Thursday, March 10, 2011

A System for Fighting Viruses?

This is a good read:

The scientific community has forever looked at nature for inspiration and as a treasure trove of solutions for vexing problems.Words like “bio-inspired”, biomimetics, biomimicry and bionics have been coined and used to describe this fascination. In the area of information security, the most obvious link is the parallels we draw between securing a system and the human immune system. In fact, Robert Helms Anderson states in the RAND monograph report “Securing the U.S. Defense Information Infrastructure“:
It turned out to be virtually impossible for us to find examples of information infrastructure protection that had no analog in biology.

And then the article quotes thusly, "We need a system for biological viruses that can do the same thing."

That made me laugh out loud.

Computer viruses do not occur in nature. They are the creation of sociopaths with computers and code.

Viruses live in the cells of a host and come in millions of variations, as anyone with access to Wikipedia will tell you. And some latent viruses are beneficial. I hope that, when they come up with their master plan to create a virus-fighting system, they remember to avoid destroying the viruses that are harmless and don't inadvertently create a virus that wipes out all of humanity.

Darn thing, that pushback.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

No Parroting

Do you make the mistake of parroting the Subject Matter Expert? It's a mistake that I try to avoid, too.

Here's a great piece on that phenomena:

Parroting the Subject-Matter Expert (SME)
All professions and companies have a vocabulary that is meaningful only to those in the company or the profession. A common mistake among both SMEs and writers is to assume that the user understands the vocabulary.

To illustrate, I once shared an office with a software developer who was in charge of seeing that the separate parts of the application worked together. Every so often, someone would come in to report that a particular software function had abended. When I asked these people what abended meant, they were at such a complete loss for words it was as though I had asked them to define the word and. I could see thatabend held so much meaning for them that they were unable to condense all of its concepts into a single definition.
A short time later, I reviewed a document that contained the word abend. I called in the writer and asked him what it meant. He looked me in the eye and said, "I don't know," thus providing me with a golden opportunity to give my "Don't parrot the SME speech," which is:

As technical writers, it is our job to translate the complex and puzzling into something that everyone and anyone can understand. You and I represent Joe User. If you don't understand something, it is a sure bet that Joe User won't understand it either. Never repeat verbatim the words of the SME. Always ask for clarification.
Now I know it is embarrassing to stand in front of the SME asking questions that the SME clearly regards as stupid, but sometimes it's the only way to get information. You have to persist. And if you can't get the information from the SME, then you have to do other kinds of research. Check the Internet, go the library, read the standards. Do whatever it takes to ensure that each word, sentence, and paragraph in your document is meaningful to everyone.

Notice that my "Don't parrot the SME speech" also contains a concise definition of technical writing:
Technical writers translate the complex and puzzling into something that everyone and anyone can understand.

Finally, to find out what abend means, click here. Or, if you have installed the Google toolbar in your browser, type define: abend in the Google search box.
Abend? Let me take that one. It's a crash or sudden end that occurs in a piece of software. It's a rarely used term, so abusing it would be fairly easy if a person were, consciously or not, parroting something that a software designer had written.

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