Month: August 2007

On baking and Harry Potter

A nothing weekend started with a wonderful meal on Friday night, courtesy of my parents. Well they didn’t cook it, but they did pay. If you are ever near Bothwell, I thoroughly and highly recommend The Grapevine. Has yet to fail us.

Saturday morning started early, with plans of heading into Glasgow to see just how big a fuss the Apple Store was making, before heading off to wander, camera in hand, round the People’s Palace. Dreich is the best way to describe the weather, a thin pall of grey lightly drenching us as we wandered up Buchanan Street.

Arriving outside said store at around 9.15am, the queues were already snaking up and down a few times, neatly contained by temporary barriers, and only the whooping and cheering of the staff broke the drizzle. We headed for the nearby Starbucks to ponder our next move. Standing around in the rain isn’t my idea of fun, and I was wary that Louise wasn’t feeling 100%.. and so it transpired that, without even finishing my coffee, we were heading home again.

Once there, Louise changed into ‘comfy house clothes’ and managed to stop shivering. An afternoon spent pottering around the house and garden followed, making sure my knee remained lightly throbbing for most of the evening. We made the tough call and decided not to attend a friends wedding. I don’t think I could’ve driven, and Louise was still a little pale around the gills.

All change come Sunday morning, and I was told I was resting my leg as my wife headed into the kitchen and started baking. Always a good sign. Soon the warm sweet smell of cake wafted through to me, prone on the couch, and soon it was followed with a large mug of coffee and a still warm cupcake. The rest of the day followed a similar pattern, and after despatching the last Harry Potter book, watching Brokeback Mountain for the first time, and yawning my way through most of the Grand Prix, it was time for bed.

The Harry Potter (& the Deathly Hallows) book was as good as the others. Which means that it was OK, badly paced as usual, but ultimately a fun diversion. Don’t ask me about it next week though, I’ll have forgotten what happens.

How was your weekend? Do anything fun?

Ohh yeah, should really mention this, I guess.

Do you RSS?

Over the past year or so, as I’ve started to struggle to keep up-to-date with the multitude of websites that interest me, I’ve increasingly turned to RSS feeds to help me manage the load.

With that in mind, I’ve been compiling a list of Technical Communications feeds that I find interesting. Some are by Technical Writers, some are not, but I generally skim through the new items daily and I’ve yet to have a day when I didn’t read or find something interesting and useful.

If you have an RSS newsreader, then feel free to grab a copy of my subscriptions. If you right-click that link you should be able to download the file, and then just import it into your newsreader of choice (I prefer Google Reader).

And, of course, I’d love to know if I’m missing any. Hope you find this useful.

KVM Recommendations

More techy questions, I wonder if I’ll ever have the perfect setup?

Anyway, I have, as I may have mentioned, a MacBook. It’s a wonderful little laptop but the screen is quite small and I do find that I miss having a mouse. The obvious answer is to plugin a mouse, and hook up the laptop to my nice LCD screen but, there are still sometimes when I want to use my PC and…

Well, long story short. Rather than having a spare keyboard and mouse lying around cluttering up my little office, I think it’d be much easier to install a KVM switch (Keyboard, Video, Mouse).

But which one? Price is a LARGE factor, which is a bit of a worry as most of the cheaper KVM switches get scathing reviews. Belkin in particular seem to be a bit hit or miss.

I’m not fussed about audio outputs, and it has to be USB ports for keyboard and mouse, not PS/2. Both monitor inputs are DVI with DVI out a must.

Small form factor is another requirement, with something that doesn’t look like it was engineered in 1973 being a must. Have you SEEN some of the stuff out there? Grey plastic boxes with rudimentary, functional styling. Ick.

Over to you then, anyone seen anything that you’d recommend? Do you use a KVM switch?

I’m leaving the whole PC/Mac keyboard thing right now, I’ll worry about that later…

Writing is hard

Most of you probably know, by now, that my day job is writing software documentation. Actually it’s a hell of a lot more than that but that’s a discussion for another place, which nicely brings me round to my topic du jour.

I’ve been blogging for so long now that I easily slip between “work” writing mode and “blog” writing mode. One is conversational and prone to grammatical faux pas, the other is what I use when I’m blogging… These two writing modes are joined by a third mode, which is far more eloquent. Alas it doesn’t deign to hang around with the riff-raff too often and spends most of its time offline in various documents and files.

Over the years my “blog” writing mode has developed into what you see today. I’ve stol borrowed several style ideas from others, obv, but that DOES NOT MAKE ME A BAD PERSON (although I hope that content offers me some leeway). Thanks to anna (obv), heather (CAPS) and Lyle (italicised emphasis used for side thoughts), all of whom, I feel I should point out, trump me on content everytime. And no, I’m not being modest, and no I’m not hunting for platypus.. titudes..

Since starting my other blog, I am finding myself developing yet another writing style which is part way between “work” and “blog” modes and, whilst it’s still very much a work in progress I am enjoying the experience. I’ve mentioned before that it is a bit odd to be starting a new blog, from scratch, after all this time, and I am doing my utmost to remember all those things I wish someone had told me when I started out this esteemed tome that you are currently reading.

Am I allowed to call my own work esteemed? Probably not.

The evolution of a writing voice is best achieved by, you know, writing a lot. It doesn’t always have to be good (refer to my bulging archives for evidence) but the more you do it, the better it gets. Of course the audience plays a part as well, pitching your content correctly isn’t always easy, but some educated guesses will get you pretty far, certainly far enough for most hobbyist bloggers.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. THIS blog is a hobby, THAT OTHER blog isn’t. Not really. It’s self-promotion, it’s open to my peers and so the content comes under more detailed (or at least more consistently detailed) scrutiny. I’ll quite happily concede that I’m using it as a way to find my professional voice with the aim of writing an article or two for publication. It goes hand-in-hand with the reasons behind the move to the “oneman” brand, and with the upcoming re-design of said websites. It may even become part of an MA in future years, but that’s a fairly big decision which can wait for now.

As for the other kind of writing, the more eloquent prose that occasionally spring on you, that will continue to burble away in the background. I do enjoy writing it, and whilst I don’t find it particularly hard, it usually gets a couple of edits before it gets published. Alas it’s wholly dependant on my mood, time available and ultimately it’s not something I can sustain for more than the length of a blogpost.

In other words, no, I am not writing a book.

Yet.

Recently Read

I’m not sure if this is lazy blogging, or a useful feature but here, again, are a few of the articles and blog posts that caught my eye over the past week.

  • Audrey Carr on Design Briefs ~ “After a series of small projects involving undefined requirements, fuzzy objectives, and an aparent lack of truly insightful customer insights, I’ve spent a good chunk of this week thinking about the strategist’s favourite tool for communicating with creative and account teams: the brief.”
  • Inline Linking is bad for usability – whilst it’s aimed at those people concerned with optimising their content for search engines, the examples are interesting from a writing point of view as well, swap out “usability” for “readability” perhaps.
  • Linking DITA Topics using Relationship Tables – If you are investigating DITA have a skim through this, yet another way to increase the power of DITA
  • A mile wide and 30 seconds deep ~ Mike Hughes on how to focus your help content, “…focus the Help on what it does well, that is, provide a wide variety of 30-second informational solutions to get most users back on track and in task”
  • Help Authoring Tool matrix – has been running for a few years now and is a bang up-to-date, excellent resource.
  • The Rockley Blog – Ann Rockley and Steve Manning, of the Rockley Group and that book (Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy), have a blog. I had dinner with Steve, and others, after the X-Pubs conference this year and this is definitely a blog to watch.

OK, that’ll do for now.

Hopefully, by this time next week, I’ll have finished the new design for this site and will start posting a little more regularly. There are a few things I would like to explore, and hopefully I can get some feedback from you, dearest reader. Make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed to catch the next post.

Random Stuff

A question for the Gents in the audience. In a male toilet, which has both cubicles (for Number Twos) and urinals (for Number Ones), why would you put the seat UP?

And, to revisit an old topic: If there are three urinals, which one do you never stand at?

Toilet enquiries aside I’m in a glorious mood which is entirely down to the wonderful weather we have had over the past two days. Yesterday was blanketed, from horizon to horizon, in vibrant shimmering blue and we actually held a short de-brief session outside and I guess there is a possibility that we ran the meeting a little longer than strictly necessary. Today is a little cooler but equally sunny, these truly are the days.

However, and I realise my recent experience with a convertible car may be making me a little sensitive to this issue, there is a new law I would like to introduce. Quite simply, if it’s above 20C, with no visible cloud in the sky, and you are driving a convertible you MUST put the bloody roof down! In fact, rather than penalising the drivers, I think the law should target the car manufacturers. From here forth, every convertible must have a “gorgeous sunny day” detector which automatically puts the roof down. 7 different cars, that I counted, were seen driving along last night with the roof up. It’s a crime I tell you!

Elsewhere I’m slowly finishing off a redesign of my ‘oneman’ brand, scuppered only by my inadequate knowledge of Photoshop. All I want to do is take a white image on a black background and reverse it to be a black image on a white background. Shouldn’t be that hard but, so far, it’s escaped me.

And I really need to get that done because I’ve a potential client to phone (tonight probably) and another one on the way (she’s busy right now but that’ll kick in next week probably).

It’s almost a wonder how I’m going to manage to go out for dinner tomorrow night. Admittedly the facts that it’s a favourite restaurant and my parents are paying may have had some influence on the decision…

And, yeah. I MAY be in Glasgow on Saturday morning, and MAY happen to be in the vicinity of the new Apple store, but it’s really just because we need to get some shopping done and.. umm… wanted to spend some time wandering about Glasgow, with my camera obviously. Yeah….

bacn

BACN “describes the things you signed up for but that still feel like clutter in your email inbox”. Yes, just what we need, another (misspelled) buzzword.

Wandering

A young girl skips by, her entire world reduced to the doll she holds out in front of her. As she passes an old man he breaks into a muted smile, her carefree abandon reflected in shallow water.

Struggling with the wheels on the uneven pavement, a young woman graciously declines an offer of help. She flashes a heart wrenching smile and wheels herself away, slowly, determined and with no little effort.

In a cafe a baby coughs, a concerned mother turns only to shake her head as the first gurgle of laughter trickles out. Soon a gentle, contented giggle wafts over to the other patrons. Heads slowly turn to the noise, listening,  smiling. Infected.

Outside, staggering on heels, bags bulging at their sides, they giggle and whisper, suppressing laughter, trying to stay in the moment. They pause at shop windows, and remarked innuendos drawing glances from passersby. An old lady, bent over her cane, struggles slowly past. The girls gather round a window as she shuffles past. She pauses behind them, then shuffles on. A smile of recognition on her face, a glimpse of times past.

Between sips of coffee, the writer dives into his notebook, slashing ink and thoughts, capturing fragments of life for no good reason. Pausing, the realisation slowly sinks in as the smile sneaks onto his face. Reason is of no use here. The why, the what, the who, none of them matter and none can change any of this. Sometimes it’s enough that things just are.

He puts down his pen once more. Ready for the next time.