Suh-Weet Disclaimer

Heather’s gone off on her new bike many times on her blog, but as a certified Reel Gud Dock Righter, it’s up to me to critique the Owner’s Manual (Version 5.0).

Okay, not the whole thing. I focused on the sweet disclaimer at the front:

GENERAL WARNING: Bicycling can be a hazardous activity even under the best of circumstances. Proper maintenance of your bicycle is your responsibility and is essential to reducing the risk of injury. This Manual contains many “Warnings” and “Cautions” concerning the consequences of failure to maintain or inspect your bicycle. Many of the Warnings and Cautions say “you may lose control and fall”. [sic, Ms. Igert, I swear] Because any fall can result in serious injury or even death, we do not repeat the warning of possible injury or death whenever the risk of falling is mentioned.

As a Doc-U-Matic 3000, I generate my share of droll technical specs and manuals, but since I do software, I never get the cool caveats. Instead, I get things like “Performing this action might result in unexpected results.” or “Running this utility while your server is running can corrupt your database.” Where’s the threat of death? Where’s the danger, the intrigue?

While researching this blog entry, I saw the new Version 6.0 Owner’s Manual on the Giant Bicycle’s Web site (marketing message: “Cycling Solution Provider for everyone” which would seem to indicate everyone has a cycling problem, dilemma, or conundrum). Still, the upgraded doc says:

The combination of the safety alert symbol and the word WARNING indicates a potentially hazardous situation which, if not avoided, could result in serious injury or death.

How sexy is that? When do I get to threaten the people who ignore my reason of career existence with death for ignoring me?

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Who Needs An Intercom?

In my previous days as an experienced Estate Sale Con-E-Sur, I spent a lot of times scavanging the homes of the well-to-do who acquired their, well, to-dos in the 1950s and 1960s. One thing that struck me besides, and often beside, the ovens built into the walls at an ergonomic height, was the hard-wired intercoms within some of the ranch homes, many of which could have fit the 13 x 65 mobile home in which I spent a couple of years into their basements. What a remarkable concept, I thought. But the idea died out in the 1950s, perhaps fifty years before these homes’ owners ended their retirements. My beautiful wife and I bought a home that lacks one, and the house was built when Lyndon Johnson was president.

Never fear, IM is here! Although my wife’s office and my office hide on opposite ends of different floors of our split-level home (no coincidence), we can get the benefits of the anachronistic knob-and-speaker assemblies in the Ladue and Town and Country homes. “Honey,” she types, “I am going to bed,” and I hear her voice within my imagination more clearly than I would through fifty-year-old vacuum tubes. “I’ll be right down,” I type carefully, examining each key carefully as I peck out the response to make sure each letter is where I left it. And I go, to kiss her good night and ensure the bed is adequately feline-occupied for her slumber.

The TCP/IP packets leave not detritus, though, and somehow it’s somewhat less satisfying to think our communication leaves no residue, unlike those lines hard-wired and ostentatiously-wrought in 1954.

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Doing It in Style Guides

After a period of time at the start-up for whom I work, I’ve decided it’s time to create a style guide. With the revenue sugarplums dancing in our heads, maybe I can convince the assorted VPs of our need to hire a second technical writer eventually. A style guide would help break in, or maybe just break, the untamed new person. No longer would he or she struggle against the bridle of “Do it because I do it that way.” The style guide offers me the cover of “Do it because it’s in the style guide” (because I do it that way and put it in the style guide that way). Too much exposure to the marketers, and suddenly I am crafty.

So, instead of relying upon guidance from previous employers, which meant falling into the “Do it because it’s in the style guide” (because I do it that way because all of my previous employers did it that way, so I put it in the style guide that way) trap, I struck out to research style guides, delving into the obscure and Byzantine style guides developed by true geniuses in their fields.

Some of the results startled me.

Ever had to look over a press release devised by your marketing department? Or worse, have you seen them in print and wondered what fluke or computer virus introduced random capitalization into their text? It’s no fluke. Here’s the exact rule, courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Style Guide for Prose Writers:

4.5 proper Capitalization in sentences or Fragments

When Writing, use Judiciously your friend the Capital Letter to add emphasis to Common nouns, adjectives, and verbs to discriminate and add Emphasis to Key Concepts.

Before I discovered this, I had suspected I uncovered an instance of someone hacking apart a sentence devised with the camelBackNotationMethod, favored by developers for method and attribute names. Little did I know it was codified! Forget the bold and italics offered by modern convenience when you have the Capital letter.

Sometimes, unfortunately often when proofreading my own work, I come across that sentence that features not only a dangling modifier, but a dangling everything. You know, the sort of

I usually expect the writer has been deflected from his or her duty, whether a subject matter expert had to actually write some software, a salesman had to actually cold-call a potential client, or an overworked technical writer actually had to play defense in the important mid-morning foosball game. I understand how hard it can be to pick up where you left off, if you can even remember that you left off in the first place. So I often excused the offender with a pointed bit of Nogglesque humor that has alienated me from peers everywhere. That is, however, until I encountered the Official Manual of William Carlos Williams Style:

Sentences and pro
per breaks
So much depends
upon the brea
king point of your sentences and lines.

ious use of improper grammatic
al constructions lends
itself to
greater reader comprehension as
the greater reader paus
es to ponder
the interface.

As you can see, people who prefer this style guide want their sentences to wander off down the misty street like the end of a noir movie. This style empowers the end reader with more questions than answers, and formulating questions starts the learning process. A bit heady for me personally, but the style exists, and resides in 10 point Helvetica somewhere.

I even found the software developer’s favorite guide, the Elements of Riboflavin Style. The popular Riboflavin Style of writing is that to include the verb “to be” two times each to be clearer. Before this, I assumed it was weak writing, but now I know that the Riboflavin Style is officially sanctioned and that it leads to a healthy manual metabolism and mucous membranes in the gizzard.

My research yielded a harvest more fruity than my wildest imaginings. Essentially, I can carve my own foibles, such as overuse of the word “Judicious” just because it sounds like a combination of Judicial and Delicious, into the style guide. Once I compose it, I can rest assured the style guide will stand, a HumaBrian Stone for the masses, or for the technical writer or intern I can acquire. The style guide will exist not just for now, but for all time, or at least until half way through my farewell luncheon, or until someone has a better idea.

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The Marvel Universe, Online, Almost Officially

Oh, bay bee! I don’t know if you all remember the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89, but they were encyclopedias of the almost all characters that had appeared in Marvel comic books since the beginning of time.

Looks like the Marvel Directory, a fan site with some claimed support from Marvel, has brought the whole thing online. I am weeping happy geek tears.

Which reminds me: I forgot to look for Stan Lee in X-Men 2. Sorry, honey, but guess where we have to go this weekend?

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Ted Nugent Says…Something Naughty!

The AP wire is atwitter after Ted Nugent apparently said, how delicately they put it:

the words “g—-” and “n—–” on live radio

Do you suspect the words are not goof and niggardly? Instead, I reckon, he might have used the words gook and nigger. (Let the insensitivity shine through! Brian J. typed the words without hyphens or cute, non alphanumeric cartoon-swearword characters.) I don’t know what he used, because the news accounts are very clipped, not offering much context but instead focusing on the act of using the prohibited words.

What we do have for context is this:

Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, morning talk show hosts on KRFX-FM, said that during an interview Monday, Nugent said one of the members of a group called the Funk Brothers years ago complimented his guitar playing by using a racist term for blacks.

Would that be these Funk Brothers? If so, a majority of them appear to be black. If one of them said Ted Nugent was his nigga, or something along those lines, odds lean toward a black man calling Ted Nugent the N-word. In which case, it wasn’t used in the sense of a racial slur. And Ted Nugent reporting the word use is a not a racial slur, either.

Sorry. I understand these “special” words have magickal significance to aggrieved covens of the afflicted, but they are just words. Perhaps Ted Nugent was using them to draw attention to the fact that they’re just collections of glyphs on the page or voiced velar stops, alveolar coronals and other articulations and not anything more. Actus reus without mens rea. As our society fundamentally shifts from criminal intent to strict liability template, it’s no longer necessary to mean harm with words, just speaking the words is the offense.

We’ll probably never know how Ted Nugent meant to use the words or how he really used the words. It’s not like the inflammatory news article presents the context or a transcript. Don’t bother going to the the Web site of the radio station 103.5 The Fox, or the dee jays with whom the Nuge was communicating, Lewis and Floorwax. Instead of information about this heinous crime, you’d just see the “sunken treasure chests” contest in which one woman with small breasts will win free breast augmentation! At least these holders of the moral high ground took the opportunity of this new-found celebrity to remove the photo of one of the morning show participants vomiting into a trash can after smelling rancid dog feces as part of some morning hijinks. Some marketing flack must have known the attention the Web site was about to receive. Any publicity is good publicity, especially when you’re enlightened defenders of feelings AND you don’t have puking interns on the Web site.

Ted Nugent’s Web site probably won’t glorify this “scandal” with a response. I cannot say I blame him. The whole thing smacks of a publicity stunt by a couple of drive-time losers with declining marketing share, deciding to pillory an outspoken conservative figure for fun and ratings.

Unfortunately, it will probably work.

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Ted Nugent Trivia!

And another thing, why does the AP article bear this line:

Nugent is past president of the National Rifle Association and is known for his outspokenness.

No kidding! I think it would be more relevant, considering that he was on the phone with a rock and roll music station, apparently discussing rock and roll music, to mention:

  • Nugent is a former member of the Damn Yankees, who charted with the song “High Enough”, which sounds like a Rave song, but given Nugent’s eternally anti-drug stance is not about drug usage.
  • Nugent’s solo career was built on musical hits designed composed to celebrate the human condition, particularly Procreative Drills, featuring several colloquial representations of male and female genitalia in the titles.
  • Nugent is the founder of Ted Nugent Kamp for Kids, an organization designed to train kids in safe hunting.
  • Nugent is the founder of Hunters for the Hungry an organization dedicated to providing meat harvested in hunts to homeless shelters.

Oh, but no. Nugent is the past president of the National Rifle Association.

I guess the point is a free-association of racial slurs, and those who would use them to denigrate (author insensitivity alert!) other races, with the National Rifle Association, whose stance on the Second Amendment runs counter to that of the author of the piece, the Associated Press in general, and “enlightened” people everywhere. The sooner those louts are tarred with the same pot of pitch, the better to round them up and pelt them with animal entrials–no, wait, they might like that.

And let’s not let the facts step in front of an onrushing good Nexis-Lexis search phrase. Nugent’s own biography does not list him as a former president, but he does sit on the board of directors at the NRA.

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Fact Checking The Onion

Doh! In this week’s issue, The Onion misquotes Alex Rogan, the main character of The Last Starfighter. The Onion’s take is this:

Continued Bush: “Or, as Alex says to [his girlfriend] Maggie, ‘Don’t you see this is it? This is our big chance. It’s like, whatever this is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab on with both hands and hold tight.'”

But he really says: “It’s like what Otis says….” Earlier in the movie, Otis, wizened and wisened resident within the trailer park, did give him that very advice.

Oh, sure, maybe the writer can claim that the joke is that it was Bush, the “pretender president,” who made another one of his characteristic blunders. But I think the writer was playing slops with the cult culture of geeks and banked number four off of the eight ball, a bumper, and the thirteen ball without dropping it in the side pocket.

You Onion guys used to have geek cred when you were in Madison, but since you’ve gone to New York, you’ve gotten taken in by the glamour of the east coast and you ain’t down with us here in the heartland no more.

(The doctors say I can overcome my dementia trivia with a prescription, but I declined.)

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Apathetic Apotheosis

Richard Roeper’s got a point in today’s Chicago Sun-Times. Laci Peterson is the latest member of the pantheon of people who were anonymous while alive, but became national celebrities after murder, eligible for emotional deconstruction upon which to project something of our own lives and losses so that we can all together regrieve.

Shouldn’t we just get the heck over it? It just depends upon what the meaning of closure is.

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When You Outlaw Paper Bonds, Only Outlaws Will Have Paper Bonds

The Washington Post reports that the Department of the Treasury will no longer sell paper United States Savings bonds. Instead, all bonds will be maintained through electronic accounts. Wow, this is so much a bad idea that I can briefly foam at the keyboard in the scant minutes I have to refuel the Doc-U-Matic “Mr. Digestion” Portable Energy System (MDPES).

It’s undemocratic. People without computers or accounts can no longer just walk into a bank and buy a bond. The official explanation is that a large portion, as a percentage, of investment dollars that pour like a broken dam into the nation’s coffers are done electronically. And by very large funds and corporations, no doubt. It’s a bad symbolic move to suddenly make the common stock in America preferred, with only big investors or little investors with computer accounts eligible to participate.

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But I Read The Manual

Honey, I know you recently found a pair of your nice slacks hanging in the closet in a state you characterized as “inside-out.” However, I want to assure you that this must be by design, for I read the manual that came with these slacks, and I laundered them precisely according to the concise directions provided by my technical communication counterpart at his or her own sweatshop of indenture.

The user’s guide, or perhaps administrator’s guide (as I was not so much using as maintaining the slacks), directed me to:

  • Turn garment inside out
  • Machine wash cold with like colors only non-chlorine bleach when needed
  • Tumble dry low
  • Remove promptly
  • Warm iron on reverse when needed

My fellow technical writer, the composer of this particular guide, undoubtedly broke down the complete process of laundering this garment and rendered this process in a step-by-step fashion easily consumable by the greatest laundry novice, of which I assure you I am not, for I have learned from the many mistakes I have made, such as washing the new St. Louis Cardinals tee shirt in the light load. No, the greatest laundry novice has yet to learn that lesson.

As a professional courtesy, I cannot even doubt that this documentation specialist would leave out important maintenance steps in this process. When developers compile documentation, they often operate with assumptions not readily apparent to the end user. For example, saying “Search for the record” is shorthand for:

  1. Type a search term or terms into the Search for edit box. You can use the * wildcard in this search to indicate an incomplete string or the ? wildcard to indicate a single character that can represent any character in that position in the string.
  2. From the Record Type drop-down list, select the type of record for which you want to search.
  3. From the By Date radio buttons, click either From this date….

Well, you get the idea.

With this respect for my counterpart in mind, I must point out that although the instructions indicate that the slacks administrator should turn the garment inside out, at no point do the instructions direct the administrator to once again toggle the setting of the interior/exterior aspect position. As I indicated, were it a developer who wrote this procedure, I might entertain the notion that the step was merely assumed. However, I defer to the technical writing authority.

Of course, the fact that the instructions do not say turn garment inside in represents a marvelous innovation in slacks technology. I concentrated, using the ancient technique of Docus Ficta (Find The Feature In The Omission or Defect) which learned when I studied the Dark Forbidden Arts of Technical Writing in the verdant jungles of Cambodia (right down the road from those whacky guys at Angkor Wat who kept hitting their softballs over our fence and interrupting the meditations of we technical writing initiates to throw the softballs back). Of course!

By alternating the exposure of both the interior and exterior surfaces of the garment, the user will experience more even wear upon the fabric, increasing up to 100% the life of the garment. No wonder this garment maker is the leader in the industry. Undoubtedly, it has filed a patent protecting this intellectual property. If not, certainly an entrepreneural dumpster-diving spirit like me will poach it.

I am sorry to have to bring this squabble up publicly, dear, when all four of our readers can see it. However, you must now agree that the “inside out” nature of the slacks within the closet was not a mistake, but the direct result of intelligent information design. Even though I might shame you by this display, I promise I shall make it up to you by doing something special, such as ironing your slacks. I will, once I figure out which setting of the iron is reverse; the switch doesn’t have a little R.

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Plug for a Magazine

P.S., if you like the fantasy genre, I can’t recommend a magazine more highly than I do Realms of Fantasy. It’s got nonfiction about the genre, about threads in folklore, and about other subjects slightly fantasy-lovers might find interesting. It’s also got some speculative fantasy fiction in each issue. Don’t just browse the Web site, buy the magazine. It’s available at the Borders on Olive, fellow Creve Couer geeks, and you could always subscribe.

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From our Department of Irony

I received two unsolicited e-mail messages this afternoon, on my home account no less, from some punk outfit calling itself DarkSoft Group wants me to give them twenty bucks for an anti-spam remedy! Here’s the message, courtesy of some other guy who thinks as highly of them as I do.

The ad claims you can download the product from the #1 download site on the Internet. Let’s be frank: I don’t know how to discover any psuedo-scientific rankings, but I’ve always been a doubting Thompson, and I doubt that whoever is, they get a lot of casual traffic from people who type sil00001 into the Address bar to find software.

Let me see, give my credit card number to one or more punks collectively known by a name more suited to some 733t h4x0rz than a software company, and probably then provide them with the names and passwords to all my e-mail accounts? What’s not to like about that deal?

I just don’t have the twenty bucks.

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Tester’s Creed

At work, I do a little testing, and I just wanted to let you schnucking developers know where we testers stand:

Here is the ultimatum of our camp: what can be smashed, must be smashed; whatever survives a blow has value, whatever flies to smithereens is rubbish; in any case, smash right and left, it will and can do no harm.
(Dmitry I. Pisarev)

That Russian nihilist guy most certainly described ad hoc testing!

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Crazy 94-Year Old Runs Riot in Norway

I don’t know what havoc the police thought this 94-year-old jogger was seeking, but they got right to the bottom of it. Turns out she had not garrotted the night orderly with a jump rope, flailed the nursing supervisor with an un-Velcroed one pound ankle weight, and choked the nursing home warden by feeding him his enterprise’s own Ensure in her Buy-It-Now for freedom and the start of a new crime spree.

Nope, she was just jogging.

But you can never be too careful.

To alleviate any confusion, and to put our municipal authorities at ease, I shall remain in the recliner. Thank you, that is all.

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Point-Counterpoint: Neo Good or Neo Bad?

Okay, Matrix fans. Is Neo good, or does Neo sux?

Personal verdict: You can take the Neo out of the Matrix, but you cannot take the Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan/Johnny Utah/Eddie Kasalivich out of the Neo. The producers knew GIGO, but also knew AIGOK (Anything In, Garbage Out of Keanu), so they spent the extra money they would have paid to a scriptwriter on leather futures. And made a killing.

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