New York Technical Writer publishes MadCap Flare 11 review on I’d Rather Be Writing

MadCap Flare User Interface
I am pleased to announce a collaboration with California-based Tom Johnson of I’d Rather Be Writing. In 2008, he wrote a definitive review of MadCap Flare v3 that has helped countless technical writers and prospective users of MadCap Flare. BC Hydro logoSince I had the pleasure of doing a recent MadCap Flare project for BC Hydro in Vancouver, we agreed that I would update his review and add some insights on MadCap Flare 11.

In the process of preparing the review, I generated this sample MadCap Flare project using their new Top Navigation feature. See what you think!

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New York Technical Writer updates to Twenty Fifteen

Vancouver Technical Writer Karen Rempel Updates Websites to WordPress Twenty FifteenThanks for visiting my revised website! Hi, I’m Karen Rempel, a Vancouver-based documentation specialist and senior technical writer.

I just updated this website to be mobile-friendly using the fantastic WordPress theme Twenty Fifteen. I also updated my BC Wilderness Visions website, using the same theme but different settings. Check it out to see the striking effects that can be achieved by simple colour changes.

I want to give a big shout-out to WordPress for this awesome theme. It only took me a day to update both websites to use this theme. I was previously using Silver Light by Blog Oh! Blog. I loved this theme and didn’t want to change, but Google forced me into action by notifying me that my Google ranking would slip if I didn’t make my site resizable for mobile phones and tablets. What can you do?

I checked out my Google Analytics for the past month, and found that of the 1000+ visitors to this technical writing website:

  • 918 used desktops. This is what I thought! My clients are typically at their desk at work when they think about their need for a technical writer, do a search, and call me.
  • 70 used their mobile phones.
  • 15 used their tablets.
Technical writers bridge people and technology

Technical writers bridge people and technologySo isn’t it interesting that people use technology to find technical writers? Most of my clients find me by searching on the internet. And thanks to Google Analytics, I know which devices they use, what countries they search from, and even what browser they use!

Here are the stats for browsers used to find this technical writing website:

  • Chrome – 729
  • FireFox – 115
  • Safari – 72
  • Internet Explorer – 31

Please drop me a line to let me know what you think of the new site! And if you like, tell us what device and browser you used to get here. 🙂

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New York Technical Writer leads Super Shoreline Cleanup

East Van Pickers with trash
East Vancouver Pickers with 19 bags of trash

Yesterday I met with a group of friends—oddly enough, none of these bunch are technical writers—to participate in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Our group of 6 people picked up trash on a Vancouver shoreline for 2 hours and these are the amazing results:

  • 570 food wrappers
  • 1,074 takeout containers, cups, lids, bottles, cans, and utensils
  • 432 plastic bags and pieces of packaging
  • 1,120 pieces of tiny trash (1 inch or smaller)
  • 19 bags of trash (91 Kg or 200 lbs)
  • Additional furniture, construction waste, and large items totalled another 113 Kg or 250 lbs
  • Total items picked up: 3,592 pieces of trash
  • Total trail length cleaned up: 2.2 KM

For more details, see the full story on my BC Wilderness Visions blog. Thanks to my awesome friends for coming out on a Saturday morning to help make the world a more beautiful place.

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New York Technical Writer advises MadCap Flare content management for customized resumes

MadCap Flare WindowI recently completed a technical writing project for a Vancouver- and Calgary-based client who is a management consultant, program manager, and project manager in IT. Like many consultants, he has worked in a range of industries, and with over three decades’ worth of experience, he faces the challenge of condensing his experience and skills into a 3-page resume targeted to clients in two provinces. What would be a good way to solve this challenge? Enter MadCap Flare.

[Click the graphic to see a larger view that shows the use of condition tags]

Often thought of as an online help authoring tool, MadCap Flare is also a very user-friendly content management system (CMS). It provides a wide range of online and print-based output options (for example, Word, PDF, html). It uses XML as the backbone, making it easy to import source content and play nicely with most of the industry-standard authoring tools on the market today.

I thought that MadCap Flare’s CMS capabilities could help solve my client’s problem by providing a single-source database of skills and experience from which he can output a role- or industry-specific resume with one or two clicks of the mouse. In the words of our beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard, I made it so.

I imported my friend’s main resume from Word, and then added in content from five other role-specific resumes, with conditional tags indicating which content belonged on which resume or CV. I set up two different style sheets, for two different looks – executive dark blue, and executive brown. I set up variable text for his phone, email, and mailing address, so he can select which of these to use on a given resume for a particular client. Then I created target outputs for nine different resumes. Et voila!

Target Options in MadCap FlareAll my client has to do is click Build Primary and then select the resume he wants to generate. But best of all, updating his resume with new experience is a snap. He can use MadCap Flare’s intuitive XML editor to type in new content, then apply conditional tags to specify which resume the content belongs with. Then simply use those same two mouse clicks to generate his new target resume. Beautiful. As you can tell, I am a fan of the Flare!

Of course, MadCap Flare isn’t cheap—a perpetual license is over $1,000 CAD (including tax). But for professionals who are aiming for top-paying consulting jobs, it is a reasonable career investment, and a tax write-off. If you are interested in creating your own database of role-oriented, industry-specific resumes, give me a call and I will be happy to help you.

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New York Technical Writer provides corporate sponsorship for Yoga Outreach

Yoga OutreachAfter 10 years of teaching yoga on a part-time and volunteer basis—as a refreshing addition to my desk-bound technical writing gig—I have decided to retire my mat. Although my appreciation of the value of yoga has not changed, its popularity has grown enormously in the past 10 years and there are now hundreds of excellent yoga teachers in New York and Vancouver. I’ve therefore taken down my Yoga for the Office page on this website.

In the past I taught yoga as a volunteer through Yoga Outreach. I taught youth in prison, and also people who are recovering from drug addiction. I continue to support the wonderful outreach work of this organization through a corporate sponsorship. I sponsor a weekly program at New Dawn, an addiction recovery treatment program offered by the Chrysalis Society. Yoga classes are one component of their unique, effective approach to assisting women to deal with addiction. Yoga Outreach brings a pioneering trauma-sensitive approach to teaching yoga that makes yoga an accessible, effective resource.

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New York Technical Writer teaches simultaneous desktop and mobile design

Dolphin Celebration - Esalen Relaxation Massage VancouverI recently launched a new website for a Vancouver- and New York-based technical writing client. I designed and created the site using the WordPress theme Twenty Fourteen, which has been optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile phone. Twenty Fourteen reorganizes the display of page elements based on the screen size of the device you are using. In contrast, the theme for this karenrempel.com technical writing website, Silver Light by Blog Oh! Blog, was developed in 2008 and does not resize on the fly. [Note: I updated karenrempel.com to a mobile-friendly format in April 2015.]

But there’s more to designing for mobile devices than just the capacity to automatically adjust the page elements. Here are some tips about mobile design for technical writers:

  • Keep the number of menu items to 6 or less. This is the maximum that can be displayed without scrolling on an iPhone.
  • Don’t use submenus. They are shown in expanded view when you open the menu on a tablet and present the reader with an overwhelming number of choices.
  • Use center alignment for graphics. Left or right alignment with text wrap leaves a column that’s too narrow for displaying text elegantly.
  • Put the phone number and action links near the top of the home page. Imagine your user is stopped at a light and wants to find the info before the light turns green! Not that anyone looks at their phone while driving, of course.
  • Launch all top-priority pages from links in the home page.

Whether you are a technical writer designing a website for a client, or designing your own technical writing website, I hope these tips will help you design a site that’s effective—both visually appealing and functional—on any device.

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New York Technical Writer provides Windows 8 work-arounds

Windows 8 lock screenHaving your computer die is one of those love it-hate it moments in life. There’s the excitement of getting to go out and spend a lot of money on electronics without guilt—we need our computers! There’s the thrill of seeing what’s new and great, and the promise of way more storage capacity and lightning-fast processor speeds. But if you use your computer for business, as I do for my technical writing business, there is the downside of the downtime, and the need to make a decision quickly and get back up and running ASAP.

My computer doctor Dave at Eltek Electronics, who gave me the news about the death of my old motherboard, warned me about Windows 8. He said try before you buy, so like a good technical writer I went to the London Drugs at Granville & Georgia, and spent a few minutes there looking at the new operating system, but it didn’t really register, what with the sales guy hovering around and telling me about fans and gaming speeds (very helpful info, and I love the quiet fan on my new laptop).

So it wasn’t until I brought my Dell Inspiron 15 home that the impact of Windows 8 really hit me. Start screen? What? Email login? What? Apps? What? No Start menu? What? Charms? What? Microsoft Security Essentials is gone? What? I was in for a week of googling to find out how to make my computer my own, with a pre-Windows 8 functional desktop. I must say, the internet community is awesome (full of excellent technical writers!), and I found everything I needed to know, from how to make changes to the registry to a free download for a Start menu simulator. So here are some tips, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, and like me, are in love with the old world ways.

Start Menu 8 – Free download, choice of which Windows-era Start menu button you want to use, access to Control Panel, Shut Down, Computer properties, Devices and Printers, and you can pin anything you want to the first page, just like in Windows Vista. Also provides the capability to disable the Windows 8 Start screen. Love it! CNet gives it 4 out of 5 stars. I give it 5.

Windows Essentials 2012 – If you have old emails from Windows Mail that you want access to, you need this software package, which includes Windows Live Mail, the replacement for Windows Mail. Includes Microsoft Silverlight (required for viewing web content on some sites), if you haven’t already downloaded it.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – My computer doc recommends this as the best free anti-virus software. I’ve been using it for years. He also recommends using Firefox (not Internet Explorer) to minimize infections. But you probably already know that.

Disable Upgrade Prompts – If you are like me and don’t want to be interrupted by annoying prompts to upgrade to Windows 8.1 (with no visible way to close the prompt and return to work—I had to use Ctrl-Alt-Del and shut it down with the Task Manager), this blog describes how to create a registry key to turn off the upgrade prompt.

BTW, if you are using regular Windows 8, the Group Policy Editor is not available. A lot of tips describe how to set up Windows 8 using the GPE, but it’s only available if you have Windows 8 Pro. So look for instructions that use the Registry Editor instead.

Disable Lock Screen – To go directly to the desktop when you start your computer, the lock screen is one of the screens you can eliminate. Follow the instructions in this blog entry to add a key to your registry to disable the lock screen.

Run box – If you are a real techie you already know this, but half-techie technical writersWindows key like me might wonder where the Run box has gone and how to get to it when you first start Windows 8. The Windows key+R opens the Run box. Once you install your new Start menu, it’s in Windows System > Run.

Windows Defender – Microsoft Security Essentials is now called Windows Defender. Unfortunately, there is no way to add this to the right-click menu to scan individual files. But you can use it to do full-computer scans. It’s in the Windows System folder on the Start menu.

I hope this will help my technical writing friends and clients get up to speed on Windows 8 and minimize downtime on your next computer upgrade.

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New York Technical Writer discusses how technical writers add value to your company

If you are at this website, you probably already have a need for a technical writer. But you might not be aware of all the ways that a technical writer can add value to your company and improve your bottom line. Here are a few ways technical writers can contribute:

  • Technical writers provide documentation about your product or service that help your staff do their job more efficiently, reducing the time needed and improving quality of service.
  • Technical writers create materials that help customers have a positive experience while learning to use your product, through effective, easy-to-use training materials, online help, getting started guides, quick reference materials, or web-based training. A positive experience means customer loyalty, repeat business, and referrals to other potential customers.
  • Technical writers provide clear instructions that customers can use to quickly find the information they need, reducing calls to technical support lines, and therefore reducing your staffing costs.
  • Technical writers are advocates for the end user, and can contribute significantly during the product design stage, helping your developers deliver a product that is easy to understand and use.
  • Technical writers make your product look professional and increase its quality, through well-designed supporting materials and user interfaces. Nothing diminishes a product’s perceived quality like typos and spelling mistakes in the user interface or accompanying documentation!
  • Technical writers produce materials that are persistent aids to learning, which your staff or customers can refer to long after the training session is over. These materials are an asset to your company, and can be the factor that causes customers to choose your product or service over a competitor’s.

In sum, technical writers enhance your product or service, through increasing quality and customer satisfaction. They improve your staff’s performance through increasing efficiency and reducing customer support time, thereby reducing staff costs. Increased income and decreased costs mean great results for your bottom line!

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New York Technical Writer thanks all who helped Yoga Outreach

Yoga in prisonThanks to my family, friends, technical writing colleagues, friends from the Society for Technical Communication, and technical writing clients who pledged me for the 30-Day Challenge. Your support really helped motivate me to get to the mat! Together we raised $940 for Yoga Outreach. That’s awesome!

I have experienced many benefits from the challenge, including being relaxed, getting a good night’s sleep, and also enjoying a warm heart from knowing we are all helping bring yoga to people who can benefit from it, perhaps the most of all, and wouldn’t have access to yoga without Yoga Outreach.

Here’s what one Yoga Outreach program participant said about coming to a Yoga Outreach class: “I found other yoga classes to be threatening almost, and you know keep up, keep up… it was very non-threatening and comfortable which is a great place to start because I can feel threatened and stuff like that.”

There is mounting scientific research that shows yoga can be of great benefit to survivors of trauma, which many participants in Yoga Outreach classes are. Yoga Outreach has pioneered a trauma-sensitive yoga training program, which they have taught to yoga teachers and other workers in various health-care settings in Vancouver. They plan to expand the training throughout BC and Canada over the next 5 years.

Thanks again to everyone who has made a donation and helped me exceed my fundraising goal! If you have been meaning to make a donation but haven’t had a chance yet, you still can until Nov. 30.

I am so inspired by the innovative trauma-sensitive programs that Yoga Outreach offers to men, women, and youth facing challenges with mental health, addiction, poverty, violence, trauma, and imprisonment, that I have decided to sponsor a program through my corporation. If you are interested in supporting community programs through corporate sponsorship, please contact Delanie Dyck, Executive Director, at 604.385.3891 or delanie@yogaoutreach.com.

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New York Technical Writer participates in Yoga Outreach 30-Day Challenge

Yoga OutreachOnce again, Vancouver’s Yoga Outreach is offering a 30-day challenge to raise money to help support their programs, which serve men, women, and youth facing challenges with mental health, addiction, poverty, violence, trauma, and imprisonment. Technical writing involves sitting at a desk, computer, or conference table most of the time (though there are occasional fun and illuminating tours at client sites!), so I find that yoga is a very welcome activity for stretching and easing tight and sore muscles.

I loved taking the challenge two years ago, so I’m going to give it another go, October 15 to November 12. I am collecting pledges of 50 cents to a dollar a day. I’ve set a goal of raising $300 for Yoga Outreach. But I am the one who will benefit the most, by shedding the technical writer’s typical computer-generated tension at the end of each day! If you’d like to help, you can make a donation of any amount on my Giving Page (now closed, but you can donate to Yoga Outreach directly on their website). Or, to truly experience the benefits of yoga, take the challenge yourself!

Yoga Outreach partners with volunteer yoga teachers, community groups, social service agencies, and correctional facilities to provide mindfulness-based yoga to often overlooked adults and at-risk youth. Yoga can help people to have a positive experience of self and a tool for coping when life gets hard.

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