Writing Tips : Dealing with comments and criticism.

writingThe way you handle comments, especially criticism, says a lot about you as a person. There have been times in the past when I’ve said something stupid, then got into a comment fight trying to defend my stance, even though I knew I was fighting a losing battle. In some cases this is about territorial pissing, wanting to protect your own space. In other cases, it’s just not wanting to admit you’re wrong because you think it makes you look weak or stupid. In almost all cases, a quick admission of your mistake and a shout out to the person who corrected helped you will be gone and forgotten in a few seconds. A hum-dinger of an argument can drag on for weeks.

So my number one tip would be, admit your mistakes and try to correct them ASAP. You don’t want incorrect information on your site and you certainly don’t need a war on your hands.

This was my response to a thread on the OakTable list about 18 months ago.

I‘ve said stupid stuff on the internet so many times I‘ve lost track. As long as someone puts you straight and you accept it and move on don’t have any problem with it. It’s hard not to launch into the “post mistake excuses and damage limitation”. Been there. Done that. Made myself look even more stupid and then bought the t-shirt. My stock response is now, “Your correct. Im a dick. Thanks…”

At which point Jonathan Lewis posted this.

your“/. “you’re”

The mistakes people make !

It’s just perfect! Still makes me LOL when I think about it. :)

Sometimes people level unfair criticism at you. I get this a lot. People write to me saying something like, “I followed your instructions and they are completely wrong!” On further examination, you realise they are trying to use your Oracle 10g installation for RHEL guide to install Oracle 12c on Fedora and then they have the nerve to complain when things don’t go to plan. In these cases, it’s really tempting to go Guns of the Navarone on their ass, but you’ve got to try and take the higher ground. You have to educate them.

You will definitely get a lot of spam comments. Some of this can be controlled with plugins, like Akismet, but some of it you can’t. It’s worth spending your time cleaning up the spam, but there are some comments that are a judgement call. Some people are so desperate to advertise their own articles they will comment on everything they see and put a link to their own articles, even though they don’t add any more value. My site is for me, not an advertising platform for others. If someone posts a comment that links to another article, I read the article and make a decision if the comment is worthwhile to myself and other readers, or just link spam. If I think it is the latter, it gets deleted. You will have to decide how you deal with this sort of thing yourself.

You might want to consider locking the comments on older posts. WordPress allows you to do this. A little while back I switched on this feature and locked comment for anything older than 30 days. The amount of spam I received dropped massively. I guess it’s a bit annoying for someone who finds the post somewhere down the line, but you have to protect your own time or you will become a slave to housekeeping and you will quit.

Cheers

Tim…

VirtualBox 4.3.28

virtualboxI know you’ve all been thinking, “It’s about time there was a new release of VirtualBox so I can reinstall the guest additions on all my VMs!” If so, it’s your lucky day!

VirtualBox 4.3.28 was released yesterday. The changelog and downloads are in the usual places.

Version 5.0 is on Beta 3, so it probably won’t be long before you can get your upgrading fix again… :)

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : How do I stay motivated?

writingHere are some things that help me keep on the move.

  • Write little and often. Don’t get into the habit of feeling like it’s not worth bothering unless you are going to change the world. Those little hints and tips might just change someone else’s world. :)

  • It doesn’t have to get finished immediately. I have the attention span of a gnat. I will often start things, then put them aside to revisit later. I’ve got some Oracle 9i articles I’ve still not finished. :) It’s better to go where the mood takes you and do something, rather than slave over something that bores you. It should be fun, or why bother?

  • Start with the bits you enjoy. I like writing the example code. Writing the linking text is not so interesting to me. I typically put together all the examples first, then thread some text around them. There is a reason most of my articles are not very wordy! :) You should focus on the pieces that you enjoy and try to minimise the boring stuff, or you will never keep going.

  • If you can’t be bothered to write, do some planning. If I don’t feel like writing I don’t, but rather than waste the time I try to do some planning for future articles. Gathering all the relevant documentation links and sketching out what should be included takes time, but very little in the way of mental effort. It’s like being productive while you are actually being lazy. :)

  • If you really don’t want to write, don’t. Don’t feel guilty about taking a step back from time to time. If you push yourself when you are really not motivated, you will burn out and give up. There is no need to be apologetic about your absence when you come back. The world won’t collapse if you don’t put out a blog post for a couple of months. :)

Ultimately, you have to find what works for you!

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : Writing Style

writingI’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, this writing thing is about personal development. It’s not about world domination.

You should write in a style that is comfortable for you. I remember one of my old English teachers (Mr Parry) telling us we should write as we speak. I pretty much do that. I could never be accused of writing a literary masterpiece. I can’t spell, I have terrible grammar and I’m pretty sure I’m somewhere on the wrong side of the spectrum for dyslexia, but who gives a crap?

Your writing style may alter over time, but then again it may not. Some people tend to write really long and “wordy” articles (Richard Foote, I’m talking about you). Others, like me, use as few words as possible to link together a bunch of example code.

Do what works for you! Nuff said!

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : How do I start?

writingBack when I started my website, blogging was not mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, blogging did exist, but it wasn’t a popular pastime. Blogger started life in 1999, but wasn’t big for a couple of years. WordPress was not release until 2003. So I didn’t have an obvious choice when publishing content. As a result, I went through several iterations of doing it all manually, then eventually wrote my own CMS, which I still use for the main website. It was the bad old days… :)

Here are some quick thoughts.

  • Which Platform? I would suggest using WordPress to start. Although my website had existed for a few years, my first blog post was in 2005. At the time I started with Blogger. After a while I got frustrated with it and switched across to a self-hosted version of WordPress. I’ve been there ever since. If you find something else you prefer, go with it, but there is a certain safety in being on the biggest platform. Plugin and theme support for WordPress is really good because of the popularity of the platform. Of course, the counter argument is that more people are looking to hack it.
  • Self-Host or Free Service? For the majority of people, one of the free services is probably the best option. WordPress and Blogger can be used for free. You can also choose to pay for extra services, like custom domains etc. I was already hosting my own website, so self-hosting was a simple choice for me. Self-hosting is more flexible, but it’s going to cost more money. I would suggest starting free and simple, then if you change your mind you can also change your platform.
  • Switching Platforms. The popular blogging platforms allow you to switch between them. There will probably be some broken internal links, but the main body of the site will be fine.

I’ve recently been getting a lot of emails from Google asking me to take surveys about my preferences for blogging and CMS tools. It looks like they are looking to either revamp Blogger, or put a new tool out on the market. It will be interesting to see what they come up with, and to see how long it lasts before they bin the project. :)

If you are honest, these decisions are really delaying tactics. You just need to sit in front of the keyboard and start. :) Go for it!

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : Why should I bother?

writingTowards the end of last year I wrote a series of blog posts about public speaking tips. I’ve decided to start a similar series, but this time about writing. It could be blogging, writing articles and whitepapers, or just writing documentation in your company. So for the first instalment, lets talk about why I think you should take the time out of your day to write something.

  • Check your understanding. Writing has always been a really good way of ordering my thoughts. There are plenty of occasions when I’ve thought I understood something, only to find as I wrote it down there were gaping wholes in my knowledge. For me, the process of writing something gives me an indication of how much I really understand it. If it’s a struggle, it’s probably because I don’t really understand the subject and I should take a step back.
  • Aid Memoire. I’m always telling people, the single biggest user of my website is me. I don’t have the best memory in the world, so I rely on my articles to remember how to do things. That’s the reason the articles usually have simple copy/paste examples. If you write for yourself, not to please others, you will be happier with the results.
  • Build your confidence. The more content you write, the more confident you become. Having access to a whole bunch of “recipes” you’ve created makes life a lot easier, which in turn allows you to be more confident about the approach you are taking.
  • Documentation skills. If you’re a developer, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I write self documenting code, so I don’t need to document my work!” My response to that is, “You are full of shit!” All systems need documentation. The art with documentation is to write enough to be useful, but not so much that people can’t be bothered to wade through it. Writing blog posts and articles helps you learn this balance.

Cheers

Tim…

Birmingham City University (BCU) Talk #3

bcuOn Friday I took a day off work to pop over to do my 3rd talk at Birmingham City University (BCU). This one was rather unfamiliar territory for me, because it was directed at the staff and was focussed on student employability…

During a previous discussion with Stuart Hutchison from BCU, he suggested I take the “Community” session I presented at the UKOUG Next Gen event, add in some information about graduate recruitment and Bob’s your uncle. Sounds fine, but what do I know about graduate employment? It’s 20+ years since I left university…

Luckily, the online community came to the rescue. I sent a bunch of emails out to friends, small companies and huge corporate types. Over the years I’ve built up a network of contacts all over the world who were happy to help me out directly, or put me in touch with people in their organisation that could. I’ve already sent out thank you emails, but I’d just like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you once again to everyone that helped me out!

As the session started, people introduced themselves and it became apparent that everyone in the room (except me) was in some way linked to student employment and career development. Needless to say, I suddenly felt completely out of my depth, incredibly nervous and needed a change of underwear! :) I introduced myself and made it very clear I was definitely not an expert in this subject, then proceeded to present the information I had gathered. It was meant to be about 60 minutes, but there was a lot of audience participation, so it ended up being more like 90 minutes. Despite my initial nerves, it went really well and was really good fun.

After the session I chatted with Professor Nick Morton, the Associate Dean (Student Experience) at BCU, and he was keen to get me involved in some of the other stuff they are doing, which also sounds like fun. After that I spent quite a long time chatting with Stuart. I will of course keep doing the technical stuff with his students.

I guess some of you may be wondering about my motivation for doing this stuff, especially the non-technical presentations. This isn’t a career move. I’m not being paid to do this. It’s good to try something different and stretch yourself. I’m not suggesting that technical presentations are easy, because they are not, but doing things like this take you out of your comfort zone and teach you a lot about the craft of presenting. I definitely feel this is making me a better presenter, which is a great confidence builder.

Cheers

Tim…

MOVOBall : Kickstarter

movoballThis morning I went to the launch event for MOVOBall, an invention by one of my (In Real Life) friends Steve Priestnall. The event was held at the Electric Cinema in town.

It was kind-of fun to see the name up outside the cinema.

cinema

I’ve kept the ticket as a memento.

ticket

Later this month they will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the product development.

deviceSo what is it? It’s a neat little device to make using a swiss ball a lot more fun. You can either put your mobile device into the cradle, or use a MOVOBug to talk to your phone. It uses the motion detectors in the phone, or MOVOBug, to detect the motion of the ball, so it can be used as a game controller or to interact with fitness apps.

ballI can imagine Noel Portugal and the AppsLab folks coming up with some party piece at OpenWorld using this. Maybe MOVOBall controlled Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. :)

When the Kickstarter film is released I’ll put a link to it. It’s pretty fun, especially the outtakes at the end.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Cheers

Tim…

 

WordPress 4.2.2

wordpressAnother day, another WordPress release. I woke up this morning to see WordPress 4.2.2 has arrived. It’s common after a big release to get a bunch of quick fixes, so I expect to see a number of these over the next few weeks.

Downloads and changelog in the usual places, but you will probably find your auto-update has already installed it for you. :)

Cheers

Tim…