Month: <span>October 2012</span>

Like many people, I like to ponder self-improvement, how I will read more books, learn to play the guitar, exercise more and invest in myself more than I have.

However it seems that deep down I’m actually not that bothered, that I must be happy enough with where I am in my life at the moment. I know this because I keep on booking events, planning nights out and trips, and leaving myself with little free time to do much of anything.

OK, this is a bit of an excuse, I’m sure I COULD spend my free time NOT sitting on the sofa but rest is important too, right?

This is a bit of theme with me, all of a sudden I’ll realise I’m massively busy and overcommitted, that doesn’t seem to change but my attitude towards it certainly has. What I am finding, as I mentioned before, is that I’m putting more and more onus on how I spend my free time, making sure I get the most value from it, regardless of what it is I’m doing.

Looking ahead at my calendar for the next few months has me:
– in Birmingham this coming weekend
– in London at the end of November
– in Manchester at the start of December
– attending two comedy shows; Scott Capuro and Ada Vidal
– attending five gigs; Coheed and Cambria, Band of Horses, Band of Skulls, Simian Mobile Disco and Elbow – and it would’ve been six (Grizzly Bear and The Villagers) but we double booked the trip to Birmingham
– attending two ISTC events (one is in London, hence the trip)
– attending a few (five) other events

And that takes us to the second week in December.

Still, I’m managing to fit in a weekly game of basketball, work on the ISTC website, and so far I’ve managed to do a little more writing than I’ve managed all year so it’s not that I’m not getting things done!

Importantly I do feel like my work/life balance (and my life/love balance) is back on track, I’m enjoying being me!

Personal Musings

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This should be easy. I work in a software company, I’ve only ever worked in software companies so, in honour of Ada Lovelace Day (what do you mean, who?) I should be able to join in “sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today”, right?

I work directly with many smart and inspiring women and, indirectly, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many more in my profession, but how many of them have inspired me?

When I sat down to write this I did wonder if I would be able to think of any women to which I could assign this claim. But then it’s not every day that you take a step back and think about who inspires you, is it?

So, who has inspired me through my career?

My first boss can lay claim to that, but alas, he is a man so I can’t count him here.

My next boss, Kingsley, was certainly influential, she took a chance on me and gently guided my (short) career in her team. She inspired me to be inclusive, and to trust in myself and my opinions, and that it was ok speak up. Looking back it was her coaching that laid the groundwork for that part of my ‘work persona’ as it stands today.

But it’s in my profession that I look for day to day inspiration, and it’s here that I’m lucky enough to have met some amazing women.

In no particular order:

  • Anne Gentle – I’ve mentioned her before in this context but Anne continues to crop up in conversations. She remains a leading light as the technical communications industry pushes further and further into the social media landscape. If you’ve ever seen me speak at a conference, you can thank (blame?) Anne for helping inspire me to speak at my first back in 2007.
  • Karen Mardahl – as a consistent, intelligent and thought provoking speaker, her passion and enthusiasm for usability and desire to ‘do better’ is a constant inspiration to me.
  • Leah Guren – having spent time in a workshop with her, and witnessed her passionate opening keynote at a recent conference, I can attest to her inspirational characteristics.
  • Dr. JoAnn Hackos – last but certainly not least, I think everyone in the technical communications field has been inspired by JoAnn at some point or another, and many of us still look to her as a leading light in our field. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for her generosity in sharing her knowledge and expertise.

The problem with this type of list is the fear that you have missed someone out, and whilst these four amazing women have inspired me professionally, many more inspire me in my daily life, and I’m lucky to count them as friends.

As a man, working within a profession that has a healthy split of gender, I find it heartening that in a heavily male-dominated industry that such women are pushing forward and making themselves heard. One day parity will be achieved and I, for one, look forward to that day.

Tech Work

This should be easy. I work in a software company, I’ve only ever worked in software companies so, in honour of Ada Lovelace Day (what do you mean, who?) I should be able to join in “sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today”, right?

I work directly with many smart and inspiring women and, indirectly, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many more in my profession, but how many of them have inspired me?

When I sat down to write this I did wonder if I would be able to think of any women to which I could assign this claim. But then it’s not every day that you take a step back and think about who inspires you, is it?

So, who has inspired me through my career?

My first boss can lay claim to that, but alas, he is a man so I can’t count him here.

My next boss, Kingsley, was certainly influential, she took a chance on me and gently guided my (short) career in her team. She inspired me to be inclusive, and to trust in myself and my opinions, and that it was ok speak up. Looking back it was her coaching that laid the groundwork for that part of my ‘work persona’ as it stands today.

But it’s in my profession that I look for day to day inspiration, and it’s here that I’m lucky enough to have met some amazing women.

In no particular order:

  • Anne Gentle – I’ve mentioned her before in this context but Anne continues to crop up in conversations. She remains a leading light as the technical communications industry pushes further and further into the social media landscape. If you’ve ever seen me speak at a conference, you can thank (blame?) Anne for helping inspire me to speak at my first back in 2007.
  • Karen Mardahl – as a consistent, intelligent and thought provoking speaker, her passion and enthusiasm for usability and desire to ‘do better’ is a constant inspiration to me.
  • Leah Guren – having spent time in a workshop with her, and witnessed her passionate opening keynote at a recent conference, I can attest to her inspirational characteristics.
  • Dr. JoAnn Hackos – last but certainly not least, I think everyone in the technical communications field has been inspired by JoAnn at some point or another, and many of us still look to her as a leading light in our field. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for her generosity in sharing her knowledge and expertise.

The problem with this type of list is the fear that you have missed someone out, and whilst these four amazing women have inspired me professionally, many more inspire me in my daily life, and I’m lucky to count them as friends.

As a man, working within a profession that has a healthy split of gender, I find it heartening that in a heavily male-dominated industry that such women are pushing forward and making themselves heard. One day, parity will be achieved and I, for one, look forward to that day.

Work

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I start this blog post with an admission and an apology.

Admission: I am a manager, I don’t spend a lot (any) of my time writing technical content these days.

Apology: One of my weakest areas is in the intricacies and ‘correctness’ of grammar. *

That said, there is one thing that continues to frustrate me about the technical communications profession, the constant ‘deep dive’ into every single aspect of one sentence, one clause. Dear grammar pedants, please stop!

Don’t get me wrong, I know that good written information is a keystone of our profession and I’m all for discussions to make sure things are being approached correctly and debated thoroughly, where appropriate.

Please note the last two words of the last sentence, “where appropriate”.

Maybe it’s just me, but as each of us write for a specific audience, likely to a specific style guide, such discussions become academic almost from the get go. What really irks is when discussions on other aspects of our profession are diverted towards this area. For example, “Content Strategy is important! … Yes, but ultimately the paragraph that someone reads once they have found it needs to be written in the active voice and never ever punctuate that bulleted list with commas… ”

And so on.

I’ve seen it so many times I’ve started using it as a guide. When any online discussion that isn’t explicitly about grammar and punctuation, whether forum or mailing list, reaches the point that someone reaches for the grammar gun, I stop reading, I disengage.

A few years ago, when the UA conference reached Edinburgh in 2008, one of the sessions was by Professor Geoffrey K. Pullum, a noted linguist. It was the closing session and I approached it with some dread, a presentation on language would surely be all about the use of transitive verbs and the perils of infinitives which are split. How wrong I was, leaving the room at the end with a simple, repeated message.

Write as you speak. Write as if you were explaining something to someone sitting next to you, put aside the rules of grammar if needs be!

I blame my current stance, my dislike of long academic discussions on someone who, I’m sure, has initiated and partaken of many such discussions himself.

Forgive me if I’ve offend anyone, I’m not saying that correct grammar is a bad thing, far from it, I just think that in the current day and age we, as a profession, need to raise our view and focus on bigger things. The language will take care of itself, one way or another, let it go!

We should be looking to influence, to sell, to push ourselves to the forefront of our companies as the experts we are in that valuable (and its stock continues to rise) commodity, information.

 

* Yes, there are deliberate mistakes in this post. Feel free to point them out in the comments.

Work

I cannot believe I’ve not written about my trip to Singapore!

And I’m not going to, as I’ve yet to post my photos to Flickr so I’ll wait until I’ve done that.

That said, I’ve been busy since I got back, spending a few days in Newcastle at a conference, and the rest of the time trying not to be ill (and failing).

So it’s only really the past couple of days I’ve finally felt back to my usual self and started to get things back on track. It feels a bit odd, as I approach my 39th year on this planet, that I’m still ‘finding’ myself (and that sounds a bit new age wank but it is what it is!) but it’s true.

The past few years have been wonderful, horrible, amazing, and sad but the past is in the past so I’m looking forward more and more these days, mostly because I feel that I can now.

Where does that future take me? I’ve no idea. Professionally I’ll be assessing things come April next year, personally… well here are a couple of links which cover two areas I’m taking an increasing interest in:

  • Poly Means Many – There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month seven bloggers – ALBJAn Open BookDelightfully QueerMore Than NuclearPost Modern SleazeRarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin – will write about their views on one of them. This project is called Poly Means Many, a name which was inspired by our varied views and also the definition of the word polyamory.
  • Buddhism A-Z – will consist of 26 posts (listed below) proceeding alphabetically through some of the things that Buddhism means to me and the ways I feel it speaks as acutely as ever to modern life. It will not be comprehensive. I couldn’t possibly, and won’t even try, to do more than scratch the surface.

Yes, the two topics are somewhat linked (by the fact that one person is involved with both projects, and because there are parallels between the two that I’ve drawn in my head) and, along with my continued efforts to improve my health and wellbeing, I find myself at the point of redefining who am I.

It’s unlikely to be a radical change, but as I hinted at in my previous post, more and more I find myself looking for things which will (in my opinion) enhance the ‘me’ I want to be.

I don’t have a fixed image of my future self but it’s slowly taking shape, And even though I know that that process won’t ever stop (it’s part of who I am to want to improve) the process is definitely the important part of my journey.

Personal Musings

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First Tabata session in a while. Not long enough but it’ll do for now!

  • Activity: Cycling
  • Distance: 2.92 mi
  • Duration: 00:13:00

Health

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At TCUK12 this year, I chatted with several people about authoring tools. Vendors, other technical writers, managers, I asked the same two questions, again and again.

What authoring application do you use, and why do you use it?

The answers were illuminating, interesting and always useful. There are many, many options out there, catering to many different needs, and all of them have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Alas, no matter how hard I tried, regardless of how many ways I tried to bend our requirements, all of those conversations led me to the same conclusion.

No-one out there builds what we want so we may have to build it ourselves.

As part of improvements to our content, one of my team has led the charge to restructure our information. She has a passion for information architecture and devised a three pronged approach to our content. You can either navigate in by role, by product area or… by something else we haven’t yet decided upon.

We’ve audited the topics we have and applied some simple structuring decisions and it is looking good so far. The problem we will soon have is that we will need to build this new structure and make it usable by our customers.

What we would like is to be able to tag our topics, and use those tags to present a default structure to our information. The tags would also allow users to filter the topics they see and, either by addition or subtraction, create a unique set of information for their needs. Ultimately this would lead to personalisation of content in a basic form, but that could easily be enhanced to provide a smarter take on content for each user.

Alas it seems that, without doing a lot of customising of an XML (most likely DITA) based system we won’t get near that and even the products that get close require a compromise somewhere. Most of the time it would be, for the team of writers, a step back to a less friendly interface, and more exposure to the underlying technology of the tool they are using. At present Author-it provides a simple authoring environment that allows the writers to concentrate on writing content.

But perhaps that is the point. Maybe it’s time to try a different set of tools, adopt new working practices, take on a the bigger challenge.

Tech Work