Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: Memory On Hand (MoH)

Wristband on wrist
At the last Mass Innovation Night, Andrew of Memory on Hand (MoH) gave me one of MoH's USB flash drive wristbands to review. Mine is a snappy blue and orange pattern that goes well with my bluish gray sweater. I've had a couple of weeks to try it out now, so it's time for the review.

Since everything is not yet in the cloud, folks who use computers in multiple locations often need access to their files wherever they are: the library, a friend's house, a client's office, or whatever. I often need to move files between computers via what we used to call sneakernet back in the day. (OK, so in those days it was 5 1/4" floppies that held about  180 kb, but I don't care if readers guess how old I am. :-)) I've got flash drives rattling around in desk drawers and recently found one in my sock drawer. So I love having one I can wear on my wrist, which greatly reduces the chances of it ending up in the sock drawer. The bright colors help too. It's really hard to lose this one.

So, when I needed to carry some files home with me, I copied the files onto the drive and put it back on my wrist. It stayed securely and comfortably on my wrist until I needed it and plugged right into my laptop's USB port for the file transfer. No rummaging around in my pockets for the flash drive. Very convenient.

Connected to my laptop
The Memory on Hand wristband is perfect for students who are always on the go using computers in the lab, the library, the dorm and so on. I  have two college age nieces who could really appreciate this product.  It comes in lots of colors and patterns, and can also be customized for your school or organization.  It makes a great gift for a student from middle school on up through grad school. It even comes packaged in an attractive gift box.
And it comes in a nice box, perfect for gift giving

Monday, January 17, 2011

What does Facebook's slow adoption in Japan mean for #techcomm?

Apparently Facebook has not caught on as widely in Japan as it has here. I found this article fascinating:
Facebook Wins Relatively Few Friends in Japan -

Being in the telecommunications field for so long, I've been used to thinking of Japan as on the leading edge, not the trailing edge. I've also been used to thinking that having a strong presence in Japan was crucial for business. Also, I've been reading recently that tech companies are starting to adopt Facebook as the portal to their technical documentation.  Much of what I've been reading in the techcomm groups on LinkedIn or in the blogosphere not only has content migrating to social media, but also has context senstive help going the way of the dodo. So in my tech writer head, I got to wondering how migrating technical content to Facebook and Twitter is going to play in Japan.

Will American companies have a hard time getting Japanese customers on board with turning to Facebook for instructions on how to configure their switches/routers/SBCs/firewalls or test their enterprise VoIP systems? For that matter, how well is the move to social techcomm going over with American customers in that space? It's one thing to have hitting F1 in your application take you to the company's web site instead of to the online help, but it's a whole 'nother thing to have F1 take you to a Facebook page, especially if you're not a Facebook user.

In addition to taking translation into account when we're creating content, will we now have to take into account different attitudes toward social media? I don't have an answer. I'm just asking the question.  Have any readers out there in the techcomm community had experience with migrating your doc portal to social when you have a large market presence in Japan? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mass Innovation Night #MIN22

Massachusetts innovators are flexible, an important quality both for innovation and for handling New England weather. Giant snow storm on Wednesday? Reschedule to Thursday. A few tweaks here or there, and presto another excellent Mass Innovation Night.

Mass Inno at IBM Waltham

The turnout was pretty good despite the rescheduling. The Experts Corner was packed and lively.

Experts in the Experts Corner

Activity in the Experts Corner
The four presenters were:
PointKnown -- Mapping buildings digitally for energy modeling, retrofits and reuse
ScreenRetriever -- Software for parents to see what their children are doing online
WaySavvy -- Simplified travel booking cuts through the screens and screens of data and gives you options for cheapest, biggest bang for the buck, and swankiest
Grembe Apps -- Apps to create pictures, flashcards, storyboards, routines, and visual schedules for kids with special needs

I made sure to check out each of those and as many others as I could in the demo areas. Besides the four presenters I managed to check out  Memory on Hand, Job Tac Toe, bubulu labs, and say hi to LockerNotes  (met him at the last MIN).

Talking with the PointKnown guys was fun. One of my brothers used to do HVAC in old buildings undergoing renovation and I could immediately see how PointKnown's laser to Building Information Modeling tool would speed up that kind of work.

Memory on Hand
Memory on Hand's cool-looking USB flash storage wristbands made a colorful statement and solve a practical problem.  You never know when you need a few gig of storage and it sure helps to have it right on hand, er, on wrist, when you need it and make a fashion statement at the same time. Sure beats those keychain flash drives.  The nieces (well, the college age Boston & NY ones, not the pre-school Dubai ones) can look forward to gifts of storage soon. :-) :-) Andrew generously gave me a 2-gig one to try out and review. Stay tuned to this space for a review soon.

Job Tac Toe has a unique approach to job hunting, turning it into a game, giving the hunter status and support. Caroline gave an enthusiastic pitch and I enjoyed our conversation about the job hunting process and about status in hunter gatherer societies.  Looks like a great way to fight the depression, boredom, and discouragement that can creep in to the job hunt.

Job Tac Toe

WaySavvy cuts through the information overload involved in online travel booking. I love that it sorts the results into cheapest, best bang for the buck, and swankiest so I can just click on a tab for the type of trip I want and book it right away and all at once. And he was handing out cookies!


ScreenRetriever looks like a great tool for parents, watching what the kids do online instead of just trying to block stuff.  The kids know you're watching so it provides a good opportunity for parent/teen discussion on why some things are inappropriate.

Grembe Apps impressed me with visual communication tools for kids with special needs. I can see why it's taking off among folks with autistic kids. I can actually see applications for it beyond helping non-verbal kids. Some aspects of their apps would make a good storyboarding tool for tech writers developing procedures for assembly, installation, and repair.  Must mull that over a little.

Grembe Apps

The Crowd Listens
Had some good networking chats with Uma from bubulu labs and Andrew from Ciclismo Classico (maybe I will finally get to that European bike tour I've always wanted to do).  And Mass Innovation Night would not be complete without running into a former co-worker. Shout-out to Matt Rushton of

Kudos to Bobbie Carlton for another great event despite the weather-induced obstacles. Thanks to IBM Waltham for hosting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the continued popularity of paper books

This past weekend, I attended the 15th annual Moby Dick Marathon reading at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. While I would normally not mention this in my professional blog, I am doing so here because I observed a couple of interesting things during the course of the 25 hour reading event. Also, I just saw the results of the Book Industry Study Group survey that showed that 75 percent of college students prefer print textbooks over electronic versions.

Observation 1: books outnumbered Kindle/Nook/iPad reading devices by about the same proportion as last year. Everywhere I looked, I saw folks with well-thumbed paperback or hardcover copies of Moby Dick. iPad and Kindle seemed to be the leaders among the devices this year rather than Nook. That most likely has to do with the fact that last year's event featured the Nook, with four of them on loan from Barnes & Noble.  Where last year there were people wandering around looking for outlets to charge the Nooks, I seemed to be the only outlet seeker this year and that was for my iPod touch, which I used more for Twitter access than for reading along, although I did alternate between my beloved Modern Library edition and the Project Gutenberg e-text in Stanza (Hmm, there's another subject for an entry -- why I like Stanza better than iBooks, Bluefire, and Google Reader).

Reading along during Cetology chapter in the Sperm Whale gallery

Observation 2: Most of the folks using ereader devices were older. They had gray hair. This doesn't fit with's representation of people over 50.

Following along while waiting his turn to read in the Jacobs Family Gallery
Some people, besides me with my iPod Touch, were using both types of reading platforms. One guy was even using both at once.  I'm not sure what that added, but it was interesting to see.

Cetology chapter on paper and e-book at once

Observation 3: There was a strong social media component to the marathon this year with live streaming on the web and a designated hashtag (#mdm15) for tweeting during the event. One thing I tried was tweeting from within Stanza while reading. Alas, Stanza and my Twitter account were not getting along. However, I was able to share passages on Facebook directly from Stanza.  My iPod Touch battery was not up to the endurance test of the marathon, but my battered Modern Library edition (with the Rockwell Kent illustrations) held up just fine.

I don't know why Kindle and iPad haven't made more inroads into the Melville afficionado community anymore than I know why college students still prefer books.

My observations at the Moby Dick Marathon fit with observations I made last fall on a walk in India Point Park on Columbus Day. People are still reading paper books. Somebody needs to do more research on why this is.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

way past the future

Robert Desprez has an interesting discussion going on LinkedIn re tech writers not embracing Web 2.0. His blog post asks "Why is it that most technical communicators are operating as if Web 2.0 never occurred?" In a somewhat similar vein, Tom Johnson over at I'd Rather be Writing asks if technical communication is stuck in the past. I view these as related discussions because one of the definitions of "past" is "not being web-savvy and not participating in social media culture." Social media culture is definitely part of Web 2.0.

So what is happening with #techcomm in the Web 2.0/social media space? Where are the innovations happening in technical communication? Tools? Techniques? Delivery channels? When is Web 3.0, aka the semantic web, going to come into its own? I've spent the past couple of days looking for answers to these questions instead of writing. Know what?  I haven't found as many answers as I thought I would or as I would have liked.

Probably the best and most concise look at the future, at least for 2011, is Sarah O'Keefe's blog post, 2011 predictions for technical communication. I see the movement toward XML-based authoring accelerating even more quickly than it has been in recent years. Content strategy, content analytics, content management, and collaborative authoring are all seeing lots of buzz in discussions about technical communication, though I don't yet see them listed as required skills in job postings. Most of the job postings I see still focus on writing skills and expertise with specific authoring tools, with an occasional requirement for a specific content management tool. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Getting back to the social media theme, in the comments on Sarah's post, Sarah Maddox wrote

"Another trend may be that we will focus on going to where our readers are. This is just another way of expressing the “know your audience and their environment” rule. For example, if we’re documenting web apps and social media apps or if our audience lives in those apps, we should look at how we can use them in the documentation."

How right she is! The next big trend in technical communication may just be the rebirth of the oldest trick in the tech writer's playbook: writing for the reader. Know the audience. Know what they're trying to do and under what conditions they're trying to do it.  Put yourself in their shoes. Whether the user is a first-grader trying to login to his school's homework app, a researcher using some kind of hardware/software combo to collect his data in real time, an astronaut on the ISS trying to troubleshoot the on-board computer, or a soldier on the battlefield trying to repair a piece of equipment, the very best technical communication will provide what he needs.

Past, future, or way past the future, knowing the audience is and will be the trendiest thing in technical communication. Whether social media is the delivery mechanism for our content or not, it gives us valuable tools for understanding the audience.