Thursday, October 30, 2014

Which Superhero Are You?

There are many different types of personalities in the workplace - heroes and villains, alike. I'll let you decide which one is which.

The Flash
This person gets their work done very quickly. Once the task landed on their desk, the turn-around time to completion is lightning fast - and The Flash is ever-proud that the work is always delivered before the deadline. That's not to say that the quality of the work is always good. Attention to detail is usually the main casualty, as is consistency. But the sooner the task gets checked off the list, the better.

The Enforcer
The Enforcer knows every single company policy, by-law, and industry standard. If a colleague tries to bend the rules, The Enforcer is there to make sure that the law is obeyed. Dotted "i"s and crossed "t"s are more important than meeting deadlines. Sometimes innovation, flexibility, and timeliness are sacrificed, but to The Enforcer, doing it right takes precedence over all.

Superman
This person (thinks they) can do everything. Superman will volunteer for all sorts of assignments, no matter how far the subject matter is from their field of expertise. Superman will always get results, but will sometimes cause a lot of destruction along the way. Superman doesn't mind, though, because they are bullet-proof and admonishment bounces off their chest, onto the floor. Superman's kryptonite is the self-inflicted massive workload, which somehow always gets done in the end.

The Joker
This person is quick-witted and is fun to have around. Always livening up meetings and social gatherings, The Joker is ever-ready with a funny anecdote or entertaining gag. However, The Joker can be irritating, especially when the jokes fall flat or when meetings are extended unnecessarily to accommodate yet another story. The Joker can come across as being unprofessional, but usually takes work seriously, as long as there isn't an audience around.

Captain Focus
Captain Focus has an uncanny ability to maintain an intense focus on their work. Neither working too slow or too fast, Captain Focus is hell-bent on getting the job done properly. Captain Focus doesn't have time for chit-chat, long lunches, or camaraderie. Witty repartee is annoying and deviation from meeting agendas is likely to bring on epileptic fits. Captain  Focus is professional to the umpteenth degree, just don't try to talk to him between, say, the beginning and the end of the day.

The Anti-Googler
This person spends a large portion of their day asking other people questions. Instead of typing a search term into Google, The Anti-Googler will shout out questions across the room, call you, text you, message you, email you, or (worst of all) hang out by your desk. The Anti-Googler makes sure you know your stuff. They cause discussions to break out like small brush fires, which both disturb your schedule and engage you in professional discussions with your colleagues.

Soldier
This person follows orders to the letter. Soldier is loyal and is willing to do the grunt work if that's what it takes to finish the task. For Soldier, the mission is everything - get the job done, on time and to the highest standard. Soldier isn't afraid of working hard. In fact, Soldier isn't afraid of anything and is unfazed by new challenges or changes in the work environment. Soldier often does not see the big picture and can be single-minded. Soldier has the deepest respect for the chain of command, but can also be a good leader, if necessary.

Ego Man
This person has a very high regard for themselves. They are confident, self-assured, and often very intelligent. Ego Man's high self esteem makes him a good negotiator and debater, and not such a great team player. Ego Man is ambitious, but can get bored easily. Ego Man is motivated with public praise, rewards, and promotions.

So, which superhero are you?

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Aussie Phrases You Should Never Use at Work

I love Aussie slang. It can be colorful and evocative, and it reminds me of where I grew up. We once had a handyman who inserted "strewth" and "bloody oath" into every sentence. I betcha he went down the pub to shout his mates, or invite them back to watch the footy and rip into a six-pack.

A rudimentary Google search will find any number of web sites listing Aussie slang. On most of those sites you'll find multitudes of Aussie phrases inappropriate for the workplace. I'll refrain from mentioning any here.

However, there are some seemingly innocuous Aussie phrases that you should avoid using because they can erode your colleagues' confidence in your abilities.

No worries
A favorite phrase of mine, "no worries" is ingrained deep into my DNA. When talking with other Australians, I'll add "mate" to the end.

The problem with "no worries" at work is that, by using the word "worries" you suggest that there could be worries. Why would you want to implant doubt that you can get the job done?

"No worries", and its cousin "no problem", mean "I'm on it" or "I'll take care of it" or "leave it to me". Why not use one of those synonyms, instead?

Of course, "no worries" could also mean "you're welcome", probably said after the work was done. In this case, you can get away with slipping this phrase in once in a while, but don't overdo it.

She'll be right
Australians love to ascribe the personal pronoun "she" to objects ("she's a great car"). In fact, anything can be a "she" ("she's gonna be a ripper wedding" or ”she'll be right, mate".)

Following "she'll be right" with "mate" just seems more complete. Sometimes I prefer the longer, but more musical, "she'll be right on the night."

When your boss asks you if you're on track to completing the report on time, don't say "she'll be right". It doesn't instill any confidence that you can get the job done.

When I think of "she'll be right" I imagine the speaker giving the listener a firm, but friendly pat on the shoulder as he walks away, leaving the listener wondering if everything will really be alright.

Walkabout
"He's gone walkabout" means that the person in question has gone on a long trip for an indeterminate period of time (typically in the outback and on foot), or that he has gotten lost.

Imagine that your colleague has taken an extended bathroom break (i.e. he's bludging) and that the boss is looking for him. Saying that "Bob has gone walkabout" might get him into trouble.

If your boss asks you for the TPS Reports (and you can't find them) don't tell him that they've gone walkabout. It shows that you are disorganized. Instead, tell him he'll have them soon - and then find them!

But if you really don't care, you could always say, "They've gone walkabout. But, no worries, she'll be right, mate."

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Getting the Chop

Yesterday, I picked up the classic children's book, Charlotte's Web. The preface to the 60th anniversary edition preaches that if you want to know how to write, you must first read this book. I have read Charlotte's Web a few times, but there it was in my hands, yet again. I flipped to the opening sentence, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" The editor in me awoke. Surely it is spelled "axe"? I'm certain that E.B. White, an accomplished writer and co-author of the famous "Elements of Style" knew how to spell such a simple word. Perhaps it was a printing error. I gave the missing "e" no further thought.

It’s one of those words that I don’t see written that often, but in the last few days, no matter where I look, there is always someone coming at me with an axe, or an ax. This morning I read a list of 17 reasons not to become a Technical Writer. I shall save any criticism of that particular post for others, but suffice it to say that item 15 includes the word "axe". There it was again. This time with the "e" perfectly intact.

As I was pondering "ax" vs. "axe", today’s Dilbert popped into my Inbox. The cartoonist is an American, so I would have expected to see “ax”. But Scott Adams must have insisted on "axe", because there is the "e" in all its glory.
"Dilbert" 28 September 2014
As I write this blog post, Blogger persists to insert a red, squiggly line under every instance of the word "axe". However, The Grammarist says that "axe" and "ax" are indeed different spellings of the same word. Apparently, "ax" is a newer spelling in American English. Although both are still used, "ax" is more popular in the US than "axe". 

In my work as a Technical Writer, the word "ax" or "axe" hasn't yet come up. But because we write in American English, I assume that we would follow E.B White's lead and leave off the "e". Having grown up in Australia, I naturally prefer “axe” because “ax” looks like someone lopped off the “e” with a steel blade attached at right-angles to a wooden handle.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Camping Trip August 2014

We just came back from a camping trip. There's nothing that brings a family closer than conquering the beast of nature together. We barbecued. We pitched tents. We sang songs around the campfire. Camping takes effort, planning, the ability to improvise, and the wherewithal to live without a shower for a couple of days (not easy in the heat!) - but it is worthwhile.

Before our last camping trip, my wife had t-shirts made for each of us. The back of the t-shirt says "We love to tour in the Land of Israel" (it rhymes in Hebrew). It's a fun way to create some family unity.

Israel is small, compared to almost everywhere else, but there are still thousands of kilometers of highways, endless winding country roads, and hundreds of nature reserves and historical attractions. If you have a car, an "Israel Nature and Parks Authority" card, and the Internet, you can find free and cheap places to see, and plenty of fun things to do.

We spent this camping trip based around Nachal Alexander, located approximately half way between Netanya to the south and Caesaria to the north. We visited a Crusader fortress called "Appolonia", located right outside the beautiful up-market suburb of Herzliah Pituach, and we took a free tour of the Orot Rabin Israel Electric Company plant in Hadera. We picnicked at Park Hadera, and then took a short walk to the beach.

Camping is a cheap way to see the country and spend some time with the family. Just don't forget the sunscreen, hats, maps, and lots, and lots, and lots of water. Oh, and bring bucket-loads of energy, you'll need it!


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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Windows XP Closes Up Shop...Or Does It?

Windows XP is on it's way out. As April 8 2014 looms closer, the lights are slowly being turned off, and the shutters drawn.

I remember when I first upgraded from Windows 2000 to XP. The cartoonish, Fisher-Price-like interface made me cringe. But I didn't want to use the "Classic" view because then I'd be seen as old-fashioned. So I got used to the big, bright buttons, which, over the many, many years, have become warmly familiar. But all good things must come to an end...or must they?

If you think that 13 years is too old for an operating system, perhaps Microsoft should take a leaf out of Chevrolet's book. As they say, "Old Chevys never die, they just go faster!". Well, perhaps Microsoft and Chevy have something in common: I just noticed that my modern, touch-screen, in-car navigation system is running..wait for it...Windows CE, first released in 1996, now in it's 8th major iteration. That's 18 years, folks.

As hard as Microsoft is trying to kill it, it looks like Windows XP might stick around for a while longer. Recent articles around the web suggest that Windows XP will continue to be used by ATMs and other embedded computers. At work, I still operate an XP computer "on the side" to access legacy programs that my Windows 7 laptop can't run. At home, I can't decide whether to keep XP, switch to Linux Ubuntu, buy Windows 8, or replace the whole computer (which has been on its last legs for about two years). I suspect that indecision will mean I'll be running XP for a while longer (and may the Lord have mercy on my soul).

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Plan to Take Over the World

Is there anyone out there in the great, wide world who can answer this very important question: Why is it that manufacturers of garbage bags refuse to brand them? Unless I keep the garbage bag packaging (which, incidentally, is the first piece of garbage I put in the new bag) I can't remember which brand I like and which I don't, or which size I need.

Isn't it basic business sense to put your company name or product name in front of your customers as often as possible? Even  food can be shaped with the brand name, right there on product (like biscuits), yet
not one garbage bag company prints its name on their bags!

Are they embarrassed? Is it because in 1,000 years, when archaeologists excavate landfills to learn about our civilization, the garbage bag company doesn't want to be held responsible for a garbage bag induced ecological disaster?

There must be a reasonable answer to this question. If not, I'm going to start manufacturing garbage bags, put my name on them, and take over the world!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 Covert Conversational Games

Ever find that you need a challenge? Do you feel that ordinary games just don't cut the mustard? Would you like the entertainment to last a whole day? Well, I might just have what you're looking for.

Here are five challenging games you can play all day long, and nobody else needs to know you are playing them.

1. Song lyric conversations - choose a song for which you know all the words. Try to work every sentence or phrase from the song into conversations you have throughout the day. Double points for saying the lyrics in order. Triple points if nobody catches on. "What time is the party? Um, it's nine o'clock on a Saturday. I'm expecting the regular crowd to shuffle in a bit late." You get the picture.

2. Last letter first - when conversing with someone, make sure the first word you say begins with the last letter of the last word the other person said. This one makes you actually listen to the person talking.

3. Mispronounce me - choose a word that comes up often in your conversations and purposely mispronounce it, even after someone corrects you. Quadruple points if you don't laugh.

4. The multi-joke - find a short, funny joke and see how many individual people you can tell it to in one day. The trick here is that you can only tell it to one person at a time, and the joke has to be in the context of your conversation, such that it would be appropriate to say, "Hey,  that reminds me of a joke!" Some conversation engineering might be required.

5. No questions asked - this one is an old "theatre sports" favorite. During a conversation, avoid asking any sort of question. Phrase everything as a statement. This is more difficult than it seems.
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Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Radio Just Won't Die

Nobody sends telegrams anymore, snail-mail is reserved for wedding invitations, and analog television has seen its last day. But if video killed the radio star, then you can wrap me in plastic and call me Buggles.
Back in the day, families would sit around the wireless, listening to news broadcasts, soap operas, and the football. Radio stars were the royalty of the living room, bringing the great, wide world into every modern home.

To give you an idea of how sophisticated things were back then, cricket commentators (and I assume baseball commentators, too) would simulate the sound of ball on bat by holding a wooden block next to the microphone and tapping it with a stick.

Nowadays, instant replays from every angle, ball-cams, net-cams, helmet-cams, stump-cams, and up-to-the-second on-screen statistics on every aspect of the game render mere verbal commentary primitive, at best.

Back then, random music hissing out of the box in your lounge room was a miracle of modern technology. Today, an MP3 of your favorite tunes is merely a click away. You can access your songs when you want, as often as you want, and wherever you want.

Taking all of this into account, you could be forgiven for concluding that the demise of radio as a popular media should have occurred sometime in the late 20th Century. The BBC did.
Forty-five years ago...Senior management predicted that the BBC might choose to cut its radio networks from three to two, so that television could expand to fill radio’s place. It turned out to be a poor piece of forecasting.
According to www.rajar.co.uk (Radio Joint Audience Research), 91% of adults in the UK listened to the radio sometime during the last quarter of 2013. Pew Research reports that in the US, a full 93% of the population still listen to traditional AM/FM radio. The European Broadcasting Union says:
There are over nine thousand radio stations in the fifteen Member States. More than 210 million Europeans listen to radio each day and we do so for more than three hours on average. In five countries, principally in Northern Europe, people still spend more time listening to radio than they do watching television and almost everywhere, the balance between viewing and listening is fairly equal.
The demise of the radio has been predicted over and over again. In 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article entitled "RIP Radio?" where podcasting was tipped to completely replace traditional radio.

Internet Radio Adaptor CVT i2001
Wrong. No car today is sold without a radio. MP3 players, mobile phones, and even digital televisions come with radio functionality. Seemingly against all odds, radio is adapting well to the new age. Studies have shown that digital radio stations in the UK and US are gathering audiences at steadily climbing rates. So why does a technology invented in 1820 - one that has outlasted kings, empires, world wars, vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, and Tom Jones (almost) - continue to thrive?

A piece on dollywagon.com says that it's all about people searching for companionship and a sense of community:
...people explicitly switch on the radio for ‘company’. Listeners often say it feels like a DJ is in the same room or car with them, and that can feel nice.
However, even when the DJ isn’t speaking listeners feel aware that other people they know are experiencing the same thing, at the same point in time, as they are.
Okay, I get that. But I think that the real reason for the uncanny survival of radio lies in our growing need for background noise, be it while driving, cooking, or folding laundry. The randomness of what we are going to hear is appealing, and listening to the radio only requires part of your attention.

Ever-adaptive, resilient radio will be with us for as long as it provides variety, is easily accessible, and (most importantly) remains free.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why Drones Were Invented

High above a mountainous desert pass, a predator drone silently stalks its prey from the safety of the clouds, waiting for the signal to unleash its payload

Somewhere in Texas, a Ranger launches a drone from the local high-school football field. It whirrs upwards, heading for preset coordinates to keep an eye on nefarious activity in the bad part of town.

It's 3pm on a Tuesday. Jimmy dumps his backpack in a corner near the door and heads for his room. He reaches under the bed and pulls out the quadracopter he got for his birthday. He sets it flying out the window and mercilessly buzzes his sister while she tries to play dolls on the porch with her friend .

In a nondescript building at the edge of a prestigious university campus is an electronics lab. The supervising professor carefully monitors an array of screens while his PhD student, wired to a powerful laptop by an assortment of colorful cables, controls a drone with his thoughts.

In a meeting room in the headquarters of a major online retail/technology company a programmer, logistics expert and a business mogul cover a whiteboard with crooked arrows, badly drawn squares, and semi-legible writing. They are close to perfecting a system for automatic drone deliveries.

At exactly midday on a frozen lake in Wisconsin, Dave reaches into a container. To his horror, he discovers that he and his buddy, Jake, have already finished the six-pack of beer. Jake is unconcerned as he uses his smart-phone to log-in to Lakemaid. He sends his GPS coordinates and waits for an octacopter to make its way over the ice with six fresh bottles of his favorite beer...At least, that's what would have happened had the FAA not nixed the only real reason for ever having invented the drone.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Writer's Dilemma

I have great respect for anyone who publishes a novel. Dedicating the massive amount of time and energy required to bringing an original work to completion is almost enough to win my envy.

Or scorn. It's true that writing a book is an impressive accomplishment, but don't waste my time. Novels built on the weak foundations of overused, formulaic writing serve no purpose. A book like that adds no more to the knowledge of the universe,  or the entertainment of humankind,  than does an instruction manual for a chocolate kettle. (Actually, that might be a fun read.)

The problem, though, is that novels and stories have been around since, approximately,  the beginning of time. It's difficult to come up with something new. The human race has heard it all before. We are savvy story-listeners. And we are clever.

Whether we realize it or not, people are excellent at predicting outcomes. Some of us are better at it than others, but we can often spot a punchline a mile away.

Herein lies the writer's dilemma: the writer has to be smarter than the readers. It's like a magic trick; pulling a rabbit out of your hat is no longer enough. To impress, the tricks need to constantly get bigger and better.

Why am I in awe of excellent writing? An author who has overcome the writer's dilemma has staved off a future devoid of original content, for one more day.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

3 Ways to Avoid Being the Prey

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines - the one true motivator to get work done. The problem with deadlines is that even if the promised delivery date falls within the deadline, the Requestor still sweats until the job is done by the person actually doing the work. This leads to the inevitable visits to the worker's office for constant (and unnecessary) progress updates.

Last week I was asked to edit a PowerPoint presentation. The requested deadline was "by the end of the week". I agreed to the deadline, but I had a full schedule, so I only planned to deliver it by lunch on Thursday (the last day of my work-week). I knew it was a one or two-hour task, so I wasn't worried about delivering it on time. I suffered through the constant visits and reminders from the Requestor, but I stood my ground and stuck to my schedule – after all, he wasn't the only one to whom I had promised work.

I am reading a fascinating book by Nir Eyal called "Hooked", about how companies build habit-forming products. While on the way to work that Thursday morning, I read a section of the book about "rewards". When I sent the Requestor the edited PowerPoint that morning, I added a little note, which I based on a part of that chapter:
There is a tribe in Africa called San – one of the last tribes that still uses a hunting method that pre-dates spears. The San hunt kudu (it’s like a large deer) by separating one from its pack and then chasing it. The kudu is very fast, but it is also hairy. After about eight hours under the hot African sun, the kudu grows too hot and weary to keep running. The San hunter, who has been chasing the kudu all this time, catches up with it. Exhausted, the kudu collapses in surrender. The 100-pound San hunter pulls out a simple knife and kills the 500-pound beast with little resistance. This is called “persistence hunting”.
There is no need to ask me every day about my progress with this PPT. I promised you that I would deliver the PPT by the end of the week, and I did. Please don’t use the “persistence hunting” method with me :-)
The Requestor, amused by my anecdote – and impressed with (or frightened by) my knowledge of hunting methods – reacted positively. And herein lies the message - you can avoid being the prey if you have:
  1. Integrity: if you commit to a deadline, make sure to always deliver on time (emergencies notwithstanding).
  2. Strength: don't let Requestors push you around – just because they ask for work to be done, it doesn't give them the right to lord over your every waking hour.
  3. Humor: sometimes you can admonish someone and yet maintain good relations by injecting a little (but not too much) lightheartedness into your message.

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