Archive for October, 2009


WebWorks RoundUp 2009

October 21, 2009

I’m just returning from WebWorks RoundUp 2009. It was a road trip (I drove to Austin from Colorado), my first solo road trip in years, and so far it has been a blast.

First of all, thanks to WebWorks for providing copies of two XML Press books to attendees. All attendees got complimentary copies of my Managing Writers and Anne Gentle’s Conversation and Community, and XML Press gave away a copy of Alan Porter’s forthcoming book, WIKI: Grow Your Own for Fun and Profit.

I thought the conference was a model of the kind of conference a company should have for customers. While the conference is open to all, it is primarily focused on WebWorks customers, who are an interesting, enthusiastic group of people, who are not shy about expressing their opinions.

I was equally impressed with the management team; the top managers were there throughout, accessible to the audience, and participated in most of the sessions, as moderators and participants. They got some honest (i.e., tough) comments from the audience, and handled them well. That said, the positive out-weighed the negatives by a mile.

The conference was divided into two tracks. The first was a “Boot Camp,” which matched up customers with technical experts, with a loose focus (things like Automation and DITA) that as far as I could tell served mostly as ideas for discussion. The second was a more traditional panel-focused set of sessions, with some case studies. This is where I spent most of my time.

Stewart Mader, author of Wikipatterns, gave the opening talk and joined the first panel, which centered on wikis and social media. His talk and the panel set a direction to the conference around wikis and using wikis as part of documentation. He brought up, though no one really answered, the question of whether you can use a wiki as your complete documentation set. I suspect it will work with some, but not all, products.

XML Press authors Anne Gentle, Alan Porter, and I were all there, and we all participated in panels (not all together, unfortunately; that would have been interesting). Anne spoke about her book, Conversation and Community, and also joined a panel on DITA with Lisa Dyer and Georg Eck. Alan participated on several panels, including one that I also joined about content development best practice, which refreshingly concentrated on what goes between the tags, rather than the tags (the idea of concentrating on what goes on between the tags was from Bob Sima of Tedopres).

Tom Johnson, author of the I’d Rather Be Writing blog (a must read) gave the keynote for the second day, talking about the “Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging,” which has been the topic of several good, recent blog entries on his blog.

Overall, I found the conference interesting and entertaining. I also found my first real visit to Texas since living there in the late ’70s to be a lot of fun. I’d forgotten a lot about Texas. Here are a few tidbits:

  • First barbecue place I passed headed south on I35 had the following billboard (approximately, though the name of the piece de resistance is literal):

    Big Fatty’s Barbecue, home of
    El Farto Grande

  • Sign in the men’s room of two different places, including the conference hotel, warning you to not drink alcohol if you think you might be pregnant. Reliable sources tell me that the women’s room in the hotel did not have that sign
  • Under the category of “2nd Amendment anomalies,” I visited friends in a new housing development in Texas that featured a prominent “No Firearms Allowed” sign at the entrance to the development. Clearly an enclave of Damn Yankees (I learned when I lived in Texas that there is no such thing as a Yankee; you’re either a Damn Yankee, or you’re ok).
  • My favorite definition of the conference, courtesy of Mary Anthony, who gave a very interesting talk the first day. She defined agile methodologies as “Developers gone wild.”

Book Review: How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely

October 13, 2009

In a word, hilarious. I haven’t laughed this much reading a book in years.

Peter Tarslaw is a recently graduated English major working for a fly-by-night college essay “polishing/editing/writing” company. Writing essays by day and drinking cheap beer by night, he might have settled in for years of the same. But, in quick succession, his former girlfriend, Polly, announces her wedding plans, his employer folds and lays him off, and he sees an interview with Preston Brooks, best selling author of books with titles like Kindness to Birds (description in a faux New York Times Book Review: “On a journey across the Midwest, a downsized factory worker named Gabriel touches the lives of several people wounded by life.”).

Peter takes this as a call to action and decides to manufacture a best seller. His adventures navigating a world of pharmaceutically enhanced writing, desperate book publishers, horny writers, book tours, campus visits, Polly’s wedding, and a meeting with Preston Brooks himself are both hilarious and sadly plausible. He is a wonderfully self-aware, but clueless narrator, and his journey to–well, you’ll need to judge for your self if it’s success or failure–is a hoot. Highly recommended.


Health Care, the Stock Market, and Jeopardy

October 9, 2009

Final Jeopardy:

Answer: Proof positive that Congress has come up with a health care bill that works for the people.

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