Inches to Points to Picas

In working with InDesign for a few recent projects, I’ve been trying to learn to use points and picas instead of inches. It’s more accurate and is the printing industry standard.

First, I changed my preferences to use points/picas instead. I thought I’d eventually get the hang of sizes. Alas, it’s not altogether different than learning metric after living with English measurements. My current project is a “half-size” non-fiction book (5.5″ x 8″). After placing the text,  some fonts showed up 2 lines per page they were so large. So, I’ve gone back to my old ways.

So, today I searched for definitions and found this handy conversion chart. I hope you also find it helpful.

Why Technical Writing Matters

Real Life

Today, I was faced with a real-life example of why Technical Writing matters.

Our dental insurance cards are printed in a ALL-CAPS, sans-serif font. That matters because:

Capital Letter I looks exactly like Numerical 1

Numerical 0 looks very much like Capital Letter O

When asked to share your member number, one has to study the rest of the member card to clarify 1s from Is and Os from 0s.

A Tech Writer would catch this as a problem during the card’s design and would insist on a distinctive font that uses serifs for the I and 1 as well as wide capital Os and “computer” 0s.[1] Anyone with an eye for fonts would save the insurance companies’ customer service lines a lot of wasted time in deciphering their non-specific characters with customers on the phone.

Bonus

Consider, too, not every font renders these characters with distinction:

8, B –or even– S, 5

Fonts matter.

Use your Technical Writers and staff designers. You will find a balance between a font that fits on the card, one that is legible to customers, and one that is attractive, too.

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[1] If you are using Internet Explorer, you may not see the symbol for zero. IE does not play nice with the Internet and simply can’t do what other browsers can. Consider Firefox or Opera, instead.

Video Blogging: a best practice

As a reader, I don’t usually care for video blog posts. The Internet is huge, so I tend to skim the surface of any blog post to see if I really want to read it. This is something you can’t do with most video blogs. And that is because most bloggers don’t add video correctly.

A post that is nothing but the video is useless to me. I am not going to blindly start a video and devote both my auditory and visual attention to it unless I know it’s a good use of my two minutes (often touted as a best-practice length for online videos) or more.

News outlets were among the first to figure out the solution. A transcript along with the video gives us the chance to skim. A transcript allows for good keyword-rich content that will be good for SEO. Furthermore, it allows readers to find the content when searching.

For my particular reading/learning style, I found the example here to be even better.

video blog by Brian Wong with annotated highlights

He does make one mistake, in my opinion: there is a popup asking readers to share an email address. I find them annoying even when all I have to do is close the box. Trust me, if the writing is good and the topics are compelling, I’ll click a link below the story or in the sidebar to sign up for the newsletter or RSS feed.

One more suggestion for anyone getting into video blogging or screen casting. Do your best to keep the focal point in the top 3/4 of the screen. When we watch videos online, the popup ads along the bottom are easy to ignore unless they are covering what we need to see. (…and I never pay attention to these advertised products and services. I only hit the close X.)

small brass key

from @writingprompt: small brass key

Clearing out her mother’s things was low on her list of wants, but high on her list of needs.  She had to get things in order and get the house ready to sell in accordance with the terms of her mother’s will.

In the top of a closet, way on the back of the shelf was a wooden box. It was one of those little cedar chests that the trunk people used to give graduating high school girls. The key protruded from the front of the box just begging the finder to open the box.

So, once down from the step ladder, she opened the box. Inside, wrapped in a piece of silk, was a small brass key. The box was certainly large enough to hold photos and other memories, but this little key was the only resident. These were swanky digs for something so small: ample and spacious, and hugged in silk to keep it safe and comfortable.

She sad on the bed to ponder. What could this key belong to? Why was it so well-hidden? Where among all her mother’s papers would the answer lie?

So, what do you think? What will the key open?

Easiest Applicaion Ever

Staffing agencies websites and big-name job boards have their advantages, but most of them seem to have missed a user-end evaluation. Many of them are (intentionally?) difficult to use and make applying for jobs tedious and time consuming. The worst ones have .pdf forms and expect you to recount your entire career history on their form. Better ones have online forms for the same information. Some really nice ones can pull a traditional resume and fill in all the job titles, date range, duties, etc. leaving the applicant to fill in the details. Since practically all of them also request/accept a resume, this is a lot of—yes, it bears repeating—tedious and time consuming work.

The more annoying—and vastly more time consuming—part is that there seems to be no industry standard. Fields for standardized information like dates and phone numbers could be one field or three. The really irritating ones are drop down lists. I understand they want accuracy, but those take so much more time and don’t allow for exceptions or ranges. And when they use a drop down for industry, that never fits me. Education on those things almost always means K-12 and pedagogy and not higher education and andragogy. Plus, for 4 years, I had two part-time salaried/professional jobs. I can’t demonstrate that on their forms. Each of these time-consuming applications can take up to an hour—-just to copy/paste resume blurbs into a form!

Today, I found a job that is a really good fit for what I do. It came through Kforce and is a “Technical Writer / Trainer” position. Kforce had me at “hello”.

Then, they went on to impress me further. Here is a screen shot of the application.

Kforce Application Screen

See, they get all the goodies they really need and don’t ask for my mother’s maiden name, date of birth, social security number, and current mailing address. I don’t have to worry that they are going to either reject my application for a few blanks or steal my identity.

So, here’s hoping they are as impressed by me as I am by them!

More Than Just That

I have been concentrating my job search on Training, Editing, and Technical Writing. This is where my talents and skills can shine.

However, I see the need to widen the net. While the economy seems to have picked back up just a tiny bit, those jobs are still few and far between. Companies with a little more budget than before seem to still have training/writing jobs low on the list of priorities.

That’s ok in a way. I have a lot of talents and skills and, given training, can perform a wide variety of tasks. I’m honest and trustworthy, too. Not every candidate can say that.

So, when asked, I’m available for training/writings jobs, but also more than just that.

purple ink

from @writingprompt: purple ink

Take a big whif.

Purple ink was probably the only time it was ever cool to sit on the front row in class. As elementary school children, we loved any time there was a worksheet or other type of handout in class. Sitting in the front meant you got to take a giant whif of the whole stack before keeping one copy of the mimeographed pages and handing the rest to the kid sitting one seat back.

My mom was a teacher. Occasionally during the summer or another break, I’d “help” her get her classroom ready. I’m sure I was very little help since there were so few things I could actually do. I remember it being very boring most of the time. She’d have to go in when no one else was there because her teacher friends were more talky-talky than worky-worky. So, here we were in this empty, dark, cold school building. Alone. The teacher workroom was my favorite part of her school. The smell of that purple ink. I so badly wanted to help her by making running that old mimeograph machine, but it was hard work. She even let me try to turn the handle one time and I couldn’t budge the thing. I think she and the other teachers thought they had died and gone to heaven when they got an electric motorized version of the machine. I was sad, though; I could “help” by pushing the button on the electric version, but we spent a lot less time in that wonderful room with the fabulous smells.

Go ahead, take a big whif. Can you remember that smell?