Month: July 2010

Influential? Me?

One of the reasons I started this blog was as a way of exploring my thoughts about our profession, from specific issues to wider themes. It’s only been going a few years, but I’ve learned a lot since then both writing here, and reading the thoughts of other bloggers in this industry.

I live and work in Scotland, far from the thriving centre of capitalism that is London and the surrounding areas, M4 corridor and the like. There aren’t all that many Technical Communicators in this neck of the woods so blogging helps me keep up to speed with the latest trends, and with fellow technical communicators.

I don’t really have much other motive than that, to be honest, so I was more than a little surprised to find out that I’ve been included in a list of the 25 Most Influential Technical Communicator Bloggers and, looking at some of the names on the list, I’m hugely flattered to be there.

Purchase Ponderings

File this in the “idle window shopping for stuff I don’t need” category.

BUT.

If can anyone see any gaps or improvements to the following (and yes, I am largely going with Apple because it is easy to setup and I have no desire to hack, configure or otherwise spend ages of my time to get the thing working), please let me know. You might save me a lot of money.

Not that I’m gonna be spending anything on any of this, no no, that’d be silly and I have more important items to buy soon, like a bed, that kind of thing. This is purely and utterly an academic exercise, a small indulgementation if you will to keep me from going stir-crazy in this house.

So, the proposed new system is as follows:

  • A Mac Mini – which will be hooked up to the TV
  • Drobo S – which will (in the short term) hold two 500GB drives from my PC with music/photos/movies/work stuff
  • Airport Express – so I can stream iTunes to a set of speakers
  • Karmon Soundsticks – because they look and sound good

I’ll pick up a wireless keyboard and mouse for the Mac Mini as well. Which means that, when version 2 of the iPad comes out, I can slot that in for ‘casual web usage’ and the like.

My thinking is that I want a quiet and energy efficient machine that I can stream music from, and do a little web design work on too (with a nice big 40″ screen!). The Drobo allows me to easily add more storage space (just slot a new drive in), and if I want music elsewhere I can always buy another Airport Express (or stream through my iPhone/iPad?). Mind you, I’ll be moving to a flat so not much need for that in the near future.

Yes, it’s a bit pricey as it’s Apple equipment but it gives me a system that SHOULD just plug and play (previous experience suggests this to hold true), and is expandable to meet my needs. I could probably get the same with another (cheaper) system but having looked into it, PC/Linux equivalents require a level of configuration that I just can’t be arsed with any more, happy to pay more to have it just work.

Am I missing anything? Performance wise the Mac Mini will be more than enough for me for many years, and they’ve good reliability. The Drobo I’ve heard a lot of good things about and I’ve used an Airport Express before with my PC. I think it’s about as future proof as it can be, add in a USB hub for things like card readers and whatnot and I don’t think I’m losing out on anything.

Well, apart from the money to buy it all with…

Remembering the basics

What do you call your documents? What is the first thing you do when you start writing? What is the last?

All these things that you do without thinking about, the basic automation that your brain easily handles, over and over again, these things are, to you, so basic as to be forgettable. You don’t tell anyone else to do them (they must know, right?) and you probably don’t remember where you learned how to do them.

You bulid your own mental checklist and that takes care of that.

Need to provide a PDF of a document for someone? No problem, generate it this way, name it in this manner to keep it sensible and consistent and put it THERE (as you know everyone has access to it that way). And so on and so forth. All these things locked away in your head.

That mental checklist is made up of many things, from coping other people, reading books, and learned from mistakes. Without it you’d be lost, and with it you retain value as you are the person who knows how to do those things.

But that also means you are the bottleneck, the only person who knows X and Y, and can help with Z.

Better to share that information, let others learn and improve it (and they will). It allows them to do more, and lets you do other things. More power to the team, and a better service to the rest of the company, further cementing the value you bring to your organisation.

And then I forgot his name..

Friday night, beer, an ex-colleague. He remembers me, I can’t for the life of me remember his name.

In my happy drunk state I just flat out said that I’d forgotten his name, I don’t think he was offended or at the very least he was polite enough not to show that he was. Turns out he has a very memorable name (one of those forenames that is more normally a surname).

Shame on me.

Still, Friday night was a good laugh, good food, good company, good beer and I even managed to get the last train home so was a good Saturday morning with only a little bit of fuzzy hangoverness to take care of (a can of Irn Bru sized bit).

Saturday lunch featured something very tasty and delicious, thick wedges of smoked Yorkshire ham, then a few things wot needed done got done (more on that later) and then through to see the olds which ended up with a nice chicken balti for dinner.

And today? A day of quiet pottering and thinking back over good parts of the weekend in an effort to lock them away in my memory, with a side helping of ponderment on the future.

Yes, I think I’ll mark this weekend up in the WIN column.

How was yours?

Movie splurge

Dear reader, there is some risk of spoilers if you keep reading. So, if you want to your forthcoming viewing of Inception or Toy Story 3 to be sans spoiler, stop reading now.

I’m now going to continue writing and presume that at least one person is still reading. It’s a vain hope but a familiar one.

Inception first then. The mind-bending thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, featuring the new Robert de Niro (except he’s not really new now, is he) Leonardo di Caprio. It’s a story about people who can influence and enter dreams (by and large) and has lots of levels and is really confusing.

Except it isn’t. Well I didn’t find it all that confusing, and in a way I was a little disappointed as I was expecting something akin to a Memento/Donnie Darko type experience with added BIG HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTER THRILLER scenes. It certainly delivered on the latter with some genuinely stunning special effects, the fight scene in the hotel corridor was superbly done and thankfully didn’t rely too heavily on the fast-cut edits that seem to have become the norm recently.

It’s an excellent thriller, don’t get me wrong, and the premise is a clever one, well executed I just think I got a bit caught up in the hyperbole surrounding it.

Top tip: what age are the children you see? do they sound that old on the phone?

Definitely a movie to see on the big screen but, for me, I don’t think it will enter the hallowed halls of the ‘cult’ movie. Or maybe I just need to go watch it again.

Toy Story 3, on the other hand, is already assured a place in the box office hit list. It’s the franchise that can do no wrong and, once again, the team at Pixar deliver a smart, well written movie which allows kids to have fun, whilst adults nod along and may, or you know, may not, shed a tiny tear or two… I couldn’t possibly comment.

Dealing with the reality that Andy has grown up, Woody has to come to terms with how his life is changing (given my current circumstance it was oddly familiar in a way). On the way, due to various circumstances, he ends up leading a daring rescue mission to save all his friends.  Story wise it’s simple enough, but managed to have me laughing along and genuinely on the edge of my seat at one point.

We actually saw the 3D version which was good but Pixar don’t overuse the technology, preferring to simply allow it to offer some depth without going for the “oh my god it’s coming out of the screen at me” moments we saw in Ice Age. I don’t think you’d be losing anything seeing the 2D version (and you’d save yourself a couple of quid).

I know await the Bluray boxset of the trilogy and part of me really hopes they don’t succumb and do anything more with this franchise. Time to let Woody, Buzz, Jess and all the others retire peacefully.

Just write

Just write, they say.

Once you get into the habit it’ll just flow, they say.

It doesn’t matter what you write, just that you write, they say.

They are starting to grate. They are starting to annoy and irk and leave me breathless and angry and incapable and pathetically unable to think about anything else except that I need to write but can’t start to write until my head is clear of them and no matter what I do they are in there, yakking away, spewing forth their tips, sharing the habits they’ve spent years cultivating and which they expect me to just adopt without the realisation that if I could do that I would’ve already so saying it over and over, just write, just write, just write, just write, just write, is pointless. A waste of energy.

Even now, as the keyboard clacks and the words slowly start to form, letters falling into line as they should, they are still paused over, deliberated, deleted and retyped. Over and over and over and over and over. The same cycle. The start and the pause and the edit. The start and the pause and the edit. The start and the pause and the edit.

It’s not the words that he has fault with, nor the order they appear, but the direction they take.

The lack of purpose.

Loss of meaning.

Just write, they say, but what? Words are only words, no matter the order they appear they spend their life meandering. In his mind he watches them pass, grabbing those he relies on and placing them on the pages before him but all too soon they are gone, resigned and regretted.

Just write, they say.

So he does.

Even though he isn’t sure why.

What don’t we know?




It’s a simple enough question really, and one I’m trying to answer at the moment, how do we know what we don’t know?

Part of the work I’m doing with our Information Pyramid (which I’ve mentioned here before) is to try and map the content we do have into some sensible groupings. That will allows to see where there are gaps within the content set we already have, for example if group A has a whitepaper and data sheet, but group B only has a whitepaper, but it still doesn’t tell us what we don’t know.

The obvious answer is to ask our audience, which we do, but there comes a point that even they don’t know what they need to know until they need it.

There are a couple of avenues we are looking at to try and find some answers. One is to analyse our support calls, try to get to the root of the problem and whether or not they are information based. Another will be focussed around a new addition to our community website, a Q&A style forum which we hope will let us see which area of the product generates the most questions and hopefully allow us to use that data to improve the documentation.

The latter is a couple of months away but I think will make the biggest difference. So much so there is probably a case for dedicating a resource to monitoring the forums and likely acting as a community manager of sorts, not something I’d anticipated although maybe I should’ve as it was only in January of this year that I said:

“even if you don’t think social media will impact your own professional circumstances, I have no doubts that it will change the way our profession is perceived.”

What about you? Have you looked to social media to help solve a problem or improve your service?

Always with the music

For a while now I’ve been toying with attending a certain rather well known music festival. Highlights on TV are one thing but there isn’t anything quite like experiencing the atmosphere of these things first hand. This is also the reason that, unless there is an extremely good reason, ever attend a gig at the S.E.C.C. as it lacks one of the key components of live music, atmosphere.

I’ve pre-registered myself and will wait the day when tickets go on sale so i can, finally, haul my ass to Glastonbury.

I’m hoping that we’ll have sold the house by then!

Music is an important part of my life, always has been, and one thing I am already considering for when I move and get my own flat, is the location. How close to a reasonable gig venue is it?

I think of heading to the West of Glasgow, the West End preferably as that puts me within walking distance of Oran Mor and will offer me the opportunity to get some cheap (less than a tenner) tickets for gigs by people I might not have heard of. I may be romanticising slightly, of course, but I think it could be quite fun.

And when I go home, I’ll use my iPhone to turn on my Sonos sound system for even more music.

I don’t own it yet though, but I will. It’s crept up the list of “things I will need to buy when I move” and is very near the top, right after things like a bed, a microwave and maybe a sofa.

Mind you, given that I’ll be heading to Glastonbury, I should maybe leave a little room in my budget for a tent (or better still, leave a lot of room in my budget and do it in style!).

How rude

There is one thing I haven’t done here for quite a while. It’s rather remiss of me so please accept my apologies.

Quite simply, I wanted to say thank you. To you. Yes YOU.

Thank you for visiting this blog, and more importantly, thank you for coming back and visiting again. A lot of the ideas I talk about here are made better by your comments, and I continue to find blogging to be a useful way to work through some of the thoughts and random ponderings that float around in my head.

I tend, like many, to do most of my blog reading through RSS and I know that making the effort to comment on a blog is something that not everyone will do, and which some blogs can struggle with. It continues to amaze and delight me that anyone reads this blog, let alone takes the time to share their own hard-earned thoughts.

So, sincerely, thank you.

Square root of 1

So we’ve switched Estate Agents, and taken a different approach with the price. Fingers crossed it gets us a result although, on the news yesterday it was announced that the housing market has slowed again so I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Life continues, of course, and last night I was at the Klaxons gig in King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. It’s a small, sweaty venue and when the band finally decided to come on stage it was a fairly short if manic gig. Good stuff indeed.

Hopefully this weekend (if I can fathom my way to the bottom of the Odeon online booking system) I’m off out for sushi and to catch Inception which is getting rave reviews. I’m seeing mention in comparison to Memento, one of my favourite movies of the past 10 years, so it should be good!

I’ve got a few other nights out, including a brewery tour, coming up soon which should all be fun and will be heading through to Edinburgh for some festival fun at some point as well. Ohh yeah, and I’ve signed up for Glastonbury next year as well.

All in all things aren’t going too badly.

Mind you, I’m not mentioning the fact that I went to join a gym near my office the other day, had a tour of the facilities and it was only when the monthly rate was mentioned that I started to realise I was in the wrong gym… no I’m not mentioning that AT ALL.

Shush.