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A New Year–A New Adobe Technical Communication Suite – PREVIEW

The Times Square New Year’s ball drop has landed…it’s a new Adobe Technical Communication Suite!

As of TODAY, Adobe is releasing five new tools for technical communication professionals everywhere! Technical Communication Suite 5.0 (TCS5), FrameMaker 12 (FM12), FrameMaker XML Author 12 (FMXA 12) and RoboHelp 11 (RH11), and FrameMaker Publishing Server 12 (FMPS12) are now available. It’s been about eighteen months or so since the last big Adobe tech comm release, so you can imagine there are some new and enhanced features included.

I was privileged to be among a group of tech comm professionals who were invited to get a preview of the products before their release, and I have to say, there were so many new and improved features that it was difficult to squeeze all the information into one press conference! But I’m going to give you the highlights, and I’m sure you’re going to find that there’s something new for you.

In the last release of TCS, namely TCS4, there were several big overhauls of the product, namely that the Technical Communications Suite concentrated on providing tools that supported structured authoring, integrated interactive content, and could support the creation of content for mobile devices while providing searchable, personalized, socially enabled content in a way that would yield bigger results with less resources. It was a major step to enhance these tools, especially in regards to adding mobile and interactive abilities to content. Adobe has continued to build on those major changes with the new features in version 5.0.

The foundation of the Tech Comm Suite has always been FrameMaker and RoboHelp. With the release of TCS5, FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11 have been released with big enhancements that appear to concentrate on making these tools more user-friendly and efficient for the technical writers using them.

Image courtesy of Adobe.

For FM12, the first obvious enhancement is the interface. Adobe has improved the user interface to include colored icons and larger icons that look cleaner and sharper in HD. If you like things “old school” in the original smaller, monochromatic colors, that choice is still available as well. There is also more flexibility in customizing your interface. A new “pod” allows the user to access all the currently opened files in one place, from which you can save and close multiple files at one time, while still viewing the unsaved files. There are also enhanced abilities to drag-and-drop to empty areas of the interface, close pods or panels more easily, double-click on empty areas to minimize or expand pods, and searching capabilities have been expanded. These seem like minor details, but when using a product as often as many technical writers use FrameMaker, these finer details can make a big difference! FM12 includes three samples of unstructured content and one DITA-based content sample with the product.

FM12 is not all about a new façade. Adobe has enriched the authoring process with new capabilities. The first thing that caught my attention is that FM12 can generate QR codes now! They can be created for URLs, SMS texts, emails, or to initiate phone calls. QR codes are taking over these days, so it’s great that these can be both created and integrated into FM documentation. Background color enhancements allow uniform height background color and options to specify paragraph boxes. The addition of a new customer-requested feature is the support regular expression coding.

Single-sourcing has been a hot topic in the last few years, and this has been addressed with new enhancements. FM12 gives users a new way to work with conditional text, by using a new conditional tag pod which provides check-box mechanisms with multiple conditions to allow the user to do more complex filtering with conditional text enhancements. It truly simplifies the entire process, that even a newbie should be able to figure it out easily.

Productivity enhancements have also been included in FM12. A searchable smart catalog function allows the user to filter choices based on the valid choices available and phrase typed by the user, while the user can continue to use the keyboard shortcuts as before. There is also a new capability to open all files from the user’s last session in one click, including the last documents and pages in focus, workspaces such as pods, panels and palettes, among others.

Adobe has also taken care to add great collaboration enhancements in FrameMaker. Native connections to any webdev content management system (CMS), such as Documentum, SharePoint, and Adobe CQ are available. Users can now view entire CMS tree layouts, and can access several key CMS functions, such as checking out documents, editing documents, and searching within document, all from FM12.  PDF review commenting has been made more flexible. The most proactive steps towards subject matter expert (SME) reviews is that reviews can be done on PDF reader apps on mobile devices, and can also be used on those same devices using cloud technology such as Dropbox for both internal and external reviewers. As mobile devices become more commonplace replacing desktops and laptops, this is a great step forward!

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

Publishing abilities have gotten a boost on FrameMaker as well. It used to be that if you wanted to create certain types of digital output, such a ePUBs, for FrameMaker content, you would have to export it to RoboHelp, and have RoboHelp publish the document.  Now, that step is no longer needed for PDFs, Webhelp, ePUBs, Kindle docs, Microsoft HTML Help, responsive HTML5, or Web help! That’s a big deal, as it allows FM12 to be more efficient by skipping that step of exporting and publishing in RoboHelp. Publishing can also be done through the Web now, too, for multiple users using a FrameMaker server, allowing multiple users to publish simultaneously and automatically to multiple channels and devices. That’s a practical efficiency improvement right there!

Image courtesy of Adobe

With this release, Adobe is introducing a new FrameMaker product for those who don’t need the full version of FM12, but are mostly concerned in having a tool to do structured XML authoring. FrameMaker XML Author is a tool that has been created especially for the structured XML market.  Those wanting to use unstructured content will still need to use the full FM12 version.  The XML Author is fully standards-compliant for content creation, and supports the most popular XML technology for single-sourcing. It is not FM12 “lite”, but it is a streamlined, easy-to-use version that supports structured authoring without the bulk of the FM12 features that aren’t needed for structured content, yet still integrate-able with the full version of FM12 and available at a lower price. I’m sure that having this tool will be highly beneficial to many companies who are looking for a way to cut costs (it is priced at 40% the price of FM12 “full”) while still reaping the benefits of having a powerful XML authoring tool.

Another customer request that has been granted by Adobe is the integration of MathML, to allow MathML equations to be imported, created, edited, and published with FrameMaker. Adobe is even including 30-day trials of MathFlow (MathML editor from Design Science) with the shipment of FM12 for those who are interested in trying it out. There are several other features that are also included, along with 55 bug fixes, improved performance and launch time for FrameMaker, but I’d end up writing a book at this point!

Of course, with all these big changes to FrameMaker, we can’t forget RoboHelp 11, which also has had a big overhaul.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

RH11, like FM12, has a new UI look as well. Based on customer feedback, RH11 has a new color scheme and a more modern interface that looks more pleasing to the eye. It’s a step in the right direction. Adobe has said that further UI improvements are in the works, but this current new UI is the first step in a long overdue makeover for the interface.

The more important feature enhancements with this new release of RoboHelp include advances with HTML5 publishing, printed document enhancements, and collaboration and single-sourcing enhancements.

The HTML5 publishing enhancements are from the perspective that mobile publishing is central, so new single responsive layouts for all devices are available “right out of the box” when downloading RH11. This new single layout feature will work seamlessly across all devices, can be easily customized, will allow for real-time previewing based on the browser size, and can be published with one click.  There is a new wizard-based layout editor available to help with this process that shows the added responsive HTML5 output options. You can also preview layouts, and the customization is great because no coding in CSS needs to be done, as you can use the editor instead.  To me, this is true single-sourcing creation at its best while simplifying the process! This is a big deal!

Printed documents have not been ignored. Users can now customize headers and footers of printed documents by defining them in the master pages. Headers and footers can also be imported from Word. There is also the ability to specify different headers and footers for the cover, and even and odd pages for different sections of a document. This is great for consistency within branded documentation.

In terms of collaboration and single-source improvements, cloud integration and topic sharing for SMEs has now been included.  RH11 now includes a Resource Manager tool that synchronizes folders using Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive as shared locations, and includes filtering for specific folders. This allows the user to manage linked resources within files used in real time across projects and geography.

Image courtesy of Adobe
Image courtesy of Adobe

The Technical Communication Suite 5.0 includes FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11, but it also includes the updated products of Acrobat Pro XI, Captivate 7, and Presenter 9 to complete the Suite. You will notice that Illustrator, which was included in the TCS4 version, is not included. This was a step, Adobe said, to help lower the price. Additionally, from the way I see it, it makes sense, because both Illustrator and Photoshop–another product that used to be included in prior TCS versions–are now affordably available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I know that I personally have a CC subscription, and I’m guessing that many active technical communicators do too, so this saves us from spending twice for the same product, which makes a lot of sense. TCS5, FM12, RH11, FM XML Author, and the FMPS12 will also be available both as a subscription and through perpetual license as well. There is separate pricing for the FM XML Author and FM Publishing Server software.

The updates made to FrameMaker and RoboHelp are extensive, as there are many more features, but I think you get the idea. Adobe is taking steps to try to stay on top of technological changes that have taken root in the past couple of years, such as mobile and cloud technology, and is working to continue to make a more robust and user-friendly products for technical communicators.

My recommendation is that if you are looking to try TCS5 or any of the TC products out, or are interested in upgrading your current TCS package or individual products, click on the Adobe advertisement in the upper right corner of this page, or visit Adobe’s TCS product page for more information.

I hope you find this helpful!

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Using the Cloud–The Real Deal.

As a follow-up to my post about the scamming/hacking attack I had two weeks ago, this week I’m turning over to a good friend of mine, Shay Shaked. We first met in grad school at NJIT as classmates, and have been friends ever since. Shay is more of a technology geek than even I am, so when my system got hacked two weeks ago by the phone scammers, he was one of the people who offered me some good advice and pointers along the way to my laptop recovery. I asked him if he would share some of the wisdom that he’s shared with me with my TechCommGeekMom readers, and he said, “Of course!” Here is TechCommGeekMom’s first guest post! It’s a little long, but I encourage you to read the entire thing– good stuff!


Two weeks ago, TechCommGeekMom fell victim to the hands of a malicious scammer who managed to access her computer remotely by talking her into believing he was actually a Microsoft employee. The scammer was smart, confident, and very efficient. Reading through her post sent shivers down my spine (as a matter of fact, I am backing up my files as I’m writing this post) and made me realize that we are all vulnerable, especially these days, when technology is everywhere and computers have to be used on a daily basis.

TechCommGeekMom was able to recover rather quickly. The first thing she did was to share her experience with us, so we could all learn from what happened. She also shared a few tips about security of private information, and asked me if I would like to expand and talk in length in this post.

Today, security does not have to come at the price of convenience–quite the opposite. I have switched between four different computers in the last five years, and the transition to the cloud made each switch easy and painless. But the real benefit of cloud apps, I’ve discovered, is in added productivity. I am going to introduce some of the popular cloud services (and some less well-known ones) from the perspective of a paperless, digital person. I hope that when you’re done reading this post you will at least be convinced to give these apps a try, if you haven’t already.

Google Drive

Google Drive’s most important feature, in our case, is its ability to replace Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and even Access, for free. Throughout my time as a graduate student on a tight budget, I calculated I could do more than 90% of my work using Google Drive’s documents.

Google Documents now features two additional important features that makes it even more effective. It has an offline mode, which allows one to create and edit files even without internet connection. It also has a research pane which allows you to research your topic (via a search term on Google) from inside the document, and add whatever reference one may find directly into the document’s reference list in APA style.

Google gives users 5GB of free space to begin with, and documents created inside Google Drive do not take any room. This includes small pictures included in saved documents, such as background for presentations, mugshots, or logos. Additionally, Google Drive makes sharing or sending files to other people incredibly easy, even if they do not have a Google account! Documents can even be sent from within Google Drive as an attachment (.doc, .docx, .pdf and more) directly to an email address without downloading anything, so no obnoxious email attachment on your end.


As great as Google Drive is, it is not the best place to upload files and scanned documents. Google Drive’s interface is still too clumsy to be used for organization, and I often need t search for what I need. For scanned documents and quick notes, I use Evernote.

In my opinion, Evernote is the best place for PDF files. Evernote’s excellent tagging system, flexible folders and powerful search (which can read texts from inside images) is exactly what’s missing from Google Drive’s system. I use it to save anything from receipts (using my phone to take snapshots) to a copy of my driver license (I will explain how I protect sensitive documents shortly). It is extremely easy to email documents directly from the app to someone’s email.

Evernote comes in a free version which allows users to upload up to 60MB per month, or a paid version that allows up to 1GB per month with many additional benefits. I have used the free version for a while and never ran out of space allowance.

Important information tip 1:

One of the best ways to protect your personal information is to keep it separate from your “public” information. It just so happens that Evernote and Google Drive create this separation for me automatically: anything that I need to share, publish, or have others edit and work on, is on Google Drive, while all my personal documents and more sensitive information is stored in Evernote. This means your personal files are stored under different username and a different password (because you do use different credentials for each website, right??)

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe Reader is mentioned here because the newest versions come with a very simple, yet powerful feature: the ability to sign your name electronically directly into the PDF file. In the past, I had to download the PDF file, print it, sign it, scan it, and then send it back as an attachment. Not any more. Today I open my PDF file, sign my name, save it (to Evernote) and send it. Done.

Information tip 2:

When you’re not sure what kind of file to send your document in, use a PDF file. If you don’t know what Word version the HR department has, or you want to make sure your resume looks on their screen exactly the same way it looks on yours, send a PDF. PDF files also happen to be the easiest to open, encrypt (protect with a password) and are the industry standard for scanned papers and official documents online. Make sure you have the most recent version of Adobe Reader installed and save yourself the headache.


FoxyUtils is a website that does one important thing: it protects your PDF with a password. Upload a file to FoxyUtils, and choose to restrict the file from opening, printing, and copying its context to the computer’s clipboard (which means, no copy-pasting). FoxyUtils also allows users to split one multi-paged PDF into several PDF files, or do the opposite by combining several PDF files into one big PDF file.

Information tip 3:

I believe my personal information is safer inside a password protected PDF on a protected server in a locked building than it is in a drawer at my desk. If you’re serious about using the cloud to store your files and using PDFs, I recommend buying Adobe Acrobat (not just the free reader), which comes with additional features, most notably, better encryption. Keep in mind though that if you password protect your file, programs such as Evernote won’t be able to read its content and make it searchable, as it would with non-protected files.

Hardware – The Non-Cloud stuff for the Cloud

1 – Scanner

Most people would assume an external hard drive with good encryption is the best and safest way to store sensitive documents. In my opinion, that’s a bad mistake to make. The most important thing to consider about your information safety is a scanner.

If you don’t already have one, you can probably find an all-in-one printer (a printer, scanner fax and copier) for a price tag of less than $50. Most printers also ship with software that allows users to quickly convert scanned documents into PDFs, but even without such software, users can quickly upload a file into Google Drive and download it as a PDF if needed.

Information tip 4:

Why a scanner? Because prevention is the best form of protection. Your computer should never store your important documents, and an external hard drive with these documents available is nothing but an extension of your computer. You might as well just glue a glowing sticker to it saying, “My most important information is in here!” Remember, when you store sensitive documents on your computer you’re not only putting yourself at risk, but also others whose information is on these documents as well.

2 – The Backup External Hard Drive

The second device you want to have available is an external hard drive for backups. There are two very important rules when it comes to backup hard drives. First, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups. Second, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups.

Your external hard drive should be connected to your computer periodically to store files that are either in the cloud already, or on the way to get there. It is a secondary stop; it is an emergency storage in case you have no connection to the internet–like an airplane black box. And, it should be treated that way. Do not use this hard drive to store anything else under any circumstances.

Why am I so strict about this? Because the second you start using your backup hard drive to store music, movies and pictures, it is the second it ceases to be an “in case of emergency” black box and becomes an entertainment storage unit. Soon after, you will start to taking it to work, and your crucial information will be moving along with you in a storage unit that isn’t meant to handle traveling. You could actually severely damage your hard drive by shaking it too hard, not to mention, forgetting it or losing it. Leave it at home on your computer desk, where it belongs.

Information tip 5:

Not storing personal information on your computer means not storing it on your backup hard drive either. If you use a cloud service that downloads files into your computer (like Dropbox), do not use this cloud service for your sensitive information. Remember, your information is and more available on the cloud.

Information tip 6:

A couple of years ago someone came up with the genius invention: a USB drive. To this day, despite the millions of cloud services out there available, there is no more reliable and simple way to keep files you need. An 8GB USB drive is available today for less than $20 (and you can probably get one for less than $10 if you don’t need so much room). That size is enough to store about 2000 songs, or about 7 high-definition movies. Never store your sensitive information on a USB drive! If you need to send someone sensitive information, make sure it’s in encrypted PDF file, and send it directly from the cloud.

Private Information Hard Drive

No matter how secure the cloud is, some information is simply too private. In that situation, I suggest getting an additional, smaller hard drive that can be easily carried and encrypted. A good example for a hard drive for traveling is Western Digital My Passport line. These hard drives do not require a separate AC connection and built with less movable parts that can get damaged. They are also small and light enough to fit in your pocket. Do not mix this private information with your other personal information. Your driver license, passport and tax returns do not belong there.


No home-office today is complete without a shredder. No matter how technology savvy and paperless person you are, chances are that some company (especially bank and utility companies) still insist on sending paper statements. These are dangerous and can lead to identity theft if not disposed of correctly. Do yourself a favor and spend the $30 or so on a simple shredder. Not only will you feel safer, you will also save room in your trash bin and become more recycle-friendly. Get rid of any copies of documents you have laying around. After all, a new copy can always be printed .

Some Final Words of Advice

These suggestions are probably not the only ones out there, but they are based on years of personal trial and error experience. Each one of the apps mentioned have many more features than what is covered in this post.

One area not mentioned as it would require a whole blog post to itself is smartphone security. Smartphones, if used correctly, can be an additional security measure and a crucial addition to cloud capabilities, especially if the goal is to go completely paperless. Investing in a smartphone doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can save users a lot of time and frustration.

Use your brain. Learn to create hard-to-guess passphrases, and remember to change them periodically. Most hackers out there still use brute-force methods to break passwords, which means they would use a software to guess any possible combination of letters and numbers until they get it right. If you use a 20-character passphrase, you are probably much safer than using a 4-digit pin number. Wipe out your computer regularly, and restore your files from your backups. This will not only make your computer safer, it would also keep it faster and free from malicious software. Protect your computer with a screensaver password, so every time you get up from your computer and leave it for more than 5 minutes, it would require a password to resume using it. Never store any passwords in your web browser–you would be shocked to know how accessible these passwords are. Create a guest account on your computer and log out of your account before handing it out to a friend, a coworker or your children–especially your children. Children are smarter than you think and they will snoop around, out of curiosity.

I hope this post was useful to you! If you have any questions, suggestions or any words of feedback, feel free to contact me at my blog,

Shay Shaked is an aspiring teacher and educator, specializing in technology and special education. He is currently a teacher at the innovative New Shul School in NYC, and pursuing two Masters degrees, one at NJIT in Technical Communications, and the other at Touro College in Special Education. Shay is also a personal communication and health enthusiast, and blogs about these topics at his blog,, on Twitter as @blueeyednyc, and on Google Plus.

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m-Learning and Single-Sourcing Aren’t The End of the World

Does anyone remember all the hype about 13 years ago about how life as we knew it was going to be destroyed merely by the fact that most of the computing machines running around the world weren’t programmed to go beyond the year 2000 because it would reset itself to start back at 1900 again? Do you remember the mad rush to make everything “Y2K” compliant?” I do, and remember being in the thick of it. I even remember secretly bracing myself mentally, just in case Armageddon did happened. Nowadays, people are thinking about this supposed Apocalypse that will happen on December 21, 2012– about 8 months from now. Is it going to happen? And what does this have to do with m-learning and single-sourcing?

Here’s my take on it, having lived through that time from an IT perspective: nothing happened, and nothing will happen. Well, nothing catastrophic happened or will happen. If anything, the Y2K crisis brought to the world’s attention (or at least the IT world’s attention) that details are important when creating and developing software and web development. Y2K made the IT world take notice that it had to get its act together better, and if the world needed reliable, safe, easy-to-use products, then that attention to detail has to be put in from the beginning. The same thing happened with the tragedy of the attack of the US on September 11th, 2001. There was a realization that email and other digital means of communication could be used to circumvent security, and it caught everyone’s attention enough that the IT world had to step it up.

Think about how many strides have been made in since that 2000-2001 time period in the digital world! Smartphones and tablets were developed and constructed over this decade or so, and now we are a much more mobile society than before. I mean, seriously, in 2001, could you imagine yourself walking around with a tablet in your messenger bag just to read a book, do your email on the go, write papers, watch a movie, have video chats with friends around the world, or just to instant message/text friends that quickly?

When I had my first cell phone around the time of the turn of the century, it could do simple SMS messages and make phone calls, but nothing more. My iPhone is WAY more sophisticated than even my first desktop! We’ve actually gone beyond the imagination of what the Dick Tracy wristwatches of yesteryear intended to do– and then some!

We are in a really critical time in the development of the digital world right now. It’s as if nothing is impossible, especially with the huge chances that made us think about all those details around us. But that’s also the point– we have to make sure that we actually pay attention and heed the warnings of the past to make sure that all those details are included.

This brings me to m-learning. Right now, we are in a very exciting time with m-learning due to the great strides that have been made with technology in recent years. We have huge opportunities to reinvent the way things are done in e-learning on mobile devices, mostly because the medium is different than anything we’ve had before. It’s not just putting up pages and pages of content, but reformatting and rewriting to make it accessible to a wider audience. Cloud technology and wireless technology makes m-learning not only something that is portable due to device size, but accessible anywhere, anytime. Think about it– it’s a big game changer.

This brings me to the idea of single-sourcing and m-learning. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, because as I try to learn more and more about m-learning and getting involved in m-learning, I realize that flexibility is something I need. In other words, while I am attached to my Apple products for my digital mobility, there are others who are strong devotees of Android products and there will be those who will be signing the praises of the Windows 8 mobile system soon enough. In the end, it’s three of a few of the different OS systems that will need to be able to receive the same information, but be able to communicate to each other clearly and cleanly to each other as well.

Many years ago, the Portable Document Format or PDF was invented by Adobe with the intention of inventing a common format that any OS system could read with the proper viewing tool. Today, PDFs are still used, and additional single-sourcing formats such as MP4 and MP3 for video and audio and ePub for publications are coming to the forefront. Heck, even as we speak, Flash is starting to slowly retreat in favor of a more common HTML5 format, even if all browsers and devices are not completely on board with that. I attended a great seminar the other day put out by Adobe and hosted by Maxwell Hoffman about how to use the Technical Communicator Suite–especially, in this case, RoboHelp 9 to help create ePubs for mobile devices like tablets. The main idea behind this seminar was to help users of Adobe’s Tech Comm Suite see how they could get on-board with this idea of single-sourcing through the creation of e-Pubs using the TC Suite.  Even though I don’t really know how to use RoboHelp at all yet, it was evident that this was a hot topic from the way it was presented and the questions being asked. I felt empowered to get started on trying to master this piece of software, because Maxwell made it look so easy to do, and his emphasis was not only on any particular device, but rather that this tool would be good to help develop for just about any device. Understanding how to create ePubs is an excellent stepping stone to bigger and better things! I’m sure that other companies are also realizing that single-sourcing is the way to go to connect with as many users as possible.

m-Learning is about reaching as many learners as possible in a way that’s user-friendly as well as compatible with the technology, while still being engaging. There are so many devices out there, that it’s really important that programmers and developers, as well as instructional designers and other technical communicators really take the time to care about those details so that we can truly have single-sourcing. Even just between my iPad and iPhone, I don’t always feel that apps available have the same functionality as they do on my laptop, and vice versa. Going between devices–whether mobile or stationary–should be seamless. It’s been mentioned that some companies are already on the right track with this thinking, such as Kindle. You can open up a book at one spot on your phone, then switch to where you left off on your Kindle device, then pick up again where you left off on your laptop. Much of this is done through the cloud and wireless connections. This is definitely the right idea, and going in the right direction. For me, it’s even the functionality. My Twitter doesn’t work the same way between my iDevices and my laptop, and that’s not right.  It should work the same exact way on all my devices, and Android users should have the same experience as I do. This is a really important concept for m-learning. You want to make sure that the deliverable presented is the same for everyone who comes to a course, and that’s a tricky thing to do right now.  This is why discussing and creating new standards for m-learning are so crucial. The single-source perspective is truly needed in e-learning and m-learning universally, so that the same quality of content is delivered to ALL universally.

So will I be jittering in my boots when December 21st rolls around? I don’t think so (unless there’s news of an asteroid bigger than the moon is hurtling directly towards us). If anything, I’m thinking that December 21st will be a day when it will start a new age of enlightment, and m-learning and single-sourcing will be a big part of that. We are already on our way, but perhaps there will be something on that day that will be a big boost towards a positive path.

Maybe that day will be as monumental as First Contact Day.