Archive for the ‘Business/Work’ Category

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Update on DeskCycle Ellipse usage

January 1, 2021

Back in mid-November 2020, my DeskCycle Ellipse arrived and I started using it (details: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/attempting-to-combat-a-very-sedentary-lifestyle/).

So, after 6 weeks, how’s it going?

  • I still really don’t notice myself using it—it’s where my footrest used to be and I just cycle on it steadily all day when I’m at my computer.
  • After 2 weeks on Level 1, I went to Level 2, and after another 2 weeks to Level 3. I’ll probably switch to Level 4 in a week or so.
  • My stats are impressive (for sedentary me!), but I’ve noticed NO difference in eating or sleeping patterns, and my weight has decreased by *maybe* 2 kg. I say ‘maybe’ because my weight has always fluctuated up to 2 kg from day to day when weighing myself under the same conditions each morning. At best, I would say I may have lost 1 kg, which, if the stats are to be believed, is a very small amount for the energy I’ve expended (see screenshots below). Weight loss was never the aim, but I had an expectation that it may occur.
  • I have noticed that my lower legs are a bit stronger.
  • As expected, doing the equivalent of 250,000 steps per month hasn’t been hard to achieve, and in 41 days I did more than half a million revolutions.

I’ll likely give you an update again in a few months time. Meantime, here are screenshots of my stats, as at 31 December 2020.

Table of monthly totals for the first two months of use

Monthly totals for the first two months of use. Note: I didn’t start using it until mid-November 2020.

Statistics of 'all time' totals for number of days, calories burned while pedalling, equivalent distances (cycling and steps), equivalent steps, number of revolutions, and number of minutes spent using the machine

Statistics of ‘all time’ totals for number of days, calories burned while pedalling, equivalent distances (cycling and steps), equivalent steps, number of revolutions, and number of minutes spent using the machine

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Attempting to combat a very sedentary lifestyle

November 26, 2020

A bit of backstory… Prior to 1992, my work as a teacher involved a lot of incidental walking and standing each day, and I rarely sat except when I got home from work. Between 1992 and 1998 I worked for a software development company, and was involved in training, installations, writing user manuals, and answering help desk calls. Training and installations required me to walk and stand, but I spent much of my time sitting on a chair at my desk and staring at a computer screen. I lived about 5 km from the office, so would ride my bike to work when the weather was suitable, and I attended a gym close to work for about 30 to 60 minutes most days. From 1999 to 2006 I worked for other software companies much further from home and with no nearby gyms, so riding the bike to work wasn’t possible, and except for walking to/from the carpark and popping out to the local lunch bar, most of my time was spent sitting at a computer, doing technical writing. In 2007, we moved out of the city to the country and I began working from home full-time, where my commute was about 10 steps! We lived at the top of a ‘heart attack’ hill in that town, so riding the bike was out, as was a lot of walking. I was still doing tech writing, but in late 2008, I segued into editing where I was still sitting in front of a computer all day. In 2010 we moved to another location in the country, some 9 km from the nearest shop and about 13 km to a gym. Again, we were on a hill, though nowhere nearly as steep. And I continued to work from home. Did I also mention that I’m the world’s biggest excuse-finder for avoiding exercise? It’s either too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, too smoky, too many mosquitoes (we live in an area with Ross River and Barmah Forest virus-carrying mosquitoes), I’ve got to put on insecticide, wear special shoes/clothes, find the fly net, don’t feel like it now, will go later… Any excuse NOT to exercise is good enough! And yes, I know the horror stories of a sedentary lifestyle.

Fast forward to now… On an editors’ Facebook page and Twitter discussion group some people had mentioned using an under-desk cycle machine to keep their legs moving and their circulation flowing. Some had recommended the DeskCycle so I investigated it as an option. After all, my feet just tuck up under the chair or in front of me for hours at a time while I’m working—they may as well be doing something! But my under-desk height was less than they recommended, and so the unit wouldn’t fit under my desk without me hitting my knees on every rotation. I have a built-in desk in my home office, so changing the desk is not an option. However, I found that DeskCycle also have an under-desk elliptical machine, the DeskCycle Ellipse. It seemed to fit my situation, the minimum desk height was suitable, and the reviews were good. (I haven’t linked to their website as they seem to have different websites for purchasing from different countries; you can also purchase from Amazon etc.)

I purchased the DeskCycle Ellipse based on the reviews, the 30-day money back guarantee, and the free shipping. It’s not the cheapest or most expensive of the available machines—somewhere in the middle. It arrived about a week later, and I spent about 2 minutes putting it together. Actually, all I did was attach the foot pedals with the supplied tools, screws, and washers—everything else was done. It’s a heavy beast (about 10–15 kg), so it will likely stay under the desk. It’s also really well made and is as silent as they say it is. The only noise I hear occasionally is the creak of my chair as I’m ‘cycling’. I was concerned that the movement would push my wheeled chair away from the desk all the time, but this has never happened. However, if it did, there’s a carry handle/bar at the front you could loop a mesh strap through to tether your chair to the machine.

So, what’s it like? And has it made any difference to anything? Here are some observations from the first two weeks:

  • I found it was really easy to get used to moving my legs on the machine—I didn’t expect that.
  • I can work just like normal even though I’m moving my legs constantly—I didn’t expect that either. I thought I’d be rocking from side to side, but that hasn’t been the case, and what little body movement there’s been hasn’t impeded my ability to work.
  • The amount of time you spend moving your legs mounts up quickly, and you don’t even know it. I regularly do 3 to 6 hours of ‘pedalling’ each day, with the most on days I have work to do.
  • As it’s early days, I still have the resistance level set to 1 (as they recommend). I’ll likely increase it to 2 next week (the maximum is 8). Higher resistance = more effort = more calories burned.
  • The monitor can sit in a holder on the machine, or there’s a supplied extension cable (a good length too, perhaps 1.5–2 metres?) and a desk mount unit you can fit it to. Mine sits comfortably on the desk mount just under one of my computer monitors, and I can see at a glance how many rotations, how much time, as well as the calories expended since I last reset the monitor.
  • The monitor is battery-powered—nothing plugs into electricity.
  • You can link the monitor to a Fitbit, but I haven’t done so. However, I did set up an account with DeskCycle for inputting my monitor readings each day.
  • The monitor only records up to 99,999 rotations, so I clear it at the end of each day (press the reset button on the front for 3 seconds) after I’ve recorded my progress online. 99,999 sounds like a lot, but is probably only about 3 to 5 days of rotations, depending how long you use it each day.
  • All measurements are in calories and not kilojoules, both on the monitor and in the online account. However, they do convert miles to kilometres in the online account.
  • The online account records and calculates quite a lot of info, based on your age, weight etc. and calculates calories expended using the machine as well as just sitting. It also records daily, weekly, monthly, and all time totals for various parameters (see the screenshots below). One thing I like is how it converts your rotations into equivalent steps if you were walking—I know the recommended daily step count is 10,000 steps so that has meaning for me.
  • The online account doesn’t have an option for you to put in your time zone, so if I forget to add my details after I finish work and add them the next morning (even though I say ‘yesterday’), that’s treated as though it’s today and they get added to today’s total, so some daily totals end up being twice what they should be. I think they are using North American time zones, and it does look weird to see that my day is a negative day!
  • My knees hurt a bit for several seconds after finishing for the day, but I haven’t felt any aches in my leg muscles at all, which I get when I walk after not walking for some time. The pain in my knees could be because the foot pedals are in a straight line, whereas I have a bit of a duck walk, with my knees turning out at a bit of an angle.
  • Speaking of the foot pedals, they are nice and big (length and width) and would suit any size foot. If you rotate with your feet positioned near the top of the foot pedals, you use different muscles and I need to remember to change it up every so often. (BTW, one of the complaints I read about the DeskCycle [not the DeskCycle Ellipse, which I have] was that people with big feet would ‘hit’ the floor while cycling—that’s not possible with the Ellipse).
  • You can rotate forwards or backwards—it all counts. I have to remember to go backwards every so often.
  • The instruction manual and stickers on the foot pedals clearly tell you NOT use this machine while standing. It is only for use while sitting, either under your desk while you’re working, or while you’re watching TV etc. (I’m tempted, but I would only do this if I was holding onto a wall! Actually, I’m a bit of a chicken, so likely wouldn’t try it at all.)
  • I haven’t been using it long enough (just under two weeks) to know if it’s made any difference to my weight, but any weight loss would be a bonus, and that isn’t my objective. The objective is to move more and get the circulation flowing to combat a couple of decades of sitting. I also haven’t felt the need to eat more, as sometimes happens when I’ve tried other forms of exercise.
  • I don’t feel tired after doing all those rotations each day, and my sleep patterns haven’t changed.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Assuming all this movement is helping to keep me healthy, it’s a no-brainer for me, and I wish I’d known about these machines sooner. NOTE: Any step totals are ONLY from the machine, and need to be added to any steps I take in normal day-to-day life.

Screenshots from my online account that show my progress (all taken today, 26 Nov 2020):

Today’s progress, a whopping 17,677 steps over 6 hours (26 Nov 2020)

Daily progress – you can see it’s not hard to get to 10,000 steps most days

Weekly progress – the 8,000 steps in the first week was only from one day

Monthly progress so far, starting on 13 Nov to today (26 Nov). Based on this, I would expect to do approximately 250,000 steps per month just on the machine, which is a big jump from maybe 40,000 in normal activity working from home

Update as at 31 December 2020: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/update-on-deskcycle-ellipse-usage/

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Using Zoom to record a presentation with no audience

July 27, 2020

With conferences off my agenda for the next year or two, or more, as a result of COVID-19 I’m considering doing some pre-recorded webinars based on conference presentations I’ve done over the past few years. Time zone issues mean that presenting live to anywhere outside Australasia or east Asian countries is out of the question.

But first I needed to get a webcam for my computer (my laptop’s inbuilt webcam is very grey and grainy). Do you know how rare webcams became as everyone started working from home? My first purchase was a disaster (a $100 no-name one from Amazon, which overexposed everything no matter what light I used, and didn’t sync my moving lips with the sound it recorded; to their credit Amazon refunded me in full). My second purchase from a local retailer this past weekend (stocks are now returning to retailers) was more successful, and I now have a Logitech C270, which seems perfect for webinars as it doesn’t have a wide field of view and seems to focus more on your head and not everything else in the room. The light balance without using their software, which you have to download separately from the Logitech website, is good and so far I haven’t needed to install that software. The microphone seems to pick up voice well too, and there’s no time lag between my voice and my moving lips. I’ve only tested it with the Camera software that comes with Windows 10, and with Zoom.

Zoom will likely be my preference for recording any webinars I might do as it has screen sharing functions I’m familiar with from webinars I’ve presented that were hosted by professional organisations in Canada and New Zealand. But I’ve never hosted my own, nor have I tried to record myself presenting a webinar without an audience. It wasn’t easy to find out how to, using Zoom’s own help, but I found an excellent set of instructions from the University of Oklahoma that got me started: http://www.ou.edu/cas-online/website/documents/Using%20Zoom%20to%20Record%20Presentations.pdf (I’ve put a copy of that PDF here Using Zoom to Record Presentations in case it disappears from the university’s website).

My first tests using those instructions worked well and I was able to record successfully.

Next step is to figure out how to show me as the active speaker (typically at the beginning and end to simulate a conference presentation) then switch to the PowerPoint slides and back again. Zoom has an option in the settings (Record settings) to display a small view of you presenting, or not, but I want to start off with a full face intro, and then switch to that thumbnail view while the slides take over. Back to the learning curve! I’ll update this post as I discover things. Of course, if someone already knows how to do this, feel free to comment!

Update 28 July 2020: I did a bit more testing with various settings and discovered these seemed to work best for my setup:

  • Wear the headset when recording and use the headset’s microphone as it’s clearer than the webcam’s mike (NOTE: I haven’t yet installed the Logitech webcam’s software, so I’m not sure if that will make a difference or not)
  • Zoom settings > Video: Touch up my appearance (I left the rest as the defaults)
  • Zoom settings > Share Screen: Side-by-side mode (rest were the defaults)
  • Zoom settings > Recording: Record video during screen sharing AND Place video next to the shared screen in the recording (rest were the defaults)
  • When you go to Shared Screen mode in the Zoom recording, resize the thumbnail to the maximum allowed, otherwise you’ll look like a small dot in the recording
  • PowerPoint > Slide Show tab > Set Up Slide Show: set the Show Type to Presentation by a speaker (full screen)

Switching from me as the active speaker to the shared screen and back again doesn’t appear to be very intuitive, and I couldn’t find a setting in Zoom to do this seamlessly. The only way I could do it is described in Steps 6 to 12 of the instructions below:

  1. Start PowerPoint and switch to presentation mode.
  2. Start Zoom and start a new meeting.
  3. If muted/turned off, unmute the audio and turn on the video in Zoom.
  4. Optional: Put on your headset if you’re going to use that microphone, then click the arrow next to Mute and select the headset’s microphone.
  5. Adjust the webcam to get your face in the viewport as you want.
  6. Ready? Click More (the three dots) in the Zoom controls and select Record on this computer.
  7. Start speaking and introduce your presentation. Where possible, speak to the webcam lens not the screen to be more personal to your audience. (Tip: Some people suggest putting a cutout of a friend’s picture next to the webcam and using that as your ‘audience’).
  8. Click Share Screen.
  9. Choose the screen to share (i.e. the full screen of the PowerPoint presentation). This puts the video of your face into a thumbnail view at the top right of the viewport being recorded.
  10. Optional: Resize the thumbnail to maximum size.
  11. Do the presentation.
  12. To return to the video of your face, click Stop Share to stop sharing the screen.
  13. Finalise what you have to say in the presentation, thank the attendees, then click End.
  14. Once you’ve clicked End, click End Meeting for All.
  15. Zoom will automatically create an MP4 file of the recording.
  16. Before distributing/publishing it, watch it and check for places that you may need to re-record. (I don’t know how to cut and splice changes into a video like this, but there will be software that does this. If it’s only a minor error, don’t fuss too much about it—it will show you’re human and that you make mistakes like everybody else. If you were on stage doing this presentation, you might make mistakes there too, and nobody would think less of you for it. Only re-record if there are major errors you want to correct, such as things not working as they should (practice several times beforehand), clothing that disappears into the background, background objects looking as though they are growing out of your head, family members or pets interrupting you, exceptionally loud noises coming from outside that you have no control over, etc. If this is a solo presentation for later distribution, then re-recording is not as disastrous as if it was a live presentation where these things went wrong.)

See also: 4-minute YouTube video of recording yourself in the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk7l1FJB35s

[Links last checked February 2021]

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Virtual backgrounds for online meetings

May 3, 2020

The rise of online meetings via Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc. because so many office workers are now working from home, has also seen a rise in the number of organisations making pictures available that you can use for your meeting background.

Some of my favourites are:

[Links last checked May 2020]

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COVID-19 update

March 31, 2020

With all the dramatic changes in the world in the past month as a result of spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and with the restrictions and lockdowns imposed (either by government mandate or self-imposed), I thought it was time to let you know what I’ve been doing to mitigate risk to myself, my loved ones, and my little company. Here’s a summary:

  • I have worked online from my home office since 2007 (with my husband), so my ability to continue working has not changed. I have speedy internet (for the moment at least), and have no other impingements on my day (e.g. no kids to care for or to homeschool). So for me, it’s ‘same old, same old’ and I haven’t had to change any of my work processes to accommodate the new normal. If you need your corporate documents, reports etc. edited, then I’m still here and still working. You can see the list of editing tasks I typically do here: http://cybertext.com.au/editing_levels.html, and testimonials here: http://cybertext.com.au/testimonials.html.
  • We decided to ‘shelter-in-place’ around 10 March, and except for a single post office run (getting takeout pizza at the same time), I’ve been home the entire time. I’ve been fortunate in being able to get home delivery from one of the main supermarkets.
  • Our health remains good, and I monitor our body temperatures every day (results are pretty constant, but it gives us a baseline in case anything changes), and am awaiting the arrival of a piece of equipment that measures blood oxygen levels (again, I need to know our baseline so that I know if there have been changes that might indicate an issue).
  • I cancelled my round-the-world trip that was to start on 8 April and finish on 16 May, which included a speaking engagement at the ACES Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. As you would expect, the conference was cancelled, and even if it hadn’t been, Australia has now closed its borders, and there are no Qantas international commercial passenger flights in or out of Australia as at the end of March. For the most part, I have received refunds (even for nonrefundable advanced purchases) or partial refunds from most hotels, transport companies etc. (though I’m still waiting on actual refunds from two airlines), and I’m very grateful to those companies for doing so—Hilton Hotels, Rydges Hotel at Sydney Airport, and Ingot Hotel in Perth, you have my business in the future for refunding all my prepaid monies. However, there are no refunds at all from a small, single-person run 5-day residential workshop I was attending as part of the trip (the date has since been moved to October, but I have no intention of being in the US in October), or a 9-day tour in Morocco. The intransigence of the US tour company organising the Morocco tour has been bitterly disappointing and I have no idea if travel insurance will cover the thousands I had to pay by 6 January. That’s a story for another day and in a more personal forum. Suffice to say, they certainly won’t ever get any business from me again. This was my first experience with them and it hasn’t been good.

Stay safe, stay healthy. And wash your hands.

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Think of it as practice for your retirement

March 15, 2020

These are strange and incredibly fast-moving times, and as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues unabated, many people have been forced to work from home, or have chosen that for themselves. So I’ve been thinking about some silver linings in all this….

If you currently commute to work and now have to work from home (employer or self-imposed), and you’re close-ish to retirement, you have the ideal opportunity to test out some of those “Perhaps I’d like to do this in my retirement” ideas. Not travel at the moment, of course, but if there are hobbies or non-group activities that have crossed your mind, and you have the means to do so, now is a great time to try them out. You’ve probably gained 5 to 20 hours per week of discretionary time without your daily commute. What will you do with it? You can only binge watch TV or read books or go for a walk or run for a while… Think of this enforced extra time as training for retirement!

YouTube has a wealth of videos on how to do almost anything. If you’re thinking more along crafting or baking activities, you can sign up to Bluprint.com (was Craftsy) for around AU$120 a year (often less when they have their regular sales) and get full access to their hundreds of online classes (far more organised and with paid experts than random YouTube videos). If you’re perhaps thinking of tracing your family tree, you can sign up to year’s worth of Ancestry.com for the price of a couple of week’s of gas that you would’ve used if you were commuting by car.

If you’re more into volunteering, there are lots of things you can do online from home. In my case, because I do genealogical stuff and because words are what I’m good at, I edit the OCR text of newspaper articles in the Australian National Library’s Trove database. Ancestry has a World Archives project too, deciphering handwritten immigration and other records. The Australian War Memorial has something similar for transcribing war records. Of course, there’s always Wikipedia article editing, or transcribing the words on headstones in graveyards (BillionGraves.com); yes, that really is a thing! Or you could contribute to various volunteer scientific research projects at Zooniverse.org or any of the projects at https://www.openobjects.org.uk/2015/05/crowdsourcing-world/. Every country will have these.

If you do get into craft activities and need supplies, try to buy them from your local bricks and mortar ‘mom and pop’ store, not the big box retailers or online. These local stores are likely already hurting badly and may never recover from this. If you’re hesitant about going into a store, call them and see if they can mail/deliver to you, or come out to your car if you order and pay by phone and drive in to get them. The worst you can get is ‘no’, so it won’t hurt to call ahead and ask.

And if you find that that all those extra hours are too hard to handle, maybe you need to rethink your retirement plans — those extra 40+ hours per week are your life once you retire.

Any other suggestions?

See also:

[Links last checked March 2020]

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20 years on

August 24, 2019

Things just slip by… I thought it was 20 years this month since I left the corporate world and went out on my own as a freelancer. Yes, it is 20 years, but the anniversary date was LAST month according to my business name registration certificate.

I actually started working as a freelancer in early July 1999 doing SAP documentation for the now-defunct WMC (Western Mining Corporation). And in the past 20 years most of my work has involved tech writing and editing for software and resources companies, often in combination.

Starting my own company was a HUGE and scary leap after <mumble> years as a full-time employee for software companies and as a secondary school teacher-librarian and deputy principal. But financially and psychologically it was the best thing I ever did—not having to manage anyone except myself was such a relief after being in middle management for too many years.

Even better, I’ve worked from home via the internet for the past 12 years. There’s not a lot I miss about working in an office, but I do miss some of the camaraderie of drinks after work, lunchtime chats, etc. with work colleagues. I certainly don’t miss meetings, office politics, and the regular ‘Can you just help me with this <oh-so-very-urgent problem>?’ questions (Tip: The word ‘just’ in such circumstances is loaded! It NEVER takes the minute or so you’re told it will.) I also don’t miss the pressure of having to fit into an office of 30-somethings when I’m well past that age! Or commuting, or the $$$ spent on lunches, office clothing, parking, etc.

Will I still be doing this in another 20 years? Probably not, but who knows!

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Work in the office? Not me!

October 26, 2017

Nearly 11 years ago we moved from the city (Perth) to a country town in regional Western Australia. At the time, we were three hours’ driving distance from Perth (each way), so working in client offices was no longer an option. Both my regular clients at the time were happy for me to work from home and telecommute — they knew me, they knew how I worked, and they knew my work ethic and productivity. Because I worked for both part-time (2 days a week for one, 3 days a week for the other), they knew that I didn’t need to be in the office all the time. After those two contracts finished, I got a contract with a big client and my terms of working for them has always been based on telecommuting.

Three years after the big move to the country we moved to another area in regional Western Australia, but now I was about 90 minutes’ drive from the city. My big client didn’t really seem to know or care — I just continued working for them three days a week from home, as I always had. And that arrangement continues today. I’ve set foot in their Perth office fewer than 10 times in nearly 10 years. It works very well for me, and it must work OK for them too as my initial 3-month contract has been renewed year after year, so that now I’m nearly 10 years in.

So why write this blog post now? It came about because a tech writer friend of mine (who lives 60 miles north of downtown Chicago) was told by a recruiter that ‘the commute isn’t so bad’. Now, Chicago’s a BIG city, and while I’m sure it has lots of infrastructure (like regular train services etc.), the reality is that his commute would actually be horrendous — effectively adding at least 4 hours to his work day if he took the job in downtown Chicago. And for him, there’s horrible weather to deal with for several months of the year.

I decided to check out what it would cost in travel time and money if I was asked to physically work in an office in Perth…

I live 160 km (100 miles) from Perth. The first hour of driving gets me to the southern part of the main metro area (Safety Bay Rd exit for the locals). From there to the city centre is a crapshoot as to how long it takes — in light traffic in the middle of the day, about 45 minutes; in peak hour with heavy traffic, up to 90 mins; longer if there’s been an accident on the freeway. Then I have to hope I can get a place to park ($20+ per day), then walk to the office. This means I’d have to allow 2.5 hours each way each day (leaving home before 6am, and returning close to 8pm), plus the cost of fuel ($100+ per week), plus $100+ each week in parking fees. Add to that the stress of driving that distance and in traffic, plus the likelihood of kangaroos and emus on the road at dusk and dawn and at night, which is when I’d be doing the country driving part of the journey, and nope, not going to happen.

So let’s look at the train. There’s a train just twice a day from Bunbury (my nearest station) to Perth. The Australind is not a high-speed train, and takes about 2.5 hours for the journey. This train leaves Bunbury at 6am (arriving at 8:30am, with a good 15-minute walk to the office) or 2:45pm (not an option for a day in the office). It leaves Perth for Bunbury just before 6pm, getting into Bunbury around 8:30pm. But to catch the 6am train, I’d have to leave home at 5:15am as it takes ~30 minutes to drive to Bunbury. This means I’d have to be up by 4:30am each day, and I wouldn’t get home until after 9pm. Oh, and there’s no secure parking at the Bunbury train station, which is well out of the town centre, so my car would be sitting in an open car park in the middle of a semi-industrial area for about 15+ hours. The cost of the train isn’t cheap either — $66 return each day, so $330 per week, though a bit cheaper if you get a SmartCommuter ticket [$43 return per day; + $60 annual fee for a SmartCommuter card], or have a concession card [$33 return per day if you’re a pensioner or senior]). There’s no wifi on this train, and only a snack bar (with junk food), so sleeping and reading would be the only options. No time at all for family or family meals before or after I got home – it would be fall into bed to get up at 4:30am the next day to do it all again. What sort of life is that?

There’s a train from Mandurah to Perth, but that requires driving to Mandurah (nearly an hour), praying you get a car bay at the station (good luck with that…), then taking the train into Perth (50 minutes). The total time would be about 2 hours each way, assuming you can park at the Mandurah train station. The cost is about $22 return per day from Mandurah to Perth, but you still have about 4 hours total commute time (about 2 hours on the train and similar in the car), and now you have to add in fuel expenses too.

Bottom line: If any client wants me to come to the office regularly to work, they’re dreaming! If they want me there for the occasional day only, then they either pay my hourly rate for the travel time, or the cost of an overnight stay in a 3+ star city hotel (my preference for safety reasons). Commuting 4 to 5 hours (in country conditions, in the dark) plus an 8-hour day in the office just isn’t safe.

(NOTE: This post is just on the time and monetary cost of travel, not all the other associated costs like disrupted work/life balance, the cost of meals, the cost of business attire, etc.)

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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.
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SOEWA Winter Seminar

August 19, 2014

I attended (and spoke at) the Society of Editors (WA) [SOEWA] Winter Seminar on Saturday. It was a day packed with good information and a variety of speakers and topics. Here’s my summary of the sessions (not including mine on the pros and cons of telecommuting).

These are my note and opinions, and do not reflect anyone else’s experience.

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Dr Hilary Cadman: PerfectIt and other editing tools

Hilary had two sessions at this seminar.

The first was on PerfectIt (http://www.intelligentediting.com), which I use. This was a hands-on demo, and considering the time she had and the number of people in the room (about 27) and the varying levels of comfort with PerfectIt (from those who’ve never heard of it to those who are users of the software), she did well in covering as much as she did. Even though I’m a PerfectIt user, I still learnt something in this session, like how to add customizations to a style as you go (I’d been doing it the manual way). She also mentioned the free style sheets available from PerfectIt such as those that covert UK to US spelling and vice versa, and the Australian Government style sheet.

Her other session later in the day covered other editing tools that can automate some of the repetitive processes we do.

Takeaways:

  • embrace technology
  • start somewhere
  • get connected

Advantages of tools:

  • save time
  • save sanity
  •  improve quality
  •  decrease RSI
  • look more professional — improved image, better client confidence in you
  • add value to client (e.g. offering client a PerfectIt style sheet for their future docs); can go beyond the client’s expectations

Disadvantages:

  • over reliance on tools
  • can mess things up (e.g. beware of replace all, fix all)
  • cost of the tools and time learning program
  • employer resistance to installing unknown applications on their systems
  • potential overlap with functions in tools

Hilary’s ‘can’t live without it’ recommendations — PerfectIt, Editor’s Toolkit, and PhraseExpress (http://www.phraseexpress.com).

Editor’s Toolkit (http://www.editorium.com) — looks overwhelming, not user friendly, but once installed and start using saves lots of time; has about 48 shortcuts, but don’t need to use them all. Many are very useful. ~$70 (Jack Lyon’s program)

EndNote (http://www.endnote.com) — for managing citations/references.

EdiFix (http://edifix.com) — online search tool for citations/references that you can use to find references that can then go into Endnote.

John Denton: Business systems

Essential to have systems for your business:

  • Process: flow of work — start, do, end; Flow charts can map about the business flow (e.g. how to respond to an enquiry)
  • System: how the process is recorded, executed, and communicated to be consistent every time

Process: what needs to be done; System: how it needs to be done

Where do you start?

  • what are the areas of greatest frustration in my business?
  • how do these frustrations impact my business?
  • what results am I NOT getting due to these areas?
  • how is that impacting me personally, emotionally, financially, health, time etc.?

Systemization gives you time to document etc. the system! Need to make time to ‘sharpen the saw’ (Steven Covey)

  • ‘The real problem is that my business lacks a system to….’
  • What will be the benefits to the business of implementing a system?
  • What will be the benefits to me personally?

Map out business aspects/processes (production [do the work], admin [e.g. invoicing], people, entrepreneurship, sales and marketing)

Need for:

  • Contact Management System
  • Document Management System

Can change Windows folder icons to help identify where files are (http://www.foldermarker.com), and/or use a consistent numbered system for folder names (e.g 01Admin)

Benefits of having systems:

  • prevent or minimize errors
  • reduce need for and cost of rework
  • easier to train/employ staff
  • can use temporary staff/outsource when you have a system
  • frees up owner to work on the business — or have time off! (e.g. holidays)
  • things get done consistently and in a timely manner
  • business is not ‘owner-centric’

Challenges of systems: Business personalities:

  • The analyzer — loves detail, analysis, problem solving (left-brain dominant)
  • The safekeeper — works to a structure, systems, checklists, plans (left-brain dominant)
  • The carer — people person, counseling, making sure people are OK (right-brain dominant)
  • The player — entrepreneur, doesn’t organize anything, risk taker (right-brain dominant)

In a perfect business, need all those elements. most have all traits in some degree or another, but some personalities will dominate. Various personalities will drive each other crazy!!

What do Boeing and David Lee Roth have in common? Van Halen were first band to take 18+ trucks of gear on the road, so had to use systems to make sure everything worked. Roth developed a process for setting up everything so that it was done right and wasn’t a hazard. His contract stipulated removing the brown M&Ms from the artists’ room as a test to see if the system had been followed. Boeing – created checklists for aircraft back in the 1930s(?)

Don’t need to produce manuals to document processes — can produce videos, use diagrams and pictures, flow charts, swimlane diagrams, checklists

Improve system:

  • continuous improvement — act, plan, check, do
  • put a QA process in to see that keeping on track

Procrastination and perfectionism are your worst enemies in putting systems in place!

John uses Trello (http://www.trello/com) for collaborating on projects and Fiverr (http://www.fiverr.com) for outsourcing some tasks.

Margaret McNally: How many P’s exist in ‘publication’?

Margaret was managing editor for a university (print) publications team and described the complex workflow in getting documents from concept to publication.

‘P’ aspects of publication:

  • pen
  • paper
  • process
  • production
  • patience
  • persistence
  • PANIC!
  • print
  • pleasure.

Implications of digital for print publications that are competing with online environment:

  • length of stories
  • design and imagery.

Managing Editor – person in charge of managing all aspects of the editorial process of publications including staff, budget,and production schedules (copy editing, design, imagery, print, compliance [Competition and Consumer Act 2010], budget, staff)

Adobe InCopy — Lets copywriters and editors style text, track changes, and make simple layout modifications to a document while designers can be working simultaneously on the same document using InDesign — all without overwriting each others’ contributions. (from http://www.adobe.com) ~$AU382, part of Adobe Creative Suite 6 (Creative Cloud)

Takeaways:

  • know your company/organization
  • familiarize yourself with latest trends — publication,  print, online
  • develop ideas.

Georgina Wilson: Editing for the web — same, same but different

Case study of shifting the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) from print to web publications/communications.

Website wasn’t a resource priority for a long time – frustrating to use, poor navigation, lack of current material, thousands of pages getting no views, no incentive to upload new material.

Had to start from scratch — back end and front end.

BUT developers were employed before they did any user analysis!!

Chose DRUPAL as their content management system. Long process in agreeing on architecture.

Needed to comply with accessibility guidelines, large team of authors and approvers, training in writing for a new system (huge number of writers and reviewers funneling into 10 content approvers).

Arguments about where content belongs — e..g whether bees were ‘pests and diseases’ or ‘livestock’!! (they decided on livestock as bees are not a pest).

New website has 8 main headings (was 13). As 90% of visitors came in via websites, was the navigation that important?

Aims:

  • more visual, with good images
  • responsive design for different platforms
  • tag relevant topics for search
  • content review date of one year (default)
  • links to other articles on site
  • links to other relevant sites
  • contact details for further info.

Process was slower than expected to get website up… few extra resources were allocated outside the web development team.

Old website was 13,000 pages (mostly PDFs), but so far only about 2000 on new site, so still a long way to go, though some content may not get migrated as out of date.

Two approval stages:

  • author to project approver
  • directorate approver/publisher

Editing for the web:

  • need to follow the style guide
  • look for missing tags, links, quality of images
  • think scanning rather than reading; think of the reader NOT the writer
  • plain English
  • try to grab and hold attention
  • multiple screens examples (we all have multiple screens on at the same time — e.g. TV, laptop, tablet, phone)
  • must be accessible — add alt text to images

Audit trail and process:

  • usually draft text in Word where track changes are easy
  • theory is that author will consult with others but doesn’t always happens
  • some external editors have been employed
  • still waiting for pages that don’t need edits
  • audit trail of every change remains available

Writing basics:

  • reverse pyramid approach– big picture first, then drilling down
  • plain English
  • short titles (6 to 8 words)
  • one deck if possible [she didn’t explain what this meant]
  • keyword in title are the first and last words
  • short paragraphs (40-70 words, though may still be too long)
  • short sentences (15-20 words)
  • replace semicolons with separate sentences, or bullet points
  • lots of headings, bullet points
  • links to other useful sites
  • 10-second rule (lose reader if they don’t find answer in 10 secs)
  • no underlining except web and email addresses
  • no italics except scientific names