Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Curse of Knowledge and Knowledge Rankism in the Classroom

curse of knowledge
The "curse of knowledge" describes an unfortunate side-effect of acquiring knowledge and expertise: your ability to teach others about what you know is hindered by your inability to remember what it was like not to possess that knowledge.

In fact, it is nearly impossible for the expert to imagine the mindset of a beginner. Which is why horrible teachers and communicators abound.

A person in possession of full knowledge of a subject sees the entire landscape of his understanding. But he can rarely pass on that understanding in a consistently effective way using simple, jargon-free language that anticipates the inevitable problems that beginners will experience.

The curse of knowledge can afflict individuals and entire organizations. How else to explain multi-billion dollar corporations that release user manuals that are poorly written and rammed full of assumptions? Poor documentation for products costs companies countless millions of dollars in customer support every year and results in customers seeing those products in a negative light. When a customer looks at a user manual that is confusing, he immediately assumes that the product is confusing as well.

The Tune is Already Playing in Your Head

In the book Made to Stick, the authors describe a psychology experiment that perfectly illustrates the curse of knowledge. In the experiment, participants were assigned as either "tappers" or "listeners." The tappers were given a list of well-known songs and asked to tap out the song on the edge of a table using only their fingers.

The listeners were asked to guess what songs were being tapped. The tappers predicted that the listeners would easily be able to name the songs that were being tapped. But in most cases, not surprisingly, the listeners couldn't correctly indicate what songs were being tapped.

This demonstrates another important characteristic of the curse of knowledge: we overestimate our ability to pass on information in an effective way. We gloss over ideas we think are simplistic but really aren't. We want to get to what we feel is the meat of the subject—that which actually interests us most, as relative experts—long after we have mastered the basics which are still a mystery to beginners.

So this experiment is a perfect example of the curse of knowledge and highlights its two main features: 1) we can't empathize with beginners when we are experts, and 2) we assume that our expertise in a subject somehow imbues us with an innate ability to teach others about that subject.

The experiment also provides a perfect tag line that sums up the curse of knowledge and can be a strong reminder of it when you are in a teaching situation: remember that the tune is already playing in your head.

The Curse of Knowledge Has a Sister

Inherent in the curse of knowledge is another closely related concept: rankism. The list of things that humans use to compare themselves favourably to others is exhaustive: income, appearance, education level, choice of products, which sports team they support, musical tastes and on and on.

In fact, I challenge you to go through a single day with this idea in mind and marvel at just how many utterances contain some form of rankism. It's inescapable. And I don't mean to suggest that this is some sinister habit—though often it can be in its most extreme form.

Having knowledge that others don't have is one of the  most common ways that people use to elevate themselves. Am I suggesting that a teacher in the classroom can actually feel a sense of superiority over his students for understanding material that his students can't instantly grasp? Yes, absolutely!

I do believe that this "knowledge rankism" negatively affects many teachers. In one of the most cringe-worthy spectacles I have ever witnessed, a young woman conducting a teaching demonstration unloaded on one of her fellow classmates (he was one of the "students" for the purpose of the demonstration) for daring not to instantly understand a point she was trying to make. She eventually raised her voice and said, "how can you not understand this?"

Usually it not as brazen as that, but knowledge rankism in the classroom can take other forms. Many times it will come to the surface in body language or facial expressions that say, "how can you be so stupid?" Often, teachers favour students who pick up on new information faster. Recognizing different levels of students is normal, and better students can help to facilitate learning for weaker students. But when this two-tiered treatment is obvious to students, it can be toxic.

Extreme Knowledge Rankism

If there is some kind of viscerally positive feeling that people get from having one up on others through superior knowledge, does this suggest that a teacher would try to maintain that state of affairs by sabotaging the learning process? No—regardless of how this often subconscious behaviour affects a teacher, to take things to such an extreme would suggest a psychopath or at least someone who doesn't want to remain a teacher much longer.

Of course, the best teachers, whether or not they are conscious of these notions, instinctively engage in just the opposite kinds of behaviour.

How to Avoid the Curse of Knowledge

One way to avoid the curse of knowledge and knowledge rankism in the classroom is to give the appropriate amount of time to all topics, even ones you may have previously classified as "easy" or "simple." In fact, avoid designators like that altogether.

When a student hears that something is easy but subsequently has trouble with it, her confidence can be negatively affected. She sees others catching on quickly and starts to question her own learning ability. If this happens to her often enough, the mere mention of a supposedly simple idea can make her brace for the worst.

The curse of knowledge and knowledge rankism can combine to create a frustrating and unproductive situation in the classroom. Being aware of them can help you to analyze your actions while teaching, better structure your lessons, and empathize with students.

More About the Curse of Knowledge

I also write about the curse of knowledge here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Technical Writer Job Interviews: How to Prepare, and Common Questions

technical writer job interviews

When you are in a job interview for a technical writing position, there are a few questions that the interviewer is almost certain to ask.

In fact, if the question that I discuss in this post does not come up, you can use that as part of a litmus test towards determining if the organization is really serious about technical writing. And if they are not serious, you definitely want to think about if you really want to work for them.

The Most Common Question in a Job Interview for a Technical Writer

The most common in-depth question that you will face in an interview for a technical writer job is:

Can you explain the lifecycle of a technical document? (This process is also known as the documentation development life cycle or DDLC.)

The following is a detailed answer that you can provide to this question.

(Note: Some of the details I provide with regard to this question are based on the assumption that you are writing a user manual in particular. So if you plan on using the information included in this post, you may want to mention this in your interview before you answer the question. If you are interviewing for a technical writing job where writing user manuals is not going to be a main part of your job duties, alter your answer accordingly.)

Project Start-up: Create the Project Plan

The project plan for the document you are creating occupies a place within the greater project plan for the product that is being released. Make sure that you do not confuse the two. This is the first stage of the document lifecycle. Within this stage, a number of tasks could take place, and a number of decisions could be made.

First, you must know what product you are writing about (this may seem like a foolish point to make, but in this case, state the obvious).

Second, establish what deliverables the documentation team will be producing. This could include, but not be limited to, user manual, help files, and white paper. With each deliverable, the purpose will usually be clear: to inform, instruct or persuade.

Third, audience analysis: discuss who will be the main audience. For example, what is the average age of your expected audience, their educational background, and their level of technical expertise as it relates to the product? 

Fourth, you will decide which tasks are assigned to each person on the documentation team. This will also entail establishing timelines for the first draft, edits, second draft, and final draft.

Research/Gather Information

First, if this is a subsequent version of a software product, look at the pre-existing user manual. Second, arrange necessary interviews with subject matter experts. These interviews may take place with developers, the product manager, the marketing department and testers (more information on planning for and conducting an interview with subject matter experts in a future post). Third, and probably most importantly, use the product yourself.

In this stage, you may also want to read the proposal for the product and any brochures or other marketing material that exists.

Create the Document Plan

(Note: do not confuse this with the project plan.) You will create a document plan for every deliverable that your team agreed to produce during the project planning stage. Essentially, a document plan is an outline that you can write as a table of contents (though the exact wording will no doubt change when you write the actual table of contents for the document).

I include in this stage: Design the Structure of the Document, as it is very closely related. In many cases, you will be using existing templates. However, there are numerous formatting considerations, such as how many levels of information you want to include in each section, and where to place notes, tips, warnings, and other related information.

Create a Style Sheet

This is a hugely important step, and shows the company you are interviewing with that you know what it takes to produce consistent, quality documentation. Most organizations will likely have a company style guide and will probably also defer to a larger style manual (such as The Chicago Manual of Style). I won't go into details regarding style guides and style sheets at the moment, but ensure that you are familiar with the logic behind using a style guide and style sheet, and know what different aspects of a document would be included in a style sheet.

Write the First Draft

At this point you start writing. You start filling in the outline with the information that you gathered during the research stage. You do not get hung up with gaps that you detect in the information that you have collected though you should note the relevant places where you are missing details. The goal at this stage is to get the information down. You may want to throw in a few comments here about how you set personal deadlines for yourself and get the work accomplished in a timely manner. The inability to produce is something that plagues writers of all types, and technical writers are no exception.

Perform the Technical Review/Edit

At this stage, someone who is familiar with the product will review the document to ensure that it is technically accurate. If there is not a dedicated editor, prepare a review sheet with space to fill in the reviewer's name, and the date and the time of the edit.

Implement Recommended Changes and Write the Second Draft

You now implement the changes provided to you by the person who reviewed your document. There may be a further round of subject matter experts to fill in gaps in the document. After you finish writing the body of the document, you will then write the table of contents and other front matter material, and the index and other material that goes at the end of the document (such as glossaries).

Perform a Usability Test on the Document

Now, if you have the time, performing a usability test on the document itself, is something that can help you catch any problematic language or gaps in the document. Mention usability tests in the interview only if you are familiar with how to prepare for and conduct a usability test.

Perform Final Edits

First, you should perform a self-edit on your document based on your style sheet and a related checklist which you use to confirm the consistency of the document. Just a quick  note on the checklist that you use: it will address issues such as format and structure of the document, terminology related to the software (i.e., when a specific button or part of the user-interface is referenced, it is always referenced in the same way), style, and grammar.

Next, the copyedits will take place, followed by a proofread, and then the final sign-off by whomever is responsible (lead technical writer, in-house editor, or product manager; different organizations are different in this regard). The legal department will then take a look at the document as well.

Then, the document will be sent to the graphics department so that they can lay out the document, and add screen shots and other visual components that may be necessary (Note: in many smaller organizations, this may be something that the technical writer could be responsible for.)

One last check should take place to ensure that no errors have been introduced by the graphics department (a very, very real possibility, if not likelihood!).

Send Document for Printing

Finally, the document is sent for printing, or if the document is only to be in digital form, it is generated. When the product is shipped, there could be last minute updates included as inserts with the printed document and/or as .txt files included in the digital release of the document.

Summary: The Lifecycle of a Technical Document

A summary of the above steps:

—Project start-up: create project plan for the document
—Research and gather information
—Create the document plan (outline)
—Create a style sheet
—Write the first draft
—Perform the technical review/edit
—Implement recommended changes
—Write second draft of document
—Conduct usability test on document
—Perform final edits
—Send to graphics department
—Final check
—Send document for printing

Two very important qualifiers to keep in mind when you prepare for this likely question at a job interview for a technical writer:

—Do not confuse this with a question about the lifecycle of a document in an agile development environment. Some significant differences exist.

—Do not confuse this with a question about the lifecycle of a software product and how and where the writing of the user manual fits within that process. A related but different question (and one that I may cover here later)!

Finally, remember that this is a very idealized version of what really takes place when a document is being created. In the real world, changes to the product, changing deadlines, staff shortages and any number of other unexpected occurrences can result in a slightly different process, or steps being omitted. However, if you are familiar with the process, especially for those with little or no experience, it at least demonstrates to the organization you are interviewing with that you know the importance of planning and organization (often, skills that are almost as important as your writing ability).

Good luck in your job interview!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Firefox: Create a Desktop Shortcut for a Website Address

Tefl Spin tutorials
This post provides instructions on how to create a desktop shortcut for a website link that will open in Mozilla Firefox.

For PCs with Windows XP and Firefox version 3.5 or higher.

The instructions contain two tasks:

—How to make Firefox your default browser
—How to create an internet shortcut on your desktop that will open in Firefox

To make Firefox your default browser:

1. Open Firefox.

2. Click Tools, and then click Options.

Click tools and options

3. In the Options dialog box that appears, click the Advanced tab.

click advanced tab

4. Under System Defaults, click Check Now.

click check now

If Firefox is already your default browser, proceed to the second task in this post.

5. In the Default Browser dialog box, click Yes.

click OK

6. Click OK.

click OK

Firefox is now your default browser.

Warning sign
Warning: If Firefox is not your default browser, any website shortcut you add to your desktop will open in the browser that is your default (likely Microsoft Internet Explorer).

Next, we will add an internet address shortcut to your desktop that, when clicked, will open in Firefox.

To create an internet shortcut on your desktop that will open in Firefox:

1. In Firefox, open the website page for which you want to create the desktop shortcut.

2. In the upper right corner of Firefox, click the Restore Down button to reduce the browser window so that you can see both the website page and your desktop.

click restore down

web page and desktop

Note: You can perform these instructions with multiple tabs open in Firefox.

3. To the left of the browser address bar, click and drag the website favicon onto your desktop.

drag favicon

You will see a faded copy of the favicon plus a rectangle with a dashed border and your cursor.

drag onto desktop

Note: The website page you want to create a shortcut for may not have a custom favicon. Regardless, it will at least have an image of a blank piece of paper with its upper right corner turned down. Click and drag that image and you will get the same results.

warning sign
Warning: Ensure that you are not clicking and dragging the favicon that appears next to the browser tab. If you do this, you will not create a shortcut on your desktop but will instead disconnect the tab so that it opens in a separate window.

try to drag tab favicon

4. Release your mouse button on your desktop.

You will see the new shortcut on your desktop.

shortcut icon

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Renting an Apartment in Bangkok: Advice for Expats

Bangkok is probably one of the easiest places for expats to find apartments to rent. From concrete boxes in the 5000 baht per month range, all the way up to 25, 000 baht and above for serviced, luxury apartments, there is something for every budget and requirement.

This is not a comprehensive guide on how to rent an apartment in Bangkok, nor does it include everything to look out for. Rather, it discusses only one aspect of renting an apartment in Bangkok: the available internet options at an apartment that you may be interested in renting.

Find Out About Available Internet Options

When talking to a potential landlord in Bangkok you can ask one question that will tell you a great deal about the place: If I move in here, can I arrange an internet connection directly with one of the internet service providers in Bangkok (namely True, TOT or 3bb)?

If the answer is no, I strongly advise you not to rent there. Here's why.

If you are unable to arrange an internet connection directly with a service provider, the only probable option is for you to buy a monthly internet card from the apartment building. They will have set up an arrangement through a third party organization. And while that third party no doubt has a deal with one of the major internet providers for the actual internet service, the quality of the wireless connection (and it will only be wireless) will be poor. Sure, you may get some periods where the connection is OK. But at peak periods when everyone in the building is online, the connection will slow to a crawl.

In addition, when the down times occur, you will receive no help from the apartment building. You will be told to phone the third party provider. And guess what they will say? "Try again later."

Not only that, but in all likelihood, you will not be able to access many sites that may be of interest to you, such as torrent sites. The torrent sites as well as the software needed to download the files from the torrents, will be blocked because they are a drag on bandwidth. If you spend a great deal of time online, this could become a very frustrating experience for you.

Finally, when only the in-house internet option is available, it is often an indication of the kind of building in which you could be living. Some apartments in Bangkok are poorly designed and/or attract a certain kind of resident for whatever reason.

Avoid Apartments that Double as Hotels

This could result in low occupancy rates and as a way to make up for this, the building may almost operate as a hotel, with people being able to rent for a few nights, weeks, or months at a time. In this case, the in-house internet option serves those people well. But it also means that the feel of the place will not be as pleasant as it could be for those who want to sign year-long leases. It will also probably mean more noise, because short-timers just don't care nor do they have any sense of the apartment being their home.

It is important to note that some buildings will allow you to set up a connection directly with one of the internet providers as well as having the option of buying an internet card to use with the in-house connection. Fair enough. The monthly card may suit some people. But if that is the only option, steer clear!

I urge you to ask numerous times about this so there is no possibility for the landlord or building owner to later say that he misunderstood. A shameless crook may simply say that, in fact, the connection is with one of the major service providers. The key is that you are able to set-up the connection with them directly, and then pay them directly, and interact with them directly regarding any service issues.

Good luck in your hunt for an apartment in Bangkok!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain started his writing career as a memoirist, and apparently, this is how he will continue on. Kitchen Confidential was a well-written, no-holds barred look at his life as a chef and the inner workings of restaurant kitchens. It came along at just the right time and food writing was better off because of it.

If Bourdain had not written Kitchen Confidential, the kind of ramblings he offers up in Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook would be consigned to some anonymous blog like this one. Competent writer? Sure. But his writing is also larded with skewed syntax, garden-path sentences, and a turn-of-phrase that just isn't that interesting or unique.

Bourdain essentially has three writing schticks: 1) he shits on people 2) he kisses ass or 3) he serves up self-absorbed, navel-gazing tripe.

Emotion, Logical Fallacies, Irrational Attacks

Bourdain can spew venom and rant with the best of them. But, like most spewers of venom, he feels it necessary to justify his attacks. Righteous indignation and justification fuel the best verbal assaults, whether in writing or face-to-face. It's like granting a license to oneself to unload in the nastiest and most personal way possible. In fact, a person who is only capable of spewing venom is truly thankful when someone gives them the license to unleash some acidic verbiage.

But what if no reasonable justification exists? Why, you simply manufacture outrage.

Like many people who are skilled at launching personal attacks, I believe that Bourdain has decided to simply run with it. When he sits down to write every day, the thoughts that rise in his head are what he goes with. And invariably, those thoughts are attacks on others. To not give words to those thoughts would mean that he wouldn't produce a whole hell of a lot. I'm also guessing that Bourdain is now surrounded by numerous sycophants who tell him that he is a kind of twisted genius who tells it like it is.

The problem is, many of his attacks are based on such a feeble premise, and he comes off as such a petulant, whining individual who can dish it out but obviously can't take it, that he burns to the ground any shred of credibility he has left.

And that's too bad, because the imbecilic shit from his attacks slops out the sides and infects his writing that isn't about shredding someone to bits. In fact, that's why it's so easy to characterize his feel-good pieces as ass-kissing: because they are in such stark contrast to his attacks.

His attacks in Medium Raw are filled with suspect claims and intellectual dishonesty, while he gives those he likes a completely free pass. When one of Bourdain's pals offers up some shameless hypocrisy, he doesn't call them on it, he sucks even harder.

The Richman Feud

Alan Richman is a food writer for GQ magazine. Bourdain dislikes him intensely. Bourdain has probably been waiting for years for a good excuse to go after him and generate a public feud. In 2006, Richman wrote a fairly in-depth article about various restaurants and the food culture in New Orleans. According to Bourdain, Richman was out of line for daring to write anything except feel-good, positive comments about New Orleans so soon after hurricane Katrina. And for this, Bourdain called Richman an "asshole" and a "douchebag" in various public forums.

Of course, Bourdain entirely misrepresented Richman's wide-ranging article. If you read the article, you will find 5000-plus words full of detailed and interesting observations about restaurants and food in New Orleans. It's a well-written piece that relays numerous dining experiences, and contains evocative observations and a real sense of place. But Bourdain knows a simple narrative when he sees one, and a storyline that everyone can get their head around. And he knows for certain that the vast majority of people will never read the Richman article.

Richman tells it like he observes it—he praises many establishments in New Orleans while ripping many others. He mocks the casual use of the word "Creole" when most people can't articulate exactly what kind of cuisine it represents. He mentions his feelings towards New Orleans before and after the hurricane (it's never been his favourite place) and comments on the reconstruction efforts (and lack thereof).

In short, an honest, sometimes sneering, sometimes praiseworthy, but never maudlin or clichéd, piece of writing.

Honesty. Something that Bourdain likes to talk and write about an awful lot. But many people who constantly reference a quality that they believe defines them, rarely exhibit that trait. They've got to drone on about it endlessly in an attempt to convince themselves and others that they are a cut above everyone else in the "authenticity" department (another quality Bourdain likes to blather on about).

So Bourdain latched onto this easy but disingenuous narrative: the elitist who dared to kick the marginal when they were down. But then, Bourdain has been peddling this kind of crap for some time now. This suddenly cosmopolitan world traveler fancies himself the only one really able to understand all the poor and dispossessed of the world. And as he likes to remind people on a regular basis, most of those "rubes" who read his articles and watch him on his Travel Network show, No Reservations, will likely never see the places he visits. So it's up to him to offer up some genuine observations in a hip, ironic, self-deprecating way. It's the kind of mindset that leads to some of Bourdain's most entertaining and laugh-out-loud absurdities.

Like the nugget of shit about vegetarians who travel to foreign countries. According to Bourdain, his loathing of many vegetarians and vegans is largely based on the fact that when they go to foreign countries, they are being disrespectful by not accepting the hospitality that may include the offer of dishes that contain meat. This is one of the most bizarre pieces of garbage that Bourdain has ever puked forth.

Except for traveling TV production entourages replete with wads of cash and video cameras and who offer an obvious number of quid pro quos—free coverage and publicity and many dollars spent at their establishments—and perhaps fresh-faced backpackers who go off the beaten path—guess what? There really aren't that many strangers or restaurant owners who offer up free dishes of meat to strangers. And when you do find yourself in a situation where someone shows real hospitality and would like to share some local dish with you and it happens to contain ingredients that you can't or won't eat? Why, you just explain that in a simple and respectful way!

To suggest that it is somehow disrespectful to turn down an offer is to paint people in other countries as simple-minded and winsome. Exactly the kind of exploitation and bullshit that Bourdain claims he is against.

Richman Kicks Back

So Bourdain misrepresents Richman's article and calls him an asshole and douchebag. And here's a real shocker, something that seems nearly incomprehensible to the spluttering Bourdain...Richman responded by reviewing Les Halles, a restaurant in New York where Bourdain used to be the chef and with which he still has a business relationship. It's one of those "associate chef" arrangements. Or perhaps not even as formal as that, as Richman says he was told upon phoning Les Halles that Bourdain is a "consultant."

Bottom line is that the restaurant and Bourdain both benefit from the advertised association. Did Richman review the restaurant only because Bourdain is connected to it? No kidding! Someone goes after you in a public way and you are going to respond. Richman is a restuarant reviewer, so he reviewed Les Halles.

And he ripped it to shreds and directed some insults at Bourdain as well. And Bourdain seems truly offended and shocked by this. He can't comprehend that when you fuck with someone that person often fucks you back. Bourdain characterizes the review as beyond the pale, some kind of never-before-heard-of low blow.

Did Richman give an honest review, or did he set out to even the score? Impossible to know, though many online reviews seem to repeat many of the criticisms leveled at Les Halles by Richman. And perhaps more telling, Bourdain doesn't try to refute any of those criticisms in his chapter about Richman in Medium Raw. He simply splutters and claims that Richman has stooped to some egregiously low and dishonuorable place.

The entire chapter is a bizarre little tantrum. No doubt an entertaining, embarrassing and intriguing tantrum for the glimpse it offers into Bourdain's corroded mind. Like public defecation, you keep looking/reading because it is so hard to fathom that someone is willing to debase himself so completely.

As Bourdain wrote the chapter, it's as if he sensed that some people might actually question his assertions and so he decided to pad out his diatribe with some more reasons for why he went after Richman in the first place. Bourdain points to an article that Richman wrote back in 2004; a long list of BS that diners put up with when they eat in restaurants. Among the items that apparently convinced Bourdain to start attacking Richman, was one that referred to associate chefs and the suggestion that restaurants start posting signs that let diners know when the big-name chef is in the house.

This set Bourdain off on a long rant in which he again spins and twists the words of others. As Bourdain correctly notes, most sophisticated diners know that associate chefs simply don't have the time to be in one of the restaurants that bears their name on most nights. And the best of them ensure that the head chefs in the establishments that advertise their names have the training to ensure that a consistency is upheld that matches their own level of excellence.

But that is the ideal of which only some executive chef arrangements maintain. The worst of them are financial arrangements, pure and simple. And no doubt, Mr. Tell-it-like-it-is Bourdain knows this too. So what is the harm in drawing more attention to this practice, and yes, why not go so far as to let diners know when the chef is actually in the house?

Of course, it is supremely appropriate that when Richman ripped Les Halles and Bourdain with his perfectly titled "Kitchen Inconsequential" he was also exposing the worst of those arrangements. Bourdain whines that Richman is trying to damage him by proxy by giving a poor review to Les Halles. Strange, to me it seems like a straightforward and direct attempt to damage. But Bourdain continues on, and together with the new orifices supplied to him by Richman, he keeps self-eviscerating and puncturing holes into himself.

After the gutless slurs Bourdain hurled at Richman, Richman would be completely justified in pronouncing Bourdain the lesioned, shit-caked arsehole of the year. Bourdain knows that kind of attack just doesn't fit Richman's style, but he claims that such a gutter response would be the only appropriate response:
Now, let me ask you a question: If I were to call you, say … an asshole? You’d probably call me an asshole right back. Or maybe you’d go me one better. You’d call me a fucking asshole. Or, better yet, get really personal: “A loud, egotistical, one-note asshole who’s been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long and who should just shut the fuck up.”

This would be entirely fair and appropriate, one would think. I call you a schoolyard name. You respond in kind. You acknowledge the insult and reply with a pithy riposte.

But not Richman. He is, after all, an impeccably credentialed journalist, critic, educator, and arbiter of taste. Not for him a public pissing contest with some semi-educated journeyman who called him a dirty name.
Bourdain wants to set the rules of engagement that would benefit only him, and is apoplectic that his intended victim, Richman, doesn't go along with this. But in a bizarre twist to this kind of story, Bourdain isn't angry that Richman took the low road, but is enraged that he dared NOT to get down in the gutter with him.

Bourdain Sucks Harder

I suppose if Bourdain heaped contempt on all who came into his line of vision, and had some sound arguments to back up his vitriol, then it would be another matter. But the specious reasoning as a means to go after people he simply dislikes, while giving his friends a free ride in a shameless, self-serving way (they in turn praise him in their books, or engage in other mutually beneficial arrangements), would make professional sycophants like Oprah blush.

In Bourdain's chapter-length wankfest over chef David Chang, we get these words of wisdom from his most loved celebrity chef:
“I don’t mind people saying they hate my guts,” he says, warming to his subject. “Just have the balls to say it to my face.”

“Don’t try to be my fuckin’ friend and then …” he trails off, remembering the “Ozersky incident.” Josh Ozersky, at the time of his transgression, was an editor-correspondent for New York magazine's influential food-and-dining Web site, Grub Street. The root of his conflict with Chang, it is said, stems from the publication of a Momofuku menu——before Chang felt it ready for release. There had been, Chang insists, assurances that the document would be withheld.
"It is said"?

Well, who the hell said it? The object of your sycophantic wet dream who is sitting in front of you? But you offer up this passive voice bit of tripe? Why not ask Chang directly and then do the honourable thing and get the opposite side of the story from Ozersky himself? No, not when you are in the business of bashing people. Or building them up because you have a fairly good inkling that you can come along for the ride and gain some kind of benefit in the process.

Chang goes on to rip some other people with not a single challenge from Bourdain nor any attempt to get some insight into things from the other person in the dispute (if it is even a dispute—Chang simply unloads on numerous people he hates in most cases). Nor does he call Chang on his hypocrisy about "Just have the balls to say it to my face." Unless Chang believes that having Bourdain look at him with glazed eyes and a line of saliva hanging off his chin while Chang rips other people is the equivalent of criticizing them to their faces.

It mars what is an otherwise interesting look at Chang. But a fluff piece full of softball questions and wide-eyed unquestioning praise, especially from someone 20 years older than Chang, becomes just another cringe-worthy example of how weak the foundation on which Bourdain's writing is based can be.

Why Does Bourdain Attack?

So what exactly drives Bourdain to rip so many people in such a base manner with no regard for backing up what he says in any logical way? As mentioned before, he simply doesn't have much to say otherwise. And he knows that gossipy stories attract a lot of attention.

But look at Bourdain's past and I believe that there are some clues there. A self-admitted former junky whose heavy boozing would qualify him, at various times in the past, as a drunk, Bourdain has a secondary addiction shared by so many other dopeheads and boozers: melodrama.

It's hard to say whether dopeheads have a propensity for melodrama before they start sticking needles in their arms, or whether it develops afters years of starring in their own pathetic soap opera full of attempts at kicking the habit and redemption narratives, and stoked by the weirdly satisfying knowledge that all the people in their dreary orbits are watching and being fucked over to a degree with every subsequent act of selfishness.

Regardless, the melodrama addiction is usually still there if the dopehead comes out the other side and is able to kick his drug habit. Not only is the melodrama habit harder to kick in many ways, but it acts as an overcompensation for the drug-addled brain that the former junky is saddled with for his remaining years. The synapses just don't fire like they used to after all those chemicals and abuse. Flawed logic and overwrought emotion are two of the many life-long souvenirs that drug addicts carry with them to the grave.

And so Bourdain's writing is rammed full of specious arguments, attempts to draw people into shit fights, and gobs of melodrama. He devotes an entire chapter to passing judgment on various chefs and others associated with the restaurant and food industries. Some of the same people he ripped in years gone by receive a more objective assessment in Medium Raw, with praise and the occasional back-handed apology for a few who previously tasted Bourdain's wrath.

It's not hard to understand why. Bourdain has his well-fed face up to the trough and is trying to get in on many of the same deals of those he criticized. And many of those people can help him slurp up a bigger share of the spoils on offer. Though just as often, his changed opinions are likely a way to lessen the glare of hypocrisy.

He even takes a paragraph to get in a few digs at his ex-wife. His new-found fame and wealth spurred Bourdain to ditch his first wife for a decades-younger Italian tart with whom he now has a young daughter. But he can't leave his first wife out of it completely. He offers this as a parting shot:

I was angry with my wife—very angry, a long-festering and deep-seated resentment that year after year after year she didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t work. Strong, smart as hell, with a college degree from a Seven Sisters school, solid white-collar experience, and she’d long ago just … stopped looking. In nearly two decades, after a promising start, nothing but a couple of short-term, part-time gigs stocking books and sorting in-house mail for near-minimum wage. It made no sense to me and I resented it bitterly. To be fair, it consumed me out of all proportion, with the kind of smoldering, barely repressed passive-aggressive anger that poisons everything around it. And that, sure as shit, didn’t help the situation. Waking up and going to sleep with this basic fact— and the way I then handled that resentment—was contaminating everything. I just couldn’t get past it. I didn’t get past it.

With his love of melodrama, you can almost see Bourdain's thought process at work. Just hoping that his ex-wife takes the bait and responds in a public way so that he can then really unload.

Me, Me, Me

Aside from the attacks and the hagiographic paeans, Bourdain offers up some really bland, self-absorbed articles about his own life. To be fair, he does have more than a few fans, and they probably do want to hear about how his life has changed since the success of Kitchen Confidential. Mark these pieces as the dreariest and least interesting.

For example, Bourdain is a proud new father and provides his take on the tried and true "things will never be the same again" theme. Which definitely resonates with anyone who has children. But it turns into more melodrama, and a new, iron-clad excuse for any kind of hypocrisy or bad behaviour that he will offer up in the years to come.

Because, you see, now that he has a daughter, anything goes in his attempt to acquire as much as he can in his remaining years so as to provide a good life for her. How ironic that those who talk the most about authenticity and honesty are often the ones who are the most easily corrupted and can rationalize anything.

His chapter on using some early-childhood brainwashing on his daughter to turn her away from fast food for as many years as possible comes from a good place. And I agree with most of what he has to say about the evils of soda, junk food, and McDonalds. But what could have been a classic piece suffers from what so much in Medium Raw does: the sense that absolutely no one is giving his writing the brutal once-over before it is published. Just weirdly off in some really cringe-worthy ways.

But that willingness to write about his personal life together with his brand of nastiness is what plays into the canard that so many people repeat, that Bourdain is an honest writer. But look closer at what Bourdain writes regarding his past life, and it is not so much honest, as it is building up a myth of himself as some kind of hard-case who saw the light. Much of what he writes about himself is just self-created clichés and superficial bullshit. If you are going to go down the path of using your personal life as fodder and then try to pass it off as being truthful, be prepared for people to call you on it.

Part of his rationale for offering up supposedly hard-core realities about his past actions is to insulate himself from criticism. Prolepsis is a tool that Bourdain employs often in his writing. It goes like this: brazenly admit that you were a junky who thieved from old women, were a nasty, self-serving piece of filth, and there's really nothing left for people to say when you blind-side them with scathing attacks, as Bourdain likes to do to numerous people he deems less than authentic.

When you have already, apparently, decimated yourself, the people whom you have attacked in your books really have nothing left that they can say against you.

Writing Style

So, is there any good writing in Medium Raw? Yes, there is. Kitchen Confidential wasn't a hit for no good reason. Bourdain can hit his stride and provide some entertaining prose when he makes the effort. A few memorable pieces in Medium Raw include an article about what it takes to be a chef (So You Wanna be a Chef), and a very good, striving-to-be Studs Terkel-esque article on a fish-cutter who works at a restaurant owned by Bourdain's self-proclaimed best friend, Eric Ripert (The Fish-on-Monday Thing).

Even his "what happened to" tale of characters from Kitchen Confidential is an interesting read although you'd have to have a pretty high opinion of the book to remember many of the names, unless you read it last week.

This passage, from The Fish-on-Monday Thing, is an example of some engaging and informative writing:

Cod is a different matter. It’s delicate. Extremely delicate—and perishable. The flesh, handled roughly, will mash. The physiognomy of a cod is not suited to eventual portioning as the identical, evenly shaped squares or oblongs a three-star restaurant requires. But before I’m even fully aware of what’s going on, Justo’s got the fillets off the bone—neatly stacked. He puts all the left-side fillets in one stack—the right-side lets in another. With the inappropriate (one would think) slicing knife, he’s drilling out absolutely identical cubes of cod (all the left-hand fillets first—then the right-hand ones). If they’re not identical, he quickly—and almost imperceptibly—squares them off, trims them down to uniform size and shape. The trimmings form a steadily growing pile off to the side, which will be joined throughout the morning by other trimmings, for eventual donation to City Harvest. Tail ends—or smaller but still useful bits, doomed to never be uniform but, in every other respect, perfectly good, form another pile—above and away from the uniform one.

But amongst the good writing, there are the many annoyances and credibility-killing habits listed above. Other tendencies indicate Bourdain needs some more self-awareness with regard to his writing. I have no doubt that Bourdain is surrounded by fawning hipsters who tell him every last "fucking" he litters his prose with hits them like a punch in the guts. Please, someone who has pull with Bourdain, tell him how absurd a dozen "fucking"s make an article sound.

What Next for Bourdain?

Bourdain cryptically hints at the fact that he may be finished with food writing altogether. Bullshit. He has worked too hard to get where he is. He spends a good portion of Medium Raw sucking up to various people, strengthening connections and probing for potential new avenues of business.

Most importantly, after the success of Kitchen Confidential, the travel show, and his entrenchment as a kind of gonzo chronicler of the celebrity chef and restaurant business, he has that one important thing that will allow him to carry forward with what has become a lucrative career: access. His desire to maintain his access and expand his reach is evident in his less than subtle apologies for past boorish behaviour.

Medium Raw is a series of articles billed as Bourdain's follow-up to Kitchen Confidential. If this is the best he can come up with in ten years of writing, then his fans shouldn't hold their breath for his next effort. Whether or not he decides to go beyond the gossipy, ranting, attacking, self-absorbed angles will probably determine how seriously readers will take him in the years to come.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Change Which Template is Used When Microsoft Word 2007 Opens

Tefl Spin tutorials
This tutorial will show you how to create a template in Microsoft Word 2007, and how to create a desktop shortcut so that every time you open Word, it will open a new document based on your preferred template.

To complete this tutorial, you need a computer with Windows XP operating system, and MS Word 2007.

This tutorial contains four parts:

—How to Create a Template
—How to Create a New Document Based on a Template
—How to Create a Desktop Shortcut for Your New Template
—How to Modify the Shortcut So That it Opens a Document Based on Your New Template

To create a template:

1. Open MS Word 2007.

2. Click the Microsoft Office Button.

Microsoft Office Button

3. Click New.

click new

4. In the New Document dialog box, click My templates.

my templates

5. In the New dialog box, under Create New, enable the Template radio button.

new dialog box

6. Click OK.

click OK

7. Make all changes to the various styles, margins, logos, footers, headers and anything else that you want to include as part of your new template.

Note: This tutorial does not provide information on how to change the Styles that will be part of your new template.

8. After you have made all your desired changes to your new template, click the Microsoft Office Button and then click Save.


Result: You should see the following dialog box. The template you are saving should be located in the Trusted Templates folder. And the default template file format is .dotx (see below).

trusted templates

Note: But wait! Where are the pre-existing templates that are loaded with MS Word 2007 when it comes out of the package? Those two templates are Normal.dotm and NormalEmail.dotm. The "m" at the end of the file names indicates macro-enabled templates. For the real sticklers, you will note a small exclamation point on the .dotm icons, which also alerts you to the fact that they are macro-enabled.


Tip: if you wish to make your new template macro-enabled, click the drop down arrow next to Save as type, and select .dotm.


9. Name your new template and click Save.

name new template

Great! You have created your new template. If you want to create a new document based on that template, here's how:

To create a new document based on a template:

1. Open MS Word 2007.

2. Click the Microsoft Office Button.

Microsoft Office Button

3. Click New.

Click new

4. Click My Templates.

my templates

5. Select the template that you want to use.

selecting template

6. Under Create New, ensure the Document radio button is enabled, and then click OK.

Of course, you still have another document open that you have to close before starting to work on the document based on the template you want to use. Seven steps to start working on a document based on a template other than normal.dotm, which is the default template that is used whenever you open MS Word 2007.

But there is a much easier way. You can create a desktop shortcut so that when you click to open Word, a new document based on the template you want to use opens immediately. In fact, you can create as many desktop icons as you want using as many different templates as you want.

To clarify, these steps do not involve changing normal.dotm, nor deleting normal.dotm and renaming another template you have created as normal.dotm (other popular methods for ensuring the default templates matches your specifications).

Those other options have their appeal. But imagine that you have built up a detailed template over time and decide that now you want to use it as your default (or simply, one of your many commonly used templates). The thought of tweaking normal.dotm to match the template you have taken a long time to perfect just isn't appealing.

On to the second part of this tutorial! 

To create a desktop shortcut for your new template:

1. Right-click on an open space on your desktop, point to New, and then click Shortcut.

new shortcut

2. In the Create Shortcut dialog box that appears, click Browse, and locate the WINWORD.EXE icon.

create shortcut dialog box

Note: the standard location for WINWORD.EXE is:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\WINWORD.EXE

browse to local disk

browse to program files

browse to office

3. Click on WINWORD.EXE to highlight it, and then click OK.

highlight winword.exe

4. In the Create Shortcut Dialog box, click Next.

create shortcut dialog box

5. Type  a name for your desktop shortcut, and then click Finish.

name for shortcut

You're still not quite finished! Now we are going to tweak the shortcut so that it opens a new document based on the new template that you have created.

To modify the shortcut so it opens a document based on your new template:

1. Right click the shortcut you created in the previous section, and then click Properties.

right-click desktop icon

click properties

Result: You should now see the Standard Use Properties dialog box. In the shortcut tab, you should see the path to WINWORD.EXE in the Target text box. 

standard use template

2. Leave the Standard Use Properties dialog box open. You will return to it in step 4.

3. Locate the template that you created in the first part of this tutorial. The most likely location for the template is:

C:\Documents and Settings\K\ApplicationData\Microsoft\Templates

With the "K" representing the user name that you assigned when you first loaded Windows XP onto your computer.

When you find the location of your new template, copy the location from the address bar.

location of template

Tip: if you can not find this location on your system, you may have to change Windows XP so that you can view hidden files and folders. To do this: In Windows Explorer (accessible from My Documents, for example), click Tools and then Folder Options. Next, in the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab, enable the Show hidden files and folders radio button, click Apply, and then click OK.

folder options

view folder options

show hidden files

4. Return to the Standard Use Properties dialog box that you opened in steps 1 and 2.

5. In the Target text box, navigate to the end of the line of text, and then add one space.

Note: ensure that the space comes after the quotation mark.

6. After the space that you have added, insert a forward slash (/), followed by a "t" (without the quotation marks), and then followed by an opening quotation mark (").

7. Directly after the quotation mark, paste in the location of the template that you copied in step 3 of this section.

template location

Warning: it is very important that you have no space after the "t." If a space is added there, and all other steps are followed, clicking the new desktop shortcut will open the template itself, and not a document based on the template. 

8. Navigate to the end of the line of text that points to your new template. Add a backslash, the name of your template and its file extension, and a closing quotation mark.

closing quotation

9. Click OK.

click OK

You are finished! You now have a desktop shortcut that, when you double click it, will open a new document based on the new template that you created earlier. Double-click the new icon to ensure that it is working.

At the top of the new document, you should see Document 1. And, you can confirm that the document is based on the correct template either by checking what are probably unique style settings that you should recognize, and/or clicking the Developer tab, clicking Document Template, and verifying that the correct template appears under Document template.

document 1

document template

templates and add ins