Posted in Uncategorized

Another one of those 2012 Tech Comm Years in Review? But it’s MINE…

MP900309664It’s December 31st, 2012, and the end of another long year has come. This is the time of year when everyone starts to see the year in review posts and articles all over every media source imaginable. I’m no different– I’ve already posted a Top Ten Posts of 2012 for TechCommGeekMom.  But this post is more about my reflection of the year–and what a year it’s been!

This is not to say that everything has been coming up roses for me this year. Upon reflection, there were a lot of good things that happened over the past year that were never expected and were really great. There were also things that were definitely not so great.

The not as great things included problems that my son was having at school that greatly affected his behavior, me getting pneumonia for a month last winter, losing my full-time job, and being laid off my part-time job. Just those things alone could easily make it a bad year, especially if you knew some of the details of the school problems my son was having.

But there were so many things that outweigh those negatives that for once, I can actually say that 2012 was a pretty good year for me. The first big thing was that I graduated from NJIT with my MSPTC. That was the result of two and a half years of blood, sweat and tears–sometimes literally–to get it finished. It was so much a part of what I did for a while that I actually miss it. The fact that I actually graduated, with honors no less, is surreal. I can’t believe that it’s all finished and done, when I feel like I should still be taking a class or doing something more, like writing up another paper.  I was very fortunate to have made several friends in the program, even through this virtual program, and make connections that I think will benefit me for life. The knowledge I gained from the program will also serve me for life as well, I am sure.  I know that NJIT was proud enough of my recent accomplishments enough to feature me as one of its “poster girls” for the Continuing Education program by featuring me in a promotional video for the school. I’m honored and still surprised that they picked me, but appreciate the nod of approval nonetheless.

The other part of what made this year exceptional was this blog. What began as a combination of a class assignment and something to do on a whim has taken on a life of its own. I don’t think anyone, especially me, would have expected anyone to be reading it with the gathering that I’ve collected over the past year. Social media has truly been key to many of the successes I’ve had this year.  I’m glad that I started to become more involved professionally with Twitter and Facebook especially, in order to connect with other technical communicators. Not only did I seek to learn from other technical communicators in the past year, but I used social media as a means of marketing this blog so that my voice could be heard amongst the many great voices out there. The amazing thing to me is that my voice was heard.

Now, I did have some unexpected help along the way. As I’ve explained in the past, it was an early post in which I vented my frustrations about learning tech comm software that someone heard me very loud and clear.  It was someone at Adobe, who not only heard me, but also wanted to help me.  That person was Parth Mukherjee.  It was very early in our contact that he wanted to help, and offered me a webinar. What, me? A webinar for someone just out of grad school? Yes, crazy as it sounded, that what he offered me and I took it. I’m glad I did. Along the way, I got to know Saibal Bhattacharjee, Maxwell Hoffman, Ankur Jain, and Tom Aldous at Adobe as well, and they constantly provided me with more opportunities and support throughout the year–many more than what are listed here. The biggest highlights of this relationship for me were doing the webinar in June that gained me initial greater exposure, and when I was invited to be one of Adobe’s guests at their “Adobe Day” pre-conference event at Lavacon. For a gal who is still new to the field to be invited to “run with the big boys and girls” was a thrill! I learned so much at the Adobe Day conference, and I had a chance to meet and get to know some of the people that I had not only gotten to know through social media, but people I revered and respect in the field.  There have been so many good things that happened to me thanks to Adobe, and I don’t think I can ever thank them enough. As I’ve also said many times before, I was a big fan of Adobe’s before the connection with Adobe’s Tech Comm team, but now they’ve allowed me to become truly loyal to the company with everything they’ve done for me personally that they didn’t have to do. Thank you so much!

I also had an opportunity this year to express my technical communications knowledge in a different way–I was able to teach a virtual class in business and technical writing to Microsoft Korea through the World Learning Company. It was a unique opportunity to present information not only so the students could understand the information, but I truly wanted my students to learn the information so they could use it more often in their everyday business communications. I got great feedback from the end-of-class surveys as well as directly from the students themselves that I made it easier to understand these complicated language nuances, especially since English was a second language for nine of the ten students I had! It was a great opportunity to flex my knowledge muscles to help other people become better writers, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

A big part of this year was all the people I met who helped me along the way. In addition to those at Adobe and NJIT, I met SO many individuals along the way that helped me through this first year of being an “official” technical communicator. I’m sure I’ll be missing someone from this list of tech comm and e-learning professionals, as there were so many, but off the top of my head, they include RJ Jacquez, Mayra Aixa Villar, Miriam Lottner, Toby Price, Barrie Byron, Jamie Gillenwater, Sharon Burton,  Christie Fidura, Shay Shaked, Marcia Riefer Johnston, Colum McAndrew, Renaldo Lawrence, Joe Ganci, Sarah O’Keefe, Val Swisher, Jackie Gerstein, Anita Horsley, Scott Abel, Chad Udell, Alyssa Fox, and Karen Mahon. Each person here, and many others whom I met through social media or in person, contributed to my knowledge base and growth not only as a technical communicator and e-learning specialist, but also as a person. I thank each and every one of you for your support in taking me under your wing, but also for your friendship.

I also want to thank Gary Woodill, who is one of the m-learning gods in my eyes, for retweeting my tweet promoting my Whitepaper, thus giving it his understated blessing. That was a big deal to me for you to acknowledge it and deem it worthy of retweeting the link.  Also many thanks to TechWhirl, especially Craig Cardimon, for promoting two of my blog posts in recent editions of the “Tech Writer This Week” feature on TechWhirl.com. For me, that was a huge indication that I have “arrived” in tech comm.

So, as you can see, 2012 was actually a very good year for me. Sure, I didn’t have a full-time job, and I had illness and issues that were beyond my control at home, but for me, this has ended up being one of the best years that I’ve had in a long time. My first full year of being a technical communicator hasn’t been without some bumps along the way, but through this blog, my school connections, and all the new social media connections I’ve made in the past year, I wouldn’t change a thing. What a whirlwind for a “newbie”! I can only hope that I will continue to have the support of all these wonderful people, and be able to truly practice what I’ve learned over the past year in my new adventures as a Web Publisher for BASF in 2013.

This was the year of building, and I’ve gained a fantastic foundation. Now is the time to continue to grow and move onwards and upwards! I’m anxious about 2013, but having this strong foundation, I have a feeling that it’s got the potential to be another great year.

What are my resolutions for 2013? Well, I don’t know about resolutions, but I know that some of the things that I hope to achieve, other than a firm establishment in the tech comm field, is to go to the STC Summit in May (I hope), and maybe some other conference as well, if I can afford it. I want to meet so many more people in tech comm, and absorb the  information given by the best and brightest in the field. This year, I was the new kid on the block, and in 2013, I want to be part of the next generation of technical communicators helping to take the field further.

Thank you to everyone reading this, and have an incredibly Happy New Year!

Posted in Uncategorized

Using the Cloud–The Real Deal.

As a follow-up to my post about the scamming/hacking attack I had two weeks ago, this week I’m turning TechCommGeekMom.com over to a good friend of mine, Shay Shaked. We first met in grad school at NJIT as classmates, and have been friends ever since. Shay is more of a technology geek than even I am, so when my system got hacked two weeks ago by the phone scammers, he was one of the people who offered me some good advice and pointers along the way to my laptop recovery. I asked him if he would share some of the wisdom that he’s shared with me with my TechCommGeekMom readers, and he said, “Of course!” Here is TechCommGeekMom’s first guest post! It’s a little long, but I encourage you to read the entire thing– good stuff!

–TechCommGeekMom


Two weeks ago, TechCommGeekMom fell victim to the hands of a malicious scammer who managed to access her computer remotely by talking her into believing he was actually a Microsoft employee. The scammer was smart, confident, and very efficient. Reading through her post sent shivers down my spine (as a matter of fact, I am backing up my files as I’m writing this post) and made me realize that we are all vulnerable, especially these days, when technology is everywhere and computers have to be used on a daily basis.

TechCommGeekMom was able to recover rather quickly. The first thing she did was to share her experience with us, so we could all learn from what happened. She also shared a few tips about security of private information, and asked me if I would like to expand and talk in length in this post.

Today, security does not have to come at the price of convenience–quite the opposite. I have switched between four different computers in the last five years, and the transition to the cloud made each switch easy and painless. But the real benefit of cloud apps, I’ve discovered, is in added productivity. I am going to introduce some of the popular cloud services (and some less well-known ones) from the perspective of a paperless, digital person. I hope that when you’re done reading this post you will at least be convinced to give these apps a try, if you haven’t already.

Google Drive

Google Drive’s most important feature, in our case, is its ability to replace Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and even Access, for free. Throughout my time as a graduate student on a tight budget, I calculated I could do more than 90% of my work using Google Drive’s documents.

Google Documents now features two additional important features that makes it even more effective. It has an offline mode, which allows one to create and edit files even without internet connection. It also has a research pane which allows you to research your topic (via a search term on Google) from inside the document, and add whatever reference one may find directly into the document’s reference list in APA style.

Google gives users 5GB of free space to begin with, and documents created inside Google Drive do not take any room. This includes small pictures included in saved documents, such as background for presentations, mugshots, or logos. Additionally, Google Drive makes sharing or sending files to other people incredibly easy, even if they do not have a Google account! Documents can even be sent from within Google Drive as an attachment (.doc, .docx, .pdf and more) directly to an email address without downloading anything, so no obnoxious email attachment on your end.

Evernote

As great as Google Drive is, it is not the best place to upload files and scanned documents. Google Drive’s interface is still too clumsy to be used for organization, and I often need t search for what I need. For scanned documents and quick notes, I use Evernote.

In my opinion, Evernote is the best place for PDF files. Evernote’s excellent tagging system, flexible folders and powerful search (which can read texts from inside images) is exactly what’s missing from Google Drive’s system. I use it to save anything from receipts (using my phone to take snapshots) to a copy of my driver license (I will explain how I protect sensitive documents shortly). It is extremely easy to email documents directly from the app to someone’s email.

Evernote comes in a free version which allows users to upload up to 60MB per month, or a paid version that allows up to 1GB per month with many additional benefits. I have used the free version for a while and never ran out of space allowance.

Important information tip 1:

One of the best ways to protect your personal information is to keep it separate from your “public” information. It just so happens that Evernote and Google Drive create this separation for me automatically: anything that I need to share, publish, or have others edit and work on, is on Google Drive, while all my personal documents and more sensitive information is stored in Evernote. This means your personal files are stored under different username and a different password (because you do use different credentials for each website, right??)

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe Reader is mentioned here because the newest versions come with a very simple, yet powerful feature: the ability to sign your name electronically directly into the PDF file. In the past, I had to download the PDF file, print it, sign it, scan it, and then send it back as an attachment. Not any more. Today I open my PDF file, sign my name, save it (to Evernote) and send it. Done.

Information tip 2:

When you’re not sure what kind of file to send your document in, use a PDF file. If you don’t know what Word version the HR department has, or you want to make sure your resume looks on their screen exactly the same way it looks on yours, send a PDF. PDF files also happen to be the easiest to open, encrypt (protect with a password) and are the industry standard for scanned papers and official documents online. Make sure you have the most recent version of Adobe Reader installed and save yourself the headache.

FoxyUtils

FoxyUtils is a website that does one important thing: it protects your PDF with a password. Upload a file to FoxyUtils, and choose to restrict the file from opening, printing, and copying its context to the computer’s clipboard (which means, no copy-pasting). FoxyUtils also allows users to split one multi-paged PDF into several PDF files, or do the opposite by combining several PDF files into one big PDF file.

Information tip 3:

I believe my personal information is safer inside a password protected PDF on a protected server in a locked building than it is in a drawer at my desk. If you’re serious about using the cloud to store your files and using PDFs, I recommend buying Adobe Acrobat (not just the free reader), which comes with additional features, most notably, better encryption. Keep in mind though that if you password protect your file, programs such as Evernote won’t be able to read its content and make it searchable, as it would with non-protected files.

Hardware – The Non-Cloud stuff for the Cloud

1 – Scanner

Most people would assume an external hard drive with good encryption is the best and safest way to store sensitive documents. In my opinion, that’s a bad mistake to make. The most important thing to consider about your information safety is a scanner.

If you don’t already have one, you can probably find an all-in-one printer (a printer, scanner fax and copier) for a price tag of less than $50. Most printers also ship with software that allows users to quickly convert scanned documents into PDFs, but even without such software, users can quickly upload a file into Google Drive and download it as a PDF if needed.

Information tip 4:

Why a scanner? Because prevention is the best form of protection. Your computer should never store your important documents, and an external hard drive with these documents available is nothing but an extension of your computer. You might as well just glue a glowing sticker to it saying, “My most important information is in here!” Remember, when you store sensitive documents on your computer you’re not only putting yourself at risk, but also others whose information is on these documents as well.

2 – The Backup External Hard Drive

The second device you want to have available is an external hard drive for backups. There are two very important rules when it comes to backup hard drives. First, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups. Second, don’t use the backup hard drive for anything else but backups.

Your external hard drive should be connected to your computer periodically to store files that are either in the cloud already, or on the way to get there. It is a secondary stop; it is an emergency storage in case you have no connection to the internet–like an airplane black box. And, it should be treated that way. Do not use this hard drive to store anything else under any circumstances.

Why am I so strict about this? Because the second you start using your backup hard drive to store music, movies and pictures, it is the second it ceases to be an “in case of emergency” black box and becomes an entertainment storage unit. Soon after, you will start to taking it to work, and your crucial information will be moving along with you in a storage unit that isn’t meant to handle traveling. You could actually severely damage your hard drive by shaking it too hard, not to mention, forgetting it or losing it. Leave it at home on your computer desk, where it belongs.

Information tip 5:

Not storing personal information on your computer means not storing it on your backup hard drive either. If you use a cloud service that downloads files into your computer (like Dropbox), do not use this cloud service for your sensitive information. Remember, your information is and more available on the cloud.

Information tip 6:

A couple of years ago someone came up with the genius invention: a USB drive. To this day, despite the millions of cloud services out there available, there is no more reliable and simple way to keep files you need. An 8GB USB drive is available today for less than $20 (and you can probably get one for less than $10 if you don’t need so much room). That size is enough to store about 2000 songs, or about 7 high-definition movies. Never store your sensitive information on a USB drive! If you need to send someone sensitive information, make sure it’s in encrypted PDF file, and send it directly from the cloud.

Private Information Hard Drive

No matter how secure the cloud is, some information is simply too private. In that situation, I suggest getting an additional, smaller hard drive that can be easily carried and encrypted. A good example for a hard drive for traveling is Western Digital My Passport line. These hard drives do not require a separate AC connection and built with less movable parts that can get damaged. They are also small and light enough to fit in your pocket. Do not mix this private information with your other personal information. Your driver license, passport and tax returns do not belong there.

Shredder

No home-office today is complete without a shredder. No matter how technology savvy and paperless person you are, chances are that some company (especially bank and utility companies) still insist on sending paper statements. These are dangerous and can lead to identity theft if not disposed of correctly. Do yourself a favor and spend the $30 or so on a simple shredder. Not only will you feel safer, you will also save room in your trash bin and become more recycle-friendly. Get rid of any copies of documents you have laying around. After all, a new copy can always be printed .

Some Final Words of Advice

These suggestions are probably not the only ones out there, but they are based on years of personal trial and error experience. Each one of the apps mentioned have many more features than what is covered in this post.

One area not mentioned as it would require a whole blog post to itself is smartphone security. Smartphones, if used correctly, can be an additional security measure and a crucial addition to cloud capabilities, especially if the goal is to go completely paperless. Investing in a smartphone doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can save users a lot of time and frustration.

Use your brain. Learn to create hard-to-guess passphrases, and remember to change them periodically. Most hackers out there still use brute-force methods to break passwords, which means they would use a software to guess any possible combination of letters and numbers until they get it right. If you use a 20-character passphrase, you are probably much safer than using a 4-digit pin number. Wipe out your computer regularly, and restore your files from your backups. This will not only make your computer safer, it would also keep it faster and free from malicious software. Protect your computer with a screensaver password, so every time you get up from your computer and leave it for more than 5 minutes, it would require a password to resume using it. Never store any passwords in your web browser–you would be shocked to know how accessible these passwords are. Create a guest account on your computer and log out of your account before handing it out to a friend, a coworker or your children–especially your children. Children are smarter than you think and they will snoop around, out of curiosity.

I hope this post was useful to you! If you have any questions, suggestions or any words of feedback, feel free to contact me at my blog, blog.shayshaked.com.


Shay Shaked is an aspiring teacher and educator, specializing in technology and special education. He is currently a teacher at the innovative New Shul School in NYC, and pursuing two Masters degrees, one at NJIT in Technical Communications, and the other at Touro College in Special Education. Shay is also a personal communication and health enthusiast, and blogs about these topics at his blog, blog.shayshaked.com, on Twitter as @blueeyednyc, and on Google Plus.