This week’s cleaning house – Technology Highlights

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[Interact with my Presumé here]

Prezi showed me how to create a resume that stands out.

LA county students hacked their district’s iPads. Makes you wonder if they should have built a privacy app that was child proof.

Never miss a word with Livescribe smartpen, a Bluetooth compatible writing device. It makes lazy writers (like me) never have to use a computer – they can send their scribbles with the click of a pen.

Evernote is doing some great things like integrating with Salesforce and starting an online marketplace, but does not garner my attention with a statement like this: “[We want to] eliminate the stupid uses of paper.” I say NO: preserve our love for books and neon post-its.

Starting October 5th in Durham, North Carolina, you, me and grandma will be able to try Google Glass first hand. This traveling roadshow with LIVE demos and Q&A will be on tour before releasing to retail next year.

And crowdfunding kicks off with Kickstarter campaigns and bitcoins; fictional online currency to exchange goods.

Visually Inspire Communication

Create adaptive learning environments with your coworkers  – illustrate data with infographics and share a story with an interactive presentation.

Scenario #1: Create infographics using Piktochart
My objective is to make static documentation interactive. An infographic enriched with color, easy-to-follow data and hyperlinks to wiki content and videos or GIFs was the best choice.

Identify audience and the best way to present ideas to the user. How should users interact with the information? Determine what content to use; often times statistical data can be represented as charts or simple graphics. Keep in mind less is more, so chunk content with different colors or blocks to separate text like shown here:
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You want a natural flow of progression when reading the document. Try to make eye-popping designs with little distractions to esthetics. Incorporate themes, embed graphics, videos and map plugins to engage users. In the end, you will have an infographic that is dynamic, appealing and promotes communication throughout the organization.

Piktochart is a free application available for download on my native PC. This program enabled me to choose preloaded templates or start a project from scratch. I enjoyed the user-friendly interface.

Use Also: visual.ly, infogr.am, Snag-It

Scenario #2: Create interactive presentations using Intuilab
Think Powerpoint2.0. Business presentations are no longer boring slides with lame animation or remote clickers with lazer pointers. Instead, presentations are interactive and reinventing communication.

Convey a message by guiding your users through a digital experience that tells a story. Interact with the slides; maximize the screen, highlight, swipe and draw over images.
Deliver and collaborate amongst coworkers in the cloud. Build presentations and distribute across multiple platforms and devices.

Intuilab appealed to me because of its touch screen capabilities. I also was able to learn this software quickly providing “if, then” statements that replaced code. Pros: All access sandbox. Cons: Compatible only with Windows 7 & 8; HTML release by the end of 2013.

Use Also: swipe.to, prezi, mural.ly

Tools for Visual Learning Part II

Ideum is a NM company interested in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and has developed multitouch software both as a SDK and touch products; walls and tables for consumers. They even developed their own markup language to author multitouch software.

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Their interactive displays are great tools in children’s museums, providing accessible ways to view exhibits, plan an adventure or enhance the overall experience. Museums will broaden their audience engaging visitors with disabilities.

Ideum also cruises the museum circuit and next month will be promoting their Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) online community project at ASTC.

Photo Credit: Pinterest Ideum

Thoughts of a writer – Tools for the everyday scribe

I try different writing styles and genres, appeal to different audiences and produce different types of print and digital outputs all with the notion I am trying something new. This makes me varied. These are the tools I learned down the road.

Brainstorming- Looking back to the writings of my childhood, I frequently used webs to organize my ideas. This was ingrained in me from elementary school. Now I have a bank of blog ideas I’ll get to eventually, post it notes collectively in a binder I set aside and random pieces of paper also collectively in a binder. The idea is the same, embrace the planning period and save every idea, good or bad because you don’t know if it may become useful later.

Show, Don’t tell – A rule of thumb also learned young, however, I still struggle with this at times. Showing the reader with descriptive language does a hell of a lot more than just blatantly telling a scene. Imagine Howl or A Tale of Two Cities without all that fluffy stuff. Oh and thanks Mr. Fritz, my eighth grade English teacher (way back in the 90s) for teaching me show, don’t tell for my fiction stories.

Rhythm – Just read it out loud. How does it sound to you?  Each word should fit exactly in each sentence, each sentence in each paragraph and so on. As a reader, I do not want to get stuck by a word or some obstruction of sentence structure. I want to read with ease; I try to remember this when writing.

Passive vs. Active voice. This is a tricky lesson learned and not something I really wanted to include in this list. But good writing is about clarity and passive voice should be mentioned as it confuses the reader. Passive voice often excludes the subject or mis-positions it with a noun in a sentence, where active voice is direct and follows the traditional model subject-verb-predicate. See the example below from wikipedia:

       Active voice: Our troops defeated the enemy.
       Our troops – subject
       Defeated – verb
       The enemy – ending predicate

       Passive voice: The enemy was defeated by our troops.
       Do you have a hard time identifying the subject in passive voice?

Peer review – The reviewal process for a marcom press release, technical training manual, or screenplay gives every writer a sense of perspective. Take a step back and use this time to reflect. Concentrate on what went right, what went wrong and focus on change for the next draft.

More tools for the everday scribe to come…

A fresh perspective on Agile

When first learning Agile, I had many questions, as you always do when learning something new. They were thoughtful questions; for instance, Why Agile? and What is my role as Technical Writer in this process? My colleagues always directed me to the Manifesto and asked, ‘So, you the chicken or the pig?’ Needless to say, my understanding of Agile/Scrum came from researching and most importantly, observing. Retrospectives became a valuable asset in this discovery. A way to discuss what well in a sprint, retrospectives also give valuable insight to what went wrong, information that propels change for the next iteration. Another tool I found particularly helpful was interactive whiteboards to move around ideas. These whiteboards could be tangible with florescent post-its hanging from the backdrop or interactive like Mingle. Sharing ideas in this way also facilitates discussion.

Of all the things I learned, what became most evident in the success of a software development project is the strength of your team. Hands down this is important. There needs to be communication, visibility, and transparency amongst your team. I’ve worked with some really smart people. They are inquisitive. They ask ‘Why?’ They believe, as I do, that software shouldn’t be stagnant, it should evolve.

I got some advice. Do research. For Agile/Scrum ninjas wanting to learn more about new project management tools, check out ThoughtWorks Studios. Better yet, view this table comparing features of ThoughtWorks’ Mingle and Atlassian JIRA. Tell me what you think.

Tools for Visual Learning

Visual language is associating words/ideas with diagrams and maps. We see this everyday from simple traffic signs to reading the safety card on an airline flight. But frankly, ‘visual language learning’ is being used to address different ways we process information. For example:

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A way to illustrate complex processes. More importantly, you can show relationships between different pieces of information. In the infographic, each step could be hyperlinked to a wiki site with more detailed instructions. This would be perfect to integrate with help or tasked-based topics.

Infographics should be used in the same way that a screenshot is added to a user manual. Each visual should aid in the user’s understanding of a product or process. It should not deter from the objective of the task.

Mural.ly is an online mural, ‘Google Docs for visual people’ but it can be used to present information creatively while receiving real-time feedback. Great to instill communication within the organization on the development of a project.

Here is a minimalistic way Mural.ly uses their product for company branding.

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As a technical writer one of my responsibilities is to make suggestions to streamline documentation in an organization. Infographics depending on audience and context could be advantageous in creating effective deliverables.