Technical writing: The arcane art of making sense


‘What is it you do again?’, they would ask with a squint and slight tilt of the head.
Technical Writing.’
‘Oh,’ they would say, as the squint usually turns into a look of puzzlement. ‘What’s that?’

I’d wager that every Tech Writer out there has been through this very same interaction a great deal of times throughout his/her professional life. We are odd creatures, alienated by our very own professional choice. We tend to sit in a dark corner of the client’s office, working alone, with a half-full cup of coffee as our only company. We only look up from the worn keys of our laptop when someone comes and asks ‘Need to make a change to that decision matrix again.’

But what is Technical Writing?

If you google these two words, you are bound to open a Pandora’s Box of technobabble and long- winded definitions, the very anathema to the concept of technical writing.

Defining Technical Writing is simple: It’s the art of making sense.

Why Technical Writing is good for you

A lot of people enjoy and own consumer electronics. Tablets, laptops, smartphones, DSLR cameras, etc. And all these things usually come with a sizable instruction manual that shows how to get the best out of whatever item it refers to.But many people would not be technically minded. These manuals could explain and list every last feature included, and the user might still be none the wiser. It’s all gobbledygook to them, so such manual would be no good.

For you see, an instruction manual must make sense. There is no point writing a complicated and convoluted set of rules that only a few chosen ones would understand. Use simple, everyday language. Leave the flourishing for those secret moments spent in the dark, writing poetry or words of wisdom. And yet, we are all guilty of slipping in the odd darling word here and there, aren’t we. But be firm. Murder those darlings, as someone once said.

And don’t even get me started on adverbs. Slippery rascals they are, all of them. Those dastardly traitors give you away spectacularly, don’t they. Off with their heads I say.

So you see, technical writing is good cause it helps you. And anything that helps you must, by
definition, be good.

So I want to be a technical writer…what now?

Pick up your phone. Yes, you. Pick up that piece of smart technology that goes everywhere you go. Now, send a text to your friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, or to that soccer coach who always seems up for a chat. Easy, right? Type the text and press ‘Send.’ Done.

But hang on a minute. What if you had never sent a text before? Or had a mobile phone, for that matter. A lot of things must happen before you can send the text. You must switch on the phone. And for the phone to come on, its battery must be charged. And where is the battery? And the charger? Am I using the right charger? And after all that, you must find the texting feature. What does it look like? How do I use it? And by God, what if the phone does not come on at all? How do I troubleshoot it? Where is that damn manual?!

Not so easy all of a sudden, right?

If you want to be a Technical Writer, you must be two things, at least: Patient, and curious. You
can’t learn patience, nor can you acquire curiosity. Either you are, or you are not. If the
latter, pursue some other career. The world is full of seemingly successful people who cannot spell for their life, after all. I’m sure you will find your place in the world some day.

If you are the patient and curious kind though, well, then we can do business together and make sense of it all.

Welcome, Constant Readers…


… to the revamped Life Mirror site.

In this my very own corner of the Big Bad Web, you will now find a brand new theme and an updated layout guarding the gateway to a plethora of articles and pieces on current affairs, science news, quirky and offbeat stuff, and much, much more.

Do stop by while you’re browsing. It won’t take much of your time, I promise.

Sirtuins: Miracle protein or Pandora’s Box?


It seems that the answer to that quandary would depend on your point of view. Sirtuins are the talk of the town these days. Fierce controversy rages on about whether or not they do (or could do) what some scientists speculate they do.

Because you see, sirtuins could prolong life.

Longevity, and the curse of aging that we’re all stuck with from the moment of our birth, have for centuries been a subject of fervent research and heated discussion, both from the scientific and religious fields. People just do not want to get older, it seems.

Enter sirtuins, the fulcrum upon which may swing the next step of human evolution.

But what exactly are sirtuins?

Without descending into purely academic territory, sirtuins are a class of proteins that regulate some important biological pathways in certain organisms. The name “sirtuin” is a portmanteau of the name for the yeast gene ‘silent mating-type information regulation 2’, the gene that is responsible for cellular regulation in yeast.

Scientific research has associated sirtuins (sirtuin 6, SIRT6, in particular) with influencing certain cellular processes, including aging. SIRT6 has been proved to lengthen the lifespan of male mice by as much as 15.8%, for instance

But don’t go planning your 250th birthday bash just yet. While initial results are encouraging, we still are a long way off from opening a new chapter in the very definition of human life as we know it. The strain of mice used in such research is prone to tumours, for instance, specially the males. Since SIRT6 may also have an anti-cancer effect, it is conceivable that the test mice may have lived longer because they did not become ill, as opposed to not aging.

Sirtuins also do not prevent aging, only appear to slow it down (in test male mice, remember. This thing has yet to be tested on humans, assuming it ever does). Thus, you shall not stay forever looking as you did when you were 19, nor will eternal life be granted unto you, thus challenging all known laws of Nature. Your lifespan may be extended, by how much (if at all), nobody knows.

These musings do pose some interesting questions and challenges, however.

If society were to become a huge community of 200-plus year old geriatrics, how, and when and for how long would our pensions be funded, for example? What would the legal retirement age be, then? 90? 150? 300? Or how about the prison system? Would our jails be inhabited by 400 year old undying ‘old timers’, languishing in 3×3 cells, and wishing they had never set their thieving eyes on those blue pills a couple of hundred years earlier? Perhaps prison authorities could introduce a mandatory prisoner cull, anyone over the age of 275, let’s say, if only to make room for the next batch of walking mummies.

And what about the holy institution of marriage? Take the vows and you’re doomed to have sex with the same person for the next 400 years. How does that sound? Though perhaps some legislation could be introduced to force a mandatory divorce every hundred years or so, if only to keep the statistics of spousal murder rate at an acceptable level.

More interesting concepts: How long would females remain fertile? Until they’re in their hundreds, perhaps? Would centuries pass between siblings? It is conceivable that women could be churning out babies for hundreds of years. The nappy industry would collapse with the demand. If one follows that train of thought, what would the nurseries of this topsy-turvy world of unprecedented longevity look like? Mega-locales where thousands of screaming and shitting babies would have to be looked after for decades, since they age slowly (assuming they are given the wonder pill at birth, that is)? The same concept applies to schools all over the world. How long would you be on your teens? A firestorm of raging hormones lasting 15, 25 years, who knows.

The nursery idea raises the question, would everyone be given sirtuins at birth (i.e., would it be a right, a natural entitlement like your individual freedom), or would the privilege of ancestral longevity have to be ‘earned’, somehow, or paid for? If it’s the latter, would only the richest in society be able to live until well past their sell-by date? Where is the moral demarcation?

Pharmaceutical companies would sell their souls to be the first to commercialize a sirtuin-based drug that really prolonged longevity. The profits would rank in the hundreds of billions. And indirectly, the very raison-de-etre for those same companies would become their leitmotif. The equation would go somewhat like this: Humans would live longer. A lot longer. Longevity means more time and frequency to become ill. Frequent and abundant morbidity requires plenty medicinal drugs output. K-ching!

It is unlikely that any of us will see any significant development in the sirtuin front in our lifetime. But one day, mankind may rise to challenge the very immortality of the gods.

The question, however, is, do we want to?


Four ballistic missiles launched from North Korea splash down inside Japan’s territorial waters


The reclusive country of North Korea launched four ballistic missiles early on Monday morning. The barrage landed just 200 miles out from the Japanese coastline, sparking outrage and a strong criticism from Japan’s leader Shinzo Abe, who said the development signifies “an extremely dangerous action,” and a “new level of threat.’

US military observers confirmed that the ballistic weapons originated in North Korea and flew almost 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) towards the Sea of Japan. All four missiles splashed down within Japan’s territorial waters. A fifth missile failed to launch, analysts confirmed.

None of the weapons involved are thought to be Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), nor did they belong to the newer Musudan-class intermediate ballistic missile. Musudan weapons have a range of about 4,000 km, which puts them within striking distance of China and most of Russia, but it’s just short of the necesary range to hit the United States.

International observers agree that the launch of four ballistic missiles in the direction of Japan is a response to joint military exercises recently conducted between South Korea and the United States. North Korea saw these exercises as a ‘provocation’ and a ‘prelude to invasion.’

This latest show of force by the DPRK has caused renewed calls to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) grid in South Korea and Japan, both allies of the United States in the area.

THAAD batteries are essentially mobile weapon platforms that target incoming missiles in their terminal approach. THAAD rockets have no warhead. Instead, they rely on sheer kinetic energy to destroy an incoming missile before it reaches its intended target. A kinetic impact minimizes the chances of detonating conventional weaponry, and a nuclear warhead will not explode after a kinetic strike.

State-sponsored media in North Korea reported that Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the launch operation.

Expanding Earth’s horizons: NASA scientists propose the launch of a planet-wide magnetic field to restore Mars’ atmosphere and make the Red Planet habitable


The colonization of the Red Planet may be one step closer to reality today, after NASA scientists proposed the creation of a magnetic field around Mars that could potentially make the planet habitable for future human generations.

Today, Mars is a barren wasteland. No life has existed there for billions of years.

But it wasn’t always like that. Scientists believe that the planet once held vast and deep oceans teeming with living creatures.

All this paradise-like conditions ended when Mars lost its magnetic field, between 3.7 and 4.2 billions of years ago. This allowed high-energy particles to gradually strip away its protective atmosphere. Once the atmosphere became thin enough, all life on Mars’ surface became extinct.

But wayward NASA people now believe that Mars’ once thick atmosphere could be restored by ‘coating’ the planet with a gigantic magnetic field. This artificial magnetosphere would shield Mars from the damaging effects of solar winds and other high-energy particles, much like Earth’s own magnetosphere does.

Once protected, Mars’ natural processes would begin restoring the planet’s atmosphere over time. As the atmosphere thickened, surface temperatures would rise enough so that carbon dioxide ice from Mars’ northern polar cap would begin to melt. In turn, this would trigger a greenhouse effect and cause the planet’s now frozen water wastes to thaw. In just a few generations, Mars might just have flowing rivers and vast oceans once again.

Should all these things happen as predicted, the exploration and colonization of Mars may become a reality within a few hundred years.

The research team that postulated all this did admit that the concepts and ideas are purely hypothetical at this point in time, but that has not deterred them from following their vision of turning the Red Planet into an Earth-like Blue Planet.

Life finds a way: Ancient fossils dating back 4.2bn years prove that life thrived on Earth much earlier than previously thought, and may also hint at living organisms in Mars’ distant past


Life finds a way, mathematician Ian Malcolm utters in Jurassic Park.

Though a scientific fantasy, the film -based on a bestselling novel by Michael Crichton- did postulate on the dangers of genetic tinkering, and how such transgression may endanger our very survival.

But life does indeed find a way, no matter how adverse the environmental conditions might be, as recently found fossils seem to prove.

The fossils, dating back 4.2 billion years, are the oldest ever found on Planet Earth, and show that life thrived even back then, when our planet was little more than a swirling cauldron of magma.

These fossilized organisms were found inside rock formations in Quebec, Canada, and have shocked scientists as they date back hundreds of millions of years earlier than the lifeforms known thus far.

A research team from University College London, partly funded by NASA, made the fascinating discovery.

They released a statement saying “Early Mars and early Earth are very similar places, so we may expect to find life on both planets at this time”.

“We know that life managed to get a foothold and evolve rapidly on Earth. So if we have life evolving in hydrothermal vent systems maybe even 4.2 billion years ago when both planets had liquid water on their surface, then we would expect both planets to develop early life.

“If we do future sample returns from Mars and look at similarly old rocks and we don’t find evidence of life then this certainly may point to the fact that Earth might have been a very special exception, and life may just have arisen on Earth.”

The evidence seems to point out that these organisms may prove that life once existed on Mars. Though a dead planet now, it is thought that Mars once had an atmosphere and contained vast oceans, both conditions favorable for life to thrive.

The next step would be to search for similar fossils around Mars, to prove beyond doubt that alien life does -or at least, did- exist in the distant past. Such endeavor however, may prove a challenging undertaking.

But if such evidence were to be found, it would potentially suggest that life on Earth actually originated in Mars, or elsewhere in the Universe, and that the building blocks were deposited here by comets or other celestial bodies.

We may all be from Mars, after all.

Cosmic fury: Titanic struggles in deep space, as black holes consume stars more often than previously thought


New deep-space research has concluded that black holes are consuming stars at an alarming rate, way faster than astronomers previously thought.

A brand new study has found that supermassive black holes lurk in dark regions of space, always ready to trap nearby stars and slowly consume their matter, a la galactic Venus Flytrap.

This phenomenon was well known, but it is the frequency at which it happens that has stunned the research community at the University of Sheffield, the conductors of the study.

A black hole is an anomaly created when a celestial body, usually a star, runs out of fuel and collapses unto itself under the force of gravity. Eventually, gargantuan amounts of matter are compressed into a relatively small area of space, creating a super-dense region with such colossal gravitational pull that not even light can escape. It is because of this trait that black holes are only revealed through special equipment and by observing the surrounding space.

When a star wanders in the vicinity of one of these cosmic monsters, it becomes trapped in an inescapable gravitational pull, slowly dwindling away as the black hole swallows it whole.

In scientific terms, such predation is called a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE). Prior knowledge stated that one such event would happen once every 10,000 to 100,000 years per galaxy.

However, it has now transpired that TDEs occur about 100 times more often, particularly as galaxies collide with one another.

TDEs are exceptionally violent episodes of utter chaos at cosmic level, with devastating consequences. When galaxies collide, their structure warps, ripping stars out of their orbits, and often throwing them into the ravenous maws of lurking black holes. The outcome of such cataclysmic events is a single, enormous new galaxy risen from the remnants of the two colliding titans.

And the bad news is that our very own galactic home, the Milky Way, is on an inexorable collision course with Andromeda, the closest spiral galaxy. This end-of-days event will happen in about 5 billion years though, so don’t go making plans for your TDE blaze of glory just yet.