“New normal” takes fresh thinking

In 2019 I experienced a life-changing event. I literally chose life over cancer. While the disease no longer exists in my bladder, it takes up space in my mind. For 2020, as I began my recovery, my new normal centred around medical appointments, self-care, and suddenly covid-19.

celebrating my new normal

I can’t add anything novel about the effects of covid or cancer. What was normal just fades away. This year, I’ve adjusted to living without a bladder. Today’s celebrations are what we make them. So the gift of a catheter bouquet is a normal choice.


Something unusual about standard time

Canada and the US have 4 common time zones and 2 uncommon ones. In Canada’s eastern provinces, broadcasters tell listeners to stay tuned for news at 6:00 pm Atlantic/6:30 pm Newfoundland.

China standardizes on a single time zone, UTC/GMT +8:00 hours, while geographically, it covers 5 zones.

Kathmandu is +5:45 hours ahead (UTC+05:45)

The funny thing about Coordinated Universal Time is that when you include all the offsets like Newfoundland Time, the zones total more than 24.

UTC time zones

Preview publishing comes with a 5 day wait

Over the weekend I re-launched Shorter Documents. It’s been four years since my last post. What event sparked this revival? Re-ordering business cards. The systems for combing through hundreds of designs made choosing them pleasing. By deciding to use my business email I resolved to make better use of my blog. And here we are.

Getting down to business

Decision 1, put on cards. Decision 2, choose a modern look. Decision 3, apply look to whole package.

Alas, I could hardly wait for the little box to arrive by postal mail.

For now I’m happy that my cards somewhat go with my theme. My focus remains on documentation and making information work.

career exploration tech light writing & editing

Nontechnical sectors employ technical writers

Nontechnical sectors do hire technical writing grads but contrary to the occupation’s name, high-tech workplaces should be the last place you apply.

Reason is that every company produces some form of technical communication. Currently, companies are keen to undertake knowledgebase and transformation projects. The path toward gainful employment follows a series of stepping stones.

So if you contribute to the HR Policy & Procedures manual you can transition from administrative to technical. If you formalize department plans or specifications you can transition to more technical gigs. If you’ve become a SharePoint whiz you can leap from permanent to independent work in IT. And for all the project coordinators out there, if you’ve been picked to orchestrate assignments, schedules and deadlines, then go for project management certification.

Here’s a chart showing what grads from selected Vancouver area schools are doing 10 years later.

A look at what 2004 Vancouver area grads are doing 10 years later
Author’s compilation of stats from LinkedIn


language & style

Fact-checking and ‘fake news’ land on the same page

Like millions of viewers, I tune in nightly to watch The Daily Show. Its edited segments let ‘authorities’ state the facts–as believed. Yes, the show provides a humorous bias on current events, but it rarely needs to regret an error in fact. Thank you, research team!

Old Farmer's Almanac

Fact-checking takes nothing for granted. Some questions researchers ask are:

  • Is the issue covered in all aspects?
  • Is the report current?
  • Is it sponsored?
  • Is the authority an author? An actor?
  • Who has editorial control?

In the age of digital media, I wonder whether it’s more important to not get sued than to get it right.

production & publishing

Tablets are the new Swiss Army knife

checklistWow, everywhere you look it seems that electronic checklists are what industry uses to record data. When I took my car for servicing, the manager brought up my order on his tablet. We reviewed it and with the scrawl of my electronic signature the job was in motion. The dental hygienist can tap info on a conveniently mounted tablet but she prefers hands-free notation through audio instructions. Equipment managers roam the lot, tablet strapped to one hand while using the other to snap pictures, look up specifications or hold a Wi-Fi gauge. Utility crews carry packets of installation orders protected from the elements. Electronic checklists prove as easy for workers to adopt as they are for companies to distribute.

authors & audience design & typography language & style

Drawn to War and Peace

I finished the 2167-page eBook version in about 100 days. About half the number of days it took Napoleon to advance toward and retreat from Moscow. I thought of the rich layers of data presented in the multi-flow map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign.

Napoleon's invasion of Russia
Napoleon’s invasion of Russia

While the Minard map uses geography and temperature as part of the visualization, Tolstoy uses descriptive details and analogy to bring the struggle to life. “The European system was already founded; all that remained was to organize it.” (p1456) Here are some favourite quotes that add another layer of data to the map.

On filling a role, “Our fire is mowing them down by the rows, but they hold on.” said the adjutant. “They want more! Let them have it!” said Napoleon. “And he fell back into that artificial realm of imaginary greatness, and again—as a horse walking a treadmill thinks it is doing something for itself—he submissively fulfilled the cruel, sad, gloomy, and inhumane role predestined for him.” (p1455)

On preparing to die. “What are you saying about the militia?” “Preparing for tomorrow, your Serene Highness—for death—they have put on clean shirts.” (p1366)

On describing vacated Moscow, “It was empty in the sense that a dying queenless hive is empty.” (p1557) Paragraphs go on about what happens in a disfunctional hive. It’s so vivid, you could substitute names of soldiers and generals for each bee carcass.

On losing nine-tenths of his men, “Ney, who came last, have been busying himself blowing up the walls of Smolensk which were in nobody’s way, because despite the unfortunate plight of the French or because of it, they wished to punish the floor against which they had hurt themselves.” (p1896)

On cutting off invaders, “One can cut off a slice of bread, but not an army.” In December as the French retreated, the Russian army “acted like a whip to a running animal. And the experienced driver knew it was better to hold the whip raised as a menace than to strike the running animal on the head.” (p1903-5)

On reoccupation, “Besides the plunderers, very various people, some drawn by curiosity, some by official duties, some by self-interest—house owners, clergy, officials of all kinds, tradesmen, artisans, and peasants—streamed into Moscow as blood flows to the heart.” (p1970)

career exploration

Break ice

The topic presented at this month’s professional development meeting was how to make networking easy, or at least a bit easier for technical communicators. From the perspective of an IT practice leader, HR manager, and independent contractor the presenters guided the talk around three phases; breaking the ice, making the connection and following up.

Breaking the ice can be a creative process. I think it can work by verbalizing thoughtful observations. “I like your umbrella; nothing says dreary like the colour orange.”

Making the connection is overcoming a personal inhibition. It’s about starting a conversation and relating what you do. If your elevator pitch elicits dead air then it’s an opportunity to turn the conversation back to the listener. Who doesn’t like to talk about their day?

Following up is what gets you remembered. Don’t hesitate to send a link to an article for your new connection. Also, reinforce why you want to network with that person. “I came for the free coffee. Who knew I’d meet the coffee roaster.”

If breaking the ice just got a bit easier come say Hi to me at the next Meetup.

Break ice, pedal boat style
Break ice, pedal boat style

authors & audience

Drive it like you stole it

Flooring it

My daily commute takes almost 3 hours by transit—my choice. For being heavy-duty, buses react when drivers floor it. They’re driving pros.

And I hardly notice the ride. I’m in the zone: read email, read enews, transfer, read eBook, transfer, answer email, reach destination, repeat. That is my routine until it’s interrupted.

The subject of this post is about a storyteller we’ll call ‘Con’. Con and his two buddies were on their way to test drive a long-haul truck. (Oh, the irony of travelling to a truck stop by city bus.) Concentration broken. I’m just another set of ears in his three-way conversation. How Con was going to afford the truck was called into question. He admitted being unable to save whether he made minimum wage or six figures. Details followed about stints selling real estate, flipping burgers and machining parts. Broke by payday, Con & buddies concurred—hand paycheque to wife and all’s good but I digress…

Over the engine noise, Con dismissed automatic transmissions—the model they would be test driving—as boring. But more important, there’s only one way to know if an automatic rig could make it up the Coquihalla Summit. Drive it like you stole it said the storyteller. Did the professional driving trio have some familiarity with grand theft auto? Their tale unfolded as a pleasant interruption from War and Peace.

lists & tables terms & abbreviations

Buried alive: the markings of subterranean infrastructure

Maybe you’ve noticed paint marks sprayed on pavement. If it’s not a style of graffiti chances are you’re looking at code for a buried utility line.

utility lines
public utility lines

Depending on the colour paint, the unseen conduit could be carrying sewage or drinking water. How do you know which? Well, it turns out, excavators know which lines lay beneath. There’s an international colour code for utility markings. (ANSI Standard Z53.1) Learning industry codes, parts and processes make for another interesting day in the field of tech writing.

American Public Works Association color code
American Public Works Association color code