Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vancouver 2010

I've been watching the Winter Olympics this year and I can't resist making a few comments about them. I'm struck not by just how different the athletes are but how differently they're treated by their home countries.

When I was watching the ladies' figure skating the announcers emphasized the pressure the two favorites, Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan, were under. Not just the pressure of being in the Olympics and wanting to do well, but enormous pressure from their countries: These girls were expected to win gold. One of the announcers commented that winning silver would be a huge disappointment. I have to agree, the expression on Mao Asada's face during the medal ceremony certainly reflected that sentiment. I don't follow figure skating except for the Olympics so I'd never heard of either girl, but apparently they're both huge celebrities in their home countries. Kim, they said, makes $8-$9 million dollars a year marketing every product imaginable. If she hadn't won gold apparently she would have disappointed her country and could have lost her celebrity status, and I gather Mao Asada may face a similar fate with "only" a silver medal at the Olympics. I think that's absolutely horrible and an astronomic weight for these 19-year-old girls to bear.

Then there was Canada's Joannie Rochette, skating only days after her mother died suddenly from a heart attack while at the Games. From my limited perspective she's received only praise and support from her country and the world in choosing to deal with her emotions as she sees fit. Yes, she won the bronze medal, but I doubt anyone in her country or otherwise would have treated her any differently if she hadn't won a medal, or if she'd chosen not to compete at all.

Watching Apolo Ohno compete in the short track has definitely been entertaining, and the expectations he endures from the U.S. appear to be a huge contrast from those of the Asian figure skaters. Apparently, Apolo has also become a celebrity in the United States; when I heard his name I recognized it from previous Olympics but otherwise I've been oblivious to his growing fortune and fame. (I don't watch Dancing with the Stars, which he apparently competed in and won in 2007, so that probably has something to do with my ignorance regarding his social standing.) What struck me about Apolo, though, was his maturity, both in how he handled the actual races (demonstrating his experience in the sport and in international competitions), and in how he handled the results, whatever direction they took. While Apolo certainly had pressure on him and undoubtedly hoped to become the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian, I never felt that he was carrying the weight of his country on his back the way the figure skaters were. I certainly hope Apolo didn't have to worry about losing a product endorsement if he happened to make a mistake in a race and didn't win a medal. Being disqualified in the final heat of the 500-meter race probably would have been devastating to other racers but Apolo handled it with such poise (in front of the cameras, at least, and you want to assume he handles things equally well in private), accepting, as Phil Taylor of put it, "the seemingly random twists of fate that can make or break a speedskater on the short track." Taylor's article doesn't focus on the disqualification but instead notes that Apolo has, "grown into a great Olympian and more importantly, a mature man." I think that's a greater testament to the man, his sport, and his country than any gold medal could ever be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Notes on My Interview with Adobe

Recently, I was interviewed by RJ Jacquez, Senior Product Evangelist at Adobe. I met RJ over Twitter and have communicated with him about a variety of topics, including Adobe Community Help, which is the subject of the interview. You can read the full interview here:

Interview with Peggy Harvey - The Future of Documentation: Adobe Community Help

RJ conducted the interview using Adobe Buzzword through, a collaboration tool that allowed us to edit the same document without having to send files back and forth through e-mail. Since we're in different time zones we took turns editing the document, notifying each other through Twitter's direct messaging when the document was ready for the other person to respond. In this way we completed the interview over a few weeks without any disruptions to our regular schedules.

I really enjoyed doing the interview and thinking more about how user assistance is changing in the 21st century. As I finish up my master's program and get ready to re-enter the workforce as a technical communicator, I'll be looking for opportunities where I can contribute toward the type of collaboration Adobe encourages, merging user-generated content with official product documentation to create a more unified user experience.

UPDATE: If you'd like to learn more about how companies incorporate user-generated content you can read my original paper, Enabling User Interactivity with Documentation, now shared on

Friday, February 12, 2010

Headed Toward Employment

Even though I'm still a little while away from graduating I've started thinking more about getting a job. My focus this year is to have a job next year, and you have to sow your seeds before you can harvest them, right? For me, that means working on networking and establishing relationships now, while I'm not looking for a job, in order to have those contacts available when I am job searching later on.

One thing I've found is that people in industry are generally very receptive to students, or at least people in my field are. My theory is that students are less threatening; especially in today's economy, people who have jobs are used to being asked for help by people who don't have jobs. Students in the middle of their program generally aren't asking for jobs, so there isn't as much pressure involved in talking to them. I've taken advantage of this numerous times already, talking to people in my field about various projects I'm doing. It's made my projects more relevant and contributed toward that all-important networking, getting my name out there as someone who takes initiative and has the drive to succeed.

Recently I've had another reason to think about employment more closely. Last week I was notified that the Society for Technical Communication selected me for their Sigma Tau Chi Award, which honors students with the potential to distinguish themselves in the technical communication profession. I'm told only a few students are selected each year. Besides being a great boost for my resume, receiving the award (or being inducted into the honor society, as it's also put) helps affirm the direction I ultimately want to take into leadership roles when I return to the working world.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Tribute

I thought I'd write this now even though things haven't happened yet. I doubt it'll be any easier later, and maybe it will help me process things now. When I post this we will have said good-bye to my cat.

I've had my cat for nearly a third of my life so making the decision to have her put to sleep is very hard even though I know it's her time. The vet confirmed her kidneys have all but failed and she probably isn't very comfortable. She's so thin she's just skin and bones now, it seems. She hadn't been eating very much before we took her to the vet although gourmet cat food seems to have helped with that somewhat, at least temporarily.

I got her from the pound when I was a graduate student in Oregon. I was on my own for the first time and wanted a pet. For the first year I lived in an apartment that didn't allow pets, but then I moved to one that did. I remember going to the pound that day in January, 1994: When I said I was looking for a kitten they said they didn't have any. I asked if I could still look around, though, and there she was. They said she was about 9-months-old so that's why they said they didn't have any kittens, but she was young enough for me. Apparently, an older woman had taken her and returned her because she was too active; the woman wanted an older cat that would be calmer. A young, active cat was perfect for me.

I went home to California for vacations and brought her with me. Friends had told me horror stories about cats getting carsick so I did a trial run first, taking her on about a 30-minute round-trip drive. She did fine and took several 950-mile (one-way) trips with me back and forth between California and Oregon. One time she flew with me as my carry-on luggage. The first time I drove to California with her I set up the back of the car with her food, water, litter box, and towels to curl up on; she spent the majority of the trip on the passenger seat next to me instead. (Making me find a different home for my snacks so she'd have a place to sit.) She'd eat and use her box during the drives, and at night she would look out the windows at the cars and trucks going by.

Before hubby came along (and even sometimes after) we'd have breakfast together: She'd sit on the kitchen table while I ate my cereal, then when I finished she'd lick the small amount of milk left in the bowl. Here in North Carolina she liked to sit on the back of the couch sometimes; we bought a blanket to put up there just for her. Often she would nuzzle up to hubby's head when he sat on the couch. She didn't do it to me as much; I guess she thought hubby's hair smelled nicer than mine.

I'll also never forget the time the basement apartment I rented in Oregon flooded due to heavy rains. I woke up one morning and saw my poor kitty going "squish, squish, squish" across the carpet. Then there was the time I tried to give her a bath... It was a bloody experience (for me) and I decided from then on she did a perfectly fine job bathing herself.

When I got my dog it took time to adjust to twice as many feet in the house. Now it will feel empty with half of them gone.

She stayed with my parents when I spent two months in Africa, then moved with me through two rentals and to the first home I owned in California. She learned to tolerate a dog and then a husband, then made the 2,600-mile journey with us from California to North Carolina. I know she's had a good life but it's still so hard to say good-bye.

I'll miss you.
1993 - 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010