Monthly Archives: September 2008

Vinnie Wilhelm; K. Vonnegut on Writing

Writer Vinnie Wilhelm wrote the following in a correspondence with me in Sept. 2008:

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

“But questions of identity are ultimately ancillary to the work: they go away in the end, and the work has to succeed or fail on its own terms.”

– Vinnie Wilhelm




On writing better–Kurt Vonnegut

This is an excerpt from his book of essays Palm Sunday. I think it pertained to science writing, but you can apply it generally.


1. Find a subject you care about. It’s hard to bring yourself to write if you don’t believe in what you’re writing. We procrastinate for any number of reasons (and perfectionism is one of them). But if you deeply suspect that a thesis chapter isn’t yet ready for prime time, get a reality check. Present it as a 10 minute talk to your lab group.

2. Do not ramble, though. Outline your argument. Boil it down to the essential points. Then use the outline to construct your topic and summary sentences for each paragraph. It ain’t necessary to point out every possible exception to every generalization.

3. Keep it simple. I was once told that the perfect paper in ecology was 10 pages long and had one good idea that was bolstered by a variety of evidence. Such a paper maximizes the possibility that it will be read and remembered.

4. Have guts to cut. Nearly everybody loves the sound of their own voice. Go through your first draft and ask, of every sentence, “Is this really necessary?”. This particularly applies to your Discussion. It is not a repository for every thought you have had on the topic. Relate your data to your hypotheses and to the current thinking in the field, honestly confront your limitations in a caveat paragraph, and propose one or two next steps.

5. Sound like yourself. Science writing is not supposed to be boring or flowery. Write as if you are explaining your study to a colleague.

6. Say what you mean. It is often easy to get lost in the thicket of sentences and paragraphs. Before you sit down for the day’s writing, spend a minute explaining to an imaginary officemate why this paper is worth writing, and what the data mean. Then make sure every sentence advances that message.

7. Pity the readers. The literature is huge and expanding. Clear, concise writing is needed now more than ever. Whenever you are tempted to leave one murky paragraph, imagine a reader some time in the future (or better yet, a reviewer or editor) wincing and shaking her head. Then buckle down and write what you mean.


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Essay: People are People so why should it be…

Black people – what gives? Why you gotta be like that?
I don’t like the way a lot of blacks act. That’s the crux of it. And I don’t dislike a group of people because of their “skin color”. ‘Tis their behaviour more than anything else. And no, I’m not down on them because of their “position in society”, or for ethnic competition, or because they’ve cornered the economy like another group I can think of who some people dislike (or profess to dislike but as often, merely envy). Some say class trumps race – well, I fancy myself a socialist, and I would never hold a grudge on the basis of supposed class or poverty. I am poor myself; unemployed (how do you think I have the time to write all these obscure blogs?)
No, sadly it oftentimes seems to me that these people have a monopoly on the worst of human impulses and behavior ¬– and it really comes down to behavior. Put it this way: why must you consistently disappoint me so? ; )
I don’t want to be “disgusted” with people who are otherwise frankly endearing in other ways, who have any number of wonderful qualities. The closest friend I ever had post-adolescence was African-American; from the most caring, nicest, functional family one could imagine. Christians – but very tolerant and educated. My friend was the most sensitive soul. An artist – an exceptionally talented musician, composer, and photographer – and a whiz with graphics and illustration computer programs. I always felt that due to his humble nature that he sold himself short. He was not one to self-advertise. Not ambitious at all, though became a lead moderator, beta tester, and guru of sorts for (under the screen name Distances2)
I sometimes thought, “This guy, my friend, must be in my life to remind me not to judge.” Or pre-judge. Not to discriminate.
But sadly, the shear numbers of others swamp such a one; the others who, day-to-day, comprise the bulk of one’s experience with a group. And herein lies the origin of stereotypes and racial-friction and the like. There are unique people in the world indeed, but experience over time and space functions to fix an overall impression. And that impression can be revolting to me. Or more often just frustrating, saddening.
Like the other day: I’m in a cafeteria in a large public building. I’m waiting for my sandwich to be made by the lady behind the counter. She’s taking her time and a large, very dark black man rears up, and hovers over my shoulder. He quips jokingly, “No no, you’re making it all wrong!” And this about three inches from my left ear.
I was with a woman also, and I have enough experience to understand the subtle sexual [incantation, innuendo, derivation] of the guy’s behavior. He was only being friendly, right? Yes. Yet I am frustrated and annoyed by an innocent encounter. Why? I don’t really know. I suspect that he saw three people, noticed that the two of us on his side seemed perhaps nervous, or just a little auspicious (or hungry) waiting there. And he intuitively saw an opportunity to liven up the scene – by making first the sandwich lady and then myself laugh at his quip. It sort of worked, too. It would have, that is, if I were your typical person, I suppose. I don’t know. Here is the nexus of two cultures. Very honestly like two different instruments trying to reach the same note at exactly the same pitch. It just won’t work unless one party gives a bit, gives an allowance.
And so it goes. Repeated across the country in countless social interactions one or the other, or both, parties must be constantly attuned to granting this or that adjustment; to granting the needed allowance in order to keep peace of mind in a landscape strewn with potential pitfalls, or even landmines. And luckily most people can do it, have no problem.
But I wonder: what is the amalgam, the aggregate of all of the necessary adjustment? For a society. A million small misunderstandings. Do they build? Do they accrue as a fine leaven over us, as a fine pollution in the air? Or does humanity allow for some entropy; some wiggle room?

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The Open Diary

Opendiary – “OD” – first got me in to web writing. I hadn’t even heard the term “blog” when I began posting entries in a little text editor not unlike that of WordPress. Opendiary’s front page has a “roll” much like WordPress, of the latest entries. Of course, its settings allow you to keep what you write private – or, you can allow “Favorites” access, or everyone.

I used to write almost every day on OD. Sometimes twice a day, if I felt like it and I wasn’t too busy. A great exercise. Remember in grade school English class, the teacher would have you bring out your journal every week or so. I always had fun with that. And so in our utterly wired world of 2008 the journal is online. WordPress comes from the same tradition and is really no different, but for a more professional reputation and better utility; functionality.

I left Opendiary around the time I broke up with my last girlfriend – this past spring. My entries increased during that relationship. Along with an increase in my personal life came an increase in my need to expound on it, and OD was my medium. Reminiscent of MySpace, some of our fights/dramatic episodes made their way into OD, with my girlfriend posting comments after an entry where I mentioned her. Fellow ODers might comment, as well. In fact, entries on relationship stuff attracted the most comments. A typical one: “What a crazy chick!”. These comments, from either ODers on my “Favorites” list or by anonymous readers, would raise the ire of my girlfriend, and she’d join the fray, post a rebuttal of her own.

And so perhaps after our breakup – which was painful for me, I’ll admit (what breakup isn’t?), my Opendiary entries were fewer and fewer until the last one, titled “5/6/08” reads “blah blah”. Sometimes the less you say the more you say!

Below is the next entry I wrote, almost six months later:

” ’07-’08 Recap”

[from wilhed’s Open Diary, <>%5D

Visiting OpenDiary for the first time since…well, the last time I posted was 5/6/08! Wow. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to run away from all the sensitive, sometimes painful moments cached on this web site. Memories of me, my life, ups, downs.

Alas, I definitely got good use of OD. Looking through my entries, ’07-’08 is heavy on postings. Is that good or bad? Legitimate question, but I say good. I’m in touch with my feelings, or trying to get in touch with them…

I was in college doing my tech. writing program and there were definite changes in life, i.e., meeting and then breaking up with a girl, for one. But a lot of entries on pain and plain boredom. The worst. So maybe I began to… associate the OD page with some of that, and gradually sought to avoid it. The little parakeet photo I use as my profile logo in the upper left, above “Sex: M” and “Location: Seattle via suburban D.C.”

And the lightish, sky-blue color scheme. I guess that’s why OD gives you so many color choices – so you can change it, like a mood ring of sorts for the web. A good option I think. Indeed, Opendiary is a wonderful site. No doubt about it. Because who would sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to do some journaling. Let me open Microsoft Word and start writing down how I feel.” (!) No. It just wouldn’t be write. Right. It’d be like confiding your woes and your joys to a corporation. Or worse, to a caricature of a corporation – confiding to the balding suit-and-tie geek in the Apple commercials. Seriously.

So Opendiary serves its purpose as a personal utility. Not unlike Facebook – no unnecessary frills. OD does, un-like Facebook, have ad banners, but they’re unobtrusive. Not like MySpace, for example. But regardless OD is very different. I used to consider it a blogging medium, but that’s not quite true. It does have some social networking utility. I mean you could “blog” on MySpace if you wished! But who would seriously do that. I don’t know. Whereas I had no qualms about writing serious essays, even, on OD, like a would on my old Blogspot (Google’s blogging app) blog.

So this entry is a reunion for me. Brings back memories. And yet still, one has a blank screen/text editor as a canvas. Alors…

– dgw

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Filed under Archive, essays, life

September 5, 2008

9/5/08 Seasons Shift

from Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Herdsman (on the mountains)
Air.—Variation of the Ranz des Vaches

move! move!

Farewell, ye green meadows,

Farewell, sunny shore,
The herdsman must leave you,
The summer is o’er.
We go to the hills, but you’ll see us again,
When the cuckoo calls, and the merry birds sing,
When the flowers bloom afresh in glade and in glen,
And the brooks sparkle bright in the sunshine of spring.
Farewell, ye green meadows,
Farewell, sunny shore,
The herdsman must leave you,
The summer is o’er.

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IT/Technical Writing: New Google Chrome and Software from MadCap

New from MadCap Software, Inc.

MadCap has come out with four new apps – lord i have this feeling that I’m gonna be out of date very shortly with my technical writing/Tech. Com. knowledge accrued over the last year during my CRT program at the University of Washington.
MadCap Blaze looked particularly interesting; worth checking out. The gist of their marketing blurb here is a more usable version of Adobe’s FrameMaker. Sounds interesting. Probably TC and Computer Science and the like at UW are on top of such things. Reminds me once more of the reality that my education in my “chosen” field is, well, inadequate, to be blunt.
But sometimes I worry – are we all gonna be woefully outdated in a couple years? I guess in the tech-age knowledge is more and more a commodity. Takes money to know money. That’s capitalism I suppose. But hyper-capitalism, more like. My gosh the rapidity of innovation in IT. Boggles the mind.

Below is an email I got today (I’m on their marketing list for some reason, probably because I registered for a trial version of Flare last spring

<> wrote:

From: <>
Subject: MadCap – Four New Releases
To: —
Date: Monday, September 8, 2008, 12:36 PM
MadCap Software, Inc.

MadCap Software Home

Introducing… Flare Version 4
Continuing to Lead Through Innovation!
Industry-first connectivity with content contributors and reviewers
Brand new reporting engine shows the health and status of your project
New publishing formats including direct to PDF, XPS , XHTML, and AIR™
Print publishing engine that’s gone from great to amazing
Global Project Linking to share project components such as CSS, images, master pages,
and others

Now Available!
Blaze introduces a new paradigm for enterprise print publishing through highly flexible topic-based authoring.
Full Unicode support
Highly configurable auto-numbering for volumes, sections, paragraphs, and pages
Complex page layouts
Conditional text to create multiple versions from one source
Multiple document outlines
Single sourcing to multiple outputs including direct to printer, PDF, XPS, HTML, FrameMaker®,
or Word™
Seamlessly integrate print publishing into a complete document workflow with MadCap Lingo,
X-Edit, Analyzer, and Flare
Blaze is super for people who want to write and publish printed manuals. The content reuse features, such as multiple outlines, will save so much time. It’s really the future!
Bonni Graham, documentation manager, Scantron Corporation
With Blaze’s Page Layout feature, I can reuse document elements quickly and easily. I love it!
John Hedtke, best-selling author, and owner of JVH Communications
I thought I couldn’t live without FrameMaker, and then I met MadCap Blaze. With its emphasis on topic-based writing, I can easily use Blaze to arrange and rearrange information as I see fit, thus freeing my mind from the linear drudgery of bookmaking.
Edward VanArsdall, founder of VanArsdall Information Design
Using Blaze, I’m creating topic-based projects with several content-reuse options to leverage my content in several different ways. With Blaze, I no longer need FrameMaker to get high quality printed outputs for long technical documentation.
Paul Pehrson, technical writer, Attensity Corporation

Now Available!
Using the X-Edit family improves your corporate workflow by allowing subject matter experts and occasional contributors to seamlessly review and provide content for your documentation.
Edit and send documents to Flare or Blaze users for inclusion in projects
Share CSS style sheets and table styles with Flare, Blaze, X-Edit or even your
Web team for a standard corporate look
New publishing formats including direct to PDF, XPS , XHTML, and AIR™
Integration with MadCap Lingo for easy translation
X-Edit Contribute
Flare and Blaze users create contribution templates. Casual contributors use these templates to create content using the correct styles and other project formatting options with an easy-to-use interface. Once completed, documents are emailed to the Flare or Blaze user for inclusion into the project.
X-Edit Review (Free)
Reviewers use X-Edit Review to make edits or annotations to Flare and or Blaze topics. The Flare or Blaze author adds reviewed content to the project. No conversion hassles, no messy formatting, no lost edits – just content in your projects, ready to be published.

Version 2 – New Release!
Analyzer scans your Flare or Blaze project for:
Issues — Broken links, duplicate styles in style sheets, duplicate TOC and outline items, topics
not in selected TOC or outline, and more
Used and unused items — Snippets, topics, styles, variables, map IDs, images, and more
Suggestions — Snippets, variables, index keywords, new styles, writing structure, and more
What’s New in Analyzer Version 2:
Faster installation
New Views
Index Keyword Suggestions
Topics not linked by Map ID
Project annotations
New Reports
Index Keyword Suggestion analysis to improve your project index
Assigned CSH IDs
Project Annotations (sorted by topic or by annotation)
Printable list of topics in target TOC
Topics not Linked by Map ID

Sincerely,MadCap Software Inc.
(858) 320-0387
MadCap Privacy and SecurityIf you do not wish to receive news or product information from us, please click here to be removed from our email list.

MadCap Software, Inc., 7777 Fay Avenue, La Jolla, California 92037

Google Chrome

Google’s new open-source browser, available as of today for Windows and I don’t know when for Mac:

well, this video doesn’t tell you a whole lot, but from what they describe, it looks like Chrome will be more efficient than what’s out there; minimalist like is, which is good. Hmm, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been more innovation in the realm of browsers. But I think what has really moved things along is the growth of web-capable mobile devices. From what I can see from screenshots, in its rendering and its look, Chrome reflects this shift.

Supposedly Google has (or had) been backing Mozilla Firefox, particularly as an alternative to Microsoft IE. I’m not sure what will happen with that, but Chrome appears to represent quite a big jump from those two.

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