Fad? It’s a Life Style!

This evening, I proved my contemporary nature to impress my wife by participating in a faddish flash mob.

Tonight, at 5:24 pm, I joined a group of strangers whom I have never met before, and we came together on Interstate 270 just north of Dougherty Ferry Road in St. Louis County, and together we stopped our cars for no reason and sat there listening to the radio.

After two minutes of immobility, for no reason whatsoever, we started driving again.

I am hep, dig?

The Shidoshi of Paranoia Speaks

So my beautiful wife has bought a shredder so that she can get rid of old, possibly sensitive documents from her files. So she’s running credit card statements, bank statements, and other good stuff the bad men want through the shredder before disposing of them.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming fairly easy to reconstruct shredded documents, even ones cut into tiny little pieces (see Church Street Technology for visual cues). Essentially, the bad men (or the government) can scan the shredded documents and then put super computers, like the latest “e-mail only” machine at Best Buy (if not now, then in the next year or so, werd) onto assembling them like puzzle pieces until the little ink smudges make glyphs which then make words or numbers or credit card numbers or evidence that yes, once you did accidentally have a copy of 2600 in the house (but it all was a mistake, sir, I thought it was a magazine about my favorite game console).

Your Shidoshi of Paranoia knows of only one way to truly, effectively, and cheaply dispose of your sensitive documents:

Ingestion.

The human body can process, and pass, your documents in an unreadable form, whether by human eye or machine. You can consume several pages of documents a day, enough to easily accommodate the day’s receipts. Processing your document elimination in this way is economic and ultimately the only way you can be sure no one will even want to examine your sensitive information.

You ask, “But Shidoshi, how does one eat these documents?”

I am a master in the realm of document salad. Look at this beauty.


Ingredients, you ask?

Bank statement, laterally torn and then shredded.
Credit card bill, ripped into pieces.
Note to self, minced.

I usually drizzle this with balsamic vinegarette, if you consider 1/2 a cup a “drizzle.” Also, don’t forget to pile on the salt. Goes well with a bottle of Les Bourgeois Riverboat Red wine, particularly if you have had most of the bottle before you start on the salad.

Of course, if you have a higher volume of document destruction needs, you can include them within more of your diet or as part of your family’s overall nutritional plan. Remember, wood pulp contains fiber, and a lot of things are printed with soy-based ink, so that’s got to be good for you, wot?

And on a personal note, it’s during file-cleaning season that I am glad that we have five four cats.

Your Shidoshi has spoken. Pay mind.

Compulsion…taking over….Cannot…stop…myself….

As part of the “engagement” curriculum in my Honors English I class in high school, the teacher roped us into a discussion of the short story “The Scarlet Ibis“. However, instead of extensive discussions of the white patriarchal hegemony’s oppression of the differently-abled which a true “college prep” curriculum would have enjoyed, we got to do a mock trial that prosecuted the narrator of the story in Doodle’s death.

I got to play the defendant, which sucked because my public-defender quality lawyer didn’t object enough. The prosecutor kept pulling out information from within the story that only the defendant would know. As a seasoned veteran of many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, I knew how to expose “player knowledge” from “character knowledge” in other players while masking my own exploitation of this systemic flaw. So, to make a short story long, the defendant was convicted.

So what’s my point? (Ahh….here…it….comes….) That although the Internet has made cheating easier, as early as seventeen years ago, public schools were formally teaching

Play Jurism

(Ahhhhh…..compulsion….relieved……)

My Kind of Month

According to the Onion today:

Shape Magazine Declares July ‘Let Yourself Go’ Month


WOODLAND HILLS, CA—Shape, the women’s fitness magazine, has officially declared July “Let Yourself Go” Month. “You’ve toned those abs and burned the flab in time for bikini season… Now it’s time for a meatball sandwich,” wrote Shape editor-in-chief Barbara Harris in her ‘From The Editor’ column. “Come on, live a little. Don’t be a tight-ass with a tight ass. Eat, lounge, and slouch your way to a happier, more satisfied you.” Features in the issue include “Girth Equals Mirth: Six Sure-Fire Techniques For Broadening That Belly,” “Wrinkles: The More You Have, The More You’ve Lived,” and “Reduce Unwanted Stress By Not Giving A Fuck.”

By reprinting this, I realize I have just become an R-rated blog. Sorry, Ms. Igert. But look on the bright side. Apparently, the Onion uses American rules for putting commas in quotes even when the commas don’t appear in the article titles, unlike certain stubborn son-in-laws.

New from Ralph Lauren: Evan Essence

Draw the attention of women just like Joe Millionaire with this manly scent.

No, really evanescence means “To dissipate or disappear like vapor.” A cool name for a Christian technoalternapop band, but one wonders how they came up with the name. Did a member of the band hear the word and decide, “That would be a great name for a band,” and learn to play a synthesizer so he or she could found the band? Or did they consult a thesaurus to find a cool, sibilant word that captures individual human existence in the greater fabric of eternity?

SARS Could Be From Alternate Earth in Different Dimension, Some Tech Writers Say

CNN is headlining a story with Did SARS come from the stars? Delve into the story, and you find:

“I think it is a possibility that SARS came from space. It is a very strong possibility,” Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe told Reuters.

The director of the Cardiff Center for Astrobiology in Wales and a proponent of the theory that life on Earth originated from space, admits the theory defies conventional wisdom.

Of course, it’s a theory that defies conventional wisdom and only by defying conventional wisdom, i.e., by being completely whacko, does Wickramashinge get its (is Chandra a he or a she or of a nongendered extraterrestrial species?) name in the world press, in a story where it’s quoted before scientists who practice science and accurately call the theory nuts.

However, in my own interests of hounding the media into publishing my name, Brian J. Noggle (don’t forget the J. as it’s extremely important to my own pretensiousness), I wish to offer the following unsubstantiated theory:

SARS comes from an alternate Earth in a different quantum universe and is a result of biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China in the 1970s, just like in The Omega Man, except in this real alternate dimension, unlike its fictional counterpart where the epidemic turns the infected into pasty shambling zombies whose only goal is to infect the uninfected, the real SARS from the real alternate Earth actually kills a small number of people, which I understand is a goal of bioweapons researchers. (Run-on sentences are easy indicators of Grade A Government Choice Cockamamie.)

So when the Chinese (those ChiComs!), in their pursuit of extradimensional weapons (or their space program) accidentally opened a rift between our planet and the Alternate Earth, they let in SARS and probably sent a couple of bootlegged copies of the Matrix Reloaded where DVD-playerless SARS-infected zombies can only sharpen the edges to use as weapons.

Of course, it fits all the fact as we know them now, and its mere outlandishness should serve as evidence of its truth.

Sincerely,
Brian J. Noggle,
Resident Expert in Foosball Slop Shots,
International Society For Finding Alternate Earths That Resemble Charlton Heston Post-Apocalypse Movies.

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?

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.

Judic
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.

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.)

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.