Month: April 2009

How much does “good” cost?

Recently, Ben Minson stated that “Good Enough” Really Isn’t. It’s an interesting post, and I wanted to expand on the comment I left on his blog.

Ben suggests that:

If I find myself thinking “It’s good enough” on a regular basis, I—and my users—am probably not getting all that’s possible out of my work

Before I go any further, perhaps we need to clarify what “good enough” means?

My fear is that many people take “good enough” to mean, “yeah, I’m done with that and it’ll have to be good enough”. If that is the case then yes, you are selling your users, and yourself, short. However there is a perfectly valid scenario around which the phrase “good enough” could, and should, be used.

There is a classic business situation that drives the use of the phrase, it is one with which we are all familiar and which will never ever change, and that is the age old issue of high quality deliverables versus cost of delivery. It is sometimes stated in terms of Return On Investment but the bottom line is that, at a certain point, regardless of your deliverable, there comes a point where the amount you are spending on something has reached the maximum value you can expect to gain.

Finding the balance of that will, without doubt, mean that you disappoint some users. The Pareto principle is typically offered as a rule of thumb at this point (wrongly as it happens) with the presumption that “good enough” means meeting the needs of 80% of your audience, knowing that 20% will not be as well served. The reality probably that 20% of your documentation will be used but that’s for another blog post.

Ultimately whilst we would all love to provide better information, both in quantity and quality, projects have deadlines, budgets have limits and it is there we find the true definition of “good enough”. It’s up to us, as professionals, to make the most of these situations so that when we say something is “good enough”, we mean exactly that.

Useful procrastination

I’m updating.

I’m updating my budget spreadsheet and hating the colour red.

I’m updating Twitter.

I’m updating my About page, and wondering what else I can write.

I’m updating the list of online accounts, usernames and passwords as I’m getting fed up having to hunt for them.

I’m updating my list of backup files.

I’m updating Twitter.

I’m updating my weight on a daily basis.

I’m updating the design on one of my own websites.

I’m updating the way I work to cope with recent changes.

I’m updating the applications on my iPhone.

I’m updating the list of books I plan to read on holiday.

I’m updating Twitter.

I’m updating my blog.

I’m NOT finishing of the website design for a client but hey, all the other stuff is useful.

Right?

Calling all international Scots

Spotted on the little red boat, head over there for the full details.

There’s a lovely artist I know by the name of Steve Raws, who creates things with enormous letters and colossal words. They’re very beautiful. So. He’s doing this gigantic banner of a Burns poem, that will be displayed in Edinburgh. All the information is here.

The way that Steve works is that he encourages people to get involved, and so is touring Scotland getting people to paint giant letters, which will then get worked into the banner. But he’d really really like contributions from Scots overseas as well, so if you are one, or know of any, can you pass this along? Or at least the link to the blog about the banner?

Go one, it’ll be fun!

To hell with what people think

I had a long post planned but, ultimately it was really just a way to some how gain approval that buying a new iPod was the right solution.

I had planned to waffle on at some length about the size of my music library (stop, phhnarring at the back you!), and about how I listen to music at work more than most places but can’t store all of my library on my work PC and how slow and cumbersome using a separate USB drive is and how HARD it is (ohh woe is me, I know, I know) to have to sync the USB drive with the home PC and goddamn I wish iTunes had an easier way to switch libraries as I really need my own as well as a larger “everything” library and wwwahhh wahhhh wahhhhh.

And then I read this post over at Swiss Toni’s and realised just how lucky I am and all that stuff.

As the old adage goes, I might have MS, but MS doesn’t have me. I’m not going to NOT write about it because I’m worried about what people might think of it and of me. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing that MS Week is trying to change? I think it is, and so over the next few days, I’m going to write about pretty much nothing else but MS, and to hell with what people think.

To which I say, quite bloody right Mister!

Tastebuds

For lunch today, whilst the cars drone round the F1 circuit in Bahrain and millions of weary runners plod their way over the finishing line of the London Marathon, I will be having Raisin and Cinnamon bagels, lightly toasted.

On said bagels I’ll put some salad cream and some thin slices of chicken.

Apparently this is “weird”.

So I was wondering, dear reader, if:

  1. You think that is, indeed, weird
  2. If you eat anything similarly weird

In the case of the latter, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, a staple lunch during my 6th year at school was a roll with cheese, ham and banana.

What?

Guess, I’d best not mention the week when I moved down to England and most nights had a dinner of tuna, smash and beans, lest you think I’m some kind of weirdo.

Chapter 1

From a darkened doorway she peers through the drizzle to the steamy window of the cafe across the street, eyes flickering nervously from table to table, idle patrons chatting in their booths. A couple laughing at a shared joke, an old man staring out at the dull sky as steam spirals from the chipped mug clasped between wizened hands, a lone woman chewing her pen in contemplation, her notepad empty. Nothing of suspect. No-one of note.

She reaches into her pocket once more to check the cold steel in her pocket and, glancing sideways, she starts across the street. She is wary of movement, wondering if he is watching her whilst she searches for him. She wonders if they are both being watched by others.

She pushes the door open and warm air rushes to embrace her, smells of coffee and fried food. An everyday place that catering to the needs of the masses without fuss or pretence. A timeless place, confidently content to remain motionless, eschewing all advances, the happy old maid amongst the garish neon of the young pretenders.

A waitress whirls through her thoughts, and she catches herself before heading to a dark corner, past the laughing innocence, the knowing silence, the emptiness. Sliding into the booth she deliberately sits away from the window, out of the light and partially hidden from view. With her back to the far wall all she can see over the booth walls are heads and shoulders, busts of nobody.

She wonders how many things this cafe has seen. How often had it felt heartache and betrayal, witnessed comedy and blood? The wooden railings and tiled floor seem to reek of past events, ghosts bounce and dance alongside the slow turn of the ceiling fan. She starts to wonder why this place was chosen, what forces are at play, why history has pulled her here.

Her mind races on.

She is still unsure, she realises. Despite having thought of nothing else these past few days, despite the aching and longing that brought her here, she now understands that she still has a choice, still has a moment to pause. She wonders if it will achieve everything of which she has dreamt, wonders if the chains will loosen or whether the walls will crumble, an illusion heightened as she lowers her head.

The kitchen door flick-flacks on hinges and pulls her from her thoughts, sweet pastry wafts from the kitchen and the gentle chatter and clink of crockery complete the scene. This is nothing more than an everyday moment in a forgettable place.

She watches the waitress busily tend to the customers, practiced smiles and manners switching on and off, efficiently friendly. When it’s her turn she plays her part, nods for coffee and cream, refuses the gentle sell of pastry, all the while knowing the mug will remain where placed, untouched and unsullied as events unfold around it, unaware and innocent.

She knows this place, she has been here before in a different time and a different place. She knows the friendly familiarity of the regular customers, the quirks and routines they have. She knows the waitresses, downtrodden and stoic, who hide it all as they bustle about their day, understanding their place as counsellor, slave and friend.

She remains lost in her revellery, reliving her faded past until a movement outside snatches her gaze. Outside a man stalks past, huddled against the drench, dark and dripping beneath his hat. She loses sight and turns her gaze to the door, waiting for him, sensing his approach, feral now, alert and bright and ready.

She realises that finally the moment is near, it has begun.

Paused inside the doorway he shakes off the worst of the rain and removes his hat. Revealed are the dark, brooding, pensive features that she knows so well, the very face that brought her here.

He turns away from her and removes his jacket, hanging it by the door, his hat pulled roughly onto the peg above before turning back and moving heavily, deliberate and steady, to an empty seat at the counter, the stool creaking beneath him.

Watching him sitting there she reveals herself to the truth; this is real, he is real and no longer the illusion she has maintained for so long. He remains, constant and unmoving from this place. The sudden awareness of all of this grabs her thoughts, contorting and twisting them, wrenching them from her control in a final act of duplicity. Then, with a blip of sudden confusion, she is back to the present; the walls, stains over white, remind her and bring her back to the moment, to her version of reality.

She maintains her uncaring and brazen gaze as she watches him chat to the waitress, all smiles and wholesome. Watches the careful flirting from both sides, the playful familiarity, vulgar and wretched. As she takes all this in she begins to realise she is nervous, time presses on her and as her emotions slowly build her surroundings start to vibrate as if filled with light, everything is suddenly vivid, more real than she’d ever imagined.

Her coffee arrives and the aroma stains the air sweet and dark before her, a haze through which everything distorts. She reaches, unthinking, for the sugar, spooning pure white crystals that glint in the light, a million sweet glistens. She looks down as she stirs, the whirlpool ripples with sharp liquid edges, a slick coating on the sides of the mug as she pours silk white cream into the vortex.

As she raises the mug to her mouth she inhales deeply before taking a first, final and delicious mouthful. A brief pause to savour the rich bittersweet liquid before, her decision made, she swallows and clunks the mug down. A dollar bill lands next to it, a final debt paid.

Then she’s standing and the room moves beneath her, propelling her forward, forward, forward until she is there, exactly where she should be. She pauses briefly to watch him breathe, his shoulders rising and falling slowly, methodically. Unaware, unsuspecting, off-guard.

She reaches into her pocket, clasps the hilt of the blade and in a smooth motion slides it from her pocket and gently leans into him as if to whisper in his ear.

An instant before he feels the thin steel he is aware of her presence, but before he can react he knows it is too late, paralysed as the blade finds it’s mark. His eyes widen, screaming in silence, his mouth mute, jaw slack as she efficiently, silently and almost effortlessly kills him. His body tightens, muscles lock him upright in his seat, and then it is over.

She kisses him gently on the ear and, without a word, turns and heads outside. A surge of adrenalin explodes through her body, she is completely alive, completely now. Power races through her and she holds her head in a confident swagger as she steps out into the drizzle.

Standing there as the rain dapples her face she wonders what will happen now, what future will unfold before her and she suddenly realises she is lost, far from anything she would call home, in a strange land with blood on her hands.

Inside the cafe a glass topples from a tray and shatters into a million dazzles of light as the screaming begins.

Why I joined the ISTC

In their own words, the ISTC is:

the largest UK body representing professional communicators and information designers

I joined the ISTC a couple of years ago. They’ve been on my radar for a while now, but to be honest I’ve never been sure of what the benefits have been, nor have I found much need to be a member of a professional body. So what does the ISTC offer members? Well the ISTC website states that:

the ISTC offers opportunities to exchange views and information with other professional communicators. Members enjoy discounts, news, training events, networking and recognition of professional status including the use of FISTC or MISTC (for suitably qualified people).

OK, so you can now refer to me as Gordon McLean MISTC.

Yes, that’s much better than “Oi, twit!”.

I’ve been a member of various committees and charities in my time so there is one thing that I know holds true. When it comes to any organisation you get out what you put in, which would explain why I’ve recently been struggling to justify my ISTC membership.

It’s not that I don’t put in, I write a monthly column for the newsletter and happily volunteered to be on the newly formed members panel which is in the midst, thanks to the outstanding efforts of Rachel Potts reviewing those very same benefits that the ISTC offer.

And it’s not that I don’t get value back out, the ISTC mailing list has proven useful and I’m sure when I attend the conference this year, my first, I will learn a lot and benefit from speaking to my peers

So the question is, am I getting value for money?

Ultimately I believe I am, but I do feel I could be getting more. When I joined the ISTC I was already following some technical writing blogs and already had the beginnings of a network of people who were offering some good advice and interesting thoughts about this profession of ours. Some of those were discovered through the TechWR-L mailing list, others by chance encounters or links from other blogs. It’s the one thing that, as yet, the ISTC hasn’t really managed to grasp hold of, the idea that what they are facilitating is a community of like minded souls.

In a way an organisation such as the ISTC has the advantage over ad-hoc groups, given that all of the members have paid to be part of the organisation. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of the review of member benefits, to see where the community aspect of being a member rates with everyone else. Perhaps it’s just me but I truly believe the ISTC would benefit from increasing the networking/community aspect of membership.

Not too proud

How often do you ask for help?

The reason I ask is that whilst I can be pretty bloody minded at times, I am always more than happy to ask people questions.

I truly don’t understand the mindset of those that just presume they are smart enough to be able to get through something without additional help. I include searching the internet in that statement as well for, despite the fact you need to carefully vet the information you find there (here?), it is a good source of useful information and answers.

And yes, it does seem to be a guy thing, doesn’t it?

I sometimes wonder if the reason I don’t fully understand that way of thinking is because… and please, hear me out… is because of my star sign. I’m a Libra.

Now I’m not saying that’s the main reason, I presume that at some point in the past I’ve read up about what Librans are supposed to be like and that has matched with the fact that I do find myself able to see both sides of the story and that I do believe that balance should be saught in most situations.

So no, I don’t understand the mindset of those peacock proud guys who strut around and presume that they know best, and yes, I’m self-aware enough to know that, whilst I can play along with the “alpha male” thing when I need to, I have a little more emotional range than a lot of guys. I’m very happy with my feminine side.

And with all that in mind, my dear blog reader, I have a question for you.

What on earth should I write about next?

Flipping Context

At work I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mired in planning spreadsheets, shuffling chunks of information around from here to there, from that to this. It’s the kind of work that needs to get done whilst in the full realisation that it’s a bit of a drag. But, as my Mother says “You can’t always get what you want”, well should have had my mother been Mick Jagger and, let’s be honest, if Mick Jagger was my mother then it’s unlikely that I’d be blogging about spreadsheets.

Instead I’d be blogging about the fact that I was a medical marvel, having been given birth to by a man.

That’s not to say I’m NOT a medical marvel, just that I choose not to talk about THAT THING that makes me SPECIAL (you mere mortals wouldn’t understand, so don’t ask).

So there I am, sitting at my desk, an endless series of spreadsheets full of words and numbers in front of, watching as they spin and float off the screen just like they would in a big Hollywood movie full of special effects.

But hey, it needs to get done.

And then, at home, I’m busy being creative, having just finished off a website for a client and in the midst of reworking design mockups for another.

It’s a bit of a head fuck to be honest, and I find myself taking far longer than usual to get my mindset to change.

However, that’s nothing new, I always have had a bit of an issue switching context and know that it takes me a few moments for my brain to re-engage and have tried several strategies in the past, none of which work.

Until now.

Believe it or not, the noise and chatter of Twitter really does help me make that switch. Going from a rote, line by line, formulaic piece of work, to the small and digestable chunks of randomness that is my Twitter channel, allows my brain to break away from the previous context and very soon I’m able to tackle something more creative. I’ve not tried it in reverse mind you, but certainly the effect of checking in with Twitter seems to allow my brain to relax.

Does that mean I don’t value Twitter, that I pay less attention there? Perhaps, or perhaps it’s the fact that the cognitive load on my brain is different, and the switch to reading 140 character tweets helps reduce that load and allow other areas of my brain to kick in. Sort of like shifting to neutral before picking a lower gear in your car so you can accelerate past a car.

Anyone else use Twitter the same way? As a stop gap between different types of work or task?

And, whilst I’m asking, why DO you use Twitter?

P.S. My Mother is not on Twitter, neither is Mick Jagger.
P.P.S. If you really want to know about why I’m a medical marvel, ask. I’m sure I can come up with something…