Archive for the ‘Technical Writing’ Category

Shady Characters…

August 5, 2011

Greetings fellow netizens!

I should be posting more, I really should. Poor blog. I’ve ignored it for long periods.

Today I’m talking about an interesting bit I just learned. (well, it was interesting to me, so I thought it might be interesting to you as well)

This week I was facilitating an introductory Captivate class. One participant asked me what the difference was with using the Drop-Down selector as opposed to using the icons for making textual elements Bold, Italics or Underlined.

Here you can see the panel in Captivate.

And until I had been asked this question, I have to admit that I was blissfully ignorant. I had never given any thought to the “style” drop-down. At least not until this point.

So I pinged some of my associates to ask if they had better insights. The responses I got back were a bit less than conclusive. One response simply said that “this worked like it does in Microsoft Word” and another talked about the three generic T buttons being like “faux” formatting.

What was interesting to me was that of all the folks I asked, there seemed to be no definitive answer. So I went digging for more in order to offer a reasonably coherent answer to the class participant that asked.

So keying off my first response, I opened Microsoft Word. And I was stymied at first because I have Word 2010. It doesn’t seem to offer dialogs like older versions did. It has the infamous “Ribbon”. But fortunately, if you look in the lower right corner of the section and click, voila! A dialog!

Notice that it has a drop-down labeled “Font style”. And that provides the clue we need.

See, when someone designs a font for our operating system, they design all the different characters that compose the font. But not only may they design the characters, they may create different sets of characters.

And therein lies the key to explaining this. What the Font style drop-down does is to allow us to select the set of characters within the installed font.

To contrast this, I headed for the Fonts area of Windows. I looked at a font named Milky Way that I had installed. When double clicking the font, Windows only opens a single window to present the single set of fonts. And likewise, if I select this font in Captivate, the drop-down only lists a single item.

I’m a software nut so I tend to install lots of software. Many packages also install additional fonts. So I looked at another font that is installed on my PC. It is named Myriad Pro. And if I try to double-click that particular font when viewing fonts in Windows, I see that several different sets are included as shown below:

So the bottom line on this appears to be that if you select from the drop-down, you are choosing a specific character set inside the font. And that will apply to all the text in the element you have selected. And if you make a selection and use the generic letter Ts (I hate the generic representation and long for the good old and more familiar B I and U) you are advising Captivate to apply its own formatting to make the selected text appear as desired.

And as my class participants stated, you can get some bizarre behavior by mixing the two elements.

Until next time… Rick 🙂


Reflow Revisited

January 28, 2011

Earlier I blogged about my confusion with the ePub hubub and all the hoopla surrounding reflow.

I was admittedly totally confused by this as HTML content is primarily what I work with. And it reflows based on the page.

Well, as life would have it, lately I’ve been experimenting more with ePub and other eBook types such as Kindle. See, my wife received a Kindle as a Christmas gift. I’ve been playing a bit with it and I now am beginning to see the light on why reflow is an issue!

One of her requests was to copy a PDF book she has been reading over to the Kindle. Fortunately, it’s as simple as connecting the Kindle to the USB port of the PC and copying files across to the proper locations. Her reaction to the PDF on Kindle was ICK! And after looking it over I finally see what the issue is.

The PDF is simply presented much like a static image! Sure, the Kindle allows her to zoom in to try and read the text, but it also obscures other text as you zoom in and the text doesn’t reflow. AT ALL

So I’m guessing that because most folks are comparing against the tried and true PDF format, reflow actually IS a big deal after all!

Until next time… Rick 🙂

Changing Course…

December 16, 2010

Hello all

So today I attended an eSeminar that was facilitated by RJ Jacquez at Adobe Systems. The eSeminar was focused on ePubs output. Being someone involved with eBooks, I was naturally interested, so I attended.

This is a cool new output ability for some of the Adobe products using my beloved RoboHelp as a conduit for publishing to this new format. And kudos to the team for adding the scripting ability within RoboHelp 8. I seriously wish I understood it.

So let’s talk about possibly the single most confusing point I have when it comes to ePub.

It seems that when discussing the the main advantages of the ePub format, the ability to “reflow” text is often touted.

Speaking as an old hand at working with on-line content, admittedly I am viewing this with a somewhat critical eye and going “huh?”. Seriously, I’m having a major brain fart with understanding why it’s such a big deal.

I’m wondering if many of you out there are also scratching your heads over the same issue.

For anyone that may be reading this and still wondering what I’m rambling on about, here is some background. I began my journeys with on-line content back in 1992. At the time, we edited our documents in Microsoft Word and used this way cool “Word add-in” called “RoboHelp” that had all these Word Macros that caused specific codes to be inserted that the WinHelp compiler would recognize and properly convert to a WinHelp file.

So here is where it gets interesting from the perspective of the ePub and reflowing text hyperbole. And the source of my utter confusion!

The image below shows a WinHelp document displayed in the WinHelp viewer.

WinHelp Example 1

And now, I’ll resize the viewer and observe the text.

WinHelp resized

Notice how the text simply adapted to the size of the window? Ummm, isn’t that “reflowing”? And this was back in 1992!

The same seems to hold true for Compiled HTML Help files (CHM) format, anything Web Based and even Adobe’s new AIR Help format.

So as you can see, it causes those of us with experience in these formats to seriously question why all the hubub about being able to reflow text?

It baffles me nearly as much as Apple’s proclamation that the iPhone can now perform copy/paste! w00t! I mean, really, come on now, you invented something we accept as common on any PC in existence? Why all the crowing about something you forgot to include to begin with!

Until the next whenever… Rick 🙂





Windows 7 and Flash Player

May 9, 2010


Well I’ve been humming along with my new PC and so far so good. There have been adjustments to the way one has to work and so far I’ve been seemingly adjusting well. There are some things I find that are really cool, such as the ability to simply tile two applications side by side by just “tossing” the windows to the side. To “toss” a window, just grab the title bar by clicking the mouse and dragging it. Then using a quick motion, you act as if you are tossing the window to the left or right side of the desktop. It’s way cool. The application just snaps into place occupying half the screen.

Another cool feature I stumbled across is the ability to grab a title bar and “shake” the application. What happens is that all other applications minimize. But these cool things aren’t the purpose of this post.

The real purpose of this post is to report a disturbing discovery. Many folks are aware that I’m a CHM fan. I find the format to be very efficient and handy. As a result, I create lots of CHM files to accomplish this or that. When I facilitate training, I use a CHM file as a guide to keep me on track. So today I opened a CHM file to view it. There was nothing really special or out of the ordinary with my CHM file. I’ve opened lots of them since migrating to Windows 7. But there was something I had not noticed. That is, I had not noticed it until today.

What I noticed was that a CHM that worked just fine on Windows XP Professional (my previous operating system) no longer worked just fine on my shiny new Windows 7 PC. I had displayed a page that presented a Captivate movie. Where the Captivate movie was supposed to appear I saw a large placeholder instead. Upon attempting to view the Captivate movie I tried many different things.

My first attempt was to try and install the Flash Player. I reasoned that the Flash Player must not be installed. I primarily use Firefox as my browser. I knew that I had configured Firefox to present Flash. But unless a web page just doesn’t want to play nice with Firefox, I seldom open IE. My reasoning said that IE must not have the Flash Player added in. I know that the CHM viewer relies on IE for bits of its display, so it seemed to make perfect sense to me that if IE didn’t have Flash Player capabilities I would not see my Captivate movie inside my CHM page. So I opened IE and be-bopped over to the Flash Player install page. Installed just fine so I should be good!

I display the CHM again and was a bit perplexed as things didn’t seem to change. So I’m thinking that perhaps another area needed to be touched. Perhaps I need to somehow run the HH.EXE in Admin mode so that changes could be made somewhere else. I struggled big time in making HH.EXE run in Admin mode. The bottom line was that I ended up disabling User Account Control and restarting the PC.

Ran the CHM again and tried to update. RATS! Nothing worked. Then I recalled that CHM files have an ability to open URLs by clicking in the upper left corner. I tried that and visited the Adobe Flash Player site. My brain was abuzz and I was all tingly thinking I had FINALLY sorted how to do it! But nope. Upon attempting to install the Flash Player, I was greeted with a link to an Adobe Knowedge Base article. I’ll link below for your reading pleasure.

Click here to read the article

The bottom line is that the Flash Player or Add In isn’t available for 64 bit systems yet. So I must have been using the 64 bit version of the HH.EXE file and whatever bits of IE that are needed must also be 64 bit. Frustrating to be sure, but at least now I have an explanation for the odd behavior.

Until next time… Rick 🙂

The questionable value of consistent Application Interfaces

May 6, 2010

Hi gang

One of my favorite applications has recently had an interface update. Namely, Adobe Captivate. In considering the changes, I find that I often hear words similar to those below used to describe changes.

“Yes, it’s great because the new interface shares that of all our other applications. This means you can come up to speed very quickly with our other applications.”

But I have to stop and ponder that. I have some rather serious concerns about the validity of it. Please bear with me on this.

Sure, the overall look and feel of the application may now be totally consistent and follow suit with the other applications produced. But does it really help me here? I mean, beyond the first screen. Yeah, I know that on the first screen I can generally open my most recently edited projects easily and I know that other common functions are there. Such as opening the help or being presented with news about the product. But I have to conclude that this is pretty much where it ends.

So Captivate now shares the same overall interface with Flash. We have panels galore and items in different places. However, I cannot say with a  straight face that knowing the interface for Flash or Captivate makes me immediately proficient in the other application. How can it?

Sure, you have panels for this and panels for that. Maybe you know that the properties for something are always in this panel. But how does that help you learn the application any easier? The point is that different applications do different things. Each application has its own specific functions. You use Flash to create Flash stuff. You use Photoshop to edit images. Once I become familiar and comfortable with the new application interface for Captivate, I’m STILL going to be mostly bewildered by Photoshop and will still have to pick and poke to figure out how this new content aware thing will help me or how to create layers and all that, won’t I?

I dream of the day when we have the capabilities of those proposed in The Matrix. Where all it requires is a special download to our brains and suddenly we can fly a helicopter. Or navigate Photoshop or Flash. (At the moment, for me, Photoshop and Flash skills aren’t really that much different from what it must take to be able to successfully pilot a helicopter. I’m likely to be equally successful with all three.)

Until next time… Rick 🙂

When Captivate Links don’t

June 19, 2009

Hello all

This post is intended to shed some light on a Captivate phenomenon that is reported time after time after time in the support forums.

Okay, so what am I talking about here?

Normally what happens is the Captivate developer inserts a Button or a Click Box object that is intended to be used to link to a Microsoft Word Document, PDF, Web site or other file. They preview using F4 to preview in Captivate and the links work just dandy. But upon previewing using the web browser or viewing immediately after publishing, the links fall flat and just refuse to work.

What gives?

Like an overprotective parent, the Flash Player is likely blocking the link without your knowledge. Normally when links like this are present Flash will issue a warning alerting you.


Unfortunately (and I’m unsure as to exactly why) this dialog doesn’t always present itself. Instead, the Flash Player lurks on your system and silently blocks the linking, leaving you scratching your head and wondering why the Buttons or Click Boxes aren’t working as they should.

The trick to correcting things is to open the Flash Player Settings panel and pointing at the location where your files exist to mark them as being safe to work with. If you get the dialog above, you may conveniently click the Settings… button to open the Settings Panel. However, if the dialog isn’t being presented, that’s probably a bit of a stretch!

I’ve had a small tutorial on the web for a long time now that has been successful in walking folks through the basic process. While it’s not my proudest work to date, it does seem to get the mission accomplished. You may view it at this link.

Note that fixing things so the links work for a preview may prove to be a bit problematic. This is because when you preview, you are viewing from a temporary location. So it’s best if you can Publish. Then mark the Publish location as being safe.

Since this post first appeared I’ve created a related post. You may view it by clicking this link.

An old dog learns a new trick!

June 4, 2009

Hello world!

I’m guessing you probably thought I forgot about my blog! No, things just got really busy for me. I’ve been traveling a bit and spreading Captivate and RoboHelp joy across the United States.

So what is this new trick you speak of?

Here’s the deal. During one of the recent classes I was facilitating, one of the participants mentioned something about a specific desktop display setting she should be concerned with. She said that the person advised her to configure it specifically in order to achieve the best Captivate output.

Needless to say this was news to me and I was more than interested.

Mind you I’ve known for years that Windows offered something referred to as “Font Smoothing”. Personally, I don’t like the effect and I regularly turn it off. I suppose this may partially account for why I’ve never noticed it having any effect on the Captivate movies I produce. However, I’ve noticed that when I open PowerPoint and watch the latest “Best pictures of 2008” PowerPoint that has arrived in my In-Box (which looks suspiciously like the one that had the “Best pictures of 2007”) that upon exiting the presentation PowerPoint ever so helpfully enables the pesky option. So I end up visiting the dialog a LOT to turn the silly feature off!

However, it came as a total shock and surprise to me to discover that this little setting would affect the way Text Captions were rendered in my Captivate movies.

As I so often do, I decided to put it to the test. I wanted something to show and illustrate to future class participants. So that evening in my hotel room I tested and screen captured and tested and screen captured. Below is the result of those tests.

To check or change this setting:

  1. Click Start > Run…
  2. Type desk.cpl into the Run dialog and press Enter.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Click the Effects… button.

The table below contains images of three different Captivate movies. Below each movie is a magnified image of the text so that you may see the effect.


That’s it for the moment. Hopefully you found this as interesting as I did. You probably didn’t though. I’m pretty much a nerd when it comes to this Captivate and RoboHelp stuff. Folks look at me and their eyes sometimes glaze over when they see how excited I get about it.

Have fun all…


April 17, 2009

Recently I was in Seattle, WA where I assisted Adobe by staffing the vendor booth. These events are always a good time. I get to meet many of you and showcase the amazing new products that Adobe is offering.

One really super cool aspect of this situation is that I get to spend time with some of the fine Adobe folks. This year was no exception. RJ Jacquez was present and demonstrated some wonderful new collaboraton features with the Technical Communication Suite. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dhiren Jani, the new Product Manager for RoboHelp.

I have no recollection of exactly HOW the subject came up, but at one point we began discussing the RoboHelp Start Page. At least that’s what I call it.


I believe everyone I know refers to this as either the RoboHelp Start page or the “RoboHelp Starter”. And that makes total sense. Primarily because in the RoboHelp HTML application, the tab is labeled “Starter”.

Apparently inside Adobe they don’t refer to this page by the same name. The developers refer to it as the “DWS”.

Several things came flooding into my twisted little brain when I heard the term DWS.

Here are just a few:

  • Dancing With Stars
  • Dating While Single
  • Driven White Snow

Now maybe I’m just twisted, but the true meaning of what the Adobe folks call it never came to my mind!

The meaning? Dynamic Welcome Screen.

I believe that all Adobe products are adopting this approach. What remains a mystery is whether all other develpment areas refer to it the same way.

Am I alone in wondering why Adobe would be surprised that I called it what it is labeled?

Hoping your weekend is well…

RoboHelp Stumper of the moment

March 22, 2009

Hello all

Here is a situation that has popped up more than once in the different support venues I participate in.

Please do feel free to offer comments with suggestions.

The Situation

Perhaps you have some text and an image that you wish to display in multiple topics.

As in the Example below:

feedback Note: The Hoozamafludge discussed in this topic is only offered by BigCo.

At this point you may be thinking the solution is quite simple.

Just define the table in a RoboHelp HTML Snippet. Insert the image and the text and insert the Snippet into the topics. Right?

One might think.

However, just as all bad infomercials advise: But wait, there’s more!

Cactus Fruit

Here is where things begin to get prickly. In the table, the term Hoozamafludge is likely to vary.

So how may we handle this situation easily?

feedback Note: The Hoozamafludge discussed in this topic is only offered by BigCo.

If you are like me, you might even think this is something simple to achieve.

Well duh! Just declare a Variable Mr. Smarty pants! Insert the Variable into the Snippet. Problem solved!

Not so fast there, mister!

The big ole wrinkle

Here is where things become extra prickly. The term that the Variable represents is topic specific. Perhaps you have 15 different topics and your goal is to update that common table with the variable.

Topic A refers to a Hoozamafludge. Topic B refers to a Floomdorm. Topic C calls it a Bingleflinger. And on it goes.

Tough call, huh? Beginning to sense the issue?

Possible options:

  • Multiple Snippets that are basically identical but each use a different variable.  That option doesn’t seem optimal, as it would  appear to defeat the purpose of the Snippet. If I decided to change the Snippet, I’d end up changing many different Snippets.
  • One could declare a JavaScript variable in each of the topics. Then insert a smidgeon of JavaScript in the Snippet that would use whatever text was present in the variable to perform a “Write in” of the text.

For extra credit…

See if you can think of a way to accomplish everything mentioned with the added feature of changing the Topic Title!

Now it’s your turn to offer suggestions via the comments. Go!