How Overload Comes to You

How Overload Comes to You

By Alan Griffiths

Overload, 14(76):, December 2006

You look forward to Overload arriving in the mail every couple of months. This time it came very close to not arriving at all.

At the moment it seems like it was a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away that lots of material was submitted to Overload by enthusiastic authors, an enthusiastic team of volunteer advisors reviewed it all, the editor swiftly passed their comments back to the authors who produced a new, much improved draft of the article which then was seen to be good by all and put in the magazine for your reading pleasure.

OK, that was a "typical golden age" story - it never really went quite that smoothly, but it has often been pretty close. Articles sometimes had to go around the loop several times before being deemed good enough. Sometimes there has been a shortfall in the material submitted - but a couple of the advisors (Phil Bass and Mark Radford) were pretty good at producing material at the last minute. Sometimes all the advisors had other commitments and failed to review an article or two - but this was rare and the editor found time to cover the gaps. Sometimes the editor was busy, but then the contributing editor (or one of the advisors) found time to do a little extra (like passing review comments back to the author directly). And of course, there were occasional articles that required special handling (most often reworking the English of an author who was not writing in his or her native tongue) and someone was always there to do this.

What we could have done better

But time goes by, and the time people are able to give varies. (Have I mentioned we are all volunteers, working on Overload because we think it is worth doing?) Some of the advisors have taken up new responsibilities in their non-ACCU lives and cannot commit the time they used to, others have changed their focus to C Vu as a result of recent changes there. I first mentioned the need for you (anyone that agrees that Overload is worthwhile) to get involved a couple of editorials ago (Overload 74):

A second reason is that recently several of the current advisors have taken on new commitments in their lives. (Some of these commitments have to do with ACCU, some are personal, but all have the effect that the editorial team has reduced capacity and would welcome some new blood.)

This hasn't, however, addressed the problem: the only volunteer to join the Overload team this year (Tim Penhey) has since moved on to edit C Vu. In the run up to the current issue I too have found that recent commitments have taken more of my time than I anticipated.

The result of these changes was that when articles were submitted and I circulated them to the advisors nothing happened. For a while I thought that I would soon have time to review them myself, but as time went on and this time continued to recede I eventually realised that this wasn't going to happen. What is more, with only a couple of weeks to go I also discovered that nowhere near enough material had been submitted.

At this point I called for volunteers to help on ACCU-general. There were a number of people who volunteered their time to review the two articles I had (thanks are due to Paul Thomas, Ric Parkin, Simon Sebright and Roger Orr). In addition there was a very welcome offer from Paul Johnson (who recently gave up the editorship of C Vu) to take over all the editing of the articles and also to write a couple of articles himself.

Help was also forthcoming from our reliable Contributing Editor - Mark Radford - who, in addition to any help he has provided Paul in handling the articles submitted, once again performed his magic to produce an article when the shortage became apparent.

That left me with the editorial to write - and has made this issue of Overload possible. It also means that for the first time in years I'll be able to join you in reading the articles in Overload for the first time when it arrives through the post.

Please note however, that while it is good to have material to fill the pages, writing articles isn't the role of the editorial team. Earlier this year I considered that the biggest problem was the shortage of articles being submitted. In Overload 72 Editorial (April) I wrote:

The team of advisors listed at the front of Overload are not here to write the magazine for you, they are here to help with the selection of the best stories to publish and to work with the authors to ensure that their stories are told well. And after the advisor's efforts to fill the pages of Overload this time I'm going to enforce a rest.

After the efforts by Paul and Mark for this issue I will be giving serious consideration to reinstating this ban for the next issue.

What we'd like to try

I know that my situation for the next issue will not be much improved and that finding time will remain difficult. But messages of support from a number of you have addressed any thoughts that I had about it being time for me to step down. I've discussed this with the Publications Officer and I will remain with overall responsibility and ensure that the character of Overload is preserved. However, if Overload is to carry on, it cannot be dependent on vast amounts of my time.

The current team of volunteer advisors is in a similar position to the one that I find myself in (not being able to contribute the time we'd like), so while you may see that familiar names cease to appear I have hopes that some of you, perhaps the volunteers who have helped out by reviewing (and editing) articles for the last couple of issues, will volunteer again - but on a more permanent basis.

Thankfully, the first volunteer to was not hard to find: Paul Johnson is keen to do "whatever he can" - so beginning with this issue Overload now has two "Contributing Editors". No-one (not even they themselves) knows exactly what a "Contributing Editor" is supposed to do in the context of Overload, but we will sort that out amongst ourselves. Whatever we decide, it includes soliciting articles, parts of the editorial process, and sometimes contributing articles.

What you'd like to do

I know that you have heard this before, but it remains true. Overload is your magazine and it needs your support.

Also, one volunteer does not make a team. If you appreciate the writing in Overload you can help make it happen. You don't need to be an expert on the English language - much of the reviewing is "this point needs explaining because..." or "this explanation doesn't make sense because..." and, of course, deciding whether the article covers material that belongs in Overload. There is no limit to the number of helpers we can use - the more people that contribute to this work, the less each has to do.

Let me repeat the invitation from Overload 74:

If you have a clear idea of what makes a good article about software development and would like to help authors polish their writing then now is the time to get involved - while the old hands are here to "show the ropes" (and before some of them find their new commitments push contributing to Overload every issue out of their lives). It isn't hard - and the authors do appreciate the work done reviewing their articles.

It is not just reviewing that is needed though. Last issue however, we lacked contributions and were below our minimum length for the first time since I took over as editor, and this issue again we have had problems. (I guess that some of this can be laid at my door since I've not been as active as usual in asking people to write up the things they have been telling me about.) This changes quickly: in Overload 74 things the supply of articles seemed to be good and I wrote:

Once again I'm pleased with the response from authors - for the second issue running the advisors have been able to concentrate on providing assistance to the authors and to the editor and have not found it necessary to write articles to reach our minimum length. As you can see, we have comfortably achieved that again. Thanks to everyone that submitted an article! (I know some were redirected to C Vu, but the effort is appreciated.) I trust that those of you who have been thinking of writing will be inspired by this example and do so next time.

Everyone in ACCU has a unique perspective and experience and knows things that others do not. Writing about them not only helps those that lack your knowledge, but also helps you understand and value what you do know.

It can be hard to identify something worth writing about - after all we all tend to think things we understand are obvious. But one doesn't have to interact with many people to discover that there are "obvious" things that other people don't understand. You don't want to keep explaining, so write it up and send it in - then, instead of going over the same old ground, you can say "here's a good article about it" (and wait for them to notice the author's name).

Overload on the web

Since Allan Kelly wrote about putting Overload onto the ACCU website a number of you have written to me with enthusiasm for the idea - a task that I've taken on in my capacity as Publicity Officer. As you may have guessed from what I've written about this issue of Overload, I've yet to make time to progress this (and, to be honest, some other things the Publicity Officer should be doing). I still think making Overload publicly available is a good idea (and there are no technical issues to overcome) but it has to take its place behind family and social commitments, work, and editing Overload. I'm sorry, but this isn't likely to happen before the conference - not much to show for a year in the post. Naturally, if someone would like to help out then I might be able to report progress at the AGM.

In Conclusion

I cannot claim any credit for this issue of Overload - it is all the work of others, principally Paul Johnson. But, while I cannot claim credit, I have to take the blame for anything that is wrong as I allowed a very difficult situation to develop and then left others to sort it out. I will be feeling rather nervous when I open this issue of Overload.

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