Month: <span>December 2008</span>

December the 24th is Christmas Eve. I mention this not as a startling revelation but because it’s the first of eleven days that I have off work. So if I discount the 25th and 26th of December, as well as the 1st of January as I’m Scottish and by law we are not allowed to go to sleep until at least 4am on New Year’s Day, I have approximately 8 days or so with nothing planned.

That will, of course, change.

I reckon, if I’m generous with my estimates, I’ll have five or six days to myself. I’ll say five just to be on the safe side.

That’s five whole days in which I can, within reason, do what I want. Watch some old movies, play some games, read a book, generally chill out. That kind of thing. Five days is a lot of time, so let’s presume I do some chores around the house as well, a little decorating or general DIY bodgery.

Yes, I could get a lot done in five days and I have to admit I’m looking forward to the time off as it’s been manic these past few weeks and whilst it’s probably partly because the holiday is getting closer, I’m definitely feeling a little ‘punchy’. Yes, five days is plenty to recharge the batteries all the better to start the new year afresh.

Except we all know what’ll happen.

Person X will decide to pop over and that’ll turn into dinner, which’ll turn into tidying up, shopping for food, preparation, entertaining and finally punting them out the door sometime before midnight.

Person Y will suggest that we could go out for a meal and a movie, which’ll turn into a late afternoon meal, a movie, then drinks and we’ll get home sometime after midnight.

Person Z will phone and ask us over for dinner, or just to see if we are going to visit and that’ll turn into “well if we are seeing Z, we could go and see Y and if we are seeing Y we are as well staying over with X” which means that we’ll need to prepare, pack an overnight bag and leave early morning, getting home sometime later the next day.

And before you know it it’s Sunday the 4th of January, 2009, I’m back to work the next day and I’ve not done anything that I’d hoped to do and I’m probably more stressed than I was on Christmas Eve.

It’s the same every year.

So, this year, I’m not planning to do nothing, and I’m not planning to do everything, instead I’m expecting to be busy most days and to make the most of the moments inbetween.

P.S. Persons X, Y and Z are interchangeable and do not, in any way, correlate with members of my family (immediate or otherwise) or any of my friends. Honest.

Holiday Life

Flitting about, directionless but constantly in motion. The briefest of pauses, touchdown then takeoff. Another direction, different from the last, is explored and ignored in the almost the same instant. Nothing permanent, nothing sticks, everything else is more interesting, nothing is interesting.

He closes his eyes. Dark folds in around him and his breathing slows. Seconds merge with days and soon he is out the other side once more. Emerging from the tunnel he blinks and casts around for the next thing to hold him, the next moment that will steer him to the shore to crash on the rocks. The sun splits through the sky and beyond he sees the stars and planets of another place, the twinkling of headlights on a frosty road.

The pattern of ice and snow is worn, recently trod and familiar. He chooses the other path because that is what he does, looks the other way and decides once more. He does not dare to be different, but he strives for it, constant in his desire to remain in motion. Flittering and directionless.

And then, suddenly, he stops.

And is still.

Is calm.

The sun rises on the new day and all around him everything has changed.

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Flitting about, directionless but constantly in motion. The briefest of pauses, touchdown then takeoff. Another direction, different from the last, is explored and ignored in the almost the same instant. Nothing permanent, nothing sticks, everything else is more interesting, nothing is interesting.

He closes his eyes. Dark folds in around him and his breathing slows. Seconds merge with days and soon he is out the other side once more. Emerging from the tunnel he blinks and casts around for the next thing to hold him, the next moment that will steer him to the shore to crash on the rocks. The sun splits through the sky and beyond he sees the stars and planets of another place, the twinkling of headlights on a frosty road.

The pattern of ice and snow is worn, recently trod and familiar. He chooses the other path because that is what he does, looks the other way and decides once more. He does not dare to be different, but he strives for it, constant in his desire to remain in motion. Flittering and directionless.

And then, suddenly, he stops.

And is still.

Is calm.

The sun rises on the new day and all around him everything has changed.

One part of the agenda for our day long “Author-it day” was to consider how we would handle multiple streams (versions) of documentation.

As well as major versions of the documents (3.x) that continue to move forward, we also keep up with changes to maintenance releases (3.x.x). The overhead isn’t too bad, we rarely have to make changes for a maintenance release, but we do need to have the capability to do so and this is where we hit a stumbling block.

Author-it offers the ability to version an object (a book or topic for example). You can have multiple versions of an object but only one can be active. So, originally, our thinking was to create the first (in Author-it) version of each Book and then use the basic “1-up” versioning provided by Author-it.

However, when running through a quick demo of such a system, it became apparent that whilst that model works for major releases (X.x) when you consider the occasional maintenance release (X.x.x) then, very soon, your folders become cluttered with a myriad of versions of objects, none of which are easily identifiable to a particular product version.

So, our solution will be to duplicate objects (copy) to a new version specific folder.

We are switching to Author-it just in time for a new major version of the product line. This allows us to import ALL our existing content as 3.0. From that point onwards each major version will kick off with the duplication of all the Book objects (remember, a book is just a collation of topics for output). Then any topics that change, or are added, for that version will be duplicated (copied) and moved to the new version folder.

Clunky? A little. Manual? Completely. But it’s the only way we can manage our versioning process without ending up with a mess of versioned objects.

Unless, of course, we’ve missed something very obvious.

I’m getting old. Very old. Not only am I grumpy, I’m old. Shoot me now. Put me out to pasture or just send me to the glue factory. I am old.

The reason I say this is largely the fault of my cousin. We were at her birthday party on Saturday night and as her friends started to drift in, fashionably late of course, it struck me just how old I am. There I was, surrounded by nubile young girls and all I could think was “ohhh, they’ll catch their death..”.

Hmmm, that last sentence makes me sound like a dirty old pervert, sitting in the corner of the hall, my seedy little eyes roving for glimpses of flesh. For the record we were NOT sitting in the corner of the hall.

Where was I? Ohh yes. I can safely say I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many short skirts and platform heels in one place. At least not since, errr… that night in that.. er… club place thingy. I know it’s all the fashion these days and I’m all for people expressing themselves but it was -3C outside! Mind you, I’m sure I was that young and foolish when I was 18.

In saying that, I can’t remember my 18th birthday in particular. Ohhh god, now my memory is failing.

Add that to the dodgy knee (it’s knackered again) and the increasing propensity of my use of the mannerisms of my father – something else that was pointed out to me on Saturday night when my other cousin said “ohh you looked just like your Dad there!” – and I’m as well to call it quits and find a nice quiet retirement home.

Mind you, Friday night saw me on a work night out and again I was one of the last to leave, the younger whippersnappers (ohh god, did I just write “whippersnappers”?? Shoot me now!) all left well before chucking out time. Kids these days, no stamina.

And no, I wasn’t drunk, tipsy a little but quite in control of my senses thank you. In fact, as I wandered to George Square to get a taxi home, I can distinctly remember seeing a group of girls standing around outside a nightclub and thinking “ohhh, they’ll catch their death…”.

Personal Musings

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There are some fundamentals tenets of our profession that are widely accepted. One being that you always need to know your audience before y can begin to understand their needs and so produce the information that they require.

The reason I mention this is because, whilst it’s something very basic and is deeply grained in the technical writer part of my brain, I keep forgetting it.

Let me explain.

I’m currently working on a mini-project aimed at making sure the language we use and the things we talk about through all levels of our product information (from the website and marketing brochures, down to the lowest level of reference information) tell a consistent story. From basic facts and terminology to the concepts we need to convey, it’s important that everyone throughout our company talks about things the same way.

As such we’ve modelled the information into four layers with each layer (roughly) representing a broad layer of user and information types. These types match our engagement model and will allow other areas of the company to understand not only what information is required but, most importantly, WHO the information is for.

I’m writing up a summary document (covering two of the four layers) which will cover the main areas of the product and what language and terms we want to use. The document also outlines the basic concepts of our product, and for each concept describes the level of information expected. This will allow others to build specific documents at the appropriate level, focussed on the correct user type, using the correct language and terminology.

The trouble is that I’ve really been struggling to get my head around it and I was finding it very hard to write the descriptions for each conceptual area. I was mentioning this to a colleague earlier and that’s when it struck me.

I’d forgotten who I was writing for.

The summary document is aimed at internal staff, but is covering the information likely to be required by two different types of reader/layer. As I’ve been developing this information I’d lost sight of that and was trying to write one piece of information for two very different types of user.

So, I’ve decided to split the summary document into two, one for each type of reader and I’m already finding it much easier to structure the information accordingly.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to this kind of thing, that it’s very easy to become blinkered to everything else when you zero in on a particular task. I’ve been working fairly closely with a colleague on this but hadn’t spoken to her for a few days and, without that check in place, I’d started to lose sight of the big picture.

And yes, I know this isn’t rocket science, but hope it may serve as a timely reminder to others or at least let you learn from my mistakes.

Work

The scene is a small darkly lit room. On the desk sits a lamp and a computer screen glows. A man sits in front of the screen, staring intently. Lost in his thoughts…

Bloody hell.

Can’t be right.

Can’t.

Shit.

It is.

Where’s that list?

No, the other one.

OK, here we go.

1 of those.

5 of those.

2 of those.

Hmmm need to get that thing elsewhere.

And that.

Crap, that too.

Plenty of time really.

Calendar isn’t that ful… ohh crap it is.

Maybe that will do.

Yeah that’ll do.

So will that.

Ohh and that’s perfect.

Wow, I think I’m done!

Woo hooo, time for a beer.

With that, the man pushes himself back from the desk. Stands, stretches and heads off to the fridge.

Christmas shopping online.

Like many children of my era, I grew up being read, then reading, the wonderfully insightful Mr. Men books.

I had a Mr. Tickle hot water bottle, Mr. Men wallpaper and even a matching Mr. Men bedspread. I had the Mr. Men tapes, which I’m sure my parents must’ve grown thoroughly sick off as I demanded that, for the umpteenth weekend in a row, that it accompany our journey to visit my Gran and even a windup plastic Mr. Bump.

I have vague memories of lying in bed, listening to my Dad reading me the stories. Hazy recollections of standing at the counter in John Menzies with my Mum as she purchased another of the books. The theme tune evokes, for no particular reason, a very vivid memory of sitting in the car as we crossed the Erskine Bridge.

Sadly, these days, the Mr. Men have evolved into all sorts of nonsense. Whilst the introduction of “Little Miss…” was of course most welcome, the latest batch are sullying the good name of the Mr. Men. Poor Roger Hargreaves.

Or rather rich Roger Hargreaves I would imagine.

The reason I mention all this now is that I, dear reader, am on a quest. It is of vital importance and is likely to consume me for sometime. You can blame my parents. No, I don’t mean in the Larkin sense but this is directly because, whilst visiting at the weekend, my Mum handed me all my old Mr. Men books!! My Dad had been doing some clearing out and stumbled across them and they thought they’d better check with me before chucking them out.

Too bloody right!

These are original copies, with the original set – Messrs. Messy, Silly, Dizzy, Muddle, Bump, Greedy, Nosey, Sneeze, Uppity, Noisy, Mean, Small, Strong, Daydream, Lazy, Chatterbox, Jelly, Impossible, Fussy, Tickle, Happy, Topsy-Turvy, Forgetful, Snow, Bounce and Funny – published in 1972, and the additional members published in 1978 – Mischief, Worry, Skinny, Wrong, Tall, Rush, Quiet, Busy, Slow, Clever, Nonsense, Clumsy and Grumpy.

At least that’s what they SHOULD have been, turns out I’m missing 4 Mr. Men (you know where this is going, don’t you). Messrs Bounce, Mischief, Rush and Clever have escaped, probably borrowed and never returned.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hunt eBay and the interwebs for these to fill out my collection.

Ohh and if you are considering being helpful I should point out that the original books DON’T have the spine printing of the more recent publications.