Friday, July 20, 2007

Do I think I have the authority to instruct anyone about writing? Apparently, yes.

I feel the urge to write an article, but can't decide on the topic. I do have some topics, but none of them interests me enough at the moment. These include:
1) A review of the album The Good, The Bad & The Queen (which is my favourite piece of music at the moment, in fact I'm listening to it currently).
2) Something about computers, so I can brag about my shiny, new, very cool laptop.
3) Running (my favourite brand of sport).
4) Cycling (my other favourite brand of sport).
5) Housekeeping (to stay true to my chosen topic). Yawn.
6) A rant about the immense stupidity of coworkers is always nice.
7) Sex keeps on selling, but I hesitate to write about that, because I'm afraid friends and aqcuiantances will find this blog someday. And that might be awkward.

I will tackle all of these topics in time (with the exception of sex, unless explicitly requested by a huge mass of readers) but maybe I'll just muse on aimlessly tonight. Yeah, that should keep the reader(s) uninterested.

I remember a Finnish lesson from preliminary school. We were supposed to write essays, and I think that somebody complained that he/she can't think of anything to write about. So the teacher told us to write about small things. She told us not to embrace too large topics at once. Instead of trying to summarize the history, present and the future of mankind in your essay, take one moment in time, one city, one house and one brick in the facade of the house. Start writing about the brick. I think I wrote about my pencil. The essay became lengthy, and might I say, great. I wish I had it somewhere. Anyway, the lesson stuck in my mind. I think it was a great idea, and still is, and it might have been the most significant thing I learned in preliminary school. Well, besides the obvious stuff, like reading, writing, mathematics and manners. Oh wait, manners I didn't learn. F**k.

Scott Adams recently told us how to write funny in his blog. I think his writing is funny, but a bit too impertinent at times. But anyway, I couldn't agree more about one thing he said: write simple sentences. That works.

I have an ambition: I want to include as many different words as possible in the posts of this blog. I consciously try to use a broad vocabulary. I just wonder how many words there are in English, and how many of them I have used so far. Well, a bit of Googling suggests that English has about two hundred thousands words. Rats. I have a lot to write about left. How egregious.

So, it seems that this post is about writing. I've listed some (ok, all) of the principles I have about writing. There you have it: about small things, simply put, but with lots of fancy words. And apparently (ha! got to use that word), I seem to be able to write about nearly anything for a length. At least I'd like to think I can. If that's a requirement to be a professional writer, I'm nearly there. But probably they will require it to be interesting too. Damn!

Oh, and one more thing. When writing blog posts, I like to write the main text first, then add a witty opening paragraph and then think of the title. Must make up the title now.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sea, sex, sun and IT support

I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks now. It's been strange not to work but luckily I've been able to do some computer maintenance for relatives to reduce the withdrawal symptoms.

Here's an example of a sweet, relaxing session of tinkering in the general field of my chosen profession. The purpose of it was to find out why my mother-in-law can't access her email. I already updated her computer earlier. It's old and has a slow modem connection, so doing anything of significance, like starting the computer or opening nearly any modern web page (except Google) takes forever (or at least several minutes).

Mother-in-law: Could you check what's wrong with my email? I tried to go there but when I gave the password it didn't work and then it froze somehow and I couldn't do anything so I had to pull the plug. We can try it now again, you do have time do you? I'll just start this thing. It all went okay when I opened the Internet but then I gave the password and the email didn't work and... (she's talkative)

Me: Sure, let's see...

(She keeps on explaining the problem, very verbose, while the computer starts up.)

Mother-in-law: ... and what is that window anyhow? What should I do about it? Now let's go to the Internet...

Me: That's the virus protection program updating itself. You don't have to do anything.

Mother-in-law: ... so when I enter the password here, I still have the default password, I should probably have changed it, there's no email anywhere...

(I look at the operator's portal page, never seen it before, I can't see a link to email anywhere either.)

Mother-in-law: ... here, you can sit here and check this out, could be something with the operator's connections or something...

(Mother-in-law wanders off. All the while my kid plays at my feet and wants to sit in my lap and bang the keyboard every now and then. I try to find out how to access the operator's webmail. There's a link to "email" but when it's clicked, you're redirected to a fancy web 2.0 application that doesn't seem to have a link to any email application whatsoever. Also it is excruciatingly slow to load with a modem connection. I try the same thing with a different browser, but no donut. I install a plugin the first browser keeps on complaining about. Then Windows Update wants to restart the computer so I let it. I play with the kid for ten minutes while the computer restarts.)

Mother-in-law: Did you find the problem? Oh, you're not done yet...

(The kid pushes reset button on the front panel of the computer so it restarts again. We continue playing.)

Wife: Are you done? Why don't you stop playing with the computer?

Me: No, I'm not done, this takes a while because it's very slow to do load web pages with this...

Wife: Ok, ok, I didn't ask for your life story.

(Mother-in-law and wife wander off. I try reading the operator's manuals and faqs to find how to access the webmail application. No help. I get irritated enough to want to call their helpdesk, but can't find a phone number anywhere. Instead they have a web application that supposed to diagnose Internet connection problems. Also the operator has notoriously bad telephone support service, so I doubt that I could be able to get through anyway.)

Father-in-law: Hey, could you find some motorcycles for me in the Internet? (He's totally Internet illiterate and wants me to search for classified ads for a vintage motorcycle.)

Me: Uh, I'm kind of in the middle of something...

Father-in-law: Sure, do that thing first.

(Father-in-law wanders off. Mother-in-law returns to check again if I'm done. The kid wants to sit in my lap again and bang the keyboard some more. Wife walks by and frowns at me. I check some user forums to see if other people have problems with the operator's webmail. My mother calls me and gives me a list of things to get from the grocery store for her. The firewall program announces that it has updated itself and the computer must be restarted. I let it and wait for ten minutes again. Hey, I'm not in a hurry, I'm on vacation.)

Wife: Could you stop doing that and help me with packing? (We're going to my parents' house.)

Me: I can't right now, I have to do this now, there's no time later.

(I find some forum threads where people complain about the operator and it's webmail being constantly down. It seems possible, that the operator has disabled access to the webmail application. I try to read the threads but the Internet connection is disconnected. I re-connect.)

Wife: Stop doing that computer stuff now, will you?

Me: OK!

(I've gotten a bit annoyed here. I go to the couch and start reading the paper. My wife turns off the computer.)

Mother-in-law: What was wrong with email? Is it working now?

Wife: Yeah, what was wrong with that?

Me: No, it's not working! I don't know! You told me to stop fixing it so I did!

(I read the paper, angrily, for a few minutes.)

Wife: Could you look at the email problem? I can restart the computer for you. There's no reason to be angry, you can do what you want, it's vacation after all...

(I go back to the computer, wait for it to start up again and try to read the forums again. It seems that there are other people who haven't been able to access their, email accounts recently and the portal has been lately changed.)

Me: It seems that the webmail is down for the moment, so we'll just have to wait and call the operator later, if it doesn't start working. (It's frustrating to leave this unfinished but what can I do.)

Mother-in-law: Ok, well, I don't use email much anyway so it doesn't really matter.

(The end.)

Sigh. It was nice but still not quite like work. It would have been nice to have some project managers presenting contradicting requirements in a shouting fashion and possibly blaring some kinds of air horns behind my back while poking me with sharp wooden sticks to get that workly feeling. At least it 's only a couple of days and I can stop drinking these margaritas under the palm tree, get up from this hammock and get back to work. Ahhh...