Friday, May 28, 2010

Thanks to TTU

I spent last Thursday immersed with the students and faculty of Texas Tech's online Technical Communication and Rhetoric (TCR) PhD program. Actually, it all started on Wednesday evening with a delightful dinner at Dr. Tommy Barker's home. Tommy is head of STC's Academic SIG and Director of Technical Communication at TTU. Texas-style, nothing was done small or half way. Tommy had even procured a Dobro for me to use so we could do some bluegrass/rock-a-billy picking after dinner. Tommy played a mean acustic guitar and fellow faculty member Ken Baake joined us on banjo. For those in need of a scary thought to haunt you through the day, I have two words: PhDs yodeling.

Thursday morning I listened to doctoral students talk about their research projects, and I gave a keynote talk during lunch on the role of PhDs as practitioners. I spent the afternoon with Dr. Joyce Locke Carter, the Director of Graduate Studies in TCR, sitting in her usability class and touring their usability and multimedia facilities. That evening the students invited me to a barbecue.

I feel like I have seen the future of technical communication, and we are in good hands. The students were engaged in exciting research projects and projected more energy than I have encountered in a long time. The quality of the program is impressive, from the faculty--which reads like a list of academic Who's Who in technical communication--to the caliber of the graduate students (the TCR program accepts only 20% of its applicants).

The students work online most of the year, but spend two weeks working through an intensive "boot-camp" style program every summer. What I find most impressive about the program is the community of scholars this is developing for our field. TTU has worked out an effective formula for combining distance learning with face-to-face networking. And because these students have become accustomed to collaborating online, they will stay connected and influencing each other for the rest of their careers.

Congratulations to TTU for an excellent program, and thanks for the hospitality. That, and a hearty i-e-o-d-lady-hoo.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Robert's Rules of Order: Essential for UX?

I'm always amazed when information acquired in one context emerges to be useful in an entirely different environment. As a member of the STC Board of Directors, and its current president, I've had to learn a lot about Robert's Rules of Order. I even have my own dog-eared version that I referred to a lot during some tricky proceedings this past year. One would think, what could be more esoteric and useless in the real world of user experience design than parliamentary law? It's not like we aply that kind of formality in our Agile scrum meetings every morning.

"I move we develop a regex to capture the time stamp field."
"I second that."

So I'm working these days on trying to design a report format around a particular data security standard. I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the standard and what it requires of users and what it would require of our product. I suddenly realized that my analysis was feeling like the kind of research I did on Robert's Rules. I don't think I could have critically analyzed the standard nearly as effectively had I not had the experience of trying to critically understand Robert's Rules so I could use them effectively to move my agenda forward.

I'm used to getting a lot of value from my involvement as a volunteer with STC; even so, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the legal-like research I had done on parliamentary law paid off in developing skills later useful for researching a data security standard for a technical communication project. It's taught me to be more mindful of what I can take while in the act of giving. And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. The more we let ourselves benefit from volunteering, the more willing we are to volunteer.

Mantra for today: Do good; get smarter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy Monday

Thanks to [unnamed product]'s registration site for giving me the ability to leap through the torn fabric of time and space.

Either that, or their UI developer slept during the lecture on Boolean logic. Or they think I'm quite large.

Also, check out my new motivational poster at

Thursday, May 13, 2010


We have a Scrum Master (someone who manages an Agile team) who has nerves of steel. No matter what goes wrong, he just recalculates the new path to the solution from the new location.

My hard drive crashed last week in Houston and the Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments factory in Nashville got flooded. They were to ship my new Dobro guitar to me in two weeks.

So there I am in the Sheraton business center trying to recalculate my life. I had once lusted for the Mike Aldridge signature guitar from master luthier Paul Beard's shop. Too pricey at the time. But maybe the Nashville flood was an act of God--literally. After all, I first got interested in Dobro almost 40 years ago when I heard Mike on the radio. I bought his album, Mike Aldridge--Dobro, and I still have it. My wife reminded me the other day that I've had that album longer than I have known her.

So I went to Mike's web site and it listed a number to call to order directly. Well, by direct they meant like Mike Aldridge answers the phone. I was dumbstruck and stuttered and stumbled through something like "OMG, you're my hero, etc." Happy ending, I order new guitar from Mike who will pick it out himself from the batch that will be done last week in June. (Sweetheart of a wife is financing the difference between this one and the other.)

So that part's handled. Now, I just have to restore everything I lost on my hard drive. From here on out, I'm doing everything in the cloud. Kinda goes along with the whole act of God thing.