My new year’s resolutions all involve documentation, of course.
The Paper Chase
My first resolution is to organize all the various printed guides, warranties, and other paper documents that have accumulated over the years and randomly spread themselves into various piles throughout my home.
I will review each and every paper item and discard what I don’t need. (I hate paper and wish we lived in a paper-free Star Trek world.) The relevant leftovers will be grouped and placed into large envelopes and stored alphabetically in a box.
My extensive printed documentation collection includes the following:
- big electronics – TVs, Blu-Ray and DVD disc players, CD player, home theatre and satellite receiver, gaming unit
- little electronics – MP3 players, cameras, phones, remotes, clocks, shavers, hardware tools, watches, electric toothbrush, organic mind reader
- main computer items – user guides, and guides for the motherboard, DVD burner, RAM
- peripheral computer items – mouse, monitor, keyboard, speakers, scanner, Webcam, backup drive, software documentation, USB powered teleporter
- kitchen appliances – fridge, stove, microwave, dishwasher, blender, toaster oven, indoor spit
- garage items – snowblower, lawnmower, trimmer, BBQ, Ferrari guide
- miscellaneous items – washer and dryer, vacuum cleaners, non-electric items such as board games, hot water heater, humidifier, kitchen faucet, Sherman tank
(God, I have a lot of crap.)
My second resolution is to conduct a complete audit of all the soft documents on my computer and again, get rid of what I don’t need and keep the good stuff. There’s many documents that are several years old that I never read and know I’ll never need. Other documents need to be rewritten, merged or reclassified.
Onward and Online
My final resolution, a continuation of the second, is to move as many of my files online as possible. As long as the document does not contain sensitive or critical financial information (like my Swiss bank account number and Tiger Woods’ cell phone number), I will move it to Google docs.
In addition to textual documents, my most precious files are my photographs. Before the era of digital photography, people took pictures with something called a film camera, which produced something called prints. I have hundreds of these prints in special books called photo albums. They are single copies only – there is no backup. My long term goal, therefore, is to scan every one of these photographs and upload them to private albums on Flickr.
I have heard of too many cases where hard drives have failed and people have lost all their files. Backups help with this problem, but if your house burns down or is burglarized, they have no value. The ideal state to be in if you lost your hard drive for any reason would be that you simply buy another computer, connect to the Internet, and access all your files.
Confidential files should be whittled down to a size that can fit on a USB key. That key should then be kept at a location away from your computer. Alternatively, you can use an online backup site. ADrive, for example, gives you 50 GB of free online storage.
Is this ringing any (alarm) bells?
If any of these documentation issues sound familiar (a plethora of printed docs, unorganized soft docs, and lack of an off-site backup for your documents and photos), welcome to the club. Most people simply don’t make the effort to deal with these ongoing doc issues.
However, we technical communicators are not most people – we are the Communicati – the enlightened communication and documentation high priests. If we fail to maintain our own documentation, what chance do normal folk have?