Year: 2008

The average man

He wanders through the streets, past the gentle glow of the houses, under dark and slanting drizzle. He has no purpose, no destination, and can barely remember where he started but this is all he knows, this is his life, his motion. He hunches forwards as another car drives past, plucking the droplets clustering on the edge of his hood and shining them like jewels.

His motion is fluid and organic as he ambles over the pavements, lightly stepping on cobbles and kerbs. He has been here before, he knows, been round this place more than once. He knows it well, too well perhaps, but like an old friend he enjoys the comfort it brings, the familiarity that makes it all too easy to slip into this place one more time.

A break in the clouds above and spears of light arrow down and smash into puddles. He pauses, splashed by scattered light, bathing in the warm glow of the rain, capturing every detail that he can. Processing them quickly in a vain hope of capture, knowing that few will remain with him but one or two will penetrate deeply enough to stick. Moments of beauty to add to the collection, fractured and precious he holds them dear. The very phrase echoes of her.

Almost as soon as they part the clouds start again to weave together, a blanket of gloom restored, drenching all beneath it.

Off he goes once more, without direction. Something that is neither required nor sought, instead he trusts he will find his own way. He has been lost before and found his way back.

The streets are quieter now and he fills his head with sound, pulling memories of pain and pleasure (never pleasure and pain) to keep him on track. Other times his head remains empty with nothing but the dull echo of his thoughts to keep him company.

Ye olde blog

OK, perhaps if I head back to some previous “unblocking” techniques I might be able to kick start my blogging mojo.

Remember when Referrer Searches were all the rage? Back when we all suddenly discovered that our blogs were being indexed by something called “Google” (weird name…) and that meant we could see how people came to find our blogs? Those were the days, eh!!

So, aprop… ohh I’ve done that…

So, without further ado here are the top 12 search referrals (slightly filtered):

  1. gordon mclean
  2. itunes stuttering
  3. my mother is an idiot
  4. how to make a cup of tea
  5. how to kung fu withdraw testicles
  6. jamie bulger email
  7. 37signals apps
  8. monitor rss start torrent
  9. recipes for chicken with red pesto
  10. one mans blog.com
  11. voyeuer nature
  12. mrmen

To be fair, there are multiple variations on “red pesto chicken“, as well as “iTunes stutter“, and “how to make tea” but they fail to knock a good old ego search off the top of the list. And no, it’s not me googling myself… honest.

I should also apologise, again, to my mother for calling her an idiot, and I should point out that I no longer use ANY of the 37signals apps that I seemed to be so bothered about last year.

And, finally, I have NO idea how to “kung fu withdraw testicles” but it sure sounds like something that would come in handy… at some point… if my testicles were under threat I mean…

I think I’ll stop there.

Now, what should I do for my next post?

Calling All Scottish Technical Writers

(OK, mainly aiming at West of Scotland)

Following a recent discussion about ISTC local area groups, a few of us based in the West of Scotland have decided to try to set up a local group.

Our first meeting will be on Thursday 15th January 2009. If you work in the area (or further away), please come along to meet other writers and talk about technical writing.

We’ll meet at 7 p.m. in the offices of Sumerian in Glasgow city centre, at 19 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4BG. Tea & coffee provided.

If you plan to come along, please email me so we can get a rough idea of how many writers might be attending:

gordon [DOT] mclean AT gmail [DOT ] com

(if you can figure out the email address you are allowed to attend 😉 )

Now, what on earth will we talk about??

Apropos of… something..

I am not out shopping today. Mainly because I do most of my shopping online. That and the fact that we have a night out tonight and Louise is already off out to get her hair done so I’m stuck in the house unless I fancy walking…

This moment I’m sitting on the sofa, the TV is tuned to… some food channel it seems… and there is a fresh pot of coffee gurgling away in the kitchen. I’m wondering what to have for lunch, but might wait until later as I slept in so still not that hungry.

I’ve checked my email, updated Twitter, purchased a new app for my iPhone (Speed Dial, going cheap today, looks great) and a soaking wet cat has just come in so I’d better finish this and go dry him with a big fluffy towel.

I say all of this as it seems I’m projecting a version of me here that isn’t really me. I’m not a nasty person who shouts at women pushing their babies in prams. I did it once, felt bad for it and recounted the tale here with a view to pitch it as something that wasn’t very nice but was possibly a little funny in a dark kinda way that maybe others would relate to.

I’ve said this before, so let me repeat. I am not this blog. I am not the person you’ve met in the pub once or twice. But I’ve said this before, quite recently.

Perhaps I’ll stop blogging about me. Perhaps, as I’ve changed, I need to change what I write here. Perhaps the coming year will be different. This blog has changed over the past year, and will, of course, continue to change in the future. However, this is the first time that I’ve been aware of the change myself. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels forced, and that means that it’s no longer just a fun hobby, it’s now, whilst not a chore, certainly something that I have to think twice about.

I’m not entirely sure, but this has been building for a while so, I guess, consider yourself forewarned. This blog is changing…. somehow… for some reason… roll on 2009?

Consistency of message

My role in our company isn’t strictly defined so, outside of my work with the Publications team that I head up, I also get involved with other areas of the company either because I can help, or because there is a vested interest. That brought about the creation of our development community website and more recently has seen me involved in a company wide information project.

The main aims are to provide a consistent set of information to our customers, throughout their relationship with us. So from initial contact right the way through to rollout and future upgrades, we will have a coherent set of information that is updated accordingly and a clear idea of how it will all be communicated to the customer.

This is one of those ideas I’ve long had so it’s exciting to get something like this in place, agreed and set in motion. We are lucky in that we are still a small enough group that we tackle something like this without a huge amount of overhead, although obviously the main reason we are doing this is to help us be more successful.

The model itself is simple, with 4 layers of information:

  1. Marketing Information
  2. Business Sales Information
  3. Technical Sales Information
  4. Reference Information

In the real world the layers are not distinct, but by and large the model should help people understand what they should be writing, and what they can re-use across a variety of documents.

Naturally all of this will impact on the technical documentation, with many of the Business Sales level content helping us answer the question ‘Why would I want to use XYZ?’. It’s likely we will share a lot of information with the Technical Sales layer (architectural overviews and the like) but the bulk of work will remain the creation of reference information about our product and its capabilities.

We are still tweaking things, and will continue to do so into the New Year, but the very fact that we’ve started to adopt this approach is half the battle.

The war, of course, continues!

Shopping mode activated

No, not online.

In real life.

With all the mentals.

The fear is already starting to build, deep in the pit of my stomach, a dull nervousness that refuses to leave. Soon I will be out there, blinded by the glare, dazzled by the tinsel and fairy lights and surrounded by a throng of buffoons.

I’m not sure if that is the correct collective term, and frankly I’m still not sure why there are so many of the buggers wandering about the shopping centre. Shouldn’t they be… I dunno… in Africa? Gibraltar?

I have developed tactics to deal with such occasions (they are rare), one of which is to constantly remind myself that you only need an IQ of 23 to be able to breathe and walk. Not that I think everyone is an idiot, far from it, there will be many people who are far worse.

However there will always be a smattering of the usual culprits around. You know them I’m sure, the random changers of direction, those who block the stairs to chat to their mates, and the worst of all the sudden stoppers. Such are the selfish, thoughtless morons.

I usually cope by taking many deep breaths and being efficient, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, one time, I cracked.

It was several years ago and we were in Milton Keynes shopping centre. If you don’t know it, it’s a large shopping centre that is, essentially, a couple of big long ‘streets’. Not sure of the size but you can probably see for about half a mile in either direction.

It’s very busy and as we leave a shop we turn left and start walking to the next planned shop. About 100 metres away is a woman. She is walking towards us pushing a buggy. Whilst she is walking she is bent over, talking to the baby in the chair. Obviously she must own this part of the shopping centre and it is I who is trespassing… right?

Regardless we both continue to walk towards each other, a collision on the cards, closer with every step. I’m slowly counting to 10, waiting for her to lift her head and see me.

About 4 metres short I finally crack, stop dead in my tracks and say, firmly, politely and loudly,

“EXCUSE ME!!”

The woman jerks to a halt, stands bolt upright and stares at me, her mouth flaps open, then shuts again. I can see she wants to say something but, wisely, she doesn’t.

I glare back and stride off past her, muttering and seething.

Gosh, I’m really looking forward to going shopping.

The festive period

December the 24th is Christmas Eve. I mention this not as a startling revelation but because it’s the first of eleven days that I have off work. So if I discount the 25th and 26th of December, as well as the 1st of January as I’m Scottish and by law we are not allowed to go to sleep until at least 4am on New Year’s Day, I have approximately 8 days or so with nothing planned.

That will, of course, change.

I reckon, if I’m generous with my estimates, I’ll have five or six days to myself. I’ll say five just to be on the safe side.

That’s five whole days in which I can, within reason, do what I want. Watch some old movies, play some games, read a book, generally chill out. That kind of thing. Five days is a lot of time, so let’s presume I do some chores around the house as well, a little decorating or general DIY bodgery.

Yes, I could get a lot done in five days and I have to admit I’m looking forward to the time off as it’s been manic these past few weeks and whilst it’s probably partly because the holiday is getting closer, I’m definitely feeling a little ‘punchy’. Yes, five days is plenty to recharge the batteries all the better to start the new year afresh.

Except we all know what’ll happen.

Person X will decide to pop over and that’ll turn into dinner, which’ll turn into tidying up, shopping for food, preparation, entertaining and finally punting them out the door sometime before midnight.

Person Y will suggest that we could go out for a meal and a movie, which’ll turn into a late afternoon meal, a movie, then drinks and we’ll get home sometime after midnight.

Person Z will phone and ask us over for dinner, or just to see if we are going to visit and that’ll turn into “well if we are seeing Z, we could go and see Y and if we are seeing Y we are as well staying over with X” which means that we’ll need to prepare, pack an overnight bag and leave early morning, getting home sometime later the next day.

And before you know it it’s Sunday the 4th of January, 2009, I’m back to work the next day and I’ve not done anything that I’d hoped to do and I’m probably more stressed than I was on Christmas Eve.

It’s the same every year.

So, this year, I’m not planning to do nothing, and I’m not planning to do everything, instead I’m expecting to be busy most days and to make the most of the moments inbetween.

P.S. Persons X, Y and Z are interchangeable and do not, in any way, correlate with members of my family (immediate or otherwise) or any of my friends. Honest.

The butterfly

Flitting about, directionless but constantly in motion. The briefest of pauses, touchdown then takeoff. Another direction, different from the last, is explored and ignored in the almost the same instant. Nothing permanent, nothing sticks, everything else is more interesting, nothing is interesting.

He closes his eyes. Dark folds in around him and his breathing slows. Seconds merge with days and soon he is out the other side once more. Emerging from the tunnel he blinks and casts around for the next thing to hold him, the next moment that will steer him to the shore to crash on the rocks. The sun splits through the sky and beyond he sees the stars and planets of another place, the twinkling of headlights on a frosty road.

The pattern of ice and snow is worn, recently trod and familiar. He chooses the other path because that is what he does, looks the other way and decides once more. He does not dare to be different, but he strives for it, constant in his desire to remain in motion. Flittering and directionless.

And then, suddenly, he stops.

And is still.

Is calm.

The sun rises on the new day and all around him everything has changed.

The butterfly

Flitting about, directionless but constantly in motion. The briefest of pauses, touchdown then takeoff. Another direction, different from the last, is explored and ignored in the almost the same instant. Nothing permanent, nothing sticks, everything else is more interesting, nothing is interesting.

He closes his eyes. Dark folds in around him and his breathing slows. Seconds merge with days and soon he is out the other side once more. Emerging from the tunnel he blinks and casts around for the next thing to hold him, the next moment that will steer him to the shore to crash on the rocks. The sun splits through the sky and beyond he sees the stars and planets of another place, the twinkling of headlights on a frosty road.

The pattern of ice and snow is worn, recently trod and familiar. He chooses the other path because that is what he does, looks the other way and decides once more. He does not dare to be different, but he strives for it, constant in his desire to remain in motion. Flittering and directionless.

And then, suddenly, he stops.

And is still.

Is calm.

The sun rises on the new day and all around him everything has changed.

Versioning in Author-it

One part of the agenda for our day long “Author-it day” was to consider how we would handle multiple streams (versions) of documentation.

As well as major versions of the documents (3.x) that continue to move forward, we also keep up with changes to maintenance releases (3.x.x). The overhead isn’t too bad, we rarely have to make changes for a maintenance release, but we do need to have the capability to do so and this is where we hit a stumbling block.

Author-it offers the ability to version an object (a book or topic for example). You can have multiple versions of an object but only one can be active. So, originally, our thinking was to create the first (in Author-it) version of each Book and then use the basic “1-up” versioning provided by Author-it.

However, when running through a quick demo of such a system, it became apparent that whilst that model works for major releases (X.x) when you consider the occasional maintenance release (X.x.x) then, very soon, your folders become cluttered with a myriad of versions of objects, none of which are easily identifiable to a particular product version.

So, our solution will be to duplicate objects (copy) to a new version specific folder.

We are switching to Author-it just in time for a new major version of the product line. This allows us to import ALL our existing content as 3.0. From that point onwards each major version will kick off with the duplication of all the Book objects (remember, a book is just a collation of topics for output). Then any topics that change, or are added, for that version will be duplicated (copied) and moved to the new version folder.

Clunky? A little. Manual? Completely. But it’s the only way we can manage our versioning process without ending up with a mess of versioned objects.

Unless, of course, we’ve missed something very obvious.