Category Archives: Tools

More on Security and Google Tips from @benwoelk and @careersherpa #stcpmc13

At the excellent STC Mid-Atlantic conference sponsored by the Philadephia Metro chapter, security expert Ben Woelk suggested to the audience that they set up a Google alert for their name, so they know of any possible breaches or security issues. I did this awhile back, purely for security reasons (yeah, let’s go with that). Career Sherpa Hannah Morgan also noted at the conference that it’s important to search for yourself to see where and how you come up when prospective employers search for you. Afterward, I found that Google actually makes it easy for you to search for yourself on an ad-hoc basis. You can do this right now:

  1. Log in to your Google account at google.com/settings.
  2. Expand the Account section on the left, and select Me on the Web.
  3. Click Search Now.

On the same page, you can also have Google send you alerts when new information about your name or email address appears online.

Ben also spoke about the phishing emails that frequently look like they come from financial institutions or other businesses, whose goal is to get your account information and passwords. Many of these emails can look quite convincing.

I’ve found that an easy way to check if email is legitimate is simply to drag or move the email to your spam or junk mail folder. These folders turn hyperlinks into text, so you can see where exactly the email is coming from, and the sites to which they are linking. If the Web address doesn’t look obvious, such as bankofamerica.com, then don’t click on it.

Have additional security tips? Let us know in the comments.

Leveraging jQuery scripts and CSS3 in your Online Help #techcomm

I often get frustrated when people ask in technical communication forums and email lists what are the “current trends in help”. Why limit help to such a small, self-enclosed space, when we have an incredible wealth of knowledge that is current and also contains what users want: the Web.

There’s really no reason that help has to look like traditional “help”, and not like a web site, especially since framesets, the “technology” that creates the tri-pane TOC/content/navigation most help authors are familiar with, went out of style in, oh, 1999. MadCap is finally taking the lead here with frameset-less output, though I suspect Adobe’s RoboHelp isn’t far behind.

Continue reading Leveraging jQuery scripts and CSS3 in your Online Help #techcomm

How to Embed Fonts in MadCap Flare WebHelp

This story is for intermediate to advanced help developers. It requires knowledge of HTML, CSS, and a help authoring tool such as MadCap Flare or Adobe Robohelp.

Have you ever been bored using Georgia, Tahoma, Verdana, and (sigh…) Arial over and over in your help projects? The font-face property has been available for some time in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), but browser and font foundry support are only now allowing use of fonts other than those that ship with operating systems and applications, without workarounds like sIFR and cufon.

New technologies have sprouted up, with Google creating its own font API, and Adobe announcing font support through TypeKit. However, you can also save and host freely available font files on your company’s web server, or install on your users’ PCs, and use these fonts in your WebHelp projects. The web site Font Squirrel creates the CSS for you, using only free, embeddable fonts.

There are thousands of free fonts out there, but not all font creators support font embedding, so be sure to read any license agreement before using them in your projects.

MadCap’s Flare help authoring tool (HAT) uses CSS to style its WebHelp, so you can easily  embed fonts into your help. This should work similarly in Adobe Robohelp. Continue reading How to Embed Fonts in MadCap Flare WebHelp

What Adobe Should Put in Framemaker 10

If you’re fortunate enough not to use Word, it seems the only other decent choice for technical writing is Adobe’s Framemaker. However, some of Frame’s quirks make Word look almost welcoming. Here’s a running list of the things I’d like to see in the next release of Frame, in no particular order:

  • Find and Replace with more functions. How come I can find a marker, but can’t replace it with a different kind of marker?
  • Dialog boxes and palettes that you can close with the Esc key.
  • More intuitive keyboard shortcuts. All of these Esc functions hearken back to UNIX, and when’s the last time anyone used Frame on UNIX?
  • Drag and drop text. C’mon, this was a new feature to users back in, what, 1990?
  • I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Macintosh support. Seriously, I’d give the Mac another look if Frame ran on it natively. Emulation doesn’t count. Yes, I’m aware of Boot Camp and Parallels.
  • Full OpenType support. All of Adobe’s fonts are now OpenType, with ligatures and special characters, but yet we tech writers get the typographical shaft.
  • Word processing features, like AutoCorrect, spellcheck as you type, and all of those everyday functions that Word has, but writing in Word is so bad that you refuse to go back.
  • How about Ctrl-backspace to delete a word before the cursor, just as Ctrl-delete works great for deleting the word before a cursor. Again, this was a feature of, let’s say, Word 2.0?
  • Support for transparent PNGs.
  • How about a more usable “missing file” dialog box? If you type in the path to the file, Frame doesn’t change to that directory, it accepts that as the filename!
  • Much better style management. How come I can import styles across a book, but they don’t always update? Why can’t I delete unused styles? Argh.
  • A reasonable upgrade price commensurate with the new features. All DITA, all the time, isn’t worth $400.

Check back often for updates to this list, since I find something that drives me insane pretty regularly.

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Happy Little Errors

So I’m working on designing buttons, icons, and interface items for a new release. The buttons I’ve created looked… nice, but still not what I wanted them to look like.

Somehow along the process, I cropped the template file a little too judiciously in Photoshop. Buttons I created a week ago were taller by six pixels. I’m still not sure how I did this, as all the guides were in the same place, and making the button taller changed the alignment of text.

While playing around, trying to figure out WTF I did, I ended up using a clipping mask with an existing layer – and it looks great! The only downside, of course, is now I have to recreate approximately 50 buttons. But, I’m happy now they finally look good!

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