Tag: OK

Can you tell?

A quick stroke of the chin, a flicker of the eyes round the table, a slight linger before flicking your cards flat.

Or in my case a ‘woooop’, a fist punching the air and a little victory dance. OK, maybe not.

I’m still learning the basics of Poker but far more interesting to me is the subtle tactical and psychology side. To bluff or not, to show your hand or not, when to raise the stakes, when to try and lull in your opponents, when to play a hand, when not, there are so many subtle variables in the basic gameplay that rely on … well, almost a sneaky nature.

I can see why so many people enjoy playing the game, there is a certain personal thrill to be had when you win a hand by bluffing (managed that once!) and as it’s every man for himself then, obviously, the ego comes into play. I don’t yet have a ‘poker-face’ mind you and I think that’s my weakness so I’ll be trying out a few little tactics this evening.

Anyone else a poker fan? Any hints or tips?

News Headlines

Gosh, things are bad aren’t they. Awful. Credit Crunch apparently. No no, recession now. Or is it still a ‘downturn’? Hey it can’t be bad, did you hear the profit announcment from BP?

Enough of that, what about Brand and Ross? What a fuss! Fine them and be done with it. Everyone knows what they are like, and whilst that’s no excuse (and they should be dealt with) is it really the only news of the day?

What about the preview of Windows 7? No?

OK, a cat update. Last night he brought us a dead mouse and this morning, as I opened the front door to leave the house, he appeared with a tiny dead bird. Now I’ve had words with him about this before so he knew fine well that I would be taking the bird from him and disposing of it immediately.

I’m sorry but he needs to learn. Anyway, I have promised him that, the day he brings home a bloody magpie (in every sense of the word), he is free to de-feather, disembowel and generally torture the noisy thing all he likes.

And finally, Pro Evolution Soccer is taking some getting used to but it’s slowly winning me over.

Ummmmm.

So.

How are you?

Driving Development

Recently Daniel Brolund posted an idea around something he termed User Guide Driven Development, it’s an interesting read and, you know what, he’s almost right.

Almost.

First up you should note that Daniel works for the company that created the application he name drops in his post, Bumblebee. However his approach did ring a few bells with me, as it would sit nicely alongside my belief that, when working in an agile development environment, you have to eschew traditional writing processes and aim to grab and pillage information from wherever you can, trickling into what will become the final publication.

What I’ve realised is that by partly adopting the process suggested by Daniel we, the technical writing team, can be involved right up front and the documentation can be one of the methods used to validate the software as it is being built.

In an Agile team, the emphasis is on Test Driven Development where a chunk of work, derived from a customer story, first has acceptance tests written for it before any coding can start. The aim of the developer is to make sure his code meets the acceptance tests. In our organisation the test team provide guidance and input to what those tests should be, but the onus is on the developer to make sure they write the tests first.

So what if we slip the technical writer into the mix? Well first up we can roll up a level to the requirements gathering point and rather than one or two developers talking to the customer to capture their requirements in the form of customer stories (with the customer being the ‘sponsor’ of the requirement and not always directly a customer of the functionality, for example in the case of a sales or marketing driven stream of work) instead the technical writer will be there to capture the stories and flesh them out to an appropriate level.

From there it should be easier to break the stories down into tasks, and as we act as user advocates, those tasks should better reflect the end user. Once the tasks are in place we can write up the documentation to that level alongside the creation of the acceptance tests and, with both tests and a few paragraphs describing the aim of the functionality (how it helps meet part of the overarching customer story), and how the functionality is expected to work (how the end user will use the functionality), then we have a very powerful way of ensuring requirements are met.

As it happens on the guys in my team is already working in this sort of manner and it’s going well. Yes it’s a mind shift for both the technical writer and the development team but it appears to be paying dividends. If everyone agrees we’ll roll it out across the other areas of development.

And then, finally, I will be able to claim that my department is running development! Mwuhahahaaa!!

OK, maybe not.

P.S. I’m aware some of my colleagues read this, don’t worry I know who you are, and you will be treated fairly when my team assume power…

Stop Writing Manuals

No-one reads the documentation anyway, so why do we persist in writing user guides, instruction manuals and all the other types of document-centric information silos that we all quietly loathe creating in the first place?

Unless you have a contractual agreement to compile information into a document, it’s our job to figure out how best to get the right information to the user at the right time. It’s down to us, no-one else.

And I, for one, have failed to do my best, instead I’ve hidden behind the usual arguments of “ohh but that was how it was when I got here”, or “we don’t get to speak to our users so it’s hard to know what they want”.

OK, so I’m deliberately setting out a pretty bleak scenario here and, like everything, your own situation is probably not that dire, or is certainly further towards the ‘good’ end of a sliding scale.

However, the fact remains that a lot of thought and effort goes into creating content and perhaps not enough is placed on the delivery of said content. The mediums of the past are still valid but are increasingly being replaced and (and this is important) these new mediums are part of customer expectation.

I need look no further than myself to give you an example.

I am fairly careful with my money in that I tend to do a lot of research before buying a product. Whilst I have just purchased an iPhone, I didn’t buy the first version because my research suggested it would’ve been a mistake.

Part of my research is, quite simply, to see what kind of supporting information exists for the product I’m considering purchasing. Can I download or view the product documentation, and if so, what format is it in? What about user forums or support websites? Knowledge bases and articles? The latter are, increasingly, higher up my preference list than the former to the point where I’m pretty sure I’d buy if it had no user guide but a thriving user/support forum.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for our old friend, the product manual, but I would suggest it is under threat. Previously, to receive validated and trusted product information, I’d go to the product manual or support staff, anything that was produced by the people that make the product.

Now?

Now, thanks to reputation systems (points system that users build up the more the offer to, and interact with, a website) and the ability to cross-check information quickly and easily on the internet, I am far more likely to trust a post or article written by a complete stranger.

The wisdom of the crowd comes into play here of course, the more people that use your product the better the chance of a unique and useful scenario being documented and published, but there is no reason why we, the technical writers, cannot insert ourselves into that stream. Refocussing why we deliver information is a crucial part of the changes taking place in our industry.

Because, to be frank, if we don’t start looking around and changing how we work, we may soon be redundant. In every sense of the word.

Feeling Brave

OK OK, I’ll bite.

Gentlemen of the audience. How do you hang clothes up to dry?

Presuming you aren’t just leaving them in a sodden clump, and that you hang them over a line or a clothes horse… can there really be a WRONG way to hang clothes up to dry?

The way I hang ’em up doesn’t stop them from drying, so how can there be a wrong way?? Honestly, you wummin don’t half make things complicated sometimes…

Let's Dance

Despite having been blogging for some years now, I still put myself under some weird pressure to post every day or so and as such I have developed a dance I like to call the “Start Stop two-step”.

It’s quite simple and I’m sure many my fellow bloggers have mastered it already, but if you are new to the world of ballroom dancing then here are some instructions.

Gentlemen, prepare the floor to ensure your partner doesn’t slip or trip. Ladies (or Gentlemen dance partners) whilst you are waiting it is customary to prepare some post-dance refreshments, a stiff gin, a cold beer, or perhaps big mug of tea. Whatever tickles your wotsit.

Floor preparation is crucial, and you really shouldn’t rush this stage, so make sure you have an Idea ready, as well as an empty place into which the Idea will flow as you smoothly spin and twirl across the dancefloor.

OK, we are ready to begin. Please assume the position, elbows slightly bent, fingers hovering over the keyboard. Take a deep breath, don’t rush, and don’t worry if you falter at first, one of the fundamental reasons for this dance is to help you overcome your nerves and focus your brain.

Ready? Start typing, don’t pause if you lose your bearings or your Idea suddenly disappears, it will return eventually. Instead let your fingers alight gently on each key, deftly picking at the threads of your Idea, helping it to spiral across the dancefloor until it lands, sated and breathless on tiptoes.

Or, you know, you could just come up with a really crap metaphor to try and explain why you are struggling to focus on your writing. That may be easier.

(note to self: when choosing a metaphor, pick a subject you know something about… )

Revision Control

Prompted by an excellent article – Subversion for writers – I thought it might be useful to offer a Windows view. Like most software groups, our development team use a version control system to manage multiple versions of the product; we have customers using many previous versions and all are maintained in the same system so we can patch fixes back through multiple versions.

Our team of writers use the same system, although as we are using FrameMaker we lose some of the nicer features but the core reasons for using a version control system remain – files are locked by whoever is working on them, and we have a full version history of changes made, including when, who and why.
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I see no… photos

Flicking through Flickr … ahhhh I get it now …

Anyway.

I was … ummm … browsing Flickr last night and it struck me that I’m just not generally of a mind to take photos. I’m still very much a “go and take photos” type of photographer, rather than a “quick, take a snapshot” type of photographer. Now I’ll admit that, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t really that big a deal but, as we all know, it’s the minor things that tend to piss us off and this, currently, is one of mine.

Before I continue I’ll point out that, as I type, my camera sits in the bag at my feet. It’s been there for the past couple of weeks (in the bag, not at my feet).

The lack of photos is not for the want of subjects either, for a start the building I work in has an art deco frontage and a modern glass, copper and metal extension, and even then I do seem to have a fairly good eye for composition (ohhh modesty, wherefore art thou?) even if my technical know-how still needs to be improved. No, I’m definitely not short of subjects.

So, I have the camera, I have the subjects. What on earth could possibly be stopping me taking more photos? Ahhh yes, of course. The idiot holding the camera of course!

Despite the fact I see many things, on a daily basis, that I think would make interesting snapshots (a shaft of light burning through the air, a discarded bike by the side of the road, the blossoming smoke rising from an industrial chimney) my camera remains unsheathed. I really, really need to get over this. But how?

I guess I just need to get over myself, get over the sense of… what? awkwardness? Not sure but I need to get my mindset sorted. Right. OK. Yes!!

In fact I’m going to take the first step right now.

There.

My camera is now on my desk.

Hey, baby steps and all that..

Ready or not

I have made the lists.

I have checked the lists.

The lists do not lie.

I think I finally have a grip on … dammit … just remembered something else.

OK, let’s start over.

The coming few weeks will be hectic. The arrival and fitting of a new kitchen requires preparation, the erecting of a new fence in the back garden requires a little preparation too, and there is the small matter of an (overdue) website, on top of some new stuff at work which is REALLY exciting and which I’m trying not to let intrude into my ‘downtime’ (I’m failing on that count but I don’t really mind).

So I have a list of things that need to be purchased. A list of things that need to be done, ordered by when they need done by (paint the kitchen ceiling before it’s fitted, for example), and split into things that need done on the computer, and things that don’t. Fairly simple.

This is always the way of things, I no longer get (too) stressed out knowing that, in the end, things will come together and with everything safely stored NOT IN MY HEAD, then I can tackle the tasks as and when needed.

Although I’ve just thought of something else I need to do…

Right, I THINK I’m prepared now. Maybe.

Lemme just check that list one more time…

London Calling – Take 2

Back from Spain, unpacked and back into the routine. The next few weeks will be busy, preparing for a new kitchen, finishing off a website (two on the go at the moment) as well as a few other things that have cropped up in our absence that need dealt with.

However, before all that and as I’ve already mentioned, I’m in London this coming weekend. Friday evening will find me in Charing Cross in the Ship and Shovell pub from around 4pm.

At the request of some, I’ve setup an Upcoming event for this momentous occasion. As I was told (or at least this is how I remember it) this is an incredible opportunity for you all to meet and greet the 17th most important blogger in Scotland. OK, maybe I’m over-egging it a little but I’m DEFINITELY the most important blogger in my house.

If you can be bothered to come along, and you have an Upcoming account, then it would be handy if you’d sign up to this event so I know how many people to expect. I know the pub has a maximum capacity so this will help me gauge the interest in what may be a once in an evening occasion.

I realise the location won’t suit everyone but as I’m hauling my ass down from Scotland, it really would be a little rude of you to complain, so suck it up. I will bring some signed photographs and if you are really lucky I may even let you buy me a drink. It’s only fair.

Hope to see you all there.