TIP: A quick Excel keyboard trick for selecting large ranges [techrepublic.com]

June 19th, 2012

posted a really neat little Excel tip in the TechRepublic MS Office blog:

You’ll want to add this quick selection trick to your repertoire. It’s handy when the range isn’t a complete data range or it comprises more than one data range.

You probably know about the [F5] key – pressing [F5] opens the Go To dialog. You enter a range name or a cell reference, click OK, and Excel selects a range or cell, accordingly. It’s a quick and easy way to get from one spot to another. What you might not know is that you can use this feature to select a range, where no range exists. Excel uses the current cell as the top-left anchor cell and you enter the bottom-right anchor cell (or vice versa). Excel will select everything in between, including the two anchor cells. The trick is to hold down the [Shift] key.

Example/illustration here.

[GH: Revised 20-06-12 to correct grammar and the TR link]

Want to be more productive when you blog?

April 19th, 2012

Interesting piece for those who blog…
The 7 Bad Habits of Insanely Productive People
http://www.copyblogger.com/bad-habit-productivity/

“The New Yorker”‘s defense of comma usage

April 13th, 2012

A lovely brief piece on why TNY uses commas the way that it does.  (The “comma shaker” is a hoot!)

LINK: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/04/in-defense-of-commas.html

Review of “DITA 101: Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers”

April 11th, 2012

DITA 101 Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers

DITA 101 identifies itself as providing the “Fundamentals of DITA for Authors and Managers”. And to a certain extent, it does just that. It is a short book and a quick read, and provides a lot of information about DITA in a very readable format. It is worth having on your bookshelf, but if you are considering working with DITA (or are already); you will need a bigger book to sit beside it.

Let me start with what I did like about the book. It is short (160 pages overall), the writing is generally clear, with uncommon or specific-meaning terms usually explained, and the examples (where provided) are clear. The basic page layout is good, with room in the margins for annotations and a legible font set. The first 30 pages provide a good clear review (one of the best I’ve read) of DITA and its value.

However, this book frustrated me immensely as I read it, as it desperately needed a good structural and design edit. The chapters are often transparent (the only way to know that you have changed chapters is to check the header), and the cross-references are often ambiguous (Figures restart numbering for each chapter, but are only referenced by the figure number) or missing. If I was reading a pre-press edition I might cut the authors some slack on this, but in a published second edition, these are unacceptable.

In addition to ambiguous boundaries, the chapters suffered from a lack of clear navigational structure. I did not know in advance what information I would (or would not) find in the chapter. There are headings, but only two levels were visually distinguishable, and that is not enough for a book as technical as this.

As seems to be typical of books about DITA, the authors imply that it is only suitable for large corporations who can hire a team of people to create documents. As a lone writer, I have often wanted to make the conversion to DITA to save me all the over-writing and problematic reuse (“Did I put that really good description in chapter 4 or chapter 7?”), along with the overhead of creating multiple output formats and translation. There is a decent but minimal exploration of DITA cost savings (but no estimate — even an order-of magnitude one) of what a DITA implementation will cost in time or money.)

The real problem I have with this book (and I *wanted* to like it, as I have great respect for the authors) was that when they got into the meat of working with DITA, they began assuming more knowledge (and more technical knowledge) on the part of the reader, without providing any support structures such as internal or external references, and using fewer and fewer code samples. (As an aside, I found it problematic that the samples use tags that are neither part of HTML nor in their list of supported DITA tags (for example: PH and TGROUP). This problem gets exacerbated as they skimpily touch on the tools to create and work with DITA (the only one mentioned is the very basic DITA Toolkit), briefly glance over the relationship between a CMS and DITA, and effectively ignore the issues and challenges of producing well-formatted output. Their answer to this last? “Hire a pro”, which is not exactly useful, even if it may be correct.

The book closes with a brief overview of DITA 1.2 (Approved in December 2010), a very high-level quick reference to DITA 1.1 tags and topics, a history of DITA, short bios of the authors, and a 5-page (single column) index.

ISBN Info: ISBN-10: 0557072913   ISBN-13: 978-0557072910

An excellent writing reference site

April 3rd, 2012

Created and maintained by Ann Gordon.

http://writetightsite.com/

I don’t know why I haven’t found it before now!

Top applications I can’t live without (as a writer)

March 21st, 2012

OK… this is a list of Windows-based applications, as that is primarily the environment that I work in.  I use Linux Mint when Windows doesn’t work. <grin>

Freeware/Donationware/Shareware

Text Editor: Notepad++. I’ve used this for years, and wouldn’t be without it.

Search: Agent Ransack. I love its power and flexibility, and that it links with NP++.

FTP: FileZilla. Simple, reliable, and darned near bulletproof.

Image work: FastStone Image Viewer.  Quick, easy, good cropping and a decent set of callout tools.

File Security: TrueCrypt. Best way to protect a client’s files.

Notes: Evernote.  Especially when I have multiple things going on.

Paid-for tools

Image editing: Adobe Photoshop. It’s overkill for most of what I do, but none of the other image-editing tools are as fast or easy to use.

Authoring: Adobe FrameMaker. An old warhorse, but still the King of Documentation.  Yes, I am biased from having worked for Frame Technology, but not enough I wouldn’t have jumped ship if there was something less expensive or more up-to-date.

FrameMaker Add-ons: Mif2Go, FM-to-Acrobat. MIF2Go solves so many of the small but intensely irritating output aspect of FM for everything but Acrobat, and FrameMaker-to-Acrobat timesavers just kick that output to a whole new level. A big plus for me is that both companies are run by dedicated and really nice people.

PDF: Adobe Acrobat Pro.  I’ve got a couple of other quickie tools (BioPDF) that I like, but keep coming back to the mothership.

So there is a start.  Yes I do use MS Office a lot, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  I use a number of other tools for specialized work, and will probably post about them in the future.  You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned any Help tools, structured authoring apps, or automation apps.  I use them, but I’ve a lot to say there, so will keep them for a future post.

Comments are open, so feel free to chime in with your own favorites or comment on the ones I’ve listed here.