Month: August 2008

Cottier's Restaurant

Saturday night saw us out for a nice meal. It was a better meal than the one we had 12 years ago but the premise was the same.

We decided to head into Glasgow, so if the mood took us we could have a few drinks afterwards, however after a leisurely and delicious dinner we both agreed we’d just head home.

The restaurant is part of The Cottier, and is located in the top half of the old church. It’s a nice setting, for a homely restaurant that sits nicely between the more pretentious of Glasgow’s eateries and your standard pub grub.

The food was good even if the menu is rather restricted (only one kind of steak on offer), but a lovely bottle of Pinot Grigio made amends, as did the friendly service which, considering they were short staffed, was prompt. I guess I’d put it down as dependable choice, and £65 for the two of us (including the wine) gives as good an indication of the quality as I can convey.

In fact the only thing I can fault is the chairs. In keeping with the setting, the chairs in the restaurant are old chairs reclaimed from a church and, without any cushioning, a two hour meal was beginning to get a little uncomfortable.

It’s a little out of the road but has a bar on the ground floor so can happily be your one stop for the evening and, as it’s in the West End of Glasgow you get the usual eclectic mix of students and city types, with a nice relaxed atmosphere to go with it. Definitely somewhere I’d recommend for a nice relaxed dinner.

Thoughts on Interviewing

Several years ago I attended a management training course. It was largely a series of scenarios throughout which you had to apply the rules of the particular branch of management methodology to which we had ascribed.

It’s been a long time since I revisited those rules but by and large I’ve adapted them to match my personality and my own beliefs as to how a technical communications team should work. They are, as I’m sure you’ve probably realised, largely based around common sense and the knowledge that you are working with professionals. If you are not you are either working for the wrong company, or you hired the wrong people.

So, how do you hire the right person?

A quick search on the internet will return many thousands of results, featuring articles, training courses, recommendations and strategies. I’m not suggesting that my approach is better or worse than any but it’s worked well for me.

My guiding principle is not to treat an interview as an interrogation. It may sound obvious but I’ve been for interviews where you get sat across a desk from three or four interviewers who take turns in asking you very specific questions. This is fine for some roles but, particularly for technical communications, removes a lot of the value of the interview.

An interview is a conversation, during which you are trying to ascertain personality fit to your corporate culture and their abilities to fulfill the requirements of the job. The latter includes how they learn, how they communicate, how they think and plan what they are writing, as well as how they deal with challenges and adversity, and if they like pizza (an important factor in any software development office!).

That said, there is a structure that I follow and which I explain to the interviewee at the beginning.
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Some shops are evil

Tomorrow I am going into a city called Glasgow. Once there I will likely partake of a coffee from an American outlet known as Starbucks, and most likely wander around a variety of shops trying not to spend money (hey, I’m Scottish, shut up).

This activity is known as shopping. The key purpose of shopping is to visit shops with the aim of purchasing an item (or items) that you need. The items I currently need are some new shirts for work, and probably a new shirt to wear the following weekend when we attend a small party being thrown to celebrate the fact my sister got engaged (yay!).

The shopping activity is one I am familiar with but, over recent years I have fallen out of practise, preferring to purchase required items online and have them delivered to me. So, whilst shopping for everyday essentials is a fairly routine task, shopping for specific yet more ephemeric items is not something I’ve done for a while and I fear that, once I rediscover my latent shopping abilities, I will go mad with spending power and end up buying many unnecessary items.

The shirts for work I will buy somewhere cheap as they get heavy use. The shirt (outfit?) for the party will be bought somewhere a little more expensive as it’s for a special occasion. The logic here is, obviously, wrong. I should be spending more on the shirts I wear everyday as I should get better quality, longer lasting shirts that way, right?

One of the problems I have when shopping is when I’m not looking for something specific. By that I mean I’m not looking to go and buy THAT shirt, I’m just shopping for A shirt. This is when it’s just as well I shop by myself, as I tend to hold off making a purchase in case I see something I prefer elsewhere, typically returning to the first store I visited once I’ve exhausted all other options.

And with my spending abilities rediscovered, what happens if I spot a nice jacket, or perhaps a nice pair of shoes, neither of which I need but which may catch my eye? On my wanderings I may pass several different stores and it’s likely that, with my excited wallet jangling in my pocket, I will venture in “just for a quick look”, emerging sometime later with yet more books, CDs and other unnecessary items.

I must curb such urges!

Perhaps a list is required, a small amount of planning to ensure that I limit myself only to that which I need, and thus remove the temptation to spend. I do keep a list of items that I see here and there, so can pull from that if required, strictly adhering to the “do I really need this” rule which I am notoriously bad for following, I admit.

Regardless, I think a list will help. I will commit to buying only items on the list, and nothing else. I will be brave in the face of mounting pressure and stay strong and true to my goal! Yes! I can do this!!

On Saturday I will be purchasing:

  • A Grande Skinny Latte in Starbucks. No cake!
  • Three shirts for work.
  • A shirt to wear to the party.
  • A 24″ iMac.

Huh? That’s not right…

And so we get to the crux of the matter. I confess. Dear blog readers, despite the fact is has been open for over a year I have yet to set foot inside the Apple store in Glasgow.

Now, this is mainly because I’ve not been shopping in Glasgow for months, so haven’t had occasion to stop by for a gander, but that self same reasoning now works against me. For I will be in Glasgow on Saturday, I will likely have the ‘shoppies’ in full flow and, in horrible cunning move, there is a Starbucks outlet RIGHT ACROSS FROM THE APPLE STORE! (yeah, big surprise, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought all of this through. I don’t need an iMac and I certainly don’t have the money required to buy the one I’d want anyway so it’s a bit of a no brainer. Admittedly I quite fancy the super thin wireless keyboard but, price wise, that wouldn’t be all that bad in comparison.

Despite that, it felt a little like the stars were aligning and cosmic forces were coming into play, so I was steeling myself to ward off the demons (with the ingenious tactic of avoiding the area around the Apple store altogether) when the final blow was delivered.

“Are you going into Glasgow on Saturday? I’m going to get my hair done so take your time, have a wander. Ohhhh you could finally get to the Apple store…”

So, really, it’s not gonna be my fault. Right?

New eyes

Hiring new staff is fraught, and rightly so, as it’s likely to be the biggest ‘purchase’ you make for your company. I’ve conducted enough interviews that I’m fairly comfortable with the process, and have a good feel for when to press for more information and when to sit back and let the candidate sell themselves.

I may post more on how I conduct interviews later (anyone interested?) but as I am hiring right now I’ve started to think about the whole induction process, and how we can best get a new technical writer into the team and up to speed.

First of all there is the timing of these things. Rarely do you get the luxury of being able to streamline a new team member into the start of a release lifecycle, so you need to consider what they will be working and, possibly, whether you keep them out of the main stream of work until a new cycle begins. Like most departments we have a slew of ongoing tasks that are not directly related to new product development, and one of my favourite items to get a new start to tackle is the installation guide.

Typically, unless you are writing documentation for a very simple application, the initial setup and configuration of a product can be confusing. You may need to consider underlying platform choices, supporting applications, databases, connection protocols and so on, all of which the customer controls and which mean there isn’t often a common set of instructions.

There may be some initial configuration required before you can run the setup routine, and the choices made available may then impact what options are available later on in the process.

Ultimately it’s the trickiest thing to get right so my view is that a fresh set of eyes, belonging to someone who has yet to be inflicted with the curse of knowledge (that is, they don’t know anything about the product so don’t presume the audience will either), is ideal for reviewing and updating an installation guide.

Beyond that there are matters of tooling and procedures to be learned, as well as the general culture to be communicated and encouraged. I firmly believe the latter is the more important, tools and procedures can be learned over time, but fitting someone into an established culture, into the way we think and the way we tackle our work is far more important.

Arriving moments

As I stood waiting on my niece to walk through the sliding doors, I took in the scenes unfolding around me, a quiet bystander of life.

Around me people stood quietly waiting, tentative, excitedly patient, tensing with each noise, each footstep and the rolling trundle of baggage trolleys. Strange languages on either side couldn’t mask the the nature of small talk, the stilted chit-chat filling the last few moments.

Cameras whirr and click as friends and family embrace. A blonde haired girl drops her doll to the floor as she runs for her father, scooped in joyous arms, smiles bouncing off walls. Mobile phones are turned on and quizzed over by bemused faces, as gaggles of red tanned faces laughingly grasp hold of the last few moments of their holiday.

Laughter explodes over the growing din, handshakes and hugs are squeezed in over bags and suitcases, as a solitary man strides past it all, oblivious and sullen, determined in his gait as he has somewhere else to go.

These are the snippets I capture as I too am waiting, each quiet hiss of the sliding doors calls my gaze.

And then, as she almost walks right past me, there is my niece and I join in the throng of welcomes. A hug and kiss before we trundle off towards home.

Don’t be the secretary

I’m about to head into a two day, brainstorming style, workshop. I was invited along as there will be a lot of useful information flying around, and it’s the beginning of a new stream of work. I will spend the next two days with the people who know most about our product and have already made it clear that my presence will be participatory, not dictationary!

I was quite adamant about this, to the point of being slightly abrasive, as it’s something that happens a little too often. Whilst they may not realise it but asking a technical writer along to “take notes” is basically asking us to sit quietly in the corner and “write stuff”. Because that’s what we do, right?

Part of me gets really annoyed when this type of thing happens, but part of me realises that I probably do the same to other professions. What we, as technical writers, consider important is not the same as that of the developers or engineers and that will never change.

I’m happy that, when I was invited to the workshop on the premise of “taking notes”, it only took a quick chat to persuade the technical architect that what he really wanted from my presence was actually the main focus of the workshop. Whilst we will be reworking (prototyping) some code, it’s not anything we can use and so the bulk of the output from the two days will be in the form of guidelines and best practice information.

And that I can help with.

Can't Blog, Won't Blog

I should write up my thoughts on the Olympics as they are now over.

I should mention that I managed a 15 minute jog this morning.

I could write something about the cat.

I could write something about my sister’s engagement (party next week).

I could write about the Wii Fit we were given as a present on Friday night.

I could write up how old my Gran is looking these days, and how many memories it brings back of watching my Grandpa slowly fade.

I could publish the beginnings of a rather crap short story I’ve had sitting in draft for months.

I should ask if anyone knows the maximum dimensions for hand luggage on a Ryanair flight.

But I can’t, I won’t.

This may be the fault of Twitter – if I’m updating there I’m still getting my ‘communicate with people online’ fix out of the way – or it may just be because I can’t be arsed.

No, that’s not true. It’s not because I don’t want to but because I just can’t seem to get started on anything. I had hoped procrastinating on the topic may have helped but, alas, no.

Next week will be a busy one, both at work and at home, so don’t expect much from me here. Mind you, no doubt I’ll be twittering for Scotland. Catch me there.

The post with no title*

I was working at home yesterday as our car decided it was bored with it’s old brakepads and would quite like new ones please, and no it wouldn’t stop making that horrid grinding noise (which meant new rear discs as well, ouch).

I also had another physio session, more ultrasound and another lung-busting, leg shredding session on the “stepper”. After that, 30 squats with my heels raised whilst holding a medicine ball out in front of me was… interesting. I’m taking the approach that in the long term it will only make me stronger, right?

That aside I took advantage of working from home to run some lengthy backups of my home PC, and I also managed to update 3 WordPress blogs to version 2.6.1. As long as you haven’t hacked any of the core WP files the process is rather simple and only requires a few steps. All in, excluding upload time, it takes less than 5 minutes.

Last night we went to see The Dark Knight at the IMAX in Glasgow. It was quite something, some of the scenes are stomach-tiltingly awesome and the sound was loud enough to rumble your seat! As for the film itself, I thought it was excellent, a little drawn out but carried well. Needless to say Heath Ledger was the star, and I do wish they’d cast Maggie Gyllenhal in the first movie as well (way better than Katie Holmes).

And, finally, I updated my iPhone with the latest version of the software and, as before, it was a smooth and simple process. Admittedly they do seem to replace the ENTIRE operating system, meaning a 270-odd MB download, but I did read a few reports of people still having issues. It is certainly in the minority though, and to paraphrase a comment I read on this very issue “what the hell do you guys DO with your iPhones that you are continually having problems?”.

Or, to paraphrase a colleague of mine “sucks to be you!”.

* Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that this was originally posted with no title, and also that when I did add a title I used the word “tittle” instead. Which, apparently, one reader believes are “happy boobs”.

Lazynet iPhone request

Dear iPhone Developers,

This may exist already, but if it does I haven’t seen it. I’d really like an application that turns off all system sounds except the alarm clock between preset hours. If it could be activated when the iPhone is docked that would be even better, and finally if it could somehow keep the display turned on then that would be excellent!

You see I’d quite like to use my iPhone as an alarm clock.

Now, I can do that right now by setting an alarm but that means that I’ll still have email notifications playing. Of course I could turn them off every night, and back on in the morning again but that’s a little bit more hassle than is needed.

I also like having a clock next to the bed so that I know the time when I wake up, so keeping the display turned on would be great (especially if I can use the Digital Clock app).

Hmmmm, ok I think that’s it.

Ohh and yeah, I’d pay a couple of quid for this. Get to it!

Sincerely,

Gordon “Probably could build it himself but can’t be arsed” McLean