Month: November 2008

And so it continues

Last week at work was quietly manic and next week shows no sign of anything changing on that front. There is a big project on the go and, whilst it’s great to be involved in it from the very start, it does mean I am now juggling 4 or 5 different responsibilities. I know everyone else does this too, I’m really REALLY not complaining, in fact I revel in the additional pressure of it all. Turns out I’m quite happy when I’m busy.

Maybe that’s why I say YES to so many things.

It’s that need to be busy (I’m pretty sure it’s just that, not a need to be liked, or any form of acceptance seeking) which found me trawling, torch in hand, through various boxes in our loft this evening. It’s always a little memory trip, uncovering boxes of mementos and whatnot; 21st birthday cards, items we are storing for family even though we all know they’ll never ask for them back, my old (pre-internet) porn stash, some LPs and… what? Ohhh shit. No no, no porn stash at all.

Honest.

Crap.

My Mum reads this you know.. dammit.

ANYWAY.

So I’m brushing away cobwebs, blowing dust from boxes, certain that somewhere in the depths of the attic is the item I’m looking for. Took me about 15 minutes, three bumps on the head and one hearty thump across my back when I stood up beneath one of the roof beams, but I finally found.

My old cassette tape Walkman. Just hope it still works.

I’ve been asked to convert a tape to CD and, these days, the only means I have of performing such a feat is to hook up the Walkman to my PC, record it and then burn a CD of the result. Fingers crossed.

That aside, I’m taking a break from website design stuff for the month of December. I’m just polishing off the latest one, and have a questionnaire out to a potential client with a note saying that it’ll be January before I can start.

So, what on earth am I going to do with my spare time in December?

Ohh I’m sure I’ll find something to fill the time. Be it Pro Evo Soccer, getting through a backlog of books (more on that soon), or possibly finally tidying out my iTunes library (21,762 tracks = MUST STOP BUYING MUSIC!!). Mind you, the porch needs varnished, the living room could do with painting and the garden.. oh god, the garden needs some attention too… always fun in December.

All that and more will keep me busy and with a big grin on my face. So if I sound like I’m moaning please rest assured, I’m not. Not in the slightest.

Planning the big move

I’ve waffled on about single source and our plans for long enough so, as we are finally starting the process itself, I thought I’d capture some information as we go along. However, it’s probably good to set the scene, so I’ll cover that stuff first. Over time you’ll be able to see all the posts related to this work here.

With a most recent product release almost out of the door, our thoughts turn to the next few months and, finally, beginning to move our content to Author-it. During our weekly team meetings, and across several shorter planning meetings in the past months, we’ve covered most of what we think we need to have covered.

However, to be sure we’ve decided to have an entire day, locked away in a room, to go over the basics and properly plan the content migration. We have a provisional agenda but it’ll be a fairly open session for most of the time, as long as we can drive out actions I’ll be happy. I’ll be shifting my PC into a meeting room and running it on a large screen so we can actually try things out whilst we are there.

So far the agenda looks something like this:

  • recap the basics – what is reuse, what topic types do we have
  • EXERCISE – take a sample chapter and walk thru the import method
  • where will the imported topics live? (we have a structure, is it right?)
  • how do we handle maintenance of different versions of the guides?
  • EXERCISE – working practice – RID needs changed from 2.7 through to latest – how do we do that?
  • output templates – what do we need?
  • working with graphics – agree best practice
  • what import templates need to be created
  • who will import what?

The two exercises are there to help us troubleshoot any potential issues that may arise in everyday usage. We’ve already had discussions around topic types, the structure of the content within Author-it and I think we’ve covered everything but the main underlying aim of this day will be to flush out anything we’ve missed, or highlight any minor niggles that we aren’t aware of yet. Hopefully we can answer all of our questions (or at least understand the questions properly) and move forward from there.

Of course the REALLY big question is whether I bring in doughnuts or chocolate biscuits for the day…

Thank fuck

Contrary to popular belief, where “popular” refers to all my tens of readers and “belief” refers to the scant notion that any of you buggers have anything even approaching morals let alone a belief system, I am not completely brainwashed by our friends across the pond.

You know, them Merkin folk. The ones with the new president.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no hater of the United States of America but there is something about this thanksgiving holiday they have that irks me in a way not dissimilar to that feeling you get when you have a stone in your shoe but it’s raining so you can’t stop to remove it and have to plod on and on through puddles with a HUGE JAGGED ROCK slashing into your foot with every step.

Actually that’s not strictly true.

I mean the stone in your shoe thing is, despite the fact we all know that that stone is little more than a teeny tiny ickle pebble the damn thing feels huge and horrid when it’s creeping about in your shoe. That’s another thing that’s annoying about getting a stone in your shoe the way the stones will shuffle and move whilst you walk, making each step a little adventure. Well not an adventure so much as it gives you a slightly odd looking shuffling gait.

I think I’m getting sidetracked.

Ohh yes, Merkin Thanksgiving.

I realise it’s a big deal over there, really I do, but the entire world does not actually give a stuff(ing) about your holiday. I’m sure you are all over the pilgrims and indians and are thankful that you have the bestest celebrities in the world (evah!) but can you please keep the noise down? Whilst I am very thankful you have elected a new President, and doubly thankful that you chose Barack Obama, the rest of that nonsense you can keep to yourself.

This blog post is courtesy of having received three separate and unrelated emails from various Merkin companies, all wishing me a GREAT THANKSGIVING!!

Seriously. Fuck off.

Rube Goldberg

I always feel ridiculous when I put on the balaclava, but I know I must. I check my appearance in the mirror and a man in black from head to toe stares back at me. Hey, I think, at least I look the part. I yank the balaclava off and stuff it in my pocket for later.

I walk over to the table at the other side of the room, not a huge journey in such a cheap hotel, and check that I have everything I need, ticking each item off against my mental itinerary just as I’ve been trained. I remember all the drills clearly and trust that instinct will guide me should the need arise. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves I slowly fill the pockets of my jacket.

As I leave the room I pause before the mirror for one final check, one final deep breath and I know that I am ready, know that all that training will come to the fore, know that my first mission will be a success. Confidently I throw open the door and head for the rendezvous area.

I’ve surveyed the area for the past week and know the best entry and exit points. I know which cameras are where and what time the guards do their rounds. I’ve done my planning, nothing can go wrong. The adrenalin begins to course through my veins.

Twenty minutes later I gently swing myself down from a high window, landing softly on the balls of my feet, hidden behind stacks of empty boxes. I’m in the grand hall, a huge space with high ceilings that feels empty and bereft of life.

Checking my watch I wait for the guard to pass, still amazed at how lax the security detail is for such an important occasion. Then I remind myself that the security guards don’t care, not enough anyway. If it were my company we’d use our own people not hire in some part-timers, but then we know what is at stake and the price that will be paid for failure.

Crouched there I think back to my first encounter with the company, the quiet man at the celebration party who waited until I was alone to approach me, a congratulatory handshake was offered (it was my first world record) and accepted before he outlined the big picture, outlined just how much is resting on these events and why his company, my company, had to come out on top, had to be the ones with the upper hand. He stressed the seriousness of it all and I was soon converted.

There had always been a nagging doubt in my mind and I was quick to realise what a pawn I’d been. So keen had I been on placing the bones, stacking the stones, playing the game, that I hadn’t considered the implications. All the while I’d been concentrating on the details, steadying my hand, meticulous in my preparation. Ohhh how blind I’d been!

Footsteps pull me from my thoughts and I ready myself. I have precious seconds in which to make my move, but it is time enough unless something goes wrong. The guard walks past, whistling a nothing tune, and as he pulls the door closed behind him I slowly move out from the shadows.

Standing now I survey the scene before me, the floor is almost full, patterns ripple here and there, climbing stairs and bridging gaps. It take it all in and a tinge of sadness colours my view. I know what all of this took, I know the pain and sweat that has already passed, I know too the tears that will come but I cannot be deterred.

Carefully I step through the patterns, each foot placed slowly and carefully in the gaps. The pattern is etched in my mind and soon I’m in there, at the place where it all starts and ends. I’m still surprised that such a flaw exists for I know how painstaking the preparation will have been, diverts and errors are usually accounted for, and it seems a glaring omission for them to have left such an opportunity. A ripple of panic brings sweat to my brow. Surely it can’t be this easy? Is it a trap?

I know it’s not, I know the analysis of the design was thorough and I oversaw the simulations myself, I know that here, at this very point, this very piece holds the key to the entire pattern. The fulcrum on which power will tilt.

Slowly I bend and gently, ohhh so gently, I reach down and grasp the piece between forefinger and thumbfingers, easing it slowly out of place until it is free. I rests in the palm of my hand, such a small and fragile thing to hold such power. I stare down at it, amazed that after all this time it has come down to this. I feel like a god, ultimate power in my hand, the power to end it all. A flicker of doubt is passed off as guilt.

With my other hand I pull a small tube from my jacket pocket, unscrew the lid with my mouth and after a short pause to savour the moment, I gently squeeze out a thin line of superglue across the short flat side of the piece in my hand. I seal the tube, place it back in my pocket and check the line of glue. Perfect.

Slowly I bend and gently, ohhh so gently, replace the domino at the centre of the display.

There, I think, that’ll stop them.

Not today

Slowly the words start to form, floating through ether he edits them as they fall into place. Soon he has the beginnings of… something… he’s not quite sure what though. He’ll know better when he sits down in the pale glow of the monitor and submits to the rhythm of the keyboard. He’s been here before and written about this before as well, and he knows that it doesn’t matter where you start just that you do.

Stories are everywhere but equally he finds himself leaning away from personal introspection, away from the humdrum of everyday life, preferring to toy with the cadence of whimsy to see what it might divulge.

I am the walrus. Nonsense and frivolity, sound more important than meaning. Goo goo ka choo.

When there is nothing to write about, why write? To keep the habit going of course, and because sometimes the act has more meaning and power than the outcome. The reasons making themselves apparent with each letter, each peck of the keyboard, fingers failing to keep up as his brain as it plows onwards, always two steps ahead.

Of course, sometimes it fails. Sometimes the words will flow but fall unneeded, scattered on the page, unloved and discarded. The odds are against them. No army of monkeys on typewriters to summon Shakespeare, McGonagall peerless in this company.

With a sigh he pauses. The pause grows from seconds to minutes, minutes to hours, and on it grows, days in the making, heavy with unmet potential. He admonishes himself for writing this way again but there is little else floating to the surface.

Perhaps tomorrow.

Not today

Slowly the words start to form, floating through ether he edits them as they fall into place. Soon he has the beginnings of… something… he’s not quite sure what though. He’ll know better when he sits down in the pale glow of the monitor and submits to the rhythm of the keyboard. He’s been here before and written about this before as well, and he knows that it doesn’t matter where you start just that you do.

Stories are everywhere but equally he finds himself leaning away from personal introspection, away from the humdrum of everyday life, preferring to toy with the cadence of whimsy to see what it might divulge.

I am the walrus. Nonsense and frivolity, sound more important than meaning. Goo goo ka choo.

When there is nothing to write about, why write? To keep the habit going of course, and because sometimes the act has more meaning and power than the outcome. The reasons making themselves apparent with each letter, each peck of the keyboard, fingers failing to keep up as his brain as it plows onwards, always two steps ahead.

Of course, sometimes it fails. Sometimes the words will flow but fall unneeded, scattered on the page, unloved and discarded. The odds are against them. No army of monkeys on typewriters to summon Shakespeare, McGonagall peerless in this company.

With a sigh he pauses. The pause grows from seconds to minutes, minutes to hours, and on it grows, days in the making, heavy with unmet potential. He admonishes himself for writing this way again but there is little else floating to the surface.

Perhaps tomorrow.

And so I'm back… *

Back less than a day and already my calendar is filling up. Hey, it’s not my fault I’m popular. Right?

In the week I was gone not a lot happened really, the holiday was good but nothing to write home about, so I didn’t. That plus the fact that we’d have been home before any postcard arrived. Suffice to say that there was a lot of sitting around in the sun, a few meals out (including one gorgeous fillet steak that I struggled to finish and cost all of … £14? would’ve cost me at least £20 here…) and I chipped into the Spanish economy as best I could via the golden nectar that is San Miguel (which shouldn’t really be drunk outside of Spain… nor sober for that matter…).

I read Casino Royale on the plane on the way over (it’s only a couple of hundred pages) and quite enjoyed it. Very old fashioned now but still quite exciting. Then I tackled Watchmen which was very good and has only whetted my appetite for the movie all the more, then it was two very forgettable Grishams (The… summat or other…) left their by, probably, my sister-in-law, then the last Ian Rankin, saying farewell to DI Rebus (perhaps). On the plane on the way home I rifled through The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett, largely because I’m a big geek and these things interest me (if they interest you too give it a look, it’s a smart book).

Alas I didn’t get to listen to much in the way of music because the cable I took over to charge the iPod Nano wouldn’t charge my iPhone! I’m guessing that’s because my Nano is 4 years old and the cable specifications have changed but… no music for a week!! Agony. Still it did mean I had more quiet times in which to contemplate… well.. all sorts of everything and plenty of nothing.

It was all very relaxing if I do say so.

Which I do.

In fact I just did. Do pay attention.

In other news… there is no other news!

How the hell are you anyway? What ya been up to? Anything new with you? Any revelations? (aside from John Sargeant leaving Strictly obv.) Come on, what was THE defining blog moment in the past 7 days?

* I missed Ohrwurm Wednesday on Twitter ya see…

Camtasia

Back from a week in Spain (weather was lovely, as was the cerveza and tapas!) I’ve taken some time to look into some suggestions for screen recording.

Part of the developer community website we have was always aimed at providing online video tutorials showing the latest features. However we’ve had acres of issues getting these produced. The recording usually goes ok but editing them and getting them into a format that is acceptable for the website seemed to be causing us problem after problem.

Having checked out all three suggestions, Wink, Demobuilder and Camtasia Studio I have to admit (and you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post) that Camtasia Studio blew me away. It’s a very slick piece of software, brilliantly designed to lead you further into the complexities it CAN offer without dazzling you with options the frist time you fire it up.

One of the best features, the one that took me by surprise, is called SmartFocus. As you click around the screen it zooms in appropriately and only, rarely, missed a beat in the few demo recordings I took. It’s very impressive, and once you get into editing the recordings, splitting them up, adding transitions, captions, callouts… well I’m sold. As will my company very soon (the purchased order has been raised).

Thanks to all for their suggestions.

If you are looking for a very simple and quick way of recording a screen demonstration (I’ve run up to about 30 minutes without issue) then go download the Camtasia Studio demo copy. You can try it for 30 days and if you are in the market for software like this then definitely give it a look.

Hell, if you have 30 minutes free, download it, install it, record something and watch the playback. You’ll probably start to wonder what you COULD use it for in the future…

Note: I’m not being paid for this, just the opinion of a very impressed first time user.

Versions

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. I’m not sure if I’m about to completely humiliate and embarass myself. Or (I hope) this is another one of those things that everyone else does but that we just don’t talk about.

No, not picking your nose…

I adapt who I am depending on who I am with.

The most obvious change is when I’m in a heavily alpha male environment, where I become a lot louder, more forceful and laddish (aka “non-politicially correct) behaviour is not only pushed to the fore but heavily encouraged and instigated.

In less intimidating surroundings I become the joker, eager to make people laugh, possibly eager to gain some level of acceptance (still not sure about that one) and tend to come off as confident, self-assured and a bit cheeky but likeable. Yes, it helps that I’m really REALLY cute.

Those ladies that have met me can feel free to back that claim up in the comments. Or not.

Not you though, Mother.

In the company of close friends I become a little more introspect, and probably closer to my true self. I have nothing to prove and I’m happy that my friends accept me and my faults, as I accept theirs. Although there is always the nagging feeling that they have fewer faults than I.

Then we get to the version of me that few have seen, only a select few are allowed through that door and even then I do tend to tidy up the first few times they visit. After that I tend to start to care less about the appearance back there and at that point you are as close to the true me as is possible.

Finally, there is me. The me only I see and consider, the me that thinks things but never utters them, the me that knows when to shut up and when to push forward. That version of me is ME. My core, my centre, my very being. I don’t understand that version of me all that well, I am still learning all of the foibles, fissures, and flaws that barely scratch the surface.

Oddly enough the older I get the happier I am to let that version of me exist as it wants, no longer do I try to sway and coax it towards the me I think I want to be for, as should be obvious by now, even I don’t know which version of me I want.

To say that there are distinct versions of me is, of course, complete nonsense. Instead the various traits can be found everywhere, manifesting themselves where they aren’t expected. The quiet version of me can still be loud and laddish, the cheeky version of me can be still and introspective.

There is no version of me, I am consistently flawed. Each version can be selfish and compassionate, thoughtless and kind, harsh and tender all at once. Each version breathes with the next, changes with each heartbeat, and remains mercilessly unaware. I am inconsistent, there is no version of me.

Because they must

A couple wander through quiet streets and in the darkened night of early winter a storm creeps in overhead. The wind dashes leaves and litter against buildings, rattles them off glass, heralding the change. Swirling eddies race each other across puddles and fingers of icy cold wriggle through gaps in clothing.

They pull their jackets tighter, clinging to each other in warm embrace. They should be inside, they know, but on they walk. Braver now than before, happier and content with each other, relishing raw emotions that still sting as pellets of rain splatter their faces. They knew this was coming, they knew the forecast, but still found themselves eager to be outside. Neither fully understand why but press on if only to remain on the journey.

For the briefest of moments the wind changes direction but soon returns, probing down necklines and through buttoned down coats. It is a strange night to be out in the cold, in the wind and rain that seems determined to invade their every moment but, for now, they don’t care. It is a simple journey, complex by turn, easy to see but hard to navigate, so on they walk, avoiding puddles as best they can and all the while holding each other tight, fearful a gust of wind will snatch the other up into the night, into the dark and beyond.

They utter no sound, offer no competition to the howling of the wind or the constant snare of rain. They are mute with no need to repeat words once spoken, preferring to remember in the hope that memory will lead the way. On they walk.

The rain is heavy now. He pulls his collar tight as she turns and leans into him, closer still, stepping before him, taking her turn to lead the way.

A sudden flash blinds them as a car races past, slick tyres slice through puddles to offer a glance at the road beneath the water, but the tide turns quickly and soon the surface is scarred by jagged lashes.

They wander through the roaring streets, through the explosions in the air that scatters rain and leaves all around them. They should be inside, they know.

But they’d rather be here.