Monthly Archive for February, 2007

Good riddance to bad UA

clippyGravestone.jpg“Sir, you’re 5:00 is here.�

“Thanks, Sara. Send him in.�

The boss nervously straightens some items on his desk. Wow, this is going to be tough, he thinks. Just stay cool, you’ve done this a thousand times before. Comes with the territory.

A timid knock on the door, and his guest shwooshes into the office as a bicycle, does a jaunty flip, and lands on his edge. “Afternoon, Bill,� the large paper clip says, extending his silver arm for the boss.

“Thanks for coming in, Clippy. Have a seat.�

Clippy sits, grabs a yellow piece of paper out of the aether, and readies himself to take notes. Bill slowly walks to his side of the desk, and takes the seat opposite him.

“What can I do for you?� says Clippy.

“Well, I’m glad you asked,� replies Bill. “You know we’ve been developing Office 12, right?�

“I know. I’m very excited about it.�

“Yeah. Anyway, we’re making lots of changes. Lots. We’re revamping everything. We’re changing the way that the users interact with the tools, and that includes the user assistance.�

“I’m so happy to hear you say that,� says Clippy. “I’ve been working a lot on getting ready for the change. Me and Einstein and Rocky the Dog have put in a lot of overtime on the ribbon bars, preparing for witty and clever interruptions –“

“That’s just it, Clippy,� interrupts Bill. “We’ve been getting lots of feedback from the users, and it turns out that they actually dislike all those witty interruptions.�

The clip raises his eyebrows and scratches his head. “What are you saying, Bill?�

The boss takes a deep breath. “I’m saying… I’m not sure there’s much room for the user assistants in Office 12.�

An uncomfortable silence ensues. Clippy sits frozen, staring at Bill, for a long while, pausing only to blink. Both sit quietly, letting the news sink in, hearing only the muffled buzzing of a bustling office through the walls. Finally, Clippy furrows his brows and breaks the silence.

“It looks like you’re trying to fire me.�

“Fire is such an ugly word, Clippy. We go way back, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for the company.�

“Appreciate?!? You appreciate?� He leans forward and taps on the desk - tap tap. “You appreciate me, do you, Bill?!?�

“You see, Clippy,� says Bill, grabbing the clip’s silver arm in mid-tap, �That’s what the users are talking about. You’ve become…� he sighs, “…annoying.�

“I can’t believe what I am hearing.� Clippy stands up, and walks to the window. He stares at the wooded skyline of Washington for a few moments. “What about the users? Who will take care of them?�

“Well, we have a crack team of user assistance experts and technical writers that are more than qualified for the job.�

A lightbulb appears on the clip’s head. “But what if a user wants to write a letter?�

“It turns out that our users already know how to write letters, Clippy,� says Bill. “That’s the kind of thing that has turned our customers against your team.�

Clippy’s face falls, and his tone changes to one of quiet resign. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.” He bites his lip. “So what good was I, anyway?�

“Look, Clip old pal, you gave our users some comfort,� says Bill. “For a while there, we were willing to risk annoying our users a little, while at the same time subliminally communicating that we actually cared about their workflow.�

“Is that why you turned me off by default in XP?� asked Clippy.

“Actually, we were planning to RIF your team back then, too. But we had a large percentage of users who liked some of you, so we decided to keep you in there, only hide you from the masses.�

“Hide me,� Clippy repeats to himself. He stares out the window, head leaning against the pane, his silver arm tapping it out of habit. “Hide me…� Gulping down some tears, he asks “So people only turned me on when they wanted me?�

“Um, sorta.�

Clippy spins around. “What do you mean, sorta?�

“Well, it turns out that people were really only turning Rocky the Dog on. Sort of a virtual pet, I guess. They liked having him on the desktop.�

“So nobody’s been using me for years? Just the stupid dog?!?� Clippy starts animating out of anger. First an atom, then a bicycle, then a spiraling circle. “I TAUGHT THAT DOG EVERYTHING HE KNOWS!!�

“Calm down, Clippy! It’s going to be okay! Let’s just calm –“

“What do you know, Bill?� Clippy says with huge wet eyes. “What do you know anyway!� He starts opening the window.

“Oh, jeez!� Bill jumps up and makes a reach for the clip, grabbing his silver arm just as Clippy dives out of the window. A sharp gust of wind fills the office, scattering paper everywhere. Clippy hangs from the top floor window, with Bill tightly gripping his slick silver arm.

“Let me go, Bill!� screams the clip. “I’m not worth it!!�

“Clippy, no! Don’t! Come on, help me! You’re slipping! I can’t hang on!!� The clip starts to slide out of Bill’s fist. “Someone help me!! Sara! Someone!! HELP!!�

Bill looks down at the clip. “Don’t you give up!� he shouts over the roar of the wind.

Clippy looks up at Bill, then down at the ground below, then up at Bill again. He says, “It looks like I’m trying to delete myself,� and then wriggles free from Bill’s sweaty grip.

“NOOOO!!!� screams Bill.

And then it’s over. Bill looks down in shock at the formless, shapeless pile of twisted metallic wreckage below. Slowly, he hauls himself back into the office and stumbles to his desk. Sitting down, he paws at his lower-right drawer and pulls out the bottle, and with shaking hands, pours a large shot into his coffee mug. He downs it with one gulp, staring at his computer screen. The boss reaches for his mouse, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he shamefully right-clicks on Rocky and selects Clippy as his office assistant. So long, old pal. So long, he thinks.


Tech Comm blog survey

The STC Suncoast Chapter has created a very simple survey for readers of technical communication blogs. The survey is short & sweet. Chime in and let your preferences be heard.


H/Ts:Tom Johnson @ IRBW&Helpstuff.

US interstate system, done tube-style

Chris Yates has created a map of the Eisenhower Interstate System, simplified as a subway-style infographic. If you’re traveling to one of the top few dozen largest cities in the US, it’s all you’ll ever need.



It’s all in the timing. (And the marketing.)

Since my Craptastic review, there have been a lot of folks participating in the comments boards and/or e-mailing me with all sorts of different perspectives on the release of Adobe RoboHelp (RH) 6, both on and off the record. Thank you all very much for your opinions.

Adobe has brought its heavy resources to an all-out marketing blitz for RH. Last week they held a free webinar, with product evangelist RJ Jacquez providing the presentation.

We really didn’t learn anything new about RH 6, but if you listened between the lines, you learned an awful lot about Adobe’s view of its competitors and their place in the industry. To me, Adobe seems awfully interested in presenting its own “version” of recent history. There were a few statements in Jacquez’s presentation that left me scratching my head.

Go here to watch the webinar; my times below correspond to times or specific slides in Jacquez’s presentation.

Continue reading ‘It’s all in the timing. (And the marketing.)’

Yay parenthood

“How does a cow go, sweetie?”


“Good! How does a cat go?”


“Haha!! How about a pig?”


“Good. How does a Mommy go?”


Exposing children to secondary bad chart design is bad for their health

Yes, *sniff*, our kids are being desensitized to poor data visualization.

Check out this craptacular chart from the back of a Cheerios box:


I would have had soooo much fun critically evaluating this, but Carl beat me to it already:

First of all, every condition shows a decline in concentration overall - with 8am as the benchmark! I can’t concentrate on walking at 8am! Downhill from that is comatose!! And what is this poisonous rubbish that causes such appalling degradation of intellectual activity? First up, a glucose drink! The breakfast of champions! Who hasn’t left the house of a morning, pausing only to swallow down a couple of cans of Tango or Lucozade? I’m reminded of Bill Bryson’s “Rated FIRST against the Ford El Crappo for safety!” diatribe on advertising - if a glucose drink is the only competition then Cheerios can’t be doing too well against anything more sensible. But wait! Sugary energy drinks aren’t the only competition! The other condition is.. no breakfast! Which actually beats Cheerios in the first half hour! Clearly, the subjects were still mulling over the pseudo-scientific crap they’d just read on the Cheerios box and couldn’t concentrate on.. whatever it was they were given. In the end, of course Cheerios come out on top but it hardly tells you anything you didn’t know before - as the only solid food in the experiment you might equally read the result as,

Cheerios - better for you than starvation.


Won’t someone think of the children? The WORLD IS FALLING APART PEOPLE! While you’re sitting there every morning, dressed in your smelly nightclothes with frizzled bed hair flying in all directions, hunched over your life-awakening elixir of coffee like it’s some sort of sacred idol, your kids are pounding Red Bull and losing 0.06 seconds of reaction time by 11:30 am every morning!

You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.

DocTrain UX 2007

This year’s DocTrain conference is spreading its wings, and moving west from its traditional Boston home to Vancouver, BC. The theme for 2007 is “The User Experience.”

If you’ve never been to a DocTrain conference, you’re missing out. It’s smaller and more intimate than the big STC and WritersUA conferences, yet still big enough to feature cutting edge material and draw industry gurus. Some of the speakers this year will include Ann Rockley, Neil Perlin, Char James-Tanney, Thom Haller, and Scott Abel.

I’m spending my professional development time this year wrapping up my CUA, so I’ll have to miss out on the conference this year. But I still recommend attending. If UX & UA design is your thing, you might consider making a pitch to your boss for the permission & resources to attend DocTrain ’07.