September, 2006

  • Steve Clayton

    Write like Senna?



    Weird things happen in the blogosphere. At the same time I was finishing up a post about our Virtual Partner Conference and trying to squeeze in a Senna link, I read Matthew's blog and he's referenced the great one. Spooky...this stuff happens way too often for me with my blog and it's starting to make me worry.

    Fortunately, Matthew's blog post was up to his usual standard so I stopped worrying and started reading. Only to start worrying again as next week at the Actual Partner Conference I have to talk about Solutions. I really don't like that word at all but it's so overused that it's almost universally understood now. Or is that a paradox? I probably just broke several of the seven guidelines Matthew offered in that last paragraph alone. Here are his seven types of bad writing with some highlights on areas I need to learn to do better:


    1. Thinks too much of itself. The UK satirical magazine, Private Eye runs a regular column lampooning the abuse of the word ‘solution.’ For example, Dow Corning’s “Innovative solutions for wound management,” which means “bandages.” This kind of word inflation devalues meaning and arouses the skepticism of readers.
    2. Is too clever by half. For some reason, people are afraid to write how they speak. They want sound big, grown-up and clever. So they use big words and long sentences. For example, I was presented with this beauty at a school board meeting once: “the Governing Body are agreeing this budget as the financial mechanism to support the education priorities of the school as identified in the School Development Plan and will adhere to the best value principles in spending its school funding allocation.” It meant, “We approve the budget.”
    3. Gets hyped up. Press releases often include frankenquotes. These are made-up quotations that bear no resemblance to normal speech. For example: “Nortel has established a legacy in innovation and will continue to push the envelope…” Try saying that in a pub to your friends. See if they still listen to you afterwards. Or trust you.
    4. Tells lies. In the UK, journalists score low in public trust. Somewhere near politicians and spin doctors. However, good journalists are obsessive about research, accuracy, good reporting, details and, yes, truth. What works for newspaper stories also works for business communication.
    5. Ignores the reader. As a writer, the greatest skill is to think about what the reader needs to hear, not what you need to say. It takes an imaginative leap. For example, Google says “Please read this carefully, it’s not the usual yada, yada.” Microsoft says “This software is licensed under the agreement below.” Which one is more likely to be read?
    6. Needs to go on a diet. Most writing can be improved by liposuction. Consider the Gettysburg Address. Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is especially true when writing for the web, when you need to cut the word count by about 50 percent.
    7. Has no direction. My favourite tutor at Oxford told me that I had to take my essays and drive them like Ayrton Senna (a famous racing driver). Good writing has a strong purpose. Bad writing has either no direction or has too many.

    Great advice all round I think. I'm going to ask the Windows Live Writer team to add a word count feature to the product to help with my word diet :)
    (572 words here for reference)

    Link to Bad Language / Seven types of bad writing


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  • Steve Clayton

    The quiet Brit in Apple


    I have huge admiration for this man - not simply because he produces stunningly designed products like the iMac, Powebook and iPOD range but also because he's British. What this interview highlighted though is the humble manner in which he and his team approach their work which impresses me so much and something I hope to learn from. They let their work do the talking despite being hounded for interviews given their products touch a very wide audience and are universally acclaimed as best in class for design. The interview tries to capture the essence of Mr Ive but notably has very little comment from him or his team - there is much more from other people commenting about him and the team and how they are just that - a team. I hear interviews from footballers and Formula one drivers all the time about the "team effort" and often think they sound quite insincere. Yada yada...of course you care about the team...oh and there you are talking about yourself in your latest biography..hmmm 

    Ive comes across as sincere more for what he doesn't say than what he does say. I heard something similar this week in a management team meeting which I thought was brilliant and came from somebody I admire a great deal as a manager in Microsoft:

    "if ever you succeed at something attribute it to others, if ever you fail attribute it to yourself”

    Sometimes you need to shout about your work in Microsoft as there is so much cool stuff going on but for me it's very rewarding to step back and see the success that a team can have when you give them a little direction and then let them run. They can deliver astonishing stuff.

    Link to Who Is Jonathan Ive?

  • Steve Clayton

    Microsoft UK's Virtual Partner Conference



    Next week we're running a UK Partner Conference at the Williams F1 Centre in Wantage. Not only will around 400 partners get to drool over some expensive machinery but they will also get to hear from the great and the good of Microsoft UK (and me) about our business plans, direction and ambitions for this financial year. Groovy eh? So what happens if you can't make it?

    Fortunately, Emma Richardson has been busy building a Virtual Partner Conference which means you can stand on the teleporter in your office and be magically whisked to the venue....actually that's not quite true though we will have teleportation as an optional extra in Vista of course :) Meantime, back on planet earth, we'll have a website available from Sept 26th where you will find not only the presentations from the day but also videos of the speakers and a set of screencasts by the Vista boys and Steve Marsh. Yah!

    All in all it promises to be a pretty snazzy website with plenty of useful content so mark your diary and I'll post another reminder on the day. Right...I'm off sailing now.  

    Link to The Virtual Partner Conference - Partners - Microsoft UK

  • Steve Clayton

    Record on your Media Centre from Instant Messenger (but not in the UK)


    Nice find by Sean Alexander that over on Casey's blog he's detailed how you can control your Media Centre remotely using a bot in Live Messenger - so with Messenger on my Windows Mobile Smartphone I can now control my media centre from anywhere. Nice...though I know Sky has a similar service which I'm not sure has officially launched yet for their Sky+ and SkyHD boxes in the UK.

    Full details over at Casey's place but put simply:

    mobileRecord is an MSN instant messaging bot that allows you to schedule TV recordings on your Media Center Edition PC. you communicate with the bot using Messenger, and the bot communicates with your MCE PC through a client application.

    The bot even has a feed so you can anonymously see what others are recording.

    The hang-up? This only works for US and Canadian MCE users due to licensing restrictions on the guide data. Talk about a great web service the BBC or Radio Times could offer....

    Link to 


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  • Steve Clayton

    Mr Xbox talks Xbox, wii, PS3 and scouse!


    Blatantly off topic for me (what's "on topic" for me you may ask), I love listening to Peter Moore not only as he talks about cool stuff on XBOX but he's a man from me (sic) hometown - Liverpool. I only learnt this from Wired this month when I read that his office is adorned with the football memorabilia.

    [update] he goes waaay further back with Liverpool FC than I do. My old man and Peter would get on very well with tales of yore!

    Link to Xbox executive Peter Moore talks openly about Xbox, wii, PS3 and more... (The Show On 10)

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