August 26, 2005

Last week was NIWeek 2005. It was my first time attending, and I had a blast :-) I love seeing all the new things NI is doing. The product demonstrations at the keynotes were especially interesting. My favorites were the table saw demo and the ball bearings demo. You can see them both by watching the keynote speeches. Also, because I'm an audio nerd, Alain's presentation on CompactRIO audio algorithms was fun to watch (and listen to). And then of course there's the Virginia Tech presentation on their DARPA vehicle. There was just so much to see and do.
I also want to comment on an article I found on Slashdot a couple days ago. As an Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST) graduate myself (from Virginia Tech, no less), I'm really happy to see the field getting some attention in the press.

One of the more pertinent quotes from the article is "If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable." Because I haven't been in the "real world" for too long (oh, two years is plenty!) I can't say for sure how true this quote is. I do know it's true in my line of work, and I've heard many other people, such as engineers and evelopers, talk about the need to attack problems from many different angles. All I know is, IDST certainly helped me get this job and continues to help me do my job well. IDST focuses on creative thinking, information analysis, and problem solving, both of which can be more crucial to a job than straightforward technical knowledge. For example, as a technical writer, I'm not expected to know much of anything about control design or simulation. I am, however, expected to be able to learn enough about these fields to write well about the products. This expectation involves plenty of facets of the IDST major, from synthesizing information to making cross-disciplinary connections. Perhaps my main challenge at work, or at least the most common challenge, is translating what the engineers/developers tell me into plain English. The IDST major certainly helps with that aspect of my job.

To that end, I would have liked to see some commentary on the combination of computer science/IT and english, which is pretty much the way I went. Those are more disparate disciplines than IT/CS & business. But, like I said, I'm happy to see IDST getting some press.

August 11, 2005

Ah, it's been a little while, but things have been busy around here. NI Week 2005 is coming up, which is pretty exciting. I haven't been to one yet, because I only got here last October. But I'm assured it's a good time. I'm excited to see what our customers are doing with the Control & Simulation products. Hopefully I'll get a chance to get some feedback on the documentation and what I can do for the next release to make it better or more effective.

NI Week 2005 has an entire summit devoted to Embedded Engineering & Control Design, which comprises the groups for which I write. That's taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'm helping the developers staff three product demo booths, which show off the ways our products interact with one another and produce useable results. I'm a little nervous about talking directly to customers, since I haven't done that since my last job. But again, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to get to know our user-base better and perhaps help them out. I've seen a couple customer emails that reference the documentation on which I'm working, but since none of my major work has shipped out with a product yet, this will be the first time I can possibly incorporate suggestions into the writing itself. I want to spend as much time there as possible. We have presentations by Ford, Whirlpool, Quanser, and many other industry/academic notables. I think Quanser's presentation on haptics in LabVIEW will be really interesting.

This weekend I'll be in Dallas (technically, Irving and Grapevine) for the 10th annual QuakeCon. I mention this because Hall Martin posted recently about video game technology and I hope to see some new stuff there, like the DOOM Movie and Quake IV. Hall remarks that without games, the drive/demand for PCs wouldn't be as high as it is today, and I agree. Who needs an Athlon X2 to run Word? Gaming opened the way for technologies like virtual instrumentation to trickle down to consumers.

Although I hope to see some new stuff at QuakeCon, I realize that events like E3, GDC, and AGC are more business-oriented and would perhaps focus more on the technology. But I know QuakeCon will be as informative as it is fun. I'm really excited to hear John Carmack's keynote, even though I probably won't understand a word he's saying.

So with QuakeCon, NI Week, and an internal conference I'm helping to organize coming up in October, I'll be running around like crazy for the next month or two. Maybe I'll even have some spare time to write documentation :-)

I love how I'm supposed to review the error codes that ship with the software. Nothing is as frustrating as confusing error codes. The LV doc team makes a big effort to document every error code, give examples as to why the error might have occurred, and suggest possible solutions/workarounds. That sort of attention to detail can make a big difference.