Sometime in the Fall 0f 2008, I joined a group of folks I met through a Meetup at Mike’s place in Spring Hill to play 4th Edition D&D. This is a back-post of some photos I took from a couple of games in February 2009.
The original photos (and comments) are on Flickr.
I suppose I owe those who read this site something a bit more upbeat regarding last year than my previous post-2008 post. So I wanted to focus on one of the very positive things that happened to us last year.
My job at Bentley.
I had a good feeling about this position from early on, partly due to happening across the BE Communities site (as I posted earlier). I had joined before actually officially coming to work but due to a back-end issue, wasn’t able to start blogging for a couple of months afterwards.
And though blogging isn’t exactly my primary role as the tech writer for the structures group, I felt like this was a good way to apply some of my interests to my job. It also happens that I work for a company that has really embraced giving it’s employees a voice.
I think over the past couple of years, we’ve all read or heard of companies that have gone “transparent.” That is, they allow employees &emdash; often high-ranking or at least high-profile employees &emdash; to speak plain truths to the masses. They start blogs, create podcasts, guest on news programs, and so on. Those who do so with success are often the humble who are willing to admit being human. They seem unfiltered and honest. When they speak of success or make promises, they seem that much more believable. And there’s good evidence this strategy works in a market of cynics and skeptics, all connected to the giant megaphone that is the internets.
And I, for one, think this is a good thing.
Which is great now that I’m working for an employer that gives not only all of its employees an open account on the company’s site from which to blog, edit wikis, etc. but they also provide this for their users as well. Basically, it is total access to any and all employees1 from every level of the company: from the CEO (who does post at least as much as I do!) down to every new employee. It has quickly become a part of the company culture. Much to the credit of the Bentley brothers, they appear to fully believe in the benefit of this open community of employees and users. One area is the use of wikis for documentation purposes. Of course we’re still internally working out the mechanics of just how to make the best use of wikis for this. We have already put a lot of FAQs, TechNotes, tutorials, and user manuals in wiki format already, though.
In addition to producing some blog posts, wiki pages, and screencasts for work, I’ve of course been writing documentation for software. This, too, has been a fun learning experience. Of course I enjoy writing — you’re reading a blog, aren’t you? I’ve also learned that the technical writing industry is moving towards adopting a lot of the same changes that are happening in the world of Web 2.0. Namely, using symmantic, structured documents which can be re-styled and re-mixed for different document destinations (think: web-based help, user manual, installation guide, etc). I’ve also gotten the opportunity to be a part of this.
So, if it isn’t obvious, I’ve been enjoying this immensely. I’ve been given the opportunity to actually make use of my hobby-level interest in all things web. Some of the things I’ve learned in working on this site have directly helped me in my current job. It’s been a perfect combination for me of my professional background (structural engineering) and my interests in other areas of technology and the web.
Going forward, as I’m becoming more familiar with the technical writing community, I plan on posting some findings and thoughts here on my experiences. But before I get into that (and the inevitable rants and complaints that will come), I wanted to just say how wonderful it has been to find a job that ended up being a perfect fit for my interests.
Employees who wish to contribute, of course. Not all employees are as active for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is that they’re actually kind of busy). However, as you can see, there’s some good incentive to for them to do so. [↩]
Over the past year, I’ve gone from someone who consumed and dabbled in new media after hours (okay, and sometimes during work hours!) to one who helps to create it as part of my day job. It was a very exciting and affirming part of my decision to work at Bentley when they asked me to start help creating screencasts, blog posts, and online communities for the structural engineering community. This past year has been a very steep — yet rewarding — climb up the learning curve.
Paralleling that wonderful sense of that I’d made a good decision to go to Bentley, I also feel that the new media and geek community here in the Nashville area is even stronger than the one that was in Richmond (note: I also have more of a reason to be involved, now, so it’s part feedback loop). A couple of really exciting examples of this are BarCamp Nashville (in October) and PodCamp Nashville (in March). You can read more on unconferences elsewhere and I don’t mean to make these out to be some sort of pinnacle of geek/ new-media culture (they may royally suck here, for all I know as I haven’t been to one yet and have no comparison anyway). The point is that there is a desire to have these sorts of event and — far more importantly — the community that goes along with them here in Nashville. Socialization was something that Richmond had a very strong sense of; but it seems that Nashville has more socialization with a purpose, not just a end in and of itself.
So, I’m going to PodCamp this year. I’m not going to attempt to contribute any sessions myself as I still feel I’ve got more learning ahead of me that teaching (maybe next year?). But I’m so glad to support this sort of thing here and I feel that I need to at least contribute my participation as an attendee to encourage more of this. After all, it’s one thing to complain when nothing cool ever comes to insert your town name here but it is another to not bother to show up when something potentially cool does happen.
So, if you’re in the area on Saturday, March 7th and have an interest in new-media: podcasting, screencasting, blogging, etc., then please come to PodCamp Nashville. We’ll see what it is and if we think it can be better, we’ll make it better. That’s community.
This post is set to publish so the time stamp (in Unix time format, which is seconds past since the Unix time epoch… bla, bla, bla) is 1234567890. Yes, me and every other geek on the whole internet just published at the exact same second for the exact same reason.
So, this short line of code (<?php the_time('U') ?>) adds the time when I hit publish:
I know that it looks like almost nothing has been happening on this site for the past month. But, actually there have been some changes behind the scenes. Okay, I’ve also been kind of lazy and not posting as much as I’d meant to. But let’s focus on the positives.
Even since I moved my site’s content into WordPress about four (!) years ago, it had been hosted by my good friend Jason J. He had plenty of bandwidth, hosting space, WordPress knowledge, and — most importantly — was willing to share all of that. I’d been paying him a small amount monthly in exchange for this. However, if one were to add up all the time he spent via phone, e‑mail, Skype chat, etc.; I was getting some really cheap tech support from a guy who isn’t known for having any free time.
Add to my sense of guilt the fact that the hosting account which all this was on was one that JJ wasn’t planning on keeping (he’s got some more advanced needs and found another hosting provider to better suit them). So, I needed to get my own hosting plan for our household full of domains. After looking around at various plans, I decided that staying with Dreamhost would be best. It basically came down to these:
Familiarity: Basically no learning curve as I’d been already using them for the past few years.
Green: Dreamhost offsets their carbon emissions.
Software: They have really great one-click installation for the server-side software (that is: WordPress & MediaWiki) that I use. Further, they keep their software current with new releases.
Price: The monthly price break down was reasonable. Further, they also don’t charge extra for making my domain who-is information private. They also allow me to have as many MySQL databases as I want (each WP or MediaWiki install needs its own).
Class: They don’t constantly barrage me with attempts to up-sell me on new services. Sometimes I need to do work instead of see a price list, you know?
So, after picking JJ’s brain some more on how to back up and restore MySQL databases last month, I began moving my files over to a new server at Dreamhost via my own account. This also gave me the opportunity to clean up some of the database organization. I’m also using the opportunity to clean out a lot of un-used files on the server as well, which should all making back-ups faster.
I finally got around to pulling the switch last night. It is very un-nerving clicking “delete” on almost five years worth of writing. It certainly brings out the procrastinator in me. Thus, there hasn’t been any action around here in the past month; so I wouldn’t have to constantly back-up and replace the database over and over. Once I did get around to doing so, though, the DNS TTL gods showed some sort of favor upon me. Despite having to delete the old sites entirely first and then re-instating the domain name to point to the new server, the sites were down for no more than for a couple of minutes each. I’m still scratching my head over how that happened (normally, this takes more like an hour or more).
In other behind-the-scenes news, the latest version of WordPress is a breeze to upgrade. It is literally as simple as clicking a link within the software. No more needing to log in via command line and using SVN commands. The plug-ins have had automatic upgrades for the past few updates, and this is very welcome to someone who maintains several WordPress installations.
So, all of this is (or at least should be) absolutely transparent to anyone who is just visiting this site. That being said, I do have some plans for changing the style and organization of this site in the next few months. I’ve been kicking around ideas for some time and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.
A short story on Macworld regarding the lack of CableCard support on Apple computers or peripherals. This is a story where the comments seem to add as much as the story does. I agree totally with the TiVo users commenting about their love of the CableCard. As a matter of fact, TiVo HD users seem to be almost the only consumers who prefer cable cards. I know that pretty much every Comcast technician who has been to our house absolutely hates them (along with TiVo HD units). They have tried repeatedly to talk me out of using our M‑card. Given the amount of set up time they require over just plugging in a set-top box, I guess I can’t blame them (techs get allotted a very short amount of time for installations & service calls). But it is so much more elegant a solution. I do really wish I could just plug a CableCard into my mac (or some peripheral, like an Apple TV) in a similar manner to out TiVo.