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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Poll: Email Newsletters or Onesies?

Posted by contentgrrl on April 11, 2010

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Posted in citizen, community, marketing, office, persuasion, publishing, reading, tools, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Why I Don’t Write Fiction

Posted by contentgrrl on October 27, 2009

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.‘ – E.L. Doctorow, author of World’s Fair (1985), Billy Bathgate (1989), and others.

The prospect of completely creating a fictional universe — around a protagonist, his allies, his family, his challenges, his antagonists, and all the little twists and turns of fate — frankly frightens me.

I do well enough to make a living as a technical communicator and content developer, and leave myself a little time to make healthy little forays into escapist fiction, television, games, and dreams.

Posted in culture, grrly, humor, publishing, reading, writing | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

the secret behind lorem ipsum dummy content

Posted by contentgrrl on February 6, 2008

For the latin text that supposedly served as the source of the “lorem ipsum” dummy placeholder content, see lipsum.com.

According to this site, it’s from The Extremes of Good and Evil by Cicero in 45 BC:

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

There’s even an English translation:

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

The site also has an application that generates so many paragraphs of the stuff from the source. You can use these generated paragraphs in your template layout designs to test styles and image placements, without  distracting your reviewers with the actual content. At least until they approve the design and the real content can take its place.

Posted in culture, learning, project management, publishing, reading, tools, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

5 Ws and H news writing questions: part 1, policy

Posted by contentgrrl on January 22, 2008

Writing is an art, but that is not to say there is no science to it. You can use a tried-and-true formula to get started with researching, interviewing, and organizing basic news according to the 5 Ws and the H.

The questions below work for news on policy, including election candidate campaigns, federal/state legislation and regulation, city codes, commercial company acquisitions/launches/divestitures, departmental initiatives, insurance coverage limits, financial transaction agreements, mechanical maintenance requirements, club by-laws, school board requirements, even classroom or household rules.

  • Who is making the policy?
  • Who are the political movers and shakers creating the pressure that drives this policy?
  • Who are the critics and detractors?
  • Whom does the policy affect, or who is accountable for results?
  • What action must be taken?
  • What conditions will trigger the need to act in accordance with the policy?
  • What are the consequences of inaction?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What alternatives were considered?
  • When is the deadline or stages and phases?
  • Where in space or organization is the jurisdiction of this policy?
  • Where might be the boundaries or grey areas?
  • Why is this new?
  • Why was the particular action selected (what pros and cons)
  • How do they know the policy was necessary?
  • How will they know when the policy is successful?

Next, we’ll look at how these questions can play out for other types of news stories: events, accidents, and discoveries.

Posted in citizen, culture, publishing, reading, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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 »

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: part 3

Posted by contentgrrl on December 10, 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:

Third on my list is PBS Kids:

PBS kids site

Like Playhouse Disney, PBS is also high on my list, but not as popular with my boys. Curious George unfortunately keeps getting in trouble, so I’m not sure I want to encourage sneaky unsafe behavior; but some of the games are nicely challenging in terms of pattern recognition (skates) and animal-sound matching. Much to my husband’s chagrin, they discovered Teletubbies, which plays on my boys’ love of babies to a cloying extent. But then there’s the Sesame Street, Between the Lions, and Mister Rogers. There are dozens of other show-related subsites for older kids too.

Posted in culture, games, heroes, learning, reading, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: part 2

Posted by contentgrrl on December 8, 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:

Second on my list is Playhouse Disney.

Playhouse Disney

When we watch TV or record shows for the kids, typically it’s from Playhouse Disney because they don’t have to watch third-party commercials for things they don’t need like toys that make noise and junk food. Little Einsteins is for learning about music, instruments, composers, dancing, and art. Handy Manny is about being helpful, solving problems, and using the right tool for the job, with some Spanish sprinkled in. Of course, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a new classic. And Captain Carlos is my hero, for encouraging my kids to avoid junk food in favor of a healthy diet, so they can have more energy, sharper thinking, and better sleep. Some of the games on this site are really creative, and that’s why it’s high on my list.

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

free fun and learning game sites my preschool boys love: part 1

Posted by contentgrrl on December 6, 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:

First is Starfall.

Starfall site

My neice-in-law turned me onto this site, after her daughter learned to read on it. It is absolutely the best program I’ve seen for teaching regular* kids letter sounds and letter combinations, building skills along an excellent curriculum with fun games, songs, stories to click around, and more.

There’s even a lesson on the alphabet in American Sign Language. And there are activities for every season and holiday on the Calendar: Earth Day’s cleanup is one of our favorites.

The lessons may be low in production value, but it’s very lightweight bitwise, so it can work in low bandwidth, while still being very colorful and full of great animation. I don’t know how they fund it (well, there’s a store with games, books, journals, plush dolls, and phonics packs), but bottom line, it’s a wonderful site, and I give a lot of credit to Starfall for making it easy for my sons to learn phonemes.

* The exception is one of my former employers, Creative Education Institute, which has the best program around for evaluating people with special learning needs and tutoring them in reading, English as a second language, and mathematics from number recognition to fractions. But unlike the Starfall site, the CEI systems are not free.

Posted in games, learning, reading, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

10 tips for do-it-yourself public relations

Posted by contentgrrl on November 10, 2007

If you want to make news, do something newsworthy.

I’ll bet you know to stay away from scandal no matter how much press it gets! ;^) But here are some suggestions for positive spins:

  1. Conduct a survey of your clients, and report results of their opinions on a timely topic that’s getting some press lately or chronically in your industry. Oh, do reporters love statistics! And quotable quotes from real people! And expert conclusions! NOTE: Get written permission to use their quotes in your report!
  2. Submit your work for an industry competition (and, well, you have to win or at least have honorable mention).
  3. Write a white paper on the best way to do something, ten tips, ten things to avoid, and so on, where you have extensive expertise.
  4. Partner with a client or another company on a big project, and write a report showing massive ROI (return on investment).
  5. Merge or acquire.
  6. Volunteer to your senator or representative to contribute some research or analysis on a topic that lends itself to current or upcoming legislation.
  7. Scan the U.S. code of federal regulations for your industry, and volunteer to contribute research or analysis on regulatory changes going on in the industry.
  8. Keep an eye out for court cases in your industry, and talk up lawyers on key cases, and confer about serving as an expert witness.
  9. Do something phenomenal for a charity.
  10. If you are a good speaker, consider podcasting on various 5-10 minute topics.

Focus especially on the local news, trade magazines and journals that you like to read, and the organizations where you are a member. But also consider PR Web.

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best ways to help adults learn difficult concepts through interactive design

Posted by contentgrrl on November 8, 2007

I know this doesn’t sound much like the “adult” way to learn, but…Let them PLAY!

When I worked for Creative Education Institute, a good portion of the target audience for the reading and math software was adult literacy programs. They may not seem like difficult concepts, but tell that to someone who can’t read or figure. The programs are very interactive, designed for specific cognitive goals. In the math program, manipulatives (like learning toys) are used in tandem with animation to teach basic operations including addition and division of fractions.

When I taught DOS way back when, one of my most effective lessons was having the students role-play parts of the computer during startup. It was fun, and they actually remembered the sequence.

w3schools.com has tons of Try It examples, where you can play with different HTML, CSS, and other script source code and see the results.

When I was at the SBC (now at&t) Center for Learning, most of the network tech training consisted of lecture and lab. That’s a good thing, as long as the lab exercises are real-life tasks, and it’s fairly easy to restore the system if a student screws up.

Back in ’97 I was lucky to be involved in the design of a telecom technician training simulation, that turned out like a video game. The tech was first instructed with animation how to use metering equipment and a little bit of theory (with quizlike questions interspersed), and then was given a job assignment in a virtual world. Assuming their truck was well equipped, they had to perform all the troubleshooting techniques and procedures required to solve the problem.

But the simulation program had to run on special Silicon Graphics machines, which SBC (now at&t) had to have an instructor travel around with on a truck. And once the monitoring equipment was upgraded (a frequent occurrence), the simulation became outdated. It was expensive to maintain.

Nowadays the game engines are so advanced that it’s cheaper to develop and much cheaper to distribute and maintain. Granted, the last games I’ve actively played/watched were:

  • Planescape Torment — a great RPG exploration of factions holding philosophies such as anarchy, hedonism, entropy, chaos, order, freethought, cabalism, and so on.
  • San Andreas — a stupendous playhouse of a first-person shooter/driver/dancer/whatever. My husband thinks that game companies should integrate all kinds of play, so you only have to have one world, but be able to play all kinds of games in it, including his favorites: golf, racing, and shooting.
  • Half-Life 2 — a groundbreaking sci-fi first-person shooter that gives the user control over so many unexpected items in the environment.

SecondLife looks interesting as a mechanism for developing such environments and training labs, where a gamer or trainee won’t hurt anything in the real world, and I’ll be watching to see what comes out of it.

Posted in games, learning, performance, project management, reading | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »