Archive for March, 2010

h1

How visible are the main areas on your website?

March 31, 2010

If you want to know how visible the main areas on a website page are to readers, head on over to Google’s Browser Size Labs to find out. Update 2014: In 2012, Google added this feature to Google Analytics, so as far as I know it’s only available to those who use Google Analytics (see: http://analytics.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/new-feature-conduct-browser-size.html).

Google Browser Size (http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/) is a visualization of browser window sizes for people who visit Google. For example, the “90%” contour means that 90% of people visiting Google have their browser window open to at least this size or larger.

On the example page that you see when you first visit this site, there is a “donate now” button which falls within the 80% contour, meaning that 20% of users cannot see this button when they first visit the page. 20% is a significant number; knowing this fact would encourage the designer to move the button much higher in the page so it can be seen without scrolling.

[Links checked March 2010; updated August 2014]

h1

Word: Table row goes to new page

March 30, 2010

A client asked me to check one of their Word documents as a long table row was being forced onto a new page despite them turning on the option to allow the row to break across pages.

The clue to the solution was the little black square off to the left of the text in the left cell of the row — that told me that text had some paragraph settings turned on that might be counteracting the Allow row to break across pages setting. And so it was.

Little black square indicates that there are paragraph settings that apply to this text

When I checked the paragraph settings for the text, both Keep with next and Keep lines together were turned on. As soon as I turned them off, the row split across pages as it should.

You can find those paragraph settings here:

  • Word 2003: Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks tab of the Paragraph window.
  • Word 2007: Home tab > Paragraph group > Dialog Launcher > Line and Page Breaks tab of the Paragraph window.
h1

BBC website makeover

March 29, 2010

How the BBC are making over their website is described in words and pictures on their blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/02/a_new_global_visual_language_f.html

It’s an interesting look at what worked on the old sites and what didn’t, and at how and why they came to certain decisions about design, color, typography etc.

For a major global website like the BBC, a website makeover is no small undertaking. It involves many people, many stakeholders, many hours, and an awful lot of money — and all while they continue to provide up-to-the-minute information to a 24/7 global audience.

[Links last checked March 2010]

h1

Internet speeds

March 28, 2010

When I was in Seattle at the WritersUA conference a week or so ago, I was able to get a high-speed wireless connection from the hotel room (not from the hotel itself, though). Well, it was high-speed for me, anyway. Compared to what I get in Australia, my internet speed there was blisteringly fast, though my US colleagues thought it was a bit slow. I was getting download speeds up to about 16 Mbps and upload speeds up to 11 Mbps — in Australia I can get up to 6 Mbps download and I get no more than 0.3 Mbps upload.

So why this discrepancy?

Australia has a variety of internet connection speeds. There’s what you pay for from your ISP, and there’s what you can get as a maximum even if you’ve paid top dollar to your ISP. And then there’s where you live. I can only speak about what I know for Western Australia — other states might be different.

Much of regional Western Australia has a maximum speed of 1.5 Mbps download (effective speed is up to 75% of that), with some parts getting 8 Mbps, and some very lucky (and very few) areas getting ADSL2 (24 Mbps). Perth varies, but much of it is covered by ADSL2. That said, there are some pockets in Perth where they can’t get broadband at all because of the age and configuration of the telephone exchanges. Some of the remoter areas of Western Australia use satellite, but I don’t know what sorts of speeds they get. Satellites can go offline if there’s a big storm. There’s no cable internet in Western Australia, as far as I am aware (I think it’s only available in certain parts of Sydney and Melbourne). Large businesses may be able to get much higher speeds than these, but those speeds are definitely not available to the average business or personal subscriber.

So when conference presenters make suggestions like putting much of what was previously in the self-contained and shipped online Help into blogs, wikis, knowledge bases, video, etc., I’m going to make a comment that assumptions about ‘always on, high-speed internet access’ is NOT applicable to everyone — even in the developed countries of the so-called western world. In the closing session of the WritersUA Conference, Leah Guren commented about the digital divide between those countries/regions that have decent internet access and those that don’t.

Update: On my return to Australia after the WritersUA conference, I stayed overnight at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Perth. They promoted their high-speed broadband (wired and wireless) in the rooms. When I tried to access it, the cost was a whopping 55c per minute up to a maximum of $29 for 24 hours!! I only needed to check email, so I figured it wouldn’t take long with high-speed broadband. How wrong I was! It was dog slow and when I checked it with speedtest.net, the download speed was around 0.24 Mbps and the upload speed was 0.03 Mbps. That’s probably less than dial-up speed! It sure wasn’t high-speed. I complained on checking out and the Hyatt did refund me my $10 charge for the 15 or so minutes it took me to do a 5 minute task, even though it comes through an external provider. Oh, and the Hyatt has no free Wifi in the lobby either. Australian internet/telecommunications infrastructure and hotel internet access sucks — big time.

See also:

h1

What do the US, Liberia and Burma have in common?

March 27, 2010

No, it’s not their political systems (!). They are the only three countries in the world that don’t use the metric system.

If the US went metric (as they’ve been threatening to do for years, but have never had the political will to do so), then simple things like parts, drill bits, Allen keys, fabric measurements, shoe and clothing sizes, etc. *might* have a chance of being standardized around the world. Global manufacturers would not have to tool up to make a metric version and a non-metric version, packaging wouldn’t have to have two versions printed on it, etc. The annual savings globally could stretch into billions of dollars.

Why doesn’t the US go metric???

For more information, see this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_system and http://science.howstuffworks.com/5-things-about-metric-system.htm

[Links last checked March 2010]

h1

Word: Header row won’t repeat

March 26, 2010

A client sent me a Word document to fix. One of the problems they were having was that the header row on a table would NOT repeat, no matter how many times they turned on or off the setting.

The first thing I noticed was that when I tried to select the header, the preceding paragraph marker was also selected. That was strange, but it was a clue that lead me to the solution.

Paragraph marker is also selected when Header Row is selected

The table had been set up with Text Wrapping turned on (Around). As soon as I changed it to None, I could select the header row independently of the preceding paragraph marker AND the header row repeated as it should.

Solved!

You can find the text wrapping option here (you need to select the table first or at least put your cursor inside the table before you can see these options):

  • Word 2003: Table > Table Properties > Table tab, Text Wrapping section, select None.
  • Word 2007/2010: Table Tools > Layout tab > Table group, Properties icon, Table tab, Text Wrapping section, select None.

Alternatively, right-click anywhere in the table, then select Table Properties.

Turn off text wrapping to let the Header Row repeat

I don’t know why text wrapping affects the header row repeat function, but it does. Seems strange to me — if you have a table that goes on to a new page, then surely repeating the header row should be totally independent of any text wrapping.

See also:

h1

WritersUA 2010 Conference: Day 3

March 25, 2010

It’s always over too soon! Today was the final day of the WritersUA Conference. There were four time slots for sessions, plus the Peer Showcase, and the closing session (which I moderated). As for the other days, breakfast was provided, but because of the long time slot for the Peer Showcase we had to find our own lunch.

I attended some great sessions today, and although my computer decided to ‘do a Char’ and my mouth was dry, I think I got through the closing session OK — I’ve never moderated a panel discussion before, so it was a new experience for me.

eBook Conversions: A Tutorial for UA Professionals

Joshua Tallent, from eBook Architects, ran this very informative session on how to create ePub and Kindle eBooks from sources such as Word, InDesign, and PDF. He went through some of the traps and pitfalls when saving these doc formats to HTML (all the major eBooks use HTML or XHTML as their basis [Kindle uses a basic form of HTML 3; ePub uses XHTML 1.1]), and highlighted some of the areas that need to get cleaned up (manually or via scripting). ePub is the industry standard  and it uses Dublin Core for the metadata (see www.idpf.org for complete specs on the standard). ePub also supports scalable vector graphics (SVG), but not all devices support SVG yet. No file within an ePub collection of files can be larger than 300 KB. You can test an ePub using Adobe Digital Editions, free from Adobe (http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions).

The Kindle has a minimal set of CSS styles that can be used, and there are some rules that have to be followed for the HTML (e.g. cannot nest a P tag inside a BLOCKQUOTE tag). Indenting is hardly supported, and may have to be achieved by using non-breaking spaces. Ordered lists only do Arabic numerals and unordered lists only convert to solid bullets. Tables have minimal support, and Joshua’s advice was to convert them to test or to an image. Kindle has an individual file size limit of only 64 KB, so larger images (in JPEG and GIF formats only; PNG and BMPs are converted) have to be downsized/downsampled before including them in a Kindle eBook.

Finally, Joshua had some advice for us on ‘When to hire a professional’:

  • When your eyes start to cross at the idea of understanding the ePub spec
  • When your boss says “I want this converted to ePub and Kindle in two days
  • When you are starting to work on an automation project
  • When you figure out that learning this eBook stuff will take you longer that reading the stimulus Bill and be just as difficult to follow.

Wireframing Tools and Techniques

What a terrific speaker Mike Hughes is! I usually try to get to one of his sessions if I can, even if I’m not particularly interested in the topic. However, I got a bonus today — I got to hear Mike speak and it was on a topic that I *was* interested in!

He went through the various low, medium and high fidelity methods of wireframing, listing their pros and cons, then demonstrated a few tools — who knew that PowerPoint could be such a useful wireframing tool? And, unlike bar napkins, PowerPoint slides don’t get soggy from your beer glass!

He also showed us the trick to get Pencil (a downloadable plug-in for Firefox) to work — after installing it, you go to Tools > Pencil Settings on the Firefox menu and it should open, ready for you to start using it (it seems that everyone has trouble trying to figure out this step!).

Writing for Mobile Devices: An End User Approach

After the Peer Showcase, I went along to Teresa Goertz’s session on how the team at Windows phone (yes, there’s a Windows 7 phone coming…) have dealt with UI text and user assistance. This was an interesting case study, though Teresa was limited in what she could say as the Windows phone is still in development. What she did say (based on a question from me) was that there will be a publicly available Microsoft style manual coming out AFTER the release of Windows phone. What I couldn’t figure out was if it would be a complete replacement for the 2003 edition of the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, or just a style guide for use with mobile devices. We shall wait and see…

Techniques for Using Acrobat More Effectively

The last session I attended was delivered by Alan Houser and it focused on more advanced Acrobat techniques. However, I already knew about many of the tips he showed us, so I didn’t get as much out of this session as I had expected.

Predictions Panel

I hosted this panel, so I didn’t take notes! I also don’t feel I’m in a position to comment on my own performance, but if someone who was at that session wishes to comment on it, feel free. The panelists were all women (we finally got the last word in!): Nicky Bleiel, Teresa Goertz, Leah Guren, and Linda Urban. Which Sarah O’Keeffe pointed out was appropriate on Ada Lovelace Day (Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer).

Update: Sarah O’Keefe has written her summary of the panel session here: http://www.scriptorium.com/blog/2010/03/writersua-user-assistance-trends-panel.html (for the record, it was me that mentioned Clippy’s bedroom eyes!).