Monday, September 21, 2009

A Guide to Technical Writing (1908)

I never thought that technical writing could be that old. See A Guide to Technical Writing by T.A. Rickard. This book was published in 1908, that is more than 100 years ago!

UPD: And here comes another artefact from the "good old times", a bibliography on "English for engineers" for the use of engineering students, practicing engineers, and teachers in schools of engineering, to which are appended brief selected lists of technical books for graduates in civil, electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering. Published in 1916.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mapping MS Word menu items from 2003 to 2007

When I migrated from MS Office 2003 to 2007, I read several tutorials to get up to speed with the new interface. But now and then I still had troubles guessing where a certain menu item could be hidden in 2007. I felt much happier when I found this interactive reference that mapped 2003 menu items to those in 2007. I still keep it at hand just in case.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rates for freelance writers in the U.S.

Guys from Writing Assistance, Inc are offering a free estimate of hourly market rates for technical writers, instructional designers, copywriters, and designers at the U.S. job market (see the Free Publications column at WAI main page).

As I checked out the figures, I began to wonder whether the average rates are really that high (e.g. $50 to $80 per hour for a software techwriter of about my qualification). If so, what were the actual rates before the recent slump in 2008?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Documanga from Google

Googlers have come up with an awesome document about the architecture of their open-source web browser, Google Chrome. The book grasped 100% of my attention the very moment I opened the link.

This 38-page document is presented as a comic book drawn by the creator of the classic "Understanding Comics", Scott McCloud. The content is rather technical, but the graphics of real Chrome team members and direct speech in baloons are so catchy that I swallowed all the -- otherwise rather boring -- techie stuff immediately and had perhaps the most pleasant tech-reading this year. What a perfect way to tell a story! Grade A!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Techwriting by Ernest Hemingway

As Brian Clark wrote in his post Ernest Hemingway's Top 5 Tips to Writing Well, Hemingway followed very simple yet efficient writing rules in his prose:

  1. Use short sentences.
  2. Use short first paragraphs.
  3. Use vigorous English.
  4. Be positive, not negative.
  5. Dispose bad writing samples.
Surprisingly, this is what technical writers are often advised to consider.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My new "digital inkpot"

This morning I got hold of yet another "freaky mouse" as one would call it: Wacom Bamboo A6 digitizer (a.k.a tablet). I've been considering this buy for 1.5 years now, doubting all the way if I'll really use it after my first wow's evaporate. But finally, I got "ready for a tablet". Yeah, I feel a happy hippo today. :-)

Here's what it looks like:

Like with the trackball, it took me some time to get used to the device. I liked the vendor's interactive tutorial: it brought me up to speed with the tablet in less than 30 minutes.

I initially planned to use the tablet for editing graphics, drawing raster / vector schemes, and adding smart hand-written callouts and notes to documents and images. Now I also consider the tablet as another handy alternative to a regular mouse. I liked to scroll / zoom in documents using the tablet's touch-wheel, and speed buttons proved nice to navigate back / forward in web browsers. Anyway, I'll need several weeks to fully test the tablet's usability and understand which tasks it covers best. First of all, I can't wait to try it out with pressure-sensitive image editors. The ability to draw wider / narrower lines by pressing the pen firmer / softer against the tablet impressed me in the tablet's tutorial.

P.S. Mind the round-shaped pen holder that looks very much like a real inkpot. Now I feel a real writer! :-D

Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's bike time!

Spring has finally come to Moscow and this week I was happy going to the office by bicycle. We have no regular parking slots for cyclers, so I feel free to fasten my bike right to the fence. There it stands safe under surveillance cameras, being hardly noticeable among the other vehicles. :-)

UPD: I've just learnt about an annual event in the USA and Canada called Bike-to-Work Day. It's held since 1956 on the 3-rd Friday of May. Moreover, this Day is part of a whole Bike-to-Work week!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My new "inverted mouse"

Last week I had a 1-day "test drive" using my colleague's trackball instead of a conventional mouse device. Today this experiment ended up in buying an indentical trackball (Logitech TrackMan Wheel) for daily office use.

Logitech TrackMan Wheel trackball

This device has a "transitional" mouse-to-trackball design with mouse-like left and right buttons and a scroll wheel in the center, which I eventually found very handy. However, at first the new device confused me resembling a ball mouse inverted inside-out, with a ball directly under my thumb. In a couple of hours though, the trackball felt as natural as my old optical mouse.

I spent the rest of the test-drive day enjoying high cursor speed coupled with high-precision cursor positioning and pleasant tactual sensations. In terms of my everyday tasks, it became much easier to quickly move the cursor across windows on my 2 screens. At the same time, I gained more control in selecting text and graphics. And what's important, my usual strain in the right arm and shoulder were gone because I didn't need to move around the entire device any longer.

Logitech also offers a similar cordless trackball. Perhaps, some users would find it critical to have no "tail" connected to a trackball. For me a cord is not an issue because, as I already said, I do not move a trackball around and it lies still on my desk.

The round-up is that I would recommend trying a trackball for typical techwriting jobs. So far I found no down-sides of using a trackball as compared to a mouse (I'll make an update if I find any flaws).

UPD 1: This (and the similar cordless model) are "pure" trackballs meaning they do not have mouse-like sensors on the bottom. These trackballs lie still on the desk, giving you a fine opportunity to click without the risk of accidentally moving your cursor away.

UPD 2: I've been using my new trackball for 2 weeks now, and I'm still happy with it. After some fine-tuning of speed / acceleration settings the device feels just fine.

UPD 3: If I ever decide to move on with my "freaky mouse" experiments, I'll definitely try a foot mouse!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Firefox Book Sprint

I'm looking forward to Firefox Book Sprint scheduled for March 17-18. The idea is to create Firefox user's manual from zero in 2 days. Many writers will be collaborating in a wiki environment both remotely (as I will) and on-site (the Sprint is held within DocTrain West 2009 in Palm Springs, CA). To join, you'll need to drop a line to Janet Swisher (jmswisher-at-gmail-dot-com) and register in FLOSS Manuals wiki.

See details here: