Monthly Archives: December 2011

Snapshots : My Life with Computers

My earliest experiences with technological devices or artifacts that I clearly recall revolve around the first family computer: the IBM PS/2. This DOS-based computer was my first exposure to PCs, and though I was very young I recall using the system to play games and tinker around for hours trying to make it do something interesting.

My interest in programming was piqued by a game included in the BASIC programming application called bananas. I think it was on this machine that I made a circle display on the screen using BASIC, quite an amazing feat that I have no desire to duplicate.

I taught myself the “basics” of BASIC by reading a hefty tome that came with the PS/2, however as with most things at that age I quickly lost interest and moved on to something more interesting (like playing Wolfenstein 3d and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?).

My next exposure to coding came with the proliferation of free web space from providers like Geocities. I learned HTML by simply viewing the source code of other pages, copy/pasting, then editing in my own words. Not exactly the best practice, but it worked.

The resulting website contained scans of comic books drawn during the more boring stretches of Grade 7 classes. The site proved to be unpopular (35 views over the course of the semester), and was long forgotten until I began re-learning HTML this summer in preparation for my technical communication studies. Alas, like Geocities itself, the Chronicles of Axe Guy webpage has disappeared into the ether.

My interests in technology and computing shifted in adolescence from “coder” to “power user”, as I always strove to get the most out of my computer, OS, and software. Long before Microsoft introduced the Windows Aero™ graphical user interface, I was an avid user of third-party software like StylesXP that provided a similar experience.

Early exposure to PCs and other tech-y things led me to be a self-professed “geek” throughout my childhood, and indeed some of my fondest memories growing up include the following snapshots:

1.    The thrill of installing Windows 95 and being able to watch a FULL MOTION VIDEO of Weezer rocking out “Buddy Holly.”

2.    Teaching my father, the “Chief Technological Officer” at a major insurance corporation, to do things like install Windows, write a list in WordPerfect, send an email to more than one person at a time, bookmark a web page, and make the “DAMN STUPID MODEM” connect to his company intranet.

3.    Secret late night Duke Nukem 3d Sessions with my friend Chris, whereby we battled at deathmatch and capture the flag through a “lightning-quick” 28.8 baud internet connection.

4. Being the first kid that I knew to get broadband internet and reading the brochure describing the amazing things we could do with ONE GIGABYTE of bandwidth. I still remember the loud marketing catchphrase emblazoned on the cover page: A GIG IS BIG!

5. Obtaining a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop in Grade 8, obscenely doctoring a picture of the vice-principal (I won’t elaborate), and subsequently having the picture posted throughout the school without my knowledge. This resulted in a thorough shellacking from the photo subject and a three-day suspension. Ouch.

6. Spending many painful hours installing and configuring various distributions of Linux on my PC over the past decade only to wonder “what’s the big deal?” Ubuntu is currently installed on my netbook, but I never use it.

Learning and keeping up with advances in computing becomes increasingly difficult as one gets older, with free time rapidly diminishing due to workplace, school and family commitments. However, I try my best to stay “on the pulse” by reading technology news sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, and I am a habitual reader and writer of user-reviews of tech products that I own, or hope to own.

Computers have been an essential part of my life since childhood, and will continue to be as I begin a new career in the field of technical communication. Furthermore, I will always be a power user, and I will continue to lust after and burn holes in my wallet with each generation of technological advances. Now back to editing my Christmas Wish List


The Importance of Writing for Translation

Affordable internet access and the expansion of the global market for technology products to previously untapped regions has increased revenue opportunities for technology companies of all sizes. Localization vendors and translators support the technology industry from prototype to release, ensuring products are compatible with the language and culture of target markets. However, many products are released internationally with inadequately translated documentation.

Writers and translators need to move beyond verbatim copies of the source text to consider aspects of context, power distance, the use of visuals, and other factors. Furthermore, writers should follow strict writing guidelines that assist accurate machine translation and allow for easy conversion into the target language. After translation, substantial post-editing is required that reflects the linguistic conventions of the target culture. Only then can a user guide be truly considered “user friendly.”

Consider the localization and translation issues that surface when translating product user guides for a Spanish-speaking, Hispanic-American audience. Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35.5 million people aged five or older,[1] and Hispanic and Latin Americans comprised 50.5 million or 16.3% of the American population in 2010.[2]Coupled with an ever-expanding market of Spanish speaking customers in South and Central America, there is a crucial need to include Spanish-translated user guides with products released in the United States.

Much like their neighbour to the north, the population of the United States increasingly reflects a linguistic divide that must be accommodated. Technical communicators must continue to bear in mind the culture of their diverse audiences by following writing guidelines and best practices for efficient translation. Moreover, optimizing machine translation and translation post-editing are not just luxuries for wealthy transnational corporations; they are essential tools. The demand for translation technologies and localization experts will continue to expand as our world becomes increasingly connected.


[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Spanish Language in the United States,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2011).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Demographics of the United States,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2011).

Canadian Spelling… what’s the difference?

Canadian spelling has been historically linked to British standards. However, spelling conventions are constantly shifting on the ill-defined continuum between British and American English. Some argue that there is a regional bias to Canadian spelling: Ontario, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada more closely follow British practices, while Alberta and the Prarie provinces have gravitated towards American conventions.[1]

Here are my recommendations to aspiring Canadian writers:

Buy the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and don’t trust your word processor’s spell-check feature. The English (Canada) dictionary in Microsoft Word follows British conventions, even in cases where Canadian writers prefer American spelling.

Finally, follow the Spelling Guidelines listed below and your documents will be truly “Canadian”. To find out more guidelines for creating technical documents, visit my on-line style guide for technical communicators.

Spelling Guidelines

  • Where a verb has two past-tense forms, use either without preference (e.g. kneeled or knelt).
  • Use preferred spelling in the case of place names, businesses, book titles, movies, and other works.
  • Apply Canadian spelling to government departments and agencies (e.g. United States Department of Defence).
  • Diphthongs use American spelling in most cases. (exception: “oe” diphthongs such as manoeuvre).
  • The use of silent e+ suffix follows American or British standards.
  • Always use –our endings instead of the American –or.
  • Always use –re endings instead of the American –er.
  • Always use –yze endings instead of the British –yse.
  • The use of silent –l or –ll follows American or British standards.
  • Always use double consonants, following the British model, except combatting.

Canadian Spelling Conventions

Convention Examples
c and s
licence (n.) practice (n.)
license (v.) practise (v.)
foreign plurals
e + suffix
double consonant
–l or –ll
–re not –er
–our not –or
–yze not –yse

[1] Mastin, Luke. “Canadian, British and American Spelling.” Accessed December 9, 2011.