Category Archives: Communication

for matters relating communication

Not the Big Time

No, I have not made the big time yet.

I recently received one of those calls. After the initial hellos, it went about like this:
Caller: “I’m calling you from Windows technical department.” (That wording and in an Indian accent.)
Me: “Wow! I’ve finally received one of these scam calls. Bye bye.”
and I hung up.

Microsoft does not make calls like this. It is a scam to get you to put malware on your computer. Can you hang up as quickly as I did? You should.

The Problem of Documentation for Beginners

Who likes writing documentation? Very few.

But, in many fields, it can be difficult to get started because of information that is left out of documentation. When one does not know much in an area, it is very easy for a missing piece of information to make it difficult or even impossible to proceed. I had this problem recently yet again with a software package. The package has a lot of features, but we are having trouble getting them in use.

Even something is written down, it can be difficult to find when one does not know much yet in the area.

What often is missing is documentation for the documentation. This would be what one needs to know get started and where one should go from there.

I am quite prepared to put in my time studying, but all too often, I have no idea where to profitably begin. Even if I get a result, I, all too often, find that there were some key pieces of information that would have made it much easier to get results.

Throwing the manual at me is often of little good. If I do not know an area, then one of the things that I do not know is how to evaluate the important of data in the area. One manual page is much like any other. Knowing which are the most important for getting started is quite valuable information for a newbie.

If you are ever documenting something for a beginner to use, please put together something that a beginner can work with and have confidence that it will work. Examples really help a lot. Remember, too, that someone may be an expert in an area but still not be able to use what you are documenting.

An accountant will not automatically know how to use an accounting package. Even if that accountant can figure out some of it, the other part may be quite unclear. Ever wonder why some software features rarely get used? Who can figure out how they work?

So, when documenting, please write to your audience’s knowledge level, put in everything needed (including examples) to get things started, and point out where to go from there.

Then, maybe, you can document the advanced features.

Getting It Right vs. Getting Something

A common model on the Web is for a site to return some result regardless of how wacky it might be.

Google Maps used to occasionally do this to me. I would specify a place in Canada, but maybe misspelled it badly. Google Maps would sometimes display a place in California. Not terribly useful.

They have gotten better. I have not had this happen lately and now sometimes see suggestions or, if Google Maps has none, “We could not find _____”. I find this much more useful. I am glad that they have switched to this approach.

Remember that just because you get an answer does not mean that it is right.

Odd Language #143: What Exhibition?

From an alt.folklore.computers post on work dress code: “Next, in software development, dress was anything that covers up the naughty bits, except when customers came in for meetings or we were at exhibitions.”

The issue: What kind of exhibition? Dress is not specified for meetings or exhibitions so it appears that dress then is not “anything that covers up the naughty bits”. It could be corrected with, say, “… except for suit and tie or similar for when customers …”.

Disorder That Another Does Not See

Last week, I wrote Order that One Does Not See. Now, for another side.

If you work in a technical area, it can be very difficult explaining why things are taking as long as they do. It can be apparently obvious that all you have to do is [Insert trivial thing here.], so why are you taking so long?

I found that with some recent programming work. I was having to unravel some somewhat messy programming that someone else had written that was not documented very well and that was in an area I do not know very well yet. Not surprisingly, it was slow slogging. Fortunately, I was given something else as a priority where I was able to get some results fast. I did not have to worry much about the other parts, so it was much easier.

But try explaining why something is taking so long. After all, your explanation is about what someone trying to pull a fast one would use, and how is the non-technical person to tell whether you are the good guy or the bad guy?

Non-technical folk, a technical area might not be nearly as simple as it appears. Please cut us some slack.

Odd Language #142: Going Against

Driving against rush hour sounds so efforty.

The issue: I was driving in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver, BC and surrounds) recently. We were concerned about the time it would take to get to our destination. One of my co-workers observed that, in our morning drive, we would be going against rush hour. I was amused as going against the flow meant we could go faster.

Go Simple or Go Complicated?

So here I am busily learning how to make a WordPress Website work. There is a lot of detail here. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I can see someone just wanting to get a blog up fast and never mind the fiddly details. I was like that when I started my blog.

But if you want a Website that has lots of features, you have to put time in to figure out how to do it all. This is what I am working on now for Ride North America.

Just today, I read a post in a list I subscribe to in which the poster wants an easy way to set up a photo display site for someone else.

Just how well does it work out to start by doing things the easy way and possibly having to do it all over again later versus biting the bullet and going sophisticated from the start but possibly never needing the high-end features?

For a given case, the answer might not be obvious.