Friday, June 4 2021

beschuiten, midwestern techincal writing, and tarantulas

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Dear Journal,

Happy Friday, everyone. Let me congratulate you on reaching the end of the work week - it feels good, doesn't it? At quitting time today, you had better put work away, dig your ray beezies out of the pile of toys in your room, and head outside for a long walk.

That's right, folks. We officially usher in ray beezies season. Rodney busted these out for yesterday's family walk. I think it's a small miracle that Rodney was able to find them. Over the past week, I've seen them outside in the grass, at the bottom of his shoe bin, and rolling around on the living room floor with puzzle pieces and torn up dog toys.

Sip. So happy Friday. How are you feeling today? What are you eating for breakfast these days?

Remember I psyched Rodney into eating one of those Dutch biscuits we got in the mail? Well he's asked for one in the morning everyday since. And now he's got me hooked on them. The two of us formed an unofficial beschuit eating club, and we convene for exactly five minutes every day in the morning before I start work.

Look, we're newcomers to this whole beschuiten thing. Rodney asks for peanut butter and jelly on his. I use a little spoonful of jelly, a squirt of honey, or sometimes a scoop of apple sauce. We have no cultural reference point for how to enjoy these things, but so far we haven't found anything that tastes repulsive when smeared on a beschuit. I wonder what's next - chocolate syrup? A slice of cheese? A pork chop?


The beschuiten gang doesn't apologize for innovating.

Yesterday was a great day. I'm having one of those weeks where all the work emergencies have died down, and it's given me a lot of free time. Seeing that I'm on ticket duty next week, I decided to lean into the lull and use the time for personal learning. I spent yesterday morning taking part one of a free course on Technical Writing produced by Google.

Here's a funny story. I'm not sure why, but I expected the course to be a video. I clicked on the first page and instinctively scrolled past the wall of text looking for a big red play button. I felt disappointed. I was looking forward to kicking back with a cup of coffee and passively taking in some helpful information, but those bastards had to go and make me read something.

The course was better than I expected. They loaded the material with jokes and puns, and that kept me interested enough to pull out some gems to apply to my own writing. For example, I tend to use passive voice when I'm recounting something technical that happened, like when I'm documenting an outage or filing a long bug report. But the course made a lot of good arguments for why technical writers should abandon that practice in all contexts. Passive writing obscures information. It tricks the brain into focusing on the wrong words. A lot of scientific journals have abandoned the convention anyway.

But one area of my technical writing I will cling to is my use of idioms. The course made a lot of good arguments for why phrases like mum's the word and par for the course have no place in technical documentation. Whoever drew that conclusion must have never been to the Midwest. Okie dokie. Kick the tires. Let 'er rip. These aren't just extra toppings we add to our explanations, Google. They're hard-wired in our brains. When I bump into somebody and say OPE, that's coming straight from my reptilian brain stem and I couldn't stop it if I tried.

Better idea, Google. Just fold Midwestern idioms into your course. They should teach these as standard transition between technical topics. Wouldn't it be more fun if our manuals said things like and this TCP packet's gonna squeeze right by da firewall 'der because da sysadmin wants to keep 'er movin'?

In other news, I've been getting a lot of joy from taking walks. I take Ziggy for a walk around the block after lunch, and yesterday I took Ollie down the nature path. With their new sister Minnie getting so much attention, I think Ollie and Ziggy appreciate the alone time.


We went for a walk as a family too. After work, we took Miles and Rodney up the street. Marissa ran into our friendly neighborhood liquor store. Miles, Rodney, and I hung around outside. A woman sat on the curb while her boyfriend did the same, and naturally Rodney talked to her.

"These are my Ray Beezies," he said, tipping his dark sunglasses down on his nose.

"Cool, kid," said the woman. "I have some Ray Bands too. I just don't have them with me."

I smiled to myself. How funny that she knew exactly what he was talking about? No clarification for ray beezies required.

Rodney jumped to the next topic. "I likes spiders."

"Do you? I'm from Hawaii," she said. "And the spiders we got there are like this big." She held her hands in front of her, as if she were holding a basket ball or a dinner plate. "Do you like tarantulas?"

Rodney shrugged, and shook his head. The woman smiled. "Yeah, they're pretty scary," she said. She stood to her feet and followed her boyfriend to their parked car. "Nice talking to you, kid."

We followed up on it later. Rodney didn't know the word tarantula. "A tarantula is a spider," I explained.

"Oh, like a Rodney spider," said Rodney pointing to his rubber tarantula toy on the ground. "I do like tarantulas!"

I nodded. What a missed opportunity. If he had known, the two of them could have probably talked tarantulas until the sun went down.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great day, everyone.