Tag: Scotland

Why I blog

I’ve always enjoyed words, reading and writing.

At school English was my favourite subject, with Physics a close second (if there had been a computing O Grade I would probably have taken that instead). My parents are both teachers and much of my inquisitive nature was fuelled by books; I still have, and treasure, a set of Readers Digest encyclopedias gifted to me by my late grandparents.

My Dad was always interested in computers, so from the days of having a BBC Micro, and then an Apple Macintosh Plus in the house it’s no surprise that I got interested in those too.

Put computers and words together and writing seems to be the obvious next step. From the initial wonder at watch words form on a screen, to a job as a technical writer, it’s far to say that technology and writing have always been a big part of my life.

My first blog post was hand crafted and uploaded to my own website, which had been in existence for a couple of years, on the 2nd of June, 1999. It was an odd moment, realising that something I’d created could be seen on the internet.

Fast forward a year or so to July 2000 and a new service called Blogger was launched and made that process all the simpler! From there it’s safe to say that blogging, as the first stage of social media, become very popular. Since then it’s been through a few dips but it’s definitely back on the map now.

Being a blogger in Scotland was a little bit odd back then, there were so few of us but that did mean that, over time as we all found one another online, it did setup some friendships that became much more than just ‘people I know who blog’.

For my part, I guess I should own up to having run a website called Scottish Blogs.

The year was 2002, and webrings were ‘the thing’. If you weren’t part of a webring, or five, you weren’t one of the cool kids.

Blogging Brits was one of the first I joined and soon I realised that Scotland needed one too and so in late November 2002 the Scottish Blogs webring was born.

By December 2003 there were 100 other members and a year later I created a directory website and moved away from the (by then quickly losing popularity) webrings. It was running that website, and organising the first few blogmeets that allowed me to meet some wonderful people, going on to attending (and doing a reading at) one of their weddings and visiting them in Hungary.

Since then I’ve had three separate blogs, now merged into this single website, written more words than I care to remember, been mentioned in newspapers, been on the radio, and through it all been lucky enough to get to know and meet some amazingly generous, lovely, smart and funny people from all over the UK, many of whom I’ve known for years and, over time, have managed to meet.

I still blog today for the same reasons that I started writing:

  1. I blog for me, I know others may read what I publish and I welcome the conversations it can spark, but this is my space.
  2. I write to process the thoughts in my head, that is a constant theme throughout the last 14 years.
  3. Because I enjoy it.

I write all this as, it seems, blogging is back on the rise. What goes around comes around I guess?

Healthy Achievements

The health kick has stalled again but I think I’ve figured out why.

I need a goal. I need an achievement.

In the past I’ve managed to tackle a 10KM run, and a 47 mile cycle ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh and, more recently, I took part in a local 5KM event.

All of them gave me a target, a goal, a reason to do some training.

This is not news to me, I know I need a challenge to push me to exercise. After that I know that the healthier eating falls into place and after a couple of weeks I start to change my approach and attitude to being healthy, I’ll take more care of what I eat, I’ll push myself to do more exercise, I’ll even start to plan around going for a run, or to the gym, shuffling my social calendar where I can.

But whilst I know HOW to set myself goals, it seems that without some form of focus or event I can’t seem to stick to it.

Being healthy is not a specific enough goal. Lose 10kg is specific and measurable, but hasn’t been attainable despite the fact it is most definitely realistic and I can set myself a time limit to achieve. But there is no competition other than with myself.

Although I’m not sure “competition” is the right word.

There is definitely something I need to have in place that has my exercise being focused on an event, as opposed to a simple goal of losing weight.

So it’s time to come clean. My name is Gordon McLean and (I think) I’m a praise-addict.

I think I have to finally admit that it’s the achievement and praise that completing an event brings that triggers something in my head. Looking at how I interact with others when talking about exercise and health, it starts to make sense.

I’m aware of my weight and size, and whilst I’ve been heavier, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t talk about my weight. I don’t drop it into conversation at work, for example, nor is it something that anyone asks me about (you tend to only comment when people have lost a very noticeable amount of weight and then only if you are reasonably sure that they have been trying to lose weight in the first place).

If I manage a short run, or I lose a little weight, I will mention those things in a self-deprecating way, but when I was taking part in Pedal for Scotland (the 47 mile cycle) or the recent 5KM run, everyone knew about it as I talked about my ‘training’ for it.

But, at work at least, we talk about what we did at the weekend. The achievements of our lives if you will, and I’m realising that the external validation (for want of a better word) is what drives me on. It’s also why I share weight and fitness ‘stats’ on a Twitter account, and why I write about it here now and then.

At this point I’m pausing to wonder if it’s praise for an achievement that I seek, or simply just having an achievement to boasting about.

None of this is new. I’ve floated similar thoughts on Twitter in the past and several very lovely people have offered me ‘competition’, be it comparing Fitbit stats, or mileage ran. At the time it was an intriguing thought as I was convinced it was purely my competitive nature that drove me but, as I’m starting to figure out, it’s not that at all.

Competition will always push me to push myself. I like to win. I like to help others win. Even going back to my time in the Boys Brigade, it was that same drive and determination to push myself further, and either help or drag others along with me if I had to, that made my squad win all the trophies going for the year I had them (I won both personal trophies that year too).

Ohh that’s a boast, isn’t it.

Regardless of whether it is praise or boast that motivates me, I know that I need to figure out how to ‘game’ my brain again. Sign up for another 5KM run perhaps? There is a local Parkrun* but, for no good reason they don’t seem count in my own internal (and admittedly quite weird) scale of ‘achievement’. Perhaps that’s all I need to change. To set myself a date driven ‘run 5KM at Parkrun by the end of October’, perhaps?

My general fitness isn’t actually too bad, I play basketball once a week and, injuries aside, have been managing to do at least one run or longer walk once a week as well, but it’s not enough and I know it.

The bottom line is that I need to lose weight for medical reasons.

My weight needs to go so my blood pressure lowers naturally so I can, in turn, lower the dosage of my high blood pressure medication before it starts messing with my liver. Beyond that I’d like to lose some weight to be more comfortable in my clothes and to change my own internal body image.

But, despite the seriousness of the issue, knowing that I have to lose weight, that I am compromising my health, still isn’t enough to motivate me to make the right kind of changes.

I guess that losing weight and eating healthily just doesn’t sound like much of an achievement to me.

 

* Parkrun – free, timed event that runs every week. Is it because it’s not a one-off event that I don’t seem to think it counts?  

 

Where I stand

Note: I’ve not made any explicit references but this post may contain triggers.

Somewhere in my head there is a grouping of thoughts.

I’m trying to write down some of these thoughts because I’m fed up with them being whipped up into a frenzy in my head, leaving me annoyed and angry by the actions and comments of others. Whether it’s a noted journalist who is pushing her, very binary, view of the world on others, a “casual remark” overheard at work that (unknowingly) supports the patriarchy, or yet another example of everyday sexism, I want to call out these thoughts, acknowledge them, admit that I’ve fallen prey to some of them in the past (I never said I was perfect, only that I’m trying to be better) and by writing them up hope that they solidify into something coherent.

I make no promises that what follows is coherent.

The thoughts are interconnected. Some directly, some are only roughly in the same area but they are all in there, bundled up like the Christmas Tree lights you could’ve SWORN you put away neatly last year but now resemble a quite spectacular birds nest.

I’ve tried to take the time to tease them out, to try and separate them enough to at least make sense of them in isolation but no, my brain refuses to cooperate. Every time I think I’ve managed to extricate one, carefully consider it and then coiled it up and set it to aside, by the time I’ve turned around to decide which thought to tackle next, when I turn back, the careful coils have gone and it’s leapt back in the box again, more tangled up and confused than before.

So, here’s the thing.

All around me, every day, I see things I don’t like.

Sexism. Homophobia. Racism. Misogyny. Hate. Prejudice.

Even just writing those words makes me sad and downhearted and it’s here where I struggle to collate my thoughts into something meaningful, I struggle to give them the voice they deserve, but I know that isn’t the point.

I’m white. I’m probably (upper) middle class but frankly, I’m not even sure what that means… how do we decide class these days? I mean, I shop at Tesco, occasionally at Sainburys and about twice a year I splurge at Waitrose, does that help? Anyway, my point here is that I am slap bang in the middle, I am average, I am a shining example of the ‘norm’.

Culture, media and opinion are all leaning in my favour whether I like it or not.

So, I have the benefits of “privilege” and surely the last thing that is needed is for yet another white man to explain how things should be, right? (it’s called mansplaining by the way, that thing we do guys, it has a word…)

But that’s not what I’m doing by writing this post.

What I’m doing, I hope, is saying I am here standing next to you. I’m saying that I’m guilty of saying the wrong things at times in the past. I’m saying that I don’t have any solutions, but I want my opposition to these things to be counted.

I’m starting to get more vocal about a lot of this stuff. Challenging people on their comments, not laughing at their jokes, and finding that I’m more and more comfortable with myself in that respect. I’ve never been the type to go on marches but it feels more like something I would do than it has in the past.

It might be part of being ‘out’ about being polyamorous, which in itself is allowing me to explore more of me and who I am.

Regardless of where it comes from, I’m doing my best to support where I can, to add my voice to the calls for change. To that end, I’ll now shut up and point you in the direction of some organisations and people who do have some answers and constructive suggestions:

There are many many more organisations out there, and many more issues to be tackled.

Where do you stand?

The Death of Tradition

Job titles are one thing, but what do you actually do? Are you a ‘traditional’ Technical Author or a modern technical communications professional? Is there a difference?

I think there is, I think there is a distinction between the two although I’m not quite sure where that line is drawn and, as with most things in this multi-discipline profession of ours, the line is probably blurry and not all that straight.

For me the line separates what I consider the old and the new, the line between traditional technical writing and the modern day technical communicator, and I think the distinction is largely around the approaches each type of professional take when it comes to managing content.

I realise this may seem a little contentious, and possibly a little divisive (pun intended), so let me explain.

At the recent West of Scotland Area Group meeting, a few of us started discussing this. We all agreed that the traditional notion of what a technical writer (author) does has changed and that the change was driven mostly through technological advances.

For most modern companies, gone are the days of the author, editor, and illustrator producing printed documentation. The rise of the internet has changed the understanding of information and so our job roles (if not our titles) have morphed into what we do today, we write, we draw, we collate, filter, edit and publish information from a wide variety of sources, we care about the user experience of the product, and we push all of that information and knowledge out in many different formats, to different devices in radically shrunken timescales. We write topics, not pages, and publish to online portals, not printed and bound manuals.

From what I can tell, and I’ll admit that I’m not best placed to comment on any of this, I’ve only ever worked in software companies, but chatting to people at conferences and so on it does seem like the more traditional (old-fashioned?) approach of having a team – where the technical author writes the words, the illustrator draws the diagrams and artwork, before their work is combined and sent to an editor before being printed en masse – is slowly shrinking. For me it seems like that approach is typically based around some level of regulation (or litigation) meaning the scope of the content, choice of format, and even the list of final deliverables is impossible to negotiate.

Meanwhile, freed of such constraints, many of us find ourselves free to choose not to document a small change in an obscure and little used part of our product, and able change what we deliver and how we will deliver it.

Is it fair to be so black and white? Is there really a line, a divide, within our profession?

After all, my exposure to other technical communicators is largely through online sources (blogs, twitter, articles) and as those of us in the software industry have a vested interest in understanding these different mediums, it makes some sense that we are the ones making more noise than our counterparts who work in industries that demand paper-based outputs.

I think the disciplines required to work in a regulated industry are starting to differ more and more from those of us who can have input into the scope of what we do (and what we don’t do). There is a risk that future professionals won’t be able to cross that gap, they won’t understand (or want to understand) why they have to have numbered paragraphs, or why every single change must be traceable to the root requirement.

Over time, the more traditional roles, or rather the industries within which they operate, will start to come more towards a more modern view, in fact they already are. Airlines are allowing iPads onto flight decks, more connected systems of documentation and information capture forms are being seen in car production factories, and as further industries invest in modernising their infrastructures, so to must the technical writers.

Reflection

It seems like no time since I was looking forward to the summer. The holiday in Singapore was months away, Pedal for Scotland was a spot in the distance and ohhh yes I was gonna get so much done.

In the past I think I’d now be sitting here saying “Christ, it’s almost November, what have I achieved?!” but these days things are different. Yes I could’ve done more but I’m more focussed on being happy than being productive (even though the two are inextricably linked), on getting the balance right between the stuff I want to do and the stuff I have to do, and generally I find myself calmer, more rational and more aware.

The darker nights bring a different focus, of course, and now is the time to be exploring new hobbies, creating new routines into which I can add a few more notches of self-improvement to my belt.

But there is no rush, no hurry. Not today.

I’ve given out this piece of advice a few times in the past few years, and I realise it’s something I’m more and more keen to make sure is part of my day. It can take mere seconds, but without it the world can seem a horrid and dark place.

So, today, stop and appreciate a moment of beauty. Whether it’s watching the raindrops race down a window, the elegant swoop of a gull on the breeze, or admiring the hazy moon at night there is so much more to life than the constant strive for everything now, faster, better, more.

Step outside all of that for a second, breath deeply and be content in the moment. Today is only today for a short while.

ISTC West of Scotland Area Group meeting

The next ISTC West of Scotland area group meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 16th February 2012, 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.

If you plan to attend, please sign up for the event at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2743613221 to help us anticipate attendance numbers.

Please forward this message on to your colleagues or anyone else who may be interested. For more information, contact westscotland_areagroup@istc.org.uk.

 

UPDATE: MadCap have provided a licence of MadPak, worth USD 1499, to be raffled amongst event attendees. For more information, see http://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/madpak/overview.aspx

ISTC Area Group meeting – West of Scotland

Thursday 13th October, from 7.30pm, in Waxy O’Connors pub.

The next ISTC technical communicators’ meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 13th October 2011, from 7.30 pm onwards. I will be presenting a report from the Technical Communication UK 2011 conference. 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.

Next West of Scotland Area Group meeting

The next ISTC technical communicators’ meeting in Glasgow will take place on Thursday 13th October 2011, from 7.30 pm onwards.

As it’s happening just after the conference, I will be presenting a (short) report from the Technical Communication UK 2011 conference. 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.

Where is everyone?

The attendance at last nights ISTC Area Group meeting in the West of Scotland was poor, and as it seems to fluctuate quite dramatically at times (we went from four people to ten and back again in the space of three meetings) I’m trying to figure out why.

Is it apathy? Laziness? Lack of awareness? Or perhaps people are unclear of the benefits of turning up?

If you are a member of the ISTC, and on the mailing list (or perhaps you are following the ISTC on Twitter?), then you will receive notifications of the area group meetings.

But what if you aren’t a member? How do we attract… scratch that, how do we FIND people who may want to attend? Where are all the technical communicators?

I wonder if more people get quicker benefit being part of online communities? If social media is part of the reason for the low attendance?

Last night was, despite the small number, useful. It always is in one way or another – I got some ideas to help me with my current recruitment drive – but perhaps, like all of these things, you have to turn up to get the benefit.

In the past some of us have contacted other “user groups” who may be interested from the likes of eLearning professionals and on the Adobe user forums. That accounts for the spike in attendance but I’m starting to wonder if there is just a general apathy about our profession (or about the professional world) at the moment.

I’m also very aware that the catchment area isn’t that large, but I know there are other technical authors, technical writers, technical communicators, and lots of other people in the local area who could benefit from attending. These people do exist, we just need to find a way to reach out to them and make sure they understand the benefits.

We have, in the past, considered running a specific session, with a guest speaker, so there is a definite agenda and perhaps that is more of what we need. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a Catch-22 scenario, we can’t (won’t) book speakers if hardly anyone is going to turn up!

It is a quandary for sure.

Why wouldn’t people want to go to the pub and have a chat with fellow professionals?