Thursday, 27 September 2007

Writing the Manual

I suppose this entry takes the thought processes from my earlier entry Black & White Computing a little further, but forgive me if I repeat myself slightly.

I've had the pleasure of a new PC on my desk and have spent much of the morning installing a well known security product. Let's call it "Not-On"...

Not-On comes with a huge box, a normal-sized CD and an A5 sized 48 page User Guide, 1 page of which is the title, 1 page the copyright notice, 1 page the contents, 1 page blank, 9 pages of guidance (2 of which help you to find help elsewhere), 12 pages about the support you can get from Not-On and their associates, 2/3 page about upgrades and subscriptions, 1 1/3 pages about worldwide support, 2 pages of index and 14 blank pages for you to make your own notes.

Nowhere in the 2 pages of the guidance that are devoted to installation is there a diagram of a screen shot. Nowhere does it say:

"The Not-On program will open and start to work before it has finished installing. It will recognise there are bits missing and initial tasks undone and therefore will open a warning page giving dire messages about the state of your machine's security"
I mean, come on! It's not hard is it? If this happens every time and I assume it must, then might it not be an idea for the installation manual to at least mention it?

Nick Langley, writing in Computer Weekly this week has an article headed "Technical writing provides career path with creativity" in which he says "Technical writers take complicated technical information and present it in a way that is understandable to users..."

Not at Not-On...

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Change Control - Quick Tip

If you have workmen on site, ensure that they (and your staff!) know who is allowed to request changes to specification.

Otherwise someone on your staff will say something like 'That trunking should be thicker - we might want to add video cable at some point...'

Whether or not you intend to add cable, the change will be made, the additional time and materials will be added to your bill and your project may also slip in time whilst the larger trunking is sourced and delivered.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Black & White Computing

I've always thought computers were black and white. No shades of grey at all.

I don't really mean colours; I mean in how easy they are to use. You either know how to do something - in which case it's easy... or you don't - in which case it's almost always impossible. To use the Help facility of most software packages, you have to know the correct keywords to search for. Very few software packages allow you to ask "How do I...?"

The problem with asking for help from a co-worker is that even if they know, they are more likely to take over your mouse and keyboard, undertaking a series of actions in zero seconds flat whilst saying impatiently "You just do this...".

Even those people designated as "computer angels" or "IT Friends" or "Helpdesk" have an annoying tendency to say in response to a question "Oh, it's easy that..." Yes it is. To them...

So if anyone asks you to show them how to do something, please bear in mind they are already frustrated. You don't need to do that for them!

Take your time, one keyboard or mouse action at a time, preferably explaining what each does and giving enough time for them to write it down, so they will be able to do it again next time without having to ask someone else. (Because they won't ask you again will they - waste of time...!)

Project Management Workshop

Clive and I ran a JISC infoNet Project Management Workshop in Glasgow yesterday. The delegates were mostly from libraries and I'd amended our usual scenario that activities for the day are based on to one concerning a library moving premises.

We had some interesting moments with the venue's ceiling mounted data projector overheating and turning itself off every half hour, but we tried to time it so that we could start an activity when it was due to go off and there was only one awkward moment.

The delegates seemed to appreciate the day - lots of comments on the feedback forms of which these are a representative sample:

Future projects will undoubtedly be governed by today's presentation. Invaluable.

One of the most worthwhile courses I've ever been to.

The delegate pack of materials was excellent, one of the best I've seen.

Very useful and informative. Made projects and their organisation much less frightening.


JISC infoNet offers a range of one-day workshops to the Further and Higher Education sectors in the UK.

Check our web pages via the above links for more details or email jiscinfonet@northumbria.ac.uk

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Construction Projects Tip

I was talking to a colleague, Benita Wiseman, who works for the JISC Regional Support Centre Northwest.

She said, "It would be good to have just short simple tips perhaps on your blog for people involved in projects." We had been talking about new-build and refurbishment projects for learning spaces and she added, "Like, if you're having building work done, keep your own log of the weather so that you can check it if the builders say delays were caused by bad weather."

Tip number one!