Expert on web technologies and the Mac...
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Robyn
Ness, a widely respected international expert on web technologies.
works as a web developer at Ohio State focusing in usability and
content design. She holds a master’s degree with a specialization in
judgment and decision making.
the author or contributor to several books including:
- SAMS Teach Yourself Mac OS X Digital Media, All in One
Teach Yourself Mac OS X 10.2, in 24 Hours
appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to do this
Thank you for inviting me.
your formal education helped in your current work and if so how?
studied English and psychology as an undergraduate and psychology in
graduate school. While those areas have little to do with the
content I currently work with, the methods -- for both writing and
critical thinking -- have carried over to both my day job as a web
developer and my freelance book work.
Please provide a history and how you got into computing and writing?
During my years as a graduate student, I took a few elective courses
in cognitive engineering and usability. Projects for these courses
piqued my interest in web development, and I started to see the web
as a medium with a lot of possibility -- where time, effort, and
attention to detail could make the difference between a mess and a
source of information that was really useful.
with this interest in the web came an interest in the tools of the
web -- computers and operating systems and software. John Ray, a
friend who writes technical books, recommended me as a technical
editor, which is basically a technical book fact-checker. I did
technical editing on a book or two and then was asked to help with a
book on the first release of Mac OS X, SAMS Teach Yourself Mac OS X
in 24 Hours. Production on that title was behind schedule because
the original authors had withdrawn from the project, so the
publishing company and John [Ray] came to an agreement to create the
book from material he'd co-written for an advanced-level OS X book,
Mac OS X Unleashed. I reworked several existing chapters into
introductory-level chapters. The project was more a case of heavy
editing and content development than writing, but that's how I got
that time, I've revised SAMS Teach Yourself Mac OS X in 24 Hour once
and just finished updating and expanded the material for a more
complete book, SAMS Teach Yourself Mac OS X Panther, All in One.
Last spring, I worked on SAMS Teach Yourself Mac OS X Digital Media,
All in One and helped complete a book on iMovie and iDVD. I have
also been the technical editor on other Mac and web-related books,
including Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX and Fireworks MX.
Please describe the major themes in your books and pass on useful
information, best practices and shortcuts.
worked on several books related to Mac OS X. One of OS X's neat
tricks is that anything you view on screen can be saved as a PDF
document, which can be shared across operating systems and
applications. If you're using any application that uses OS X's
standard print dialog, you have the option to Save as PDF. This
works for word processing documents, web pages, image files, etc. If
you want to create a PDF of your entire screen for demonstration
purposes, the keyboard shortcut Command-Shift-3 will do that. If you
want to capture only a selected area of your screen as a PDF, use
Command-Shift-4 and drag your cursor to frame the area of interest.
are several applications from Apple with impressive features; while
not exactly secret, I think they are worth mentioning. The Safari
web browser allows you to block popup ads as well as view multiple
web pages as tabs in a single window, instead of requiring separate
windows for each. iChat AV, a free chat program compatible with an
AOL Instant Messenger, can do audio and video conferencing. While
audio and video chats do require a microphone and compatible web-cam
respectively, they are incredibly simple to set up. iTunes for
digital music management, iPhoto for digital image management,
iMovie for digital video editing, and iDVD for dvd design are great
values (iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie are free!) and great fun to use.
drier side, I think more OS X users should know about some of
system/diagnostic tools located in the Utilities folder inside the
Applications folder. Apple System Profiler provides an orderly look
at your systems hardware and software, in case you ever need to know
exactly what you've got. The Disk Utility application comes in handy
for fixing file permissions, which can get out of balance through
the course of software installations and result in annoying error
messages about insufficient privileges. If you need to perform minor
drive repair, Disk Utility can also be run off of your system
installation CD; to use it from the CD, insert the disk and restart
your computer while holding down the C key. (Also, in OS X 10.3,
Disk Utility includes the option to create disk images for easy
backups, which you can then burn to CD and even install over the
network. Before version 10.3, this function was in a separate
utility called Disk Copy, also in the Utilities folder.)
important tips can you provide from your work in usability and
cardinal rule of usability is "Know thy user," which is sometimes
paired with the corollary "And you are not thy user." It's so easy
to assume what you're saying is what people want to know and to base
your information on assumptions you don't even realize you're
making. I try to have an actual user in mind when I'm working. I
think: "What does this person know, what would this person want to
know, what does this person NEED to know, and how can we best
provide the information?" Obviously, things turn out even better if
you can test your work on live people and make changes according to
their responses, but that isn't always an option. In those cases, my
advice is to listen to your audience--if they are asking questions
you think you've answered, there's a problem and it needs to be
processes above are also good advice for writers of technical books.
In my latest project, my reference points were two long-time Mac
users I know who are transitioning to Mac OS X, one of them somewhat
reluctantly. Whenever I had to make decisions about how much detail
to share, or what tips to offer, I'd ask "What information would
benefit them?" And, I admit that I have updated material based on
questions from readers about previous editions. (That's one
frustrating thing about print versus web -- you can always find
something you would have done differently, and the web lets you make
changes immediately without waiting for the next edition.)
Where do you see yourself in two, five, and ten years?
really enjoy what I'm doing right now. In my 9-to-5 job I get to
work with new applications, and in my freelance work I get to share
what I've learned. If I'm lucky, these roles will continue to
complement each other--and I'll keep learning and writing about new
must have some favorite stories that you can share with us—perhaps
ones with humor and others with lessons?
I got my first fan letter, I attempted to forward it to a friend
with a comment about how excited I was that someone had read the
book -- but I inadvertently replied to the sender instead. The
sender wrote a very kind note in reply, expressing surprise that his
was the first and, at the time, only fan letter. I was quite
embarrassed. Since then, I'm more careful about where I'm sending my
What would be your recommended top references including URLs, other
books, magazines, etc?
like macrumors.com and macnn.com for news about Apple and their
products. The discussion forums on Apple's site (discussions.info.apple.com)
are also a good source of information about Apple hardware and
software from the perspective of real users. For insightful articles
about the state of the web and tips on web development, I read
evolt.org and alistapart.org.
Robyn, thank you for sharing your considerable knowledge and
experiences with our audience.
You're welcome, Stephen.