Scheduling -- 12/07/10

This is my 2nd entry in my 5th year of taking part in Holidailies. If you have wandered in from Holidailies, you can scroll down to read a brief introduction.

This is a very busy time of year -- both at work and in my non-work life.

At work, well... I have (this is without looking at my Lotus Notes calendar because that machine has been shut down for the day and I don't feel like booting it up again) I have three days this week, five days next week, and three days the week after that, and then (with a combination of vacation days and company holidays) I am taking the rest of the year off. I have a slight problem: I have one more vacation day left unscheduled and so I need to use it in place of one of those eleven remaining work days but I don't know how I can manage to do that. (It's a use it or lose it situation.) Ah well, either I will manage to take it off or I won't. (I am well aware that there are a lot of people who have much worse problems than I do.)

This Thursday night there is a holiday dinner party for Rhode Island employees of my company being held at a nice restaurant in Providence. I work for a mega-huge international company, but there are fewer than 200 of us in Rhode Island... and I'd guessing that there will be somewhere between fifty and seventy people (counting spouses or significant others) at the party. I had been thinking of taking that afternoon off, just to make life easier, but now I have a special project scheduled for that afternoon.

I am working on a project with another employee. In keeping with the distributed nature of the modern workplace, we have never met other than by telephone. She works (usually) at what is a major site for our company. I have only been at that site once -- about 14 years ago when my brother was showing me his office, not long before he "retired" (in quotes because he has been back working as a contract employee since then -- and, in fact, he is currently back for what is, I believe, the fourth time since he "retired"). Our project is make podcasts -- that is, to conduct telephone interviews about their work with various teams within our subsection of the company and then edit it into a podcast to be put on our corporate intranet. We started this months ago and have had some difficulty in scheduling. Everyone we ask says yes, they'd love to, but at the moment they are just too busy, try us again next quarter. So, today a group has said that they could be available Thursday afternoon -- and having finally pinned a group down to a specific date and time, I do not want to try to adjust anything, so I'm not going to be taking Thursday afternoon as half a vacation day.

And, of course, I still have my regular work: reviewing and editing the material for our courses.

And, besides that, we have some documentation for our course developers, style guidelines, and so on. This has begun to get a bit out of step with the corporate style guidelines. For example, until recently, our corporate standard said that "Web" should always be capitalized (unless you are talking about spiders) and that "Web site" was two words. Now, they have changed that to say that it should be lower case (on the web, web browser, web services) except for a very few exceptions (mostly World Wide Web and Web 2.0). And Web site is now not only lower case, but it is one word: website. (This seems to be a trend; the Associated Press styleguide recently decided on making that one word, so perhaps that inspired our change.) One of my colleagues has just finished revising our documentation and has asked that the rest of us review her work before the updated material is given to our developers. Somehow I have to find time for that.

Also, some of us have been testing a new editing tool that flags possible errors -- spelling, grammar and syntax, even checking word usage against our corporate guidelines, also flagging sentences that are too long and noting sentences that use future tense (present tense is preferred in technical material). It even flags word usage and sentence structure that might cause translation difficulties or might confuse readers for whom English is not their first language. I have generally been skeptical about such tools. The ones I had tried over the years have usually had huge numbers of false positives; that is, they flagged so many items as possible errors that were not errors, that using them was extremely time-consuming and diverted attention from things that actually did need to be corrected. This tool, however, is useful. It does flag too many things that are not incorrect, but a lot of that can be fixed by tweaking its control settings. For example, the limit on sentence length needs to be increased because this kind of technical material frequently needs long sentences. That would eliminate a lot of distracting flags right there. Once the glitches are fixed, I think it will be a useful tool -- and not just for those of us who are editing the material. It could very well help the developers improve their writing. (I hope its obvious that I am not talking about well-turned phrases and clever ways of saying something: our developers are writing course books covering highly technical topics aimed at an international audience. This is as specialized as writing a newspaper story or a legal brief.) My problem is that I have been using this tool for weeks now and I need to write up my findings. I have pages of notes (and a number of screen captures of some problem points) and I need to find time -- four or five hours -- to concentrate on organizing and then writing my report.

Lest it sound as if all I do is work, let me point out that Jill & I went out to dinner and a play Saturday night (Moliere's School for Wives at 2nd Story Theatre -- very nicely done), Nancy & I sat down with a nice fire on Sunday night to watch the concluding episode of Boardwalk Empire, I took a long lunch break on Monday to drive over to Newport for lunch (at the Red Parrot) with half a dozen colleagues, tonight Nancy and I (again enjoying the warmth of a fire) watched episodes 4 and 5 from the first season of Mad Men (via Netflix), we have that holiday dinner party on Thursday night, and on Friday Nancy & I will be going out to dinner and then to a play (It's a Wonderful Life) at Trinity Rep.

And we still haven't finished decorating the Christmas tree...

A brief introduction.... (edited to update it from 2006)
A brief introduction for anyone who wanders in here from the Holidailies site -- I'm a middle-aged (*cough* okay, 63 67 , but I don't look a day over 62 66 ) guy who lives in Rhode Island with my wife Nancy (a middle-school math teacher), daughter Gillian ("Jill" -- 24
28 yr old college student), son Jeremy (21 25 yr old college student restaurant manager), and Tiger (senior citizen cat). Eldest child Adam lives in New York City with his wife Leah and our grandsons Sam and Milo . I'm a former programmer/systems analyst who got into doing software training and currently works from home doing quality assurance and editing on course material for both classroom courses and Web-based training courses. I've been writing this online journal since 1996.

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