Category Archives: work

My 48 Hours

Last Thursday, while I was still at work, T– took the kids to Wichita to spend some time with her family there. The plan was to stay through a big birthday party Saturday evening, then drive home late Saturday night.

I intended, as I often do on these occasions, to take advantage of the peace and quiet to get some good work done. Mainly I had some computer stuff I wanted to do — reviewing a blog for a new friend, getting caught up on my own blogging after a busy few weeks, and putting together some notes on a new project I’m working on (the Consortium). I figured I’d do a little lawn and house work, too, since our property got hit pretty hard with last week’s apocalyptic hailstorm.

Anyway, when I got home from work to an empty house Thursday afternoon, the first thing I did was make a To Do list. (I estimated roughly that each item in the “Must Do” list should represent about 90 minutes of work).

  • Must Do
    • Thursday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tue blog posts for next week
      • Prepare newsletter for Saturday
    • Friday morning
      • Mow the lawn
      • Clean out the gutters
    • Friday afternoon
      • Write Thu/Fri/Sat blog posts for next week
      • Set up blog review spreadsheet on GDocs
    • Friday night
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday morning
      • Chainsaw some trees
      • Paint hall and bathrooms
    • Saturday afternoon
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
      • Review Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday night
      • Edit and link next week’s blog posts
      • Prepare next Saturday’s newsletter
    • Sunday afternoon
      • Email Julie about the Consortium
      • Complete detailed descriptions of the Consortium in Wave
    • Sunday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tues blog posts for next week
      • Outline blog posts for June
  • Remember to Eat!
    • Lunch with D– (discuss Consortium as non-profit)
    • Dinner with K– and N– (discuss Consortium network/software)
    • Lunch with Courtney (recruit her to the Consortium)
    • Dinner with B– (discuss Consortium business plan)
  • Extra Credit (if I have free time)
    • Recruit Carlos to the Consortium
    • Social Writing
    • Help Toby program BookMaker utility
    • Get in touch with Doolin
    • Email Julie about blog review
    • Get Courtney her photos (from a Julie V shoot)
    • Design novel template in GDocs
    • Scan many things
    • Edit/link guest posts for Doolin
    • Make chapters for Carlos’s e-Book
    • Review Carlos’s other support requests
    • Call OU Admissions department
    • Email Shawn about the Consortium
    • Finish Ivanhoe
    • Email Courtney about her blog
    • Contact Schwinn customer support
    • Lowe’s run
    • Fix exterior lights
    • Drop seed, weed killer, and fertilizer on lawn
    • Clean out garage work area
    • Put some stuff in the attic
    • Convert Becca’s and Bryce’s books to e-Book format
    • Read Becca’s and Bryce’s books
    • Check out Courtney’s new WIP on GDocs
    • Write Thursday’s Creative Copy Challenge post
    • Reply to many comments on my blog and Doolin’s

Those were my 48 items in 48 hours (I mentioned them on Facebook). And…well, technically four of those items were scheduled for Sunday, but I’d have my whole family home on Sunday so I figured I’d need to get much of that done in advance.

Of course, I ended up adding to the list before I was done.

  • Added since Thursday afternoon (all extra credit)
    • Email Courtney about new photo policy at my blog
    • Update About Page photos in color
    • Clean up storm detritus on driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Replace shattered plastic house numbers over garage
    • Pick up a birthday gift for K–
    • Fix fallen A/C register and attach headboard to bedframe
    • Murder weeds growing in driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Patch busted wood trim around bathroom door
    • Caulk floor joints both bathroom
    • Organize tool chest drawers
    • Wash and put away three loads of laundry
    • Paint over garage hail damage
    • Take out the trash
    • Do the dishes
    • Email Cindy about the Consortium as a non-profit

And I made time for my 4.5-mile jog every morning, because with all that cerebral work going on, I needed some physical exertion to balance it out.

The problem, it turned out, was that 45 minutes jogging wasn’t close to enough time to balance it out. I got started working on the lawn Friday morning, and found myself still working outside when it came time to go to dinner Friday night. Woke up Saturday, went for my jog, and figured since I was going to have to shower anyway, I should do a thing or two outside first.

By the end of the day Saturday (my forty-eight hours), I’d spent about fourteen hours sleeping, eight hours at business/social meals, and a hair over an hour (total) sitting at my computer. The other twenty-five hours I spent toiling — repairing my house, cleaning, or working in the yard. And none of that was by choice or priority — it just sort of happened. I was driven.

When everything was said and done, by the time I went to bed Sunday night, I’d completed 34 of the 62 items on my To Do list, including just half of the “Must Do” items. The finished list looked like this:

  • Must Do
    • Thursday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tue blog posts for next week
      • Prepare newsletter for Saturday
    • Friday morning
      • Mow the lawn
      • Clean out the gutters
    • Friday afternoon
      • Write Thu/Fri/Sat blog posts for next week
      • Set up blog review spreadsheet on GDocs
    • Friday night
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday morning
      • Chainsaw some trees
      • Paint hall and bathrooms
    • Saturday afternoon
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
      • Read Julie’s blog posts
    • Saturday night
      • Edit and link next week’s blog posts
      • Prepare next Saturday’s newsletter
    • Sunday afternoon
      • Email Julie about the Consortium
      • Complete detailed descriptions of the Consortium in Wave
    • Sunday night
      • Write Sun/Mon/Tues blog posts for next week
      • Outline blog posts for June
  • Remember to Eat!
    • Lunch with Dan (discuss Consortium as non-profit)
    • Dinner with Austins (discuss Consortium network/software)
    • Lunch with Courtney (recruit her to the Consortium)
    • Dinner with Bruce (discuss Consortium business plan)
  • Extra Credit (if I have free time)
    • Recruit Carlos to the Consortium
    • Social Writing
    • Help Toby program BookMaker utility
    • Get in touch with Doolin
    • Email Julie about blog review
    • Get Courtney her photos (from a Julie V shoot)
    • Design novel template in GDocs
    • Scan many things
    • Edit/Link guest posts for Doolin
    • Make chapters for Carlos’s e-Book
    • Review Carlos’s other support requests
    • Call OU Admissions department
    • Email Shawn about the Consortium
    • Finish Ivanhoe
    • Email Courtney about her blog
    • Contact Schwinn customer support
    • Lowe’s run
    • Fix exterior lights
    • Drop seed, weed killer, and fertilizer on lawn
    • Clean out garage work area
    • Put some stuff in the attic
    • Convert Becca’s and Bryce’s books to e-Book format
    • Read Becca’s and Bryce’s books
    • Check out Courtney’s new WIP on GDocs
    • Write Thursday’s Creative Copy Challenge post
    • Reply to many comments on my blog and Doolin’s
    • Email Courtney about new photo policy at my blog
    • Update About Page photos in color
    • Clean up storm detritus on driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Replace shattered plastic house numbers over garage
    • Pick up a birthday gift for Kris
    • Fix fallen A/C register and attach headboard to bedframe
    • Murder weeds growing in driveway, porch, and sidewalks
    • Patch busted wood trim around bathroom door
    • Caulk floor joints both bathroom
    • Organize tool chest drawers
    • Wash and put away three loads of laundry
    • Paint over garage hail damage
    • Take out the trash
    • Do the dishes
    • Email Cindy about the Consortium as a non-profit

Flying Ice

Monday this week was a day made for disappointment. It always is, but this week was worse than most. After an ice storm lent me another four-day weekend, it was a real bummer to come back to the office. Nobody was in a great mood, and everybody had a lot of work that needed doing, to get caught up. I put in my nine miserable hours, packed up some extra reading to take home with me, and then called it a day.

The roads were pretty clear by then, except for the steep-walled piles of dirty gray slush spilling onto the sides, but the drive still posed some little risks. I felt my car slip a little turning onto MacArthur, and again as I pushed up the ramp onto the highway. It was nothing dangerous, really — just little reminders that the road wasn’t really dry.

I hardly needed them, though. My windshield was enough evidence of that, with the thin, semi-transparent patina of slush thrown up by the cars ahead of me. That got a lot worse when I got onto the highway, and I was leaning forward, waiting for another pass of my worn out wipers, when the car in front of me threw up more than just slush. A pebble the size of a BB flipped up and smashed against my windshield, inches from my nose.

The sound of it startled me — surprisingly loud crack in the still of my car –and as I flinched back, I wondered if it had chipped the glass.

I first started driving in 1995, and I drove for fourteen years without ever getting a cracked windshield. I’ve certainly taken my share of pebble bombardment, but they make those suckers pretty strong. Still, the thought crossed my mind because, only a week earlier, gravel bouncing out of the back of a dump truck had put a big score in the driver’s side glass right above the dashboard. First time in my life, and here came another pebble one week later.

And then the wipers blurred by, smearing away the muck, and they left behind a single glittering spot, ten inches above the week-old chip. I grunted in frustration, I rolled my eyes, I probably thought something mean about the driver of the dirty white Tercel.

But then a sarcastic smile twisted my lips. I shook my head and chuckled, and said, “I wonder if I constructed that.” See, I believe in something called social constructionism, and one aspect of it is that the things we expect, the things we anticipate, are the things that are likely to show up in our reality. By worrying about my glass getting chipped, had I made it happen? It was a swift-passing thought. I sighed and let it go. Probably just coincidence. It’s a funny old world, after all.

The words were still fresh in my mind, the smile still on my lips, when I heard the distant groan and rip just before a sheet of ice tore free from that same car. I’d seen it happen on my drive in that morning, and even once or twice already on my drive home, but this time it happened right in front of me. A blanket of ice and snow packed two-inches thick suddenly caught the wind, dancing like a kite up into the air for two seconds, three, and slashing back down to earth.

I was too close, though. I got in the way. The largest shard — probably two feet across — came stabbing straight down at me. I braked, I swerved, but there was no time. I caught a dozen pounds of ice dead center on the passenger side of my windshield, at sixty miles per hour. It boomed like an explosion, and the whole windshield shattered — safety-glass holding the fractured bits in place, but ruined.

It was five o’clock on a Monday afternoon, northbound in the left-hand lane of one of the city’s major thoroughfares, so I had sixty-MPH traffic right on my tail. As soon as I knew I was still alive, I put my foot back on the gas. My heart thundered, and I had to fight to catch my breath, but the windshield held. I had a small rectangle, maybe two feet by one, right at eye level on the driver’s side where the glass was whole. It was enough to give me a clear view of the road, as long as I leaned forward. It was enough to get me home, anyway.

So I drove on, terrified every time another piece of ice flipped up into the air and wondering if the shattered windshield might give way yet. Ten miles still to go, and nobody else on the road cared how fragile my situation was. I just focused on breathing, focused on getting home safely.

And while I was at it, I tried my hardest to ignore that chip, right in front of my nose, marring the one bit of good glass left to me.

(I prepared this post according to the assignment description in this week’s Creative Writing exercise over at UnstressedSyllables.com. I’d love any feedback you’ve got to give.)

The OC (Week 9)

This post is part of an ongoing series.

Life is Funny
I started class today with story time. See, one of my students mentioned a couple weeks ago that he didn’t need to do the Employment Packet assignments because he already had a job. The Employment Packet assignments require them to research job openings, and develop a resume (and practice their business letter writing skills a couple more times). While I’m at it I’m teaching them some advanced styling techniques in Word, but that’s just an added bonus.

Anyway, today I started out by asking how many of them already had professional-level jobs or internships, and nearly all the hands went up. I wasn’t surprised by that — I’ve been getting information about their career status from them since the first assignment. Next I asked them how many really believed that would be the last job they ever needed, and only three or four left their hands up.

And, y’know, I’ve read their company profiles, and it’s quite possible. Still, I said, life is funny.

See, when I took that class in my senior year, I had no idea I would be a technical writer. In fact, just a few weeks before I was a technical writer I had no idea I would be a technical writer. I’d spent college killing time in the emptiest of the computer labs as a lab technician, and then supplementing my income by playing Asheron’s Call.

I told them that story, which was fun. I told them how I’d played AC and harvested singularity keys and sold them on eBay. Then, one day, Toby said he could probably write a program to handle that process for me, and we made the Damion bot. By the time it was done, I spent a few months making a couple hundred bucks a week off that.

Then I graduated, and a couple hundred bucks a week wasn’t going to cut it, so I had to get a real job. I got lucky there, because our department chair put me in touch with Mark Lee at Lowrance, who was looking for a new technical writer. He needed a resume, though.

What was I going to put on my resume? I had the writing degree, but all my writing samples were poetry and chapters from a dragon-rider novel. I put down the lab tech job, and my only other work experience before that was as an assistant at a private elementary school. I probably included that. I didn’t list “Professional video game player” as an occupation, but I’m sure I put video games under interests….

Then I went for the interview, and Mark listed all those things. Eyebrows raised in a question, “Says here you’re interested in…video games?” And I nodded, feeling stupid, and he said, “Y’know, the problem with posting a technical writing job opening is that you get all these applicants who know how to write, but don’t know anything about operating the devices. You sound like the kind of guy who could play with the gadgets we make, figure them out, and then explain them in a manual. That’s exactly what we need.”

Life is funny.

A little while later, Toby applied for a job there, too, and it happened to come just as our company was adding a new product to our development — turn-by-turn GPS devices. In Toby’s interview, he told them the story of designing the software that guided my character through dungeons to gather singularity keys for me while I slept, and that pretty much got him the job. Half a year later, he was in charge of developing the turn-by-turn software.

Life is funny.

Auto-generated Text
That whole bit was more mentoring than Tech Writing teaching, but it made a great introduction to my class lecture, which was on auto-generated text in Microsoft Word. I told them that when I got to Lowrance, Mark was still building Tables of Contents for the manuals by hand. It was dozens of hours of work tacked on to the end of every single project, and it was a huge source of errors (because it’s so easy to leave in a mistake and never notice).

That same spirit of poking around and figuring stuff out that Mark had thought would serve me well with the product documentation came into play with our documentation process, too. I got irritated trying to correct a broken ToC one time, and decided to see what sort of tools existed.

Turns out, Word has a pretty impressive ToC generator built right in. The trick is that you’ve got to use consistent, well-designed heading styles. That’s some of the “advanced styling techniques” I talked about earlier. I’ve spent the last month telling them how to develop these styles, and requiring them to use section headings in all of their homework assignments just to get them ready for this.

All of those assignments have been accompanied with tutorials I developed — six, so far — and each of those tutorials has been structured using a single set of custom styles (chapter heading, section heading, paragraph heading, body text, bullets, block quote, image, and caption). By now the students know well enough how I made those styles that they were able to grasp the significance of each of them.

So I pulled up all six of their tutorials on the overhead, and copied and pasted them together into one big long document, the chapter heading style automatically separating the different tutorials into chapters. I had to make a couple little adjustments (give the heading styles appropriate Outline levels, and make a clone of the chapter heading for the ToC title), and I explained what I was doing as I did it, but about ten minutes into the presentation I was able to scroll to the top of the document, choose Insert | Quick Parts | Field | TOC, and hit OK.

A fully formatted, populated, beautiful Table of Contents appeared on the page. Someone in the back said, “That’s awesome!” Somebody else said, “You cheated!”

Exactly the response I was looking for.

I showed them some more stuff along the same lines. We added automatic chapter numbers, and figure numbering in the captions, and then we built a Table of Illustrations to go with the ToC. We fixed the page numbering so the front matter had little roman numerals and the first page of chapter 1 was labeled 1 (instead of 5).

Then we went to the header and put in a field that shows the chapter title on the top of every page (so if you’re in the middle of chapter 4, you know it’s chapter 4). All of that took about forty minutes. Maybe a little less, and when we were done we had turned a handful of documents into a real book.

It was easy…but only because we’d done our work beforehand. Everything I did relied on the consistent use of well-designed styles. Because all of my chapters used Tutorial Chapter style, and every single section heading was Tutorial Section, and every caption was Tutorial Caption, I was able to do these things. That was really the main point of my lesson for the day. I don’t expect any of them to be able to build a ToC or add a StyleRef field to a document on command. I do expect them to be able to build a document that could support those, though. And if they ever have to work with one that does, I expect them to be able to recognize what’s going on, and use the built-in styles appropriately.

It was a pretty straightforward lecture day, divided evenly between story time and presentation, and when I got to the end of the presentation I let them go. I’d thought about having them build an Index as their in-class activity, but I’m pretty sure that would have taken hours. I filled fifty minutes as it was, and the lingerers and hangers-on kept me in the classroom, talking, until well past 2:15.

More next week.

Journal Entry: October 14, 2009

No, there is too much. Let me sum up….

It’s terribly frustrating to me that, as times get more and more interesting, I write less and less about it on my blog. That’s been true of every NaNoWriMo I’ve been through (and how many birthday parties and Thanksgivings have been lost because of it?), and it’s been true of both of my babies.

Admittedly, XP isn’t doing anything terribly newsworthy. He’s adorable, but that doesn’t make for great plain-text updates. It’s a shame, though, that when I look back at now three years from now, I won’t have a very detailed record of the semester I decided to work full time and teach a college course while participating in two different writer’s groups, having a new baby, and maintaining a 30-hour-per-week WoW habit. Oh, and writing. A little bit.

It’s not going to get any better, either, because in the midst of all that, a NaNoWriMo is looming. All I’ll have to look back on are these occasional complaints, and a word count ticker. I guess that’s something….

Anyway, I’ve spent the last two weeks with “blog journal” as the longstanding not-marked-out item on my rolling Post-It Note To Do list, and I decided to shed the guilt and stress of that unwritten post getting longer and longer, and just write a quick post about yesterday.

I made that decision three days ago. And here we are.

There’s been lots worth mentioning in the recent past, but the most exciting among them is probably B–‘s new job and the party that went with it. That’s more than a week ago, though, so it’s lost to history. Last Friday night AB spent the evening with Diana, so T– and I could have a date night. We went to Texas Roadhouse and then watched some TV. It was awesome.

On Saturday D– and I went over to B– and E–‘s, because he had missed the previous weekend’s party with some vile disease. Conversation and martinis, and about seven minutes of The Empire Strikes Back with RiffTrax.

Sunday the Cowboys barely beat the miserable Chiefs, and that gave us our first winning weekend of the season — or at least the first one where I got to watch both games. It was exhilarating.

Monday was Columbus Day, which is actually a holiday for people like me, so I went to the Science Museum with T– and the kids, then spent the afternoon preparing materials for my class.

Yesterday I woke up sick, but I went to work anyway. I did end up canceling my class, though, which gives the students a full week off because Thursday is Fall Break. Wasn’t the flu, though — I was better by bedtime. And today I’m back at work.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: September 28, 2009

Wednesday
Wednesday after work we met K– and N– at Johnny’s Charcoal Broiler — carrying on a tradition started the first time T– took AB to church, and we ate there for lunch. The food was delicious, of course, and it was a fun time getting together with friends.

Afterward, everybody but K– and me walked over to church for Wednesday night classes. K– came over to my place to help me with T–‘s broken computer. He had a hard drive caddy handy, with connections for all manner of hard drive, and in no time at all he had the data from T–‘s laptop copied over to mine. That solved the biggest of T–‘s fears (lost photos and work documents), but of course the laptop was still broken.

After church the family came back home, and we spent the evening watching TV while I played WoW.

Thursday
Thursday I had to prepare a tutorial/lecture for my students, and I spent a significant chunk of time after work reviewing it and getting it posted to the website. I also spent much of the day (and evening) reviewing the students’ submissions for the first document packet, and fielding questions from them (by email, of course).

Karla made us some incredible quesadillas for dinner. D– came over for that, and to play some WoW with me, but mostly to pick up T–‘s dead computer and take it home with him. He spent the evening getting it resurrected (with the help of a spare hard drive he had sitting around, which probably saved me a hundred bucks), and getting the OS back on it.

Apart from that, Thursday night was more TV, and more WoW. We chilled, and caught our breath.

Friday
Friday I met Toby for lunch, and we discussed (among other things) a document conversion project I’ve got to get done for work. He had volunteered to help with that when they came to visit at the hospital, and this was my first opportunity to provide him with more detailed information. He sounded optimistic that he could get it done, and we made arrangements to meet at his place Sunday evening.

Then in the afternoon I got home from work a little bit early, so I was there when D– brought T–‘s laptop by, and I installed a few more programs for her, and now it’s better than new.

D– had to go back to work, but he agreed to meet us for dinner. Half an hours after he left, Mom and Dad got in from Little Rock. We introduced them to Alexander (or XP, as he’ll be known hereabouts in the future), then spent some time socializing while we waited for my sister and her family to come over. A little after five we piled into a bunch of vehicles, and headed over to Mama Roja for dinner.

As we were waiting for our table, T– turned to me and said with some surprise, “Can you believe it’s been nine days since we’ve been here?” Her Mom rocked our world by pointing out it had actually been two whole weeks. Craziness.

Anyway, it was a crowded, busy table, but we all had delicious food and enjoyed the opportunity to talk. Afterward, T–‘s parents left from the restaurant to head home, and everyone else came over to our place.

I took Mom up to Homeland to pick up the necessary supplies, then when we got back to the house I mixed up a pitcher of rum margaritas. They went over pretty well, but T– and I had a hankering for the real thing, so as soon as the pitcher was empty I filled it up again, with tequila this time, and we had a grand ol’ time.

Saturday
Saturday morning T– and Mom headed up to Edmond (with XP in tow) for pedicures with my sister, and Dad headed to Edmond for a conference at Memorial Road Church of Christ on an educational framework called Journeylands. That left me at home with AB. We played in her room, we spent half an hour or so on my laptop playing the Memory game, we read from her books, and we practiced telling each other stories.

Then T– called to tell me we were all supposed to meet Dad for lunch at Jason’s Deli, so I had AB watch some TV while I got ready, and then we rapidly got her dressed (and I made a humorous attempt at putting her hair in a ponytail), and headed north.

Lunch was awesome, and afterward T– and Mom took AB with them to go shopping for baby stuff. Dad headed back to his conference, so that left me alone. I ran home, took care of some stuff on my laptop, and then headed back out again for our monthly writer’s group at Courtney’s.

That probably deserves its own post (as it’s gotten in the past), but I’m feeling lazy now and I was sleepy and distracted then, so I couldn’t do it justice anyway. Shawn was missing, so it was just the three of us. We started out talking about dreams (and nightmares), and I told the story of my first nightmare (the killer shark in the apartment swimming pool), and my most recent (last week, when T– walked away from our marriage because I left her to fend for herself when we found ourselves caught in a swamp surrounded by killer snakes and spiders).

Then from there we talked more about our creative influences, how we come up with titles, and how we cope with the constant temptation to jump to new projects — leaving old ones unfinished. We also talked about another OKC writer’s group we might try to crash sometime, and a potential addition to our group, and traditional versus non-traditional publishers. I also dragged the conversation toward magic in the real world for a bit, and we each seized that opportunity to feel a little bit foolish.

Then it was 4:30, and time to split up. I got home just after Dad, and Mom was still there with AB (who was taking a nap). T– was already up at the church, getting ready for a crop, and she had XP with her.

So it was just me and Mom and Dad, and I took the opportunity to ask them for some advice and analysis on parenting. Specifically, I wanted to know how much change I should expect in AB in the coming years. I feel like we’ve weathered the differentiation called “the terrible twos” at this point — we’ve seen it, we’ve found ways to address it, and at this point, though her rebellion can be frustrating at times, it isn’t baffling. It’s predictable, and addressable, and I feel like we both know who she is.

So my question was, how many more major change events are there, in early childhood development? I was relieved when Mom and Dad both agreed there really aren’t any. We can reasonably expect AB to be pretty much the person she is now for most of the next nine years. I’m happy with that answer. I like the person she is.

They also had some good information about how to handle the challenges of her differentiation events in her teenage years, but I really didn’t enjoy thinking about that. Not that I’m worried about the rebellion or family drama or anything…I just don’t like thinking about her being a teenager. It feels far too close, and that’s only a handful of years before she’s gone. Miserable thought, that.

Anyway, that took up most of an hour, and then I went and woke AB up so she could go to the church with Mom. A few minutes later K– came over, having dropped his baby off there, too. We ordered a couple pizzas and loaded up Beatles: Rock Band. An hour or so later, my brother-in-law called to ask if he could come join us, and we rocked out for two hours before he and K– had to go pick up their little ones.

Right around then Mom and my older sister came home with AB, and after she went down to bed the rest of us played some more Rock Band. I mixed up a pitcher of strawberry daiquiris for us, too, and we all had a good time. By the time T– got home my sister was gone (to stay at my little sister’s place), and Mom and Dad were in bed, so it was just me still awake, playing WoW.

I didn’t stay up too late, though. I was tired, so I went to bed around 11:30 with no regrets.

Sunday
Sunday morning we had a full house getting ready for church, and all of us running a little bit late, but we managed to get ourselves together somehow and showed up no more than five minutes later for service.

The sermon was on the various social values of hymns in a congregation, and before Rob was done Dad leaned over and said, “I want you to introduce me to your preach after church.” Turned out that was a sermon Dad had been wanting to preach for years, and while he’d heard lots of sermons on the topic, he’d never heard anyone express the real benefits and perspective that Rob gave in his sermon.

So we caught Rob after church (after waiting through an impressive line), and Dad got to compliment and thanks Rob for his sermon, and Rob got invite Dad to come give a marriage and family seminar to Britton Road sometime — something he’s been wanting to talk with Dad about for a while. So that’s pretty cool.

Then afterward we all went over my sister’s place for an Italian-themed lunch of salad, chicken pasta, and cheesecake for dessert. Everyone agreed the food was incredibly good. AB and her older cousin weren’t getting along terribly well, though — probably because they were both in severe need of a nap — so we split up and went back home to put AB to bed. Mom and Dad decided to head home around the same time, too, so we got them packed up and said our goodbyes.

And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the house was quiet. For the first time in ten days.

T– watched some Law and Order, I played some WoW, and then AB woke up from her nap and the spell was broken. We grabbed some McDonalds for dinner, and then all too soon it was time for me to head down to Norman for my meeting with Toby.

I didn’t want to go. I was tired and worn out, and it’s not a short drive, but I had made a commitment. And, after all, Toby was doing a favor for me. I showed up, and found out he had, in fact, finished it. He walked me through the code, teaching me what it did (so I could make little modifications on my own), and it’s one of those things where it’s fascinating in its simplicity. He did a really fantastic job. And after a quick test run (and double-checking how the output looked in Word), I was able to put the work stuff aside and we had some time to just talk. That was fun. He’s in the same boat I am — having to work with a new baby at home — but in spite of all the chaos, and petty problems at work, and weird happenings with rent houses in Tulsa…in spite of all that, we’re both doing pretty well. It was fun to get to hear that, and say that, and just to talk programming with my programming teacher for an hour or so.

Then I drove back home, in the weary dark, and crawled into bed and said good night to my weekend.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: September 23, 2009

On Monday I told a lot of people, “Oh, it’s so much easier with the second baby. With Annabelle we were up all night, every night, startling awake at every tiny sound. With Alexander, we’re a lot more relaxed. I’m actually getting a lot of sleep.”

On Monday night, he proved me a liar. Bigtime.

So, as a result, I woke up late yesterday and I was dragging. I went in to work anyway, and stumbled through the morning’s responsibilities, and then spent my lunch break grading papers, and then darted out to OC for my fourth week of class. I will, of course, tell that tale elsewhere.

I had several students hang around after class to talk with me, as I’ll mention in my recap. That was awesome, in the sense of making a connection with my students, but it was draining in the sense described in detail in last week’s link, Caring for Your Introvert. On top of that, everyone I interacted with at work all day wanted to talk about the baby (and, frankly, I did too…but it’s still tiring). Then I got home to a full house — T–, two babies, and two in-laws.

It’s nothing but whining about blessings, but all that interaction got to me yesterday. After three weeks of getting crippled before my classes by anxiety — for days on end — I managed to get away with fewer than three hours of anxiety problems this week, and they could be gone altogether by the next time we meet for class. But my night was still shot just from interaction exhaustion.

T– let me hold Alexander as soon as I got home, and I took him to the couch and AB came running up to see him, and I asked her all about her day. At the same time, T–‘s mom and dad got home from some shopping they asked me all about my day, and it was all perfectly nice but for some reason I just wanted to cry.

So I handed the baby off to his Papa, and then when no one was looking I slipped off to the bedroom to hide in the dark.

Karla and John naturally picked up that something was wrong, and they know me well enough that they were able to guess what, and they said they’d be willing to head home early if I needed a little alone time before my family showed up this weekend. I replied to that with an emphatic no, because they’re doing so much to make our lives easier. I really, really appreciate all their help. I’ve just got my own crazies, and the demands of the situation don’t really allow for any good outlets. It’s a pretty short-term problem, though, and one I’ve weathered countless times before. I’m not going to go turning away good help just because I’m feeling a little uncomfortable.

Anyway, there was bacon on the griddle and brisket in the crockpot, so I didn’t stay in hiding for too terribly long. I came out for dinner and then took sanctuary behind my laptop for the rest of the evening hours, while we watched Word World and Lie to Me. Then, when the rest of the family had gone to bed, I stayed up a little longer in the still silence and finished off Newsradio. Such a great show.

Ah. I did have one actual problem yesterday. T–‘s laptop is dying. It takes forever to boot into Windows (if it does at all, before locking up), and then when it loads it gives a complaint about accessing the user profile and loads a temporary profile instead. It seems pretty clear that it’s a hard drive problem — probably from AB knocking the laptop off an end-table last week while she was watching videos — but there’s a lot of photos and T–‘s work stuff on that hard drive that we’re going to be incredibly frustrated to lose. And, y’know, no laptop. I don’t cherish the idea of sharing mine with T– and AB. We all have very different ideas about what a computer should be doing, and how it should be handled.

So, y’know, that’s going to be a mess. Probably an expensive one, but sometimes we’re saved by hand-me-downs and free IT services from friends we’re all-too-happy to take advantage of. So I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The OC (Week 4)

This post is part of an ongoing series.

Technical Difficulties
I had 13 of my 16 students at 1:00. I waited a couple minutes and a couple more showed up, but the rest were in full chatterbox mode by then. I’d spent the last ten minutes at the podium, getting my visual aids ready for the day’s discussion, but I figured if I waited too long, things would get out of hand.

So around 1:02 I stepped to the center of the room and said harshly, “Okay, okay, okay! Enough chit chat. It’s time to stop gossiping and talking about your other classes, and focus on this class! I’m going to start the lecture now.”

Then I stepped behind my laptop, and plugged in the cable to project my monitor onto the overhead. Nothing happened. I had my visuals all ready, but the screen kept displaying a blank screen. Some wiseguy in the back row said, “He probably just wants to show us pictures of his baby.” I unplugged it and plugged it back in. I punched buttons.

Finally I sighed and said, “Well, yes, that was the whole joke. But this thing won’t work.”

Just as I said it, half the class (I’ll let you guess which half) went, “Awwwwww!’

My first visual aid was this:

Someone immediately said, “Wow, she was born big.”

I smiled, let the laughter die down, and said, “This is a picture of my beautiful, happy family about a week ago. I call it ‘Before.'” Then I showed a couple I’d tacked together in Photoshop.

And I said, “And here’s a picture of my beautiful but oh-so-tired family now.” And then I said, “Of course, you can see the baby in both those pictures, but in case that’s not quite enough….

Schedule Changes
I’ve had three real classes so far (not counting day one, when we just went over the syllabus and the class schedule), and in each of those classes I’ve had to dedicate some portion of the lecture to changes to the class schedule. This week, no surprise, was no different.

I moved straight from the baby photos to business. I pulled up the revised syllabus, and explained that I had rearranged the schedule so I could talk to them about their Semester Project today and then give them a work period next week. In the process, we lost the Promotional Brochure (something Gail had already cut in between the time I took the class and the last time she taught it, but I’d added it back in). Now, instead, I think I’m going to use it as an in-class activity on the day we talk about templates.

Anyway, their job is now to come up with a proposal for their Semester Project, and then once that’s done we’ll move on to the Employment Packet.

Subject Matter Experts
From there, I transitioned (weakly) (deliberately) to a mini-lecture on the topic of Subject Matter Experts — a phrase (I explained) that they would encounter much in the business world. It’s a vague sort of title, but refers to the person you’d go to for clarification on any given topic. Here at the FAA, I explained, we all work on radars, but if I need to talk to somebody about the antenna sail for the ARSR-3, there’s one engineer I’d go to. He’s the expert on that subject matter. I’d go to someone else if I needed information on the air conditioner, and someone else still for details on the speed controller.

And I explained that there’s not really a scale to these things. For any given topic, someone either is a Subject Matter Expert, or he’s not. The interesting thing about Technical Writers, though, is that they almost always start out not, and end up Subject Matter Experts. It’s just part of the job.

By way of illustration, I pointed out some specific topics for which I’ve gone through that process:

  • Industrial depthfinders
  • Commercial fishfinders
  • All manner of nautical and aviation sensors and gauges
  • GPS satnav (straight-line navigation)
  • Hiking and hunting personal GPS receivers
  • Nautical GPS receivers
  • Aviation GPS receivers
  • Nautical vessel data networks (more on that later)
  • Turn-by-turn navigation (driving directions)
  • Automotive GPS receivers
  • Automotive mp3 players (and audio interfaces)

And that, I said, was all at my first job.

I took a moment to point out some of the distinctions — how some of those might look like they overlap, but there’s a big difference between understanding how GPS satellites and receivers know where you are, and understanding how to operate the menus and screens of a particular type of GPS receiver.

I had another, similar list for my work at the FAA (8 items), and then listed three topics on which I’ve become a Subject Matter Expert in my free time: Novel-writing, Python programming for XBMC (I just rattled off that phrase and then held up a finger and said, “More on that later”), and Technical Writing (for this class).

Learn by Teaching
I said I knew they’d all heard, somewhere along the way, that teaching a topic is the best way to learn about it. I’ve certainly experienced that in preparing this class. I pulled up one of their weekly document-writing tutorials on the overhead and pointed it out as an example. I said that my group at work has to prepare a specific type of memo for every single project we release (the Safety Risk Management Decision Memo), and that we deal with lots of memos regularly. So when I wrote up my tutorial “How to Write Memos and Emails,” I shared it with my boss — Irene, our Documentation Team Lead — and asked her for feedback, knowing she was familiar with the topic.

She responded to say she was amazed how much she learned about memos from it, even though she deals with them everyday. I stressed her job title when relaying that to the students, and they were suitably impressed with the comment.

Python Programming for XBMC
As a better example, I told them about Python Programming for XBMC. I had to start out by explaining to them what XBMC was, although I had one student raise his hand to interject that his XBox had it on there. Anyway, I have a pretty technical group, so it didn’t take much to explain what XBMC was.

So then I told them how I’d first installed XBMC wanting to use it to stream media to my TV, but I was excited to learn it could run Python scripts — simple add-ons written in a programming language I was already learning. I went online to find out how to do that, and everyone pointed me to this one resource — a tutorial written by a French Canadian (that got a laugh), with no formatting whatsoever, and a lame attempt at humor (that got a laugh). So, in order to learn what I needed to know, I had to take this tutorial and translate it from English into English. (That got a big laugh.)

And I was only six months out from taking my own Technical Writing class at the time, so I decided that while I was doing the mental conversion anyway, I might as well fix the document for everyone else. And I had it up on the overhead so I was able to point out the specific formatting elements I’d used that I had already taught them in class (just last week).

Then I stepped away, and said, “I know it’s a pretty niche community, but if you go to Google and search for ‘XBMC Python,’ you’ll get my website.” That got some impressed nods. “Because of this document,” I explained. “It’s not great technical writing…it’s not even accurate anymore, because I haven’t touched it in six years. But it’s still the number-one-recommended, go-to source for information on this topic. Because of the research I did.”

That’s a certain kind of celebrity. It’s not a huge deal and (I pointed out) it’s not the biggest reward for doing this. The big reward is that, in the process of fixing that document, I learned what I wanted to know. I learned how to do everything with XBMC Python programming that I wanted to know.

Because I had to fully understand the material the original author was using, in order to translate it correctly — from English to English (that got a laugh again). Not only that, but when I took the time to format it properly, to set the information in a structured framework, it became clear what was missing, what was underrepresented, what was excess. I was able to see what extra information was needed, and research that on my own.

The NMEA Bible
Then I brought up a third example — the “nautical vessel data network” mentioned in my list of topics above. When I was working at Lowrance, big news came down from the head honcho that all of our products were going to become NMEA 2000 compatible. (It’s pronounced “nee-muh,” and don’t ask me to defend that. Actually, I said the same to the class and followed up with, “The pronunciation was picked by boat people,” no real emphasis, and it got a laugh.) But, yeah, our products were going to be NMEA 2000 compatible, and we needed a blurb in the front of each of our manuals expressing that and pointing the customer toward the sales department for more information.

We didn’t have the first clue how to word that, though, because the whole phrase was nonsense to us (the tech writers). Turns out NMEA 2000 was a hardware standard that created an information bus for boats. I asked what that meant and I was told it was “like a LAN for a boat.” Except that it had nothing to do with computers. After much investigation, I learned that it was used to connect sensors and monitors on a boat, so you could get a GPS signal at the front of the boat and share it to GPS monitors in three different places, or copy fish echoes from one transducer to multiple depthfinders — that sort of thing.

But it was more complicated than that, because the network cable could be split and coupled and daisychained and all manner of nonsense, and you had to have exactly the right cable for each device that you wanted to attach for each possible configuration of what you had on your boat.

So I went to the Subject Matter Expert — the one engineer in our company who really understood NMEA 2000 — and asked him to explain it briefly so we could come up with this one-paragraph blurb.

Three hours later we left his office so we could move to a conference room with a whiteboard. Three weeks later, I finally understood it well enough to write that one paragraph.

But, while I was at it, I wrote down everything he’d explained to me in a way that I could still comprehend six months after our conversations. I went ahead and put it into our manual format, because that was what I was familiar with. When I was done, it came to around eight to ten pages, all formatted and illustrated, and it explained exactly what a NMEA 2000 network was, and how to configure one. I saved a copy on my desktop, printed off a copy for Mark, and went on with my life.

Then six months later there was a big meeting going on, that involved all the senior engineers and the CEO of the company, and they were arguing about something in design and two of our senior engineers couldn’t agree on exactly how it was supposed to work, so somebody said, “Wait. Where’s the NMEA Bible?”

And somebody else pulled out a copy of my pamphlet. The NMEA Bible. That had become the in-house nickname for my personal cheat sheet. The engineers — the people who were designing these systems every day for years — were going to my little pamphlet for reference.

And that was my point. I started out as someone who knew nothing about the system, and in the process of filling out my document, I became the reference. I took the information that one person had, and translated it from English to English, and made it available to all the people who needed it. That’s what Technical Writing does.

The Semester Project
From there, I moved on to discuss their Semester Project. After all, I said, the purpose of the project was to take them through the same process I’d been through in each of those cases, and turn them into Subject Matter Experts through the process of documentation. I’d asked them last week (after the baby was born) to scrap their earlier assignment and instead read over a brief description of the Semester Project, and come to class with three possible topics that they could work on.

So after my mini-lecture, I said, “How many of you read the assignment?” and got all hands. Then, “How many of you understood it?” and got significantly fewer. “How many of you had trouble coming up with three topics?” got pretty much everyone. I paused a moment and said, “How many of you had trouble coming up with one?” That got more than I was hoping for.

Still, it was anticipated. I moved to the center of the room, and said, “The goal of this project is for you to make something of real-world use. That’s actually a requirement. So, to make that possible, I have to leave it a little bit vague. You don’t have a solid minimum or maximum word count, you don’t have a specific document type (although I want some sort of long-form document). You don’t even have a specified audience. You have to find an audience and then convince me they’re legitimate.”

I nodded, and said, “I understand all that. And I understand that’s not fair to you. The solution is for you to talk with me. Ask questions when you’re unsure, schedule an appointment if you need more time, email me, call me. Whatever. I’m deliberately leaving room in the schedule for you to request clarification, because you’re going to need it. And that’s what the rest of today is.”

Q and A
That was at 1:40. Frankly, I’d expected 1:30. Still, they could have gotten up and walked out, but I guess there was enough uncertainty that I had them scared. I said, “So…any questions?”

Five hands went up, and I turned to the first girl on my right. She said, “Umm…what are we supposed to do?” That was not a positive start. Before I could formulate an answer, she said, “I mean, what are we supposed to write about? I get the feeling it’s supposed to be technical, but I am so not a technical person.”

So I asked her, “What are you interested in?”

“Books,” she said, right away, and I froze. My mind started working frantically, trying to come up with something associated with books that could have a real client, and really match the framework of the document. Before I came up with anything remotely close, she said, “Oh, and baking.”

And I lit up at that. So much easier, because baking is a technical process. As soon as she said it, I thought cookbook. After a little discussion, I suggested she could find a ladies’ group for an area church that wanted to put together a cookbook for a fundraiser. That’s a pretty common thing. Her client could be the woman organizing the effort, her research could be the gathering of recipes (and any follow-up necessary to translate scribbled notecards into useable information). She’d have less writing to do than some other possible projects, but she’d have a whole lot more formatting than some projects would require.

She was perfectly happy with that. She loved the idea, and it gave the rest of the class some idea of what I was looking for.

Musicians
Another girl in the back corner raised her hand to ask, “Can it be something for a musician?” I must have looked pretty blank at the question, because she clarified before I could ask her to. “I mean, like maybe a musician could use some sort of promotional material or something….”

I figured she was talking about a classmate or a roommate, some music major looking to strike it big, but that didn’t worry me. I ducked my head and said, “The problem you’re going to run into there is that promotional material is usually shorter, bite-sized. I want something that will generate a single, long-form document. That said,” and I addressed this more generally to the class, “you can always ask what they actually need. Because everyone has some technical writing that they need done, and there’s a chance you’ll find something that will work. I assume you can talk to…him?”

She shrugged, a little uncomfortable, and said, “Well…it’s Hanson. So I thought maybe–“

She didn’t get to finish her comment because someone across the room shouted, “You know Hanson? Like, Hanson?”

She nodded and said, “I grew up with them.”

(They’re a boy band from five to ten years ago who you may remember as the perpetrators of “Mmm Bop.” They’re also Tulsa natives if I remember right, so there’s no huge surprise there. Still, she got a moment of celebrity there in the class.)

I said, “I can’t give you an A for cool factor alone, but I’d be interested to see what you could come up with for them.”

Plenty of Need
One of the grading criteria for the project, though, is that it meets a real need. I could tell that was bothering some of them, so I went back to that point. I said, “If you’re having trouble coming up with something to work on, find someone who could be a client and just ask them what they need. There’s always work to be done, and nobody wants to do it. Talk to your boss, if you have one. Talk to your church secretary.”

The problem with talking to your church secretary, I said, is that she’s going to have a list eighty items long of things she needs done, and most of them aren’t going to fit the shape of this semester’s project. Then I hesitated as a thought struck me, and I said ruefully, “Well, no, the real problem of talking to your church secretary is that once you do — especially if you do a good job — she is never going to stop talking to you.” That got a little chuckle, and I shrugged and said, “And…well, that’s your service to God.” That got a big laugh.

For those who just can’t come up with anything — or those who want to do something genuinely helpful — I pointed out that I have some extra options. This class has been doing this assignment for so long, that most of the churches and charitable organizations in town know about it. As a result, the school pretty regularly gets requests for student assistance with documentation projects, and those are now getting passed along to me. I let the students know about that, but I didn’t push it too hard. It’s enough of a challenge to put together a big document, I would prefer for them to work on topics they’re already interested in.

Although, to the girl who asked about promotional material for a musician (before she named the band), I did point out that once they’d finished this class, all of the students would be qualified and able to prepare and clean up documents — promotional material, resumes, business letters, whatever — even when it wasn’t for a class assignment. They could do it as a favor, or as a hobby (like I did with the XBMC Python tutorial).

Hangers On
There were a few more questions, mostly looking for clarification on the project — and a lot of them sort of unanswerable without specifics. I stressed again and again the need for them to maintain a line of communication with me, and I’ve already gotten a couple of emails from them since class on the topic.

Still, the questions trailed off around 2:00, and I dismissed them then. While they were packing up their stuff I distributed their graded memos from last week, and then went and sat down at my desk again, so I could address any last-minute discussion or help anyone who wanted to ask something face-to-face.

Turned out, there were a lot of them. Out of a class of fourteen (two never did show up), I had six or seven linger. Each of them had at least one question for me, but for the most part they stuck around and chatted even after their questions were answered. That caught me off-guard. I mentioned back in Week One that when I was panicking over time passing too quickly, all the veteran teachers I spoke with said that would get a lot easier once I had the students actually talking to me. They also all said that would probably happen sometime in November. I figured that was sort of an exaggeration, but I didn’t expect to be hosting a salon by the end of the fourth week.

Of those six or seven that hung around after 2:00, four of them were still there at 2:30 when my real life demands forced me to leave. That was pretty cool.

Real Progress
While I was packing up, one of those four (who had already chosen his own project topic), asked in idle curiosity, “What are some of the coolest projects people have done before?”

And I hesitated (mind racing again), trying to decide whether to admit to my inexperience. I decided relatively quickly, shrugged, and said, “Actually, this is the first time I’ve taught the class, so I couldn’t tell you.”

His eyes shot wide, and he said, “Oh really?” Genuine surprise. That caught me off-guard.

I can only really think of one other time in my life when two words meant so much to me. I said out loud, “Yay!” Four weeks ago I was standing in front of them, paralyzed with fear, and today they’re telling me I’m unrecognizable from a real professor. I call that real progress.

More next week.

Journal Entry: September 21, 2009

I’ve gotten a little behind. Sorry about that.

Wednesday
Last Wednesday after work we got together with D–, K– and N–, and my sister’s family at Senor Tequila up in Edmond. I’m sure I’ve been to one before (the name is really familiar), but I don’t remember when. The food was really good, though (especially the salsa), and of course the fellowship was exceptional.

While we were there, I told a little story about two startlingly dramatic events in the lives of my students that have (in small ways) disrupted each of my last two classes. We wondered idly what would happen to disrupt my next class. We didn’t come up with anything.

After dinner T– took AB to church, and I went home to finish up some prep work for the Formatting Tutorial I needed to write for my students on Thursday. Got it outlined, got all my stuff together, and then spent the rest of the evening playing WoW.

Thursday
Thursday morning I woke up early, got ready for work, then asked T– how she was doing before I headed out the door. Turned out, she was having a baby. So I spent a couple hours coaching her through contractions, making preparations, and alerting the internets that we were having a baby.

It turned out to be true. I’ve written up a detailed account of how the day went, but I feel like T– should get some of that attention, so I’ve given it to her. Watch her blog for more details.

Needless to say, though, we had a busy day. Alexander Lewis Pogue was born at 12:03 PM, and we all three spent the rest of the day recovering. We had a ton of visitors Thursday afternoon and evening, and every one of them asked, “Do you need us to bring anything?” before showing up. We were well taken care of.

Just like last time, I had my laptop and WoW to get me through the long, quiet hours at the hospital. So don’t feel too sorry for me. T–, of course, had a baby to serve the same purpose.

Friday
Friday morning I realized I had a bunch of unfinished work at work, so I slipped away around ten in the morning, when T– had a sister-in-law there to help her out and friends and parents on their way. I ran home to grab a shower and get cleaned up, then headed to work. I was only there for about an hour, but I got what I needed (to work on at home), signed my timesheet, and told Irene and Laveta a little bit about the baby.

Then I grabbed some lunch at Subway, picked up 17 Again so T– would have some entertainment for the afternoon, and headed back to the hospital. I spent some time in the afternoon writing up my account of Thursday for T– (see above), and then some more time agonizing over how to handle my class.

I’d told T– on Tuesday, “You have to wait at least two weeks before you have the baby.” The reason for that was a particular lecture I had scheduled for Tuesday, September 24: “Technical Writers as Subject Matter Experts.” The plan was to briefly lecture on the topic, then spend the rest of the class discussing their Semester Projects (which will require them to become Subject Matter Experts, but I’ll discuss that more tomorrow). Anyway, I’d always intended to have a work day sometime after the baby was born, so I could skip class and they could work on their projects. That doesn’t work if they don’t know anything about the project yet.

So I sent out a harried email Thursday afternoon warning them to expect a change to the schedule, then I sent out a new email Friday afternoon telling them to disregard their assignment for the week and instead read over a brief overview of the Semester Project assignment, and come to class Tuesday with three possible project topics.

I’m moving the S. M. E. speech up to tomorrow, and I’ll give them next Tuesday off. But, as I said, more on that tomorrow.

Friday evening was more like Thursday evening. My sister brought me Taco Bell for dinner, and John and Karla brought AB up to visit us. She’d spent twenty-four hours with her Nana and Papa, and she was sorely missing her Mommy and Daddy, so we kept her for a few hours, then I took her home at nine so we could go through her regular bedtime routine. I think that went pretty well.

And then I was back up at the hospital, and it was another night of talk shows and commercials and the gentle, soothing glow of WoW.

Saturday
Saturday morning we got up early and got ready, then cooled our heels for hours and hours. Nurses and pediatricians made their visits, approving us to leave. They brought all manner of forms for us to sign, and lectured us on all sorts of terrors that could befall our baby, and then took him away for a discreet procedure that seemed to take forever. He seems to have come through it well, though.

Then, at last, around ten our nurse came by to discharge us. Except, she said that she wanted us to hang around another forty-five minutes after his procedure to make sure everything was okay. Forty-five minutes later she dropped by to say she was sorry, but another family needed to discharge too, and the father had tickets for the OU game, and he was frantic to get out. So we gave her permission to go take care of him, and waited some more.

I spent a lot of that waiting time moving all of our possessions out to the car. It took six or seven trips, not counting the one with the baby. When I wasn’t doing that, I was playing WoW while T– watched Food TV.

Then, at last, a little before noon our nurse came by to discharge us, and actually did. We got home to the delicious smells of a fresh-baked pizza, and with many helping hands got the car unloaded much, much faster than it was loaded. Then AB helped me put some stuff away (and got tickled for her efforts), and then we finally settled down to the serious business of lunch.

In the afternoon AB went down for a nap, and I settled down to get back to my real life — playing WoW — and turned on the OU game around three. Unfortunately, though my TiVo claimed to have access to the game, our cable package doesn’t actually include the channel it was on, so all I had was four hours of solid-black screen. In HD.

I didn’t feel like leaving the house, though, so I abandoned all hope of watching the game. Instead we turned on an episode of Lie to Me. A little while later AB woke up from her nap, and then T–, AB, Karla, and John all went for a shopping trip to Wal-Mart. Alexander was forbidden from going by his pediatrician, so I had the arduous task of watching him sleep while I played WoW. He was delightful.

Karla made us dinner, and we spent the evening watching TV and (me) playing WoW. The only difference from last weekend was the squeaky little baby in the room, and T– complaining less. It was a pretty pleasant day.

Overnight, the baby woke up a few times for feedings, and T– (of course) woke up with him, but the experience was radically different from our first night home with AB. Then we’d both been wide awake, all the lights on, frantically checking to make sure she was okay, any time she made the smallest noise in the night. This time T– waited until he was actually ready to eat, fed him, then put him back to bed and went back to sleep. Most of the time she didn’t even wake me up when that happened. It was, altogether, significantly less stressful.

Sunday
Even so, at pretty much everyone’s recommendation, we skipped church on Sunday. John and Karla took AB, so T– and I had a pretty quiet morning at home. Then the in-laws brought us lunch from Taco Cabana, and afterward we watched an episode of Dinosaur Train with AB before her nap. Once she was down, we switched the TV to the Vikings game, which was awesome.

Then around 4:30 we had an accidental repeat of Saturday. AB got up from her nap, then went with T– and her parents up to the mall to do some shopping, leaving me home with the baby. I got a visit from B– (generously bringing us a lasagna to dine on sometime this week), and called up K– and N– to see if they could join us for the Cowboys game at eight.

When T– et alia got home, we had some incredible stew for dinner (beef broth, carrot, potatoes, and cubed brisket leftover from last weekend’s birthday party). I had a little bit of an argument with AB over that, because she didn’t want to sit in her chair — she wanted to sit on the floor and stare at Baby Alexander. After much discussion, we reached a compromise that essentially consisted of her sitting on the floor and staring at Baby Alexander. She’s a very persuasive orator.

Then we had guests, and we watched the disappointing first half of what turned out to be an even more disappointing football game. It was fun to have K– and N– over, though. We also made a start on a cheesecake and pumpkin pie that had come into our possession, but there is still much more work to be done on that front. So give us a call, and drop by for a visit. You won’t leave disappointed.

I went to bed pretty quickly after the game was over, though, because I had work in the morning.

More on that tomorrow. Everything’s going well, though. Mother and baby are both happy and healthy, and the rest of the family is ticking along nicely.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: September 16, 2009

I tipped my hand a little bit, with yesterday’s blog posts, but I wanted to get the information out. But, yeah, I had a late start on the day, came to work for a few hours, then headed to OC to teach my class. I decided to skip lunch (because I never have any appetite for hours leading up to my class), but then I got to Edmond too early so I stopped at Taco Bell for a quesadilla. How offensive could a quesadilla be?

I never got to find out. The kind folks at Taco Bell resolved my excess time problem by backing up the drive-through line long enough that I eventually bailed and headed to school, entirely unfooded.

Then, as I said yesterday, class went really well. My activity was awesome, and the students expressed that. Yay.

And after class, for the first time, I actually returned to work. I did debate whether I was actually up to it because even after a successful class I still have to deal with the physiological crash that follows any high stress episode. But, y’know, after both of my last two classes (which both left me crashing hard), T– had me babysit AB while she went grocery shopping. And I survived that somehow. Going back to work, by comparison, was restful.

So I put in a few more hours, got home around six, and T– made us street tacos using some of the brisket. They were incredible. Such a good dinner. I want more.

Then after that I got my laptop, sat on the couch, and played WoW. It was a good night.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The OC (Week 3)

This post is part of an ongoing series.

Video Lectures
I got to class about ten minutes early today, and spent that time setting up my laptop while the students filed in. I turned on the projector and got it ready to go, but I didn’t hook anything up yet because I didn’t want the distraction.

While I was getting that ready, though, one of my students spoke up from the back of the room and said, “Oh, hey, I tried to watch your video lecture online, but it wouldn’t work on my computer.” It’s a class full of Computer Science and Information Science majors, so of course suggestions were offered back and forth, but in the end I told him I’d been having trouble with it, too, so I’d keep looking into it and get back to him.

He said, “Well, anyway, it’s a good thing you also provided the written transcript. Keep doing that. Because that was really helpful.”

And I said, “Umm…I’m a Technical Writer. That’s my job. So, yes, I will.”

Opening Questions
Five minutes later I had all the students I was going to have (two shy of a full roster), so I turned to my outline. The first item on it was, “Video lecture vs. written tutorial.” Half of the class had already heard the conversation, but I went ahead and revisited it, bringing the other half in. Turned out only two or three students had tried to use the video lecture, and only one of them had gotten it to work (and that one happens to work for the North Institute which is the non-profit group that designed and maintains the software all the rest of us are having trouble with). I promised the students I’d keep working on it, and let them know what I learned, and reiterated that the text tutorials will be available, and will be higher quality than my narrated slideshows anyway.

Partway through that, my helpful inside man piped up to tell me how to workaround the problems the others were having, and I made notes to myself to send out more detailed, step-by-step instructions later in the week. So my video lectures problem might be solved. We’ll see.

Syllabus Issues
I moved on from there to a discussion of the syllabus, which I opened up on the projector. We’d gone over it on the first day, briefly, but when we talked last week about due dates, I realized it was completely messed up. So I told them the new dates were available on the version of the syllabus online (and went over them in class).

I’d also forgotten to give them Fall Break — a fact which came to my attention while rearranging due dates, so I told them, “Oh. I’ve also graciously decided to let you to take Fall Break along with your fellow students.” That got a bigger laugh than it probably deserved, and then spawned some contention over one of the new due dates falling on Fall Break. Apparently they’re not happy with just getting out of a lecture and assignment. I told them I’d consider the issue and render my verdict next week.

Stand-up
One unexpected development in today’s class is that I stood up for most of my lecture(s). I’d decided after my first week that standing in front of the class was causing me anxiety issues (and then later Dad explained to me what was really causing it, but I didn’t think to correct my earlier assumption). Anyway, after that I decided to just sit at the teacher’s desk — front and center in the class — and deliver my lectures on eye-level with all my students.

Today, though, I was using my laptop on the overhead projector, which means I had to set it on the raised lectern off to the side, and I had to stand behind it to control the screen. I had been doing that while we discussed the syllabus — effectively hiding behind my laptop, which is precisely how I handle the anxiety at most family functions — but when I moved on to the mini-lecture I didn’t have any overhead material to back it up (at first).

So, without thinking about it, I stepped away from the computer, halfway between the lectern and my desk, and started talking to my students. It didn’t make sense to cross all the way to my desk, sit down and talk to them, just to jump up again two bullet points down so I could bring up my illustrations.

About midway between the first and second bullet point I noticed that I was standing up and lecturing, but I didn’t let myself dwell on it. When it came time for the big ugly main lecture at the end of the class period, though, I did the same thing deliberately, and I had no trouble with it. At least, not with the standing up part.

The Mini-Lecture
As I may have mentioned before, the course consists of Tuesday lectures on Topics in Tech Writing, and then Thursday tutorials and assignments that require the students to prepare specific document types (business letter, memo, resume, that sort of thing).

So today I brought that up — brought up that we’d been talking for two weeks about “document types,” and I said the reason that matters is because certain document types have an impact just by being that document type. In fact, I’d hinted at that in the tutorials for each of the documents types they’d done so far. Formatting a business communique as a recognizable Business Letter creates a certain expectation and context for your reader, before you ever convey the first word of your content. The same goes for a memo. I told them a good way to think of document types is by their “shape” — that is, the visual impact of a document that matches a particular style, and the response that style creates in a reader.

Haiku?
By way of illustration, I put some words up on the projector. It was a text document, in Notepad, so there was no formatting whatsoever. I’d even reduced everything to lower-case, at great personal pain. The first document looked like this:

schumann’s resonance
headgear for grasshoppers
eyes like headlights
friday
october 5
9:00 pm
p. j.’s
manhattan

I said, “Anyone know what this is?”

One of my Computer Science majors said, “A haiku?” I almost laughed at that. I’d actually had, “Gibberish? A poem?” in my own notes for possible student guesses.

I just said, “What about this?” and opened the second document.

the jackpot
10:00 pm
$5.00
eyes like headlights
daleria
the remember
january 5, 2008

Somebody said, “An advertisement, maybe?” I heard whispery voices treading dangerously close to the right guess, so I went ahead and put up the third document.

www.myspace.com/eyeslikeheadlights
eyes like headlights
cd release party
debut album
there’s no us in evolution
5909 johnson drive
mission, kansas
with left on northwood and rettig
friday, october 26
the mission theatre
all ages 21 to drink

That third line gave it away, and I said, “What I’ve got here is the text from a bunch of band flyers. That first one looked like complete nonsense when I showed you just the unformatted words, but you’d recognize the information instantly if I showed you this.”

“So,” I said, “what you can see here is that the words that go on a band flyer are totally meaningless until you put them in the shape of a band flyer.” And I hesitated for a beat, and smiled, and said, “So you’re going to put them in the shape of band flyer.”

The Band Flyer
I told them to divide into three groups — that I wasn’t playing the elementary school counting game this week — and none of them apparently learned from that last week because they opted to just stay divided up by their tables. So group one consisted of three English majors and a couple technical people, and then groups two and three were entirely technical people. It was incredibly lopsided, but it made for good teaching in the end.

I told them they could probably find the original flyer if they looked hard enough online, but that I didn’t want them to recreate the original. I wanted them to make their own. Each group quickly picked which software they were going to use to design the document (Picnic, Paint, and Word, respectively), and then selected one designer to actually build it.

Groups two and three mostly left their designers to do the design work single-handedly, while they went searching online — first for suitable background art, and then (out of sheer, perverse curiosity) for sordid details about the band Eyes Like Headlights (which, in case you’re curious, is one of Carlos’s old bands).

Time Management
I probably should have obfuscated my information before presenting it to the students. Some of the antics and lyrics associated with Eyes Like Headlights probably isn’t something I should be sharing with my students — at least from the Dean of Students’s point of view. They certainly didn’t mind. They found it hilarious.

I gave them twenty minutes, and group two dashed something off in Paint and were done in fifteen minutes (and that was just the designer — most of the rest of his group had tuned out around seven to eight minutes in, when they were confident in his work). Group three’s designer had a little more artistic input, and they took right up until the twenty-minute mark to submit their design. Group one, which boasted fully four designers overflowing with artistic vision, took most of thirty minutes to get their document submitted.

Sometime around minute twenty-seven, one of the girls looked up and said, “Wait, what kind of band are they?”

Everyone else already knew, because they’d been listening to tracks on myspace, but I looked at my cherished English major and said, “They’re progressive death metal.”

Her eyes shot wide, and she said, “Umm…well, we’re pretending that they’re Folk, for ours. Okay?”

Presentation and Discussion
So we finally got all three flyers in, and I put them up on the projector in order. Everyone was really impressed with group one’s heavily designed document, and no amount of prompting could get them to express what was wrong with it (apart from a couple elements that they’d forgotten). I had to point out that they got the band wrong. That, while they’d been determinedly working on the good design, good layout, good formatting that group two had just casually dashed off, group two had actually (goofing off) figured out what style the document should be. That’s research, and that’s a real, important part of Technical Writing.

Of course, the other groups caught on that group one’s flyer was beautifully designed. Ultimately, we decided group three had the best one for the band in question.

Object Lesson
One of the best lessons learned, though, came from a specific mistake the hasty group two had made. One of the lines on the poster, “with left on northwood and rettig,” referred to a couple other bands that were performing at the same show. Group two mistook that “left on northwood” bit as directions, and threw that line in the upper left corner with the address and the name of the venue. Same font, same style, and as soon as I put the flyer up on the overhead, someone from group three pointed out their mistake.

Honestly, when we got into the discussion stage, the designer for group two started looking a little sheepish, and I felt a little bad about that. Then we finished up the discussion and I launched into my big ugly lecture, where I was just trying to dump specific formatting rules on them.

One of the first points I made was that technical documents generally contain several discrete chunks of information, bundled together, and part of the purpose of formatting is to create a recognizable hierarchy to help readers quickly and accurately figure out which information belongs to which bundle, and to locate the bundle the reader actually needs.

And I’d said some words on the topic, then I pulled that group two flyer back up, and darted over to the screen, and said, “That’s what we saw right here. That’s what the flyers do, grouping all these individual sentences into sections, formatting them to show what is related, and how. And we saw that on this flyer. We all knew instantly that group two had gotten this wrong — had mistaken these two other bands for driving directions — because of nothing but the font and the position on the page. He grouped this line with these other lines, and that told us what he thought it meant.”

That was an excellent object lesson, that I could never have made up on my own. Even more importantly, though, the guy who had designed that document, who had been looking sheepish through all the ribbing over it, was nodding right along to my point. He got it, and that was awesome.

The Big Ugly Lecture
Dad told me not to do lectures — to focus on mini-lectures instead — and Gail said I’d done really well in the first week to focus on stories because students really connect to stories (and that’s great news, because I’m naturally a storyteller).

But in today’s class I needed to do an infodump. I needed to deliver certain rules, certain information, for them to use in all future classes. So after we’d finished our discussion of the class activity (which, I think, they really enjoyed), I stepped away from the lectern, turned to my notes, and told them how to format documents.

It was twenty minutes long, and I used their tutorial from last week for examples of every point I had to make. Apart from that one example harking back to their activity, though, I lost them for the lecture. They zoned out, and I could see it happen. I didn’t get panicky or anything — and I certainly didn’t get offended or deeply disappointed — but it was a little sad to see that happen when I’d spent so much of the last two class periods engaging them.

Still, lesson learned. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll address it in the future, but at the very worst, it was just a lecture. The sort of boring lecture every one of them has been through hundreds of times, in dozens of other classes. That’s not something I’m going to beat myself up over.

Names
I ended the lecture at 2:12, and started to dismiss them before I realized I hadn’t returned their marked-up assignments from last week. Then I said, “Look, I’m terrible with names. I’ve tried to learn all of yours, but just in case, I’m going to call them out as I hand out your letters.” And I did, and they dutifully raised their hands, but I realized pretty quickly I needn’t have done that. I knew them all. That’s something I’d been worried about, and I managed to get them all down with about ten minutes’ effort today, using their student ID photos and the Introduction Letters they’d turned in as their assignments last week.

So that was a positive experience. Really, the whole class was. Another great week. And, not only that, but a source of real confidence. Because now I know last week’s success wasn’t because of the material, or because of the activity, but because of the method. I repeated the same method to design my class this week, and it went pretty much the same way. That’s good news for future efforts.

Awesome. Awesome.

More next week.