Paper vs. Digital: a personal perspective.

Books in: R.A. Salvatore signed!Someone asked about whether people preferred reading paper books or digital on Twitter, and I responded ‘paper’ with a brief and slightly inaccurate explanation.

So I’ll be less brief here and more accurate.

This is, of course, my experience – and my opinion.

When it comes to what I read, I rarely read novels these days – novels smaller than the ones in the picture (picture less than 500 pages) are sort of like snacks for me. Louis L’amour novels are typically done in a matter of hours.

When I read these days, it tends to be on different specialized topics – my father would complain I read only textbooks when I contributed to our library when I was in secondary school. It got worse since then.

What happens with all that reading is that I end up with references – sometimes I’ll poke back to a book and find something I’m not sure about, or look for a quote, or try to align ideas from other books. To do this, over the years, I’ve used my memory of the books themselves – shape, size, even smell, weight… I remember the books like objects.

Here I am, someone who has worked with data for decades, and I can tell you that the digital formats are also objects. They are not dynamic, like software (well, some are these days), so the way I remember things with digital revolves around how something works – not how something sits there and does nothing.

What I have found is that with digital books, I cannot reference as easily. Maybe it’s a problem I have, maybe not, but it’s simply that way for me. I can look at a bookshelf, though, and find a specific book and drill down to what I was looking for faster than I can search a digital text.

I know there are tools for digital text. I’ve tried them. I’ve used them. I’ve Grepped like a maniac. But in the end, I may not remember the exact words I’m looking for… but I can remember page numbers, the weight of the pages on either side of something I noticed. I can find what I need in the books I’ve read, no matter how old.

Maybe the indexing system of my mind is antiquated, a holdover from the times before the Internet. It is, however, what I have, and what I use.

Paper wins.

Linux Journal Ends.

existenceWhen I got the news that Linux Journal has ceased publication, I had to take a moment. I’d been published through them a few times in the early naughts, had worked for the parent company at LinuxGazette.com and A42.com, had met some of the coworkers over the distances and had hung out at Phil Hughes, the former publisher, in Estelli where I broke his carafe and had to get a new one… before I could speak Spanish well enough to know that carafe in Spanish is carafe.

2005 was a pretty good year for me, transformative in many ways. It was great to work with so many people rowing in the same direction; that I went off in my own direction again as I have done over the years speaks more to my own life. SSC is good people, and were the right team for a time for me.

It wasn’t that I expected Linux Journal to last forever. I’d visit the site now and again, but my own path had lead me into Drupal, back into C++, back into VB, into corporate .Net – or better, ugly stabs at using .Net for things that Linux would have been better at. Bills are bills. The down-turned economy (thank you, banks) had me doing things I didn’t like doing, where work was work to do.

I know people that I knew there had since moved on. My Costa Rican connection had gone on to Wisconsin, my Panamanian friends are half in Florida and half in parts unknown, last making biodiesel. It’s easy to wax nostalgic about there and then.

That’s the trouble with the digital age. Things change faster, and we have to change faster than them to stay afloat – and I know that LJ was trying to do just that while I was there (some of the stuff I worked on and advised the publisher on) just as we all do in our lives. And sometimes entropy catches up with us.

But there’s a glimmer of hope in there. Maybe they’ll find a way. It’s hard to say what will happen, but you don’t announce your own demise lightly.

Either way, it is the end of an era. It’s also the beginning of a new one, whatever it may be. That’s just writing and publishing in a digital age.

Introspection (Writing)

ThoughtReviewing the statistics between KnowProSE.com and RealityFragments.com has been a bit revealing – empirically.

Between the two sites, I’ve done about 300 posts in the last year.

KnowProSE.com has 27 followers and 50 likes (WordPress) with roughly 5,000 views, averaging 2.5 visitors a day with 100 posts over a year.

RealityFragments.com, on the other hand, has 89 followers and 750 likes (WordPress) with roughly 2,000 views, averaging 1.4 visitors a day with 200 posts over a year.

I did not make goals on these sites – I simply allowed myself to post as I wished to, when I wished to, as often as I wished to so that I could see what happened – because, despite what your goal oriented classes have told you, the best thing to do sometimes is to see what happens. That some more technology related writing has gone to TechNewsTT.com isn’t really worth factoring in – my contributions there, while appreciated, aren’t numerous enough to affect things.

My non-technology writing gets more interest than my technology writing – we could argue that I posted less tech, but there are some other factors: KnowProSE.com has been my domain for over 10 years, whereas RealityFragments is only a year old (and doesn’t suffer the history OpenDepth once did, which was messing with statistics).

So what does it mean? Nothing, really. But it’s interesting to look at. It’s a datapoint.

So Many Pies.

pies-9People tend to categorize things by how many ‘hats’ one wears, or how many fingers you have in pies.

In a world of specialization, I have specialized in not being a specialist – which, unfortunately, confuses people. Asked recently what I do for a living, I was caught off guard. Should I speak of having made a living from Software Engineering? Should I go with writing? What about land management? Real estate? Connecting people who need to be connected outside of the cultural ruts that exist in Trinidad and Tobago? Agriculture? Photography? Even recently, someone got stuck on the fact that I had been in the military even though my service and reserve service ended around 2006 (I think).

So my response was, “I think for a living.” That’s consistent, but it brought more confusion. I wonder how other polymaths deal with this?

It wasn’t a solid answer to the person asking, and I was revisited again by the demons of a society that defines you by where you were born (doesn’t work for me), by where you live (pick a place, I may have been there), by what you do for a living (see above), who you’re related to, what ‘race‘ you are, what religion you are, etc.

I don’t fall into categories as much as people attempt to shove me into them. I suppose part of the problem is that I gave up on categories somewhere in my 20s. It started before then, because even then I didn’t really fit – but I was not yet tired of being uncomfortable in my explanations.

All of this came to mind as I renewed this domain, where I’m uncertain where to write what. My technically related writing with a more local (Trinidad and Tobago) twist ends up on TechNewsTT.com. My more personal writing goes on RealityFragments.com.

And I suppose now, everything else goes here – as I have done historically, as you might see had there not been losses of data over the decades of my owning this domain name.

A strange world you live in.

Writing and Tech Documentation.

cubiclecreativity

The tough part about good documentation is that everything has to make sense. All the stuff has to ‘line up’ along the user stories for the use of the documentation.

There’s the high level story and the lower level stories that make the high level story work – and those same low level stories can have multiple dimensions of their own if written conscientiously with modern tools.

Documentation is usually dry and boring. Dry and boring is great reading for those who read the DOS manuals and Unix manuals end to end (I did), and you can amaze other people with how much you can’t be understood when you talk. That’s where the social engineering aspects of documentation come into play. Or, as writers would call it, writing. The documentation has to be sticky in the marketing sense, such that when someone reads it, they remember it. For the software engineering side – the technical side – less so. On the user side, it has to be… usable.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to our capacity to organize documentation online1. The actual writing, though, has to lean toward a SEO type of writing – repeating key phrases and using possible words and phrases that a user might search for. This requires understanding how a product is expected to be used as well as how it might be used. The latter is not as important for the planned use, but is important for disruptive use cases that might pop up on the radar and allow a business to leverage quickly.

Simply put, good technical writing allows for what is planned, and enables potential uses1.

1 Something I’ll be writing about some more this week.

Should You Do What You Love?

That is all he has to say about that...So I was thinking of the possible dread irony of living most of our finite lives doing what we love, and then I realized it’s not an irony. Whether we’re happy with our time on Earth is appropriate, and ‘wasting’ time on it is not a life wastedThe irony is that I even thought it was irony. It’s what we should be doing.

 
I mean… the alternative is to die having not loved what you do.
 
How’s that better?