Month: <span>October 2007</span>

Join Pipeline – I’ve been following this idea for a while now, they are trying to setup a discount card for fuel in the UK. They need more subscribers to get the ball rolling, so if you have a car, you should head over and sign up.

Blogging

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Blimey, what a weekend.

Friday night was a works night out with a free bar for most of the evening. I spent less than £20 in total, and that includes my train fare into Glasgow. We had a room booked in a bar, with a roulette table on one side (which really didn’t interest me), a guy trying to get everyone to salsa dance (which I avoided as I have a bad knee still), and a magician doing card tricks. The magician was very good, and for a while I felt like one of those people you see on TV, gasping, hand over mouth and wide eyed. Yes, he was THAT good.

I don’t want to dwell on the end of the night though so I’ll just say that it’s always interesting to be the type of person that I am, one who frequently gets very tipsy but rarely gets falling down drunk. That means that I tend to remember everything that has gone on, which makes watching the way people act becomes very revealing. You do tend to see people’s true nature when they are drunk and, unfortunately that isn’t always a good thing.

Getting home around 5am meant a very lazy Saturday, including a doze… eh… on the living room floor. Junk food galore, sport on the TV and I didn’t change out of my pyjamas all day.

Sunday was much the same, although I was a little more active but just general pottering about in between Formula One (Hamilton, yer a numpty), football and Rugby. The latter of which I don’t even want to mention…

Which brings us to Monday.

This is not just another Monday, oh no. This is a special Monday, very much a ‘new beginning’ Monday.

For today, Louise starts her new job. Yay.

It also means that we are now sharing a car ride to work (yay for the environment, not so yay for my musical tastes), and that we are both now on a diet. She’s joining a slimming class thingy, and the house has been stripped of anything with too much sugar, too much fat, or too much taste.

Admittedly, since I’ve not been running, I’ve put on a fair chunk myself so I guess it would be good to get a few months of sensible eating in before Xmas arrives, although I think it must’ve been moved this year as I’m certain I saw cards and advent calendars on sale in Morrisons…

Life

SAVE YOUR JACK – one of the simplest, and smartest, ideas built into my MacBook comes to the land of stereo headphones. A simple magnetic ‘plug’ and magnetic connection for your headphones. I’ll be grabbing a few of these when they are available.

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This post is directly prompted by a discussion on TechWR which, whilst it occasionally frustrates, continues to provide plenty of scope for thought.

Sylvia Braunstein asked about “Avoiding documentation bottlenecks whilst maintaining quality” and a couple of emails later the responses headed into a familiar territory. I call it the “management choice triangle” (or sometimes just the “pick two”) but you’ll all know the triangle, in one format or another, and under various guises, the premise is largely the same.

“Good, fast or cheap, pick two.”

However, as much as I prefer and encourage a minimalist writing style I think that summation is damaging. This particular triangle has been discussed, at length, by others but it’s always been something that perplexed me. I’ve always understood the basic presumptions being made and also that, despiting being sold by some as a hard and fast rule, it most certainly wasn’t as black and white as was being depicted. But then, what ever is?

Of course the basic (extracted) statements do seem to contain, and be entrenched in, some rather ineffable logic. Namely that you can have:

  • something good, quickly, but it will cost you (in resource)
  • something quickly and at low cost, but it won’t be any good
  • something cheap and good, but it will take a long time

All of which, of course, is utter tosh.

Without stepping on the toes of others, I’d suggest that “good” really should read “good enough”, that “fast” is meant in terms of “good enough within a given timescale” and that “cheap” really means “at some cost which we’ll do our best to minimise”. Thus we now have “Good enough within a given timescale, and at a cost which we’ll do our best to minimise”. There is no “pick two” of course, what kind of manager would abide by such a rule?

Deciding what is good enough for your organisation requires an understanding of who the audience is, budgets are set although can be influenced with some discussion, and timescales are things which need to be agreed. Money and time will always be constrained by senior management – everyone wants things faster and cheaper these days – so maybe, as technical writers, we need to concentrate harder on figuring out how we decide what we consider, and how we can measure, “good enough” documentation.

Previously that was largely the job of audience analysis but, perhaps, today there is another tack we can take.

If you work in software development, you are probably used to discussions around the prioritisation of functionality. The old “must have, should have, would like to have” type thing for example, and you may do the same with your documentation but, and here’s the twist, if you DO have a list of “would like to have” documentation features then why not publish it? Better still, create a Wiki, create empty pages for those areas and see what happens.

It may just turn out that those fringe areas of the documentation, which should match fringe areas of the product, are BETTER documented by the specialist users out on that fringe. Most products have users like this, the ones who know more about a specific area of your product than you do (because they’ve used your product for years whilst the developer who created it has long since left the building, perhaps) and they are usually more than keen to share (ok, to display) their knowledge.

So, maybe, good enough means we can publish documentation that is incomplete in certain fringe areas, making sure we make everyone know that is what we are doing. Maybe good enough starts with the creation of a living, user-contributed document, that very quickly becomes something better than it’s original. Maybe then “good, fast or cheap” can then be negated completely? OK, it is a bit of a leap but as different ways of accessing information continue to gain popularity, we, as a profession, need to be aware of this because if that “triangle” comes up in discussions with a project manager, then they may already be thinking of OTHER ways to provide information that is FAR cheaper than you can manage, and no, I don’t think that (overall) the quality of information provided by user-generated content will be all that far from “good enough” for that senior manager who is desperate to cut costs and timescales.

I’ll close with a couple of pertinent quotes from the mailing list, both of which can be found in the archives. First up, Beth Agnew points out the real value of the triangle:

I think the triangle, with its humorous variations, is meant to be more an aphorism than an axiom, a general rather than absolute truth. It’s a good way to help people understand the factors involved in quality projects. We could just as easily hang our hats on scope/risk/resources, or any other threesome that makes sense for our situation. I’ve found the good/cheap/fast idea to be very useful in educating clients who don’t seem to think a documentation or marketing project is an actual project where multiple factors must be managed. Once they realize that change in one area prompts changes in the other two areas, they start to understand the relationships among the variables and why some of their great ideas show up on their bill as an additional charge. 🙂

And Chris Borokowski makes a valid point when he says that:

It’s important to remember the triangle isn’t created like a three-position switch. It’s a slider switch. If you want anything done faster, there are going to be tradeoffs. If you want it done more> thoroughly (“better”) there will be more time requirements. If you want good, cheap and fast, it will be possible, but material will by the nature of time be left out.

It’ll be interesting to see how the triangle stacks up in the future, as it certainly seems as if some of the points are starting to fragment.

Work

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The world is full of them and the internet gives them a voice. They are a specific breed, not just your everyday idiot, they wait for a target to pass and FIRE their salvos of ludicrous suggestion, usually firing so wide of the mark you wonder if they are aiming at something else.

I really like the idea of Comment is Free. I’ve followed it since it launched, and did proffer a few thoughts in the early days but apparently I’m the wrong kind of person and shouldn’t have bothered. Instead I should’ve been developing my moron persona a little more thoroughly (after all, Gordon is a moron, right?).

This is not as easy as it seems.

Let’s look at a particular case, the one which sparked this entry as it happens.

Anna (littleredboat) Pickard recently published an article on Comment is Free entitled “I love Starbucks, what of it?“. Some would suggest the title is a little provocative and that, given the subject matter, some negative comments could be expected. In the article, Anna makes many valid points and her opinion is offered to all with little force and, as ever, some humour and humility.

As an exercise, see if you can think up some of the responses.

That’s right. Globalisation, death of the high street, better coffee elsewhere, anti-corporation stuff all that kind of thing.

However, the comment stalking moron is made of sterner stuff and in this particular thread there are some breathtaking leaps of imagination. I’ll paraphrase slightly (but not all that much) to try and capture some of the stunning suggestions.

Instead of drinking Starbucks, “try picking coffee beans from before dawn and see how much it matters then”
I’d love to try that but between laying the bricks of my house, slaughtering a chicken to eat at dinner, and plumbing the depths of my back garden for oil.. well I’m a little too busy..

“Go to Italy for a coffee”
“Anyone fancy a coffee?”
“Yeah sure, make mine a macchiato”
“No probs”
[12 hours later]
“There you go”
“Ugh, it’s cold… ”

Addiction to caffeine? “So boring, have a bloody cup of tea, its got us all through worse times!”
Tea! Gosh, excitement abounds! Ohh yes, I can sense the danger of maybe receiving a mild scald from the teabag, the lure and promise of exotic flavours and the mysterious undertones of why those fruity ones are allowed to be called tea at all. Yes, yes, you are right, tea is most certainly not boring. Wow. I’m converted. Thanks. That was easy.

Be concerned for your health for “The coffee itself is not bad, but with all the sugar, cream, and other heavy add-ons that go into each cup, you might as well have ordered ice cream”
Do Starbucks offer ice cream? Even if they did, I’d never go there. We have an excellent local ice cream emporium. Won awards and everything it has. Hang on, who has cream in their coffee anyway?

And the most frequent comment type:
Starbucks coffee is crap
Yes it is. It’s awful, tastes like piss and vomit, mixed with mouldy turds. That’s obviously why so many people keep drinking it.

There are some valid points made in the comments of course, but, for the main, the morons rule.

You have to admire them in a way, it must take an awful lot of hard work, training and dedication to come up with some of those suggestions. Brilliant stuff.

For the record, I enjoy Starbucks coffee. Yes I’ve had better in other places, and it’s not the only coffee place I frequent but, typically, it’s handy, reasonably priced and has an acceptable level of quality IN MY OPINION.

Right, I’m off to create a new profile on Comment is Free. I want to practise my moronic comments somewhere, so I may as well learn from the masters!

Blogging Work

Google tip: type “time” into a google search box, and it will display YOUR current time. Type “time + [city]” and you get the current time, relative to you, in that city. Smart.

Blogging



pink water, originally uploaded by Gordon.

One of many photos taken that evening, a glorious sunset.

Looks pretty good as a desktop wallpaper too, no?

Photos

Black Swan Green

Another holiday book, by a favourite author, and it’s as every bit as good as his previous novels, whilst remaining (like the others) completely different to anything he’s written before.

In the book, you spend just over a year with a 13 year old boy called Jason as he plots his way through the various minefields he encounters. Set in the early 1980s, pop culture references litter the novel and, as an 80s kid, whisked me back to that time of in my life. Jason is a kid who not only struggles to fit in, being smarter than average and he enjoys writing poetry whilst knowing that it’s a bit “gay” and could get him beaten up, but who also struggles with a stutter.

Jason narrates the story and it’s a credit to David Mitchell that you empathise so strongly with his lead character that you begin to sense how he is feeling before it is fully articulated. Admittedly it may be because I see some of myself in Jason, but that doesn’t detract from, as usual, the wonderfully engaging style that Mitchell brings to all his novels.

Dealing with various life changing events, including the impact of the Falklands War on a small rural community in England, I was so caught up with the book that I almost felt cheated when it was over.

If you haven’t read any of David Mitchell’s books before then this may be a good place to start as it’s, probably, the most accessible. However, they all share a similar trait in his wonderful depictions and vivid wordplay that brings his stories to life, dancing from the page.

Highly recommended.

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