Thomas Carroll Coleman, Sr. 1918–2012

Thomas Carroll Coleman, Sr. 1979

My grand­fa­ther, Car­roll Cole­man, died this after­noon in hos­pice in Naples, FL. With is wife, Joan, and two of his chil­dren, Kath­leen and James him, he passed peace­ful­ly after a short decline with pneumonia.

His 94 years were a life spent over­com­ing much to achieve the Amer­i­can dream. Grow­ing up dur­ing the Great Depres­sion in Arkansas, he served in the US Army as an x‑ray tech­ni­cian and worked part­ly on farms until he even­tu­al­ly found work in trav­el­ling sales. He mar­ried his sweet­heart, Ruth (my grand­moth­er), and made a career in sales, pur­chas­ing, and man­age­ment with region­al depart­ment stores. After los­ing my grand­moth­er in June of 2001, he lat­er relo­cat­ed to South­west Flori­da where he met Joan, with whom he spent many hap­py years.

There will sure­ly be a more com­plete and accu­rate list of facts of his life to come. But what that brief descrip­tion fails to cap­ture was the remark­able per­son­al­i­ty and intel­li­gence of a man who was the def­i­n­i­tion of a fam­i­ly patri­arch. A man who trea­sured his fam­i­ly and loved to expe­ri­ence life. His opti­mism and wis­dom were an inspi­ra­tion. To me, he was the epit­o­me of style, class, and intel­li­gence. I looked up to him and any time we were togeth­er I saw every­one else doing just the same.

He had a rich life and was rel­a­tive­ly well for almost the total of his years. He left peace­ful­ly and with loved ones near­by. I choose to think he is reunit­ed with Ruth and at rest.

I am tru­ly grate­ful for this remark­able man and all that he did for his family.

Batch File Output in MadCap Flare

I have a cou­ple of prod­ucts which I doc­u­ment using Mad­Cap Flare to gen­er­ate about two dozen help files and anoth­er half-dozen PDFs. These out­puts are spread across mul­ti­ple Flare projects which I inher­it­ed. Pro­duc­ing a full set of out­put for a release can prove to be near­ly a full day’s worth of effort so I final­ly got around to cre­at­ing a sin­gle Win­dows batch file to take use of the com­mand line inter­face for Flare. Flare has had the com­mand line fea­ture for a few years now, but regret­tably, I just nev­er took the time to learn it. It’s actu­al­ly very sim­ple to imple­ment, even if you’re not that famil­iar with writ­ing batch files or the idea of the com­mand line scares you off a bit.

Tools Used

First, I should point out that to fur­ther stream­line my work, I’ve imple­ment­ed a cou­ple of oth­er tools besides just Flare. These are all free, open-source tools which I high­ly rec­om­mend you hav­ing in your tech-writer toolk­it1.

  • 7‑Zip — The best com­pres­sion util­i­ty out there. The com­mand line inter­face is easy to wrap a lot of files into a com­pressed archive (vari­ety of for­mats, includ­ing .zip).
  • NcFTP — A very easy-to-use FTP which has some com­mand line util­i­ties capa­ble of trans­fer in pas­sive mode (required for our FTP behind a firewall).
  • Notepad++ — A great text edi­tor which has syn­tax high­light­ing for batch files.

And of course Flare. How­ev­er, you could also eas­i­ly inte­grate much of the same work­flow into using the DITA Open Toolk­it as well as any oth­er help author­ing tool with a com­mand line interface.

Set Up

I pre­fer to use dates in my archive file names just to make things clear for the teams down­load­ing them what ‘ver­sion’ it is. Sure, we could just check time­stamps, but this just makes it more obvi­ous. I use the inter­na­tion­al data for­mat — YYYY-MM-DD — as the pre­fix for my titles and I want­ed this auto­mat­ed into my batch file. How­ev­er, as my region is US on my Win­dows machine, I need to just change the short date for­mat in the Con­trol Pan­el to this for­mat. That way, I can use the %date% envi­ron­ment vari­able to always input the cur­rent date when the archive is created.

Aside from that, installing the above tools is all that is required.

Creating the Batch File

Notepad++ can be used to cre­ate and edit the Batch file. Sim­ply cre­ate a new doc­u­ment and save it (some­where con­ve­nient) with the .bat file exten­sion. This also indi­cates the file type to Notepad++ so the syn­tax is high­light­ed appro­pri­ate­ly (sim­ply makes edit­ing easier).

I want to place my out­puts in a Zip archive for the con­ve­nience of label­ing them all with the cur­rent date and plac­ing onto a FTP serv­er for oth­er teams to down­load. So I set a vari­able to include the cur­rent date:

set ZipOut=C:\Documentation\Output\%date%_my_files.zip
echo %ZipOut%

(The sec­ond line just out­puts the same back to me so I can ver­i­fy the date string was as intended)

Next, I change the direc­to­ry to the Mad­Cap Flare installation:

cd\Program Files (x86)\MadCap Software\MadCap Flare V8\Flare.app

Then I can use the com­mand line entry — madbuild — to ini­ti­ate builds of any num­ber of Flare projects and tar­gets (which are indi­vid­ual out­puts from a sin­gle-source Flare project).

madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_A\Product_A.flprj" -log true -target "Product_A HTML Help"
madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_B\Product_B.flprj" -log true -target "Product_B HTML Help"
madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_C\Product_C.flprj" -log true -target "Product_C HTML Help"

Next, I want these three com­piled HTML Help files to get placed into the ZIP file I named in my vari­able. This uses the com­mand line inter­face for 7‑Zip:

cd\Program Files\7-Zip
7z a -tzip %ZipOut% @C:\Documentation\Output\Product_file_list.txt

Where Product_file_list.txt is just a plain text file con­tain­ing the absolute file path and file name of each of the com­piled HTML Help files. It’s described in detail in the 7‑Zip help, but essen­tial­ly the entire file path for each file to be includ­ed is on a line in the text file. No spe­cial syn­tax or sep­a­ra­tors required.

Last­ly, I want to trans­fer the ZIP file over FTP to a con­ve­nient place for the rest of the team. The default Win­dows FTP pro­gram can­not run in pas­sive mode, which is required to nav­i­gate a fire­wall. How­ev­er, the Lin­ux FTP client NcFTP has been port­ed to Win­dows and has a com­mand line inter­face which is more flexible.

cd\Windows
ncftpput -F -u username -p password ftp.mydomain.com /Product/ %ZipOut%

Running the Batch File

Just save the file in your text edi­tor. All that is need­ed to run it is to sim­ply dou­ble-click the .bat file in Win­dows Explor­er. The com­mand line win­dow will open, exe­cute each line in order, and close upon completion.

It would be easy to also use Win­dows to sched­ule run­ning the same thing night­ly or week­ly if you need to reg­u­lar­ly post updates of your work.

  1. There are OS X and Lin­ux equiv­a­lents to these, but not to Flare, which is why I’ve lim­it­ed this to Win­dows. []

Health Insurance

I hear and read a lot of com­plaints about health insur­ance rates from friends and fam­i­ly. I fig­ured since I had some good news, it was only fair to post it. Our rate are going up in 2013, by around 3.6% by my cal­cu­la­tion. Out of our pock­et, this results in $10 more per month. Not great, but giv­en some of the leaps in insur­ance rates in past years, that’s pret­ty low.

But, next year my employ­er’s plan will not require a copay for pre­ven­ta­tive care vis­its. Or, in oth­er words, those are 100% cov­ered1. As my entire fam­i­ly is cov­ered for med­ical & den­tal, that’s four phys­i­cals and eight den­tal clean­ings (we go every six months). In oth­er words, while our annu­al pre­mi­um por­tion is going up $120, we’ll be pay­ing at least $180 less than pre­vi­ous years.

So, thanks to my employ­er, my insur­ance com­pa­ny (we have Aet­na), and to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma for mak­ing my insur­ance costs go down for this first time ever!

  1. I’m fair­ly cer­tain this is in order to com­ply with Oba­macare, but this if they want to claim this as a new ben­e­fit, it does­n’t real­ly mat­ter to me. []

SS Coleman

My father retired from his law prac­tice about a year ago. More recent­ly, he and his wife sold their home and moved west to Arkansas. In this process, he’s been try­ing to both down­size their house­hold as well as get rid of many years worth of office items. My broth­ers went to help clean out a stor­age unit a cou­ple of months ago and returned with one of the ’50s-era, met­al office desks that my father had in his law office.

Metal Desk

The desk is bat­tle­ship gray, with quite a few dings and scratch­es. How­ev­er, it’s very stur­dy (as it’s made of approx­i­mate­ly 1,000 tons of sheet met­al) and still in pret­ty good shape. The dam­age it has is more along Wabi-sabi1 than dis­re­pair, so I’m okay with it for the most part.

This, along with a sim­i­lar style desk, were in my father’s office since I was very young. Also, since I was very young, I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed with not only space explo­ration and tech­nol­o­gy, but the aes­thet­ic that is asso­ci­at­ed with those things. If you can imag­ine the desk that an engi­neer at either NASA or IBM might have sat at some­time in the ear­ly ’60s, you’re think­ing of a desk like this.

This par­tic­u­lar desk has an inter­est­ing fea­ture where a cor­ner of the desk is low­er than the work sur­face to acco­mo­date a type­writer (no doubt, sized for a 1961 IBM Selec­tric).

Metal Desk: Keyboard Shelf

This desk also has draw­ers (!), unlike my old wood desk. I just need to clean up the glides a bit. I’ve of course nev­er heard a dying ptero­dactyl, but I think I have a very good idea what one might sound like based on the bot­tom draw­er opening.

  1. It’s worth not­ing here that my wife does­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly care for the desk. Prob­a­bly for two rea­sons: 1) She (right­ly) notes that it real­ly does­n’t fit in with pret­ty much any oth­er fur­ni­ture in my office, let alone the rest of the house and 2) she —at some fun­da­men­tal lev­el— does­n’t rec­og­nize the con­cept of Wabi-sabi. That is, not that she does­n’t get the idea, just that in her opin­ion, it’s just wear and tear that should be fixed rather than aes­thet­ic appeal. []

Elections

It does­n’t amount to mak­ing any dif­fer­ence, but as a rule I nev­er vote for a can­di­date who is run­ning unop­posed. Sad­ly, this hap­pens a lot. Many of the races for Con­gress I’ve ever vot­ed in were this way.

There was one elec­tion in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia in which I lit­er­al­ly vot­ed for no one (though I think I did answer y/n on one of the ques­tion votes). Real­ly does­n’t do much to moti­vate one to vote at all when it real­ly does­n’t mat­ter, right?

So I’m very glad to see some com­pe­ti­tion —no mat­ter how ane­mic— on my bal­let this Novem­ber. I’m no fan of Rep. Black­burn or Sen. Cork­er. Though some of their com­pe­ti­tion are no-chance, fringe can­di­dates; folks like that have occa­sion­al­ly won races.

So if you haven’t already vot­ed, go vote this Tues­day. Even if you have to skip over some one-horse races, it always matters.