Who Watches the Watchmen?

Best description/review of the Watch­men film I’ve read yet that sums up my exact feel­ings:

Ful­ly deserv­ing of its R rat­ing, this is a sad, vio­lent film about sad, vio­lent peo­ple where the only one actu­al­ly sav­ing the world is the vil­lain. While most super­hero movies are about action and dra­ma, this one’s a straight-up tragedy and def­i­nite­ly not for kids. And yet it works very well, both as a movie and as an adap­ta­tion of the com­ic book.

Sny­der is also putting out a cou­ple of sup­port­ing films: an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of the sea-pirate/hor­ror sto­ry and a live-action ver­sion of the Night Owl’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Though some would argue a film must be judged only on what hap­pens with­in the lim­its of it’s time-frame, I think this is more like mixed-media art or even a film trip­tych. Why should film be lim­it­ed to its for­mat when for­mats change? Hold­ing onto lim­i­ta­tions of a for­mat can be worth­while when it serves a pur­pose (like album art for an .mp3 file) but should­n’t be dog­ma.

PediPaws — Not As Advertised

Zonked Maggie

Mag­gie, our over­ly-sen­si­tive Airedale ter­ri­er, has some gnarly claws. I mean, she’s bread for dig­ging up larg­er rodents and snap­ping their necks, so one can hard­ly blame her. It’s just what she is. Her claws are those black, real­ly brit­tle type that are very tough to trim. The only way to do it that does­n’t leave her yelp­ing in dog­gy hys­ter­ics is with a high-speed rotary tool and a mini sand­ing drum. How­ev­er, even that can get nasty if she decides to strug­gle and ends up get­ting a sander to the knuck­le (yeah, fur does­n’t real­ly make that much less painful).

Which is exact­ly what is being sold as: a safe, easy way to file your pets claws. The prod­uct itself isn’t entire­ly use­less, though our dogs now fear it because it does make just enough noise to freak them out (Mag­gie also does­n’t care for my elec­tric tooth­brush, though). So even though it has­n’t worked too well for our pooches, I’m sure that some folks prob­a­bly swear by the thing.

My prob­lem is with Pedi­Paws — the com­pa­ny. When I bought this thing, we were told they were online or phone only. That is, “not avail­able in stores! Order Now!” How­ev­er, lit­er­al­ly the next day after order­ing I was in Bed, Bath, and Beyond and saw them at the check-out counter (“As seen on TV!”). I snapped a pho­to and sent it to Angela along with a cou­ple of choice swear words. I got home and called their cus­tomer ser­vice num­ber to can­cel the order. They told me that it had­n’t shown up yet and that I could­n’t can­cel; that I should call back in a cou­ple of days. Of course, when I call back the order has already gone through and shipped. I gave up and fig­ured it would­n’t be so bad…

Now, I keep get­ting checks that sure look an awful lot like rebate checks. Of course, there was nev­er any sort of rebate offered on these things. But, once you read a bit of fine print, it’s clear that this check has noth­ing to do with the Pedi­Paws prod­uct. It’s a con­tract that if you cash the check you agree to let them charge $140 a year for some cred­it mon­i­tor­ing crap on the card you bought the Pedi­Paws with.

Does this look shady to you, too?
Does this look shady to you, too?

Yikes!

So a com­pa­ny I already feel ques­tion­able about has my cred­it card and is try­ing some­what shady things to get me to autho­rize more charges on it; plus they want to get to review all my oth­er activ­i­ty (or, pos­si­bly worse, pass my card infor­ma­tion off to some third par­ty). This is not cool and I sin­cere­ly regret ever hav­ing bought this thing at all and espe­cial­ly from Pedi­Paws direct­ly.

Some­one call Con­sumerist.

Open Source Documentation

This is very hum­bling to me. Last week, at the Doc­Train West con­fer­ence, 25 writ­ers pro­duced a man­u­al for Fire­Fox in just two days as part of the FLOSS Man­u­als project. The man­u­al is freely avail­able online and is dis­trib­uted in a Cre­ative Com­mons CC-BY-SA license. You can pur­chase a print-on-demand copy of the man­u­al from LuLu as well, which helps to sup­port the FLOSS project. So a spe­cial thanks to all those folks who spent some time indoors (when they could have been enjoy­ing Palm Springs) to help the open source com­mu­ni­ty. I’ve already sent a link to the man­u­al to my mom, who uses Fire­Fox on her mac!

Using Variables with Find/Replace in Flare

This one is a pret­ty sim­ple trick and, to be hon­est, one that a lot of folks prob­a­bly fig­ured out soon­er than I did. With just a lit­tle bit of work, you can eas­i­ly replace oft-used words or phras­es in your Flare project with a vari­able. This is espe­cial­ly use­ful if you find your­self writ­ing ear­ly on in the devel­op­ment process where some ter­mi­nol­o­gy of fea­tures or a prod­uct inter­face are sub­ject to change.

Or, if you’re like me and you just don’t know what the hell such-and-such thing is called and the devel­op­ment team has yet to answer your e‑mail ask­ing because they’re too busy for­ward­ing it to every­one else in the com­pa­ny who’ll get a good laugh out of the ridicu­lous­ly sil­ly ques­tion. Okay, that has­n’t actu­al­ly hap­pened (except for the part about me not know­ing what some­thing is actu­al­ly called). At least not that I’m aware of.

So, here are the steps for find­ing all the instances of a term and replac­ing it with a vari­able:

  1. Cre­ate a Vari­able in the MyVarables set.

    Note: It’s good prac­tice to use camel nota­tion when nam­ing your vari­able. Keep it short, but make it some­thing you can eas­i­ly iden­ti­fy (vari­ables don’t have den­tal records and teeth and such in the event of a seri­ous acci­dent). And be con­sis­tent in how you name things!

  2. Launch the Find and Replace pan­el by select­ing Edit > Find and Replace > Find and Replace from the menu bar, or just press Ctrl + F.
  3. Enter the text you wish to sub­sti­tute with a your new vari­able in the Find What field. Under the options sec­tion, select (whole project) for the Find In: field, Top­ics for File Types, and make sure the option for Find in source code is cleared (though we’ll use that option in a moment).
  4. Click the Start but­ton to locate the first instance of the text.
  5. The searched-for text will be select­ed for you in the XML edi­tor with­in a top­ic file. Click the top­ic’s tab along the edi­tor win­dow just to make that part of the pro­gram win­dow active. Now, select Insert > Vari­able… from the menu bar to open the Vari­ables dia­log.
  6. Select the MyVari­ables set and then the vari­able you’ll be using to replace this par­tic­u­lar text with. Click the OK but­ton.
  7. Now, you need to get the actu­al markup for this vari­able. The fastest way I know to do so is click the Locate in Con­tent Explor­er but­ton in the Stan­dard tool­bar. Then, with the top­ic file now select­ed, right click and select Open With > Inter­nal Text Edi­tor. Now, hunt around until you locate the vari­able tag. It looks like this:

    <MadCap:variable name="MyVariables.SuchAndSuch" />

    Select and copy this entire tag.

    Note: You can also use the Send To menu but­ton, also locat­ed on the stan­dard tool­bar. It’s the one that looks like an enve­lope and that you prob­a­bly thought was just for e‑mailing a file. How­ev­er, it will actu­al­ly open up the cur­rent file in an exter­nal pro­gram, includ­ing your handy text edi­tor (I use TextPad).

  8. Now, back in the Find and Replace pan­el, this is what you’ll paste into the Replace with: field. But now you’re going to make sure that the Find in source code option is now select­ed.
  9. Click the Start but­ton again (you changed the options since you last did so). Use the Replace and Find Next but­tons to swap out the text with the vari­able markup one by one.

A Note of Caution

You’re going to be replac­ing text in the source markup here so be care­ful. I strong­ly urge you to not use the Replace In All Files but­ton. It’s fast but it’s also risky. You’ll replace any instance of the text; any­where: key­words, etc. You might find your­self putting a vari­able tag where it real­ly does­n’t belong. For­tu­nate­ly, Flare will like­ly just give you a gen­tle scold­ing and ignore your sil­ly lit­tle non­sense. But, you might just find a loop­hole you wish you had­n’t. It’s best to do this one-at-a-time, even if that takes a while.

Ide­al­ly, Mad­Cap would add an option in the the Replace With field to just select one of your vari­ables from there. This way, you don’t have to Find/Replace in source code and run the risk of doing some­thing unin­tend­ed (hope­ful­ly they’d han­dle all that under the hood). But until then, only replace what you are sure is con­tent mate­r­i­al and not any­thing else.

Extend This Trick

Now, you can also use this lit­tle trick for find­ing and replac­ing oth­er code, so you could add a par­tic­u­lar style to any instance of a phrase. Ex: replace “OK but­ton” with “<strong>OK</strong> but­ton”. I’ve yet to find a lim­it to the num­ber of char­ac­ters avail­able in the Find and Replace field, but I sus­pect it’s prob­a­bly around 256 or so. I don’t think you’ll be replac­ing A Tale of Two Cities with War and Peace using this.

Fur­ther, you can use reg­u­lar expres­sion for — well — any­thing that you just about think of, I sup­pose. You can also use wild­cards which though not as sexy as RegEx are still quite use­ful when just doing text search. If you’re just look­ing for any instance of noun — plur­al or sin­gu­lar; RegEx might be swat­ting flies with tanks.

PodCamp Nashville 2009 Wrap Up

I and about 400 oth­er folks attend­ed Pod­Camp Nashville this past Sat­ur­day. Per­haps the idea of a free, vol­un­teer run con­fer­ence kind of gave me some low expec­ta­tions (I’d nev­er been to a bar-style, un-con­fer­ence before). But it was with­out need as the con­fer­ence was time well spent.

I attend­ed sev­en dif­fer­ent ses­sions dur­ing the day:

  • “From Prep to Post: The Pod­Cast­ing Process” by Justin Davis (of the Davis on Draft pod­cast, pro­duced here in love­ly Franklin, TN). — This was a very well received pre­sen­ta­tion on the basic process of cre­at­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing a pod­cast. Justin did an excel­lent job of describ­ing good pod­cast prac­tices and demon­strat­ing the very low bar­ri­er to entry for cre­at­ing a show of one’s own: From using inex­pen­sive hard­ware, to open-source edit­ing tools like Audac­i­ty, to free host­ing & feed tools like Feed­Burn­er. This was gen­er­al­ly a very high-lev­el view of the process, with a few prac­ti­cal tips thrown in to demon­strate just how sim­ple this can be to get start­ed.


  • “Twit­ter Groups: The Real Con­ver­sa­tion” by Paul Nichol­son — This was real­ly the back­ground for and demo of a tech­nol­o­gy – ReTweet­Bot – for group­ing relat­ed tweets to build more prac­ti­cal­i­ty into Twit­ter. Def­i­nite­ly some­thing Twit­ter needs and this is a pret­ty good solu­tion, though still not per­fect (or very test­ed). How­ev­er, the @pcnChat group seemed to work well through­out the day. Indeed, it seems to work bet­ter than tag­ging (which is not the same as group­ing, regard­less of the site).
  • Build­ing Online Com­mu­ni­ties” by John Mor­gan — John pre­sent­ed excel­lent tips on how to begin and grow rela­tion­ships with customers/clients/users. As some­one who is try­ing to build up a com­mu­ni­ty for Struc­tur­al Engi­neers online, there was a lot of invalu­able advice here. One of the biggest take-aways I have from this ses­sion is that I need to ask my com­mu­ni­ty what they want from me1 Lots of great ideas to be put into prac­tice over at the BE Com­mu­ni­ties site.
  • “Buis­ness Pod­Cast­ing & Blog­ging: There IS a Secret Sauce” by Jer­ad Deg­nan — Anoth­er great pre­sen­ta­tion for min­ing ideas to put into prac­tice over at BE Com­mu­ni­ties. My favorite: get peo­ple to answer the ques­tion “What makes you suc­cess­ful?” Peo­ple love answer­ing that and they also love hear­ing what oth­ers have to say in response.
  • “Slice of the Cake: The Secret to Pod­Cast Lis­ten­er Loy­al­ty” by Dave Delaney — Dave and his wife ran a very suc­cess­ful pod­cast on par­ent­ing and he shared some ideas on how to part­ner with relat­ed goods and ser­vices to gen­er­ate con­tests, etc. The most impor­tant parts seemed to be choos­ing some­thing that would have rel­e­vance to the audi­ence and to keep the process sim­ple. It was also fun to see he had part­nered with Rock­abye Baby music, some­thing we’re big fans of here at the Franklin Branch Office.
  • Word­Press & Pod­Cast­ing: Like Dig­i­tal PB & J” by Mitch Can­ter — This pre­sen­ta­tion would have been best placed imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing Justin’s ses­sion on how to cre­ate Pod­Casts. One of Justin’s strong rec­om­men­da­tions was to have a web­site for your pod­cast and Mitch’s pre­sen­ta­tion was on how to do just that. This was done at a more on-the-ground lev­el and Mitch real­ly walked the audi­ence through the process of set­ting up a Word­Press blog (using a full WP install and not WordPress.com — some­thing I very glad he spent time dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing). He also hit on how to make the most out of WP plug-ins geared specif­i­cal­ly for host­ing pod­cast con­tent. My only com­plaint was that some com­plex con­cepts (like plug-ins) could have used a bit more expand­ing and much time was spent on walk­ing through a WP install. How­ev­er, giv­en the wide audi­ence that he pre­sent­ed to in 20 min­utes, Mitch man­aged to cov­er a lot. I was very glad to see WP get­ting a lit­tle love at this Pod­Camp and hope to see even more next year2.
  • “Why I Love Guin­ness: A Intro­duc­tion to Social Net­works” by Dave Delaney — Hav­ing lived in Gal­way, Ire­land, Dave is a big fan of pubs and stouts. Here, he makes com­par­isons of old-world pubs to some of the most pop­u­lar social net­works. He also includes some rather amaz­ing stats on the rapid growth of these sites. I do wish he’d spent a bit more time of some of the dif­fer­ent types of users and how to engage them, but it was also an intro ses­sion.
  • Unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to a lot of small things going on, I was­n’t able to help out but I would cer­tain­ly like to vol­un­teer some for next year. I’d even like to present on screen­cast­ing, as that was no where rep­re­sent­ed though I do think it is a pop­u­lar form of online video. Fur­ther, I’m gen­er­al­ly excit­ed to see such a large tech com­mu­ni­ty here in the Nashville area. This means not only Pod­Camps, but Bar­Camps (this past year was the third Bar­Camp Nashville). Maybe even a Word­Camp, as Word­Press seemed to be a pop­u­lar sub­ject.

    Hey! Maybe I should try and find a Mad­Cap users group here in Cen­tral Ten­nessee. Or even start one if it does­n’t yet exist! The pos­si­bil­i­ties are wide open and that was the best thing about this past week­end: learn­ing that there are so many peo­ple right here around me who are inter­est­ed in and even cre­at­ing new media. Peo­ple who have a lot of the same geeky inter­ests as me.

    1. Sor­ry, that does­n’t apply to this site. Here, it’s just what­ev­er I feel like post­ing. []
    2. Or if Mitch decides to get a Word­Camp going here in Nashville, that’d be even bet­ter []