On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities

The collected works of Lana Brindley: writer, speaker, blogger


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OMG, my ACL! Pre-surgery update

In the last month, with the aid of lots of physio (and, more recently, hydrotherapy) I’ve managed to get my knee to the level of movement that my surgeon wants (130°! Whee!), I’m getting around without using the brace or my cane at all, and so I’m all booked in to have the surgery on Monday. So this week has been all about preparations. Here’s what I’ve organised:

    Some assistance at home for the next week. In other words, Mum’s coming to visit! (Note that I’ll be setting up the couch for her before I go into surgery, because there’s no way I’ll be doing it after)
    Freezer meals. I’ve got about a week’s worth of cooked meals in the freezer, ready to be reheated.
    Groceries and general stocking up. While home delivery is great (and I’m sure I’ll use it), I don’t want to be running out of toilet paper in the first few days!
    A breakfast tray so I can easily eat, or use my laptop in bed, or on the sun lounger on the deck. I’ve also moved a laptop charger next to my bed.
    And it might seem weird, but just general tidying up. Making sure there’s nothing to trip on, for starters, but also because I don’t want to be staring at the filthy floor in a week, wishing I’d vacuumed.

Other than that, it’s all the medical things. I’ve fielded at least three calls just today from various specialists and the hospital, checking on medications, time to arrive, and general information about the surgery. I’ll confess, I’m a little nervous, but I’ll be so glad to have this done and finally be on the road to recovery!

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OMG, my ACL! One month update

Some good news, I’m getting around without any walking aides (although I keep my cane close by, I’ve started referring to it as my ‘moral support’ because I really don’t need it any more). While I’m at home I’m also walking around without my brace on, too, trying to strengthen muscles in my leg and knee. With help from my wonderful physio Greg, I’ve got movement between about 2° and 100°. The visible swelling has more or less completely gone, although it’s still swollen inside, which is why it’s still so hard (and painful!) to bend and straighten it.

But, my surgeon wants more! So, surgery has been put off for now, and the physio continues until I can get to around 130°. Dr. Davies tells me this is will greatly help my recovery, and will mitigate the risk of the joint freezing after surgery (which would require more surgery, and I’d rather not do that!). So life is more or less back to normal, although I’m still being quite careful about where and how far I walk, I can get around pretty easily again now, which is a great relief!

Read on …

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Gemdale Travel Money Laundering Job Scam

Came home to an interesting email on Friday:

My first thought was that Seek shouldn’t be passing my details on to anyone, but as I dug further it got more and more interesting. Here’s the job description:

I don’t know about you, but “process payments between our clients and our company” sounds an awful lot like money laundering to me. No reputable company needs to transfer money through some random person’s bank account.

This is a slick operation, and it was pretty clear to me that this “Gemdale Travel” was operating outside of Seek’s terms of service, so I called Seek to let them know. The customer service operator was brilliant, and explained that Gemdale have been dogging them for some time. They obviously have no connection to the legitimate business Seek undertakes, and this is a sophisticated scam. Gemdale appear on the surface to be quite legitimate, until you scratch.

Most job scams tend to be of a more simple sort, where they extort money out of victims for expenses, but a job never materialises. This is another level, not so much a job scam, as a pure and simple method to find people to launder money for them. The victim could potentially sign up for this gig, do the job, and never know that they’ve been complicit in a crime until the police show up.

Be careful out there, lovelies.

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OMG, my ACL! Second week

I saw my GP again on Tuesday morning (12 days after the injury), and we decided that going to a private surgeon at this point would be a good idea. Waiting times for ACL surgery through the public system can apparently be six months or more, and I was eager to get back on my feet. By this point, I could fully weight bear on my bad leg, and had ditched the crutches for my trusty cane (which I bought years ago when I hurt my calf muscle, and was quite pleased to be able to put back into service). My knee was still swollen, although it was going down ever so slowly, and I still had zero stability in the knee, although that’s not terribly surprising.

I was referred through to QCOS at the Wesley, and I secured an appointment with Dr. Davies on Thursday (14 days after injury). By the time I saw Dr Davies, I was hobbling quite effectively on my peg leg (remember, my brace was still locked straight at this point), and could do a few steps in a straight line without relying on my cane.

The first thing Dr. Davies did was look at my MRI and explain the injury to me. He showed me where the meniscus was torn, and where my ACL wasn’t. For my part, I did my best not to throw up on his desk. He then examined my knee, pushing and poking to work out how much give there was in the joint (spoiler: too much), and asked me to bend my leg as far as possible. At that point, I could get to a very uncomfortable 50° or so. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it’s almost dry, like there’s no lubrication in my knee, and there’s a lot of pressure on the joint when I bend it.

Dr. Davies then unlocked my brace to 60°, prescribed me to see my physio twice a week, and booked me in for surgery for 19 June. I had four weeks to build my leg muscles back up, and get full range of motion. This, I will note at this point, was in direct contravention of what the physios at the hospital told me. Dr. Davies was polite about them, but I won’t be. They gave me bad advice, and set my recovery back by at least a week by telling me not to move my leg, or to keep working on range of motion. Additionally, locking your knee straight puts pressure on the ligaments that are trying to heal (they are at rest at around 30°), so it’s counter productive. If you get told this, seek an opinion from another physio.

So at this point, two weeks after the injury, I finally had a plan for getting on my feet again! Four weeks until surgery, six weeks rehab afterwards, nine to twelve months before I was fully back to normal. It seemed like forever.

Read on …

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OMG, my ACL! The first week

I sat around and felt miserable for a couple of days over the weekend, then went to the GP on Monday, and got the MRI done on the Tuesday (four days after the injury). This was my first MRI ever, and I have to admit I was not prepared for the clunking and beeping that machine makes. All the noises sounded, to me anyway, like alarms going off, and I kept on expecting someone to come charging in and pull me out because the machine was malfunctioning. Needless to say, they didn’t, and that’s normal operating procedure. Who knew?

My GP called me with results on Thursday evening. It was not good news: a torn ACL, sprained just about everything else, and a torn meniscus. Surgery was looking to be a distinct possibility. At this point, I could partially weight bear on the bad leg, probably around 50%. I’d been taking Panadol (paracetamol) for a few days, and still was before bed to help me get to sleep, but otherwise wasn’t in much pain at all. My knee was still very swollen, though, and I really needed to wear the splint 24/7, without it my leg felt … well … *floppy*.

Friday was my followup appointment at the hospital (eight days after the injury). Sadly, I didn’t get to see the same physio, instead I saw two others, who surprised me by telling me that I didn’t need to see a physio before the surgery, and sent me down to get a new brace, but that it would be fixed in a straight position until after surgery. This contradicted what I’d read online, but I trusted them, since they were the professionals (and since I have a healthy skepticism of anything I read online). They gave me a referral to a surgeon, and once I had my fancy new exoskeleton brace, I was on my way again.

Read on …

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OMG, my ACL! The day of the injury

So the story begins early on a Thursday morning, at a boxing class run by my trainer, B. I was doing a set of split box jumps on a fitness step with three risers (like these ones). On the seventh rep, my left foot landed on the ground, and presumably twisted, my knee went pop, and I went down with a yell. Interestingly, there was no immediate swelling or bruising, but I was in excruciating pain, so I think from the perspective of everyone else it probably looked like I was complaining about not much. Well, I showed them! They got me lying down with a rolled towel under my bad knee and an ice pack after I started going into shock, while an ambulance was called. When the ambos arrived, they gave me a green whistle (Methoxyflurane. Incidentally, I learned that this is an Australian invention We’re a smart bunch here in Aus, aren’t we?!) which pretty much took care of the pain, and had the upside of making me fairly entertaining on the way to the hospital.

When we got to hospital (RBWH) I was seen pretty quickly by a doctor and a physio, and had an xray to rule out a fracture. The standard way, I’ve learned, to diagnose an ACL tear is to grab the lower leg and push against the knee to see how much sideways movement there is (if this is making you cringe just thinking about it, then you can probably guess how I felt about it at the time). The physio tried this with me but I tensed up so much (“guarding” was the term he used in his report) that he was unable to diagnose me at the time. Eventually, he said he thought I’d probably done my ACL but he couldn’t tell, gave me a knee splint and some crutches, a referral to my GP for an MRI, and a followup appointment for a week’s time.

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So that happened …

As many regular readers will know, I’m a bit of a gym junkie. And if you’ve ever tried to book a meeting with me early on a Thursday morning, you’ll know that that is when I do Boxing. Every week, without fail. And so it was a couple of weeks ago. Towards the end of a 45 minute session, I was most of the way through a set of split box jumps, when my knee went pop, and I fell to the ground. To cut a long story short, I ended up with a completely torn ACL, minor sprain of the PCL and ACL, and a meniscus tear. Basically, I did a good job (in blog posts like this, I’ve learned, here is where they often put a gory picture of the inside of a knee, which I’ve taken to quickly scrolling past, so I’ll leave googling for that image as an exercise for the reader).

Normally I don’t write about this kind of thing, but as I’ve been laid up I’ve been doing a bit of googling about knee injuries and the surgery that goes with them. It’s a very common sports/gym injury, and there’s lots of info there, but not a lot from an Australian perspective, so I thought I’d spend some time chronicling my experiences, and hopefully it’ll help someone out.

Day 1
The first week
The second week
One month update

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Gym memberships and Dental Hygiene

Why must exercise and fitness carry with it a “goal”? We must we be “losing weight”, “gaining muscle”, “in training”,  “getting fit”, or any one of a myriad other things. Why can’t I just do stuff that’s fun, and fits my lifestyle because, well, it’s fun and fits my lifestyle?

tenpoint-advertising-1-fitness-first-1

What if I am happy with the me I have all year round?

I absolutely loathe the procedure that you have to go through in order to sign up to a gym or other organised fitness group, or to start seeing a new personal trainer. First of all, you have to make an appointment. Then, you have some kind of “fitness consultation” where some impossibly skinny twelve year old weighs you, measures you and then adds all those numbers together. This is so they can “measure” your “progress” towards your “results” . Believe me, I’ve tried joining up to gyms with the line “actually, I don’t have a goal. I just want to come and work out a few times a week”. First of all they look at you like you just grew an extra elbow on your forehead. Then they jot down “weight loss”, because that’s what everyone wants in 2014. After that ritual humiliation, you’re then expected to sign up for all the “extra” “services” they “provide” (personal training, saunas, small group training, large group training, the list is endless and none of them are included in your membership fees. And that’s another whole rant). Then, three months later, when you haven’t achieved the imaginary goal you made up to satisfy them when you joined, the REASON you haven’t reached it is OBVIOUSLY because you need more personal training. Or bootcamps. Or something.

I would like to treat exercise in the same way we treat dental hygiene. I brush my teeth twice a day because I don’t want my teeth to rot and fall out. I go to the gym four times a week because I want to be able to eat cake occasionally, and hopefully still be walking around when I’m 80. What I don’t want is to be forced into setting a “goal” that I am likely to forget within my first two visits in order to sign up.

I don't need to set a dental hygiene goal to know that I should brush my teeth.

I don’t need to set a dental hygiene goal to know that I should brush my teeth.

 

So, while I firmly believe the “obesity crisis” is pretty much a beat-up, if you want to get people moving more and attending gyms, stop making them out to be something so freaking special, and encourage us to think of it as just something that humans living in the world do. I don’t need to set a goal for myself to brush my teeth, buy vegies when I go grocery shopping, or hug my daughter. Why should I set a goal to incorporate exercise into my life? I’m doing this for the long haul, not just until I’ve lost a couple of kilos.

When your goal is “still be here at 80”, fast-tracking seems awkward.

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The only writing sample you need is your resume

I came across this article recently, which states “code is the new resume”. It asserts that people seeking coding jobs should be contributing to open source and using those contributions as proof that they have the skills for the job they’re seeking. I wholly agree, but it got me thinking about the equivalent for writers.

When I have had prospective tech writers come to me for advice on where to start, I have always pointed them towards an open source project that I think would meet their skills and interests. I usually have three main reasons for this. I want them to get experience working with processes within a docs team (particularly a mature docs team that functions well, such as Libre Office or OpenStack). I want to give them an opportunity to get familiar with the tools and programs used by highly technical writing projects (things like Docbook XML and Publican, rather than proprietary tools like Madcap or Adobe). And, perhaps most importantly, I want to give them a chance to write things that they can share with prospective employers.

But contributing to open source docs, while beneficial in career terms, rarely ends up being something you can confidently wave in front of an employer. Rarely, if ever, will you get the chance to create a new document from scratch, something you can call truly yours. And even if you get that chance, rarely will it remain the piece of art you crafted for very long. Open source software moves quickly, and by the time you publish your meticulously researched and effectively written document, there will be a team of hungry writers circling, ready to rip into your virgin words and tear them apart. Within months, your perfect book could be an almost unrecognisable crime against information architecture, full of passive voice and typoed commands, with a title that no longer reflects its content. Certainly not something you want your name anywhere near.

Herein lies the tech writer’s dilemma: when asked for writing samples, what do you do? You don’t want to admit to authorship of something that (through no fault of your own) makes you want to quit the industry, but you also don’t want to say that you’ve been contributing to a project for months and have nothing to show for it. My answer: make your resume your writing sample. You won’t always get away with it, because some employers will ask for writing samples as a matter of course (at which point, having kept a tech writing blog for a while can be very handy. Just sayin’), but having plenty of prose in your resume and making sure it shows off your skills will do wonders for proving you can do the job.

There are no rules saying you need to deliver a two page resume, developed using a standard Word template, to apply for a job. Designers have been handing in creative resumes for decades, and we can take a leaf out their book. Offering something different, something that screams “I’m a writer, and I’m damn good at what I do” is going to make any recruiter or hiring manager stop and look. Remember how many resumes these guys see. Offering a bog-standard resume means that yours will get thrown away at the first typo.

shakespeare

First of all, do your research. If you can, find out what writing tools your prospective employer uses, and use it. If you don’t have that in your repertoire, then use the closest thing you can do. When I applied for my first job that used Docbook XML, I delivered my resume in LaTeX (complete with “Typeset in LaTeX and TeX” in a footnote at the bottom of each page. Nothing like rubbing it right in). I later found out that the hiring manager ran around the office showing it off to all his existing writers, pointing excitedly to the footnote. Once I’d learned Docbook XML, following jobs got that instead. If the company you want to work for uses Word, then deliver a beautifully formatted Word resume (and don’t forget to use styles!). By the same token, be aware of internal culture, and the fact that people get very passionate about their tools. Never deliver a resume built in Word with a .docx extension to an open source company if you don’t want to be teased about it forever after (assuming you get the job despite it, of course).

And, perhaps most importantly, don’t just deliver a series of dot points. This is your chance to prove you can write. Include a fairly long prose introduction, but don’t waffle. Be clear about your goals, the job you’re after, and any relevant work you’ve done previously. If you can, do some research into the company you’re looking to join, and tailor this part to the role you want. Mention how your experience meets their demands, not as a canned response to selection criteria, but as someone who has gone looking for core values and culture clues, and is addressing the human beings that work within that group. Write directly, succinctly, but passionately. Don’t use words too big for the subject (with apologies for paraphrasing C.S. Lewis), make your language casual, but not informal. Get your writer friends to proofread it until you are confident it is perfect. Feel free to email me with your text and I’ll also help.

Don’t make recruiters ask for writing samples. Get creative, use your skills to your advantage, and don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. If you have your own stories of resumes (good or bad), or hiring, please share!

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An exit, and an entrance

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
— ‘As You Like It’, Shakespeare

It is not often that you have to make a choice between an amazing job, and another amazing job. But, after six years with Red Hat, I have decided to take up a new position with Rackspace, effective 28 October.

I have grown up with Red Hat, in particular the Australian writing team, and in many ways the person I am today has been shaped by the people and the culture here in the Brisbane office. I am sad to be leaving, but I take a little piece of that crimson fedora with me. To all my friends and colleagues at Red Hat: keep up the great work, keep innovating, and know that there are Red Hat alumni out there, cheering you on from the sidelines.

To anyone who is considering embarking on a technical writing career, or expanding their tech writing horizons, consider joining the team at Red Hat. They’re doing groundbreaking work, they’re doing it out in the open, and they’re having a huge amount of fun as they do it.

I’ll be blogging a lot more in my new role, so please stay tuned as this site gets a bit of a nip and a tuck, and before long you’ll start seeing a lot more from me.

the-weird-writer

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