At least I am not George RR Martin

Tue Nov 6, 2018

I can’t believe six months have flown by since my last post. I’ve experienced some shame over this state of affairs, I’ll admit. But beneath the shame lies… ambivalence.

And lack of time, I suppose. A flimsy excuse, I know, as I could make more time to tap away on my beautiful underused MacBook Pro instead of fruitlessly trying to catch up on an endless and ever-expanding Netflix queue.

And yet - I’m trying not to feel bad about it. It’s okay to take care of your life before you take care of your writing. It’s okay to take care of your children, your mental health, or whatever your responsibilities and obligations to yourself and others are. We both know that. Of course nobody is cracking a whip here, least of all you, gentle reader.

At the same time, I do think that it’s beneficial to stretch those blogging muscles at least once a month, so I’ll try make more of an effort, or risk stagnation of what I consider a core skill of mine.

It’s time to get those creative juices flowing - to go ahead and try - even if it hurts and the results are terrible. Just starting is the hard part. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to start writing a post then just given up in a fit of despair. Sounds dramatic, but then, how else do you describe a “fit of despair”?

I can certainly sympathize with those authors that let years, or even decades, stretch between books. Also, it makes me feel a better thinking about how George RR Martin keeps promising The Winds of Winter, but keeps failing to deliver. A Dance with Dragons came out eight years ago and I’ve forgotten most of the characters since then (I don’t watch the show).

Or how about Patrick Rothfuss, whose endless guilt and anger (the anger being directed at anyone who asks about book three) over The Doors of Stone has almost certainly paralyzed him to a point where I can see many years of agonized editing still to come. Coincidentally, The Wise Man’s Fear also came out eight years ago (2011 was a landmark year).

Okay, enough wallowing and snide remarks, let’s catch up. What nerdy shiznit have I been up to?

On a personal level, I’ve been trying to save money, especially in those areas where I’m knowledgeable, such as with “tech stuff”. I’ve always been frugal, but have been influenced lately by minimalist philosophies and practical strategies to saving for retirement. Heh - enter your forties and your mind naturally gravitates towards these things.

For example, I’ve jumped on a couple of migration offers in the last few years to finally get a decent phone plan for $35 a month. My iPhone 6S is all paid for and - along with the discounted battery replacement program Apple is offering for this year only and the excellent speed optimizations in iOS 12 - I think I can squeeze five years of total use out of this phone!

The latest happenings in the gadget world haven’t really inspired me to drop a grand on an upgrade. The September and October hardware announcements from Apple were predictably shiny and expensive - a little too expensive.

As far as the new iPhones go, I’m not really a fan of the notch and am hoping they can solve this thing in the next year or two. Maybe Samsung’s “Under Panel Sensor” technology for OLEDs will take off. The iPhone XR in blue or red is the most compelling product to me, and to a lot of other typical users I expect.

The new iPads seem like absolute spec beasts, but are over-engineered for simple tasks and are perhaps hampered by iOS for more complicated tasks. However, with the iOS 12 optimizations, my original iPad Air works a lot better during the brief times that I use it to browse online or watch YouTube. To be honest, it was almost unusably slow on iOS 11.

Google’s new stuff didn’t really leave me scrambling for the “Buy” button either. The new Pixel phones have thoroughly unremarkable hardware, and in the case of the XL model, a downright offensive notch. On the software side, however, Google’s photo processing algorithms are nothing short of remarkable. Their “Night Sight” mode literally lets you shoot in the dark. It now appears that if you’re looking for the best smartphone camera, the Google Pixel phones have it.

Anyway, long story short - I’m sticking with my iPhone 6S and iPad Air for the foreseeable future.

Another way I’m saving money is by switching to a third-party ISP. The big guys (Shaw and Telus) have promos when you switch, so you could theoretically bounce back and forth between them indefinitely. But I’m tired of playing that game.

I also don’t need the insane speeds they’re trying to push on you these days. Seriously, 300 Mbps is overkill. I don’t even stream 4K. Even 150 Mbps was too much. So, I’ve dropped down to 75 Mbps for $50 a month. That is the sweet spot and a fantastic price (hit me up if you want a referral bonus).

I even upgraded our home’s WAN to a mesh WiFi system. The TP-Link Deco system is really nice, with parental controls, a list of connected devices, antivirus protection, firmware upgrades, and the usual diagnostics all available from the app. The best thing is, I get consistent speeds throughout the home - no more dead zones. I’ve learned that a good wifi setup is almost certainly more important than the speeds you pay for.

At work, I’ve been busy with some ongoing user manual projects. But I’ve also been asked more often to create videos and websites.

You can see some of my videos on YouTube, here and here. In my fledging video production days, I started off using Lightworks, mostly because it was free. But I found it hard to use. Then I got a license for Camtasia, and my video editing game just took off. The UI in Camtasia is really easy to pick up, but you can still do some impressive stuff. I have since discovered that I have licenses for Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. But I haven’t had time to train up on these more powerful pieces of editing software. A recent video project with a quick turnaround had me running back to Camtasia. I have some ambition to increase my skills in this area though, cause making videos is just plain fun.

Not that it’s all that easy - on that second video, there was a lot that went into just getting to post production. I had to set up a product photo shoot with a DSLR on a tripod and rig up a backdrop. I also shot some impromptu video on my phone during a water test on a particularly nasty wet day in the winter. I also did my own voice-over recording. And I set up a video shoot with the Sales Manager while figuring out how to superimpose her onto a white background for that “Jony Ive” effect.

I also have a web server I can play with now and have been hosting various pages for the sales and service departments. For example, I was asked to create a web form. Web forms are a bit of a stretch for my html skills because you have to be so careful with customer data. I had to get some help generating the back-end scripts, but it turned out nicely. Although, there are some bugs I’ve been trying to get the back-end developer to look into.

I also created a landing page for an upcoming LinkedIn campaign. I used a Bootstrap front-end framework for this one because I wanted it to be mobile-friendly.

And, of course, one of my primary goals when I started my current position at the company was to increase visibility of our documentation. So, our manuals are finally all online.

I have some other wild-west projects in the pipeline, besides from my daily DITA sessions, which is really the meat and potatoes of the job. Unfortunately, anyone who isn’t a Technical Writer cares little about what DITA is or how useful it is. And no, I am not talking about designer sunglasses.

Well, this post started off poorly and is ending poorly, but it’s done. If you’ve read this far, hopefully there were a few nuggets of interest somewhere in there for you. If not, no hard feelings. Go and spend time with your family instead.

I, for one, have an important task ahead of me flushing out some invaders from our home. My four-year old donned a pair of ski goggles last night and informed me that these enabled her spy vision and allowed her to see through walls. She located rats in the walls and bad guys inside the roof. I’d better get busy.


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