The Red Lines Page

June 9, 2018

Coming out as an LGBT+ Ally in 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter A @ 9:46 pm

IBM Careers UK & Ireland (@IBMCareersUKI)

08/06/2018, 13:01

Check out this super awesome Pride GIF with all of IBM’s greatest achievements! *proud moment!* #inclusiveIBM #PrideMonth2018 pic.twitter.com/Rr3iCKh62w

Seeing this IBM tweet and its cool animated GIF reminds me that this is a good time to reblog this:

https://peteranghelides.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/coming-out-as-an-lgbt-ally/

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April 3, 2018

Amazon update

Filed under: Blake's 7,drwho,Sarah Jane Smith,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 9:50 pm

I have updated my Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/anghelides

The UK one is the slightly less memorable amazon.co.uk/-/e/B000AP7UBC

Edited to add… hurrah! It looks like there are a variety of international versions:

AmazonScreenshot

Edited again: it’s created an Audible page too: audible.com/author/Peter-Anghelides/B000AP7UBC I think I need a better photo.
AudibleScreenshot

January 1, 2018

What do you think of it so far…?

Filed under: Technology,writing — Peter A @ 10:41 pm

Here is a super story, in three blog articles, about how BBC Research & Development has been working with Queen Mary University, London in an inventive recovery of a once-lost Morecambe & Wise TV episode.MandW

It’s full of interesting stuff about how TV used to work, changes in broadcast expectations of viewer behaviour, international broadcast relations, video and film technology, chemistry, physics, and software engineering.

There is an answer to that

I encountered the story first because of my interest in the Doctor Who connection with the “missing episodes” saga. But there’s plenty else to admire here about about how the BBC and QMU identified and overcame technical challenges never solved before.

  1. You Can’t See the Join!
  2. Lasers and X-rays
  3. All the Pictures. Not Necessarily in the Right Order.

 

BBCResearch

Hello folks

There is plenty more to admire in the BBC’s R&D work, if you’re interested. There’s  Artificial Intelligence, 5G Broadcast (it’s not just “another G”), object-based media, scalable and lightweight live video production over IP, Data Science research, improving ways of sharing archives on social media with speech-to-text tech, conversational interfaces, and loads more

Often it’s in partnership with universities, designed to advance broadcast technologies and models in an open way, and shared in regular white papers.

It certainly makes me proud of the BBC’s collaborative and open approach to advancing TV tech for everyone.

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

Filed under: Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,Mirror,Warship,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 4:05 pm

ScorpioAttackThis week I’ve done an interview with Big Finish about some of my Blake’s 7 writing. It will be published as part of their Big Finish Companion series of books.

It reminded me that in February 2015, I did a similar interview with Jonathan Helm for his Blake’s 7 fanzine, published later that year.

Originally, Jonathan had asked me to contribute a 500-word review, but I thought it was more fun to do something longer about the Big Finish stories I’d worked on.

And now, nearly two years later, I thought it would be interesting to publish it here on my own blog.


Q: Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for my Blake’s 7 fanzine. I really appreciate your help.

Frontier Worlds #15A: You’re welcome, Jonathan. Blake’s 7 fanzines like Liberator and Standard by Seven were the first chance I had to share my enthusiasm for the series with fellow fans when the series was originally on TV.

Later on, I set up a fanzine called Frontier Worlds with two of my pals, and that had interviews with people involved in making the series. So it’s flattering (and a bit of a surprise) to find myself having the chance to do the same thing 30 years later.

Q: I also wanted to thank you for your input into the Big Finish range. I’ve really enjoyed your work for the series. Listening to Warship was like scratching a 32 year itch. I also have fond memories of the Frontier Worlds fanzine from long, long ago!

A: Thank you! Me too.

Q: Warship was the first full-cast release from Big Finish. How did you get this prestigious gig?

A: I’d written scripts for the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges previously – full cast, Companion Chronicles, and a multi-Doctor story. So I suppose they thought I had the right kind of experience for doing a Blake’s 7 audio.

CounterfeitProducer David Richardson knew what a big fan I am of the TV series. He commissioned a Liberator Chronicles story from me called Counterfeit [pictured]. And when that turned out well, he approached me about the “mid-season gap.”

The original idea was to have three Liberator Chronicles that explained what happened after the TV story Star One. That was going to be a box set called “The Galactic War.” I was going to write the concluding story: “What happened to Blake?” Steve Lyons was doing “What happened to Jenna?” And another writer was to do the opening story, “The Galactic War.”

There were sort of two reasons that David asked me to do the Blake episode. He thought I’d do a good job on it. Plus it was a sort of in-joke because I had, with my Frontier Worlds co-editors, been on-set at BBC Television Centre as a guest of the producer for the recording of the finale episode Blake, and so I allegedly knew how Blake had reached Gauda Prime!

Things worked out a bit differently with that box set, and I took on the “Galactic War” story instead. The original author had been keen to do it, but couldn’t fit it into a busy schedule.

Una_McCormackWhich was a shame for them, but turned out rather well for me. The three of us had met up at one of the Big Finish Days to discuss initial ideas – me, Steve and the other person. I remember meeting another author that day, Una McCormack [pictured]. She’s written Blake’s 7 audios subsequently, but at the time these ones were not announced. I had to bite my lip about what I and the other two authors were plotting.

Sorry, Una!

Q: Warship was originally to have been a Liberator Chronicles. How did the story evolve from there?

NigelFairs-240x300.jpegA: I’d persuaded David Richardson to let me write the “Galactic War” story instead of “Blake’s Story.” From quite early on, it was agreed that I could include all the main cast – which was unusual for the Companion Chronicles. I had written them with a single cast member. And at a GallifreyOne convention panel in Los Angeles, I had feigned outrage at Nigel Fairs [pictured here, from his website] when he was explaining how he’d included as many as three of them in one of his scripts. Imagine what a treat it was for me when Big Finish asked me to use five!

I wrote an outline for a Liberator Chronicle, with distinct sections narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally. Andrew Mark Sewell of B7 Media very sagely pointed out that, if they were all narrating a section, then we may as well make it a full-cast audio. As it was no longer a Liberator Chronicles story, they decided to make it a separate audio release, with a second disk of material and a special CD booklet.

An additional bonus was that the original Galactic War trilogy for what became Liberator Chronicles 6 was now missing a story, and was able to offer them a replacement for that in a story called Incentive.

Q: What are the differences in writing a full-cast play compared to writing for the Liberator Chronicles?

A: The Liberator Chronicles focus on a particular subset of the cast, because obviously only one or two characters are speaking their own lines. Or three if you’re Nigel Fairs, obviously.

CountdownThe stories are still in the spirit of the TV series, but concentrate on specific moments in a story. The TV series sometimes hones in on a particular character or two – for example, Avon and Del Grant in Countdown [pictured] – but there’s always stuff happening with the rest of the main characters elsewhere in the same episode. TV stories gallop along with the dialogue and visuals, whereas a narrated book may cover less story in more words as your characters describe events or locations or people.

With Companion Chronicles or Liberator Chronicles, you’re also exploiting the specific conventions of a narrated book. You can confine the point of view very narrowly, and pull off some tricks in an audio that you couldn’t on TV – for example, the way I smuggled Travis into my episode Counterfeit.

You can go even further that that, as James Goss does brilliantly with Three in a single conversation between Servalan and Cullen. That sort of thing never happened in the TV series.

It rarely happens in any popular drama series – EastEnders occasionally has a two-hander, but in 5,000 episodes has done it for fewer than two dozen half-hour shows.

LCVol6In a TV full-cast episode, you need to give your main cast members something to do – even if, notoriously, it’s merely sitting by the teleport. But with the audios, you want everyone to be happy: the cast members in the studio should have something interesting to perform, and listeners deserve an exciting and interesting plot that meaningfully involves their favourite characters.

The latest set of B7 full-cast audios have rather brilliantly exploited the absence of Dayna as a plot point, rather than making some feeble excuse about why she’s there but not audible. Contrast that, for example, with my story Incentive [box set pictured], which gets away with having action involving Cally, Vila and Dayna “off-mic” by concentrating on the key scenes that involve Tarrant and Avon.

I was especially pleased with Incentive, because I used the presence of a third character, Bracheeni, in a way that made a Liberator Chronicles more like a full-cast audio.

warship bookQ: Warship was the first full cast audio play in the Blake’s 7 range. Was this intended to be a one-off?

A: When I wrote it, we hoped it would do well. Big Finish were trying it out to see if it would succeed, because it meant getting a lot of principal cast members together and that makes it harder have lots of other guest cast.

They also wanted to see if it sold well, because it’s obviously more expensive to have that large cast. It was important that the actors enjoyed their experience in studio – for it to be a fun environment with good colleagues and an interesting script, with something substantial for each of them to perform.

And it had to be a critical success, too, in order to encourage future sales of similar full-cast audios in the range. The e-Book of Warship [pictured]was another way of generating interest for the episode – and fulfilled an ambition of mine to write a novelization.

We always hoped it would be more than a one-off, but couldn’t guarantee it. I’m obviously very happy that it worked out so splendidly.

Q: Was it tricky trying to juggle so many main characters and giving them all something to do in Warship?

Warship A: I always want to give each character something significant to do in a story. On that occasion, I knew it might be our only chance to do a full-cast audio. I didn’t want to miss the chance to write for each of them. And it was important for this first audio to make each of the actors feel fully involved, too.

My draft of it as a Liberator Chronicles story already had narrated sequences for each main character. I even thought I might get away with a short section narrated by Orac at one point. I reasoned that, if Alistair was going to play Zen then I should ask Big Finish if they’d let him do Orac, too.

And when they said yes to that, I asked if I could include Servalan – because I knew that Jacqueline Pearce had agreed to do some of the other Liberator Chronicles. Working out her availability, they agreed I could include a short sequence for her, too. If I’d know they’d already made contact with Brian Croucher, maybe I’d have pushed my luck and asked to include a cameo flashback involving Travis!

Alistair Lock had already played Zen in a 2010 B7 Media story called Escape Velocity, because Peter Tuddenham had died three years previously. Alistair was also closely involved with Big Finish as a sound engineer and musician. So B7Media were happy to let him reprise the role in my story.

BLAKEZENUp until that point, if we’d needed Zen to say anything in a Liberator Chronicles story, the principal cast member had to do the lines. In the studio for Counterfeit, Alistair and I spent some time trying to explain the correct intonation of “Confirmed” to Gareth Thomas [pictured, getting pronunciation advice from Orac].

So, by the time we’d agreed to make Warship a full-cast audio, I’d already worked out key things that involved each of the main cast — Blake and Cally’s investigation of Megiddo, Vila delousing the hull, Jenna’s brave flight into the alien fleet, Avon confronting Blake on the observation deck, Servalan’s attempt to capture the crippled Liberator, and so on.

And of course, once I knew I had the entire cast, I also looked for opportunities where they could all interact in the same scene – inevitably, given the storyline, that was on the flight deck.

Q: You’re a big fan of the series. Is this a help or a hindrance when writing for Big Finish?

A: It’s a bit of both. Personally, I need to feel an enthusiasm for a series, and some sympathy and interest for its characters, before I agree to write for it. That’s what made it easy to say “yes” when Big Finish invited me to get involved.

I remember the TV series with great affection, and enjoyed having yet another excuse to rewatch the DVDs. Is suppose a risk when you’re writing about something you know really well is to feel constrained by what’s gone before. Whereas you need to bring something new and interesting to it, just as the writers of the original TV series did each week.

You want to innovate and extend the franchise without disrespecting or ignoring what made you fall in love with it in the first place.

Q: How do you feel the TV series handled the departure of Blake and Jenna?

incentiveIt made the best of the situation at the time. I imagine [the BBC] wish they’d called the series something other than “Blake’s 7” at the outset, though. The original idea was to make Season C more about the hunt to find Jenna and Blake, but that changed once they got into the scripting.

On the other hand, it did give me a good excuse to write Incentive [starring Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow, pictured in studio] as a way of exploring why that had happened. Crayoning outside the lines.

I wish they’d mentioned Jenna a bit more. Right up until the finale, I don’t think she even gets as a namecheck in 23 episodes.

Q: Was it tough to handle tie all the dangling threads together while still telling a compelling main story/were you given a detailed story brief?

A:  The brief was quite succinct: explain what happened between the end of Star One and the beginning of Aftermath, an exciting and compelling explanation of the previously unseen Galactic War.

Actually, it was commissioned as “The Galactic War” until I convinced them that “Warship” was a better title. I thought my alternative identified a central “character” in the series, sounded more like a Blake’s 7 episode, and located a key location in the episode

Script for WarshipQ:  How important is it to get the continuity right?

A: It’s that thing about being a fan again – I want it to be Blake’s 7, after all. Big Finish is run by professional actors, writers, directors, producers, script editors, sound engineers and so on who are fans. We love the stuff we work on. That’s as true for “Blake’s 7” as anything. For the past couple of years, I’ve also doing continuity reviews of the novels.

You have to resist the temptation, though, to be constrained by the TV series. I’ve learned to recognise in myself a fannish desire to “join the dots.” But dot-to-dot is not very creative, nor does it produce especially interesting pictures. You have to sketch freehand, and sometimes crayon outside the lines.

Some fans grumbled about how Simon Guerrier [pictured] wrote into one of his Liberator Chronicles scripts that the Liberator had an observation deck — because that had never appeared before. I thought, “So what?” It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t actually contradict the TV series.

SimonGIt’s not like we ever exhaustively explored the ship on screen. And there were places mentioned maybe once on telly for a plot point, and rarely or never heard of again – the hold we see in Time Squad, or the room full of jewels we hear about in Cygnus Alpha.

So, why not introduce a gymnasium, or a laboratory, or an observation deck? Besides, it gave me an excuse to extend and develop the observation deck in Warship as the ideal location for a key scene between Avon and Blake. Thanks, Simon!

When I write something, I need to decide what’s relevant to the story and what makes it work. I was particularly conscious of continuity in Warship. To take just one example – how long did the war last?

CallyStarOneThe continuity about that is contradictory in the TV series, anyway. The war gets mentioned as late on as Animals. I can think of several ways of accounting for how so many of Justin’s pupils were killed during the war – and whether Justin’s Federation scientific warfare team was already in place before the war broke out. There are brief mentions of the war in Children of Auron and Moloch that don’t give much clue about its duration. But Volcano is set on a planet right in the middle of the war zone, and where some of its greatest battles took place. That implies a more extensive conflict.

But the evidence of our eyes in is that the war starts in the final episode of Season B and concludes in the opening episode of Season C. CallyAftermathWe also see that Avon, Vila and Cally are still wearing exactly the same clothes [see Cally’s in the example pictures here] as they escape from the Liberator in Aftermath that they wore on the flight deck at the conclusion of Star One – which shows that there’s not a substantial gap between the two episodes.

And as it happens, that’s also appropriate for the structure of a full-cast audio episode in the spirit of the original series that connects the two TV stories. Though I also included some sections within the pacing of my episode that allow a bit of wiggle room for fans to make up their own minds a bit.

And I have a whole blog post on whether Orac is “he” or “it.” Don’t get me started. http://is.gd/wmWO3W

B7Series1Q: Did you re-watch the episodes as research?

A: I don’t need any excuse to rewatch Blake’s 7! But yes, I did do a lot research – and not just the two episodes either side of my story.

Q: Were you happy with the critical reception for Warship?

A: I was delighted. One of my favourite reviews was someone rating it nine out of ten because they wanted to have a score available if subsequent full-cast audios were even better than this one. (Had they never seen This is Spinal Tap? Go up to 11.)

Q: You went on to write Mirror for the ‘Series B+’ range. Was it tricky fitting your story into the wider ongoing storyline?

A: Script editor Justin Richards outlined broadly what the episodes needed to cover, and what key aspects of the overall story had to be in each. Otherwise, it was up to the writers to fit things together. I had the chance to read all the other scripts, and comment on broader Blake’s 7 continuity in them. That gave me a good opportunity to ensure my script tied in neatly with them, and offered links from mine into theirs.

Blake's 7: MirrorThe brief for my story suggested a title that I thought gave the game away too much, and I proposed Mirror [pictured] as a more Blake’s 7 title — plus something I could exploit as an ambiguity. When I read one of the earlier scripts, it had some reference to a mirror or mirrors that I thought would pre-empt the twist in my story, so I haggled with Big Finish to play that down or remove it (without compromising the other script, obviously).

I was keen to include some continuity with the broader Big Finish audio series, which had the additional benefit of giving Jenna motivation for her actions in Mirror by involving the character Space Major Kade. You don’t have to know who he is, but it’s a little bonus for fans of the other audios.

I also included a tribute to the original series director and producer Vere Lorrimer. In studio for Warship, Michael Keating had joked that we ought to have a planet called Vere, and I thought “why not?” It raised a few affectionate smiles in the studio for Mirror.

Q: Do you prefer writing for the Blake led crew or the Series C line-up?

A: I like it all. The dynamics are different in each, and it’s great fun to write stuff that plays to the strengths and enthusiasms of the different actors.

I must confess, though, that it was a particular treat to write that first full-cast audio, and then get a chance to write the first script that Steven Pacey recorded for Big Finish.

Q: Are there particular characters you enjoy writing for?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have written for so many of them. Vila is great fun. Perhaps that’s because I sit at the back of the director’s booth on recording days and laugh as Michael Keating reads out my jokes in the dialogue.

Maybe it’s odd, but I also enjoy writing dialogue scenes involving Orac. He’s particularly good value in scenes involving Avon, of course. And I even managed to write a dialogue exchange between him and Zen in Mirror. Or should that be “it”?

Q: Would you like to write for the range again?

CavanScottA: Definitely. I think there’s plenty more to do in the Big Finish Blake’s 7 universe. New producer Cav Scott [pictured] is another big fan of the series. I’ve talked to him potential stories and ways that Big Finish Blake’s 7 can expand. I’d love to explore them further.

Q: Thanks again for your help.

A: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking.

December 12, 2017

Dual career path

Filed under: Another Life,Blake's 7,drwho,IBM,Torchwood,twitter,writing — Peter A @ 11:51 pm

IBMangledlogo

On 4th  January 2018, I will have worked at IBM for 30 years. That’s not something I anticipated when I joined.

It’s been a terrific three decades, during which I feel I’ve been able to make a difference by working in many interesting roles with wonderful people all round the world.

 

Another Life

twFor a lot of my time at IBM, my colleagues didn’t know I had a parallel career as a writer of Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Blake’s 7 tie-in fiction. It’s not the sort of thing I’d typically discuss at work.

Nevertheless, I have been writing that sort of stuff even longer than I’ve been at IBM – certainly since primary school, and then in fanzines at school and university. I’ve been professionally published since 1996 (a mere 21 years) –  so a private joke was to call my first Torchwood novel Another Life.

In later years, my work colleagues became more aware of my “second career” because other IBMers would tell them. Though it rarely works the other way round – people who know me from my books and audios tend to be unaware of my IBM career.

I don’t hide it, as you’ll see in my LinkedIn profile, which lists my fiction writing alongside my IBM intellectual property publications. And my Twitter feed talks about IBM stuff, my writing, and lots of other nonsense besides.

 

Wiki leaks

WikiGoneFor a number of years, there was a Wikipedia entry about me, and of course that gratifyingly flattered my ego. Like the entries for all the other Doctor Who novelists, it was written by a fan enthusiast with a completist attitude to documenting the TV show and its spinoffs.

The Wikipedia article described all my fiction writing, with links to my blog, the BBC website, and so on. But it said nothing at all about IBM.

One result of this was being introduced at an event as an invited IBM speaker like this: “I looked him up online, but the only information I could find was about this other Peter Anghelides who writes Doctor Who books, and that obviously can’t be him.” There are so many people called Peter Anghelides that I could understand her confusion

Not that this is a problem any more. Earlier this year, one of the Wikipedia content moderators decided that the article wasn’t well enough written, and it has therefore been deleted. You’re not allowed to write Wikipedia articles about yourself, so at least I can blame someone else for this (while, obviously, sulking in my office).

 

Celebrating in style

BadgeIBM recognises employees at various career landmarks. For example, on reaching 25 years you’re enrolled in the Quarter Century Club. I got a nice meal, a certificate from the IBM Chairman, and a pile of gift vouchers.

I was also able to add the Quarter Century Shield to my ID badge, and that’s a nice conversation starter when meeting new colleagues or clients or business partners.

 

The 30 Years Words

For someone like me now reaching 30 years, IBM makes a “personalised congratulatory page” available for a month beforehand. This is the online Recognition Centre, where people are invited to post messages and photos, and see what everyone else has written. The celebrant sees the final thing on the anniversary date.

30YearsMessages can be posted by anyone who gets an invitation to do so, IBMers or otherwise. Participation very much depends on whether the IBM internal social media, or the employee’s manager, sends invitations to anyone. And whoever is invited to contribute can themselves invite others to participate.

I suppose it’s like a benign Ponzi scheme, where everyone has a bit of fun and no-one joins Bernie Madoff in jail.

 

Open invitation

But here’s something I didn’t know until last week: the celebrant is also able to invite people.

And because I like to test these things out, I went ahead and invited… myself. So not only can I now add comments, I can already see some of the nice things that people are saying.

This prompted a naughty thought. What if I invited not just people who I know from IBM… what if I invited people I know through my other writing work?

This is not an effort to fish for compliments! What would greatly amuse me, and enliven proceedings, is if my Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Blake’s 7 pals each posted something in the Recognition Centre about their favourite TV story or memory, and I will respond with a corresponding story or anecdote about IBM.

 

Want to play?

QuestionMarksIf you fancy giving it a go, and you know me from my non-IBM life, contact me at the usual address and I will send you a personal invitation to contribute.

Remember that whatever you write will be visible to all other contributors and associated with your name, because each invitation needs to be unique.

The closing date is Wednesday January 3rd 2018.

October 15, 2017

Know your frenemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter A @ 6:13 pm

Coming in February 2018: The Missy Chronicles. 

‘I’ve had adventures too. My whole life doesn’t revolve around you, you know.’

When she’s not busy amassing armies of Cybermen, or manipulating the Doctor and his companions, Missy has plenty of time to kill (literally). In this all new collection of stories about the renegade Time Lord we all love to hate, you’ll discover just some of the mad and malevolent activities Missy gets up to while she isn’t distracted by the Doctor.

So please try to keep up.

MissyChroniclesAuthors: Cavan Scott, Jacqueline Rayner, Paul Magrs, James Goss, Peter Anghelides, and Richard Dinnick.

Preorder: on Amazon in print and eBook formats.

Crossword answers

Filed under: drwho,IBM — Peter A @ 5:52 pm

Previously I published a crossword frame and a set of clues. I thought it would be a good idea to publish the answers, too. Here they are.

Crossword answers

July 15, 2017

Crossword clues

Filed under: drwho,IBM — Peter A @ 8:16 pm

CrosswordImage.jpgThese are the clues for the crossword frame that I published previously.

There are two themed elements, each with 12 answers. One set has associations with traditional Christmas, indicated in italic and with [X]. The other set has connections with Doctor Who, indicated in bold and with [D].

Many clues are cryptic, containing a variety of anagrams, homophones, containers, substitutions, double definitions, and so on. All answers except one are single words.

Download a printable version in a PDF document from here: RED LINES PAGE – Giant Crossword

December 10, 2016

Doctor Who crossword 2016

Filed under: drwho,IBM,rednoseday,Uncategorized — Peter A @ 5:27 pm

Crossword grid 2016.pngEach year, the IBM Hursley Club publishes a giant crossword in its festive newsletter. The Club is onsite at the location where I work.
This year, their crossword setter is “Omega.” He or she has included 12 Doctor Who related answers, and the grid features four question marks. What fun!

December 5, 2016

A few comments on recognition

Filed under: Articles,IBM,ISTC,writing — Peter A @ 11:59 pm

istcThis year I was honoured by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC), which is the industry body for information development. They awarded me their Horace Hockley Award for 2016. And then they elected me as an Honorary Fellow, in recognition of outstanding service to the profession.

I was pleased to accept both, make an acceptance speech at this year’s conference, and write an article for their journal Communicator.

Here’s what I said in the article.

 

A few comments on recognition

Horace Hockley Award 2016 honoree Peter Anghelides says “thanks for the feedback”


How splendid to receive this year’s Horace Hockley Award. Major Hockley established standards for the technical communication profession, and was himself recognised with an OBE in the 1968 New Year Honours list.

We should welcome feedback about our work that’s timely, evidence-based, constructive. It’s a culture shift in our industry: to seek professional feedback instead of mere evaluation.

That’s important to us at IBM, where our mission is to deliver the right content, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

The feedback firehose

Communicator.jpgFeedback can be overwhelming. It may be from our peers, our editors, our engineers, our clients. And the explosion of feedback is a consequence of how we’ve slashed hardcopy entitlement, increased softcopy, integrated online information, and incorporated documentation in development environments and platforms like Eclipse or IBM Bluemix.

We get comments from IBM support, in the IBM Knowledge Center, in forums and collaborative environments like Stack Overflow, or repositories like GitHub. Not to mention the freeform firehose of Twitter and YouTube.

More than half of visitors to ibm.com go there for technical information, and a third of them use IBM Knowledge Center (millions of unique visitors, every week). IDC research (Technology Marketing Blog, October 19, 2012) revealed that vendor information is the second biggest pre-sales influence for technology buyers.

Delighted clients are advocates for our company. And our technical content reveals our company to our clients. That’s why we welcome feedback. We crave it.

Take a page out of my book

But when I first joined IBM in 1988, feedback came via the Reader’s Comment Form (RCF). This was back in the days when you might get your IBM machine delivered on one pallet and your documentation on the next two. Each of those big hardcopy manuals might have hundreds of pages, with one RCF at the back of it. We invited our clients to fill these in, with a request for assessment on Clarity, Accuracy, Completeness, Organization, Retrieval, and Readability.

What optimism! Our hope was our reader would tear this page from the back of the manual, complete it in detail, fold it neatly, and return it by pre-paid post to IBM in Mechanicsburg, PA where our product documentation was printed. IBM Mechanicsburg would then bundle up the RCFs and post them to the appropriate development lab – in my case, IBM Warwick Lab.

For years in Warwick, one client kept sending us RCFs that were completely blank. Nothing on Clarity. No insights into Accuracy or Organisation. We knew they came from one person, because each had the same postmark.

Was our mystery correspondent shy? Using invisible ink? Or a really furious client trying to bankrupt a multibillion dollar corporation one pre-paid envelope at a time?

Then the blank RCFs stopped. For months, we wondered what had happened, until they suddenly began arriving once more.

“What a relief,” said my manager, Roger Amis, “I was beginning to worry that something had happened to him.”

Roles and responsibilities

Roger is the man who hired me into IBM. Over the following three decades, I’ve been a technical author, project lead, talent manager, globalisation expert, and accessibility advisor. I’ve line managed information developers, human factors engineers, designers.

At one point, I even acted as IBM’s Translation Service Centre Manager for UK English (we never had a busy week).

I completed two worldwide assignments for the three IBM Corporate Directors of Documentation, Globalization, and Design. Those were wonderful opportunities to support strategy, process, and tooling for the biggest tech comms population in the world, through times of great transformation in IBM’s core businesses, and therefore great change in how we delivered product  documentation in dozens of languages.

I’ve helped my company change from IBM-specific tools and technology, like BookMaster, to establishing and sharing open standards, such as DITA. I’ve seen a company-wide renaissance in design thinking that puts user outcomes at the heart of what we do.

Technical communication is now an institutional competency within IBM. As an upline manager, the latest transformation I led was to integrate information development into the engineering squads, instead of being a separate organisation.

Multi-disciplinary teams mean that design and technical writing are no longer “add-ons,” but integrated with engineering from the outset – essential ingredients in a mix of skills for successful software development.

Staying the course

HoraceHockleyAward.pngThere have been many colleagues, managers, and mentors in the UK and around the world. But I reflect it was the IBM manager who hired me in the first place who made this all possible.

You sometimes hear it said that “people join companies, but leave managers.” Well, Roger Amis is a big reason why I stayed the course.

By happy coincidence, he also introduced me to my wife.

I’d like to recognise Roger as a role model for what it means to be a technical communicator, a manager, a collaborative colleague, and a mentor. He made it possible for me to set off on this path.

And I thank the ISTC for this much-appreciated recognition of my subsequent journey over the years.

Peter Anghelides is Outreach and Publicity Officer, IBM UK Lab Campus

E: peter_anghelides@uk.ibm.com  W: ibm.biz/knowledgecenter  T: @anghelides 

This article was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Winter 2016.

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