product. Foley said that she's not sure she believes that, but the theory is, she says, "win them at home and you can win them at work."

Catching up

Well, yesterday turned out to be a busy day, and I never got to blog during sessions. Going to try and resolve that today.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday meet & greet photos

A couple of shots from the Sunday evening meet & greet. Dave Gash is immensely proud of his t-shirt, while Sue Heim is just proud.

And here...we...go...

Joe's doing his introduction. Turns out he has a sense of humor. His opening comment included the memorable quote "The theme this year is 'plenty of elbow room,'" a nod to the economy's impact on attendance.

From what I hear, however, the WritersUA conference is doing better than other, similar, events (cough, STC). The year-over-year drop here is less than 40%, from last year's 500 to this year's just over 300. While it's never good to see either an economy like this or drops in attendance at events such as this one, the amount of the drop speaks volumes about the value that this event provides.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday, aka Murphy's Law Day

I had it all planned out. Really, I did.

The plan was, go out for a little R&R after stuffing bags on Saturday, then wake up Sunday, take my car up to Steven's place, take the #5 bus back, and plunge into the conference.

But I got slightly waylaid, then started the day later than I planned. Of course, it's easy to get waylaid at Fry's. I was disappointed that they didn't have a better selection of paper, nor did they have decent prices. I settled, basically, on a fairly white 24 lb. stock. And I passed by the toner cartridges, saw that they had the ones for my printer, and on impulse, decided to grab a set--at full price. I didn't want to get stuck short.

Getting out of there late, I relaxed with a burger from Red Robin, where I read about another place I thought I'd try some poker. It turned out to be dead, but there was one $4/$8 table. I played for too long, played not up to snuff, and got back later than I planned--only to find the cordless phone over the bed not working, so my wakeup call (for 8:30am instead of 8:00am) would literally get me out of bed.

Stayed at my friend's place for a half hour to chat, rather than catch the right-way return bus, which put me at the hotel at 11:00am--when all hell broke loose.

Consider this: It's just past 10:30pm now, this is the first blog entry I'm had time to make, and I'm eating he first substantial food I've had all day (although I had planned to skip breakfast and do a good lunch), which isn't anything more than bad-for-me fast food, pretty much the only thing available to me nearby this late.

I walked in and Joe was frantically juggling. Turns out some of his friends who were flying in to help were late. He had some notebook cable locks for the Internet stations, but wasn't able to figure them out, and had other things that needed doing as well. So I jumped in, figured out the cable locks (not an easy task), and set up the notebooks--only to find another problem, with the wireless routers on that floor. I did a workaround until the routers there got fixed.

That bumped me right up into the start of the afternoon sessions. I had wanted some time to tweak my template, but now I was going to have to do that while I was taking notes.

But I ran into more problems, this time software-related. InDesign just wasn't working. Styles were not being given the fonts or the colors they were defined to use, line spacing was all over the map, it was becoming a real mess.

Finally out of frustration ,sitting in the middle of a session, I gave up. I opened Microsoft Publisher, which I had used last year, and began searching for a template. I found one. I wasn't crazy about it, but I had some criteria in mind. I wanted 4 columns, and I wanted a style that would be easy on toner.

Got that set up fairly quickly, to my relief. Didn't get quite as many notes as I wanted in the 3 sessions, but heard some interesting stuff. I stopped also at the Doc-To-Help Day session for a little bit. Not as many people in there as I would have thought--and most of those were leaders in our field (Paul Neshamkin, Char James-Tanny, Sue Heim, to name a few) who were asking the ComponentOne reps tough questions.

And then the fun really started. I got my printer set up in my workspace, got it connected, and tried to print out what I had so far to take a look-see.

And nothing printed.

The beginnings of troubleshooting didn't help. I thought it might be the print spooler, but restarting that didn't help.

I went to the HP site, downloaded the latest firmware and the printer driver. Updated the firmware. Nothing.

Reinstalled the printer driver software. Although it didn't finish the install with an error, it still didn't work.

I decided to try a drastic measure, something I had never done before: try to restore my computer from a restore point. I went back to before the first time I had installed the printer driver. It took a long time, close to an hour--only to fail.

I was feeling panicky, desperate. It was approaching 7pm now. I had been struggling with this issue for a good 2 hours with no end in sight.

Finally, I hit on an idea. I swapped out the brand spankin' new USB cable for the little short one I had been suing at home.

That did the trick.

As they used to say in the old Toyota ads, "Oh, what a feeling."

Fortunately, the editing Sue did was light, and the printer turns out to be fairly quick, putting out 200 double-sided copies in about 45 minutes. The printing finished just about 10 minutes ago, and so now I can go to bed and get ready for Monday, which will be packed. (I'll post some photos then too.)

I sent Joe the newsletter PDF, and he will probably post it on the conference site tonight or tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trip prep

Tonight the trip prep gets into gear. I've ripped most of my CDs onto my notebook, so now it's clean out the car. And as anyone who has been my roommate in the past will attest, I'm a bit of a procrastinating packrat.

The thing is, the less weight I'm carrying, the better gas mileage I'll get. It may not be much, but every little bit counts. So out comes all the extra clothes. Clean out all the trash and papers (a shopping bag full of trash, a good 10 inch stack of old newspapers and magazines).

Tomorrow, it's prep the computer bag.

Right from work on Thursday, I'll hit the car wash, then head home for the last loads of laundry. And I'll be ready to go on Friday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Icky weather?

Not that it should come as much of a surprise, and certainly long-range weather forecasts (and we're going out a full week plus here) are about as reliable as a CNBC talking head, but there's rain, rain, rain in the forecast for the Pacific Northwest.

Looking at the forecast for Portland (where I'll be staying Friday night) and Seattle through next Saturday, there's nothing but "cloudy, "showers," and "rain" every day (well, except for a "partly cloudy" next Thursday in Seattle). Which means, if nothing else, I'm not looking forward to a particular pleasant drive through Oregon and Washington, at least.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will it snow?

We're just 2 weeks away from the conference now, at it was snowing in Seattle today, according to a friend of mine who lives there. That's right, snow in Seattle in mid-March, with spring right around the corner.

So what will it be like in two weeks?

Only time will tell--although it will hardly matter to some. I know that I typically stay inside nearly the whole time, from midday Sunday through to Wednesday evening, going out only to forage for food or if some emergency supply is needed.

But having lived in Seattle, I can tell you, even if it doesn't snow, it certainly won't be warm. So plan accordingly. On average, during March, the high temperature in Seattle averages a shade over 52 degrees, while the low temperature averages 38 degrees. Not a lot of range there.

But hey, the conference ends in April, right? So let's look at April. Average high, 57.5 degrees. Average low, 41.2 degrees. Not a lot of difference. And Seattle averages almost 4 inches of rain in March, with another 2.5 inches in April.

So chances are, it's gonna rain, and it's gonna be a cold rain.

But there is a silver lining in all this: You're not stuck inside with overpriced hotel food. Just a block south along 5th avenue is the Westlake Center, a fairly typical urban mall with a food court and couple of anchor restaurants.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hot deal at the Westin

If you're heading to the conference and haven't yet booked your room, there's another way to save. One of the many deals the Westin is offering is a "rejuvenate" package.

Go directly to the Seattle Westin site, click Hotel Deals, and scroll down to the "Rejuvenate this winter and enjoy rates from $159" section. As of today, it's not quite "$159," but for me, it was $177.

Hotels are desperate for business. No one is traveling, especially business travelers.

To give you an example, I'm staying in Seattle for the rest of the week for a little vacation. using the information I can get from BiddingForTravel, I bid for a hotel at Priceline and got a winning bid of $41/night (for the Wednesday through Sunday) at the Hilton at the airport. For comparison purposes, going directly through the Hilton's website, the best rate they offer is $143/night.

To be fair, using this method for the conference days itself wouldn't guarantee that I'd stay at the Weston, which is why I've not done it. (For those who want to know, the Westin is one of the top winners of reported bids for 4* hotels in downtown Seattle over the past year, but so are the Edgewater (a good 8+ block walk) and the Hotel Vintage park (6+ blocks away).

But if you haven't booked your hotel yet, or are even on the fence about going, you can reduce yoru hotel costs if you work at it.

One additional tip: If you want to try and contact the Westin directly to negotiate, try and contact a local representative. The folks on the "standard" 800 reservation line are usually less able to offer any sort of accommodation on accomodations.

Friday, February 27, 2009

4 weeks and counting, new event, Westin deals

4 weeks from today I'll be on the road, headed north, toward what is likely to be a wet week in Seattle. To say that I'm looking forward to it is an understatement.

I just got a tweet that ComponentOne is adding an event on Sunday, what they are calling "Doc-To-Help Day 2009." It looks like it is basically a half-day seminar on Doc-To-Help. It's free for conference attendees (another reason to come), and $250 if you want to attend just this alone.

Not sure how Joe feels about this. I'd guess on one hand he's happy that ComponentOne is stepping up like this, on the other hand, I'd wonder if this event risks cribbing potential attendees from the official conference half-day seminars. But WritersUA is a partner in this, and I think the positive thought that this could bring more people in overall is a good one to hang my hat on.

Here's the link.

Meanwhile, Can you get a better deal at the Westin that the "official" conference rate? Yes, you can.

I was originally reluctant to publicize this because I worried that WritersUA gets credit for only the people who register through the conference site, but I'm told that no matter where you book your room, if you stay at the Westin and tell them that you're there for the conference, WritersUA will get credit.

Why is this important. Well, I'm not sure I understand all the details, but what little I do understand goes something like this. conferences such as this at business-class hotels typically commit to a certain number of room-nights (one occupied room for one night). In return, they get discounts on rack rates for conference attendees and sometimes other concessions (such as, perhaps, discounts on the rental fee for meeting rooms).

If you click through the link on the conference site to the Westin, you'll find what seems to be a "reasonable" $189/night. (Personally, I don't think that's "reasonable" at all, but then, my purpose for a hotel is typically a place to sleep, shower, store my stuff, and get on the Internet, and as long as it's clean comfortable, quiet, and everything works, I'm happy. I have simple needs.) Business-class hotels typically charge well into the $200s for weeknight stays, so at the time this arrangement was made, last year sometime, this was a break.

And then the economy tanked. People were laid off. People who weren't laid off reduced drastically their travel for business. And the laws of economics kicked in.

I went directly to the Seattle Westin site a few days ago and found that I could book a room directly for a bit more than $150/night. It has gone up since, but is still a few dollars less than the $189/night.

In addition, Westin is offering, through their main site, a buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion for anyone arriving Thursday through Saturday. There's a kicker though. If you take advantage of this promotion, the base rate you'll start with is not what the local hotel is offering at the moment (in the $180s), but the standard rack rate for the room of $220.

Still, if you're arriving on Saturday and leaving on Wednesday, that means you would be eligible to get 2 of your nights at $110/night. That $660 for 4 nights (plus all the taxes and local fees), for a $165/night average.

In this economy, economy is a good thing, and every little bit helps.

I should add that while as a technical writer, I seldom have need to travel on business, but when I do, I have always treated my company's money as if it were my own. I don't mean being an utter cheapskate, but I do mean being frugal. No expensive meals on the company dime. If I can find a hotel for half a block or two away, I'll grab it. I'm always amazed and astonished when I meet people traveling on business who are not of this mindset. I actually find it moderately appalling, the cavalierness with which some people treat their company's money.

Anyway, I really hope that these items might tip you into making the decision to go. And if so, we'll see you in Seattle.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Newsletter ready

The good news is that I got my copy of Adobe InDesign CS4. The bad news is that it ships with 4, yes 4, newsletter templates, and they tend to be designed with large swaths of color and graphics, not good for two reasons.

One, While I do publish as many photos as space permits, it's photos, not color blocks from a "look." Two, the more of that stuff, the more toner that gets used up in the printing.

Fortunately, a newspaper template gave me a nice look. It was laid out at 11 x 17, but it didn't take much to reposition the elements I wanted to keep for an 8.5 x 11 page. And I think I've figured out how to differentiate between the days.

Huh, you may ask. Well, back in the day, before we went to full color, I chose a different pastel paper for each day's newsletter. But when we went to color, every day gets printed on just white paper. It looks much better, of course, but there's no quick and easy differentiation.

Well, I can do it this year based on the design. What will it look like? You'll have to come to Seattle to find out. And there's only one more day to get a $100 discount on registration.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Looking ahead

It's the time of year when I really start planning for the conference. I start researching travel. I contact conference vendors for newsletter items. I start working on the newsletter design (I like to create something location-specific). And I start planning my own conference schedule.

I plan to drive up. As it stands now, I'm planning to leave about mid-morning on Friday. I'll head over to I-5 and then turn north, staying Friday night somewhere in Oregon, likely somewhere between Eugene and Portland, wherever I can get the best price on a decent room. (I always start my research at, a great resource.)

Saturday, I'll make the rest of the trip, arriving in Seattle sometime in the late morning or early afternoon--when I'll be put right to work. Among the "traditions," of mine is that I pitch in and help stuff bags. Joe and Sharon are there, and even Joe, Sr., and Estelle (Joe's mom and dad) pitch in, as well as usually a few other folks. It's great to work and chat and catch up.

Saturday evening, if I've gotten my newsletter planning done, I actually have free. Whether I go see an old friend or two, catch up with anyone who may have arrived early, or head out for a bit of R&R (I know that a couple of good places to play poker are nearby) will be totally up in the air.

Sunday is when the camera begins to get real work. By the time Wednesday evening arrives, I will have taken hundreds of shots. A few will hit the newsletter. Others I'll post here. One thing I hope to do better this year is figure out white balance settings so that I get better color tones.

The biggest problem I have with the WritersUA conference--and it's an annual issue--is that in so many time slots, there are at least two sessions that I want to attend. Sometimes even 3 or 4. It's why getting books that contain all the presentations come in handy, but they are still no substitute for being there.

So, in looking at the current schedule, here's what I'm planning.


Sunday is when the half-day supplemental sessions occur. It's a challenge for me because I like to hit all of them so I can offer capsule summaries for Monday's newsletter. This year, there are two "Introduction" sessions, one on DITA and one on Captivate. Neither one are hot on my radar, so I'll pop into both briefly, and then settle in to Mary Deaton's "Five Ways to Test User Assistance Usability," a session with a topic near and dear to my heart with a speaker who has long been one of my favorites.


The opening session on "The Google Chrome Comic & visual communication" could be very interesting. Once done, the "meat" of the conference begins.

10:45am to 12:00pm

While the "double-scoop" case study session on web-based help could be interesting (and useful), and while the session "Contextual Awareness: Responding to User Actions and Behavior" looks very interesting (although Bogo Vatovec isn't my favorite speaker), I simply don't miss any of Dave Gash's sessions. And this one, "A Painless Introduction to Structured Authoring," could be interesting. (I know it will be fun.)

1:15 to 2:45pm

The double-length, hands-on sessions at WritersUA are really great, but I don't see a need right now do do it for Captivate. I'm leaning right now toward the "double-scoop" case study session on "Agile Development," although I may change my mind when I preview the slides for "Real-World XML design and Development" and "Architecting UA Topics for Reuse."

3:30 to 4:45pm

I didn't think so from just the title, but the description of Char's "Topic-Based Authoring" looks quite interesting, and Char's always a good speaker to boot. My alternative might be Rhonda Bracey's "Techniques for Reviewing a User Interface" to fill any gaps in my existing knowledge in that area.

The Networking Mixer from 4:45 to 6:00pm means a little bit of schmoozing and a lot of picture taking. The Tuesday newsletter production is usually one of the toughest, in part because it's covering all of Monday's events, and in part because Tuesday is usually the fullest day. Monday night is also often a night when vendors do private functions for key developers, and I sometimes get invited, which means newsletter production begins even later.


Tuesday is the longest day of the conference, and it starts the earliest. And I am not a morning person. Plus, it's when the conference goes to 6 sessions per time period, instead of Monday's 5 per time period.


This year is a slight change. Instead of breakout sessions, another keynote is offered. this one should be interesting, a look, by someone from ZDNet, at Microsoft after Bill Gates.

10:15 to 11:30am

This is interesting. None of these sessions really catch my eye. I suppose if I had to choose one, I'd lean toward "Ten Tips Toward Improvement and Success with Your eLearning."

1:00 to 2:15pm

While I'm curious about Microsoft Surface, the just-in-time help for web applications and AJAX are among what will be covered in "User Assistance in Web Forms," so that's where I'll be.

2:45 to 4:00pm

Despite the fact that Scott DeLoach, tremendously nice and smart guy that he is, isn't the most ebullient or dynamic of presenters, his "Best practices for Embedded UA" is at the top of my list for this time slot. "Adobe Integrated Runtime "AIR" and AIR Help" and "Using Simple Pictures to Communicate Complex Idea" are also in the running, the latter especially because of the cognitive approach it looks like this session is taking.

The product demos from 4:15 to 5:15 are always a great opportunity to get more good photos. Unlike previous years, it looks like there's no mixer tonight. (that could change, stay tuned.) Tuesday night is also the very unofficial Australian Cultural Evening. I went for the first time last year in Portland, where the first place the group went I enjoyed a great burger, and then I left, returning to work on the newsletter. The limited participation made production go late, so i don't think I'll be doing that again, as good as the company always is.

But Wednesday's newsletter is also a bit of a challenge. There's usually less news, as most announcements come out in the first day or so, and in recent years, I've looked for pictorial themes. One year I did a collage of the fun tags that people stick to their badges. Another year a did a montage of close-up faces. It's a challenge to come up with something new and interesting along those lines.


8:30 to 9:45am

I am almost tempted to go to the "Content Development with DITA and Xmetal" double hands-on session, if only to get one of those under my belt this year, even though I'm not a DITA fan nor practitioner and it's not something I anticipate using at work. But "Conducting Usability Tests 'In the Wild'" is right up my alley. Problem is, so is the double-scoop case study session on "Editing." I'm also interested in "Succeeding with RSS Feeds, Blogs, and WebCasts" and "Automating Acrobat with JavaScript." Yikes! 4 sessions I want to go to. And even the "Lessons Learned from Research on 'Help'" session looks interesting. What a way to start the day.

10:00 to 11:15am

Oh boy, another time slot with multiple choices. First on the list is "Personalizing and Customizing the User Assistance Experience," but it is certainly not the last. "Better Knowledge-Base Articles for Complex Troubleshooting" would be useful for some where I work, but it's not where I want to put my focus, as I like to get user assistance farther "up the chain," closer to the actual point of need. But the double-scoop case study on "Web 2.0" is definitely on my radar, as is "What If the Reader Can't Read?"

1:30 to 2:45pm

Definitely ">iPhone Design and Development Overview." Problem is, I'm also interested in "Developing More Successful Personas" and "Lessons Learned in Corporate Blogging," as well as I'd have to miss "Creating "Auto-Magic" TOCs With XSLT," presented by Dave Gash, if I go to any one of these other ones. Because Dave Gash is not to be missed.

3:0pm to 4:15pm

Speaking of not to be missed, Jared Spool returns as the closing speaker. The concept here is simple: Do not make your travel plans so you have to leave early and miss this session. This time, the subject is "Magic and Mental Models: Using Illusion to Simplify Designs." And of course, it's always fun to see what Jared does when he sees a camera pointed in his direction. Thank goodness for very fast, long zoom lenses.

And then it's over. With luck, we'll have a post-conference gathering of friends over a relaxing dinner, as we were able to do in San Diego.

I'll be staying in Seattle the rest of the week, visiting the UW campus and my old department, visiting old friends, and doing a bit of shopping (although likely not as much as in past trips, the economy, you know, but hopefully I'll find some new Husky stuff that's on sale or not too expensive).

Sunday, it's up extra early and out the door for the drive home. last year, I think I was heading out at about 8:00am, and drove into home at around 11:00pm.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to book travel

In this budget-busting economy, it's always good to find ways to save. One way right now is to book your travel to Seattle now.

Airlines are desperate for business, and are offereing up some tremendous bargains, most of which extend through March or April. For example, Virgin America is offering flights from SFO to Seattle for around $140, great for anyone heading up from the Bay Area.

Virgin is also one of the few airlines without tons of dishonest fees, such as American, United, U.S. Airways, and others. (Southwest is the best in this category.) I urge folks heading to the conference to choose to do business with companies that are honest with their advertised pricing, that include their CODB (cost of doing business) in their prices, and that don't tyr to nickel and dime (and dollar!) you with added costs once you've made the commitment.

Me, I'm driving up.