Journal: News & Comment

This is " October 2001," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - newest items first
# 9:00:00 PM:

Fame finale

The B.C. Knowledge Network show Planet Education had a short feature on me this week.

The original broadcast was Tuesday, but the show repeats Thursday, November 1 at 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm. KNOW-TV is Channel 5 in the Vancouver area.


# 5:46:00 PM:

This is for Alistair:



Tuesday, October 30, 2001 - newest items first
# 10:22:00 PM:

Does Osama own Snapple?

No, he doesn't.


Monday, October 29, 2001 - newest items first
# 1:06:00 AM:


I just wrote a review of two word processing programs for Palm organizers -- and I wrote it entirely on my Palm organizer, sometimes with a keyboard, sometimes not.

You'd think that the teeny tiny screen and inky dinky letters would make that a pain, but it actually wasn't bad at all. And I was able to work on the couch, and while waiting for my daughter to get a haircut, and at the kitchen table...

Hmm. At this rate I might never stop working at all. Bad idea.

I'll post the link to the review when it's published. And remember, on Tuesday (tomorrow) I appear on Planet Education, the KNOW-TV television show.


Friday, October 26, 2001 - newest items first
# 12:13:00 AM:

Weep not for the posties?

Not many people's jobs suddenly turn from mundane to terrifying. Postal workers' jobs have, though. So why no benefit concerts for them?


Wednesday, October 24, 2001 - newest items first
# 8:40:00 AM:

At last, a revelation

After some thirty years of watching "Sesame Street" on and off (on a lot when I was a kid, off for a long time, then on again now that my daughters watch it), I finally figured out something:

The difference between a monster and a grouch is that monsters have noses and grouches don't.

Elmo, Telly, Harry, et. al. have those egg-shaped noses (like Bert), while Oscar does not. The problem, of course, is that Cookie Monster has no nose either. And if he's not a monster, who is?

He has no neck either, by the way. Maybe he's half-grouch.

Okay, so if it has fur, no nose, and bushy eyebrows, it's a grouch. If it has fur, and either a nose or sticky-up googly eyes (or both), it's a monster.

Maybe I have to start over.


# 8:30:00 AM:

If only this were true.


Monday, October 22, 2001 - newest items first
# 10:07:00 PM:

A year of blogs

This week marks the first anniversary of my converting this Web site to a weblog using the free online tool known as Blogger. It has made updating the site vastly easier -- which has encouraged me to post many more useless things here.

Like this entry, for instance.

A year ago I wrote about redesigning the Web site for the company I worked for at the time. Three months later, they fired me and a whole bunch of other people in the second of three rounds of massive layoffs triggered by the tech-stock meltdown. So, during 2001 I established myself as a freelance writer, and re-established myself as a professional drummer. Now, my schedule is more flexible, I'm having more fun, and I make more money.

Good thing I got fired.


# 10:15:00 AM:

Good old-fashioned capitalist censorship

The U.S. government apparently has the right to prevent photos from U.S.-based civilian surveillance satellites from being released to the public during military operations -- such as those currently on in Afghanistan. But rather than invoking that law and possibly facing freedom-of-the-press lawsuits, it has instead simply gone and purchased exclusive rights to satellite photos of the Afghan conflict, and will not release them.

In theory, the Russians, who have commercial surveillance satellites in orbit, could release any photos they have, but so far there's been no suggestion they will.

Anyone else have a spare satellite kicking around?


Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - newest items first
# 10:54:00 PM:

What is the bombing for?

I recently rediscovered the online version of The Guardian, based in Manchester, England. It is an excellent news resource. Yesterday, one commentary piece by Jonathan Steele caught my eye. In it, he wrote:

"The original explanation for the American and British air strikes was that the Taliban's air defences had to be eliminated so that special forces could fly in by helicopter to capture Osama bin Laden without risk. Three days after the strikes began, the US defence secretary announced the US had air supremacy over Afghanistan. What then justifies going on with the bombing of cities?"

Salon, of course, has its usual swath of good stuff (most of which now requires that you subscribe, as I have), including a piece on why Saudi Arabia would be the next truly logical target in a war on terrorism, and an interview with Susan Sontag worth reading.

Oh, and visit ThinkGeek too. It has nothing to do with the war. Just a good place to browse for geeky stuff.


# 12:09:00 PM:

Are you an uptalker?

Maybe you and your ilk are taking over the world?


Friday, October 05, 2001 - newest items first
# 1:20:00 PM:

Technical Writing vs. Marketing Communications: the deathmatch

Today, Thao, a former co-worker of mine, asked me:

I have a question for you. What exactly is the difference between a technical writer and a marketing communications writer? Their roles and responsibilities? The types of pieces they produce?

The short answer:

The difference is big: technical writers create documentation to help people use stuff after they've bought it, while marcomm people create promotional material to try to sell stuff to people in the first place.

The long answer:

It's not common for someone to do both, at least not as part of a single job. (I do both, but not usually for the same company at the same time.)

Technical writers usually work with engineers, product managers, testing staff, and maybe end users to develop manuals, Web sites, online help, and other materials that help users understand the products or services being documented, including reference materials, technical specifications, user guides, and so on. Talking to marketing and advertising folk is usually low down on their list of things to do.

They don't just write, but often create graphics and multimedia, do layout, and so on. There's always proofreading and editing too. Tech writers are interested in making the facts of a product or service as clear as possible to the intended audience of end users, and must tailor what they create to the background and expertise of those users.

Marketing communications staff work with product managers, other marketing staff, advertising agencies, artists, PR staff, big corporate customers and partners, and occasionally those who actually put the products and services under consideration together. They develop marketing and promotional materials that help potential customers figure out what the products and services are about (but not the details of how they work) and why they should buy them. That may include brochures, Web sites, e-mail campaigns, press releases, packaging, videos, multimedia presentations, trade show booths, and any number of other things. Talking to engineers or tech writers isn't something they do too often.

Again, they may do more than just write. What they do create doesn't always have to be factual, at least not in the same way as tech writers look at it. Marcomm takes the most advantageous facts and spins them to make the products or services attractive to the intended audience. That's not a bad thing, but it's the reason people don't believe a brochure the same way they believe a user guide, i.e. they may doubt that a car actually goes 175 miles an hour, but they don't doubt that pressing on the gas pedal will make it go faster.

The jobs are interdependent. Without good marcomm people, tech writers don't have jobs because no one knows to buy the stuff the tech writers write about. That leads to companies going broke. Without good tech writers, marcomm people have problems because no one can figure out how the products and services being sold actually work (including, in many cases, the marketing people themselves). That leads to tech support issues, which is a whole other field of work.

Both professions are more widespread than you think. Someone has to write the instructions for your wristwatch, or toaster oven, or bicycle pump, or sunglasses. Anyone who does is a technical writer, even if they don't think of themselves that way. And someone had to put together the promotional information for the latest surface-to-air missile technology being sold to Saudi Arabia. That person is a marcomm writer, even if they work for the military or Lockheed or someone.

That enough?


Tuesday, October 02, 2001 - newest items first
# 9:29:00 AM:

Fame, redux

Nearly four months ago, a three-person TV crew came to my house and interviewed me for a show called Planet Education, broadcast on the Knowledge Network here in British Columbia.

The KNOW-TV Web site now lists my episode, which will be broadcast on Tuesday, October 30 at 3:00 p.m., and repeated Thursday, November 1 at both 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. My big moment amounts to this (emphasis added):

Oct. 30 3:00 p.m. - Meet Dr. Daneesh Pai of the University of British Columbia, who is researching ways to make computers "more personal"; find out about the unique work of engineers in training at B.C. Hydro; learn what a technical writer does; catch an inside glimpse of Vancouver's rapid transit project and the important role that the trades are playing in this high-tech project; spend some time with a young group of entrepreneurs who developed their own music-sharing software and launched a company called iNoise.

I feel like a celebrity already.


Monday, October 01, 2001 - newest items first
# 2:23:00 PM:

I hate being right

Back in July I wrote here:

[Helmets] "I know personally that head-bonking bicycle accidents don't happen only on busy streets, or at high speeds, or on days when it's not so hot that helmets are a bit uncomfortable. I've seen people fall over, in ways that could easily have cracked their skulls, while getting on their bicycles... So if you ride, wear your helmet. Every time, all the time."

My friend Alistair recently discovered how right I was. Good thing he was wearing his helmet. (Though knee pads would have been good too, I guess.)


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