Month: March 2009

Death of a tear

It was a quiet tear. Formed and full of pain as it silently glided down an already slick cheek. Blurry eyes and tightened throat the only acknowledgement of the source. There is no sound, no drama, but each one is noticed as it emerges, followed on its path, and grieved for when gone. There is no other sign, just tear after tear after unwiped tear.

Elsewhere the laughter echoes, proudly proclaiming the joy and release of itself. A booming noise of resonant depth, infectious and heartfelt. Tear after tear after tear are removed with a rough sweep of the hand. Forgotten in an instant as the laughter continues.

Other tears form unwanted, fought back through rage and determination. Caught in their birth moments and crushed defiantly. Aborted in anger. Smeared on the back of palms, a momentary lapse.

And there, in the black, where the tears flow freely, where they rush and tumble in their hurry, cheered on by gulping, choking and wretched cries, the tears willingly sacrifice themselves. Valiant and brave they take what they can with them, their silvery beads clinging to grief as it smashes to the ground, engulfed in the puddles.

Pity not the quiet tear, the sadness and heartache that it holds should not be despised or ignored, chastised or feared. The quiet tear is true, is alive and vivid and beautiful. For only the quiet tear exists purely to exist.

Clock watching

I woke at… well… I think it was about 6.30am on Sunday. I went downstairs, fed the cat, put some coffee on and made some breakfast before settling down to watch the Australian Grand Prix coverage. I was recording it because it started at 6 am, not a time I usually see on a Sunday morning, and so I could skip through the adverts (go on, admit it, you spent the first hour waiting for them too, didn’t you).

It was about 7 am when I sat down in front of the TV and pressed PLAY. As ever, the recording included a few minutes of the previous programme, BBC News 24. Viewers of that programme will know that part of the on-screen information, permanently in view, is a clock.

And they’d forgotten to change the time! The BBC!! Terrible! Honestly, what do I pay my license for if they can’t even remember to change a clock. What is this country coming to?! Look at it, 5.58am! It’s not!! It’s 6.58am ya numpties!

Ohhhhhh.

Dammit.

In my defense it was very early, and I hadn’t had any caffeine.

*tweak*

Just a quick note, for those in RSS land, and for those not, although less so for you as you (I hope) have already spotted what I’m about to mention. I did, finally, update the banner a little and add a splash of colour too. If you aren’t seeing any changes, please refresh your browser (press the F5 key on your keyboard or CTRL+F5 (PC), CMD+F5 (Mac)).

I’ve also updated my other websites appropriately (here, here and here).

That’s all.

Told you it was a quick note.

Designing websites

As well as my full-time job, in my spare time I also design and build websites. It’s something which fits well with my skillset as a technical communicator, and allows me an insight into the world of development as well and has mirrored my career every step of the way.

The first company I worked for sent me on a training course to learn how to create web pages and, since then (13 years ago), I’ve continued to follow the trends and techniques involved. I’ve been through using tables for layout, to the introduction of frames, the launch of Internet Explorer and the first release of CSS.

The parallels between the theories of technical communications and those of web design are very similar, the key aim is to keep the audience in mind at all times. The way you structure and present the information is also important, as is a sense of usability of the content itself.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a fairly constant stream of web design work, largely by word of mouth, and have just finished chatting with another potential client. Part of my approach is to ask to have a questionnaire filled in, largely to help me understand the requirements for the website, as well as to have something to focus the initial conversations around.

Two of those questions are:

  1. Who will be using your website? What is the intended/current audience?
  2. Does your current website meet the needs of your audience? If not, why not?

Which, as I’m sure many of you will already have realised, is exactly the kind of questions we, as technical communicators, should be asking ourselves on a regular basis.

Spring forward

A small reminder to everyone in the UK to remember to put your clocks forward by one hour tonight. Officially you should do this at 1am but making sure your alarm clock is done before you go to sleep is probably all you need worry about until tomorrow.

It’s yet another sign, alongside the buds on the cherry blossom I can see from the window as I type this blog post, that spring is coming.

And that means, once again, the war against our garden begins.

Yes yes, we should’ve been out there already but in a trend similar to last year, every weekend we find ourselves at home and with free time, it’s been raining. We do keep saying that we should go out of an evening and do a few bits and bobs then but given that we leave the house at 7am, and don’t get back in until around 6.20pm most evenings then.. yeah the first priority is usually dinner.

This year we have the porch to re-varnish, the fence to paint (both sides of the garden) and that’s at a minimum. We have other plans but they constantly change and, to be frank, we are still fighting the years of neglect the garden had before we moved in.

When we bought the house the thinking was that we would enjoy being out in the garden, and sitting out of a summers evening but so much has changed since then that it just hasn’t come about that way. We’ve slowly been chipping away at the neglect inside the house but, as yet, we aren’t in a position where we could sell it without investing more money. Not that we are planning to sell up, but given the current climate I’d much rather be in a position to be able to, than be in the position of having to do more work.

So, the chore that is the garden will need to be tackled, it really must. Really. Must. I mean I should stop typing, get up and at least spend an hour or so today, whilst it’s dry and before we head through to visit family. I should. I must. I will.

Just let me go reset my alarm clock first…

One Man Tales

“Once upon a time”, it says, in that time honoured tradition of old and so our story begins.

The story tells the tale of a man making his way through life. The man meanders his way along the path of his choosing, though he is only occasionally aware that he chose it, and most of the time his travels are accompanied by a sense of carefree naivety which he happily acknowledges but secretly and quietly despises.

In this tale we learn about the man, or at least the parts of his life that are featured. We learn about his troubles, his happiness, his moments of madness and fragments of beauty. We read odd glimpses that make no sense, and delve into the infinite detail of his soul. The tale has no direction to speak of nor does it care where it is headed for this, like many other tales, does not yet know when, where, or how it will end.

The threads of construction weave tightly, characters come and characters go, and all the while the man of the story maintains. Occasionally we are allowed glimpses of what the man thinks, and the narrative arc builds and ebbs, constantly teasing us with snippets of truth, spiderweb strands of life.

The man invites you to join him in the story but warns you that even he, the main character, is unsure of what you may find. He offers no explanation or reasoning of what may unfold, and he certainly doesn’t consider his story an interesting one. All he knows is that, apparently, he is one man who is driven to tell tales.

And, with a doff of his cap, he humbly asks you to join him.

In other words, I’ve launched a new blog, this one dedicated to the more fictional writing that I occasionally post here. I’ve copied all of the posts that are listed in the Writing category here, over to the new website.

The plane

The sky slowly darkens as the sun dips behind the clouds and the windows of the plane slide to grey. Whisps of air stream past, chasing droplets across the glass, helter skelter as the plane starts to descend.

The light changes, melting from the dazzling brilliance of moments ago to the dull artificial glow that washes over the life within, and an irregular motion bumps and buffets the plane, pockets of turbulent air enjoy their brief moments of power.

The rows of seats are almost full, the gentle chatter of a hundred strangers fight the mechanical hum, a war of attrition that neither will win. A sudden burst of laughter breaks through but is soon lost, impaled on battlements.

Near the front of the plane sits a young woman. She sits quiet through all of this, contemplative and resolute. She sits upright, deaden to movement. She is Joan of Arc of now, no martyr but divine in her moments. She is powerful yet still, assured and confident, the low tone of her voice resonants authority when she chooses to use it. She knows this full well, she knows the power she holds and she chooses her moments to wield it based on nothing but pure whimsy and focussed vigour.

She thinks ahead to the man that will be waiting for her. The moment their eyes will meet, the last few final steps they will take towards each other, the touch, the kiss, the embrace. A gentle smile creases her lips as her mind slips away into a daydream of what is to come.

At the back of the plane a group of men can be heard, their banter echoing down the cabin. They conform as you would expect, leery with the flight attendants and, with no sense of self, annoying and apologetic to those around them, They are an endless series of in-jokes and nicknames, inane chatter and sudden outbursts. The quiet bully and vicious mockery that they don’t fully understand.

Crouched in their seats, an elderly couple anxiously peer out of the window into the wall of cloud. They hold hands in comfortable silence, aware of each emotion passing between them with no need for words. They force their minds back to their holiday, the strolls along the promenade, the exotic drinks and food, the sun and the dashing youngsters, bronzing on the beach. Anything to take them away from their reality, the terror of falling.

Onward they descend, still in cloud, windows mirroring the transparent opaqueness of the air outside, the changes in light flicker through the cabin dulling everything inside to the soft hues of a dream. Loud voices dull, quiet voices cease and, slowly, silence breaks through the plane. Heads swivel and eyes strain as the passengers unite and turn to query the windows, peering through the grey white world outside, waiting for a view, any view, of something else, something real. Their reflections stare back, and none of them like what they see.

Ada Lovelace Day

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace day, a day when women in technology, particularly those who blog, take a moment to highlight some of the heroines (am I still allowed to use that word?).

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

An excellent idea and, whilst it was open to me as well I completely, and utterly, forgot about this. So by way of apology I’ll offer up some of the blog posts that others have posted:

There are a variety of women I could mention in respect to Ada Lovelace day, particularly as my area of IT (technical communications) has a higher percentage of women than others, but over the past year or so there is one name that springs to mind, Anne Gentle, who has been a constant source of inspiration to me. I’ve been lucky enough to swap some emails with her, and we’ve bounced a few ideas between her blog and mine.

There are many other women in my field that I could mention and I’m lucky that, as I say, my area of IT is quite well represented. So, for those that missed it, what women inspire you?

Reflecting on Jade Goody

I don’t comment on current events all that often, as I’ve said before I rarely feel that I’ll be adding anything new or particularly insightful so I consider it best to avoid the topic altogether.

That and I can usually see both sides of every story so can find it hard to find a position for myself.

The recent death of Jade Goody is one of those examples. I’m not particularly interested in her as a person, but what does both intrigue and disgust me is the way mass media has treated the past few months of her life. Granted she’s allowed open access and welcomed them in but, from where I’m sitting, surely there was a point where someone, somewhere, must’ve thought “ok, this is enough”.

Apparently not though. I’ve read a few blog posts about her, opinion pieces that add little to my understanding of either her or the perception of what she ‘stands for’ – which is a bit rich I think, given that I doubt she ever considered the fact that she was representing anything other than herself at any point in time, more power to her for that.

So I’ll simply quote the best blog post I have read on this topic, and let you go and make up your own minds, although I’m sure you already have.

My impression was of someone who didn’t know all the answers – or indeed, many of the questions – but wasn’t going to let that get in the way of having a good time and making something of herself. Who loved life, even if she didn’t quite understand it.

Clearly others saw a different reflection: someone ugly, stupid, small-minded, who thought very little of themself and took delight in venting their frustration on a weaker member of society in the most ugly, bestial way possible. Kill the pig, cut her throat, spill her blood. Put her head on a pole, teach others to fear and revile her.

From The Queen of East Angular, over at Hydragenic.

Tinkering

In my usual style, just when I should be doing something else I find the spare minutes and hours (which aren’t actually spare) being whittled away by something completely different.

And I don’t mean in the Monty Python sense.

Speaking of which I missed a Python reference the other day, but thankfully re-gained some geek cred by asking if anyone else knew how C3-PO got his name (or R2-D2 for that matter).

So, despite the fact I’ve got a website to build for a client (I HAVE started it, honest!) I find myself, once again, with Photoshop open, working through a variety of potential options for reworking the banner of this website. I’m a bit stalled on this and, as it will affect the my other websites, it’s kinda crucial that the whole ‘brand design’ thing works.

No, I don’t think of myself as a ‘brand’ but I do like things to be neat, and lined up and uniform and have a sense of design to them. Yes, it’s a bit anal and weird, no I’m not apologising for it, and yes I will be making similar changes to all my other websites.

However, as I’m stalled on this, I thought I’d open this up to you guys and gals. I’d like your opinion on the following, please. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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