bookmark_borderBayerische Motoren Werke

I’d love to say it isn’t.

It’s really really not a personal thing, and I do know a few of them so I KNOW they aren’t ALL bad. It’s just that 8 times out of 10, when I finally see the badge, it’s one of them.

I’m willing to concede that it might be one of those things, you know, when you are more attuned to something inevitably you see more of it than you had before.

Yet there does seem to a mindset and, let’s be honest, it’s not just me saying this, the type of people who buy them seem to be of similar personality.

Brash, aggressive, impatient and inconsiderate. I could go on, but their driving style speaks volumes. Every single time I have some twat driving 2 feet from my bumper, when they finally swoosh past (just as we approach a corner, or small hill usually) it’s the blue and white badge that glares back.

This driving style is all the more baffling given the current weather conditions, and it’s just scary having a big 5 Series bearing down on your bumper with ice and snow bordering the roads.

Not only that, but of all the cars I’ve seen that haven’t been de-iced, or de-snowed, in the past couple of weeks, it does seem to be either BMWs or Jags.

Now I’m pretty careful when I de-ice my car, mainly because I like to have clear windows. Visibility whilst driving is a big thing for me, yet apparently somepeople, quite literally, jump in their car, run it for 5 mins and drive off.

You can recognise this particular brand of idiot because bar a small section of the windscreen, all of their windows are frosted up or still covered with snow.

It baffles me how anyone can think this is ok, and that’s from a common sense point of view, let alone it being a legal requirement.

So, taking all this into account, imagine my glee at spotting a nice big BMW sitting on the hard shoulder last night, it’s rear window completely frozen, and the policeman standing pointing at it whilst the driver looked on, the twat.

It’s moments like this that convince me there is such a thing as karma.

bookmark_borderWriting isn’t important

Like most professionals I’m a member of various mailing lists, all of which deal with very similar issues, usually with overlapping people and discussions as well. The field of Technical Communications is wide and varied but there is always one type of query which is guaranteed to get a response… or 50 responses… sometimes more.

They are typically asked innocently enough, and at face value you’d think that most of them can be answered fairly simply and without too much back and forth. But, of course you are discounting one major factor, that holds true in many industries but does seem to be more prevalent in mine. Pedantry.

The vagaries of the English language are well-documented and far-reaching, yet time and again whenever any such question crops up there is an inevitable torrent of replies, most of which offer differing advice. When dealing with such queries, the one consistent recommendation is to pick your own way (of punctuating bulleted lists, or introducing example screenshots) and stick to it, but that is usually lost among the myriad of suggestions and arguments that arise.

Now, the title of this post is misleading because, of course, writing is a huge part of my job and if I couldn’t write properly … well I’d probably be out of a job by now.

However there is a feeling that, whisper it now, most readers aren’t that bothered about HOW we write, just that we write information that is useful and understandable.

You see, whilst a lot of technical writers studied English, more and more people coming into the profession come from a technical background first and foremost. Naturally this doesn’t mean that they can’t write properly but it does mean that the finer nuances and obscure rules of the English language might be lost on them. Or at the very least they might not even KNOW what verb construct they used in a sentence, but they will know that it scans and reads well, and that the user of the documentation will understand it without further explanation.

And yes, I lump myself into this ‘new breed’ of technical writers.

The minute one of those grammar/usage questions is posted on the mailing lists I cringe.

Partly because I know that a lot of terms that I have no knowledge of (nor inclination towards) will be used, and partly because, honestly, I don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a middle ground to be found. The best information in the world is useless if you can’t understand it, but equally the best information in the world is useless if it’s buried knee-deep in long, warbling, (if beautifully crafted) prose.

Good technical knowledge does not replace good writing. Similarly good writing does not replace technical knowledge but, within the software industry at least, it does seem like the latter takes precedence.

So, ultimately, writing isn’t that important.

bookmark_borderAlmost there…

The last items have been bought – why do we always end up with stuff to buy on Christmas Eve? – bags are packed and ready to be loaded into the car, and in a few minutes we will begin our traditional Christmas Eve evening. Dinner, a bottle of wine or two and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol movie.

The last few days have been … well… emotional. My final day at McLaren was kinda sad, the Christmas night out was that funny mixture of almost delirious happiness with a huge undercurrent of melancholy. For a variety of reasons. Yesterday we visited my Gran, and it’s sad to think that, whilst she’ll be having Christmas dinner with her son and his family, she’ll spend Christmas night at the nursing home. I KNOW it’s the best place for her to be but.. well.. it’s just sad.

Still, the next couple of days will be the usual mixture of fun, family and frustrations. I’ll eat too much, drink too much and lose my temper (quietly of course) at least twice. I can’t wait! After all, isn’t that what Christmas is about? Being with your family, and everything that entails? Of course it is!

Well, regardless of how you are spending tomorrow, it’s worth while remembering that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another day. So, no matter how you choose to spend it, I hope it is a merry one.

P.S. Even if you DO get another hideous jumper, remember, somewhere there is a very cold sheep who wants her wool back!

bookmark_borderOn not buying a Mac

This WAS going to be quite a lengthy post. I was going to list my requirements, the things I can do now and the things I know are better on a Mac. I was going to compare my Mac experiences in the past (from the Classic II to the Powerbook of a friend) to my Windows experiences of now.

I was even going to explore the whole “fan” side of things, and maybe discuss how, sometimes, zealots are NOT a good selling tool.

But, ultimately, the main reason I won’t be buying a Mac, at this point, is simple. It’s not a complicated reason, and you can argue against it all you want.

They are too expensive.

Now, let me just quantify that a little.

I’m not talking purely about the initial layout, although that is the major factor — for the same money I can get ‘more’ PC — but the cost of switching, of learning new things, new applications, new hardware. I know my way around a PC and around Windows which, on my home PC, is highly configured and rarely gives me any problems.

I KNOW Macs are quick to pick up, I KNOW OSX is an excellent operating system, and I know, long term, I’ll learn everything I need to learn.

But right now I just can’t be bothered, I don’t have the time, nor money and much less the inclination.

So unless someone wants to chip in a few hundred quid so I can get a top of the TOP of the line, maxxed out iMac, then I’m sticking with PC land. For now.

Ohh and if you are wondering, I WAS looking at the £999 iMac, for the same money I can get a PC with a bigger hard drive, double the RAM, double the video RAM, faster processor and it’s much easier to upgrade.


Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for several months now, however I hate hate hate myself for buying it when I did, when it was the ‘in’ thing to read (in some circles) and so I’ve been avoiding it.

The really annoying thing is, of course, that it’s an excellent and interesting read.

To summarise a book like this is a challenge. Firstly you are competing with the very essence of the book and trying to encapsulate a large and complex topic into… well a blink of an eye. Secondly, you risk ruining the book for others as there is a large amount of pleasure in reading this material. Not least because it is very well structured, taking you from point to point, offering insights and stories to accompany each new theory.

The basic premise is fairly straightforward, Gladwell is investigating that split second moment that you occasionally have when you KNOW you know something but you can’t yet explain WHY you know it. The opening example in the book discusses a greek statue which scientists had tested to ensure it was real (they confirmed that it was over 1,000 years old), lawyers had pored over paperwork to confirm it was authentic, yet the instant a greek statue expert clapped eyes on it they knew it was a fake. Despite all the evidence to the contrary.

There are some insights into ‘mind-reading’ (face-reading), and a fascinating section dealing with autism and high-stress incidents.

I’ve not read “Tipping Point” but think I will now. So, vice versa, if you enjoyed that book, I’d imagine you’d enjoy Blink. It’s utterly fascinating to the point where my wife is thoroughly bored of me starting sentences with: “You know that book I’m reading…”. Always a sure sign that something has gripped my attention.

bookmark_borderWhoosh zoom

Ever get one of those days when you can’t settle your brain on one topic? It whooshes around, steadfastly refusing your requests to please PLEASE focus on the document you are trying to read, preferring to hone in on any of eight or nine different topics.

I used to fear this state of mind —the whole “can’t concentrate on anything” frame of mind is a bit of an alarm bell these days— but now I embrace it, and occasionally encourage it. The trick is to be able to flip from topic to topic, keeping an open mind at all times, capturing as much as you can.

HOW you do this is an entirely different thing of course. In the past I’ve tried multiple text files, roughly divided per topic, but it can be a little tricky to find the information at a later date… “I KNOW I wrote it down.. somewhere…”. This is similar to scribblling things down on a notepad and ends up with the same problem. Unless you review your notepad once a week (or more if the info is time critical) then you end up with a notepad full of useless, lost, information.

I’ve mentioned productivity tools and methodologies before and have tried variations on many of the more common ideas. I’ve captured tasks ensuring they were a next step rather than an end goal, I always ask for deadlines when someone asks me to do something, and if a job is quick and easy I’ll do it there and then.

However that’s all well and good for things which are easily quantifiable as “tasks”. At the moment I’m in the ‘theory’ stage of a few things and as my brain is leaping about, hopping from topic to topic, I need a reliable way to capture my thoughts.

And I’ve turned to Microsoft for the answer.

The product is called OneNote and is, essentially, a note taking application. You can create high level divisions (top-level tabs), and have sub-divisions (side-level tabs), and then start typing, drag in images, or even sketch free-hand. You can search, collate and distribute info as you need it. Admittedly I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks but it’s already fast approaching “must-have” status in my own little software scoring system.

I still use Outlook for tasks, but I’ve hardly written anything down on my notepad in the past couple of weeks. Could this be the start of my own little paperless office??