Month: July 2009

Technical Communication UK Conference

Technical Communication UK
22nd-24th September 2009

Technical Communication UK is the new annual conference that aims to meet the needs of technical communicators, their managers and clients, from every corner of the industry.

The conference is hosted by the ISTC, and run in partnership with X-pubs.

Technical Communication UK runs on 23rd and 24th September 2009, with pre-conference workshops on 22nd September. It will deliver more than 30 sessions over the three days, with presentations, workshops, case studies, and hands-on product demonstrations from experts in their field.

Let me know if you are coming along, as I’d hate to be sitting in the bar on my own on the Wednesday evening!


I’ve been writing this blog for quite a while, so I must admit that I’m surprised that this is the first time I’ve found myself in my current position.

Perhaps it’s because I tend not to make inflammatory statements (aside from that post about the Bible being a work of fiction written by the Devil, obv) but I’ve never had to censor any comments before.

Luckily I have a Comment Posting Policy which states:

I reserve the exclusive right to moderate all comments posted on my site, including but not limited to… deleting comments that contain offensive language. Repeated use of abusive and offensive language will be deleted and banned.

So, said comment is gone, forever banished to the land of dead pixels and binary dust.

It's hard

Listening to the news on the way to work this morning, some chav sounding lassie from some London suburb or other was bemoaning the fact that she found it hard not to bunk off school.

Yes, that’s right. She wasn’t finding it hard to attend school just hard not to bunk off at least once a week.

She said she had once “even” been arrested whilst bunking off which didn’t reflect well on her school, or her parents but it was just really hard not to bunk off. I’m guessing peer pressure is probably the reason but that’s just a symptom of the underlying disease

I’ve touched on this theme before, several years ago, and whilst part of my reaction disgusts me I can’t help that knee-jerk feeling that somewhere, somehow, discipline has been lost, and my contempt for that girl rises to the top.

Do we blame the parents? The teachers? The government? The kids? Probably all of them in different ways and magnitudes.

And the thing that really annoys me is that fixing, or at the very least addressing, the slow decline of moral standards in our society must be possible.

Just, you know, it’s, like, hard.

What do you write?

I’m currently pushing a business case to allow me to hire a new member for our team. The premise is that, particularly with our product set, there will always be areas of technical content that need writing but that with an additional member we can start to create other forms of content.

Which begs the question, what other forms of content can we create?

One thing I would like to get my team more involved with, both to give them a wider view of the product and to help the rest of the R&D team better understand why we build what we build, is in the creation of our Business Requirement Documents (BRDs). These documents drive the product features, setting out the requirements for the new features that we want to add for the next release cycle.

Early on in my career I remember reading (somewhere) that the technical writing team are user adovocates and that we are “the interface to the interface”. With that in mind, we need to understand both why a feature is in the product and how we expect it to be used (or at the very least, how we would like people to use it). By getting involved earlier in the product lifecycle, helping to understand and articulate the business requirements at the start of a release, we can be better placed to act in the best interests of the customer.

Being part of the team that collates and creates the BRDs will place us bang in the middle at the start of a stream of work and, by nature, we are also there at the very end, checking our documentation as the final stages of the release tweak and refine the functionality. My hope is that this end to end view of the product will help both the technical writers, and the development teams in which they are embedded.

Are you involved with early development documentation? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

I am not a morning person

It’s 10am on Sunday morning, I pick up my water bottle, a small towel and head out the door. I arrive at an almost empty gym and start to warm up. My body resists, my mind suggests that going back to bed might be a better idea and by and large the next hour or so is a bit of a struggle.

This is not a new feeling.

When I first started jogging there were sessions on a Wednesday evening, and a Sunday morning. Once I got over the initial shock of doing any form of regular exercise I was soon bounding along during the Wednesday evening sessions. Sunday mornings were horrid.

I used to think that it was maybe because I wasn’t warmed up enough, that as it was early in the morning I hadn’t really done anything so my body wasn’t really geared up to doing anything strenuous. Unfortunately even after an intense 10 minute warm up my body still wasn’t really of a mind to exert itself. It’s a wonder I managed it out of the house at all.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m not a morning person, and so I wasn’t to perturb on Sunday when I couldn’t cycle as far as I did during the week, nor complete the same amount of reps on any of the machines. That’s ok though.

Because I was there. That is what counts on the days you really don’t want to go.

Now I just need to find a way to make them count DOUBLE, and I’ll be happy.

Ill Communication

Twitter is changing. Whilst the technology is the same, the way it is being used (or perhaps the way I use it?) has been slowly evolving.

Evolution is a good thing, but that does mean that I now find myself evolving how I use and interact with Twitter.

Maybe I need to slim down my followers list and remove those that are only making noise.

I include those who have endless conversations between themselves, for me that’s just noise.

Hashtags present another issue, whilst they can be useful they are now used in other ways which add to the noise.

I’m worried that I’m actually considering the categorisation of some Twitter posts as “types of noise”, but maybe that is what is needed?

Whilst I can use apps like TweetDeck to filter out “types of noise”, it would be better to have opt-in than blanket messaging?

But then, that’s not Twitter, is it?

I’m really not complaining about Twitter or those who I follow, although a little self-policing would help.

After all, what happens when you put 100 people in a room mostly talking to themselves?


I’ve mentioned before that I’ll be attending, and presenting at, the Technical Communication Conference this year, but as the programme is now full I’ve been trying to pick my way through which sessions to attend. I think I’ve got it sussed.


Kicking off with the keynote from Peter Anghelides (who recently re-tweeted me on Twitter!).

Session 1 – Matthew Ellison – Pattern language for information architecture
As we delve into providing more of our information online, understanding how best to structure the information is key.

Session 2 – Kim Schrantz-Berquist – If you can write an article, you can write anything!
I have a long term goal to get my team to a position to allow them to write different kinds of information. Articles for our developer community are a good path towards that.

Session 3 – Linda Urban – Paths to success: networking and contributing (it’s all about relationships)
Largely because I think it’ll fit in with my presentation the following day.

Sesson 4 – Chris Atherton – Visual attention: a psychologist’s perspective
Not something I’m particular clued up on so will be an interesting session.

Session 5 – TBC
Nothing really catches my eye, and still waiting to see what Paul Ballard is going to present. Might a good time to go grab a coffee?

Session 6 – David Mackay – talking about how he wrote his book
Always interesting to hear how these things come about.


Session 1 – Me!
I’m guessing I need to be at this one, right?

Session 2 – Nigel Greenwood – Quality Improvement in technical communication
A different take on things, and it’s usually informative to look at the way other professions do things, so this should be good.

Session 3 – Justin Collinge – The secrets of telepathy
Who wouldn’t want to learn telepathy! This will be useful as I’ve recently taken on Line Manager duties for some of the wider development team.

Session 4 – TBC
Either going for the session about localisation or the one on how to start up your own docs business…. hmmmm

Session 5 – TBC
There is still a slot to be filled, so I’ll wait until that happens and then decided. At the moment, its looking like an early end to the day.

Session 6 – Adobe
Will probably skip this as we are no longer an Adobe house.

So, add in the Gala Dinner and it’s a pretty busy couple of days. As ever I’m going to miss some sessions that I would liked to have attend but I’ve got a pretty good balance of things here, most of which benefit the company that is allowing me the time to attend, a couple of which will help me as a professional.

I’ll most definitely be twittering and will write some thoughts post-event as well. The chances of me blogging are slim but you never know (I’m wary that my 9am slot on the Thursday morning may be in jeopardy if I get ‘forced’ into the bar on Wednesday evening…).

I’m looking forward to the conference, my first ISTC conference as it happens, and as two other members of the team are off to Cardiff for the UA Conference it’s safe to assume we’ll be heading towards the end of the year a-buzz with ideas and enthusiasm.

Day in the life

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head;

If only the second line were true.

My day has a routine, I doubt very much that this is an usual fact. I mean I’d imagine most people do pretty much what I do every day. Actually that’s probably not true. Most people in the western world perhaps and at this point I’ll pause to consider how lucky I am and how much I take my comfortable life for granted.


The alarm clicks and the radio wakens me from my slumber. I still use an alarm clock beside my bed as I like to see the time. I have tried using my phone in the past and if could find an iPhone app that disabled email notifications whilst the clock was showing that I’d probably switch back to that.

I swing my legs out of bed and pad to the bathroom, stepping over the cat who will be lying on the landing waiting for someone to go downstairs and feed him. I pee, weigh myself, and shower. I don’t shave everyday as my skin can be a bit temperamental. I then wander back across the landing to the part of my office that holds my daily accoutrements, apply some deodorant, a dab of aftershave then back into the bedroom to get dressed.

Once clothed, back to the office where I’ll put on my shoes, lift my phone from the charger, put my wallet in my back pocket and dip into the small wooden tub in which I keep my spare change. I usually make sure I’ve got at least a couple of pounds in my pocket, with at least £10 in my wallet.

Downstairs now. Whoever is first will feed the cat, a treacherous exercise as he winds himself round your feet, mewing and pleading to be fed. Then it’s a small glass of fruit juice to wash down my pills (2 a day), a quick check to ensure there aren’t any dead animals (mice usually) in the living room and I grab the car keys, unlock the front door and drive to work.

Once at work, a quick skim of any new emails (subject lines only at this point) and if nothing is urgent then I’ll grab a bowl of cereal and sit at my desk and read and respond as required. By the time 8.30am rolls around I’m usually done with that, have had a quick check on Twitter and a quick flick through some RSS feeds.

Then it’s coffee and the working day begins.

I’ve had the same routine, give or take travel differences, for quite a while. It works for me. Although I will admit that some days I do mix it up a little… instead of cereal I’ll have a roll and sausage (of the square variety). Dangerous I know but hey, what’s life without a little bit of chaos!

The Slick Blade

His muscles strain as he tenses against the movement beneath him. His grip remains firm as he shifts his weight slightly, fully immobilising the writhing mass that twitches at his feet.

He looks down with impunity, almost with a sense of pity but he knows what must be done. He has trained a long time for this and is wary of his mentor standing off to onside, quietly observing him and taking in every action, every pause, each calculated pass of the blade.

He reaches down and the blade catches in the sunlight. Freeze frame as suddenly the moment is here and he can see everything, feel everything, sense everything. The gentle breeze that caresses the long grass into soft waves of mesmerising green, the sounds of the forest behind him and his own heart thumping loud in his chest, crashing in his ears, filling his head with a steady rhythm, urging him on.

The first cut is always the most important. Not too deep, but deep enough. It must be at the correct angle, get it wrong now and there is no point going on, as all that is left beyond that are a few amateurish hacks to finish the job as quickly as possible.

No, he must be patient.

He was told it would be this way, that only he would know the moment to start. That only he would be able to judge the exact second in which to make the first cut and that he must not given in to the temptation to start too soon nor buckle under the pressure that he might make a mistake (for there will always be others). He knew too that his time was running out, he’d heard of others who had already taken this step and the talk of their sureness with the blade was starting to spread. He knew that this was his chance, his last chance.

A slow deep breath and, almost without realising, his arm reaches out and the blade hits home, he draws back and across in perfect choreography, and then he is reaching forward again. The blade is sharp and effortless in his hand, his grasp remains true, and soon the wriggling stops as the blade repeats the slashes, over and over, carefully following the patterns he was given.

His mentor watches his face carefully, and with a shallow smile allows himself to relax. He sees a mask of concentration and a steady arm, he follows the delicate dance, the slash and slice of the steel, and knows that his teaching is over.

The young man breathes out, a long deep breath that loosens his shoulders, his arm hesitates in the air as if unsure of what to do next before falling by his side. He straightens and turns as his mentor strides over to him, beaming as only a proud father can.

“Well done lad, you got the entire thing off in one piece!!” he bellows, slapping his son hard on the back.

His son releases his grip and they both turn to watch as the freshly shorn sheep bounds back to join his flock.

The white stuff

I have white stuff all over my hands. I really should wash it off.

I would’ve washed it off earlier after the first time, but I knew I’d be doing it again so, you know, what’s the point?

It’s like showering before going to the gym. Actually that’s a bad example as there are some people who really should do that, either that or they’ve been in the gym a looooonng time, phouew!

Looking down at my hands, the white stuff gives me a sense of achievement. Not a large one, but hey size doesn’t matter, right?

Anyway, whilst I will need to do it a third time, I guess that’ll wait until tomorrow. Best go wash my hands.

Thankfully it’s white emulsion so will clean right off.