Unboxing Day

The unboxing phenomenon lets us vicariously enjoy the process of receiving and opening a new product by watching videos posted by other people. Unboxing videos are very popular: Unbox Therapy has over two million YouTube subscribers, and this video garnered over two million views in less than two weeks. There’s a sensuous feel to unboxing videos, because some products areContinue reading “Unboxing Day”

My latest presentation: “Embedded User Assistance: Third Rail or Third Way?”

The STC New England InterChange regional conference was held 1–2 April, 2016 at the Inn and Conference Center of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. We had excellent attendance and we heard some great speakers and presentations. (We even had fine weather for our Friday evening perambulation to the Lowell Beer Works.) My contribution was “EmbeddedContinue reading “My latest presentation: “Embedded User Assistance: Third Rail or Third Way?””

Making Sense of the Internet of Things

One of today’s hottest technical trends is the Internet of Things (IoT). The idea is to network together physical objects containing electronics, software, and sensors on the Internet so they can collect and exchange data, offering improved efficiency, accuracy, and economic benefit. Each “thing” is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system (that is, byContinue reading “Making Sense of the Internet of Things”

The Mac Plus User’s Guide, 30 Years Later

In 1986 I was already a veteran computer software technical writer, documenting applications with command-line interfaces on operating systems that were the grandparents, uncles, and aunts of UNIX and then Linux. (One of my colleagues wrote an entire manual for a sort utility—excuse me, the Sort. I tell you, those were heady days.) My division’s softwareContinue reading “The Mac Plus User’s Guide, 30 Years Later”

The Source of Bad Writing: Don’t Let It Be You

Stephen Pinker, publicizing his book The Sense of Style, kicked up a fuss with his piece “The Source of Bad Writing,” which appeared in the Wall Street Journal last September. He began: Why is so much writing so bad? Why is it so hard to understand a government form, or an academic article or theContinue reading “The Source of Bad Writing: Don’t Let It Be You”

Error messages: Does anyone really care?

Recently one of the engineering managers at work mentioned a bizarre error message he’d read about: “Shut ‘er down, Clancy, she’s pumping mud!” Thanks to Google, I quickly verified that it was a real message, from the Texas Instruments 990 minicomputer, indicating a condition that the programmer never expected would happen but eventually did. (Isn’t thatContinue reading “Error messages: Does anyone really care?”

Guardian or gatekeeper?

The Boston Globe today reviews N. M. Gwynne’s Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English (available for pre-order on Amazon.com). Gwynne is a strict traditionalist and prescriptivist—in other words, a “scold”—who holds to the view that it’s been all downhill for English since Shakespeare. I’ve been trying to improve myself withContinue reading “Guardian or gatekeeper?”