Month: October 2010

Still busy

I know it’s still October (just) but I just wanted to say that I’m looking forward to Christmas this year, largely because it’ll be a holiday.

The sale of the house is complete, debts have been paid off, and all that is left for me is to change the address on my driver’s license, join a gym, and buy a few bookcases and a some bedroom furniture (I have other purchases planned but they’ll be Christmas presents to myself, before the VAT rises).

The past couple of months have been somewhat busy; packing, fretting, phoning, packing, phoning, signing, phoning, fretting, phoning, fretting, phoning, unpacking, unpacking, phoning, fretting, unpacking, phoning, celebrating!, unpacking, buying, paying, phoning, paying, phoning, paying, partying, not to mention working.

November is looking just as busy if not quite for the same reasons; Working, travelling, working, Working, gigging, working, gigging, Working, gigging, Working, working, Working, working. I’m attending three gigs in one week and a wedding in Bristol, I’m making a start on revamping the ISTC website, building a website for someone else, and all the while at Work we are planning ahead to 2011 and all that that entails (plans, spreadsheets, meetings and more plans).

December is a bit calmer but will soon devolve into the usual whirl of nights out, parties, and shopping until it hits Christmas Eve as from then, until the 5th of January, all I’ll have is food, drinks, good company, presents and copious amounts of sleep.

Which, if you ask me, sounds bloody marvellous.

SOLD

In every walk of life, some people seem to exist just to annoy and piss off everyone else. Today I’d like to talk about lawyers.

Before I say anything negative, I would like to hold up a shining example of a good lawyer. So, if you are in the Lanarkshire area, I can recommend Stretford and Tulips in Hamilton, specifically Louise Johnstone and Linda Dick who provided exemplary service in a professional and friendly manner, keeping us up to speed with progress and making sure we knew what was happening as things progressed.

The lawyer on the purchasing side however, not so good. In fact he turned out to be the most pedantic, nitpicky and frustrating, nay unprofessional person (taking a day off on the day we hoped to finally, belatedly, complete the sale is a little ‘off’, wouldn’t you say?).

However, that is all in the past as, midway through last week, only five days after the agreed date, we finally concluded the sale of our house!

All it took was an extra inspection (from the Council Buildings department which took all of two minutes and cost £265) on top of the previous two inspections, one completed for the home report, one completed by the mortgage provider for the buyers, an indemnity policy to cover the appearance of any sink holes as per the terms of the Title Deeds (or in case anyone wanted to, you know, open a mine in the middle of a housing estate in Hamilton), and the issuing of a threat of breach of contract to hurry things along.

It’s all done and dusted now though with the final monies due to land into my account in the next couple of days.

WOOOOOOO and indeed YAAYYYYYYYY!!!

Mechanics Weekly

You’ve heard of coincidences, right? Well sometimes when those coincidences are a little too unbelievable, our family (OK, mostly Mumsy) says they are “spooky”. So it’s safe to say that when I found out the name of our solicitor was Louise, that was just a coincidence, but when her legal assistant is called Linda (my Mum’s name is Lynda), well then, that’s just “spooky”. With me?

Look, this is my mother’s thing, I’m just relaying it.

That said, now and again there are some genuinely weird coincidences that can, and should, be correctly labelled as “spooky” or as I may have uttered on this occasion, “Ohhhhhh spoooooooooky!”.

This is a story of one such occasion.

A couple of weekends ago my family came over to help me move some boxes into my new flat. My Mum and Dad helped a lot but unfortunately my sister was taken very ill that morning but, bless her, she struggled from her sick bed to offer some moral support (and some vomit, which was nice).

Now, it would be unfair of me to suggest that her illness had any relation to the amount of alcohol she had imbibed the night before but I suspect that, and I’ll let the irony of this linger a moment, … it was just coincidence.

I digress.

Frequently.

See, I’m doing it again.

Now, where was I? Ohh yes…

Once we reached the flat and had unloaded both cars we decided to head to Byres Road for lunch. I noted that my sister perked up considerably after a large chicken burger but decided it best not to mention this. As it was a nice afternoon, if a bit brisk of wind, we took a post-prandial, and ended up stopping in on a junk shop I’ve mentioned here before. I bought a mirror, and my Dad, after much huffing and puffing about the place picked up an old car magazine (I think it was printed around 1967).

We departed the junk shop and wandering back to the car I asked my Dad about his purchase. He said it was a little bit of reminiscing on his part and also that he knew a mechanic that would appreciate it and anyway, it was only £2 for a wee trip down memory lane.

As he was telling me this he turned the magazine over to show me the price label and there, written in pencil along the top of the front cover was a name. I presume the magazine had been delivered when first published, or perhaps picked up in the local newsagent by the man who had ordered it, hence why it had a surname written on it.

I do hope that “Mr. McLean” enjoyed reading the magazine when he first received it all those years ago.

Say it with me now, ohhhhhh spoooooooooky!

How do you learn?

I was recently asked for some advice for people new to technical communications and I found myself reminded of the Curse of Knowledge: “when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators”.

I struggle to remember not only what I didn’t know when I first started out in this profession, but how I learned things on the way. Memory suggests it was a mix of trial and error, good advice and lots of reading of other documentation to see how other people did it.

I won’t give away the advice I passed on, it’ll be published next week, but it did cause me to ponder my own career progression and how I pass on the knowledge I have to the rest of the team.

Passing on a mish-mash of learned knowledge is always tricky and can be dangerous. A recent discussion about improving the quality of our indexing reminds me that the way I learned to do it was based on thinking that is ten years old and may, or may not, have been superseded by better researched methods.

So the best thing you can teach anyone is surely the ability to learn for themselves, give them space to make mistakes (everyone does, it’s an essential part of learning), and help them understand what questions to ask and when best to ask them.

First World Problems

I’ve been in my flat for just over a week now, I’ve unpacked as much as I can until I purchase more bookcases and it’s starting to feel like home. The living room is a wonderful big space with lots of light, the kitchen is way bigger than my simple needs but allows me to eat at a table every night and the location is wonderful. But, there is one thing missing.

No, not the cat.

An internet connection!

It’s getting installed at the end of the month and whilst I have missed it I’ve gotten by quite well using my iPhone, although it’s fair to say any ‘smartphone’ would’ve done and it’s definitely saved my arse several times this past week as I’ve been organising new direct debits, checking addresses and names, not to mention the myriad of phone numbers I’ve had to contact.

I have gotten so used to having a permanent connection to the web that I’m still finding myself thinking “I’ll just check…” or “I’m bored I’ll see what’s online…” or any other of the many and plentiful (and usually pointless but entertaining) reasons for using the internet that it still catches me out. Suffice to say that, when you include the fact that for the best part of the first week I didn’t have any more than the five terrestial channels, the whole thing has been a bit of a culture shock.

It’s not like I didn’t have anything to do mind you, those boxes didn’t unpack themselves (and I won’t even START on the fiasco that actually selling the house has turned into… I’ll save that for another time), but did mean that my entertainment was largely confined to listening to some music, reading a book, watching a DVD or firing up the PlayStation.

Or tidying and cleaning and unpacking and building furniture and shuffling the last possessions between the house and the flat and far too many trips to charity shops and the local dump and lawyers offices and so on.

All in all it’s been an odd and jarring experience to have my access to the internet, and all the TV channels that I used to get on Sky, removed so abruptly.

Jarring but also quite liberating.

I’ve found myself much more productive without all of those distractions. I’ve hardly read any books yet as they are still packed in boxes, and I find gaming wears on me after a while, most terrestial TV is complete dross and so I either commit to watching a movie or spend 30 mins sorting through a box, or shuffling items between rooms. That 30 mins soon stretches to an hour or two and before I know it I’ve finished unpacking the kitchen.

I built my new desk and got my PC up and running and, despite having a fair amount of video content on there I found myself more inclined to pop some music on and do some writing (most of it complete tosh but I still enjoy the process).

All in all I’ve quite enjoyed that lo-tech week.

I’ve got freeview now, and a nice wee PVR system which uses the PlayStation (Play TV if you are interested), so at least I can record shows I want to see which should open up the TV a bit more, but I’m hoping that I’ll hold true to my plans and stick with a more considered approach. I’ll always be busy, it’s in my nature, but I’m hoping to keep the focus I’ve developed over the past week.

Mind you, I am looking forward to spending a weekend on the sofa soon. Yes. All weekend. Nothing but me, some movies and several boxes of Jaffa cakes.

ISTC West of Scotland meetup

The next ISTC technical communicators’ meeting in Glasgow will take place on Monday 8th November 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.

For more information, contact westscotland_areagroup [at] istc.org.uk.

The last weekend

Sunday night will be the last night I spend in the house in Hamilton (trying to get out of the habit of calling it ‘home’). Removal van arrives on Monday morning and, by the afternoon, everything will have been moved into my new home.

So, barring a final visit to give it a quick clean at some point during next week, from Monday I’m officially moved.

Now we just need to finalising the paperwork for the sale of the house and we are done.

It’s still a bit weird at times, and as I’m spending most of my time either working, or making sure I’ve not forgotten to pack something, or complete a form, or make a phone call, I’m bloody knackered and a bit prone to mood swings. So I veer from being hugely tigger-bounce-excited about getting my own place, which I love and will bore you all with photos of at some point, to being a bit maudlin about missing the cat and generally the habits and patterns which we had.

It’s still unsettling for a lot of our friends, and family, that Louise and I are still on good terms and will remain friends, even if we fall out of contact with each other, but I just don’t know how we’d have gotten through the last six months if we’d fallen out and been fighting and horrid and nasty to each other.

The next post on this blog will be from my new home, but that’s dependant on when my broadband installation happens so, until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful!

Where are we going?

As the end of the year starts to draw close, inevitably thoughts turn to 2011 and the challenges that may lie ahead. From a product point of view we are starting to get a feel of how the year will shape up, and so we can start to look at how our team negotiates the (still forming) landscape.

It already looks likely that our aim (alongside keeping pace with product development) will be to get to a point where we can correctly focus our efforts around structure, and ad-hoc document requessts. Given that we have access to outcome codes from the Support team, several of which are specifically around product documentation being either wrong, missing, or not read at all, and we will soon have a full set of analytics from our online product documentation, which should put us in a much better position to correctly prioritise those additional work streams rather than fall into the “whoever shouts loudest” model we are currently prey to.

The analytics are powered by Google Analytics and track visits to each topic of the documentation set. The numbers should help point is to areas of the documentation that, for one reason or another, need some attention. This works both ways of course, a high number of views indicates a lot of people using the information, but where are they going afterwards? If they head to the Support area of the website then can we presume the information isn’t correct? And those topics with little to no views, are they not used because they can’t be found?

I’m a little wary of spending too much time analysing the statistics and initially they will be used purely to direct us to the outliers, those topics that for one reason or another are causing anomalies in the reported numbers. Once we smooth those out then it will require a lot more deep-dive style root cause analysis which, as with everything else, will bring a fresh set of challenges and hopefully some new routes of communication with our customers.

Miscellany

Random thoughts of a Sunday morning.

And yes, I’m sitting waiting to get through to buy my ticket for Glastonbury next year. No, the website won’t load, yes the phone line is constantly engaged.

You know you are bad at packing when you have several open ‘I’ll-just-take-them-in-the-car’ boxes.

Anyone else on WordPress seeing a lot more spam in their comments? Thank the lord for Akismet! By the way, does anyone pay for that? Is it like Xmarks, something you’d pay for but don’t?

Speaking of which, if you use Xmarks and want to, maybe, see if you paying for it would keep it going (it’s folding up), then go read this!

Sorting through boxes that have been unopened and in your loft for several years isn’t all that fun. The reality of what is happening is writ large in the memories we will always share.

I need to buy a new kettle. Must remember to write that down somewhere.

Music wise I seem stuck in a bit of a BBC Radio 6 place, all new bands, luscious sounds and the odd blast from the past. Where did all the rock music go?

Quite excited to go to Glastonbury next year though, never been and will need advice on what to take and what NOT to take. Also where the feck to sleep, in a tent? Off-site somewhere? And, of course, there will be endless rounds of “right, I’ll go and see them and then head there to see her, and then I’ll… ohh, wait no. I’ll go and see him, and then her, then I’ll go there to see… no… right. OK, this time… I’ll start here and…”

The cat likes boxes. Specifically, sleeping in them. Specifically, one that almost got taped shut as I presumed from the weight that it was as full as it could be.

You know how I have that other blog, well I wondered why I hadn’t had any comments on it and realised I’d turned them off. Only thing is, I turned them back on but they don’t work. I’ve decided this is for a reason and I’m leaving them off.

It gets really boring sitting watching a website NOT load, hitting F5 over and over and over and over…

Ohhh and applications that popup a dialog and steal focus, with OK set as the default button so, when I’m typing and glance down at the keyboard, the dialog pops up just as I hit the spacebar… in other words, I don’t even see anything except a brief blip on the screen then something starts up, or shuts down. Yeah. I DO NOT LIKE THOSE!

I have a lot patience threshold. 45 minutes sitting waiting and I’m at the “you know, if it’s this bad getting tickets, what is it going to be like at the fucking thing? It’ll probably rain anyway… shall I even bother?”. Then I think of the alternatives… T in the Park, and decide, yeah, I’ll hang in there a bit longer. Note to T in the Park, up your prices! (in the hope of weeding out the dickheads).

Hmmmm yes, yes I am a snob. This fact doesn’t really bother me.

It’s amazing what you can achieve in one room whilst waiting on a website to load. That’s my little office ready to be moved.

And yes, this is what Twitter is like. Except those big long sentences obviously.