Tag: OK

Five things

I haz been tagged. In fact I’ve two meme duties to fulfill, so let me get this one out of the road first (it was way easier than the next one).

The idea of the meme is to list five things in your life now that you would have never thought would be in your life when you were 25.

1. A cat
Louise and I both grew up with dogs. That is we both had dogs in our families, we weren’t raised, Mowgli-like, by packs of wild canines. However as we both have full-time jobs, and are out of the house during the day time, we knew it wouldn’t be fair to get a puppy. However we both like cats, entertaining a neighbourhood white persian on occasion, and the possibility of getting Ollie came up we jumped at it.

Last night I fell asleep with toasty warm feet, and the soft purring lullaby of our little black kitten (he’s not even 5 months old yet, even though I think he’s older).

2. A posh car
Having spent a fair number of years commuting by train, I switched jobs and needed a new car. Something reliable and functional, and bigger than our previous car (a great wee Peugeot 206). The Honda Civic wasn’t the first choice but other than a few minor niggles I have to admit that it’s been brilliant. Yes it is a little more expensive to run but I gain on fuel economy (it’s a diesel and I’m fairly economic when I drive, most of the time).

Note: it’s not THAT posh but it’s the first time I’ve had cruise control, A/C and other ‘nice to have’ stuff. Plus it’s easily the most expensive car we’ve owned, and by FAR the fastest… er… allegedly…

3. A Mac
Well I HAD to have a techie thing in here, didn’t I.

Nine years ago, Apple were a bit of a laughing stock, and whilst I’d always been impressed with their software, I wouldn’t have gone near it with someone else’s bargepole. Roll back to last year and I was positively itching to get a MacBook. I’ve been loving it ever since. I only wish I’d decided earlier and gotten a MacBook Pro to replace my previous PC. Still, there is always next year…

4. Jogging
I hesitate to list this one but the long-term aim is to get back out there and, considering I’ve been through various spells of trying ways to lose weight and get fit, jogging is the one that I’ve enjoyed the most. To be fair that is all down to jogScotland as I still don’t really enjoy going out alone but twice weekly sessions with a group of people sharing the same desires and abilities (plod on!) made a huge difference.

God I really need to get back to it, come on knee, get with the programme!!

5. All of you
OK OK, it’s a little twee but I spend so much of my time writing this blog, and reading yours, that I have to list you guys and gals that take the time to read what I write as I waffle on. It amazes me that, as I head for my tenth year of online publishing (that CAN’T be right!) I still have people willing to read what spews from my head. Thank you. Sincerely.

And, being a meme I now get to tag 5 people. How about Lyle, NML, Jane, Cat, and Bob. And yes, that is a very carefully chosen list!

Product Design

As a technical writer, I often find myself bemused by the design decisions made by developers and product designers. Any time I find myself bemused by a product I tend to look towards the supporting information.

However, the technical writer also has guard against such things, as evidenced by the instruction manual I received with my new watch. The watch itself has four buttons, and like most digital watches each button will do different things in different modes.

The buttons are not labelled on the watch itself and so the instruction manual is the only place to figure out what button does what. OK, I’ll admit it, I did play with it for a while before turning to the manual at which point I became a little confused.

There are four buttons, and in the instruction manual there is a simple diagram showing that they are labelled A, B, C and D. So far so good.

However, and bear in mind this is a watch so when you look at it the cognitive suggestion is “clockwise”, the buttons are labelled in an anti-clockwise order. Now if each button only did one thing, this wouldn’t be that big a deal. Yet because of the non-intuitive way they had labelled the buttons, I continued to find myself confused as to which button to push, returning to the manual at every point to check which button was next.

This is not a flaw in the hardware (the watch) but in the instruction manual.

Why do I mention this? Two reasons:

  1. We are the interface to the interface. We can break the “product” as easily as we can enhance it.
  2. Making sure co-workers realise that the documentation is part of the product can be tricky, and this leaped out at me as a good example. The product suffers because the documentation is poor.

I’m pretty sure this could have been avoided if the writer had spent more time with the product as there is little better way to fully understand how a product works, than sitting down and using it yourself.

That said, it is a very nice watch…


Busy day ahead, so I’ll be brief.

My Office Christmas party was on Saturday night. Drawing up at the main entrance, I was greeted with a red carpet, and gladly accepted a glass of fine champagne. I turned down the partridge and quail

The meal was served in the atrium area of our office (the carpeted section in the photo) and was pretty good. All I really remember was the constant supply of bottles of red wine, put an empty one down, 10 seconds later a full one appeared. It was such a fun game… i think.

Meal finished, it was time for the company awards. I was lucky enough to be nominated for one but didn’t expect to win, and the rest of the awards (6 in total) were all won deservedly. Next up, the raffle. The main prize that everyone was hoping for was a set of “bespoke curtains”. No, wait. That’s not right… ahh yes, the main prize that everyone was hoping for was two return flights to New York. I didn’t win them either, nor the 27″ LCD TV or the bespoke curtains. There were main other prizes but, thankfully, the rest of the draw takes place today (I’m holding out to win the lamb. Yes, seriously. A lamb.)

Then the band started. A few ceilidh numbers at the start before they started pumping out some classic covers. They were fantastic, although there is something odd about being drunk and dancing like a fool in the office. The reception area (you can see it, left of centre in the photo I linked to above), was the bar for the evening, and thankfully no-one fell in the fountain (on the left of the photo, just).

A cracking night.

And it wasn’t finished for me. Jumping in a taxi at 1am, I headed back to the Normandy Hotel were Louise was having her office party night out and which didn’t finish until 2am! I got to meet some of the people she works with, and as I was one of only 3 guys wearing a kilt, got a fair amount of attention. Why are women still surprised that men don’t wear anything under their kilts??

Back to the room at 2.30am and… up at 8.30 after a broken night of fitful sleep. Not sure if it was the bed or unfamiliar noises but I think I managed about 4 hours sleep in total. But that was OK, it wasn’t like we were going shopping or anything.. ohh crap.

I was a complete wreck yesterday (apologies to my parents who had come over for dinner) and ended up in bed at 9.30pm.

What a great weekend. How the hell was yours?

I am a star!

OK, I’m not really, I have a tendency to mumble and, being Scottish, I talk faster than most (I put this down to the speed at which Scottish women talk, you have to be fast to get a word in edgeways.. ). My mind wanders off topic quite easily and I tend to try off-the-cuff jokes. However I have given a presentation to a room full of strangers before but this time I may not be the only expert in the room…

These are all things I know I need to be aware of on Wednesday when I give my presentation on “Using Wikis for Collaborative Authoring” to the TICAD conference attendees.

However, I think my presentation is OK. It’s not going to “knock ’em dead”, I don’t think, but I think I’ve pitched it right and hopefully I won’t trip myself up too often. I’m going to run through it twice more before Wednesday and, as yet, I’m not hugely nervous about it. I know the topic well enough, and I think I could even talk through it if the conference system fails so that should stand me in some good stead. Mind you, ask me that at 3pm on Wednesday and I’m sure you’ll get a different answer. Still, I know that is all part of the experience and I have to admit I am genuinely looking forward to it.

It is a little odd, as this is my first time as a conference speaker, to be on the ‘other side’ of a conference and I’m not really that sure what to expect. My slot is right after the ‘breakout’ sessions, with a coffee break preceding me and the rather awesome Bernard Aschwanden following me. Which reminds me that I must ask him about the theme of his session “A Vision of the Future” as I’m slightly wary of treading on his toes (he’s shorter than me though so it’s not too much of an issue…).

Still, at least I’m not right after lunch.

If you are coming along to the conference, then please say hello. I’ll be there from Tuesday evening at the pre-conference dinner, and I’ll most definitely be in the bar on Wednesday evening. Mine’s a Guinness.

Who do you write for?

I started this blog to have a separate place to write about my “professional” thoughts and I guess I thought I could maybe add a little value to the cluttered world of technical communications, or at the very least raise my profile a little. Yes, I have an ego, but it’s kept in check for the most part.

However, like my other blog, the main reason this blog exists is to give me a place that I can consider and process my thoughts. I’ve always found writing things down helped me get a good sense of what they were, even if I didn’t necessarily start with a cohesive picture in mind. Sometimes the simplest issue, one that has eluded me for some time, leaps into focus when I start writing. I’m not sure if it’s always been that way or I’ve now trained myself into such a habit but I’m not complaining, it works for me and I’ll admit that I still get a little buzz when something “clicks”.

If I were in a cartoon a light-bulb would *plink* into existence above my head when that happens. Reality can be such a disappointment.

Today brought a good example of such a moment and rather than deleting my thoughts, I’d thought I’d post them here. Sharing is power after all (badly paraphrasing remains inexcusable).

One continuing theme on most of the mailing lists I follow and in various blog posts across the land, is that of knowing your audience. Knowing why you are writing, and who you are writing for are the fundamental tenets of our profession. They are so fundamental that, if I’m honest, the incessant reminders about them do start to grate somewhat. After all I’m a professional, how many times do I need to be told to consider my audience? How many times do we need to restate something we all know and understand.

I’m happy to admit that some will know more about their audience than others. Some will make do with a rough approximation of what their audience expects, whilst others will interview and analyse their customers and gather requirements and direction directly.

Regardless of your level of commitment to understanding them, anyone who is writing must (surely) consider their audience. Yet, at every turn, the answer to many questions all stem from that presumption, and are presented in simplistic terms. Know your audience they say. OK OK, I get it!

The thing is, after reading such a response for the umpteenth time it suddenly struck me that yes, we do need to be reminded of this basic fact, time and again.

We all have pressures on our work. Whether those pressures come from commitments made to others, from our own professional integrity, or directly from the customer, they all serve to focus us on the end goal and usually to start thinking in terms of quantity. We know we need to document the new interface to the ACME Widget and when pressure is exerted their is a temptation to take shortcuts, and the easiest shortcut is, by and large, to forget the audience.

The cardinal sin allows us to omit information on the presumption that they will “probably know it”, to structure the information according to UI rather than task, and ultimately to regress to a “if you can click it, document it” mentality. That may be a valid mode in certain circumstances but that will depend upon, yeah you guessed it, your audience.

Audience analysis, the use of personas, call it what you will, if you don’t have at least a rough idea of the type of person you are writing for then why bother? You won’t be structing the information correctly, you won’t be pitching the level of information appropriately, and you most certainly won’t be thinking around the various conceptual models your audience are likely to use and understand. The more you know, the better you can focus your documentation, drilling down into the tasks they need to complete and what they need to know before they begin. The better your knowledge of your audience the more likely it is you’ll produce documentation that they can use.

Put it this way, if you aren’t writing for a specific audience, who ARE you writing for?


I’ve gone and done exactly what I said annoyed me, lectured you all on knowing your audience when you already know that you need to know that. You know?

Next time I read yet another “Depends on your audience” response in a mailing list I’m going to try and remember that advice and apply it to my current work.

Addendum: Charles Cooper has been considering the same thing.


After the debacle of having to rip up my bank card, we headed to my parents for dinner on Friday night. They’d left some money lying about on the table (exactly the amount I’d wanted to get from the cash machine) so I pocketed that. I hope they don’t notice…

Saturday morning, up early for a rendezvous at Bothwell Services. We pinned the red carnations to our lapels, and had memorised the identification script:

“Ze grey squirrel enjoys le early morning.”

To which the expect response was to be:

“Yes, but the albatross is far away.”

Unfortunately we had forgotten to inform my sister-in-law of the appropriate response so she just stood there, holding out her car keys, and wondering why I was whispering in a slightly dodgy European accent. It’s ok though, she already thinks I’m a nutter.

So, having traded cars, I watched my wife drive off in the rough direction of Newcastle, and headed back home to peace and solitude. I had plans the first of which, I realised soon after pulling out of the Services, would be to put some diesel in my sister-in-law’s car.

I returned home, locked the door, took the phone of the hook, closed all the blinds and took my clothes off. Hey, nothing beats walking round your own house, naked in the daytime and don’t you dare have the bare-faced cheek to disagree with me.

OK, I’m kidding, I didn’t really take my clothes off, which is just as well as I was no sooner in the door than the doorbell rang. The Avon lady, we call her Anne so I hope that is her name, was there to pickup the Avon catalogue. Thankfully, Louise had left strict and specific instructions for this very occasion.

“If Anne calls, you know, Anne the Avon lady, give her the Avon catalogue back. If Bill calls, the Betterware man, give him the Betterware catalogue. OK? Can you manage that dear?” I confirmed that I thought it was not beyond my capacity. Her knowing look hurt a little but admittedly I have struggled with such things before.

I turned to the hall table, on which the aforementioned catalogue were placed. Thankfully I managed to select the right catalogue, first time! My weekend was off to a good start.

With one catalogue safely returned I decide to keep my clothes for, surely, Bill would turn up the minute I took them off. As the previous sentence sounds vaguely risque, I’ll move swiftly on.

My main objective this weekend was to eat bad food and have complete control of the television. I achieved those objectives fairly early on, sitting down to watch Soccer AM whilst eating a slice of chocolate cake with my morning coffee. What could be worse than having chocolate cake for breakfast? OK, many things I know but it was quite decadent of me as I normally have Shreddies.

And so it was for most of the weekend. I watched a bad movie called Aeon Flux, so bad that not even the rather gorgeous Charlize Theron could stop it being anything but bad, I watched a good movie called Syriana, which was a little long but in which George Clooney was very good, and I watched a Bond movie. Thunderball. Because it was on.

I also managed to build a smallish winerack (photos to follow), watched some football and rugby, upgraded my MacBook to Leopard, and then lost most of Sunday to a migraine. But those things aren’t as much fun to write about. So I won’t.

How was YOUR weekend dearest reader?

I don't like Halloween

(Tell me why! I don’t like… ohh, wrong song)

I’m not quite sure why but I’ve never really enjoyed Halloween, and I still don’t. It may be because it seems like such a sham these days with strange kids disguised as unruly teenagers turning up at your door and demanding their goods.

Occasionally you still get a witch or a ghost, or a domino (c’mon, everyone was a domino once, right?) and they even make an effort to do a turn (translation: sing a song, do a dance, tell a joke). When they do you politely laugh, or nod and smile, then present them with a tangerine and usher their bemused faces out the door, ignoring their pleas for sugar-based goods.

Actually, that last bit is a lie. On Halloween I sit upstairs, reading a book or surfing the interweb, whilst my darling wife liberally coats every waif and stray with candy skulls, sugar coated coffins, and jelly spiders. Did I mention that I don’t like Halloween?

I wonder if it can be traced back to my childhood (ohh go on, indulge me), being dressed up and taken round the neighbours to be patronised… I mean to entertain them purely for the reward of their applause. OK, a lot of the time it was just for the sweets. Although when I grew up it was mainly monkeynuts.

I hate monkeynuts.

Well that’s not strictly true, I quite enjoy opening them but that flaky skin that gets stuck to the roof of your mouth? ICK.

I now indulge (a little too often) in the adult version, pistachios. Only I no longer have to dress up and sing a silly song to get my hands on them. The joys of adulthood, eh.

God I sound like some old curmudgeon. And no, I’m not thinking of anyone in particular, honest Lyl… er… honest.

I’m not completely averse to dressing up, but it has to be for the right reasons. The last time I dressed up was to attend a medieval banquet as a wizard, at the behest of a co-worker who was celebrating her birthday. The fact that she was rather cute, curvy and had shown me a photo of the wench outfit she was hiring was, I admit, a factor. Which reminds me, I think I still have those photos in the loft… I HAVE been meaning to start scanning them all in…

I guess it’s fair to say that I don’t really hate Halloween as much as I dislike the forced nature of it. But then I dislike any form of organised fun. You know the type I mean, it’s usually led by some cheery-faced idiot who can’t begin to fathom that, rather than repeatedly ducking your head into a basin of cold water in the vague hope of being able to retrieve an apple (why do they always buy the biggest apples they can find?) you’d much rather just hold them under the water until that smirk was removed from their face.

You know, this is why I like writing this blog. It brings some issues of my personality to the fore, don’t you think. Yes, it seems I harbour a deep-seated suspicion of those with a permanently cheery disposition and, you know what, I’m not going to deny it. In fact, to my eternal shame (and I’m being serious now) I once pushed over a kid at school because he had the gall, the audacity, to smile at me and wish me good morning whilst I was in a bad mood. Sorry about that James! (er… MacDonald I think..??)

Maybe it’s jealously, or maybe these cheery nutters just bring my psychotic tendencies to the fore. Thankfully my bad moods are far less frequent these days, and don’t ever stretch much beyond a glare. Either that or I’ll just completely ignore you, you leering, smirking twat. Ahem.

If you are dressing up tonight then please enjoy yourself, have fun, go wild! Just, whatever you do, don’t mind me and please don’t try and involve me.

Ohh and definitely, DEFINITELY, no monkeynuts.


My life has been littered with decisions over the past week or so. None particularly major but each crucial in a small way.

The decision with the biggest impact is definitely whether I should pay the electricity bill, or purchase the Mac OSX upgrade. OK, not really a decision… (yes I’ll pay the bill… meh).

Overall, most of the decisions have been small and in the large scheme of things, inconsequential. They centre around the myriad of items I’ve been throwing away as I continue to declutter. Trips to the skip, trips to various DIY places to purchase storage, trips to charidee shops, all have been preceded by a quandary.

Louise and I are pretty good at getting rid of stuff we don’t need or use. Moving house several times in the first few years we were together, including down to England and back, meant that it was pretty easy to know what we had (pack your entire house 4 times in 3 years and you’ll know what I mean) and what we didn’t actually use.

However, we’ve been in this house for over 6 years now and as we are not likely to move for at least another 6, then it’s understandable that we’ve slowly been accumulating ‘stuff’. Personally my minimalist tendencies make it very easy for me to justify the removal of items from any room, but I am conscious that can leave things a little ‘cold’ and of course I’m not the only person who lives there. We are pretty good at compromising though, and it’s safe to say we both now tend to agree on what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Decluttering the house will take some time and, as I’ve mentioned, means that some hard decisions need taken. It’s easy to decide that I don’t really need 4 spare USB cables, or that having 2 spare keyboards is a necessity, so out they go. Similarly there are a lot of things which have slowly been added to various drawers and cubbyholes, none of which have much value other than pleasant curiosity (a champagne cork with a G initialed on it, for example). However there are some items which hold real value, and so I now have a small ‘sentiments’ box.

There isn’t that much in it at the moment, the nameplate from my Grans old house and a knocker from her old, huge, sideboard, alongside a pencil top Chewbacca from my childhood and a small plate with an Osprey on it which… well it came from my parents but not sure where they got it from.

And so, with bin bags filled, and memories safely stored away, I can now move onto the next room. Well I would if I had the space. There are now two large boxes full of CDs, ready to go into the loft. Alas, the loft is starting to reach the point that we consider it “full” (the point at which you can no longer navigate round the boxes and piles of … stuff).

Guess which area of the house we should’ve decluttered first…

A few days of misc

OK, a conscious decision to not think about this blog has meant a fair amount of stuff is getting ‘done’. But I won’t bore you with the minutiae of the past few days as it mainly consisted of shuffling stuff about (mainly into loft), a fair amount of tidying up, a large amount of throwing crap out, and a growing pile of stuff to be “put in car to take to charity shop”. You know how it is.

Aside from that a few things have floated to the top of the pool of things “to be considered”, whilst others have merely skimmed the surface leaving only minor ripples in … yeah, enough of that..

Some thoughts from the past few days:

  1. I am really REALLY beginning to miss running, starting physio on knee next week, and dieting has started (ish). Hoping to lose weight, tone up, and whatnot before I start pounding the pavement again. Considering not running until next year to give me a chance to improve other areas first. Thoughts?
  2. Hard drive enclosures – I have two large hard drives sitting dormant in my old PC. Whilst looking for enclosures I spotted some ‘media capable’ ones with various outputs and gubbins. Anyone got something like this? Is it worth it? I’m thinking: download TV episode in HD, copy to media enclosure, watch on HD TV. Yay or nay?
  3. Bluetooth mouse – I am still loving the MacBook (alas I can’t make it my main machine) but have never enjoyed using a trackpad. So I’m in the market for a bluetooth mouse. A quick Google found me the Logitech V270 which looks OK but, of course, I’d love to hear your suggestions. No cables please (duh), and I need two buttons!
  4. Leopard – new version of the Apple operating system out on 26th of this month. £80 from Amazon.
  5. Speaking of paying, after downloading In Rainbows for £0.00, I’ve since been back to offer the princely sum of £7.43. I think that’s fair.
  6. Ohh yeah, I’m now, as of Wednesday, 34. Birthdays are becoming increasingly pointless, I think my 35th may be the last I acknowledge (more on this later).
  7. Cape Apple and Mango juice is delicious. Alas the packaging is cack and it’s impossible to pour it without “glugging” and splashing juice all over the place. Me does not like wiping up in the morning (wait, that sounds worse than it is…).
  8. Linux – old PC lying dormant (see point 1), so maybe a chance to play with.. Ubuntu? No idea where to start though, pointers welcomed.
  9. This weekend will continue the decluttering and should see me finally finished with ripping all my CDs to MP3 and most of them will be stashed in the loft. That means I’ll have 6 Benno CD towers (from IKEA) which I would like to find a use for… creative suggestions welcomed.

Normal service will be resumed at some point, although I do have another blog you know, and I am still twittering away like an idiot.

Planning ahead

In my hangover fug I’ve been thinking about stuff wot needs to get done.

One of those things is to sort out my WordPress install as the recent upgrade has left it littered with errors. It seems to be working OK but… well.. it’s annoying.

Other than that, with the bulk of last week concentrated on Louise and her new job, there’s loads to do in the house. Nothing major, but a small pile of “stuff” has slowly grown and needs dealt with.

I’ve also got my presentation for the TICAD conference to hand in this week.

So, I’m going to dial back on my ‘online’ activities this week. Not disappearing but less conspicuous. Maybe. You know how it is…