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The Online Journal of Wendy A. Shaffer

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Ramble On
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I don't like these long journal absences. When I don't post for a few days, I get the urge to sit down and write a really long rambling entry full of all kinds of little bits of random trivia that have stuck in my mind. As opposed to when I post every day, and my posts are concise, cogent, and focused!

Oh. Wait. Hmmmm....well, I still don't like these long absences.

Work's been keeping me busy. I like this job. Even if it does occasionally involve correcting the prose of someone who thinks 'diagnostics' is a singular noun. It's a hoot, and I seem to be doing well. (Every so often I'm seized by a sudden fear that I've misunderstood something fundamental about the particular project I'm working on, and am Doing Everything Wrong and Screwing Up Irreparably. This is my cue to go and make a cup of hot chocolate. This usually makes the feeling go away. Today was a one-hot-chocolate day. I have many zero-hot-chocolate days. A two-hot-chocolate day is remarkable, and I haven't had a three-hot-chocolate day since my first week on the job.)

Really, how can you not like a job where you and your coworkers spend part of a staff meeting trying to construct the most outrageous possible sentences resulting from a strict application of the company lawyers' guidelines for use of trademarks? (The lawyers came up with an ingenious idea. The problem with trademarks, see, is that if people start using them as generic nouns, you lose the trademark. So, the solution is: a trademark is never used as a noun: it's always used as an adjective modifying a generic noun. Great, huh? Only one problem: it bears no relation to the way people naturally use trademarks in speech: People drink Cokes, and listen to tunes on their iPods. They do not drink Coca-Cola brand carbonated beverages, and listen to tunes on their iPod portable MP3 music players. Except in trademark lawyers' dreams.)

It is the great privilege afforded to technical writers: to mercilessly mock other people's use of language. Since I've always done that anyway, it's remarkable that it took me this long to get onto this career path.

Actually, that's one of the funny things about technical writing: relatively few people set out to become tech writers as their first choice careers. Some people must, I suppose. There are colleges that offer it as an undergraduate degree. But the vast majority of tech writers I know are refugees from some other career path: scientists who wanted out (or were forced out) of the research track, journalists who got tired of the daily grind of working at a newspaper, English majors who discovered they didn't like teaching.

And yet, for all our disparate backgrounds, we seem to have a remarkable number of traits in common. I think this is the first set of people I've ever worked with to whom I'd be perfectly comfortable confessing that one of my favorite childhood amusements was reading the dictionary. Because I'm pretty sure that at least half of them would say, "Oh, yeah, you too?"

Well, there, now I've gone and done it. Now you all know. You may point and laugh, if you like.

(On the other hand, I've had to resign myself to not being the Biggest Geek. You'd think that scientists would be pretty geeky, but among a typical pack of biochemists, I was usually the Biggest Geek. In this job, I'm merely Geekier than Average.)

I have plenty of other random trivia to impart, but I'm going to go off and read some of M. John Harrison's Viriconium before I go to bed. (This is my second stab at the book. First time I read it, I was enthralled by the beginning, and I completely bogged down in the middle. I'm now being enthralled by the beginning again. We'll see how the middle goes.)

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