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Content in the Age of Coronavirus

Man watching TV intensely Welcome to day 4-ish of my self-quarantine from the coronavirus pandemic. I say 4-ish because I went out on Sunday, but once I came back, I’ve stayed home every since. I went for a walk with my husband around the neighborhood yesterday for a little bit of fresh air, but now most of the weather is expected to be wet and soggy for most of the next week, so other than a doctor’s appointment that hasn’t been cancelled yet, I plan to stay indoors.

This post was inspired by something that I just watched on Twitter. Normally, I don’t watch Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show much (we’re more Late Show with Stephen Colbert people), but I saw he had posted a “home edition” post, and I was curious. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but he said something in his conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda in passing that perked my ears up. He mentioned that right now, it’s “all about the content”.

BAM!

In the conditions that all of us are in right now, with most of us on self-imposed quarantines, many don’t know what to do with themselves if they aren’t doing their work from home or helping their kids with schoolwork. Being generally sequestered indefinitely, they yearn for content to keep them abreast of what’s going on in the world as well as something to entertain them to help pass the time. Many business-related companies that have means of broadcasting through webinars or the like are already taking advantage of this, and trying to help the “cause” of needing content to help people get through these times. So many people are not used to staying at home for long periods of time, unless they’ve been seriously ill, or snowed in from a blizzard or other natural disaster. Perhaps because I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’ve worked from home for a long time, I’m used to staying home and not going out for long stretches of time. I am a natural couch potato–my mother used to criticize me for it, but I’ve always loved watching TV to watch all the comedies, action shows, and documentaries I could. I swear half of my knowledge comes from pop culture from those years of intensely watching TV from the 1970s-1990s especially.

So, this is an opportunity to either appreciate the content that is out there or start creating your own. I’ve been watching documentaries, movies, and TV shows that were on my watch list for the longest time, and I’m starting to read some books again. At the same time,¬† I’m working with my programming chair/vice-president of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter and another STC person on creating other content and events to go on virtually in the coming months.

Now, you might think that you need to have fancy equipment and lighting and audio to create content. Nope. Heck, this blog post is content. It’s taking up some of your time, and giving you something to think about, doesn’t it? Additionally, it’s not about the “bling”. Again the point is the content itself. What is the big message? What value does the content–whether it be text, video, audio, or whatever–have? Does it need to be “perfect” in order to get that main message through? In my opinion, it doesn’t not have to be glitzy. It’s nice when it is, but it doesn’t have to be. All content, as we’ve been told by content marketers, is about storytelling. Yes, that procedure manual you are writing or those instructions that you are writing as a technical writer are still telling a story. Any kind of entertainment we watch right now is content and it’s storytelling. Content storytelling comes in infinite forms, after all.

Photo of TechCommGeekMom and hubby walking in their neighborhood.
Here’s my contribution. Here’s a photo of me and my husband taking a walk around our neighborhood. It’s usually this quiet around here for the most part anyway. We didn’t stay six feet apart for long!

What kind of content are you either going to consume or create today? For me, it’s watching a mini-series on Hulu, then watching Star Trek: Picard and the Ready Room later today. I might create some storytelling by submitting my resume to another job opening. I know I’ve definitely been having conversations via social media and instant messaging with friends and family during this time. For me, most of this is generally the same as usual–I fill my life with content. Content is storytelling, but it’s also how you fill your life with experiences. Going out for a walk to get some fresh air is still absorbing content–you are using all your senses to create your story of taking that walk outside. You can translate that into further content by either video recording that walk, taking photos along the way, or writing about it later. No matter how it’s processed, it’s content.

So, while it’s frustrating to be sequestered for this long, we all know it’s for our own health and for the greater good of the PLANET. Coronavirus has definitely hit my area, and with my bad asthma, I’m hesitant to leave the house–other than a neighborhood walk–for anything for the most part. I know a lot of people are having a hard time with this, but we really are in this together. My recommendation is to concentrate on the good content that is out there. Be aware of the “doom and gloom” to be educated, but focus on the better stuff. Pay attention to how others are helping each other. Look at the content that people are putting out to ensure that you are recognized, loved, helped, and that your mind is staying active. Watch webinars and video conferences. This is a great opportunity to hone your verbal and written communications skills because working from home involves better communications skills than when you are in the office. Appreciate and enjoy all the entertainment and education that the media offers. You know I learned how to cook better over the years from watching a lot of the Food Network? My husband I have learned a lot about DIY projects and real estate from watching HGTV. It’s an opportunity for you to read all those books that you’ve been collecting to read and “will get to eventually”. This is time to spend with your families. This is a time to break out your creative side and draw, paint, knit…whatever. Learn to exercise at home doing something different–there are plenty of “dance parties” and yoga classes online where you don’t need equipment. Use this time to absorb content that will help you be a better person when you emerge from the quarantines. It will help distract you from the doom and gloom. Contribute content when you can, even if it’s a one-to-one instant message conversation with a friend, or an email. I know an email checking in on my parents lifted their spirits that I was checking in on them. Or heck, a blog post. ūüôā

It’s all about the content right now. Learn to absorb and appreciate what’s out there right now that we can use, and help contribute positive content to share.

What are your thoughts? Include your comments below.

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How do we determine the bounds of digital literacy?

Yes, you are seeing this correctly. There’s a blog posting from me. No need to double-blink in disbelief. I am still alive and well. I don’t always get much of a chance to write here because I’m busy! One of these days, I’ll try to catch up with what’s going on with me, but in summary, I’m busy teaching a technical editing class at NJIT, working a part-time gig for BASF, working a “freelance contract” with a pharmaceutical company as a digital content strategist, and working my tail off for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter as president, conference chair, sponsorship chair, and competition chair.¬† Not a lot of time to come up for air these days!

But as I do have a short moment right now to put these thoughts down, I thought I’d start this conversation, because it is a frequent topic that comes up again and again in all the things I’m working on these days.

Where are the boundary lines what constitutes digital literacy? Just like a person needing to know how to read and write, we live in an age where almost everything is done digitally these days.¬† You can’t do a lot of what you used to be able to do on paper or manually. You call a toll-free helpline, and you are most likely to get an automated chatbot responding to you before you can even get to a real person. Credit cards use chips increasingly more than the magnetic strips, or even use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or the like. To get help for anything, most people go online to find answers through browser searches.¬† So where’s the line of what’s considered digitally literate and digitally illiterate?

I bring this up because I often get into discussions about what is acceptable and user-friendly UX, and what’s not. I usually follow the tech comm mantra of “know your audience”, so many of the audiences I have to deal with aren’t necessarily the most digitally savvy bunch. I’ll argue to include something to make interactivity with the site more apparent, whereas others will argue that it’s not necessary.

I also wonder about people who still can’t figure things out like social media, or GMail or Google Drive, or things like that. These have been around for a decade–or more! There are other apps and sites that have also been around for a long time, and people still have no clue how to begin to use them (and it’s more disturbing to me when it’s someone who has to either work with digital on a daily basis, write for digital, or is teaching digital).¬† Now, some may argue that it’s a generational thing, but I don’t agree. I know people who are my parents’ age (into their 70s) who have a better clue than I do about how to use digital, and are very good at it. And then I know people younger than me who have no idea how to use word processing or a simple spreadsheet. It runs the gamut.¬† Digital has been a part of society for at least the last 30 years, and there isn’t anybody who isn’t touched by it these days. Those who don’t adapt fall behind. Digital is pretty much everywhere, and it’s even easier to use now than it was in the decades before.

Case in point: I recently had to go for my yearly eye exam. My optometrist is still scheduling in a paper book, does her bookkeeping in a paper book (the receptionist writes out receipts rather than prints them out), and most of the records are still done solely on paper. Additionally, they don’t have an up-to-date database or access to one to look up insurance information. I was told that I didn’t have certain kind of coverage, but when the place that I got my glasses (a different place than my doctor) looked the information up, I did have the coverage. Why? They could access the information online more easily.¬† While it seems old-fashioned, my doctor is actually severely behind the times, and she’s going to have issues keeping up with more modern practices soon enough. She complains that there’s no software that meets her needs, but she doesn’t know that no software will meet ALL of her needs, and she needs to work with a vendor to customize things as much as possible so that it WILL meet her needs.

I also had to deal with someone for whom I had help them sign onto Google Drive and Gmail. I’ve told this person many times how to do it–in writing, no less–and they still can’t figure it out. I don’t think it’s my instructions, as others have used the same instructions without any issues. I think part of it is a conscientious mental block that person puts up, because they don’t want to learn.

So, this is why I ask…

As a society, we put great emphasis on the basics of learning how to read and write. Same thing for understanding the basics of mathematics. So what’s the functional literacy level for using digital? I will grant you that understanding how to use digital has evolved over time. But there’s a point where, even as technical writers, we need to be promoting better ways to be literate. For example, if you are on a webpage, and you see text that’s in a different color or especially if it’s underlined, wouldn’t that tell you that it’s a hyperlink, and it’s going to take you somewhere else or open another window? Then why do we still have text like, “Click here to view the video” instead of “View the video”–or better yet, if the title of the video is mentioned in the sentence, just hyperlink the video title? This is especially true when it comes to writing for mobile, as you can’t “click” on something, just as you can’t “tap” on a desktop/laptop interface unless you have a touch screen.¬† This is an example of something that’s incredibly basic, yet there are those who still don’t get it.

So how do we define the parameters of being digitally literate versus being digitally illiterate in this day and age? I know I have my own ideas, but I would like to hear yours.  How would you define these parameters? Include your comments below.

 

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Music is the ultimate single-sourcing resource

A few years ago, I wrote an article for someone else about how music was used in remixes and mashups, but it never got published. Even so, I was reminded of how music has a lot of reuse due to two events that happened to me over this past weekend.

First, I went to a concert given by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. The pieces that were played were Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Beethoven’s Ninth “Choral” Symphony. About an hour before the concert, the maestro/conductor held a little talk about the pieces, giving some history and other notes about the pieces. He mentioned that both pieces were reflections of the times, in that the music reflected the turmoil that was going on in Europe during the early 19th century. But what also struck me–and what I listened for–was the reuse of music to reflect some of the action or feelings of the time. In the 1812 Overture, for example, they played the original Russian version, which begins with a Russian Orthodox chant. Later, you hear the French National Anthem several times repeated over and over to reflect Russian and French forces at odds. Beethoven also used bits of well-known (at the time) country songs that were reflected in each movement.

Second, I started to watch an excellent program on television about the Beatles. It was on very late, and my husband and I–who are big Beatles fans–got drawn in, but had to turn it off as we needed to get to sleep. But when we did see was fascinating, and it put an interesting spin on their music. The episode was concentrating on how revolutionary the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was. It was the first time any musicians purposely made a studio album that wasn’t meant to be played for touring. This allowed the Beatles a lot of freedom to experiment with sounds that were either repurposes or found a new place. Sometimes it was the instrumentation that was new; sometimes it was the hybridization of two or more different styles. The one piece that they broke apart that captured my attention was “Penny Lane”. “Penny Lane” is about observations around the area where Paul McCartney and John Lennon grew up. Musically, it captured the old vaudeville sound yet at the same time had a pop/rock sound to it, with overtones of baroque as well. The final track included 4 separate tracks of piano, and a host of other instruments like a special piccolo trumpet (I think that’s what it was called, but correct me if I’m wrong), which wasn’t an instrument used often in modern pop music! Another example, although not part of the album but part of the recording period, is “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Did you ever think that the vocal track sounded a little weird, even though it worked? That’s because the main music background track was made on one day at one speed, and the voice was recorded at a different speed on a different day. John Lennon wanted to use both tracks, but they didn’t synchronize well. Because the technology wasn’t there electronically like it is now, sound engineers had to figure out how to change the variable speed on both recordings so that they could get them to synch. That sort of thing didn’t exist until then! Fascinating stuff.

So what does this have to do with content strategy? Everything. Here’s why.

A big part of content strategy is knowing what to keep and what not to keep. Content strategists are always promoting reuse of content to be used in new ways. By mixing and matching content appropriately, you can get a hybrid that is something new and unique to itself. Nowadays, copyright laws can get in the ways, but if they are heeded appropriately, something new and wonderful can be produced. The music world really started to notice when rap and hip-hop started sampling and reusing music, a practice that’s still used today for new music, remixes, and mashups.

What do you think? Did musicians have this figured out well before writers by almost 200 years? Include your comments below.

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9 Recommended Tech Tools for a Conference Attendee

tech organizer for accessoriesI don’t attend as many conferences as some people, for sure. There are those I know who whisk off to different parts of the world to attend such conferences–I’m not quite one of those. ¬†I’m usually going to at least 1-2 local conferences, and 1-2 not local conferences a year on average. ¬†This year, at this writing, I’m only planning on one big conference, and namely that’s the STC Summit in a couple of days.

While I’m on these trips, I usually try to put some careful consideration into what I’m bringing with me. This year, I have my car (an SUV, no less) with me, so I can load up the car as much as I want. ¬†But in other years, like many, I usually have to get on a plane to get to the conference destination, so taking as few things–and lighter items–is necessary.

Liz Fraley wrote an excellent article about a year ago about her Presenter’s Tech Travel Kit, and it’s pretty comprehensive. ¬†I have most of the same items as she does. Some I don’t travel with, and some are items I still desire to add to my travel tech.

But that was written from the perspective of a frequent presenter. What about some recommendations for those who aren’t presenters, but still want to bring some basic tech with them?

I’m looking at this perspective myself, as I’m not a presenter this year. I usually have one big suitcase for clothes, shoes, things I picked up at the conference, but I also need to bring tech, since I am either taking notes, or sharing my experiences on social media during a conference. I’m still developing what works for me best, but there are a few things that I usually bring with me no matter where I go, whether I’m a presenter or attendee. There are also a few (hopefully) clever solutions to help lighten my load, but maintain some good tech.

  1. My iPad/tablet
    My iPad comes with me everywhere. I have a large, 17 inch laptop, and while it’s one of the “lighter” ones, it’s still rather heavy, and it’s a pain (literally and figuratively) to carry places. ¬†In most instances, I don’t need to bring a full laptop computer with me, as I’m only accessing ¬†my word processing programs (Notes or Word) for note taking, I have full access to social media apps, I can still get my email, I still have Skype–I have most of what I need to record what I need and still communicate with the outside world in my iPad. ¬†My iPad is thin, and it’s lightweight. It’s as good as having a paper notebook in size and weight, but better.

    Someday, I hope to be able to afford one of those super sleek, thin, streamlined ultrabooks that I can bring anywhere, but in the meantime, this will do nicely. If you don’t have an iPad, an Android or Fire or other equivalent will probably do just as nicely.

  2. My Wireless Keyboard
    This is an optional one, only because I don’t have an iPad cover that is also a Bluetooth keyboard. But having my wireless Apple keyboard–or for that matter, any Bluetooth keyboard–is great because then you feel like you do have a very compact laptop with you. I keep it in a special case (similar to this one–same manufacturer, older model) that has some extra storage. (Waterfield has some nice travel bags as well.)

    But what if you have to access a “power” program due to a workshop, and there isn’t an app for that? Well, I’ve figured that out too, but it’s on a case-by-case basis (meaning there are some exceptions when I, unfortunately, do have to lug my laptop with me). I hate bringing my laptop just for one workshop or one session, when I know I’m not going to use it for the rest of the conference. ¬†I have a solution that might work for you, and it’s worked for me.

  3. Remote Machine apps
    Yes, if you pick the right one and play with it a little bit first, there are some decent remote machine apps that will connect your tablet (in my case, my iPad) to your¬†laptop at home. You¬†just have to install the app on your¬†iPad, make sure the app is installed on your¬†laptop at home, and remember to leave your¬†laptop on at home before you¬†leave! I’ve played with a few.

    TeamViewer is a popular one. My husband likes that one. It’s free for individual use. There’s also Splashtop. That one, if you are travelling, is about $3/month, but it provides a good connection. I used that last year, and it’s another popular one.

    This year, I’ve switched over to a free one that’s available, and I like this one the best. It’s called VNC Viewer. There’s an app for it on iTunes, and it’ll give you directions on how to make your laptop the “VNC Server”. The beauty of this one is that it’s mostly maintained on the cloud! And it’s free for individuals! I also liked the screen resolution on this one, because it showed what’s on my laptop screen better than the others, and I could get the tapping tasks down easier than the others. ¬†I could access those “power” apps (like various XML editors) from my home laptop from my iPad, and still do the same actions as if I were using my laptop. There might be a few tricks to use it on an iPad, but the work itself is being done on my home laptop. Cool!

  4. Skyroam Personal Hotspot device
    This is a new item that I’ve added to my collection. It’s a personal hotspot that doesn’t work off your phone, and it works internationally in most major countries. ¬†You buy unlimited connectivity passes which last the full 24 hours. ¬†If you buy your passes in bulk, they come out to be about $8 per day, and you can connect up to 5 devices at a time. The device is usually around $100, and comes with 3 free day passes to start. You can also rent them at airports and–I think–through the website at skyroam.com.

    Why would I need that? I bought it for a few reasons. First, during my last international trip, I found I was using the data that I had bought through my phone contract wasn’t enough for when I was out and about. It was a lot of data just trying to pull up a map and figure out where I was going! And wifi wasn’t always perfect trying to glean it off of stores or other public places. This way, in the future, I’d have this small device with me, and not have that problem anymore. Second, when we travel, my son is ALWAYS using up a lot of data so he can play games on his phone. This, again, eliminates the huge cost. The last reason I got it was that even though certain conferences offer wifi services, sometimes, well,¬†they just aren’t great wifi connections.

    Since I do a lot of Twitter feeds and such during conferences, it’s important that I have a solid wi-fi connection. This solves this problem. I used my Skyroam at the CONDUIT conference last month, and it works GREAT.

  5. My Smart Travel Router and International Power Converters
    This one is especially helpful if you are travelling internationally, but I still bring them with me on domestic trips as well. ¬†They not only provide international outlet adapters for other countries, but they usually have 2 USB outlets on them to charge my devices. I use these heavily– I have 3 of these, so I can charge up to 6 devices at a time if needed! One of these three is my smart travel router. The one I own is a Satechi Smart Travel Router, which you can find on various websites to order. If you have access to a network cable, this little device is marvelous. It’s not only a outlet adapter that has USB outlets on it, but it also acts as a mini wifi router when connected to a wired network.

    I’ll give you an example when it came in handy. When I went to IEEE ProComm, I stayed at one of the dorms at the University of Limerick. They had no wifi available in the rooms. HOWEVER, they did have network outlets. All I did was connect my networking cable to that outlet, plugged the other side into this Smart Router, and VOILA! I was the only one who had wifi! I was able to talk to my family on Skype at night and check on other things that required internet connectivity.

  6. Battery packs/Power banks

    Portable batteries/power banks come in all sizes. I actually bring three– two small ones and a big one. Why? I don’t want to be lugging a charging cord and power adapter for my iPad or my phone and trying to be near the nearest outlet. ¬†These batteries can easily charge overnight, so I will charge the big one (which has two outlets for two devices) one night while I use the smaller two, and then switch off the next day.You can find smaller ones under US$10, and some of the larger, more powerful ones can get to cost as much as $70. Pick what’s whatever in your budget, and you’ll find it’s handy to have just in case. My two little ones were gifts, whereas my bigger one is one I bought for about US$25-30. ¬†You can get fairly powerful ones these days, and find them almost anywhere that they sell phone and tablet accessories.
  7. Cables/Power Cords
    This is an obvious one. You can’t charge any of these devices up with a plug, battery, car power adapter, or wall power adapter unless you have all the right cables and cords! I always ensure that I have one for each device (for me, that’d be 2 Apple lightning cords), and at least 1-2 USB-C cords that will charge the battery packs. Sometimes you can get a power cord that powers multiple devices–a multi-port cord. I have one of those that one of the vendors gave out at a past conference that works beautifully, even with my fickle i-Devices. I keep them all together in a Skooba Design cable wrap case so I can find them easily, and it’s compact. (Skooba Design also has some nice travel bags as well.)
  8. Earphones of some sort
    I tend to bring a few things redundantly, so I do bring my regular Apple earphones with me, but I also bring my fancy Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones with me as well. The second ones are for the noise cancelling feature. Sometimes I just need to tune out, you know? (Introverts, take note!)
  9. Extra batteries
    If my Apple keyboard or the noise cancelling feature of my Bose headphones die, then I have at least one set of backup batteries (2-AAs, 1-AAA) with me. I keep them in the small case I keep my keyboard in.

That seems to cover the basics of what I find I need as a conference attendee. I don’t run out of power. I have something to take notes electronically or connect to the outside world. I have devices to help me connect to the Internet. I’m pretty much set, and it can all easily fit in my messenger bag or backpack, and still have room in my bag to collect some goodies from the Exhibition Hall.

As a presenter, I think the only other things I would bring would be some sort of an A/V adapter (see Liz’s article for suggestions–I just hook up my iPad with my adapter, and I’m good), or as is often suggested, I bring a thumb/flash drive with my presentation on it–just in case.

Between my list and Liz’s list, can you think of other devices, tools, or other tech accessories that you find that you absolutely need to bring with you to a conference? Include your comments below.

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4 Lessons Learned (About Learning) From Blogging

Blogs provide great insight and are a helpful educational tool. But did you know the act of blogging can teach us something, too? Danielle Villegas explains.

Source: 4 Lessons Learned (About Learning) From Blogging

Thanks to Phylise Banner, Jennifer Hofmann, and InSync Training for the opportunity to write this article for InSync Training’s blog,¬†Body Language in the Bandwidth.¬†

I based this article on the many years I’ve been writing here on TechCommGeekMom and other blogs I’ve written over time. I hope there’s helpful information for you here! It’s a quick read, and I enjoyed writing it.

–TechCommGeekMom