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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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TechCommGeekMom, where have you been? The Delta Quadrant?

I know you haven’t been in the Delta Quadrant. So where have you been?

OK, so it’s been a while. I know. While I wish I could say that I’ve been on an Intrepid-class Federation starship named the U.S.S. Voyager, sadly that is not the case.

It’s a little hard to be writing blog posts when a) you don’t know exactly what to say after having written hundreds of posts before, and b) you’re just REALLY busy.

2016 was a rough year, but 2017 has also had its challenges so far.  You know that I’m always in some sort of work search mode, and that’s already had its ups and downs for the past few months.  I was excited to get my first independent contract. It was an opportunity to finally flex my e-learning muscles, and do it on my terms.  I started to create a curriculum matrix,  to make storyboards, to write transcripts, test questions, and study guides, and created video training–21 completed videos in about a month. But the contract ended before the full project was completed, and I don’t know what will be happening going forward. There was a big learning curve involved, and after the fact, I’ve realized where I made some wrong moves, but I also learned where I made many right moves as well.  I’ve been mastering TechSmith’s Camtasia during this time, and feel pretty comfortable with it now. I sometimes feel I missed out on one of my many callings as a video editor (although you never know–that might change going forward).  I know that I was producing good content, if I say so myself, so I have to be satisfied with that for now.

I also was the co-chair of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter (STC-PMC)’s annual CONDUIT conference.  Thankfully, that came off with few hitches, and it was well received by everyone I heard from. Some people hadn’t been to the conference in years, and it was a great opportunity for them to see how our conference has grown!  Next year, at this point, it looks like I’ll be the main chair for the event, so it’s going to feel a little overwhelming, I’m sure. Just being co-chair felt overwhelming at times, while trying to work with client deadlines. It stressed me out enough that I even got physically sick for a while. For CONDUIT, the payoff is worth it, and I hope that everyone who is reading this considers coming as a presenter or attendee for next year.

Oh, and I can’t forget that I’ve been studying my DITA by helping someone who is writing a book about it, and I was asked to contribute edits as a beginner who wanted to ensure that they understood the author’s instructions.  That was cool, and helpful.

Kim: Is she kidding us? Overwhelming?
Paris: That’s what she claims. Who am I to argue?

All through this time, as I said, it’s been a bit overwhelming. I realized some missteps with all of it the hard way, as I usually do, but thankfully I have a lot of good people who help me get back up and fight another day. (Photon torpedos are loaded, Captain.)

I spoke to veteran tech comm consultants at CONDUIT and through Single-Sourcing Solutions’ TC Conclave, as well as just talking to other technical communicators when I had the opportunity offline.  All have provided me with advice about how to move forward in the future as an independent consultant, and massaged my ego just enough, knowing how battered and bruised I felt at times.  For that, thanks to all of you. You know who you are.  This is why I get involved with the STC and with other technical communicators.  Five years of networking is finally paying off–you know me, I know you, and I can learn more about things that they don’t teach you in grad school. I benefit from your experiences and I’m grateful.

Kim: I think we should take a ship-wide survey or start a betting pool on what she’ll do next. Who’s in?

So now the question is…what do I do going forward? I’m in limbo once again with timing, figuring out what to do next. At this writing, I’ve decided to lay low for a couple of weeks. I’m concentrating on my VP duties for the STC-PMC for the rest of this program year (two more main events to go right now!), reworking my consultancy’s website (a project temporarily postponed when I started my contract in February), and doing a little bit of project hunting, but nothing too deep just yet.  I have a few leads on things, but I’ve always been hesitant to “count my chickens before they are hatched,” as the saying goes. I’m looking forward to attending the STC Summit in a few weeks in Washington, DC.  I’m getting excited about going, because I realize that it’ll be nonstop tech comm for me almost from the moment I get there! I’ll be with my tribe! I plan to take advantage of seeing all my STC friends–and making new ones as well–in the hopes that my continued networking will help me build my business. I’m looking at things through a slightly different perspective now.

In some ways, I’m still scared to death being “on my own”.  Having survived through my first experience without an agency, though, was exhilarating, and I liked being my own boss and calling most of the shots, and determining how things should be done.  I was able to validate that in many ways, I’m still on the right track, even if things are slow-going right now.

Kim: Captain, there’s something out there!
Janeway: I need a better description than that, Mr. Kim!

I still have a very long way to go, but I’ll find my way eventually. Sometimes I feel like the very green Ensign Kim, who has some knowledge, but still finding my place while trying to make a difference. Sometimes I feel like Captain Janeway, where I feel like I can lead and figure out what needs to be done. There will be Borg, Kazon, Vidiians, and Hirogen to battle along the way, I’m sure. Hopefully my persistence moving forward will get me where I need to go, even if it takes a while.

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Off the wall presentations featuring Ben Woelk – Content Content podcast episode 11 – ed marsh dot comed marsh dot com

Ben Woelk, technical communicator and Information Security Office Program Manager at the Rochester Institute of Technology, talks about being an introverted leader and how it’s changed his career and his passion. Mentioned during this episode Ben Woelk on Twitter STC … Continue reading →

Source: Off the wall presentations featuring Ben Woelk – Content Content podcast episode 11 – ed marsh dot comed marsh dot com

That’s right! Ed’s got another webisode of ContentContent up, and this time, it’s with Ben Woelk! Ben was one of the first people I met when I first got involved with the STC, and he’s been one of the great mentors I’ve had within STC ever since then.  I remember him putting me at ease at my first STC Summit because I was rather shy and hardly knew anyone, and he was awesome in assuring me that all would be well–and he was right.  His take on introverted leadership has been catching like wildfire in the last year, as I think he’s tapped into something that many technical communicators grapple with–how to be a leader when you are an introverted person.

Take a listen, and let Ed know what you think about the webisode!

–TechCommGeekMom

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Is the STC dying?

Guardians of the Galaxy
Just like the Guardians of the Galaxy, STC members might be a rag-tag bunch, but we get the job done.

I was moved by a series of articles recently written by my friend, Larry Kunz. The most recent of the three, “Why is it so important that the STC survive?” was the first that I read from a series he had recently produced (there are links within the article above that links you to the others).  It seems that Larry has struck a nerve with his article, as while he provided some points to support the continuation of the STC, there were counter-arguments in the comments that it’s not the same organization that had some pull in the field in years prior.

As someone who has only been a member of the STC for about four or five years, and is still a relative newcomer to the technical communications field, I find that there is great value in the STC.  As Larry pointed out, it’s a group that has become my tribe as well. I have rarely been anything but supported within this group at large. As a new technical communicator at an advanced age, I was welcomed with open arms, which is something I don’t think most groups would necessarily do. Others want the young kids to be joining, or they want to hang out with their professional contemporaries.  So, onboarding into this group was easy. That’s a compliment to the group as a whole. I was scared to join a well-established group, and it’s been nothing but good all the way around.

Now, some of the counter-arguments have been that while the STC provides some great networking and other benefits, it boils down to the infrastructure of the association breaking down over time.  That might be.  My understanding is that several years ago, before I joined, there were some serious financial and “political” issues going on with the STC, both at the international level and the local level.  I know for my own chapter, one of our members worked fiercely to keep it up and running during those lean years, and it took time to rebuild it into the Platinum community that it is today.  It was also argued that other conferences that didn’t exist decades ago are now starting to take over.

Here are some of my thoughts about the whole thing:

First, there needs to be an analysis of what these other conferences are offering that the STC is not. Why are people flocking to these other conferences? What do they offer than the STC does not? Are they truly taking away from the STC, or appealing to a different group? I’ve been to a few of these conferences, and they are a little different, but they are usually more specialized–like focusing on content strategy, whereas the STC tries to embrace a broader audience and more topics.  Lavacon and Information Development World, for example, do concentrate on content strategy and content marketing, yet there is more to technical communication than just topics. There is UX/UI design, there is technical writing, there is social media, there is e-learning…there are a lot of things that are covered under the umbrella of technical communication.  I’m sure that the Summit program committee does its best to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and they also offer accessible presentations for all experience levels. The STC Summit was also compared to TCWorld in Europe. While TCWorld might be bigger, it’s also drawing in a different audience. What is drawing people to that? Perhaps we need to figure out what they are offering that the STC is not, and start figuring out how to compensate.

Second, speaking of accessibility, I have found that some of the specialized conferences I’ve attended were over my head. They were so specialized and high level, marketing towards the managers and experienced practitioners, that as a relative newbie I had difficulty keeping up with the presentations.  Does this mean I’m stupid? I hope not, although when I walk out of them, I feel like it.  One of the benefits of the STC Summit, to me, is that it while it doesn’t “dumb down” presentations, it does offer information that’s more palatable for beginners and intermediates like myself while helping those who’ve been in the industry for a long time learn how to keep up with new technologies and ways of doing things.

Third, the technical communications industry is going through big changes right now.  As was mentioned in Larry’s articles, some of these other conferences didn’t exist twenty years ago. Do you know what else didn’t exist twenty years ago? Much of what we do today in technical communication! Yes, we still have technical writing, but back then, it was still mostly paper-based documentation. (I know because many of my positions since then has been converting paper processes to web processes.) The Internet has exploded. We barely had web design, let alone responsive design. There were no mobile devices the way we know it now.  Video, audio, and 3-D animated images didn’t have to be included in documentation back then. Technology and the way we access information has changed drastically in the last twenty years.  Because of this, technical communication has changed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the STC is still trying to catch up with the changes as best as they can, and again, appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Heck, even within the last five years, there have been huge changes, and it’s a matter of keeping up with it. You’d be surprised to know how many technical communicators still aren’t on board with writing for mobile, even though it’s been on the forefront for the past few years.

Fourth, is it possible that prior generations who aren’t as active in STC now or have left are to blame for not bringing in more members over time? I know that bringing in members now is a big push, but what about during those lean times? Could it be that many members were lost during those years?  Also, there isn’t any consistency in recruiting, at least at schools, from my observations. I’m aware of some academic tech comm programs that have great student chapters. My graduate school tried to get a chapter off the ground, but since it was a virtual program, it made it difficult. I can probably count on just a few fingers how many of us are in the STC from my school during the years that I was there. Some were active, some not so much. One of my classmates is a chapter president, and I’m running for office in my chapter. But that’s it.  The fact that the STC is reaching out to other associations on the local, national, and international level is encouraging, because many people do belong to more than one association, and it’s a great recruitment tool. But we need to encourage members in the STC to be ambassadors, and continue to promote what the STC stands for.

I’m sure the next pSTC Logo-Onlyoint is, “What does the STC stand for?” I don’t know the answer to that. But perhaps that’s the point–as the body of people who represent it, we need to vocalize what our needs are more to the STC main office so that they can better serve our needs and advocate for us.  There are still walls to be knocked down in this field, and advances to be made, but they can’t do that from inside their bubble in Fairfax, Virginia. Part of the reason that I’m in the STC is because I live in a bubble, too. There are very few STC people or people who identify themselves as technical communicators in my area. I need STC events to help me meet other tech comm professionals, but also see what’s going on in the tech comm world. Unless the STC office is told what our needs are, it can only do its best at making educated guesses as to how to help us. After all, it is an advocacy group, and that’s what it’s out there to do–advocate for us, and help us get the resources we need to be better technical communicators.

I could go on for pages more, but I think you get the idea.  The STC is like a church, in the sense that the church is made of up of the people–the community–and its beliefs, not the building. The STC is made up of many bright, resourceful people, and its survival depends on the support, participation, and belief in the technical communication industry as a community.  I chose to get involved with the STC, and while my bandwidth is limited, I am always open to helping others and supporting others in their tech comm endeavors. I wish I could do more, and in time, I will.  But rather than criticizing the STC, do something about it! If you feel that not enough emphasis on DITA practices is given in presentations, then tell the STC! If you feel like you’ve heard more than your fill about content marketing (like I have), say something! Don’t sit there and complain about it. Be the change.

What do you think? I suggest reading Larry’s articles first, then mine, then please (respectfully) include your comments below. Be part of the conversation.  Perhaps based on the comments, we can draft something to address to Chris Lyons, the CEO of the STC, to help their efforts.

P.S. If it weren’t for the STC Summit, I wouldn’t have actually met Larry Kunz in person for the first time. Larry’s been a fantastic supporter of TechCommGeekMom for a long time via this blog and social media, and it was an opportunity to strengthen our connection by meeting in person at a shared beloved event. I look forward to both of our blogs continuing to provoke conversations within the tech comm community.

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Saddle up for a FREE workshop event from Adobe at #STC2016!

What? You say this Adobe Workshop is free? Then I reckon I oughta sign up now....
What? You say this Adobe Workshop is free? Then I reckon I oughta sign up now….

While I was unable to go to the STC Summit last year, I am looking forward to going to Anaheim this year to not only being a presenter at the STC Summit, but  also to learn and connect with other technical communicators again!

I realized that one of the events I’ve always liked attending is the Adobe pre-conference event. They always have great information to share. However–what’s this? No Adobe Day this year? Nope. But wait…there’s something better.

Register for the FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop at the 2015 STC Summit!
(Click on the wanted poster for more information)

That’s right! Saddle up, and gain some skills through this FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop!  This looks like a great event, cowboys and cowgirls!  There are industry leaders leading the workshop, you earn a certificate for participating (which you can include on your resume, it’s that good), and lunch and snacks are included in the afternoon.  And did I mention it’s free? Who says you can’t get a free lunch AND a free certificate? Evidently not Adobe!

Oh, did I also mention that even if you can’t attend to earn the certificate, you can still follow along on my Twitter feed found at @techcommgeekmom that day, as I’ll be tweeting highlights of the event for all who come to the Twitter corral!

If you don't comply, you can't register. But these are easy terms to deal with, Sheriff.
If you don’t comply, you can’t register. But these are easy terms to deal with, Sheriff.

Now, there are some caveats in registering, namely that you have to bring your laptop, and download the Adobe Tech Comm Suite Release 2015 Trial Version (if you don’t already have the full version). Other than that, it should be like riding into the sunset.

This is a great opportunity for those who would like to either get to know the Tech Comm Suite better, or brush up on some skills.  Space is limited so you should register as soon as possible to get your seat on this great event!

Information and Registration for the Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop at the 2015 STC Summit

(My apologies to those who are more sci-fi savvy for mixing my space westerns together. Firefly and Cowboys and Aliens were the first things I thought of!)