Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Gravity of Technical Writing

A few days ago I found myself sitting in a cinema, wearing ridiculous 3D glasses over my regular specs, getting ready to see Gravity.

I'd heard that the film is excellent, but I wasn't prepared for the amazing special effects, breathtaking scenery, and riveting story.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock were very believable in their roles, and the 3D effects mercilessly drew me in to each scene.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but something odd came to mind as I was sitting there, gripping the arm-rests of my chair, trying to catch my breath: internationally recognized symbols in space station documentation is really handy. The character could not read the text, but had no trouble deciphering the diagrams.

As the credits rolled and the cinema slowly emptied, I suddenly realized that I really need a break. Anyone who can watch a movie as heart-stopping as Gravity and think of nothing else but Technical Writing issues probably spends too much time at work.


One further thought: In Star Trek, during a battle, shields could go down, warp drive could go off-line, weapons could be disabled, there could be a major hull breach on decks 6 through 9, and they could lose life support. 

The one thing that never, ever, ever goes down is the system that generates artificial gravity. The warp core could be venting plasma and the ship could be about to blow, but you never see stuff floating around. 

Therefore, I strongly suggest that they get the engineer who designed the gravity system to also design the rest of the ship.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Everyone Needs One of These

Using the power of Flipboard, one of my favorite apps, I have started publishing my own digital magazine called "Everyone Needs One of These".

"Everyone Needs One of These" showcases new, innovative, weird, and interesting products.

As of writing this blog post, I have published six articles, including:

  • An "Invisible Girlfriend" service (one for your Facebook profile)
  • A champagne vending machine (one for your wine cellar)
  • A Sony "smart wig", complete with laser pointer (one for your head)
  • A DIY Batmobile for sale (one for your cave)
  • The AUUG iPhone Grip that turns your body into a musical instrument (one for your hand)
  • The Full Metal Jacket Jeep Wrangler (one for your garage)
Download Flipboard from the iStore, Google Play, Windows Store, and Blackberry World and subscribe to "Everyone Needs One of These".

You can also view the magazine on the web from any browser, here:

"Everyone Needs One of These" will be updated daily.

Read Yossi's Magazine: Everyone Needs One of These
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Friday, November 15, 2013

25 Computer Terms to Substitute for Real Words

Be geeky - substitute these 25 computer terms for what you really want to say.

Computer Term Real Meaning
1 Low disk space Slow down! You're giving me too much information.
2 Battery is running low I'm going to bed.
3 This device can perform faster I'm lazy and I know it.
4 Pairing devicesI'm getting married.
5 File type mismatchI'm getting divorced.
6 This program has stopped respondingI'm no longer listening to you.
7 Unexpected catastrophic failureOh crap.
8 Driver requiredCan someone please take me to the mall?
9 Windows needs to restartI need a vacation.
10 Illegal operationI just did something naughty.
11 Printer offlineMy pen ran out of ink.
12 Save as draftI'll finish it tomorrow.
13 LoadingI'm getting dressed, just hold on a minute.
14 Defragmenting drive CI'm tidying up the house.
15 UndoForget what I just said.
16 RedoSay that again.
17 3 minutes remainingI'll be finished when I'm finished.
18 Touch device not detectedGet your hands off me.
19 Not enough memory to perform operationI've already forgotten the first part of your instructions.
20 Insert mediaI'm hungry.
21 Syntax errorI haven't a clue what you're saying.
22 Bad command or file nameI won't do it until you say "please".
23 Error 404 file not foundI've moved and didn't leave a forwarding address.
24 Performing system dumpI'm going to the bathroom.
25 This program has encountered a problem
and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.
I can't deal with this. Go away.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

5 Business Tips You Can Learn from Hospitals

Over the past few days I have spent way too much time in hospitals. However, on the up-side, I discovered that hospitals are an interesting source of business advice.

Although hospitals are not usually profit-generating organizations, a lot of the activities they undertake are analogous to those in profit-centric companies. For example, there are many departments, all of which have to work together towards the same ultimate goal: make the patient well. In a traditional businesses, you may also have many departments working towards the same ultimate goal: selling more stuff. To achieve their aims, both hospitals and businesses require communication, systems, and sometimes even creativity.

Here are five business tips you can learn from hospitals.

1. Share information
It surprises me that in this era of fast networks, databases and cheap storage that the different departments in the hospital don't necessarily share information. We had to tell and re-tell to every doctor we met the background story as to why we came to the hospital. This would have been okay if they were just fact-checking, but their questions and follow-up questions revealed that they really didn't know this information beforehand. Why didn't someone enter it into a central database as part of our file for each doctor to read? This would have saved time and reduced our frustration level.

Business Tip: Make information available across your business units so that everyone is always on the same page.

2. Patients are people, too
This one probably requires several text-heavy pages, but I'll try to boil it down to a single paragraph. Patients are people, not numbers. People don't appreciate being shuffled from one department to another for seemingly meaningless reasons. People don't respond well to gate-keepers who treat them like they are on a mission to disturb the staff from doing their jobs. People have lives and families, so they don't like their time being wasted (if the appointment is for 1 pm, the appointment should take place at (at least approximately) 1 pm, not 3 pm). Lastly, dismissive answers won't make people trust you.

Business Tip: Smile at your customers and treat them with respect. Customers won't feel comfortable doing business with you if they feel they don't matter.

3. Dress for the occasion
Doctors wield an incredible amount of power, making decisions that affect their patients' lives. It is difficult to put your faith in experts who dress like they are about to go on a safari or are about to lounge by the pool.

Business Tip: Dressing appropriately instills confidence in your customers that you know your business. Proper presentation can encourage a perception that you are the best, that you are an expert.

4. Your customers are not experts
Let's face it, many people who end up at the hospital (especially under emergency conditions) might very well be bewildered, confused, and disoriented. It's a traumatic experience. Now throw really long, foreign-sounding technical words at patients and expect them to comprehend their meaning and implications. Doctors need to take the time to explain the situation and to encourage the patients to ask questions. This will increase understanding and trust.

Business Tip: Take the time to talk to your customers. Explain what they need to know in easily understood language. Avoid using jargon. This builds trust and loyalty, resulting in repeat business.

5. Be positive
Hospitals can be a depressing place. Patients are often worried and they focus on the negative aspects of their experience - it's unexpected, disruptive, painful, and there is so much uncertainty. It's really nice when hospitals invest in creating positive experiences - colorful decor, outside areas, play equipment for kids, convenient parking.

Business Tip: Aim to make shopping in your store, or doing business with your company a positive experience. Try to say "do" instead of "don't" and "yes" instead of "no". For instance, instead of displaying a "No checks allowed" sign, put up a more positive sounding "We accept cash and credit card payments" sign.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Out-Outlooking Outlook

Email is either the best invention ever, or the bane of your existence. Either way, this technology invented in the 1960s is a necessary tool.

How do you deal with all of the messages that find their way to your inbox? Google "Rethinking Email" for 7,940,000 articles on the subject. 651,000,000 Google results will tell you how to deal with "too much email". Or, if you want to use the modern term, search for "inbox zero" to find 45,200,000 suggestions for getting your inbox down to nothing.

GMaaces. uggests you prioritize:

Here is how I try to out-Outlook Outlook 2010.
  1. All incoming email goes to the Inbox (no automatic filtering).
  2. In a PST file called "Projects" I have a sub-folder for each project I'm working on.
  3. I use "Quick Steps" that mark the email as "Read" before moving it to the relevant sub-folder (this is for emails I receive for ongoing projects, not for one-offs, which would be too much).
I only move the emails to the relevant folders once I have dealt with them. If something still needs to be done, I leave it in my inbox. This way my inbox doubles as my "to-do" list, which is a back-up for our main project management system (which is not a Microsoft tool).

I don't use Categories, Flags, Reminders, or Tasks - it just seems like too much effort. I sometimes create a Calendar entry if there is something that I must absolutely do on or by a certain date, but that is rare because our team's project management system takes care of that for us.

I don't usually peruse the sub-folders for emails when I need to refer to them. Instead, I use Outlook's excellent instant search feature. I prefer to input the search parameters manually. I suppose I type fast enough that entering subject:"project X" from:Bob hasattachment:yes in the search box doesn't slow me down. Here is a healthy list of Outlook search terms you might find handy.

But, you know what, there is still too much email administration. I want to spend time getting on with my work, not futzing around with sorting emails. In fact, I'm so impressed with Outlook's instant search that I'm reconsidering the whole idea of organizing my email into project-specific folders. Why not just dump all read emails into one PST file called "Read Mail" and use instant search to find what I'm looking for? That's sort of what I do, anyway, right?

According to this Lifehacker article:
We've long recommended filing away email into folders for better organization, but a study by IBM Research finds that just using the search function can be much faster than navigating through folders to find old messages...In the end, though, finding those emails by digging through folders took 58 seconds, on average, while merely searching for them took 17 seconds.
Should I store all my read mail in a big, disorganized pile in its own PST (not the Inbox)?
How do you manage your email?

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