Post-TCUK memories

After waiting three years between visits, last week’s TCUK was a well worth it.

When you’re self-employed, all of these kinds of events need paying for by your company (aka ‘you’) so you have to ensure that it’s worth the outlay. And it certainly was.

Almost all of the courses were still available from my initial picklist, which made attending them easier. Only one I missed because I was running late and it was full to the brim, so I took that as a nice break instead.

I’ve now got to sit down and review each of them via the QR code in the event guide, but as that’s at home, I can’t do that right now.

The other benefit of these events is that, as planned, I got to meet up with faces old and new. It was good to catch up with the ISTC staff as well as other technical authors (and fellow introverts!) at the event.

I had a good chinwag with people from around the world, including one guy from Australia (Hi! Dave!) who was visiting the event as part of a ‘European tour’ that he and his wife were doing. We both ended up being bar-propper-uppers on the Tuesday night. To say we (probably) finished off the hotel’s supply of Hobgoblin Gold would be near enough correct 🙂

The only downside was the hotel’s lack of any form of mobile coverage (calls, texts or 3G/4G signal) and the WiFI wasn’t great on my phone either. It worked on the Tuesday, but then refused to connect at all after that. Thankfully, it worked fine on the laptop and I was able to join in with the few courses that required a working machine.

All in all, I’ll be at the next one 🙂

Two new ISTC articles available

The current issue of the Communicator magazine has the latest in my series on VBA User Forms. This time you get to learn all about combo boxes. It’s not exactly riveting stuff but they are a necessary evil if you want to build a decent looking user form for your own Word projects.

As it’s the 50th year of Communicator magazine, there is an additional supplement with it: “50 Years Of Change”. My second article is in there. This article covers a brief history of word processing macros. It even mentions the ZX Spectrum and the joys of Tasword 2 🙂

The articles can be found in the usual place.

I’ll be back to doing a single article for the next issue. And, as much as I’ve been putting it off, I need to cover arrays. Luckily, I’ve also been working on a series of Excel VBA tutorials at my current workplace.

So that’s the basics done already!

Attending TCUK 2018!

It’s been a while …

I bought my ticket yesterday (Sunday) so that I can attend the TCUK (Technical Communication UK) conference in Daventry from the 25th to the 27th September.

I have only been to one before and that was in the outskirts of Glasgow in 2015. I went there there armed with approx 30 credit-card sized USB memory cards. I had copied onto each one a preview beta of my Word Toolbox. By the second day I had ran out of the memory cards and had to resort to bits of paper with a few Dropbox links printed on them!

I attended quite a few of the courses and picked up a lot of information whilst I was there, including my first steps in WordPress!

This time I’m paying for it (well, OK, ‘Mee Docs Ltd’ is paying!) whereas previously it was my then employer.

I will be travelling down on the Monday afternoon so that I can get up early on the Tuesday as there are lots of talks to attend.

At each time slot, there are usually three separate talks. Each one was looked at and I worked out which ones would be most applicable to myself and future career prospects etc. 

For some of the slots I’m probably going to regret not being able to split myself in two and attend two separate courses at the same time, but c’est la vie.

Courses picked

If there are no cancellations, the following are the ones I’m hoping to attend:

Tuesday:

  • ‘How tech writers can improve UX’ by Hollie Hamilton
  • ‘Git(Hub) for Technical Writers’ by Robert Kratky
  • ‘How to write in plain language’ by Frances Gordon

    Also mingling and catching up with people from the ISTC forum that I haven’t seen in a few years, especially my ISTC editor, Katherine. She has the ‘fun’ job of de-mangling my VBA articles for the Communicator magazine. I reckon I must owe her a fair few glasses of vino by now 🙂

Wednesday: 

  • ‘Using Text, Images and Video in Technical Communication’ by Ferry Vermeulen
  • ‘Polymathing 365’ by Eran (Yuri) Kolber
  • ‘”Docs as code” without any code’ by Zsuzsa Nagy
  • The TCUK18 keynote talk on “Creating great customer experiences through outstanding technical support and content” by Ciaran Dunne

    Then it’s the Gala Dinner, prize-giving et al.

Thursday:

  • ‘From Docs to Bots: Find Your Passion & Get a Career Makeover’ by Toni Byrd-Ressaire
  • ‘If variety is the spice of life…’ by Alison Peck
  • ‘No final frontier: unleashing our inner Tech Comms polymath’ by John Kearney
  • ‘The Value of the Polymath Communicator’ by Alisa Bonsignore
  • 13-20 – 14:00 … still working out which one of the three to go to as all sound very good
  • 14:20 -15:00 … same problem .. which one to pick …
  • ‘Working with third-party content. What are the challenges?’ by Jennifer O Neill

    Then head home back to Stockport …

The ‘to do before I go list’

Polo shirts:

I’ve got a month to source some printed polo shirts in different colours in order to “pimp out the company name” whilst I’m there. 

The logo is near enough complete – barring any last tweaks from my other half (Eleanor) and two former colleagues (Kate and Steve): all three have already given their feedback on the earlier design(s).

The (almost finished image for the back of my polo shirts for TCUK 2018. Some words may yet change …

Considering it was based on a smartphone photo of a sketch that had been scribbled onto a tiny post-it note whilst on a train journey back home, I think it’s looking great.

The conversion from post-it note to its current look was all done by Stuart Josephson. I met Staurt at one of the Digital North shindigs last year.

If you need a creative person to steer your ideas (original ideas scribbled onto post-it notes are optional) then I highly recommend Stuart. His work portfolio can be found here.

Business cards:

The current contract I am on runs until the end of March next year. In December you are asked if you want to renew it for another year on top.

In my head, paying for lots of new business cards when I’ll be available again (in either 6, or maybe, 18 months) is probably a bit too much like looking in a crystal ball.

Then again, I might just get a few done as the current ones are really out of date and look like the generic VistaPrint layouts that they are. Decisions .. decisions ..

Almost 2 months into my contract – an overview

Intro:

In a change from the usual stuff I broadcast on here, here’s my “mini-review” of the first 7.5 weeks of my second contract role.

It’s been a steep learning curve in the current role but it’s been a good experience so far. Lots of my skills are being used on a regular basis (esp. Excel and Visio) which I’m glad that I’d used (and abused) in previous roles and/or whatever I’d picked up at home via online training and being self-taught. The space taken up in my head with the knowledge of previous software packages are slowly being erased to make room for the new systems that I have to learn about 🙂

Waffle:

The long and very hot summer has meant that I’ve been able to walk to/from work each day and I’m getting used to planning my weekly working times so that I can leave early on a Friday and get back to Stockport at a useful hour.

Especially if it’s a “Foodie Friday” date as I then put in some extra overtime during Monday through to Thursday to ensure that I can leave around lunchtime and get back home even earlier. All that’s left to do then is bung the week’s worth of clothes in the washing machine and be waiting in the Remedy bar before 5pm for the other half and various ex-colleagues to turn up. It’s these little things in life that are worth looking forward to when you’re ~160+ miles away 🙂

It’s not all been plain sailing though. There’s still a few things that I’m still finding odd and/or difficult to get my head around:

a) Living in the countryside for 4-5 nights a week. The B&B I stay in is great but if it wasn’t for the earplugs, I couldn’t sleep with the windows open at all, even in this heat. I miss and can generally sleep through the city-type noises – such as police cars whizzing along the A6 in the early hours.

However, down here in the countryside, it’s the numerous forms of wildlife letting me know that they’re active and, if they’re awake, why aren’t I?

The plus point is that I have my camera down here and I take it out occasionally and get some really nice nature-themed pictures to upload onto Instagram. I keep seeing a red kite (at least I think that’s what it is) circling the fields from time to time. Although this one seems rather skilled in detecting if I have my camera: if not, I miss all kinds of long lens shots of it circling around looking for hares. It seems to save these views for when I only have my non-optical zoom phone-based camera with me.

I’ve seen the aftermath of its kills from time to time: I’m just glad I’m too big a meal for it 🙂

b) The B&B I stay at is part of a dairy farm. Lots of cows = lots of manure and the “oh my god what is *that* smell” attacks on my nasal passages once in a while. I thought one week that I’d missed being overwhelmed as I saw the tractor heading down the road. Attached to it was a huge trailer full of manure, so much that it was overflowing onto the road. This ensured that there was an overpowering whiff, but breathing through my mouth got me past that. Until I got to the front of the dairy farm and *another* tractor was about to leave with another trailer-full. I nearly hughied-and-ralphed there and then! The “townie gene” is still going strong in my veins.

c) Local pubs (for local people). My first ever night at the B&B was the day before my starting date. I walked into the local village with my camera, taking shots of this and that (as amateur snappers do) and I got the first pub (out of two in the village) and went in for a pint. Cue the locals staring at me.

It was a red-hot evening, so to save any more staring, I sat outside the bar, under the shade and supped away. Then I heard the local “comedian” shout out “Hey, have you seen Father Christmas outside in the shade!”. Suffice to say that was the last time I’ll venture into that pub.

Instead, every Wednesday, myself and a couple of other contractor colleagues go to the other pub in the village and enjoy the offerings there. A local business turns up with their portable pizza oven and that makes a nice change from the various Mug-Shot “meals” I’ve been having whilst the funds dwindled away as I waited for my first pay-day ….

d) Not being paid at the end of a month is something I’ve got to get used to. After a decade of arranging all of my direct debits to come out on/just after the 28th of the month, I now have to remember to make sure that there are enough funds in my company account and that also I pay myself in time to cover it all.

If it wasn’t for my 3.5 week stint in Media City, I would have been up a particular (financial) creek without a paddle. Going from being out of work for near enough 4 months, through to having to work 6 weeks without any wage, would have been impossible. Also being able to pick up some much-needed Confluence working knowledge has helped me out a lot in the current role too. My thanks go to Auden for hiring me and enabling me to survive 🙂

End note:

This is all part of the learning curve for being self-employed and there will be, no doubt, many more hoops on the horizon for me to jump through.

However, the whole point of doing this is that (hopefully) I won’t have to return to being a permanent, under-appreciated, salaried staff member any time soon. Especially with some of my previous experiences that I definitely wouldn’t want to repeat, nor would I expect anyone else to have to put up with.

I still have my Redundo Tour t-shirt to remind me 🙂

Latest ISTC article now available – Creating User Forms (Part 3).

I’ve updated the ISTC articles page with my latest one which continues my article series covering the creation of user forms for your own VBA projects.

This is the article where I lay bare a form from my Word Toolbox and explain how it all works: from the initialisation of the form, through to the variable definitions and how it handles the interaction with the user. Whilst this sounds very grand, there’s less than 40 lines of actual code in the user form 🙂

The next article will split into two separate sections: the first half will continue with the VBA user form controls as I’ll cover drop-down (aka combo) boxes. The other part of the article will be something special as it’s the Communicator’s 50th issue 🙂

 

 

A minor Oops!

Oops!

Last month I released what I thought was v2.2 of my Toolbox on the 15th May. But it wasn’t until yesterday – whilst demoing the power of the Toolbox at my new workplace – that I realised that the download on the site contained an older version of the Toolbox! However, the manual included was for v2.2. Guess who was asleep at the wheel last month!

I have now rectified the download and it definitely contains v2.2 of the Toolbox.

My apologies all!

New download

Whilst in the first 2 weeks of my new role, I have been developing a few “quick fix” Excel add-ins. I went to try and squeeze the final file size down via the excellent VBA Compiler, but whilst the host site is OK, downloads from it are blocked 🙁

So, when I got back to the B&B, I used their WiFi to get the latest version of this tool and I have placed it onto the Downloads page too. A handy extra utility for the VBA developers out there.

Hurrah! At long last the final release (v2.2) of my Word Toolbox is now available!

As previously mentioned in other blog posts, I decided to put all work-related projects on-hold whilst I enjoyed some – OK, quite a bit of time off due to my redundancy in July 2017. My other half called the first 4 months (or so) as my “mini gap year” 🙂

Then when a planned job fell through due to various things going on in the background (especially the extremely slow speed that things needed for me to start the new job got slower and slower to appear) I ended up having to sign on in January 2018. I stuck out like a sore thumb at Stockport job centre: almost all my own teeth, no tattoos on my knuckles and I didn’t smell like I’d spent the night cuddling high-grade skunk!

However depressing it got, I persevered. I applied for job after job. Keeping all the records so that I could prove I wasn’t a time-waster. Along the way, I discovered that some job agencies are the absolute pits when it comes to communication, but, on the other hand, there are some gems out there who will work for you and keep you in the loop. If you’re an out of work TA, I highly recommend Talent Group, Authoring House and Edissero.

Fast forwarding onto now and I found myself (last week) hurriedly setting myself up as a director of my own contracting company – Mee Docs Limited – for my current and future technical authoring contracting work.

I am currently working on a temporary contract in MediaCity (in Manchester) for a few weeks and this will then be followed up by a full time contract elsewhere in the country. I’ve got the fun task ahead of living away from home for 5 nights a week.  The hotel life beckons!

The downside to commuting back home on a Friday night is that I’ll have to empty my bags, wash and then repack my clothes and get ready to head back on the Sunday.

So, I thought I had better release my final version of my Word Toolbox (v2.2) and I’ve used my Dad’s 70th birthday, May 15th, as the launch date.

My heartfelt apologies for the countless number of previous releases in beta form. It couldn’t be helped partly – because of the annoying bugs that only showed up in Word 2010 and spending a lot of my time searching for and applying for jobs. OK, and there might have been some time spent playing the latest open-world type games on my Xbox One!

But it’s finally here! However, this release leaves me with the problem of working out what new features I should add to the next version … along with what new features will need to be included when Word 2019 is released.

Go get your copy from the Download Area page or the full source code from this page.

 

P.S. I now accept donations via the PayPal.Me link that’s on the Download page.

Latest ISTC article now available – Creating User Forms (Part 2).

I’ve updated the ISTC articles page with my latest one which continues my article series covering the creation of user forms for your own VBA projects.

In the third part of this article series, I will be stripping away the contents of this toolbox’s About form and I will be detailing “what’s under the hood” to see how it all works.

 

 

Waking up after a mini-sleep :)

After being told that I was being made redundant from my previous employer in May 2017, I decided that I needed a nice long break from most things. Especially when I was offered to ‘escape early’ via the gardening leave route from mid-July.

Up until now, a third of the way through October, I’ve done my best to ignore the code and necessary manual updates completely, as well as this website.

I have spent the time instead doing other things, both non-technical and geeky, to pass the time. 

This included helping my other half’s sister to move house, playing and finishing off a few games on my Xbox One, and setting up a new media server. The latter allows me to watch anything from wherever I am via Plex = geeky heaven 😉

All of these things have, naturally, delayed the release of v2.2 for about 3 months. 

My apologies, but the break was needed!

What’s left do do before I can release v2.2

a) Update the code – there’s still some issues around Word 2010 and detecting the correct version number. My code works fine for Word 2013 & Word 2016, but fails for Word 2010 users.

A VBA contact in Australia has been looking into a solution and more testing will be required before v2.2 can be released. Better to make sure than release a buggy product.

b) Update the manual accordingly. Although there’s not much to do as I won’t be adding any new features at this point. It’s just the Word 2010 problems to solve and document accordingly. But that does include updating every single screenshot in the manual!

Once (a) and (b) are done, then it’s the release-related work.

c) Update this website with the relevant changes to the Toolbox. That requires every screenshot on the site updating. Luckily I can just use the same ones from the manual 😉

d) Update the Trello board with the current state of play. I can archive jobs that are complete etc.

e) Write up the LinkedIn blurb for the release.

Then ..

f) Double check (c), (d) and (e) and make everything live.

Future website changes

g) Videos of the functions being used (hosted on YouTube) and embedded in the relevant pages. Some of the pages cover multiple functions, so these will require splitting apart.

h) PayPal donations button for those who are feeling generous and their name(s) will appear in the Thank You section of the manual.

i) Testimonials page – if I receive any that is 😉

j) Site text translations ( main European languages first – will ask for volunteers when I am ready for this, if it ever happens).

I’d best get back into a coding frame of mind .. although there’s also Fallout 4 to play 🙂