Month: August 2010

13 (+1)

Unlucky for some (the future lies ahead).

As they say (whoever they are).

Had hoped to not to be here when this rolled around (but it’s only a number).

Life goes on (14 years is a long time).

Always (there are many years ahead).

Without fail (life goes on).

Nothing is truly unlucky (nor is there such a thing as fate).

Things are good (and will get better).

Do not worry (the past will remain, fondly).

There are many years ahead (always).

Life continues

No offer on house. The viewers didn’t get an offer on their property so we are back to square … two, I guess as they are still interested.

Anyway, off to visit the nurse today for a checkup on my blood pressure and to see if the drugs still work (and aren’t destroying my kidneys). I’m thinking my blood pressure might be a teeny tiny ickle bit affected by the whole splitting up/selling house thing…

Still, life goes on. Tonight I’m at an ISTC area group meeting, tomorrow night marks the return of Games Night at work, where we use the big projector and other large screens hooked up to Wiis and XBoxes to, yeah, play games. We also order pizza.

And then on Saturday it’s haircut day, I’ll also be visiting the dental hygienist then off into Glasgow later for food then to watch Scott Pilgrim vs the World! Looking forward to that.

So, life continues.

And, to be honest, aside from the house sale situation, everything is good. We can’t do anything else to make the house sell quicker so no point fretting about that, instead I’m getting out and about more and enjoying every minute.

Content Aggregation

I have an admission. I’m lazy. I work hard to get around that basic character trait but it remains there in the background, nagging away at me. Professional pride stops it influencing my work (I manage a lean, mean to-do list to keep me on track), but when it comes to things on the periphery I happily admit I’ll look for an easy, hassle-free solution if I can find one.

This has lead to me develop some little working habits which help me keep on top of the mass of information which I divert my way, largely through RSS feeds. I monitor many different feeds as I like to keep up with latest developments and discussions about our profession, it also makes it easier for me to write my monthly column – Blog News – for the ISTC Newsletter.

The workflow includes monitoring RSS feeds in Google Reader, and a web application called Instapaper which, with one click, bookmarks posts I want to read later. I then have another web application called Twitter Feed which monitors the RSS feed from Instapaper, and sends the links to my Twitter account as “retweets”. One click, gives me collation and sharing of articles and posts. Quite powerful.

Of course, at some point, there needs to be time to digest all this information and when it comes to that there have been a few interesting ideas appearing recently. These services will aggregate content by monitoring various places, and displaying the articles (links) they find in a more readable format.

In a way, Instapaper will do this, allowing you to read the text of an article without having to visit the website (a bit like Google Reader), but other services are starting to offer more graphical views, such as that provided by Paper.li.

The idea behind Paper.li is to create a ‘newspaper’ built from focussed articles. You tell it where to look for links and it does some nifty processing. Here’s one based on my Twitter account. It’s a bit basic at the moment, but has a lot of potential. I can see me using a few of these as ‘starting pages’, fire them up, get some coffee and spend a few minutes looking at intelligently collated content.

Hoping for Mental

Ahhh yes, it makes perfect sense now I’ve realised what is going to happen. There is nothing I can do to stop it, so, as I have before, I’ll just go with the flow whilst the madness unfurls around me.

If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs…

We are waiting to hear if the people who viewed our house a couple of weeks ago are going to make an offer. They are waiting on an offer being made on their property and are expecting it this week.

Which, if we are lucky, will mean that by this time next week we will be agreeing moving dates and so on. All good.

That is until I realised that September is already a very busy month for me. I’m speaking at a conference in the middle of September, have several things going on at work that I can’t drop out of at this point, not to mention a few birthdays to remember (my parents both have birthdays in September). I may also be needing to find somewhere to live, pack the house into boxes, get a van and a man service to help us move, deal with the cancelling of accounts, paying off of debts and everything else that goes along with selling a house and splitting up.

Of course, it might not go that way. It might fall through. I’m trying my best not to get my hopes up.

But.

I’m fairly optimistic. Particularly given previous experiences when life has conspired to bring several things together into a mad mental stramash. But I’ve gotten through those times OK, so I’m sure this will be just the same.

So, if it does all happen, it’s fair to say that September is gonna be just a LITTLE BIT MENTAL! You have been warned.

ISTC West of Scotland – Meetup

The next ISTC West of Scotland area group meeting will take place in Glasgow on Thursday 26th August 2010, from 7.30 pm onwards. Come along to talk about latest news and trends in communication, or just to meet other communication professionals.

The event is free and open to anyone interested in technical communication, such as technical authors, information architects, internal communication professionals, report writers, marketing writers, web content writers and graphic designers.

Venue: Waxy O’Connors pub, 44 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 1DH. Please make your way to McTurk’s Room on the middle level.

Please forward this message on to your colleagues or anyone else who may be interested.

For more information, email westscotland_areagroup @ istc.org.uk

See you in September?

Are you in the UK? Are you attending the Technical Communication conference in September? If not, you really should, it’s looking like it will be an excellent conference.

The conference website is starting to gear up as well, and has posted some short interviews with some of the speakers, including yours truly. They should give you a flavour of what to expect at the sessions, many of which I’m hoping to be able to attend as well.

I’d imagine planning the sessions is one of the harder jobs when organising a conference, making sure there isn’t too much overlap and the programme this year seems to have a good balance. Certainly I think there is only one overlap with a session I would like to see that I can’t attend, but that’s because I’m presenting at the same time.

Hope to see many of you there, and remember, and this is the most important thing of all.

Mine’s a Guinness!

I was in Edinburghertown

I’m alive!

Speaking of which, who sings that song? The one in the Five Alive advert with the Dodo? Anyone? CBATG…

Having been and went and done Edinburgh on Sunday, I had planned to write up some blog posts but, alas, I’m old now and an entire day drinking takes an undue toll and leaves me moulded to the sofa with only enough energy to make toast and coffee every couple of hours.

That said, it was fun, as it usually is, spending a day in the mania that is Edinburgh at festival time and, amongst several pubs, many beers and a rather delicious burger in Holyrood 9A, we even managed to catch a short comedy show, Ronna and Beverly which included Mike McShane as one of their guests and even he seemed a delightfully bemused by the two bickering Jewish Matriarchs. Thankfully, despite pointing out the “Three young gentlemen” at the start of their show, they didn’t pick on us. They did, however, mention a sexual practice called “Dog in the bathtub”, which was new to me.

Yeah, I wouldn’t google for that at work though.

Also don’t google “one man and a jar”. EVER. I’m serious. Just hearing about it… ohhh no I can’t even think about it again… *barf*

I’m serious, I know you are all thinking… ohh it can’t be that bad, I’ll have seen worse. Trust me. Don’t do it. And yes, I should probably not even mention it here but part of me is interested to see which of you perverted sickos will go and look at it (apparently a couple of people I follow on Twitter made that mistake. To them I apologise, but I DID WARN YOU!!).

Anyway, the ‘we’ in question was myself and my best mates Stuart and Keith, unfortunately the other two usual suspects, Ian and Bill, couldn’t make it. Bill lives in Holland now (yes, I know, I WILL VISIT SOON!) and Ian was working in Ireland. So, being the type of good friends we are we shared some of the joy of drinking beer outside in the sunshine by emailing pics of said beer to Ian. He really, really did appreciate it. Honest.

The advantage of having friends you’ve known for a long time is that some things never change. We’ve many good shared memories, despite the fact we all tend to forget things, like each other’s birthdays, the fact my Dad had a heart attack several years ago (“Your Dad had a heart attack? When?” “Ehhh like 6 years ago” “ohhhh, ohhh yeah…”) amongst others. And one advantage of having a mate who works at the festival every year is that he knows all the little pubs that sell good beer and are never that busy. Hic.

Always good to spend time with my friends, just chilling out and talking bollocks. As friends are wont to do. It’s also good to revisit many of the old jokes and, as usual, make drunken promises of holidays and visits knowing fine well it’ll likely be Christmas before we are all together again. Yes, yes indeed, a good time was had.

The Presumption of Common Sense

If there is one phrase which should set off alarms in the mind of a technical writer it’s when a developer says “Ohhh but they wouldn’t use it like that…”.

Because, as I’m sure you all know, they will.

I am currently working with a few people to try and pull together a solid set of product usage recommendations. We provide an SDK and a feature rich application built using our own technology, and that application is extended and configured for specific uses. There are plenty of hook points in there and, for the most part, usage follows accepted patterns. However there is always the time when a certain component is bent and twisted and used in a way we hadn’t expected and it’s these instances that we are trying to understand and capture.

We get a view of them by exploring edge cases when testing, but it occurred to me that there is still one thing that can catch us out. Our old nemesis, ‘presumption’ (which is usually coupled with it’s friend ‘common sense’).

So now I’m on red alert for any statements which are based on presumption. Sometimes they are right, but it’s the times when they are wrong that we need to explore them, capture them and help our customers by giving them some frame of acceptable usage. It’s not an exact science, but even just pausing to have those short conversations seems to be helping.

Going out

Quick house sale update: We had a viewer and they liked the house. They are waiting on receiving offers on their place though, but still, progress! Exciting! And other exclamation mark worthy statements!!

One thing I’ve been starting to do over the past few months is get out more. Meet up with people, even just for a coffee or a drink, or just spending time wandering about Glasgow meeting random people. People like Svetlana.

But I’m not going to talk about Svetlana (don’t worry I’ll introduce her to you all soon*).

I’m a pretty confident guy and share the ability to talk to anyone with my sister, although admittedly I can’t quite match her words-a-second ratio (I can only presume she’s mastered circular breathing as she can talk for minutes WITHOUT ONCE DRAWING BREATH!), so I’m quite happy sitting in a bar on my own or chatting to shop keepers and the like.

It feels good to be out and about in the city, and I can’t wait to move into it (or at least to the edges of it) and whilst I know there are drawbacks, it’ll be good to at least feel a part of something.

Clubs will be next, as in joining some, not battering baby seals to death. I’ve a couple in mind which should keep me out of trouble, add in joining a local gym and I’ll need to remember to leave sometime for just chilling out and reading books.

Speaking of which, have you ordered a copy of Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex yet? It’s avery limited print run of an excellent book, well worth the money! I’d also happily recommend Sex and Bowls and Rock and Roll which WILL make you laugh, guaranteed!** I’m reading it at the moment and have been asked to stop laughing so much!

And yes, it is a COMPLETE COINCIDENCE that both books have the word SEX in the title (Hello Google!).

* she’s not a person

** not really but it really will make you chuckle!

56

I’ve been gamed.

Or rather, I’m gaming myself.

I’m fully aware this is happening, and yet I’m actually enjoying letting my behaviour be dictated by the simplest of mechanisms, a number displayed on a screen.

The premise is simple enough, the higher the number the better.

I started at about 44 and slowly rose, week after week until it hit 55.3. It peaked there for a while and then crept up further, plateauing at 55.5.

I thought that would be it, and if I’m honest I almost accepted it for a while. 55.5 would be the highest it would go and there wasn’t much else I could do if I wanted to influence it.

Except that’s not true.

With such systems it’s always possible to eek a little more from the working set of parameters, adapting in finer and finer increments until you get a perceptible gain.

It’s been a long time but in the past couple of weeks 55.7 was reached, then 55.9 was touched, all too briefly. The last week saw the number fluctuate, 55.8, 55.9, 55.8, 55.9.

Such torment!

And then, finally, on Sunday the display read 56!

I know I’ve been gaming myself, using the number to adjust things, changing this and that to keep it rising higher and higher. I could probably keep going but at some point there must come a balance and I’m happy enough with things as they are.

Yes, 56 is a good number. I’m happy with 56.