Archive for September, 2014


Example: How documentation can save money on support calls

September 30, 2014


I have flights back to Australia from the USA in November. I leave from Salt Lake City (SLC), fly to Los Angeles (LAX) on American Airlines (AA) landing at Terminal 4  (T4), then have to transfer to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX to catch my Qantas flight to Sydney and my connection on to Perth.

Everything was fine until I got a message from Qantas that my AA flight from SLC had been cancelled and they’d put me on another flight. My original flight left SLC at 4:25pm, getting to LAX at 5:30pm, leaving me plenty of time to make my Qantas flight at 10:20pm. If you’ve never traveled through LAX, you may not realize that having PLENTY of connection time there is a MUST. Too many things can go wrong if you don’t — late arrival of your flight, time to transfer from one terminal to another, long TSA security lines, etc.

My new flight leaves SLC at 6:50pm, getting in to LAX at 7:45pm, which in my opinion is cutting it fine for making that connection, even though the Qantas staff said that the connection time was within their guidelines. (The only other flight out of SLC is at 12:50pm and that would mean a very early start from where I’ll be staying — some 2 hours out of SLC — and then a horrendous 8+ hour wait at LAX, all before another 14+ hours in the air, 5+ hours at Sydney airport, then another 4+ hour flight to Perth, followed by a 2-hour drive home.)

When I check in at SLC, I’ll be checked all the way through to Perth, so I’ll get all my boarding passes then and I won’t see my bags until I get to Sydney, where I have to clear Australian Customs before transferring to the Perth flight. So I won’t have baggage or check-in to contend with at LAX — just me and my hand luggage.

So what does this have to do with documentation and reducing the cost of support calls?

As so many things can go wrong to delay my AA flight out of SLC (weather: snow, storms, high winds over the Rockies — it will be mid-November, after all; delays: in take-off because of other flights, late arrival from wherever it’s coming in from, etc.), I’m skeptical that I’ll make the connection to my Qantas flight. So to mitigate some risks, I decided to find out if there’s some sort of transfer system for people connecting to international flights at LAX from one terminal to another without going through the TSA security lines again.

I searched on the internet but found mixed information (some dated information indicated that there used to be a tunnel between T4 and TBIT for international transfers, but it’s been closed for several years now). I also found some information on the Qantas website ( Although this web page told me that there was a shuttle between the two terminals after 4pm, it didn’t tell  me two important bits of information — whether I’d have to go through security again (thus carving off 10 to 45 minutes from my already tight connection), and how often the shuttle buses run. Both factors are really important for me in deciding whether to take the shuttle or run the risk of walking the 10 mins from T4 to TBIT and facing the potentially long TBIT TSA security lines, oh and going through Customs and Border Protection too.

Reading between the lines in the information on this web page (see screen shot below), the implication is that I won’t have to go through security again, but this isn’t explicitly stated. The first highlight in the screen shot states that you have to go through security in the first scenario, but the second scenario — the one that applies to me — doesn’t state whether you have to go through security again or not.


As I needed to know this information to make an informed decision, I called Qantas. It took at least 5 minutes for the Qantas rep to confirm who I was and to understand my question (she thought I was arriving from Santiago, not SLC!!). However, she didn’t know the answer to my question, so she put me on hold while she went to find out. Some 10 minutes later she got back to me and said that she spoke to ‘someone who’s familiar with LAX transfers’ and said that no, I wouldn’t have to go through security again as the shuttle bus is airside. After asking her, she also said that the shuttle was every 7 minutes.

Now, that’s pretty simple information but it’s NOT available on the Qantas website.

So what’s the cost of not having these two simple pieces of information on their website?

  • 15 minutes of a Qantas representative’s time on a support call that I wouldn’t have needed to make had it been written on their website in the first place; this 15 minutes includes her having to go off and ask someone else, whose concentration is also interrupted for some minutes
  • 15 minutes of my time on hold or talking to the Qantas rep
  • 30 minutes of my time trying to find information that didn’t exist on the Qantas website (nor, to be fair, on the LAX website or the AA website, both of which were even harder to find information on than Qantas’ website), and puzzling over whether the line ‘Proceed to your departure gate’ meant that I had to go through security again or not.

Two simple pieces of information could have ‘saved’ at least 30 minutes of wasted time (15 + 15), and possibly up to an hour (15 + 15 + 30). And that’s just for ONE person.

Extrapolate that out to the potential numbers of people who might need this information, and you can see how that time would add up very quickly. Let’s say only 500 people needed this information in a year (hundreds of thousands of people travel on Qantas from LAX to Australia each year so this is a very conservative number), and let’s say that they all spent 15 minutes talking to a Qantas rep (that’s a combined 30 minutes for the person’s time and the rep’s time), and finally let’s say that a Qantas phone rep’s hourly rate is $30 (I’m guessing all these numbers). That’s about 250 hours in one year spent on just this one question. Some 125 hours of that (i.e. $3750 at the $30/hr rate; $6250 at $50/hr) is for the Qantas reps’ time, so even if you just cost it from Qantas’ point of view (i.e. ignoring the cost of their clients’ time — and frustration), that’s starting to add up to a bucketload of money. All for two missing pieces of vital information to a person connecting from an AA flight to Qantas at LAX.

And now extrapolate out all these ‘little’ support calls they get that could have easily been answered on their website, and you’ll start to see how relevant and comprehensive documentation could save Qantas lots of money in repetitive and unnecessary support calls.

Bottom line: If it’s not classified information and if it helps your customers make an informed decision, stick it on your website and make it discoverable. Free up your support reps to deal with important calls, not annoying little stuff like this.


Further to this… I’m on a codeshare flight to New Zealand (Qantas and Emirates),  which was a ticket purchased direct from Qantas. Nowhere on the ticket that I could see does it tell you that you have to check in at the Emirates counters not the Qantas counter! I didn’t find this out until I got to the front of the line and was told to go to Emirates to check in. Fortunately,  the Qantas line I was in was short as was the Emirates line,  but had I waited in line for 30 minutes to be told this I wouldn’t be happy,  especially if I had to wait another 30 minutes in the Emirates line. And if I had a pack of kids and / or was running late,  I’d have been very unhappy. A simple note next to the terminal number on the ticket that said to check in at the other airline’s counter could have saved a lot of frustration for the customer… and the Qantas check-in staff who would be the brunt of customer frustration. Another case of good documentation saving money and customer and staff frustration.



Proofread before publishing

September 22, 2014

I stayed at the lovely Sydney Hilton when I spoke at a conference held there last month. When I was checking the hotel’s website prior to my trip, I clicked a link to a spa business on (or very close to) the premises. The link is so tied into the Sydney Hilton’s website that I initially assumed it was part of the hotel’s services.

This spa business promotes itself as high-end and their prices reflect that. Their alliance with the Sydney Hilton also attests to that.

However, I didn’t try any of their spa treatments. Why? Well, cost was one reason, but the main reason was the lack of care taken with their website and its content. While there may be no correlation with the quality of their website and the quality of their services, in my mind lack of care in one equates to potential lack of care in the other.

So what was so wrong with their website? Here are a few examples (screen shots below):

  • spelling errors, typos, and duplicated words
  • sentences that didn’t make sense
  • placeholder text instead of real content
  • photos that showed dirty fingernails.

How could they have fixed this before their website went ‘live’? Well, having someone proofread every page, every heading, every caption, and check every photo would have been a good start. And if there’s no-one in-house who felt comfortable doing this, then they could have hired an editor for a couple of hours to do it for them. A small price to pay to NOT turn potential customers away.

A sample of screen shots from this website — there were many more examples I could have used as the site was littered with them.


Typo in heading, and use of irrelevant placeholder text


Repeated words (‘for for’), one word split in two (‘I deal’ versus ‘Ideal’), and a sentence that just doesn’t make sense



Spelling errors and typos (‘form’ instead of ‘from’)


And you promote facial treatments by people with dirty fingernails? Ewww! If this was a stock photo, get another one. Better yet, get your own photos taken by a professional photographer.



Yep, punctuation matters

September 19, 2014

Seen in my Twitter feed yesterday — an announcement from the company hosting a conference that a session is underway:

punctuation_mattersUnfortunately, without quote marks or other identifying embellishments such as bold or italics, the message is not to get stuck in the localization Bermuda Triangle with Susie Winn! I’m sure she’s very nice, but I’m also sure that isn’t the message they intended.

Yes, punctuation matters. Why? Because it removes ambiguity and prevents misinterpretation.

See also:

[Link last checked September 2014]


Word: Table or table row goes to next page

September 18, 2014

Based on a  writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues.


Sometimes a table or a table row can shift to a new page and you don’t know why or how to get it back. There are several possible reasons a table or table row might do this, and several ways to get the table or row back to where you want it.

Table rows

There are three main reasons for a table row to start on a new page:

  • Table setting for ‘Allow row to break across pages’: Select the table row, right-click and select Table properties. Go to the Row tab, and see if Allow row to break across pages is checked or not. If it’s not, a row with a lot of information will start on a new page instead of splitting across the page break.


  •  Paragraph setting for forcing a row to remain with the following row or paragraph: Select the first table row that’s on the new page, go to the Home tab, and click the tiny little arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group (see image below) to open the Paragraph dialog box. Go to the Line and Page Breaks tab and see if Keep with next and/or Keep lines together are checked. If so, that means that the row you selected is set to stay with the following paragraph, whether that’s another row or a normal paragraph.


  •  Paragraph setting for forcing a row onto a new page: Select the first table row that’s on the new page, go to the Home tab, and click the tiny little arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group to open the Paragraph dialog box. Go to the Line and Page Breaks tab and see if Page break before is checked. If so, that’s what’s forcing the row to the next page.



Entire table


Now, what about tables starting on a new page when they probably shouldn’t? Again, there are several reasons for this occurring:

  • Hard page break or empty lines (paragraphs) inserted in front of the table: Delete the page break and/or empty paragraphs and see if the table moves back.


  • ‘Section break (Next page)’ inserted in front of the table: BEWARE! Deleting section breaks can mess up page orientation and/or headers/footer. If you do delete a section break, check that nothing else was changed on the pages on front of the table AND after it (check the page orientation and headers/footers); if it all goes pear-shaped, immediately undo the deletion of the section break.


  • Paragraph setting for forcing the header row onto a new page: Select the first table row that’s on the new page, go to the Home tab, and click the tiny little arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group to open the Paragraph dialog box. Go to the Line and Page Breaks tab and see if Page break before is checked. If so, that’s what’s forcing the row to the next page.


  • Paragraph setting for forcing one or more rows to remain with the following row or paragraph: Select the entire table, go to the Home tab, and click the tiny little arrow icon in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group to open the Paragraph dialog box. Go to the Line and Page Breaks tab and see if Keep with next and/or Keep lines together are checked. If so, that means that table is set to stay with the following paragraph. If either of these check boxes is shaded, it means some of the rows are set to ‘Keep with next’ and/or ‘Keep lines together’ so click the check boxes until they are clear.


One way to check if there’s a paragraph setting that’s controlling the table row(s) is to have your formatting marks turned on and look for a little black square at the far left of a table’s row(s). That black square indicates that a paragraph setting (not a table setting) applies to the row(s). For more details on turning on your formatting marks and the black square, see:


[Links last checked September 2014]


Firefox: Can’t open PDF in Acrobat

September 16, 2014

Firefox allows you to set options for how you’d like to deal with a linked file (Tools > Options > Applications). I thought I had them all set properly to open a PDF with Adobe Acrobat:


But PDF links clicked in Firefox would still try to save and NOT open in Acrobat as I wanted!

So after many months of being frustrated by this behavior and setting and resetting those options (for some reason, they reset themselves every so often — I’m not sure if it’s related to the regular Firefox updates or something else), I went looking for an answer. After viewing a lot of websites, I found another setting on that screen that is the critical one — you have to scroll down and there’s Portable Document Format!:



Once I set this to use Acrobat, everything worked fine.

What I want to know is how is ‘Adobe Acrobat Document’ in this list different to ‘Portable Document Format’ and why is PDF under P and not under A as all the other Adobe options are?



Word: Changing parentheses to square brackets while preserving the contents

September 15, 2014

I needed to make a global change to convert numbered citations in parentheses that looked like this (Ref. 1) to citations in square brackets: [Ref. 1].

Sounds simple, right? Just do a find for (Ref. and replace it with [Ref. Well, that would work for the opening parentheses, but what to do with closing ones? I couldn’t just do a global replace for all closing parentheses as that would replace every one in the document, whether they were part of a citation or not.

To complicate matters, all the citation numbers were cross-referenced fields, which meant I couldn’t just search for the numbers 0 to 9 followed by a closing parenthesis and replace those otherwise I’d replace a field code with plain text, thus breaking the cross-reference.

And what about citations that had more than one numeral (e.g. Ref. 25 or Ref. 123)? Or more than one citation separated by a semicolon (e.g. Ref. 25; Ref. 123)?

I needed to find all opening and closing parentheses surrounding one or more Ref. instances, change the parentheses to square brackets and make sure all the contents (text, spaces, non-breaking spaces, and fields) in between were preserved.

This was a job for find/replace using wildcards!

I had to do a bit of experimenting to get the Find expression correct, but once I did I was able to replace all in a few seconds.


  1. In the Word document where you want to make this change, press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box; the Replace tab should be in focus.
  2. In the Find what field, type: ([\(])(Ref.*)([\)])
    Note: There are NO spaces in this string.
  3. In the Replace with field, type: [\2]
  4. Click the More button.
  5. Select the Use wildcards check box.
  6. Click Find Next then click Replace to test that it works fine. If so, click Replace All.



Explanation for how this works:

  • ([\(]) looks for an opening parenthesis. As an opening parenthesis is a special character, you have to ‘escape’ it with a backslash, AND surround that expression with square brackets and then surround the whole thing with parentheses to create a single unit. This is the first part of the expression.
  • (Ref.*) looks for the string of letters Ref followed by a period and any number of characters (represented by the *). This takes care of citations with two or more numbers, and one or more citations within the parentheses. This is the second part.
  • ([\)]) looks for a closing parenthesis. As with the first one, this parenthesis is a special character, you have to ‘escape’ it with a backslash, AND surround that expression with square brackets and then surround the whole thing with parentheses to create a single unit (the third part).
  • [\2] replaces the first part with an opening square bracket, then it replaces the second part with itself (thus preserving the fields and all the content with the parentheses), then replaces the third part with a closing square bracket.



Visio: Error 920

September 12, 2014

This post is for me, as I’ve had this happen a couple of times now, and because I use Visio only a few times a year, I keep forgetting what I had to do to fix it last time!

BTW, reports of this error have been occurring since Visio 2002 and it’s still not fixed!


You get an error 920 message when trying to save a Visio file as a GIF, JPG, PNG etc.

Solution options

There are two possible reasons that I found for this error:

  • One or more objects are outside the Visio workspace. The solution is to select all objects, zoom out, and see if any of the selections are off the page. See here for details:
  • The resolution is set too high. To prevent fuzzy text in Visio (see the links below), when I save as an image format, I set the resolution to ‘Printer’, which might be 1200 x 1200 pixels/in. or 600 x 600 pixels/in. Sometimes, the image will save at that, but sometimes it won’t and you’ll get the 920 error message, so I select ‘Custom’ and drop the resolution down (e.g. to 600 x 600 if it was 1200; to 400 x 400 if it was 600). The ‘save as’ usually works then, but if it still spits the error, try dropping the resolution some more.


See also:

[Links last checked September 2014]


Conference presentation annoyances

September 1, 2014

I’ve just returned from a great little conference in Sydney — a conference with an audience that was well out of my comfort zone, but they were all very friendly and welcoming and the feedback on my sessions was very positive. As it was the first non-techie conference I’ve been to in many years, it was interesting to find no-one live blogging or live tweeting the sessions ;-).

It was also interesting to observe different speaker styles, and to be reminded of some things you should and shouldn’t do when presenting at a conference:

  • Don’t use ALL CAPS in your slides. And especially don’t use ALL CAPS in a tiny font. These are impossible to read on screen and nearly as impossible to read in the conference notes.
  • Don’t go over your allocated time, especially not 10 or more minutes over. You know the time constraints some months beforehand so practice and hone your presentation until it fits, with a 5-minute buffer for questions. A presentation that goes over time either creeps into the breaks, or worse, you’re setting up the next speaker to fail as they now have to cut their presentation to fit into the remaining time if they are speaking immediately after you with no breaks between. That’s just not fair to the other presenter or the audience. Your failure to stick to the time shouldn’t be the reason the next speaker fails! (Note: I’ll own up to going a couple of minutes over my allocated time for my first presentation at this conference, but it was hard to gauge how long I was over as I started about 5 minutes late because there was no gap between the previous presentation and mine, audience questions to the previous presenter had to be dealt with, a minute or so was spent introducing me, and I had to close the previous presentation on the laptop and find and open mine. Fortunately, there was a 30-minute break immediately after my presentation, but that’s still no excuse for me going over time, and I take full responsibility for that.)
  • Be on time with everything asked of you and honor your commitments. If you’ve been asked to submit your presentations by a certain date for printing and loading onto a laptop prior to the conference, then follow those instructions without fail — and don’t change your presentation after you’ve submitted it otherwise there’s a disconnection between what the audience sees in the printed book and what they see on screen. Gee, here’s a thought… submit your presentation early and maybe you’ll be asked back in following years as you’ve proven you’re reliable! The presentations were all printed in a bound book for this conference. The organizer had booked a printing company for printing and binding on a certain date, and if the slides weren’t in on time, either the organizer and/or printer were now running short of time, or the slides were left out. One presentation had ‘slides to follow’ as the presenters didn’t have them to the organizers on time for printing. I also heard that another scheduled speaker, who was confirmed and listed in the conference promotional material, decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to do it for whatever reason (he had ample opportunity to tell the organizer in the weeks and months before the conference) and a new presenter and presentation on a different topic had to be added at the last minute (Aside: This new presentation was EXCELLENT, but if an attendee had made the decision to register based on the advertised speaker and/or his topic, they wouldn’t have been happy, and rightly so).
  • Watch for idiosyncrasies in your speech. One speaker said ‘actually’ at least 100 times. In one sentence I counted three instances! When you have an idiosyncrasy like this, and the audience picks up on it, then they start counting those words and that’s all they hear, not your message.
  • Triple check your slides. Look for spelling errors, typos, repeated slides (yep, one instance of that too), inconsistent font families, inconsistent graphical elements, etc. And if you’re too close to your slides, get someone else to look them over with fresh eyes (these people are called ‘editors’, and many of them do little jobs like this). Or get your slides ready early, then leave them alone for a few weeks before checking them again.
  • Make sure you have good contrast between the slide background colors and the text. It’s hard to read white text on a dusky blue background, especially from the back of the room. These slides also don’t print well in black and white. There’s an option in PowerPoint to show the slides in grayscale — use it to check for adequate contrast.