Recently, I took our grandson to a special Saturday morning showing of an early John Wayne western movie featuring Gabby Hayes. The film, as it happened, was 68 years old and the sound had deteriorated, making a complicated plot difficult to follow. (But my grandson loved Gabby Hayes, who played a stage coach driver.)
Duncan and I, it turns out, could have stayed home and watched a vintage movie on my desktop computer screen with possibly greater impact. I say possibly, because my home office isn’t a movie theater. Even so, this full-length Superman movie that I’ve stumbled upon on YouTube is pretty gripping, partly because of its flawless sound. Yes, a Superman movie from 1951 plays better at home than the 1943 John Wayne epic did in the theater.
That, it seems to me, says a good deal about the Internet and the stand-in world it’s been creating for us. You can be seduced into spending increasing amounts of time on the web, and not only on social media. It’s all out there – movies, lectures, concerts and e-mail besides. Two years ago, Google-owned YouTube passed two billion video views per day. And there are now more than 24 hours of video uploaded every minute to the site.
It’s a little scary to realize that “alternative reality” can be embodied in your computer. Superman quelled the Mole Men from underground in the movie, but can we resist our own fascination when technology delivers past, or present, delights so reliably on desktop, or even laptop, screens? We’d best be alert to how alternative reality has been creeping up on us, and leave time for the real world to keep moving us ahead. – Doug Bedell
We return briefly to sentiments being voiced at Quality Digest, this time on the nature of standards. We can’t imagine there are too many folks who view standards, in the context of quality control, as annoyances or encumbrances, but William A. Levinson apparently has come across some such dullards.
Levinson, a quality engineer and auditor, feels it necessary to remind us that standards are developed for the efficiencies and reliability they insure, not for their own, annoying sake. (Unless, as sometimes happens, they’re relating to management rules or guidelines that aren’t true standards.)
Standards are meant to express, as Frederick Winslow Taylor put it, “the one best way” to accomplish tasks based on given methods. That’s tasks, mind you, not always aims.
Question: We have such great tools to make things better, so why do we feel in such a funk? A dismal question like this can apply on any given day to the state of our nation or our workplace, if we’re fortunate enough to have one.
Steven Ouellette is a quality manager and process engineer who is also an incurable optimist. He addresses our dire question of the day with methodology to produce a more upbeat answer than we ourselves may have at hand.
“I’m no self-help guru,” Ouellete writes in a Quality Digest column, “just a process engineer. But I do think we need to change something about our collective software. We live in an age of man-made miracles that would have astounded even our recent ancestors. Yet, as the great modern philosopher Louis C.K. says, “Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy.”
So what do we do, rebuild the factory? No, make it work better and more reliably, by using proven methods, not raucous rhetoric.
There’s still a big role for the quality movement and the methods it uses to produce noteworthy results. Like, Ouellette advises, measuring inputs to forestall worrying about outputs. That’s the latest iteration in a journey that began with the work of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and Arnold Feigenbaum in Japan in the 1980s.
Here’s a lady who understands a prime component of good technical writing, or any writing, for that matter:
“What all the (technical writing) disciplines share in common is a need for the writer to communicate effectively within the perspective of user need from the document, and to have a strong awareness of good ways to enhance the message through visuals and good use of white space.”
The sentence, by Christine Lebednik on the Street Articles site, is a trifle awkward in terms of what a user needs from the document he or she is reading, but it gets to the two essentials of good technical writing: tight, clear expression of why the document exists (a means to a given, safe end), and ways to enhance it with illustrations and white space.
Christine isn’t in technical writing any longer. When she was, though (prior to the bursting of the IT bubble in 2001-02), she was most familiar with the fields of aviation, medical and pharmaceutical writing.
Our colleague, Dennis Owen, notes that there are many other settings in need of good technical writing. Start by looking around your house, or out the window: “IKEA furniture? Someone had to write the assembly instructions. Component stereo or flat screen TV? Someone had to create the connection and installation diagrams. Smart thermostat? Hell, mine has an entire booklet (and it’s still hard to program). Car? The owner’s manual is a serious example of technical writing. On and on…”
- Power Unimpeded, When the Sun Shines
- Doolittle’s Mission Avenged ‘A Day to Remember’
- When Twirling a Yo-Yo Becomes an Art
- Daunted by a TV Manual that Shouldn’t Exist
- There’s Another ‘Bullet’ Being Built at Ohio State
- Technical Writing in Shorter ‘Page Bursts’
- ‘Twinkies’ for Technical Writers, and Kids Rapped Up in Lyrics
- What’s to be Read, With So Much to Read?
- Starting Young at What We Do
- George Saunders, a Writing Engineer
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