Approaching a car park barrier : What it says about you!

parking-barrierWhich of these describes you?

Option 1:

  1. Drive up to the barrier.
  2. Open the car window.
  3. Rummage through your bag or glove compartment looking for your parking pass.
  4. Swipe your pass.
  5. Put your card away. Probably in a random place each time.
  6. Pull away from the barrier.

Option 2:

  1. Approach the barrier with your card in hand and the car window already open.
  2. Swipe the card immediately.
  3. Pull away, almost without stopping because you were so well prepared.

If you most closely match “Option 1″, please don’t think about a career in I.T. The fact you find it acceptable to approach any task in life in this way says to me you are not what this industry needs! Probably not what the human race needs!

Cheers

Tim… (Suffering from “barrier rage” this morning!)

Writing Tips : How often should I write?

writingThe true answer to this is to write as (in)frequently as you want, but in my motivation post I suggested writing little and often. I think this is really important when you first start. Like anything, writing takes practice. It takes a while to get into the right head-space and even longer until you are happy with the way you express yourself. I imagine that is even worse if you are trying to writing in a second language.

In addition to what I said in the motivation post, there are a couple of things to consider.

If you are in the mood, keep going. Some days it just really feels natural and you feel happy with the content you are producing. On those days, don’t put an artificial limit on yourself. Let it flow.

Even if you are writing regularly, don’t be too quick to hit that publish button. Dumping 20 blog posts on the world will probably result in many of them being overlooked by your “loyal” followers. Having a few “in reserve” is also a pretty good idea for those times when you really can’t be bothered. :) Of course, time-critical posts like, “X has just been released and it’s [amazing|rubbish]!”, have a limited shelf life. :)

As an example of these two points, this series of posts was conceived and written in a single session at the computer. Rather than banging them out, I planned to sit on them for a week and re-read them a few times, then start to release them on a daily basis.

As I said in the motivation post, the world doesn’t care how often you hit the publish button. :)

Cheers

Tim…

Writing Tips : Should I go back and rewrite/revise/remove old posts?

writingThe answer to this is very much dependent on the content and context of the material. If you have said something really bad in a legal sense, then you should definitely consider deleting it, or deal with the consequences. Assuming we are not talking about those naked pictures of you at a stag/hen party, what do I think?

I do rewrite old articles if I’m sufficiently motivated by a drastic change in my understanding of the subject. The articles on my website are more fact-based, so if there is incorrect information, it should be revised. I tend to write version-specific articles, so I don’t usually add features to old articles, but write a new features article, then link the articles in a chain. That prevents an article becoming massive over time, while still clearly showing the progression of the feature set for those that care about more than the basics.

My blog posts are more opinion than fact, so I am less inclined to revise them. If my opinion alters, I prefer to write a new post discussing my current opinion and why I changed my mind, with forward and back links between the posts. I think this is much more informative for readers, as they can see how you’ve developed over time. There is little value in trying to rewrite history. :)

I remember having a conversation with Chris Muir about this a long time ago and he was very much of the opinion that a blog post is a point in time snapshot of your opinion and thoughts, so it shouldn’t be retrospectively changed. His words have obviously influenced my opinion in this matter. :)

Ultimately, the Way Back Machine will reveal that terrible secret (you thought Buffer Cache Hit Ratios were a great way to tune a database) and you will be exposed. :)

Cheers

Tim…

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…

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 holes 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…

When bad form design attacks!

Take a look at these two items from a form I was using today.

confirmation-text

If, like me, you thought that checking those boxes meant you agreed with the statements, you would be wrong. It turns out what they mean is you’ve remembered to copy that text into the main body of your request. WTF?

I suggested to the company in question, they either make the check boxes work as they should, or at least change the text to explain what they are there for! It amazes how people can turf out pages like this and not see how blatantly bad they are!

As it turned out, the person who this DMCA takedown notice was directed at has already taken down the offending pages, so I don’t need to “correct” the notice and resend it.

Cheers

Tim…

Sir Terry Pratchett : I’m so glad that you left us now before you had the chance to die

Just read the news that Sir Terry Pratchett has died. Made me think of this line from a song called And On by Yazoo.

Thanks for the many happy hours I spent in the world you created!

To steal another line, this time from the comments on the story from The Register.

Oookkk oook ook.

Ook.

Cheers

Tim…