Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why being a bloody idiot doesn't hurt Guy Sebastian

Sorry Guy, you can't please everyone...

Some Catholic friends of mine recently complained that the 2003 Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian, will be singing his theme song 'Receive the Power' at the World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.

Their complaints focused on two things that they thought were quite unCatholic about this famous Assembly of God church member. Apparantly, he made some favorable comments about the homosexual lifestyle in a news report last year (so he's a poor role model for Christians), and the other was that even though he is a Christian, he's not Catholic, so this should be enough to disqualify him from participating in the Catholic-run World Youth Day.

Someone asked in exasperation, why are we "having some bloody 'Christian' idiot singing at a Catholic do."

So being suitably irritated by their pointless whinging, here are the TOP 10 Reasons why we are "having some bloody 'Christian' idiot singing at a Catholic do"...

10. Because Catholics can't sing.
9. Because Catholics don't have a 'personality'.
8. Because Catholic 'personalities' have really bad hair dos.
7. Because Guy Sebastian can supply his own band.
6. Because Guy Sebastian's band members can play without needing sheet music.
5. Because Catholic musicians don't know how to tune their guitars.
4. Because the organizers will get a cut of Guy Sebastian's CD sales.
3. Because nobody will buy CDs from a Catholic singer.
2. Because Traditional Catholic hands are too exhausted to hold a microphone from all that hand-wringing.

And the number one reason why we are "having some bloody 'Christian' idiot singing at a Catholic do"...

1. Because all the Catholic idiots were busy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mantras for the Improviser – Part I

How do I get out of this one?

Nick Byrne of ACT Impro Theatre has given his students of the Stage 1 Workshop a list of mantras and jargon terms for improvisers that will I put here for easy reference.

It's best to think of these mantras as though you're standing on stage and you have to respond to whatever is going on around you - and you have no idea what's coming next.

It's one thing to think you understand these mantras when you read them, but it's quite another to remember to practice them while in the middle of performing. The only way to really appreciate these mantras is to practice them over and over again with other improvisers.

I'm currently doing the Stage 2 workshop and no matter how complex the games and scenes are getting, I seem to be OK if I stay focused on the moment, with these rules blaring in the back of my mind.

Ask me, I’ll say “Yes”! I accept what you’re saying. I love what you’re doing. I yield to your wishes. Ask me, I’ll say “Yes”!

What is it you need? I’m ready and listening and I’m coming to save you. What is it you need? I look good when you look good. What is it you need?

I might say it. I do do it! I act first and ask questions later. I do do it!

I have something to offer. All offers are good. My first thought is my best offer. Here it is, now!

It's hard to beat that advice. This open and fast attitude is helpful too for comedy writing. You have to kill that left-brain critical editor and give your ideas a chance to live...

Monday, May 14, 2007

The right material for the right moment

Are your readers lost?

One of things I do at the fine-software-company-I-work-for is create documentation for other staff so that they know what it is they're trying to sell or support.

A couple of other writers on my team also create training materials: training manuals and online video (we use Techsmith's Camtasia, a great little product for creating videos of screen shots.)

It has become apparant to me that over time, we've placed this material in different places (database, ftp directories, intranet directories) to serve immediate demands, but now you have to know where to go to find this material.

One idea I picked up from John Catlin of TACTICS Consulting, who presented at AODC 2007, was to arrange an entry point to all of this information from the 'moment of learner need':

  • Doing something for the first time
  • When wanting to learn more
  • When trying to remember
  • When things change
  • When something goes wrong

How this could be applied to the material we create could look something like this:

  • Doing something for the first time
    - Video of existing functions
    - Training manuals
  • When wanting to learn more
    - Help files
    - Podcasts
  • When trying to remember
    - Quick help cards
  • When things change
    - Video of new functions
    - Release notes
    - Big fixes
  • When something goes wrong
    - Wiki knowledge base
    - Specifications & limitations
    - Community forum

Where this information might be located behind the above 'portal page' doesn't really matter, but it would make life easier if all these different files and formats were stored in a central database, like a document management system and the portal page served as an entry point to this information.

But either way, I appreciated seeing what I produce from a 'higher' perspective and not merely discrete projects that have their own files.

People need to access the right kind of information at the right time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Melbourne the magnificent

Melbourne has a definite creative 'buzz'

I enjoyed a great week in Melbourne last week, attending the annual Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference (AODC) run by Tony Self of Hyperwrite, followed up by the Business Mastery Secrets event run by Marc Dussault of Jay Abraham Asia Pacific.

I stayed at the wonderful Rendevous Hotel in Flinders street and then stayed on for a couple of days at my sister's place in Fitzroy. Melbourne is such an incredible, friendly city. I always have an awesome time when I go there.

One of the reasons why I wanted to attend AODC this year is because I wanted to see how Microsoft have changed the way they present online help in Windows Vista, and how that will affect me as a help author.

Microsoft have gone from one extreme to the other. For years they followed a minimalist model, presenting what they hoped was JUST the minimum information a user required to get the job done.

(Side note: What's the number one thing users want when they go into help? To get out!)

The problem however has been that they often didn't give enough information.

Now in Vista, they have reams and reams of text that people will need to wade through.


Even though the Vista help is well written, I know from personal usability testing that if people don't see something that immediately answers their question, then they will close the Help and ask someone else.

I believe the help model we're using at the fine-software-company I work for in Canberra is the better way. We give people an outline of what they might like to see (context-sensitive), then using DHTML, we display the more detailed information when a user clicks on it. That way, users are not put-off by reams and reams of text when they first open help, but they can quickly see what's relevant to them and BAM! the information they want is there.

At the Business Mastery Secrets event I met lots of people and was impressed by the caliber of the presenters and attendees.

Of the presenters, Ed Dale convinced me to finally pursue my long-held desire to apply my writing skills to a specific online project, so I will be pursuing that and many other web site projects as the year progresses.

Of the attendees, I was pleased to meet Leela Cosgrove, a fellow-writer who has applied the marketing principles of Jay Abraham to her career as a writer with great success. This opened my eyes to the possibility of broadening my horizons as a writer. Thanks for the inspiration Leela!

I'll do follow-up posts about how I've applied the various lessons I learned from those conferences. There's plenty to do...