contentgrrl

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Archive for December, 2007

useful basics on digital images and graphics

Posted by contentgrrl on December 27, 2007

As I was helping a third-party company develop their email marketing material, I passed along these very useful basics on digital images and graphics, from my favorite shareware review site, tucows.com:

How to Convert Graphics Images
GIF, JPG, and PNG files are most used for Web, and other file formats are better for print.

Digital Imaging: The Differences in Raster and Vector Images
Fundamentals, with links to well-reviewed software for each type of image. Vector usually includes shapes or text, and don’t take up as much disk space or bandwidth as raster images.

Digital Imaging Part 2: Lossy Vs. Lossless
Shows how compressing a graphic file down to a smaller size can affect quality. As in everything, you have to balance quality with speed. JPG is a lossy format, and may lose detail, but is the defacto standard for emailing photos. GIF usually has the smallest file size, and is best for emails, even if it’s lossy.

Tucows Complete Image Editor shareware selection

Posted in illustrating, marketing, publishing, tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

divaFAQ: style and grace in collapsible Q&A

Posted by contentgrrl on December 26, 2007

Months ago, I searched high and low for a script to help me show and hide the answers to our frequently asked questions (FAQs). I didn’t want to program it myself. Ideally, it would work in Macromedia Dreamweaver, but also use standards-compliant, W3C-valid xHTML markup, friendly JavaScript, and CSS. And since we often break down questions by category, multiple sets of Q&A per page had to be possible.

At first the best I found was tjkdesign.com’s Perfect FAQ, toggling show/hide elements using Definition Lists and the DOM. Thierry and T.J. Koblentz offered it in easyFAQ, but then I had trouble applying the script to a page based on our Dreamweaver site templates, and had some other suggestions. Luckily great minds think alike. Thierry and E. Michael Brandt of Valley Web Designs (my heroes) were collaborating on a new version of the product, and asked me to beta test. Thierry was recently scooped up by Yahoo! so is now “emeritus,” offering vital input and ideas but leaving the day-to-day activities and programming to EMB.

divaHTMLI am downright ecstatic to have found the result of their collaboration, divaHTML’s divaFAQ, and happy to testify that it beats out every other kid on the block!

Here’s why:

  • No one else lets you toggle the display of multiple FAQ sections per page.
  • Nobody else gives you the option to let users print the FAQs page with either selected answers or all answers shown.
  • Nobody else does all this at such a reasonable price.
  • Nobody else does all this while making it so easy to implement and maintain, even in a template environment, without a lot of coding.

We even include images, paragraphs and bullet lists within the definition tags, and it turns out very clean, user-friendly, and customizable. We did some easy tweaks in the well-commented CSS, and we have more pages to convert to definition lists. But my boss likes the buttons and my most verbal coworkers are thrilled with the results.

They keep adding new products too: a standards-compliant pop-up window divaPOP, and “you are here” highlighting to virtually any menu in divaGPS. …And now they’ve updated divaFAQ with the ability to have multiple definitions (DDs) per definition term (DT). OK, I’m not sure how I’m going to use that, but it speaks volumes about their support and dedication.

One thing I learned the hard way is that divaFAQ cannot be added directly to Templates, rather it is to be added to their Children. Not a problem; with the Extension installed in Dreamweaver, that’s a couple of clicks away using the friendly toolbar button and wizard.

If you’re not a Dreamweaver fanatic, it’s still easy to use by simply setting up and naming your Definition Lists, copying the divaFAQ files and scripts into the right place.

I use the collapsible divaFAQs for not only Q&A, but also for lists of recent software support messages, and to organize information about our Webinars.

Posted in heroes, publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

dad – claiming heritage without going back

Posted by contentgrrl on December 23, 2007

One of the reasons I started this blog was to honor my heroes and heroines in life and literature. I’ve got a long list of names in my drafts, but I’m having trouble feeling like I can do any of them justice.

I have had the privilege this year to scan a photo album that belongs to my dad, the perpetual boy scout. His father was a scout cadet and leader as well. So my dad’s been in uniform all his life. And considering what happened during WWII, I don’t blame him for wanting to become a U.S. soldier and therefore a U.S. citizen.

It’s been interesting to see all the photos of old classmates and girlfriends, but the thing that really chokes me up is all the notes written affectionately from my grandfather to “Pepito” on the backs of these photos. I’ve scanned these notes as well, and will display in the photo albums I make for family.

After my dad came to New York for his medical residency, there’s a set of photos showing the house that was built with the money he sent back, with a note about the penthouse reserved for him when he comes back home. And there are several pictures of a young lady, apparently friendly with my grandmother, who writes with great affection for my dad. And then, abruptly, there’s a message “To Pepito and Judy” right around the time that dad married my mother, who was just out of nursing school near the hospital where Dad was a resident. And then there are pictures of my uncle and godfather, who also emigrated to New York around the time I was born.

I denied my heritage for a long time. By the time I was a teenager, Dad had settled in a small country town that is the complete opposite of cosmopolitan. I strived not to look too different. And, studious introvert that he was, he never spoke to me of our heritage or his story. And so, studious introvert that I was, I never thought to ask.

In college I dated a guy who had been stationed in my family’s country; what he knew of my heritage was gained from what a soldier might know, the underbelly.

I married a man who guessed my heritage; he thinks women from my family’s country are the most beautiful in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but certain stereotypes haunt me. My dh’s grandfather had been stationed there in WWII, and also recollected that country’s horrifying underbelly.

Dad left the islands and went back only for funerals, to bring back pearls for his daughters. I suspect there is an unspoken pain he would rather not burden the present with. But when I asked him why he didn’t go back to live, he simply said he felt that there was better opportunity for him here in the States.

I have followed his example even while I was unaware of it; as much as I want him to be a part of my sons’ lives, I definitely don’t want to move back to that small town, or even the larger town nearby. I chose the town where we live now, within easy driving distance but not so close that we see each other every month. And it’s hard to let go of a steady job that I like so much, even when I remain isolated from family and friends.

I would love to go back to the islands when I have a good opportunity; there was another funeral for an uncle I never met recently, but with all the terrorists it has become very dangerous for an American citizen abroad there. My sons need a mother more than I need to visit that hornet’s nest.

But I will take the opportunity to ask what I can while I can, and make sure my children know their grandfather and great uncle. And I resolve to chip away at the walls of isolation that I have built up around us.

I’d like to share a related story that touched me: Reclaiming Ownership of My History.

Posted in citizen, community, culture, grrly, heroes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

a little sugar for the season

Posted by contentgrrl on December 21, 2007

This week at work, our inboxes are graced with thank-yous to the few very hardworking “Santa’s elves” who brought the Childrens’ Holiday Party to reality this year, broadcast to all employees.

One of the elves responded with fond sentiments for the parents who helped and for the children who participated.

Then, one guy joked, “Yeah….that’s a lot of words….I got “thank you” and “have a very merry Christmas” out of that ;).” He referred to the only capitalized phrases in the single large block of sentiments, obviously meaning to be funny. But as with the other messages, it went to all employees.

Kudos to the guys who made light of it: “And the award for tact goes to…” and “Suggested reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.”

Kudos to the ladies and gentlemen who responded to the original sentiments with thanks for making their day.

And kudos to the joker who actually apologized rather well. After a talk with his manager, and a review from another manager. ;^)

But it reminds me of my whippersnapper days when I was still working (at another company) at 3 am due to last-minute changes that had to be done to get the product out the door, and what to my wondering mind did appear but a idea to suggest (via email, of course, to the entire department) that the project should have been user-tested earlier. In hindsight, it was useless and inconsiderate. The next day, I learned that months before I was hired, well, they actually had gone through that testing. And I wasn’t with that company for long after the project ended.

That's a pretty stupid idea, John. I'm afraid I'll have to kill you.So. I commemorated the event with a coffee cup, decorated with a cartoon of a guy in a suit at a meeting, pulling a gun out of his coat, saying, “That’s a pretty stupid idea, John. I’m afraid I’ll have to kill you.”

But thanks to one of the humorous respondents, what inspires me is the lesson of this Carnegie exerpt:

Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment. …The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.

George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, is the safety coordinator for an engineering company. One of his responsibilities is to see that employees wear their hard hats whenever they are on the job in the field. He reported that whenever he came across workers who were not wearing hard hats, he would tell them with a lot of authority of the regulation and that they must comply. As a result, he would get sullen acceptance, and often after he left, the workers would remove the hats.

He decided to try a different approach. The next time he found some of the workers not wearing their hard hat, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable or did not fit properly. Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation with no resentment or emotional upset.

As Mary Poppins loves to sing, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” I’ve learned that even if I think pretty good with my keyboard, I come across much better when I let some ideas wait their turn. And when it’s truly worth the trouble to take the time to speak to someone privately on the phone or in person, you have the chance to let small talk and a human connection open doors.

Posted in heroes, humor, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

writing about policy using ABCDEs of performance objectives

Posted by contentgrrl on December 20, 2007

As part of my rather broad work in writing, I’m often asked for policy statements or alerts. In an effort to communicate completely about a policy, I like to concentrate on the ABCDs of performance objectives (interlaced with the 5Ws and the H from newswriting interviews):

  • A is for Audience: Who is required to perform a task or comply with a new rule?
  • B is for Behavior: What skill, task, or operation is required?
  • C is for Conditions: How are tools involved in performing the task or complying with the rule? Are there prerequisite procedures that must already be completed in advance? Are there certain deliverables, inputs, or variables that need to be given?
  • D is for Degree: Why, Where, and When is it critical? What are the measurable constraints (in time, place, budget) that determine whether the behavior is successful? Is there a minimum and/or recommended criteria? What resulting benefits and consequences may be persuasive motivating factors?

I come from an instructional design background. There, the standard ABCDs of instructional and performance objectives are used to design lessons and identify the criteria for testing whether a student actually learned the new skill. It’s based on the work of Mager, Gagné & Briggs.

The ABCD formula works in everything — from basic math drills to complex software troubleshooting labwork to sales techniques to regulatory compliance training. But it may not be obvious that the performance objective typically comes from an organizational need. The objectives are measured so that the people in one stage (such as a Kindergarten class or a network engineering division or a marketing team or a safety inspector) do their jobs well enough for the rest of the organization to take it from there and fulfill expectations.

But I’d like to take it one step further:

  • E is for Exceptions: Are there exceptions to the rule? How do you know if a rule or issue does not apply to you, or that you are outside its scope? Are there special situations that may apply, and if so, how do you proceed?

Understanding exceptions takes a level of expertise that may not always be available when writing policy or alerts. But if you can nail that down, it’s one way to set your communications apart and be truly helpful to your readers.

Posted in citizen, heroes, learning, performance, persuasion, reading, tools, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

using DATEDIF to figure years of service in Excel

Posted by contentgrrl on December 19, 2007

For our employee birthdays and anniversaries message, I get the data from HR in a spreadsheet. But it’s pretty raw, a mere list of employee names & their dates of hire. People like to know how many years of service are being celebrated, so I’ve worked out the following formula.

=DATEDIF(VALUE(C4),”1-Jan-2008″,”y”) & ” y “

Notes:

  • The fomula is by default DATEDIF(startdate,enddate,unit)
  • The start date variable (hire date) is in cell C4. However, since I actually concatenated columns that included Month, Day, and Year into a string, and strings don’t work for calculations, I needed to get the VALUE of C4.
  • The end date for comparison should be the first day of the following month. You could use the variable Now(), which tells the system to use the current date and time, but then the number of years would be off for a few folks.
  • I’m only looking for years of service, so I use the unit code “y”. This is in quotes so as not to be confused with the Y column.
  • To make it clear to readers that this number is a year, I added the string &” y” to the end of the result.
  • This formula is copied down a new column for all employee names & dates.
  • The spreadsheet is sorted by hire date.
  • Then I just copy & paste the cells into a message blast to our employees.

You could also use this formula to calculate age, but I wouldn’t recommend sending that information out to a world where many people prefer not to reveal their age!

You could also use this formula to calculate project time, using the NETWORKDAYS function. For more tips on this and other Date functions in Excel, see OfficeArticles.com.

Posted in community, office, project management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: honorable mention

Posted by contentgrrl on December 16, 2007

My sons, 2 and 5, have some time on the computer every week. When they play online, they have a select few favorite sites:

Here are our honorable mentions, which don’t get visits from us every week:

Dreamworks’ Over the Hedge site:

Over The Hedge site

Great characters, great animation. But not the most creative games: There’s a maze, a matching game, a “collect-the-nuts” game, and so on.

NickJr Playtime for Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Funschool for a fairly engaging curriculum for many ages, and lots of variety of games for each level.

BoowaKwala for games up to age six, on a site that also offers games and craft activities up to age 10.

The Land of Cyke for games that focus on healthy emotional development for children.

Meddybemps for simple activities designed to prepare young children for learning across many different concepts and skills.

Posted in games, heroes, learning, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: part 5

Posted by contentgrrl on December 14, 2007

My sons, 2 and 5, have some time on the computer every week. When they play online, they have a select few favorite sites:

Fifth on my list is Hasbro MonkeyBar TV:

Hasbro Monkeybar TV site

Between Star Wars Jedis, Transformers, and Spider-Man, this is fast becoming my boys’ favorite site. The older brother likes when Spider-Man gets shocked while climbing up a building of boobytraps.

But I was most impressed with the Video Mash-Up, where you can drag-and-drop video clips, sound clips, transitions and stills to create your own Transformers video. What a great skill to have!

Posted in heroes, learning, marketing, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: part 4

Posted by contentgrrl on December 12, 2007

My sons, 2 and 5, have some time on the computer every week. When they play online, they have a select few favorite sites:

Fourth on my list are two similar sites from HiT Entertainment: Not the most creative of games, but nice brand-wise.

Thomas Train

Thomas Train site

Of course my boys love trains, and play with their cousins’ set at Grandpa’s. This site has their favorite characters, and like my brother at their age, they love to learn the parts and vocabulary of trains and other vehicles.

So there’s a race, jigsaw puzzles, a matching game, building with drag-and-drop Legos, and more.

I like the fact that this brand emphasizes the value of being Really Useful.

Bob the Builder

Bob the Builder site

Of course my boys love those big construction machines!

Again, there’s a race, a “collect-the-sunflowers-for-points” game, more jigsaw puzzles, building with drag-and-drop Legos, and so on.

Posted in games, heroes, learning, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

vector diagram editing tools compared

Posted by contentgrrl on December 11, 2007

Oh, do I love diagrams.

Especially cross-functional diagrams, where you know exactly who does what at what stage in a process, what decisions are made in order to hand it off to another department. I like a vector diagram editor that makes it easy to drag-and-drop decision diamonds with smart arrow connections. And style the shapes with Web 2.0 goodness. (I know. What a geek!)

When I was at Creative Education Institute, I’d use Visio (now owned by Microsoft) to illustrate the stages of learning, practice, and testing with Mathematical Learning Systems. When I was doing network training at SBC (now AT&T), I’d import network diagrams into PowerPoint to layer and animate the pieces. At ECI², I’ve done a host of cross-functional diagrams to communicate standard operating procedures among departments.

Oh, sure, you can get Visio Professional for about $200 now, and Visio Technical for about $300. And you can get SmartDraw for about $200 too. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s a biased comparison.

But if your diagramming needs are more modest, Smashing Magazine site has a List of Nifty Tools and Diagrams, which introduced me to the free Gliffy.

A diagram is often worth a thousand words. Gliffy.com is a free web-based diagram editor with some of the same functionality as Visio. You drag-and-drop shapes to create clean yet modern-looking flowcharts, network diagrams, floorplans, user interface designs and other drawings online.You can even upload your own images (logos, icons, specialized shapes etc.) but use the intuitive connection, resizing & rotation tools. You can collaborate via email, or export to:

  • SVG for use in Visio, Illustrator, and Freehand
  • PNG for use with Fireworks or Photoshop
  • JPG for publishing on a Web page or HTML email.

Gliffy Flowchart

In addition to flow charts and entity-relationship diagrams, Gliffy even does Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams (object, class, node, aggregation, message, dependency, actor, use case). If you want watermark-free, ad-free, private, unlimited diagrams beyond the basic 2MB limit with tech support, it’s available with a Premium account for about $30 a year.

Posted in illustrating, tools, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »