STC Election 2017: Who I voted for

The annual STC election for members of the Board of Directors is underway. If you’re a member, you should have received a link to the election website (send email to stc@stc.org if you have not). We have until 10 March to vote, and it’s important! The Society needs our active involvement. You can find out more about the election slate here.

For what it’s worth, here’s who I voted for this year.


For Vice President: Craig Behr

Formal photo of Craig Baehr
Craig Baehr

Craig, a 25-year practitioner, an academic, a current Director, and an Associate Fellow, has made important contributions to the certification program and the Body of Knowledge, two of the Society’s most important initiatives. He has been published in both Technical Communication and Intercom. His recognition of the importance of volunteers and mentors resonates with me.


For Treasurer: Tim Esposito

Formal photo of Tim Esposito
Tim Esposito

Tim, an Associate Fellow, is on the Society’s budget review committee. He has extensive experience as president of the Philadelphia Metro Chapter (PMC) and past treasurer. He has also helped organize regional conferences. I’ve worked with him for the last year as part of the Community Affairs Committee (CAC) and found him energetic, responsive, and committed.


For Director: Ramesh Aiyyangar and Jessie Mallory

Headshot of Ramesh Aiyyangar
Ramesh Aiyyangar

If a board is made up of people with similar backgrounds and experiences, they can find it difficult to consider other viewpoints. Fortunately, this year three excellent and varied candidates can help avoid this problem. Ramesh is a long-time technical communicator, a past president and active member of the India Chapter, an Associate Fellow, and a member of the CAC. He recognizes the importance of a growth strategy for STC and expanding both our reach and our perspective. Ramesh ran a gallant petition campaign last year, and his dedication and perserverence earned my vote this year.

Formal headshot of Jessie Mallory
Jessie Mallory

Jessie has been very active in a relatively short time. She’s already served as president of PMC, and now coordinates social media for the BOK committee.  She recognizes the importance of student members and young practitioners, and I agree with her approach of directly asking us how to make the Society better. I think  she will bring invigorating youth and energy.


For Nominating Committee: Larry Kunz and Grant Hogarth

Candid photo of Larry Kunz
Larry Kunz

I’ve known Larry for many years. More to the point, a lot of people know Larry, and he in turn knows a lot of people. This is an ideal attribute for a member of the Nominating Committee. Larry is an active and influential blogger with an excellent grasp of the state of the profession and the Society. He is a Fellow and a President’s Award winner. I admire his energy and dedication at the chapter and Society level.

Candid headshot of Grant Hogarth
Grant Hogarth

Between two other worthy candidates, I made my second choice on the basis of geographic diversity. Grant has over 25 years of professional experience, has served the Society as a chapter president and ITPC judge, and is active in other nonprofit organizations.

Leave Taylor Swift Alone!

As a singer, I’ve been exposed to a lot of lyrics. I’ve also composed a few parody lyrics in my time, so I know how hard they are to write. I’m a fan of Taylor Swift. She has her share of haters, whom I suspect are jealous of her enormous success at such a young age. They rip her on many things that I will ignore in this post, but they also rip on her songwriting, on both subject-matter and technical grounds. When I got past simply reacting to her as a performer and started thinking critically about her songs and especially their lyrics, I did too, not without reason. But I’ve decided to cut her a break. Continue reading Leave Taylor Swift Alone!

Why I Stopped Reading “Dilbert”

These days I have to pick and choose what I read. I still read newspapers, but mostly through the web. I still read comic strips, though mostly through subscription emails. One strip I used to read, and even subscribed to, was Scott Adams’s “Dilbert.” But I’ve given it up, and I thought I would tell you why.

I discovered “Dilbert” a few years after it started. I read it each day with astonishment. Like many high-tech workers, I thought Adams must have worked in my company, so accurately did he capture the zeitgeist of the industry. Of course I identified with Dilbert and despised the imbecilic Pointy-Haired Boss (disclaimer: I have worked as a manager). Later I learned that Adams had worked not at my company but at Pacific Bell, where his strip irritated his bosses. Eventually he was laid off; I won’t assign causality, but I’m sure he’d agree it was the best thing that ever happened to him, because he could devote his attention to something he did better. I subscribed to his daily emailed strip. I bought his anthologies. I bought his audiobook The Dilbert Principle. I was a loyal reader.

A 1995 strip debuted Tina the Brittle Technical Writer, who demands respect but does nothing to earn it. The Tina character provoked a long discussion on TECHWR-L, which someone forwarded directly to Adams. He quietly subscribed to the list, lurked for a while, then wrote to listowner Eric Ray:

This was the most negative response I’ve ever gotten from a strip. And probably the most entertaining. Consequently, I plan to introduce a tech writer character in the next few months who is a composite of some of the more interesting personalities I picked up from the list.

God, I love my job.

Hmm…

When a cartoonist’s work becomes popular, people want to know about them. In the spotlight of publicity, some emerge as beloved figures (Charles Schulz); some remain enigmas (Bill Watterson); and some don’t do themselves any favors (Al Capp). In the fullness of time we began to learn about Scott Adams, and he was … disappointing. In March 2011, for example, he penned a notorious piece on men’s rights, which drew considerable ire, that included this passage:

The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.

He deleted his post (which as you can see doesn’t work on the Internet) and claimed it was all a joke that we weren’t clever enough to see. But later he was caught defending his views on Internet message boards using an assumed identity (aka “sockpuppetry”), which some consider plagiarism.

Now, I’d like to think I don’t care about the personalities and political views of artists. If you avoid the work of Barbra Streisand and Sean Penn because they’re liberal, or John Wayne and Charlton Heston because they’re conservative, you’re missing out on some really good stuff. (The acid test is Wagner.) I hope there was no leakage of my opinion of Scott Adams, the person, into my opinion of Dilbert, his creation. But an odd thing happened. As my opinion of Adams was plummeting, Dilbert seemed, to my eyes anyway, to evolve from an oppressed worker through depression and defeatism, and then to lashing out verbally at everyone he encountered. Somewhere along the way I stopped finding him amusing. If Dilbert were a coworker, I could totally understand and sympathize with his frustrations. God knows he bore up to his situation better and longer than I would. But he snapped. A couple of years ago I started to think of Dilbert not as a long-suffering white-collar worker who commented wittily on his situation but as an asshole who brought on and deserved his mistreatment. If he were a coworker I wouldn’t want anything to do with him. It wasn’t just Dilbert; the whole office became like that. Their manager, while no less an imbecile, began actually to draw my sympathy. If Dilbert worked for me I would probably grow to despise him too. In a twisted way “Dilbert” began to resemble a comic strip about a dimwitted manager saddled with a despicable employee who led his coworkers in open revolt. Viewed through that prism, I stopped being entertained by the strip. And I have too much to do to waste my time on entertainment I don’t enjoy. So I unsubscribed.

Losing me as a paying customer and loyal reader makes no difference whatsoever to Scott Adams, who still has plenty of readers. He made a fortune doing exactly what he wanted, and I salute him for it and wish him continued success. But he won’t get any more of my money. I wonder: did Adams change? Did Dilbert? Or have I made the mistake of letting my feelings about a creative artist cloud my views about his creation?

I haven’t given up on the medium. I still subscribe to daily emails of the brilliant, evergreen “Doonesbury;” “Foxtrot,” which is smart and reliably good for a laugh; and “Calvin and Hobbes,” Bill Watterson’s masterpiece, which he ended 17 years ago but which I still find entertaining and insightful. (By the way, the cartoonists Dan and Tom Heyerman have drawn four individual strips imagining Calvin as a grown-up and father himself, called “Hobbes and Bacon.” You can check them out starting here.) I’ve just given up on “Dilbert.”

How about you? Do you still read and enjoy “Dilbert”? Is it unchanged and still witty? Is this a case of “lighten up, Francis”?

Passwords and humanism

Anyone with an active Web life has a lot of online accounts. I have over 100! Most are trivial, but some involve credit-card information, and a few are critical in my life. Keeping track of them has gradually become an issue, and the potential damage of getting hacked grows. For the new year, when I log in to an online account, I am strengthening my passwords. I want to follow a system that I can remember without having to write anything down. But I think it’s impossible, because the people who create sites operate independently and because software is anti-humanistic, at least in the view of this human writer. I will explain, while attempting not to reveal my secrets.

Continue reading Passwords and humanism