Month: October 2007

I don't like Halloween

(Tell me why! I don’t like… ohh, wrong song)

I’m not quite sure why but I’ve never really enjoyed Halloween, and I still don’t. It may be because it seems like such a sham these days with strange kids disguised as unruly teenagers turning up at your door and demanding their goods.

Occasionally you still get a witch or a ghost, or a domino (c’mon, everyone was a domino once, right?) and they even make an effort to do a turn (translation: sing a song, do a dance, tell a joke). When they do you politely laugh, or nod and smile, then present them with a tangerine and usher their bemused faces out the door, ignoring their pleas for sugar-based goods.

Actually, that last bit is a lie. On Halloween I sit upstairs, reading a book or surfing the interweb, whilst my darling wife liberally coats every waif and stray with candy skulls, sugar coated coffins, and jelly spiders. Did I mention that I don’t like Halloween?

I wonder if it can be traced back to my childhood (ohh go on, indulge me), being dressed up and taken round the neighbours to be patronised… I mean to entertain them purely for the reward of their applause. OK, a lot of the time it was just for the sweets. Although when I grew up it was mainly monkeynuts.

I hate monkeynuts.

Well that’s not strictly true, I quite enjoy opening them but that flaky skin that gets stuck to the roof of your mouth? ICK.

I now indulge (a little too often) in the adult version, pistachios. Only I no longer have to dress up and sing a silly song to get my hands on them. The joys of adulthood, eh.

God I sound like some old curmudgeon. And no, I’m not thinking of anyone in particular, honest Lyl… er… honest.

I’m not completely averse to dressing up, but it has to be for the right reasons. The last time I dressed up was to attend a medieval banquet as a wizard, at the behest of a co-worker who was celebrating her birthday. The fact that she was rather cute, curvy and had shown me a photo of the wench outfit she was hiring was, I admit, a factor. Which reminds me, I think I still have those photos in the loft… I HAVE been meaning to start scanning them all in…

I guess it’s fair to say that I don’t really hate Halloween as much as I dislike the forced nature of it. But then I dislike any form of organised fun. You know the type I mean, it’s usually led by some cheery-faced idiot who can’t begin to fathom that, rather than repeatedly ducking your head into a basin of cold water in the vague hope of being able to retrieve an apple (why do they always buy the biggest apples they can find?) you’d much rather just hold them under the water until that smirk was removed from their face.

You know, this is why I like writing this blog. It brings some issues of my personality to the fore, don’t you think. Yes, it seems I harbour a deep-seated suspicion of those with a permanently cheery disposition and, you know what, I’m not going to deny it. In fact, to my eternal shame (and I’m being serious now) I once pushed over a kid at school because he had the gall, the audacity, to smile at me and wish me good morning whilst I was in a bad mood. Sorry about that James! (er… MacDonald I think..??)

Maybe it’s jealously, or maybe these cheery nutters just bring my psychotic tendencies to the fore. Thankfully my bad moods are far less frequent these days, and don’t ever stretch much beyond a glare. Either that or I’ll just completely ignore you, you leering, smirking twat. Ahem.

If you are dressing up tonight then please enjoy yourself, have fun, go wild! Just, whatever you do, don’t mind me and please don’t try and involve me.

Ohh and definitely, DEFINITELY, no monkeynuts.

Music for the masses

I’m still ripping CD after CD after CD into MP3 format. I’m stashing all the CDs in boxes and lugging them up into the loft alongwith the CD towers (which might go out later but for now can live up there out of the road… yes yes, we’ll declutter the loft as well).

I have… sorry… we have… no, actually, bugger that. Louise has maybe 30 CDs out of 600 or so and I’m the one doing all the work here… so..

I have another 3 CD towers to go (Benno from IKEA if you must know, 6ft tall, about 12 CDs wide), and going by the previous 2, I reckon that each tower has about 20 or so CDs that I’ve not ripped to MP3. It’s still time-consuming to check them all but it’s not as bad as actually having to rip every single one.

Thing is, I reckon by the time I finish I’ll have over 100GB of music (currently at 94GB and rising). That is, even for a music lover like me, patently ridiculous.

I may start deleting some tracks.

Now, that previous sentence may look quite short, the construction is simple and grammatically speaking it isn’t the most challenging to consider. So let me make sure you fully understand me here, and that you are paying attention because that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write here.

And not only is it not easy to write but it’s not that easy to do either. There is a lot of classical stuff in there and that tends to take up a lot of space, not to mention all the Xmas tracks which are only dragged out in the month of December. I am very much an album kinda guy as well so deleting individual tracks really just isn’t on. I guess it’s just as well that hard-disks are so cheap these days, and it does mean that my iTunes memes should be more entertaining in the future.

Speaking of which, when was the last time anyone helped propagate a meme? Have they died out? Another passing fad gone the way of the Hampsterdance? I might just have to do something about that.
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Bad Writer, Bad!

Daniel Scocco is wrong. Not completely but fundamentally wrong enough that I need to call him out on his errors.

He points out Six Common Punctuation Errors that Bedevil Bloggers and, whilst all are grammatically correct, I think he is missing a point. Now on a technical level, as someone who writes for a living I, like most people,agree with him. I’m not posing what I’m about to say as an excuse not to write properly nor as any reason to ignore some basic rules of grammar but there is part of me that doesn’t think that the casual writier need to be as concerned with the laws of writing as a professional writer.

In other words, I know the law but I am not a policeman.

So let’s look at the six suggested rules:

1. Apostrophe for Plurals
OK, I can’t argue with this one at all. It is wrong people, stop doing it.

2. The Comma Splice
Whilst grammatically correct, it’s at this point I start to ponder what grammar means in terms of conversational text. A lot of bloggers aren’t trained writers, they have a basic grasp of grammar but little more, and it’s not something that concerns them. They are, typically, telling stories of a personal nature and mostly they adhere to a narrative take on writing.

Essentially they use punctuation to help phrase their sentences and see no reason not to use a comma as a “pause”, nor to use quotation marks for emphasis.

3. Quotation Marks for Emphasis
We’ve all seen the two-fingered air quotes used in film and I’m pretty sure we understand that they aren’t actually quoting anything, merely indicating a level of sarcasm. I will plead guilty to having done this on my personal blog where I tend to write freely.

4. Multiple Punctuation Marks
Technically correct. But there is a part of me that can only just muster enough energy to shrug this off, colour me apathetic. I don’t think either example is less-readable than the other.

5. Punctuation Outside the Quotation Marks
See Point 4. Ohhh and the main thing that annoys me about this kind of thing isn’t the grammatical inaccuracy, but the shapes the punctuation marks form.

6. The Missing Comma After Introductory Elements
I find this one surprising. As I mentioned in Point 2, most bloggers (or at least the ones I read) use a comma as a pause and the example given suggests that they’d use one there anyway.

And anyway, what does “Joe stopped on my house” mean?

I’ve commented on this kind of thing before, whilst I am a writer by trade I do think that, occasionally, we thrust our own perfections on others under the auspices of the common good. Everyone who speaks English should know these rules and adhere to them, we say. I’m sure other professions do the same, the joiner visiting my house will look at some of my attempts at D.I.Y. and shake his head in dismay. The key difference for those of us employed as writers is that our skillset is so widely used that the myriad of different abuses that assault our eyes on a daily basis make it all the harder to stomach.

As others have mentioned, the rules of grammar are interpretative and also depend on both where they were learned, and the location (and knowledge) of your audience. I totally agree with Daniel, if you are serious about your blogging then learning to write well is important. The real key is learning to write as well as your audience expects.

Decisions

My life has been littered with decisions over the past week or so. None particularly major but each crucial in a small way.

The decision with the biggest impact is definitely whether I should pay the electricity bill, or purchase the Mac OSX upgrade. OK, not really a decision… (yes I’ll pay the bill… meh).

Overall, most of the decisions have been small and in the large scheme of things, inconsequential. They centre around the myriad of items I’ve been throwing away as I continue to declutter. Trips to the skip, trips to various DIY places to purchase storage, trips to charidee shops, all have been preceded by a quandary.

Louise and I are pretty good at getting rid of stuff we don’t need or use. Moving house several times in the first few years we were together, including down to England and back, meant that it was pretty easy to know what we had (pack your entire house 4 times in 3 years and you’ll know what I mean) and what we didn’t actually use.

However, we’ve been in this house for over 6 years now and as we are not likely to move for at least another 6, then it’s understandable that we’ve slowly been accumulating ‘stuff’. Personally my minimalist tendencies make it very easy for me to justify the removal of items from any room, but I am conscious that can leave things a little ‘cold’ and of course I’m not the only person who lives there. We are pretty good at compromising though, and it’s safe to say we both now tend to agree on what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Decluttering the house will take some time and, as I’ve mentioned, means that some hard decisions need taken. It’s easy to decide that I don’t really need 4 spare USB cables, or that having 2 spare keyboards is a necessity, so out they go. Similarly there are a lot of things which have slowly been added to various drawers and cubbyholes, none of which have much value other than pleasant curiosity (a champagne cork with a G initialed on it, for example). However there are some items which hold real value, and so I now have a small ‘sentiments’ box.

There isn’t that much in it at the moment, the nameplate from my Grans old house and a knocker from her old, huge, sideboard, alongside a pencil top Chewbacca from my childhood and a small plate with an Osprey on it which… well it came from my parents but not sure where they got it from.

And so, with bin bags filled, and memories safely stored away, I can now move onto the next room. Well I would if I had the space. There are now two large boxes full of CDs, ready to go into the loft. Alas, the loft is starting to reach the point that we consider it “full” (the point at which you can no longer navigate round the boxes and piles of … stuff).

Guess which area of the house we should’ve decluttered first…

Recently Read

As a wise man once said, time flies like a banana. I may be paraphrasing (badly at that, sorry Groucho) so let’s skip on quickly. Brevity is the name of the game today for whilst I’m delighted that the company is allowing the development team to swan off for an afternoon of beer and ten-pin bowling, I am still losing several hours from my working week. With that in mind..

ISTC Conference 2007 writeup
File this one under “Ask and ye shall receive”. I’m a member of the ISTC but couldn’t make it to the conference, so I pinged their mailing list to ask if anyone who had attended would possibly write up their thoughts.

Many thanks to Mike Unwalla for taking the time to write up summaries and thoughts on the presentations he attended:

  • Keynote address by Scott Abel
  • Certification for Technical Authors
  • Translation-oriented authoring—a prerequisite for efficient authoring
  • Managing the lifecycle of your technical communication
  • Leveraging DITA in a multilingual environment
  • Writing justifications and comparative analyses
  • Developing a communication-across-the-curriculum culture
  • Staying agile
  • Reasons to be cheerful—part 1
  • CMS: how to avoid a content mess system
  • Around the World in 80ms

Of key interest to me was the thoughts on working in an Agile development environment, with the suggestion of “Decoupling the publication of documentation from the delivery of the software” being something we are discussing at present. More on that later.

Scott Abel on Web 2.0
A shared set of slides from a presentation that aims to help us better understand how the semantic web (that’s the Web 2.0 bit) is impacting on technical communications, and how we can leverage some of the tools and ideas to our benefit.

I’ve touched on this myself a little, although I’m pretty sure the biggest impact is, and will remain, Google. This area is still (constantly) evolving so it’s worth keeping an eye on things.

Dependency Calculator

“In determining the risks involved in completing a publications project on time and on budget, some years ago my organization developed a simple assessment tool that we call a Dependencies Calculator.”

And oldie but a goodie. I developed something very similar at a previous company and after a few iterations it proved very valuable.

Requires Java.

Information R/evolution
Interesting little video that explores the continuing evolution of how we treat information. Simple and yet powerful and thought-provoking.

Sun Labs lightswitch

“I gave a talk at Sun Labs where I encountered a special light switch in one of their conference rooms. At first I thought it was some kind of silly “engineer” joke. But the light switch functions as stated for real.”

An excellent example of over documenting something rather than changing the design

Who am I?

“The biography is probably one of the most basic elements in a portfolio (what kind of website or blog doesn’t have an “about” page?) but can be one of the difficult. To this day, I still haven’t written one I’m 100% happy with. But hopefully with some different perspectives, it can be easier.”

I struggle with this kind of thing too, some good hints which should help improve things a little.

Writing for the Web
The website of the book that I’m now waiting on being delivered (gosh, what an ugly sentence).

PDF exploit in the wild
Sorry to end on a bum note, but something to note for those of you who, like me, distribute docs in PDF format. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as things are made out (but what ever is?).

[insert large cat themed title]

That is a “large cat” not a “large title” that is “cat themed”. Although that would work too I guess…

Mac owners the world over know that tomorrow sees the release of the most important new piece of software for sometime. Just after Apple have released record figures which see them now positioned as the largest PC hardware manufacturer on the planet, tomorrow should add to the current buzz.

Yes, that’s right, tomorrow will see millions of fans flocking to stores to get their grubby hands on Pro Evolution Soccer 7!!

I can’t wait. I’ve read all the reviews and it looks good… Sure it will look better if you are playing it on a PS3 or XBox 360 but hey, my little PS2’s doing fine thankewevewymuch.

OK. I confess, I too am intriguingly excited about the new version of Apples OSX. Codenamed Leopard the Mac websites have been banging on about this for a while now and, frankly, I’m glad it’s almost here because it is getting a little boring. For sure there are plenty of posts about preparing for an upgrade, what will be in the upgrade, what’s good about the upgrade, what’s bad about the upgrade, and so on, but geez give it a break!

In saying that, despite the wealth of information that has been published about Leopard there is one thing which hasn’t really been taken into account, at least not that I’ve seen. There are a large number of people who will be updating their version of OSX for the first time. Like me, there are a lot of new ‘switchers’ who have probably only recently gotten to grips with OSX, and got it all tweaked as they want. What of us ohh hallowed fanboy website?

From what I can tell, you can upgrade in situ, and nothing much should break. Or you can do a fresh install which will take you back to the default settings. I’m not sure if that wipes out user accounts as well, I guess it does.

I do have a list of the apps that I’ve installed, and kept, on my MacBook and we don’t keep files on it so, other than the odd file or two, there isn’t anything on it that either of us is particularly bothered about. A clean install is the mostly likely option. However I’ll probably hold off until later on, as I don’t really need any of the new functionality… mind you, I do have a trip towards the end of November, an ideal time to play with a new OS… hmmmm.

And, of course, there is no small amount of curiosity on my part. I’ve upgraded Windows machines all way through from 3.1.1 to Windows 95 (BETA), from 95 to 2000 (thankfully never from Windows Me), and from 2000 to XP. I don’t think I’ll ever be bothering with Vista. I’m keen to see how different the process is with the Mac OS as my experience with it suggests that it will be much smoother.

What about you, fellow Mac user, are you going to be upgrading? Have you upgraded before? If so, any hints or tips for us newbies? I

And slowly, it became right

Decluttering continues, hampered only by a sudden lack of interest. I’m not surprised of course, that’s how it always is with me, all excited and raring to go at the start before… meh.. apathy and distractions.

One of which has been catching up with the latest travelogue from Michael Palin. It’s been fascinating to learn more about parts of Europe which I knew of, but knew nothing about. It is a very quick look at the culture, politics and beliefs of Eastern Europe, but well worth a look. I may also be watching series 2 of Heroes, but that would be naughty and illegally so can’t possibly be true (although the mexican girl is kinda cute, huh).

I’ve also managed to fix this site, after upgrading WordPress left me error strewn and kinda hacked off. Not a very good show that. However, having originally installed WordPress in a sub-directory all I did was install it at the root, shift some plugins and my theme, et voila! All is working and I can maybe get on with some of the tweaks I had in mind (that fecking Sidebar for one thing).

The other blog is still taking some time mind you, and I’m still slowly building an audience. In saying that, the audience here isn’t that big, and took 6 years, or so, to build so I guess I shouldn’t be in so much of a hurry.

I’m still ripping CDs, only another 100 or so to go. It’s quite good fun actually, ‘rediscovering’ some old favourites and ‘discovering’ some gems I’d completely forgotten I’d purchased.

Right, I’ve got physio exercises to do, a little work to finish off (the downside of now working close to Louise is that I’m not curtailed by her working hours, but the upside MORE than makes up for that), and possibly another stab at Portal. I don’t play many games on the computer, but it’s quite catchy. The opening levels are easy, all of 20 mins to get to level 15, but I hear the last level is what it’s all about, so I’ll get to that point tonight before, hopefully, getting a reasonably early night (now where have I heard that one before?).

Google Docs

Make my living writing software documentation. There is, of course, much more to it than that, but that remains the bulk of the job. I also write as a hobby, both on this blog and on my other more personal blog. I also maintain a third website although that has been somewhat neglected recently (note to self: get the finger out!).

Suffice to say I write a lot.

In addition to that I have also adopted what is increasingly known as ‘web worker’ tendencies. As I work with, and on, computers it is simple enough to switch between different tasks, and the web is a key part of that working practise.

And the key part of that practise, for me, is Google Docs. The ability to import and export to Word, to easily maintain the content in relevant folders, and of course the ability to access and edit the content from any PC… well it’s almost a no-brainer.

But one thing that I’ve recently found useful, is the ability to share the documents, allowing others to view and edit them. Admittedly it was only between two people, but if you have a small team, or are working on a project that spans the globe (something that is increasingly common these days) then it’s worth having a look at Google Docs.

Vastus Lateralis

I have a weak vastus lateralis and a sore knee!

The physio lady was very nice, chatty, friendly and didn’t have cold hands at all. She was a complete bitch.

After some questions about how I got the injury and some gentle prodding and pushing of the area around my knee, she asked me to pull my toes back, tense the muscles in my leg, and lift it up off the bed. Standing to one side, she put one arm under my leg, just behind my knee, and told me to try and stop my leg from bending whilst she pushed down on the lower half of my leg.

After punching her repeatedly in the face she finally stopped.

Actually it wasn’t that bad, but my knee is noticeably sore, although she did warn me about that. During the initial questions I remarked that the pain was around a 3 or 4, but about 8 when the doctor pushed the sore bit. When I commented that, of course, that was what doctors do and she looked up from the chart she was scribbling on to warn me that “ohhh Physios are much worse”.

So, it turns out that because the muscle on the inside of my left knee isn’t as strong as it should be, then running has been ‘pushing’ my kneecap to and fro, which has caused the inflammation (the sore bit) and a little scar tissue under the kneecap. Strengthening the knee around that area should stop this from happening, so I have a couple of exercises to do until my next appointment.

Which is about what I expected, the exercises that is, not the weak muscle thing. That I can probably trace back to damaging my knee during a hike many many moons ago, and which still causes me to walk a little funny, which in turn is probably more pronounced when I run. It’s obvious when you think about it…

So, exercises from the physio will be added to the “soon to be started” regime of general core strengthening stuff, and possibly even a little pilates or somesuch. I won’t be going running any time soon, but when I do I want to be lighter, stronger and more flexible.

And I figure if I say it on here, then at the very least there will be an element of public shame if I don’t stick to said regime.

Now, pass the doughnuts. What? The diet starts TOMORROW…

Decluttery

Well I didn’t get half the stuff I’d hoped to get done but made a start at the “Big Declutter”. Two bin bags for the skip, one for the charity shop and I’m not even halfway through.

The whole thing has come about because of the big smile that now appears on the face of my wife. Now that I am no longer worrying about her state of mind I have had time to take a step back and take stock.

The year started well for us, a new job for me certainly got me more motivated professionally, and that new found enthusiasm rubbed off at home. I got more organised, more focussed and started some of those long standing little projects that every homeowner has, the kind of thing that isn’t a big job but just needs done, you know the sort.

It is amazing how the human mind works. At her previous job… well I don’t want to say to much, but let’s just say that I think things were going downhill a little (a dip at least) and the management didn’t really handle it all that well. But then, if you don’t realise that the people who work for you need to be encouraged, motivated and treated like adults, then you deserve all you get. Treating any employee like a child and then falling back on that age old “bad manager” trait of blaming things on one person (when is anything EVER the fault of one person?) whilst willfully ignoring the flaws of others and.. well I’ll stop there as it’s not really my place to say anything else (suffice to say that I was very closing to popping in to the office on more than one occasion).

Anyhoo.

So, with Louise now working for a company that appreciates her hard work and honesty, and returning home with a smile on her face, we are both taking this as an opportunity to start over… a little. First steps are to clear the house of unused and unneeded ‘stuff’, part of that includes finally ripping the rest of my CDs to MP3, and the rest of it will go to charity, onto eBay, or to the dump.

I quite enjoy this kind of thing, it can be hugely liberating clearing out drawers and possessions. Shelves will be tidied, cupboards re-arranged, and I might even have a go at clearing out the loft (rather than just shifting everything up there). I may also consider clearing out some books… but still not sure about that, that may be a step too far.