And that’s why I’d go for a DSLR

In February, this year, I released a post on why I’d prefer a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) over a digital SLR (DSLR). Over time, I continued my analysis and reading. Not that I chose to change my choice, given one, but I definitely liked to see the other side of the story. And, that’s exactly what this post is about.

As was with that post, too, the following premise stands:

  • I am an amateur enthusiast photographer. And, I am happy with my current point-and-shoot Canon IXUS HS 300. But, because I’ve tried the gear to its limits, I am looking out for a new one.
  • I know that the best camera is the one that I current hold in my hands. Other than that, it all depends on my imagination and creativity.
  • And, that none of the big or small companies have ever paid me to write for them. So, no imaginations on that part.

Here I go.

The battery life isn’t good enough, yet

As an enthusiast, I want my gear to be ever ready for me. But, with mirrorless cameras, the battery has always been an issue. Yes, I can carry multiple batteries. But, why would I choose to do that? Besides, how many batteries would I be required to carry? As of today, the mirrorless provides a battery that’s only about half of that of a DSLR. Unless there comes a technology that helps batteries retain their power for long or help extensively improve the battery efficiency, I’d choose to use a DSLR.

What about options (Or, is it choices?)

The mirrorless is still mostly a new technology for users like me. And, for the APS-C sensor market, there aren’t, frankly, as many options, leaving out the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Samsung, and, very recently, Canon, of which the majority isn’t available in India. And, if the choices were available, they wouldn’t be any cheap, either. Hey, that should count as two points, and not one. And, what about the retailers and repair facilities?

See, I’ll tell you how I look at it. For me, a product can only be sold once. After that, the product has to sell for itself. So, a network that can help users get access to sufficient choices in accessories, and sufficient outlets for sales and repairs, should be established even before bringing products into new markets. But, mostly, it happens the other way around.

The (way too) expensive lenses

First, the lenses aren’t available. A lens as basic as the Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4 was released as recently as July 2016, until which time the customers had to make do with only the f1.8 one. And, the f1.4 lens comes at whopping 119,000 (INR) in December 2016. Again, this is not specific to a brand, but, given the choices, I’d prefer waiting until the market matures.

The rolling issue of the rolling shutter

The jello effect is apparent in videos taken from even the full frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7r mark II. But, going forward, this issue might meet resolutions (no pun intended), I believe. It is just that we’ve found a new technology, but are yet to realize its full potential. So, for now, I will stick to the conventional DSLR and bank on its lens-feature-price combination until we are, at least, close to hitting any such sweet combination for the mirrorless siblings.

Because size does (not) matter

Remember I said that mirrorless cameras can be easier to carry because of their compact form factor and lighter weight? Well, I realize I was partly true. That’s because, despite how carry-able my camera is, I am never going to use it ALONE; that I will always have a lens attached to it. For enthusiasts, it is easy to assume that they will continue to experiment with lenses. They will buy or rent heavier, longer lenses on the same camera. And, this is where they might face issues. The overall system of the camera and the lens will somehow feel unbalanced and difficult to carry with a heavier lens attached to a light-weight camera. In my case, I anyway will carry at least two-three lenses, and a mirrorless camera will mean I will also have to carry an extra battery, too. This, sort of, negates to overall size and weight advantage.

There’s more. The compact size means that you have lesser real estate to grip in your hands. That’s not an issue for me, because I have small hands. But, for those with bigger hands, things might be different. I reckon they have a look at the Single Lens Translucent mirror (SLT) cameras from Sony. The new Sony A99 mark II is the new candidate on my WANTED list.

The Viewfinder that’s yet to reach its maturity

I agree, this one is as debatable and subjective as one’s taste. Although I would love to promote a newer technology, it is the dependability on the technology that bothers me the most. The truth is, a share of the power goes to viewfinders on mirrorless ILCs to power your vision through the lens. This means – you guessed it – additional battery drain. I would love to see a combination of optical viewfinder on a mirrorless, if that’s possible. But, let us just strike off this point from the list for now. That’s because amateur photographers, like me, rely on the Live View for taking pictures.

So much for the benefits?

The benefits – that’s the term the marketing experts use to sell you a product – that we are talking about are Wi-Fi sharing, in-body image stabilization, better burst rates even in the APS-C sized sensor category, and a remarkable ease in video creation. Benefits is the word here, because it brings in ease of accessibility and almost an exhaustive feature set. The question is if these benefits are worth your investment.

Amongst the many benefits that we see a mirrorless has over a DSLR, we must accept the above discussed points, although with a pinch of salt. Until the mirrorless category matures enough to address at least the battery and the lens option issues, I would choose remain rather conventional.

What Writing a Book for Children Taught Me

No, I am not breaking that I am writing a book for children; it is just another random thought that stuck me when I was researching on improving my writing skills. Turns out, one of the best ways I can improve my writing skills is to write books for children. I will write a book for children, but that’s far from even a start, as of now.

The big question of whether I will, one day, write and publish my own books still remains unanswered. But, I don’t want to confuse writing with publishing: they are two different things. And, for now, it is writing that I want to concentrate upon. This post comes at a time when I am learning to write. It’s been a while since I began writing frequently on this blog, and I believe the time has come to take things to the next level.

Now that I know that I can communicate my thoughts, and that the writing (Or is it typing?) flows as freely as my thoughts, I should try to bring all my energies, and the free-flowing thoughts, together to write better. Hey, I didn’t want to make this post look didactic… and I haven’t even begun yet. Never mind. There goes the rule number one: get thoughts and words to flow together.

When I began thinking on writing something for children, the immediate next question was: What should I write about? The thought of writing for kids was fine, but I was clueless about what I would write about. You see, there lies another rule. Even before you finalize on what you want to write about, and share with children, you have to be clear about how you’d write that. I mean your writing has to be so smooth that children (from age 3 to 10, roughly) will understand everything that they either listen to or read. Still, here are those rules that came in handy as I made a start:

  • Keep sentences short: Well, you are writing for those who’ve just stepped into the world of books. So, you better make it quick for them. The shorter, the simpler. The simpler, the better.
  • Use bigger typesetting: Use a bigger font size. And, preferably use the non-capped (sans serif) type font. For those who don’t know much about typesetting, the sans serif fonts are those fonts that do not contain the extra caps at the corners of alphabets. Such fonts are readable even when smaller in size, and largely appear informal, friendly in approach.
  • Don’t offer side notes: Unlike the way I did in the previous point, don’t use side notes and additional information that might break the flow. Remember, you are writing for someone with far lesser span of attention.
  • Let pictures do the talking: Use pictures that are colorful; that share an action or event from the story; that can help them imagine the rest of the characters. Seeing is believing; let them see the story for themselves. Avoid monochrome pictures, unless they are simple enough to understand.
  • Focus on grammar: You have to keep sentences short, but you don’t have to play with the rules of grammar. Grammar is like mortar; words are like bricks. If you use only loose bricks, the wall will not stand (or, stand for long). Also, stick to one tense across sentences, as much as possible.
  • Use imaginative relationships: See how I have been figurative in my comparison of grammar and words with mortar and bricks. Use comparisons that can help children build cross-referencing or poetic associations. Make them think; at least, for a while.

Those are some points about how I’d prepare either myself or my content. Now, some points regarding setting pages:

  • Cut short: Delete those sentences that do not contribute to the story or poem. This means, lesser content for me to bother about and for the children to read and understand.
  • One thought, one page: Make sure that the sentences don’t run into the subsequent pages. If so, break those sentences. That’s because, children might find it tough to reconcile their understanding of those sentences that involve more than one event described in sentences that run across pages. Children will most likely skip sentences if they have to turn pages back and forth to understand what’s going on. In fact, I’ve observed that most children hardly turn pages back and forth: they go along only one way.
  • Check for punctuation: Don’t use a lot of punctuation. Instead, let the pictures talk for you.
  • Leave with an afterthought; but not always.

Of all these rules, I’ve come to understand the following two as the most important:

  • Don’t lecture: No one wants to be taught. Learn to share.
  • Be a master weaver: If I can explain the story in just three sentences, I can expand it across the fabric and weave it into a story.

Then, there are other things like:

  • All black and white; no shades of grey (not the color, but the message)
  • Only happy endings
  • Don’t end with a question

But, it depends on who I or you ideally wish to address. Readership varies greatly within this age group. When I look back at the rules, I see that there’s a lot of similarity between what I do every day as a technical communicator and what I’d love to do as a children’s writer. Here’s the greatest of all catches: I understood, all the things that apply to the children’s books, apply to technical communication as well. I can’t exclude even one. I wish to come up with a book that will fancily be a part of every child’s bookshelf. Until then it is all black-and-white documentation (No, not the color, again).

My All-time Favorite Test Cricket Players

This post is a response to a comment my friend Vinish Garg made on my recent blog on Test Cricket in India. Today’s post is about those Cricketers whom I idolize. They are those Hall of Fame Cricketers who have become a part of cricketing ballads; those, whose galore of perseverance, talent, and the sheer ability to turn the table is much like an embroidery on the fabric of the game.

But, before I begin with my list of the all-time favorites, let me tell you that I’ve not gotten back much in time to look into the statistical history or for those names that are unheard off by the most of today’s generation. I, for one, am not much of a watcher of the game, myself. To make the job easier, I have selected from those names whom I have seen play: Basically, I am looking at a list of players from roughly 1995 to the present decade.

That’s because, in the years and decades before that, things were a bit different. Not much interaction and analysis happened on Cricket. Not a lot of players – except for the likes of Sir Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee, and Kapil Dev – played as names that represented the game. On most occasions.

But, there’s more to my choice than just that. Based on the statistics, it seems that with us tiptoeing into the twenty-first century the percentage of Test matches ending in a definitive result (neither Drawn nor Tied) has increased. That may be on various grounds (no pun intended), such as the change in techniques, change in the player’s and team management’s mindset, and change in the sporting gears and equipment. So, here are my all-time favorites:

Fast Bowlers

Wasim Akram: Perhaps the best bowler I’ve seen. He could control the ball the way he wanted to. At times, he could swing the ball both ways in one delivery… no kidding there. Although he lost his luster to the match-fixing controversies in the 1990s, but he continued playing at the international level unit the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Waqar Younis: The short description for him is: The King of the Reverse. Well, the long description better be left to those who batted against him. He debuted at a time when the real prowess for fast bowlers was their ability to bowl fast and short. He had the balls (No pun intended – he was a bowler, after all.) to change that. And how? The real ability lies in bowling fast and full, and moving the ball right at the toes of the batter.

Sir Curtly Ambrose: True that you must let only your success make the noise for you. No better example than him. He was the most devastating bowler of his time. I can only imagine how would it be to see a fast ball bowled from as high as 10 feet. His 7 for 1 against Australia remains marked on favorites list on YouTube. Lexicographers should consider replacing the word “consistency” in dictionaries with his name. I know, I know. The list would never be complete without his mention.

Spin Bowlers

From those who spin themselves yet bowl straight to those who genuinely spin the ball, we’ve seen a lot of spinners experimenting and delivering on the 22 yards. But, those who I respect are truly a class of their own.

Anil Kumble: On field, he was amongst those who didn’t spin the ball too much, but did so sufficiently enough to create doubts in the batters’ minds. And, that’s enough. A snick, a leading edge, or a trajectory and bounce miss was all it took for him to create wicket-taking opportunities. And, to keep the statistician inside you happy, he happens to be the only Indian (I believe the only person in the world after Jim Laker) to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings.

Muttiah Muralitharan: Most part of the magician spinner’s career was beset by the controversy over his bowling action. But, that didn’t stop him from taking as many as 800 wickets in the Test format of the game, which is the highest by any bowler to date. It was perhaps his elbow flexion that got his bowling action into questions. But, the magician spinner spun enough for others to think that he created an “optical illusion of throwing”, and finished his career best with 9/51 (an unfortunate drop-catch for the otherwise tenth wicket in one innings).

Shane Warne: He was one of the most iconic and greatest Test spinners of all times. He, the second-most wicket taker, got Gatting on the “ball of the century”. The wicket of Gatting as much officially marked the revival of the leg break bowling in modern day Test Cricket as it helped the newbie Warne make his mark in the game. I conclude that one’s only limit is their own imagination.

All-rounders

Jacques Kallis: Talk about focus and talk about blows; here is an all-round batter who can bowl (and bowl well). He is that broad-shouldered Cricketer who you would love to see score (or take wickets) even when you are the one he is playing against. A gentleman-looking Cricketer, much like Rahul Dravid. Critics view him mostly as a soft player who often underplayed his talent by scoring slow. But then there are players who put their country’s and team’s interest before their own. Isn’t that true?

Steve Waugh: Here is an all-round batter who mastered playing the spin. I’m told he suffered from severe back pain, and hence he quit bowling. He played for his country for close to two decades during which he helped Australia see 15 Test wins in a row – Actually 16, but he captained in only 15 of those.

Specialist Batters

For this category I would choose to include the names of Virender Sehwag and Matthew Hayden. None else. The reason is simple. The format of Test Cricket is boring by the nature of it. Let me give you a little background here: You have plenty of overs by your side and you don’t really have to bend your back and stretch and dive to keep the scoreboard ticking; The runs come by not as the primary goal in themselves but as by-product of this five-day journey called the Test.

That’s much like the slow life of the weekend, where you rock on an armchair in your porch, watch dusk set in, enjoy slow music as you sip over wine occasionally, listen to the mild breeze that flows by, and watch the evening hues right through to the void that lies beyond the horizon.

With that background, most batters would slow down on their run rates – relaxed. Most, except for these two. Their styles match to the extent of commanding (if, for a change, not influencing) the bowlers’ mindsets. They are the ones who bring colors to the otherwise dressed-in-white game. They are the ones who can stand and deliver; thwack even some of the most accurately-bowled deliveries out of the Cricket grounds; and make even good bowlers feel poor about their existence. What else is otherwise equally exciting in a Test Cricket, anyway?

But, let me tell this to you honestly. The Test Cricket is all about technique. Not that these two batters didn’t have a technique, it is just that their focus was not on facing balls and bowlers to improve on and discover the best of their techniques. This is the reason I am including that one batter, who I think deserves a mention in this section of the list: Rahul Dravid.

Some of us don’t need any introduction. When on the pitch, he would be one such player. Everything he did was everything about him: his signature style of defense and his signature style of keeping the wickets. I’m told that it was his wish to push his limits that he chose to keep wickets when India was in dire need of a wicketkeeper. So, when all we needed was a wicketkeeper who could also bat, in him we found a fantastic batter who could also keep wickets. And how! When I look at the statistics, I see that his batting average, while he kept wickets for India, was more than that of Kumar Sangakkara and Adam Gilchrist. True that your attitude determines where your talent takes you.

But, that was all in the ODIs. What about the Test format? Did you know that he holds the record for facing 31258 deliveries, the most by any batter? Given that his technique was at least as strong, IF not better – assume for the sake of it – he could have scored the highest number of runs a lot earlier than any of them. True that the Test Cricket requires a different mindset.

Special mention: Virat Kohli. He has had a wonderful 2016: two double centuries in Test, more than 900 runs in T20s, and lots of accolades and match-winning innings in the ODIs. He’s also proved to be a leader and an expert finisher. But, I will choose to not include him in here, because he is not like neither Sehwag or Hayden not like Dravid. He is a lot more adaptive. Remember the time he had issues with inswing deliveries? That’s history now.

Special mention: Also, Ricky Ponting. He, like the other Australian on our list, is someone who’s made his mark with his own style. Another dominator, he could have made it to our list of specialist batters. But, for his batting woes toward the end of his Cricket career, which he couldn’t find the scope to get out of.

Wicketkeeper Batters

Adam Gilchrist: I feel short of words to talk about someone who happens to be on the list of Martin Crowe’s all-time dream XI for Test. At the order in which he batted, he played his role ever so successfully. So, as a batter, he was explosive. But, as a wicketkeeper, he was even more devastating. Imagining a combination of the likes of Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist is enough to send shivers down to the spine of even the top quality batsmen.

Kumar Sangakkara: This legendary match winner happened to be one of the most run-scoring batters for Sri Lanka, and still holds the most wicket keeping dismissals of all time.

Special mention: MS Dhoni. I would love to include Dhoni to the list. But, his signature wicket-keeping techniques are more suitable for the other formats of the game.

Conclusion

Despite how odd some of us think of Test Cricket to be in today’s context, I believe Cricket has always been (and will always be) a game of twenty good deliveries. It is just a matter of how quickly can your bowlers bowl them. So, irrespective of what you choose to play/watch, your intention is to understand and enjoy the techniques as you become a part of the sport.

The Future? Day-night Tests. Yes. Pink ball? Probably. Changes? Well, somebody suggested that the toss be replaced with the guest taking the call to either bat or bowl. That way, we negate the local advantage – take luck in winning tosses out of the way – and hosts get to test their prowess when they get to bat on the fifth day. After all, that’s the Test Cricket about, anyway. But, will Tests continue to be played? From where I can see, Yes. That’s due to the better sporting equipment, more use of technology, more support team, more cricketing opportunities, and more followers of the Test format.

Are you game?

__________

PS: The credit for the supporting statistics, and cross opinion, in some cases goes to Pranav Kunte, my brother in law, who is the biggest Cricket follower I know.

How do I Understand and Use Shutter Speed?

I am continuing from where we left off when we previously talked about photography. This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics, a series born out of my interest in the subject. In this series, I write and share with you what I get to learn about the topic. The impressions are entirely mine, and you are free to differ. (Though I don’t wish you to.)

Shutter speed is one of the most important things to consider in photography; the others being the aperture, focal length, and ISO. So far we’ve covered aperture in detail. Before we get to talk about shutter speed, we must first understand what a shutter is.

What is Shutter?

Shutters are like curtains. And, what do curtains do? They control the amount of light entering a room. Similarly, shutters help control the amount of light falling onto the imaging sensor through the lens. The basic mechanism in cameras is that when you click the shutter button, or tell the camera to capture an image – by releasing the shutter (that’s what it is called, technically), the camera opens and closes the shutter to expose the imaging sensor to the light. The imaging sensor captures this light and produces an image that is then written into the memory card and displayed on the LCD panel of the camera.

What is a Shutter Speed? And, what are fast and slow shutter speeds?

Shutter Speed is a representation for the length of time for which the shutter remains open. But, why speed? Speed, in photography, is more than just a figure of speech. Understand that the imaging sensor, by default, captures the image for only a frame of time. In some advance-level DSLRs, this frame of time can be as fast as 8000th of a second. But, you can regulate the image by manipulating the amount of time for which the shutter lets the light pass through to the imaging sensor – hence, fast and slow shutter speeds.

A fast shutter speed means that the imaging sensor is exposed to the light for only a fraction of a second; that the shutter opens and closes speedily (as speedily as 8000th of a second, as we just discussed). So, the light is exposed to the imaging sensor for only a short amount of time. So, if you see photographs of people hung in the air as they jumped, it was probably the camera that captured them at higher shutter speeds. Here’s a picture that my friend Arun shared with me specially for this post! Arun is a blogger, too. I love reading his blogs IdleMusingz and Lulling Lores.

arun-with-his-daughter-riddhi

Whereas, a slow shutter speed means that the shutter remains open for anything longer than a second (technically, anything slower and longer than a 100th of a second should be called slow shutter speed). Today’s cameras can have slower shutters that open for as long as 30 seconds to capture one frame. That’s actually slow. And, then there’s this bulb mode, where the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button is in the released position. It is like 30 seconds of slow shutter speed multiplied by the amount of time the shutter button is released – something of that sort. But, that can be controlled by an intervalometer, which, as the name suggests, can be used for taking pictures at regular intervals.

How do I apply the understanding of shutter speed while capture images?

To capture an image, as you already now, you need the right focus, an aperture that lets in sufficient light onto the imaging sensor, an ISO that’s set to sufficient light sensitivity, and a sufficient shutter speed to capture the details. Irrespective of what or where you are capturing, you will need a combination of all these.

If, for example, you are shooting in the dark (or want to create a dramatic effect that shows flow), to set your camera to capture for longer shutter durations, because to capture a sharp image you will have to let in more light onto the imaging sensor. But, this again is subjective.

I prefer to shoot in the Aperture Priority mode. So, all I am supposed to do is control the aperture. The camera system controls the other elements based on the aperture I choose. This means that if I choose f/4, the camera system will analyze the scene and then set the other values automatically for me. Typically, a 2:1 ratio is associated for the aperture and shutter speed calculations.

How do I create special or artistic effects?

To capture images creatively, you have to learn to adjust your creativity to match the capabilities of your camera. There are lot of techniques available on the Internet that I found were easy to try. The motion blur effect that you see in all those utterly-clichéd photographs (Sorry, but no sorry.) of waterfalls, seascapes, and clouds are the result of slower shutter speeds. Here’s what I captured on my way to Harihareshwar (Konkan area), some years back.

zippy-drive

Feeling dizzy looking at the picture? Me too!

You can combine a relatively slower shutter speed with panning to create a motion blur. Some photographers use this technique in sports and automotive photography. For those who don’t know about panning, it is a technique where the camera is fixed to a tripod and then moved from one point to another keeping the motion horizontally parallel to either the ground or the movement of the subject.

Are there any rules?

Yes; Keep the shutter speed inversely proportional to the aperture. The wider the aperture, the slower the shutter speed. Otherwise, you may end up over exposing or under exposing your photographs.

Rain Rain Come Again.jpg

That one’s from my Flickr profile.

I am still experimenting with the shutter speed: My Canon IXUS HS is a Point & Shoot, which powers up to only about 3 frames per second. So, I don’t have a lot of ground for a high speed action. The truth is:  Your creativity is your only limit.

Until next time, happy clicking!

Cricket and the 500th Test for India

I seldom write on sports. But of course, only if we think Cricket is just a sport, at least in India; It is the blood that runs through the nerves of the Indians. It is the thought that drives them closer, even strangers get to dance on the same tunes when India registers a win. Those are reasons enough to share my thoughts on it. And, hence this post.

The Indian cricket’s milestone figure of the 500th test match comes at a time when most of us are more interested in the pleasure of seeing the Cricket balls smash out of the Cricket ground. The test cricket, unlike the other – faster – formats of the game, is about patience. It is about something that today’s generation, mostly, will not choose to see… “you know, who waits for five days to see the result”, someone might add.

Amidst the current air of reaching the milestone figure of 500 test matches, I sense this strange feeling: Will we ever get to see India’s 1000th test? Not because it took us exactly 80 years to reach this milestone – and that, doing the basic math, it would take us another 80 to play the remaining 500 – but because the trend is shifting, for whatever reasons.

The game is increasingly becoming more about the story and glory of batters than about the overall spirit of the sport. The game is now more about the batting average than the fun in either chasing targets or not letting chase targets. Is it wrong? Are spectators’ expectations wrong? No, because they are in dearth of perhaps the most important thing: time!

My two cents worth of thought? I have always been a believer of that “old-school” thought that even pleasure must be earned, and Test Cricket, as a format, lets you do just that: Five days; close to 540 balls to be faced per day; scorching heat (or varying temperatures, in some cases); and test of patience for players from both the sides – now I know how it got its name. It just can’t get more demanding than that.

But, like I said before, it is the momentous pleasure that most of us seek today. All they care is about shouting out loud as they see the cricket ball being batted out of the bounds. All they seek is the “unearned” pleasure in the batter’s eyes for taking a hit at (pun intended) whatever comes. Is there even a technique in situations that already have your adrenaline pumped up? If you think so, I’d choose to differ.

For a player (doesn’t matter who they are, a batter, a bowler, or one of the umpires), the test cricket is the ultimate test of their physical and mental strength. It is only when they burn themselves on the hard pitches that they truly earn their pleasure –the true spirit of the game. It is like the rare encounter where you enjoy the journey as much as the destination. It is but pity that the spectators only seldom get the true feel of the game.

That is why I think we must celebrate this milestone; We really must. Also because this is time when we make a conscious choice: Of either preserving the soul of Cricket or moving on! Though I really like to watch Cricket, and that I will continue to watch whatever format they choose to play, I will continue to have my reservations in favor of my thought. Call me an “old school” guy.

Each format has its own good thing. And, every match is going to end in a result. But, that anticipation, constant engagement, and hard work in “earning” the pleasure will always be of the utmost importance to me, even though I will be one of those “poor” spectators who would never really get to “feel” the game. Even though I will continue to enjoy the new formats of the game, I will continue to have reservations for the “test” cricket. Howzat!

Three Tips to Internationalize Content

Last week, while I was talking to one of our teammates from the UK, this thought of writing for the international audiences drew my attention. I thought I should prepare a list of some generic points to consider while preparing content for international audiences. In this post, I share the that list with you. As a technical communicator, not often it is that I get to try my hands on localization (or internationalization, for that matter). Nevertheless, it is nice to know about the following points and put them to practice, whenever possible:

Culture-proof the references

This is by far the biggest cause of worry for the content writers. “He plays football” sounds a simple phrase to translate. But, as you know, more than one games share the spelling: The American football, the British football, and then there’s the Australian football. The English people wear black for formal parties and weddings. In contrast, it is not supposed to be good to wear black for weddings in India. As a communicator, if I come across any information that has a reference to a culture, I will like to either supply additional information or simply remove the reference.

I also make sure that I do not use any idioms, phrases, or initialisms that are specific to a location, culture, or race. For example: The Indians could have lost that match, had the other team not done a Devon Loch at the last minute. When you use idioms – like the one I used – you (or your translators) have to invest a lot of time searching for its equivalent counterpart in the language they are translating.

For those who don’t know, Devon Loch was a racehorse (Yes, racehorse is one word!) that collapsed just short of the winning line of one of the national horse races in the UK. That was in 1956, I suppose. So, you can use the idiom, only if you have the time and willingness to share the unnecessary background with the readers – assuming that your translator remains to be sane to translate it in multiple languages for you, multiple number of times.

Just for the fun of it, imagine translating the funnier idioms in the following sentences:

  • Today’s politicians are all talk and no trousers. (No imaginations, please!)
  • I’ve been a developer for donkey’s years. (Yes, trouble for you!)
  • Honesty will prevail in this world when pigs fly. (Seriously!)

There are also times when you generally refer to things from your own culture and expect others to know about it – unless you tell them about it. I’ve celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi ever since I was a child. But, to hear that this is a festival to celebrate the birth of the elephant-headed god was still weird for me. Still, the additional information helped my colleague explain our UK counterparts on what the festival was about.

Mind the Formatting

Formatting is one of the key aspects when it comes to comprehension. Translation can cost you the information if the formatting isn’t proper. During my stint as a freelancer, I’ve worked with a lot of clients who required translations from the English to the Hindi or Marathi language. And, in either of the cases, I faced issues especially with the alphabetical lists. Items marked until A, B, C, D, E, and F were fine, but anything beyond that became a little weird to read in Hindi and Marathi.

But, the comprehension is affected even when the language remains the same. For one of my clients, who, being from the US, used the MM-DD-YYYY date format, I had to get detailed clarifications for their date-based stamps that included one-digit dates. For example, 1-11-2016 is 11-JAN-2016 in the US, but 1-NOV-2016 in the UK. Not only is the date translation incorrect, but the difference is much as 10 months.

In some Indian languages, the bulleted list doesn’t exist in their legalese. So, whenever I’d receive scripts for translation, I’d double check for possibilities on using the numbered and unnumbered lists in their respective translated sections. It was time consuming, but definitely worth the time and effort. Speaking of the languages, some countries read right to left, like the Arabic or Urdu, or top to bottom, like the Mandarin. Are there any points that you consider when you localize, or if I may say, internationalize your content? I’d think considering placing screenshots in the middle of a page and using icons that aren’t specific to a gender, race, or ethnicity. But, I’m curious to know your opinion on it.

Error-proof your Data

The differences in the units of measurement are known to be fairly common ones. A 5’ is both five inches and five feet. In fact, this is so confusing that in some cases I’ve seen even 5” (a double quotation mark instead of a single quotation mark). Depending on the context of furniture designing, real estate, and even food – pizzas and cakes are measured in inches – the unit of measure will change. But, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The standard unit of measurement for length in the US are Yard and Mile, while in the UK are Meters and Kilometers.

Then there’s also about the data integrity. If for a UK reader, I give data references like “the barren land is as big as the Lake of Utah, in the Utah state (UT, US)”, the reader will most likely either not understand it or completely misunderstand the estimate. Also, notice how states appear in the addresses in the US, such as the one we discussed. I cannot use the contracted form when I write the same information for the Indian audiences. For us in India, for example, the contractions UT and TN will never stand for the US states of Utah and Tennessee, but for the Indian state of Uttaranchal and Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion

I am a technical communicator, so I will only seldom get to try hands on localization and internationalization. But, in the limited amount of time and scope, I will find this list handy. Do you too have such a list? If yes, what are the points on your handy list?

Piecemeal Editing in the Agile Environment

Last week, I had a detailed conversation with one of my regular readers. While chatting over a few miscellaneous items, we drifted into talking about technical writing in the Agile-based environment. That is when he asked the following question. My answer led the discussion to more questions. This post is about those questions and answers:

In a lot of companies, which either follow the Agile methodology or claim to have sprints that are designed inspired from the Agile methodology, the technical communicators don’t have enough time for reviews and edits. How do you address challenges that arise in such situations?

I answered: As a technical communicator, I do a lot of things that majorly fall under either writing or editing. In a lot of my previous professional stints where we worked in an Agile-based environment, we could not afford exhaustive edit iteration cycles. So, we ran short edit cycles; mostly, quick checklist-based scans. For the most part, as writers and editors, we implemented our own versions of piecemeal editing.

Hey, what is piecemeal editing?

When pressed for the documentation delivery deadlines, writers and editors observe increasingly shorter cycles of creating, finalizing, publishing, and republishing the technical content. In fact, mostly they only get to republish the technical content, and not create any.

I’d call piecemeal editing as considering working and finalizing on parts of technical content rather than focusing on the whole project. It is a conditional response – an ad hoc arrangement, or sort of, at least – which is subject to the change in the prevailing situations. When you are pressed for time, you tend to focus on what’s:

  • Urgent
  • Important
  • Not worth missing

So, piecemeal editing is focusing on producing “just good enough” parts of documents that can qualify as a document when put together. The documents may still not be complete, yet will certainly contain everything the customers need to get things done.

How does it benefit?

Piecemeal editing is breaking the documentation plan down by focusing on making the instructions in your documents workable. You don’t cover the details, but still get to list everything that matters. You also don’t get to fix bugs, but still create error-free documentation. So, you save a lot of time and effort by concentrating on what needs your attention. This makes the writing clearer and to the point.

Are there any challenges?

Yes; much like every other thing. In the Agile development environment, the technical reviews and technical edits aren’t exhaustive. The editors do not have a lot of time to repetitively (Or, at least more than once) run through the writing process/the written stuff. So, all they get to do is keep a check to not miss out on anything critical.

If, for example, your organization assumes implementing the Agile software development methodology, you will continue to run in similar shorter sprints. This means you won’t get time to look into your legacy documentation or be able to edit and improve the quality of the technical content.

Then there’s another big issue: Unification. Piecemeal editing is One Thing at a Time, and not the whole thing at a time. Because of this, the contextual information that derives cues from the unification of information fragments often gets missed.

However, the biggest threat lies not in the process, but in the way it is often perceived implemented. When rushed, most writers become blind toward their mistakes. They overlook the errors by mentally placing words and associating meanings that the actual documents often don’t reflect. In absence of sufficient time, writers release the unedited versions of their content.

How do you resolve such issues? Or, are there any workarounds?

Technical documentation is always a collaborative effort – even if you are the only technical communicator in your organization. Here’s what I’ve tried and have succeeded at achieving:

  • When I worked as the lone writer, I would share the documents with the development/testing stakeholders. They designed and tested the product. So, they knew its limits. Also, when there weren’t any developers or testers around, I would perform edits the next morning, read those documents aloud, or just review the write-ups on a projector. Believe me, the text looks entirely different when you read it on a projector.
  • When I worked in teams, we would perform peer reviews. We would cross check the write-ups to make sure that we didn’t miss out on anything critical. Although, the writers would still remain primarily responsible for the quality of their documents.

But, here is, I believe, the BIGGEST condition: You cannot have piecemeal writing, but you can have piecemeal editing. It is “one thing at a time” as far as only editing is concerned. Writing will still focus on quality. Writing will still require commitment: The commitment toward creating and communicating correct information; in parts and in the totality. What’s your take at that?