Archive for Web Writing

Securing your iPhone (and self) on the road

A few days ago, I was enjoying un petit-déjeuner in a café at Place Stravinsky (Beaubourg beside The Pompidou Centre), when a group of six 12-year-old Roma (gypsy) girls tried to steal my iPhone. It’s a common trick they use, which usually catches the tourists—like me—off guard.

The girls all came together in a rush into the cafe holding documents for us to read. At first I thought they were soliciting for some charity and I said “no”—three times. What I didn’t notice with the girl at my table—who was very agressive—was that she’d moved the paper over my iPhone I’d just placed on the table. While I was looking her in the eyes, she snatched my phone from under the paper. After they’d left, I looked down and couldn’t remember if my phone had been on the table or still in my jacket. Fortunately, I noticed quickly enough and, with the help of two waiters, we caught two of the girls and called the police. Eventually, we all went for a ride across town to L’hotel de Police.

I have my iPhone back in my hands and have taken extra caution to ensure that, if it falls into the wrong hands, the data is protected:

iPhone settingsWhen my iPhone was snatched, the security was turned off. I’d turned it off while taking photos in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. I don’t want to say how much valuable information was on my iPhone, but it was pretty much tantamount to stealing my wallet. I’ve now turned on the Passcode Lock and I manually lock the phone even while I’m holding it. Otherwise, it’s buried deep in my pocket unless I specifically need it for something.

I have two apps that are good even if I hadn’t used the OS settings to lock it.

The first is called Find iPhone, which allows me to find (on a map), lock, and even wipe all data remotely using a web browswer. It is native to the iPhone interface, but you need an iCloud account set up to work it properly.

My iPhone foundHad I not acted more quickly, I could have used a computer to log in, find my iPhone on a map, and hopefully send the police to retrieve it. At right is a screen shot of my iPhone found using a web interface. It remains to be seen whether police could do anything with this information as it only points to the building in which there are at least 25 apartments.

I also downloaded the highly recommended paid app, My Folder, which I thought would be more useful, but I think it’s designed for deceitful couples intent on hiding information from each other. Even the icon is designed to look like a private folder to lure your jealous partner into opening it—upon which it takes a photo of the intruder and sends its coordinates.

My Folder doubles the functions of Find iPhone in other respects so I don’t think this one’s necessary—at least not for me.

Now, I’m much more careful with my phone and I also have a money belt. It’s not that Paris is unsafe or that I’m paranoid; it’s just that I’ve realized how disadvantaged I’d be trying to manage without these key items so far from home.

Yesterday, while enjoying the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Grande Palais (a popular tourist hang out), a dark eyed woman offered me a gold ring she “found” at my feet. I didn’t accept it at first, but when I did, she immediately began asking me for money “un peu pour manger” she begged. I turned the tables on her by asking a passing couple if they were the owners of the ring and they, knowing better, turned on her. Wahoo, I’m getting street wise in Paris.

Doing the Right Thing

Yesterday, I toured the Basilica de Saint-Denis in the Paris suburb of the same name. Why, on my first day in Paris, I would visit the suburbs may be a mystery to some, but I wanted to start at the beginning and in terms of basilicas and Paris and indeed France, this is where it all begins. Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and his remains are interred here along with those of a great deal of France’s royalty from Dagobert to Marie-Antoinette.

I started in Saint-Denis not just to see the gothic church that inspired all others—Saint-Denis’s firsts include its beautiful rose windows, and its pointed arches—but I think there’s an anti-revolutionary spirit in me. I know that revolutions never replace an ancien regime with anything better, if the revolutionaries do not live the qualities they aspire to. It’s always an inside job. Gandhi had it right.

Over the last few months, I’ve been given the opportunity to place my values in front of my needs and am the better for it. There is a business application for this that I embrace—it has to do with doing what’s right. Here are three examples:

  • At the tail end of a contract, my manager was let go and I ended with four days of my time owing to the company. Later, the replacement manager asked me if he could hire me back. This is common sense, but while I could have signed a new contract and never mentioned the four days owing (nobody but me would have known), I offered up my four days. As the new manager didn’t know what sort of budget he had, this was enormously helpful, and later paved the way for him to hire me back for an additional four-month contract. Honesty is its own reward.
  • Likewise, I quoted 24 hours to a client to copy edit his 30-page financial report. I must be getting good at copy editing because the entire job (including the copy edit and designing a new template and style sheet), took me only 6 hours. With the previous example of integrity in my head, it was easy to ignore the little devil on my shoulder and bill only my working hours, not the proposed contracted hours.
  • Finally, a fellow musician in Montreal put out a panicked message to all her clarinet-playing colleagues on facebook for a certain part of music she needed. I responded that I was too busy packing for my trip to help her. During the day though, I kept thinking about that rare clarinet part and gradually found that it was easy to locate it in a box of my music, scan the section she wanted, optimize it into a compressed PDF, and finally post it to my site where she could download it.

The fascinating part for me was not that I did these things, but that they got done simply by me not resisting their accomplishment. I under-promised and over-delivered.

Basilica Saint-Denis

Where it all begins

Communication – How to Keep your Clients Happy

I sit in cafés watching the patrons tapping away at their laptops or PDAs and wonder how many of them are billing hours for their labours. If they are, I also wonder how they maintain communication with their clients. Are they off in a dream of worker freedom or are they providing value for their clients at least as effectively as if they were in the corporate office?

Having worked from home as both employee and contractor, I know that the only way it can be effective is if I can ensure that the trust between me and my clients (boss) is rock solid. How I do that is through communication. Below are some of the communication tools I’m using:

Skype Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. It’s one of my favourite tools—so much so that I often use it during business hours in Vancouver to save my cell phone minutes. Last year, when I was in Portugal, I found that the Skype connection on my iPod (needs WiFi) was better than on the laptop.
Google Talk Google Chat is good because your clients can contact you on a moment’s notice (provided you both have it open). By seeing I’m online and available, my clients can have the assurance that I’m working on their projects, etc. etc.
Cell Phone Want to run your laptop and phone abroad and not sure what to do? I was in Foreign Electronics the other day picking up a power adapter and they advised me to remove the SIM card from my phone on arrival in France and just use my phone for WiFi only. I’ve already ensured that all the hotels where I’m staying have WiFi, so if I need to talk, I can use Skype. If I want a cell phone, I can pick up a local SIM card (check that your phone accepts one – my iPhone 5 doesn’t).
Web Texting Most cell providers, such Roger’s, allow you to send and receive text messages through their web site free. So, if you’re working very remotely from, say, the south of France, you’ll want to keep your texting as low cost as possible.

Five In-The-Cloud Tools for the Successful Corporate Blogger

In preparation for my new life as an itinerant corporate web writer, blogging my way through Europe, I need to ensure that I have all my cloud resources in place before I leave. Fortunately, I have a plethora of tools that help me keep track of information, track my time and expenses, stay on top of writing trends, and so forth.

Here are my top-five cloud tools:

Dropbox Store your files where you can retrieve them from anywhere. You can also invite others to share specified folders and work on files with no need to upload or download files. A must for anyone on the move.
Evernote This is similar to Dropbox except that instead of saving entire files, it allows you to save key pieces of information. I use Evernote because it syncs effortlessly with Awesome Note on my iPhone so I can check travel arrangements or simply drop in thoughts for later.
Mint.com Aggregate all your finance information into one place. This doesn’t allow you to conduct transactions; it’s designed to help you if you have multiple accounts or credit cards so you can get an overview of all transactions. I use this on a daily basis to check that all is well.
CMOS The Chicago Manual of Style online is a great resource for writers. It provides all the information you’ll need for grammar, word usage, styles, citations, and more.
Visual Thesaurus I use this excellent resource to help me brainstorm words visually. Enter a word and it shows homonyms, synonyms, antonyms…the works as a branched infographic that you can click through until you find just the right word.

 

3 Steps to Planning Your Corporate Blog

In my first post on this subject, I described how I re-organized my life to become a world traipsing corporate blogger. It’s forward looking as I haven’t flown the coop yet, but soon I will be in France writing for my clients back here in Vancouver. How is this possible? Research, planning, communication.

I need to get up to speed on disability claims and liability in an area where I know little. How am I going to do it? Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Get connected – there are lots of online resources I can draw from. For example, LinkedIn has great groups on the very subject I’m suddenly interested in—legal blogging. I’ve joined a few groups and I’m reading the content and making notes about what I find.
  2. Get organized – this is no place to be disorganized. I’ve used my standard timetracking software to track my time and plan ahead. I use Excel, but you can try Billing Boss, because it also allows you to invoice your clients.
  3. Set up subject matter alerts – there are a few questions here, but what you need are some keywords that you can use to create some effective news alerts in Google. When you know the best words (I’ll blog about that soon), go to Google News and enter them. At the bottom of the results screen, click Create an email alert for [your keywords] and follow the prompts.

Lest this blog get to be too dry, here’s an inspiring quote for all concerned: “Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”
— Napoleon Hill

It’s a Digital Life – Writing for the Web

When writing a blog (or any type of web writing), you are writing for an audience that’s fickle and distracted. There’s just too much information, so they flit about and if they encounter a challenge (such as poor organization, rambling prose, padded sentences), they bail. Web readers will not read your writing, unless it is written to their needs.

Web readers read differently:

  • They don’t read screens as easily as pages.
  • They tend to scan and forage for the content they want.
  • They don’t read in a linear fashion—they follow links and move about.

The general rule for web writing is to write shorter sentences, but little information is ever provided on how to write shorter sentences. The maxim, “Ride the horse in the direction it’s headed” is appropriate here. If you organize your information in a way that follows how people read, your blog is more likely to be read.

Saint John Transit gets Wireless Upgrade

SaintJohn-110617-01web

Back in February 2010, Webtech Wireless expanded its InterFleet® implementation with the city of Saint John, New Brunswick to include an additional 100 public works and police vehicles—a contract valued at over $100,000. Now to complement the city’s Interfleet solution, Saint John Transit also plans to deploy a Webtech Wireless solution—NextBus.

NextBus will provide Saint John Transit with an AVL tracking solution for its 60 buses, allowing riders to check bus arrivals in real-time. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS text messaging, riders get real-time travel information (each bus is fitted with a satellite tracking system) designed to help them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll. Currently, riders can only view a static schedule of intended bus arrivals and departures on the company’s web site.

NextBus will also install five LCD screens at various locations around the city, including McAllister Place Malland the university campus (UNBSJ) and LED screens at bus stops. To help make public transport more attractive to potential riders (and as a nod to Saint John Transit’s already existing environmental initiatives), the service will add to the city’s existing hot spots with free WIFI for riders on all its buses.

About NextBus

A subsidiary of Webtech Wireless, San Francisco-based NextBus implements real-time passenger information systems used by dozens of transit agencies, universities and other transit operators across North America. Because traffic variations, breakdowns, and day-to-day problems faced by any transit provider can interrupt service, NextBus was designed to help keep riders on schedule even if their buses aren’t. NextBus uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.

As Canada’s oldest incorporated city and New Brunswick’s largest municipality, the city of Saint John has been providing municipal services for more than two centuries. According to Statistics Canada, the Saint John municipal area has a population of 122,389, with a population density of 36.4 persons per square kilometre.

old_saint-john

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation.

The Port of Saint John is one of Canada’s most important ports (its relatively mild maritime climate keeps its deep-water harbour ice-free year round when inland ports in the St. Lawrence Seaway must contend with ice). This keeps the city’s businesses and industries bustling throughout the year. In 2010 for the first time ever, the Port of Saint John exceeded 30 million metric tonnes of cargo in a single year.

About Saint John Transit

Saint John Transit was established in 1979 to provide scheduled transit service to the city. It replaced City Transit Limited (1948-1979) and a string of others dating back to the People’s Street Railway Company (1869-1876). Saint John Transit is the largest public transit system in the province, both by mileage and passengers.

Saint John Transit Statistics

Saint John Transit’s ridership is approximately 50 percent higher than the average for Canadian cities with a population of between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • Number of vehicles: 60
  • Ridership: 2.5 million riders per year

Current active fleet bus types:

Greening Saint John

To reduce auto emissions, the City of Saint John, along with the Federal and Provincial governments, is investing in public transportation between uptown Saint John and outlying communities. Branded as ComeX (Community Express), it provides a rapid bus transport service during peak commuting times.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

With the implementation of ComeX, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 1,500 metric tonnes and downtown traffic will decrease by 800 vehicles a day over the next five years.

Using NextBus on Your Smartphone

Below is another excerpt from the Webtech Wireless blog I’ve been working on. As a corporate blog, I try to balance clear concise professional writing with a personable informal tone often not possible in other corporate materials. So, the purpose of a blog is not merely to blast potential readers with the same material they’d find elsewhere, but rather, it’s an opportunity for a company to show  a more human face and reach out a real people.

Excerpt

Just as the adoption of the cell phone became universal a decade and a half ago, the smartphone is now a ubiquitous part of life for most urbanites. According to New York Times writer, Damon Darlin, “historians will remember the advent of the smartphone as something as important as the elevator, air conditioner and automobile.”

The implication for transit companies is clear: adopt an AVL solution or face irritation and disinterest from your ridership. Fortunately, transit authorities are reading the writing on the wall and many of them are choosing NextBus—for its reliability and simplicity.

“NextBus, a wonderful Web site that monitors the arrival of city buses in many big cities, is a godsend.”

While there is no official phone application for Nextbus, the simplicity of the NextBus website makes it easy to use on most smartphones.

To access NextBus using a smartphone:

  1. Using your smartphone’s web browser (such as Safari), access the NextBus website: www.nextbus.com.
  2. Choose the mobile version or the full-featured website.
  3. Select your location, your transit agency, your route, and then your stop.The most current prediction for the arrival time of the next vehicle is displayed.
  4. You also can add your stop info to your home screen so it will be instantly available.
  5. If a prediction is already displayed on your smartphone, simply push the ‘refresh’ link at the bottom of the page to get the most up to date information.

Writing a corporate blog

I recently wrote a corporate blog and came upon some interesting considerations. It’s one thing to write a blog for one’s own site, but to write on behalf of someone else (i.e., a company) is another matter. There’s of course the matter of style and tone, but what is appropriate especially if there are no clear guidelines.

You may have to spin things slightly to represent the best interests of your employer, but don’t be insincere—people sense it. The story I wrote, Iridium satellites not affected my recent solar storms, concerned the effects of recent solar storms on the company’s GPS location-based tracking services. I realized that it was important not to represent their technology as vulnerable or the solar storms as alarmist.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Focus on the positive – plays down concerns in the title
  • In first sentence, I use end focus to draw attention to reliability of products/services of company “…has had no affect on Iridium satellites”.
  • I chose a beautiful and re-assuring image of the aurora borealis, instead of something that might cause concern.
  • I was given permission to use images found on the internet (always something to consider), but because I didn’t think the site where I found this image was one I wanted to highlight, I buried the source credit in the code for the image.

Usability Fun and Games

I convinced myself that applying for a job through the IBM web site was a good use of my time, but I didn’t factor in how much fun it would be.

Like many mega corps, the IBM site asks us to upload our résumés and then goes on to ask us to enter all the same information again manually, field by field. By the end, we’re likely to conclude that any job we should ever get at IBM will net us similar mindless work. But who knows, filling out online applications is my form of Vegas—’cause ya’ never know…

Here’s the kicker. In the section for language competency, I was given a list of languages and a ranking system from which to choose: fluent, intermediate, basic knowledge, and no knowledge. I don’t know what the value is in adding information about a skill in which one has no knowledge. I mean, I could go on and on.

I couldn’t help myself, so I obliged!

No Knowledge required