Category Archives: Opinion

Adobe Captivate: An Awe-Inspiring Solution for eLearning Designers

Effective software is the backbone of effective technical communication. Adobe graciously provided our class of 42 students with one year of access to the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. We have received direct training in Framemaker and Captivate from Bernard Aschwanden, an Adobe Certified Expert, Certified Technical Trainer, and author of numerous publications on publishing and single sourcing.

Simply put, Adobe Captivate is an extraordinary tool for screencasting and creating eLearning materials, and even dethrones PowerPoint when it comes to delivering impressive audiovisual presentations in a classroom setting.

In fact, I recently discovered that Captivate can be used to enhance PowerPoint presentations. By importing PowerPoint presentations into Captivate, they can be taken to the next level with motion-based media, animations, quizzes, and audio narration. This feature offers the potential to improve legacy eLearning materials I created while I was an English teacher and distribute them as full-motion video rather than the old method of passively clicking through slides.

I am currently developing a user guide for a popular VST software synthesizer, along with short video tutorials of key features that support the user guide’s content. Clearly, Captivate is the ideal solution for web-based tutorials. Let’s look at some exciting features I have discovered in the process of creating these videos.

I love the way Captivate uses “slides” to record the screen, rather than recording everything as if it were an old-fashioned camcorder. For example, a competitor’s software records everything on screen in real time. So, if you were to pause for a few moments, the pause would be recorded as well. Captivate, on the other hand, only captures the screen as it changes.

Editing and rearranging slides is both effective and easy to grasp for educators that have prior experience with presentation software. From what I’ve experienced, other popular screencasting software expects you to be a video editor as well as a communicator.

In demonstration mode, Captivate captures the mouse separately from the screen itself, so the mouse can be moved to where I want it to be. You can even change the cursor to personalize your materials. This is a great feature that allows us to capture our ideas quickly without having to focus on zero errors.

Captivate saves time by automatically adding callouts that describe the on-screen actions you are performing. After recording, they can easily be customized in the slide view to reflect my own design preferences. However, the process is so intuitive and intelligent that little modification is needed.

Did I mention how easy it is to publish my finished work? In just a few clicks, Captivate can create full-motion Flash video files and even publish my content directly to YouTube. Like many of the innovative features included in Captivate, publishing content is intuitive and can be easily customized to suit the needs of your project.

Captivate is the ultimate tool for technical communicators that need to create simulations and training with precise control over every aspect of the screen. It boasts a robust feature set that can be applied to eLearning projects, presentations, and much more. When my student license expires, I will definitely purchase Captivate again.


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).