The Puzzle of Autism

See the source imageImagine you have been kidnapped, taken to a strange land and dumped into a society you know nothing about. The culture and society are vastly different than your own, and their social graces and mannerisms are nothing like yours. No one speaks English.

Imagine trying to communicate with these strangers. Not speaking the language, you quickly become exasperated, frustrated and angry. You don’t understand why they don’t understand you.

Now imagine how you appear to them. You are completely different, you don’t speak their language, and you don’t know their ways. You appear to them to be very disturbed, perhaps even insane.

Autism – Defining the Undefinable
This picture is but a small taste of autism. Autism is difficult to define and explain, however, if you have a child with autism, as I do, you work long and hard to learn as much about it as possible.

Autism is part of a spectrum of development disorders that affects communication, learning and social skills. It is, in essence, a complex developmental disability of the mind. There is no known cause or cure, but certain treatments and therapies can help. As many as 1 in 166 people may be autistic, and the rate appears to be growing, although this may be a result of more accurate diagnoses.

Individuals diagnosed with autism often exhibit obsessive behaviours, resistance to change, and strong adherence to routines.

An Autistic Characteristic

Other characteristics of autism include:

  • a short attention span
  • impulsivity
  • self-injurious behaviours
  • odd responses to sensory input
  • mood swings
  • uneven skill development
  • problems eating, drinking or sleeping
  • unusual fears or anxieties

In some cases, autistics have special abilities. Some are exceptionally gifted at art, music, design or software. Some have extraordinary memories or mathematical abilities, as depicted in the film Rain Man.

Simple Genius
Autistics with special abilities (autistic savants) are much like expert systems, computer programs that simulate intelligence. By answering a specific series of questions, these programs solve specific problems. The problem with these systems is that they are extremely limited in their knowledge. A medical expert system, for example, could be used to diagnose a medical condition. However, if you were ask this system, what is a patient? or what is medically ethical? it would not be able to respond. Like the autistic savant, an expert system is highly intelligent, but unable to see the big picture.

An Intriguing Comparison
Let’s look again at the characteristics of autism:

  • ability to focus intensely on a narrow range of topics
  • obsessive attention to detail
  • strong desire for consistency
  • interest in complex matters

Now let’s look at some characteristics of good information developers:

  • ability to focus intensely on a short range of topics (such as information development)
  • obsessive attention to detail (such as grammar, spelling and formatting)
  • strong desire for consistency (as described in a style guide)
  • interest in complex matters (such as software and computers)

The Beauty of Autism
There’s obviously a pattern here. In fact, I would say that many people working in software development (myself included) have certain autistic characteristics. We are not autistic per se, but display mildly autistic attributes. This is not a bad thing, however, because there are many things that probably could never have been invented nor maintained without somewhat autistic people working on them. It has been speculated that such brilliant individuals as Einstein, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, and Andy Warhol were on the autistic spectrum. Even Bill Gates is rumoured to have a milder form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, so I like to think we are in good company.

So, if you find yourself displaying autistic traits such as being unusually focused on the content and details of the documents you work on, don’t worry. You are simply in the profession for which your mind has been genetically engineered.

The Power of Words

See the source imageThere’s nothing like an election to illustrate how powerful words are. Politicians, pundits, and the media use words to advance their cause or mercilessly attack opponents. Certain words or phrases are loaded but also vague because they have never been clearly defined.

Word Magic
Notice how these words can influence your beliefs:

  • Used cars are junk; pre-owned vehicles are reliable.
  • I am not fat; I am overweight.
  • I hate problems and troubles; I welcome challenges and opportunities.
  • He is not a garbage man; he is a sanitation engineer.
  • He is not out of work, he’s jobless, unemployed, or better still, between jobs.
  • I don’t care about jungles, but we should save the rain forests.
  • A factory oppresses its workers and belches smoke; a manufacturing facility is clean, safe, modern and treats its workers fairly.
  • Natural disasters are terrifying; unnatural events are not.
  • Being low income is bad. Being poor or homeless is worse. Being a bum is worst of all.
  • Ghettos are dangerous; economically disadvantaged areas are not.
  • Don’t say a child is from a broken home; they are born into a dysfunctional family.
  • Guilty people are imprisoned or incarcerated; innocent people are thrown in jail; less innocent people are held in custody.
  • Illegal aliens are unwelcome; undocumented immigrants are welcome.
  • In war, innocent civilian deaths are tragic, but collateral damage is to be expected.
  • Military spending is bad; defense spending is good.
  • A military occupation is bad; a peacekeeping force is not.
  • Resisters, soldiers, and militants are fighting a legitimate cause. Enemy combatants, terrorists and suicide bombers are not.

And finally:

  • Wealthy people are eccentric or mentally ill. Poor people are nuts or crazy. Crazy people live in a sanitarium or nuthouse. The mentally ill live in a mental facility.

A Taxing Thought
Nowhere is political terminology more loaded than in the use of the word tax. It overtaxes my mind how many different words describe this concept, including: fee, duty, charge, surcharge, tariff, toll, levy, cost, and premium. People don’t mind paying fees as much as taxes and surcharges.

Phrases containing the word tax are even more controversial. Tax cuts are for the rich; tax relief helps the little guy. A head tax is despicable, but an immigrant landing fee is reasonable. Then there’s the estate tax or inheritance tax, the tax on a deceased person’s assets. The Republican pollster Frank Luntz recommended that the party use the term death tax when referring to the estate tax, in order to swing public opinion against it. An estate conjures up images of a millionaire family who deserve to be taxed to the hilt. But a death tax? A tax on someone who has just died, and whose family is grieving?! For shame!

English 2.0 – Welcome to the Nightmare
In the terrifying future of George Orwell’s “1984”, a totalitarian society seeks to eliminate free thought by changing the meaning of words, and even reducing the number of words used. A language called “Newspeak” is developed to that end. Although the novel is satirical, there is much truth in it. Words change thought.

As information developers, we obviously need to be aware of the power of words. Although we usually do not have to deal with such controversial ideas as those previously described, our job is still to define words and use them consistently.

Software – Soft Words
Software is a particularly challenging area in which to choose the right words, because software itself does not “exist” in the regular sense of the word, but represents pure data and form. As a result, many different words can (and unfortunately are) used to describe the same thing, for example:

  • open / view
  • edit / change / update / modify / revise
  • click / select / choose / pick
  • window / screen / page / frame / dialog
  • undelete / restore
  • object / item / element / record / instance

There is no “best” word. However, whatever words you choose must be clear and consistent.

Documenting the Documentalists
Finally, even the words that we use describe our profession are varied and include:

  • technical writer
  • information developer
  • technical communicator

Which of these best describes you? Our job titles are derived from a very small set of words. They are critical, though, because they define who we are, what we do, and ultimately, where we want to go.

Choose your words carefully – they can change everything.

The Matrix – Redocumented

See the source imageThe concept behind the film “The Matrix” is greater than the film itself. If you are one of the three people on the planet that who have not seen this film, here’s a quick summary:

In the future, machines have conquered the world and need electric power to stay alive. They have enslaved humanity in a giant computer-generated simulation called The Matrix, and are using humans as batteries for their power source. The Matrix appears so real that no-one knows they are in it. However, some people have escaped the Matrix and are battling the machines to free humanity.

It’s a fantastic premise, unfortunately the film gets bogged down in endless action sequences and bizarre dialogue. It’s as though the directors input a science-fiction film, a martial-arts film, and an artsy philosophical film into a computer, scrambled them all together, and then spit something out.

The Matrix – Deconstructed

Much of the film involves humans battling the machine within the Matrix. I could never really understand this premise. Why do machines have to fight humans within a computer program? Wouldn’t the machines be sophisticated enough to physically locate their human opponents and annihilate them the old fashioned way? And even if you do accept the idea that the machines have to fight humans within the Matrix, why couldn’t the machines simply take on a massive, all-powerful form in the Matrix (rather than the relatively small humans forms which they do take) and quickly obliterate their human enemies? Perhaps the answers to these questions are in The Matrix Technical Guide, but I have been unable to obtain a copy.

Morpheus, Technical Writer

Another annoyance is the extreme Zen-like dialogue in which the characters blather on, especially Morpheus. He speaks in endlessly confusing allegories, metaphors and allusions, and everyone is too sheepish to ask “What the hell are you saying? He’s not exactly a Plain English advocate.

Morpheus would have been a most annoying tech writer. I imagine a conversation between him and his manager:

Manager: Morpheus, I had some questions about that last draft you sent me.

Morpheus: The answers you seek are all part of the questions you already know.

Manager: Uhm, ok, whatever…First, there seems to be some blank pages here.

Morpheus: Are the pages really blank? Or is it your mind that is “drawing” a blank.

Manager: Just get me the missing content. And another thing, this index is not in alphabetical order.

Morpheus: Why must things be in alphabetical order? Is the universe in alphabetical order? Does “Earth“ come before “Saturn“?

Manager: Well, I’m giving you an “order” – fix it. Also, there’s a procedure here that doesn’t make any sense.

Morpheus: You need to stop trying to read it and read it.

Manager: Look – I need all this fixed by the end of the week.

Morpheus: Do you really believe that documentation is limited by something as non-existent as time?

Manager: That’s it – you’re outta here! Get your things and go!

Morpheus: I was never here…and neither are you.

Neo: Whoa….

* * *

Reality…What a Concept

There were three Matrix films in total – can we call these “The Matrices”? In any case, these films do raise an important philosophical question: what is reality?

The fact is, it is impossible to prove that we do not live in “The Matrix”. We could all actually be unconscious, floating in tanks somewhere, all connected to a massive simulation of the world that we think is the real world. Or perhaps we all came into existence this very second, with all the memories of our life up to this moment downloaded into our minds.

Why then, would so few people accept these scenarios? I think it is because deep down, people naturally crave simplicity. Whenever there is a choice between a simple solution or a complex one, most people will choose the simpler one.

Shaving with Occam’s Razor
This idea is reflected in a principle called Occam’s Razor, which states you shouldn’t make any more assumptions than you need to in order to explain something. When there is more than one explanation available, the simplest one is preferred. In other words, one should always apply the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Silly.

Applying Occam’s Razor to information development, we would say: if there is more than one way to document something, choose the simpler way. The ability to remove unneeded information is as important as the ability to create useful information. It is so important that there are people who perform only this task – they are called editors. However, all information developers must also be editors, at least part-time.

The Science of Reality TV
Scientists continually strive to apply the principle of Occam’s Razor. In fact, it is science that has often completely changed our basic assumptions about the nature of reality. Atoms have been revealed to be over 99.999% empty space. That is, most of everything that we think of as real or solid is literally nothing. We perceive things to be solid because our senses are not acute enough to detect the emptiness: our minds fill in the blanks. You can easily experience this by seeing the pixels of a TV image up close, and then moving away from the TV. As you back away, the dots merge together to form a vivid image.

We therefore see one reality when viewing the screen up close: the various pixels flashing and flickering. As we move away, we see another reality: the moving images of a TV show. This is the “reality” we see on TV.

Or is it? All TV shows (even so-called “reality” shows like Survivor) are carefully planned and directed. They all represent a simulated or virtual reality. Reality is what happens when you turn off the TV.

Waiter, There’s Too Much Reality in My Soup (or maybe not enough)
Strangely, at the same time our minds are adding the missing pieces, they are also filtering out the excess data that we perceive; the data that we cannot process because it would overwhelm us. Therefore our minds are doing two seemingly contradictory actions: they supplement what we perceive with extra information, and simultaneously screen out other information. This means that we actually do live in “The Matrix”, because the world we perceive is not the real world, but is both an abridged and edited version of it. It is a house that has been heavily renovated and reconstructed, some parts added and others taken away, leaving what we perceive as the real house.

The big question is: if you could remove these additive and filtering processes, what would you see? What would the real reality look like? We can’t know, because these processes do not stop until you die, and no dead people have come back to document what they’ve seen.

Tech Comm – The New Math
In technical communication, there are also additive and subtractive processes at work. When users read instructions or information, they screen out what they think they don’t need, often focusing in on the key areas of information they think they require. At the same time, they are adding their previous experiences and ideas to the information they are absorbing, sometimes with unexpected results.

For example, many users are used to the idea of an “undo” function in software, a function that allows them to reverse a previous operation. They may assume they can “undo” anything, however sometimes this is not the case. They may read a procedure about how to delete an object, thinking they can undo it. They are literally “reading in” their experiences and assumptions into the text. When they learn they cannot undo a deletion, their perceptions clash with reality, and that is called pain!

The Document Hunt Begins
So, for both documentation and reality in general, what we perceive is what our minds have been programmed to perceive. In otherwords, perception is reality. This has huge implications for information development. If perception is reality, then nothing really exists in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it is especially documentation that does not “exist”. You are currently reading this document online – the question is: where is the document? Is it on the screen? If so, if you turn off the screen, does the document cease to exist? No, because once you turn the screen on again, the document appears. Even if you shut down your system completely, others can still read the document.

In fact, a document, or any computer file, or even a TV show, can be on one screen, on no screens or on many screens at once, and still exist. What kind of “existence” is that? There is simply no parallel in the regular, non-electronic world. (However, as we will explore in future column, there are parallels in the subatomic world.)

Where, oh Where Has My Document Gone? Where, oh Where Could It Be?
Continuing our search: is the document on a hard drive? If you were to crack open the hard drive, would you see the document? No – so where is the document?

The answer is the same: perception is reality. Just as the real world exists because we perceive it to exist, so too does the document exist because we perceive it to exist. Our eyes receive the various shapes of letters, screen out what is not required, process the information and then feed it into our brain. No perception – no document.

Time for Your Annual Meta-Physical
It is no coincidence that science and philosophy can teach us much about information development. As I described in a lecture last month, information development, science and philosophy are all different attempts to discover the truth. They do this by modeling reality in different ways: documentation describes a thing or process, science describes the physical world, and philosophy describes the meta-physical world.

So as an information developer, you must always ask yourself: how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go, to document the concept we call reality?

The Responsibility Game

See the source imageThe Gomery inquiry investigating the government’s “contracts for donations” scheme is currently one of the most popular reality-TV shows. However, it has at least one unique feature: instead of the various players voting each other off, we the people get to vote them off, and replace them with another group of players who will get to play the exact same game.

One of the buzzwords in this affair is “responsibility”. Everyone is screaming: “Who’s responsible for this heinous crime?” Responsibility is also a very big thing in the business world, and since we as professional technical communicators are part of that world, we need to be concerned about it.

Organizations function well when everyone knows what they are responsible for, and when everything has someone responsible for it. Companies get into trouble when something that should happen does not because no-one thinks they are responsible for it.

As information developers, we are responsible for producing documentation. But how much responsibility should we bear? To answer that question, it’s time to play…

The Responsibility Game
(Lively introduction music)

Announcer: Welcome to The Responsibility Game, with your host, Frank Ferrari. And now, heeeeeeeeeeere’s Frank!!
Frank Ferrari: Thank you. Welcome to this week’s edition of The Responsibility Game, where we answer the question:
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Frank: Last week, we found out that the government was responsible for all the lousy weather we’ve been having, and for all those socks you lose in the washer. This week, we’re gonna look at something a bit more serious: bad documentation.
Audience: Ooooooo…
Frank: Yes – we’ve all seen it – manuals that don’t make sense, pictures that don’t match up with the instructions, assembly instructions that make you want to kill someone, or at least maim them severely. We’ve all felt the pain, and today we’re gonna doing something about it by finding out…
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Frank: We’re speaking today with PillowHeads Incorporated, a company that makes software that does…something. We’ll be talking with some of the various workers there, through a live, televised link, starting with Nero, the tech writer. Nero, are you there?
Nero: Yeah, I’m here Frank. Love your show!
Frank: Thanks. OK, Nero, your latest user guide was released, and we’ve spoken to some of the end users, and we’re gonna tell you what they said.
Nero: (nervously) OK… I’m listening…
Frank: The verdict is….they loved it! They said it was the best manual in long time. How do you feel?
Nero: Wow – that’s great. I’m dreamt about this moment ever since I was a fetus…
Frank: Hey, you’re making me all teary-eyed, kid. But what our audience wants to know is…
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Nero: Well, not to boast or anything, but since I am the tech writer and I wrote it, then obviously I’m responsible for it. I had some help in getting the info I needed, but then I was the one who actually put the thing together, so wouldn’t that make me responsible?
Frank: You can’t argue with such air-tight logic. But let’s hear what others have to say. Let’s talk to one of those people Nero mentioned helped him get the info he needed – Ivan the Programmer, also known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan, you’ve heard Nero say that he’s responsible for creating this fantastic document – what do you say?
Ivan: Nero good man. Very strong, like bear. But I tell him what he need to know. Me responsible!
Frank: Eloquently stated, Ivan. Now let’s move up the food chain and talk to Nero’s boss, Manfred. Manfred – you’ve just hear that the client loves the new document – we wanna know:
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Manfred: Nero did a great job in putting that manual together. He worked hard and did what he had to do. But since I was the one who hired him and taught him almost everything he knows, I’d say that ultimately, I’m responsible. If hadn’t hired him, we wouldn’t be talking about this now.
Frank: Good points all around. Let’s keep moving up, shall we? We’re talking next with Manfred’s boss, the VP of the department, Herman. Herman – what are you thoughts? Who’s responsible for this great document?
Herman: Well, I would agree that Nero did a good job. But if we take Manfred’s logic, then I would say I’m responsible, because I hired Manfred, and I only hire the best people – people who are able to in turn, hire more of the best people. Because people are our greatest asset, after our inventory and cash reserves.
Frank: Well, I gotta tell ya – this is the first time I’ve been this undecided about who’s responsible. Everyone is making a solid case. But we’re gonna get to this bottom of this, by going straight to the top. Our last guest is the company president, Bartholomew. Bart – you’ve heard everyone’s opinion. You’re the top guy. Who do you think is responsible for the manual?
Bart: Let me be frank, Frank. I’ve heard a lot of talk today. Everyone wants to take credit, and I can understand that. I feel what everyone’s saying. That’s my weakness – I feel so much sometimes, it hurts. But I founded this company. I created it – it’s my baby. I raised it. I fed it. I taught it to walk and do math. And I simply cannot allow others to take credit for my baby. No one’s going to kidnap my baby. None of these people would be here if I hadn’t given birth to this baby. So, as a parent of this company, I am ultimately responsible for everything my baby does, good and bad.
Frank: Wow. What can I say? I’m speechless. Everyone has made a very compelling argument. There’s just one small problem – this whole episode has been a scam! The truth is: the client HATES the document! So we wanna know:
Audience: Now who is responsible?!
Bart, the president: It’s Herman’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Herman, VP: It’s Manfred’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Manfred: It’s Nero’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Ivan: Nero bad! Bad tech writer! Must kill! Kill tech writer! Kill tech writer!
Bart, Herman, Manfred and Ivan: Kill tech writer! Kill tech writer!
Nero: What the …? Hey, what are you guys doing? Put that thing down! Help! Frank! Help me!!! I need…
Frank: Well, we seemed to be having some technical difficulties….Anyway, I want to thank all our guests for being on the show, and thank our audience for finding out:

Audience: Who’s responsible?!

Interviewing and Dating: A Single Source Solution

Image result for DatingLast month, people celebrated “Valentine’s Day”, a day to celebrate romance and love, a day to be extra-nice to your partner, and a day that flower, card, chocolate and gift shops reap obscene profits.

As a tribute to this special day, this month’s column will explore dating. Dating is so similar to job interviewing that we’ll actually explore both of them simultaneously, using my one true love, conditional text, to distinguish each version.

Text that applies to interviewing is in blue; text that applies to dating is in, (what else?), red. Regular (black) text is unconditional and applies to both versions.

Playing The Interviewing Dating Game
Good interviewing dating skills are perhaps the most important skills you can have. After all, you will spend a significant amount of time at your job with your mate, so you want to be sure you make the right decision. Perhaps the only thing more important than interviewing dating is dating interviewing.

Both these activities are very similar: two people meet, often under stress, and try to size each other up within a relatively short time, in the hope of establishing a meaningful long-term relationship. One major difference is that at the end of an interview, date you probably won’t end up naked working for that person.

Finding the right job person is not easy. You need to be well-connected. You need to establish a network of contacts who know you are “on the hunt”. And you need to update your 1970’s wardrobe. Disco is dead – get over it.

Sourcing Your Info

There are basically two sources of information you can tap into: public and private. Public sources include job hunting dating websites, services and advertisements. Note with public sources, you’ll be competing against many other people, which why the success rate is often quite low. Therefore, don’t spend too much time using these; instead, focus on the private sources of information.

Private sources include your various friends and contacts. Most potential “jobs” “mates” are not advertised. You need to tap into this hidden “job” “mate” market. The highest success rates are found by people who approach potential companies mates directly, or through a mutual contact.

Prep Time
Before an interview date, you want to be well-prepared. You should know yourself and be aware of your needs and wants. You should also try to find out as much as possible about the job other person as possible. What are their needs and wants? What are their problems? What do they value? What are they looking for in an employee mate?

Dress well before the interview date. Be appropriately groomed and styled. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the location. If you are running late, drive as quickly as possible before any police can catch you.

Relax Already!
When you meet your interviewer date, be relaxed, cordial and friendly. Recognize that they are probably just as nervous as you are. Start with some small talk to break the ice, for example, the effect of the proton-to-electron mass ratio on the formation of the universe. Then you can move on to more complex topics.

It’s always helpful if you discover something in common. For example, you may find that the other person worries if their documents clothes are up-to-date. Mention that you also worry about that and perhaps talk about ways that you’ve overcome this problem. It can make for great conversation.

Don’t forget to maintain eye contact with the other person, to nod occasionally, and of course, to smile. These are all signs that you are listening carefully to what the other person is saying. Avoid drooling – it’s not considered very professional romantic.

Listen Up
Don’t dominate the conversation. The most successful interviews dates are ones in which both partners do about the same amount of talking. That’s why it’s important to listen as well as talk. Or as my crazy Uncle Fritz used to say: there’s a reason God gave us one mouth and two ears.

Let the conversation flow freely and easily. Ask insightful and meaningful questions to find out more about the company other person. What are their biggest challenges? Where do they see the company themselves going? What makes the company them unique? Is that their real hair colour?

Ask And Ye Shall Receive
When you are asked questions, give simple, straight-forward answers. Don’t ramble on, and don’t forget to actually answer the other person’s questions. Don’t be a politician, who responds to questions, but doesn’t answer them.

Be genuinely interested in the position other person, but not aggressive or desperate. You want to convey the message that you like the job other person, but that you don’t need it them. One trick is to say that you have another interview date later that day. Be careful, though: jealously is a useful technique. Like weapons-grade plutonium, it has to be handled with care, otherwise it will explode and destroy your whole village. (Boy, I learned that the hard way.)

Faking Sincerity
It’s very important to be yourself. There’s no practical reason to pretend to be something you are not. If you do, you will end up stuck with a job someone that is not compatible for you. If you sense things aren’t going well, and that’s there’s no “connection”, be pleasant and polite, finish up the interview date as cordially as you can, but later let the other person know you’re not really interested in the position a relationship. And no, throwing rocks through the other person’s office bedroom window is not considered a tactful way to terminate the relationship.

If you find you are genuinely interested in the job other person, you can start to “market” yourself. Casually tell them in a non-boasting way about your strengths. You don’t want to appear boastful, but neither do you want to sell yourself short and be too modest.

Again, you need to strike the right balance. Don’t lie about your exploits – you will be caught. Especially if you say that you single-handedly created single-sourcing the polio vaccine.

All’s Well That Ends Well
You will know if the interview date is going well if the other person begins to loosen up a bit and starts talking about how you might “fit in” with them, especially with the staff their family. And if they start talking about benefits and salary kids and marriage, well then, you’ve really hit the jackpot.

Don’t be afraid of rejection, and don’t take it personally. If other person is not interested in you, it doesn’t mean there’s anything is wrong with you. It simply means that you and the other person just weren’t a good “fit”. Remember – there’s plenty of other jobs people out there. Every rejection is simply one step to closer to finding the right job person. Just like every day is one step closer to the day you die. (OK, bad example, but you know what I mean.)

Thanks for the Memories
After the interview date is over, thank the other person for their time company, and follow up with an email phone call. (Showing up unannounced on their doorstep is not a good idea.) If you both think you want to move on to the next stage, you can arrange another interview date.

You can continue this until you both decide that you want a committed work relationship. At some point, you may be asked to sign a contract pre-nuptial agreement. Review this carefully, ideally with a lawyer. Note that the lawyer should not be the same person who interviewed dated you.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
You may decide after some time, that the job is they are not really right for you, in which, you need to be honest with yourself and with your employee mate, and tell them it’s not working out, and then go your separate ways. Always leave on good terms – you don’t want to burn any bridges, because then you will be unable to cross the river of life.

This process repeats itself with other jobs mates, until you find the one you are looking for. And
when that happens, you will find true happiness, because you will have the job mate that helps you be the best you can be. (This is assuming you don’t completely burn out first, in which case, you’re screwed.)

A Perfect Ending
As you play the interviewing dating game, recognize that you are not perfect, and that your potential job partner is not perfect. The goal is to find one that is perfect for you. And if you can’t find an employer mate who is “Mr. or Ms. Right”, you can always opt for “Mr. or Ms. Right Now.”

Best of success in your hunt!

Docaholics Anonymous

Hi. My name’s Andrew, and I’m a docaholic. I’ve been a proud member of Docaholics Anonymous (DA) for seven years now, and am grateful for the tremendous support I’ve eceived from them.

As you may know, Docaholics Anonymous is a world-wide support group that gives strength and comfort to those afflicted with docaholism, now medically recognized as a disease. Docaholism is the persistent addiction to the creation and maintenance of all forms of documentation. There is no known cure, other than professional counseling and the work of support groups like Docaholics Anonymous.

A DA History
DA has an interesting history. It was founded almost 50 years ago by two technical writers in Nebraska: Fred Bookend and Jack Riter. Fred had been a document addict for about 12 years. He was working up to 100 hours a week, and practically died from exhaustion. He would often change a single draft up to 60 times, driving his employer to distraction, resulting in constant reprimands and firings.

In 1956, Fred met Jack through the newly formed STC. Jack was also a docaholic, although not as severe as Fred. (Jack would only go through twenty review cycles compared to Fred’s sixty.) The two men recognized that simply by talking about their addiction, it greatly alleviated their pain. They founded Docaholics Anonymous in 1958, and chapters quickly spread throughout the United States, then Canada, and finally the world.

Most of you may never have had the pleasure of experiencing a DA meeting. In a “Writer’s World” exclusive, I have obtained a transcript of a recent chapter gathering. Because note-taking is not allowed at meetings (since it is a form of documentation), this transcript was taken secretly. Therefore, please keep this information to yourselves, lest I end up on the DA black list.

DA Support Group – North Toronto Chapter – Meeting Transcript

Nov 10, 2004 – 8:06 PM – Undocumented location
Cornelius (chapter leader): Good evening everyone!
Group: Good evening Cornelius!
Cornelius: I’d like to welcome everyone to tonight’s meeting. Let’s begin by going around the table. Does anyone have anything they’d like to share? Remember to state your first name, the nature of your addiction, and, if you can, how you’ve been working to overcome it.
Chloe: I’d like to go first, if I may.
Cornelius: Sure Chloe, go ahead.
Chloe: Hi. My name’s Chloe and I’m a docaholic.
Group: Hi Chloe!
Chloe: I’ve been a docaholic for about six years now. My addiction has manifested itself in such as actions in marking up the magazines in my doctor’s office, always carrying at least seventeen types of pens in my purse, and sleeping with a dictionary under my pillow, just in case I need to look something up.
I’ve had a pretty good week. The other day at work, a co-worker had a written post-it note on his desk, with lots of typos, but I placed it out of my “fear zone” and was able to let it go.
Cornelius: That’s awesome Chloe! Thanks for sharing. Anyone else?
Rupert: I’ll go.
Cornelius: Sure – go ahead, Rupert.
Rupert: Hi. I’m Rupert, and I’m a docaholic.
Group: Hi Rupert!
Rupert: I’m coming up to my tenth year in group. (applause) My addiction has taken the form of mild to sever heart palpitations when I see a billboard that is poorly designed and barely legible – also, I like to label all the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom shelves with the items that they hold. At work, I’m down to having only 15 review cycles in my drafts.
Cornelius: Great progress, Rupert! Keep it up. Soon you’ll be down to ten cycles, then five and, if you “will” it hard enough, three.
Rupert: Well, to be honest, I don’t know if I go less than seven cycles. That would just be too painful.
Cornelius: I feel your pain because I’ve been there. I too, thought that three review cycles was impossible, but by sharing my pain, I’ve accepted this number, and you can too.
Marla: But maybe sometimes a document does need more than three reviews?
Cornelius: Thanks for your honest communication, Marla. Does anyone in the group want to non-judgmentally say what Marla is practicing?
Group: Denial.
Cornelius: That’s right. We love you Marla and we support you, and that’s why we have to be honest with you, even if the truth is painful. Does anybody else want to share some facts they had to struggle with to accept?
Tyler: People don’t mean to write poorly, they’re just born that way.
(group applause)
Jason: It’s OK if an index is missing an entry or two.
(more group applause)
Marla: Developers are not evil people just because they write poorly. They come from another world and don’t know the customs of our planet.
(still more group applause)
Cornelius: Good, that’s good sharing. Now I myself will share. Last week, I was working on a document that had fifteen screenshots. The problem is, they were all outdated and there wasn’t time to update them. So do you know what I did?
Marla: Don’t tell me that you – I can’t say it.
Cornelius: Then I’ll say it – I deleted them.
[Group gasps at the sheer horror of it all.]
Tyler: I think I’m going to be sick – how you could just, you know, d-d-d-delete them?
Cornelius: It wasn’t that hard – once you’ve faced your fear, you can defeat it. You have to own your documents, or they will end up owning you. You have to choose whether the delete key will be your enemy, or your friend. Besides, the screenshots were redundant to the text anyway.
Tyler: Oh, thank god..
Cornelius: OK – it’s time to move on to the “aversion therapy” session in our meeting. For you newcomers, this is where we all recite, in unison, portions of various incomprehensible documentation. The goal is that by facing “the worst”, we can be “the best” at fighting our addiction.
Tyler: Yech, I really hate this part of the program.
Cornelius: Me too, but we have to do it to reach our self-actualization levels. Remember people – that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Now if you turn to page 6 in your DA booklets, to the group recitation section, let’s read together:
Group (in unison):

To open the file, select to perform the clicking operation on the Open button. The file is now open and you can read it if that is your desire.
Error: The program has performed an unknown error. Please refer to this error message for details. This is the end of the message.
Warning! Failure to follow these assembly instructions may result in a permanent death. You may also be injured, too. If you are dead, you may not be able to use this product.

Cornelius: OK. Let’s move on to my favourite section, “corporate-speak” …page 12, section 2…

Group (somewhat in unison):

We are a cutting edge and bleeding edge team that strives to hyper-satisfy our clients by actualizing winning results.
We have the concepts that form the ideas which make the up heuristic viewpoint that comprises a systematized strategy for our forward-looking vision.
Despite the layoffs, the company is not “going bankrupt”. We are in a transitional phase as we re-engineer our operations to face these challenges, and rework our operational constructs in a deprecated, time-phased manner.

Cornelius: Good. And if you care what any of that meant, you’re still part of the problem and not part of the solution. And Marla, please put the pen down – you know the rules – no documentation allowed at group meetings.
Marla: Sorry – I was just writing down one sentence.
Cornelius: All docaholism starts with one sentence, with one word, with one letter. Then it grows like a virus into a paragraph, a page, a chapter and a manual. Before you know it, your labeling all the food in your fridge and putting name tags on your children. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, Marla. I know, because I’ve been very pregnant.
Alright, let’s finish tonight with the recitation of the twelve steps:
Group (in unison):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over documentation – that our documents had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore our documents to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our documents to the care of a higher power as we understood him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our documents, except for the appendices, which nobody reads anyway.
  5. We admitted to our higher power, to ourselves and our reviewers the exact nature of our documents, including typos, poor grammar and fuzzy screenshots.
  6. We were entirely ready to have our higher power remove all these defects from our documents – at least the fuzzy screenshots.
  7. See step 6.
  8. We made a list of all the reviewers we had annoyed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people except when to do so would lead to really awful manuals.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory of our documents, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it, without using a spell-checker.
  11. We sorted through, prayed, meditated, and proofread, to improve our conscious contact with our higher power, as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for use and the power to carry that out. And we learn to accept really long, rambling sentences like that last one.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of this step, we tried to carry this message to those that still suffer. And we pledged to practice these principles in all our documents. Then we had lunch.

Cornelius: Thanks, well done. We’ll see you next week. Let’s close with the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the documents I cannot change;
The courage to change the documents I can;
and wisdom to be able to effectively document the difference.