Site Blocking

As seen on Twitter this morning: “The gig is up! Company blocked gmail. I am officially job hunting…”

Why They Might

Now, why would a company block Gmail? If they have run thorough server stats and think staff are spending too much time with personal tasks instead of doing work, this might make sense. After all, none of us are paid–either via contract or hire–to work on our own stuff. The “big brother” method doesn’t give the complete picture, however.

What Else To Consider

There is probably a lot the bosses and IT staff have not considered. In order to use a lot of Google’s services (Documents, Calendar, Maps, Translation, and more) users usually log in. It’s the same login as Google’s email service. So, while Gmail may be open in the background, the reality is that employees are probably using many of the tools they need to do their jobs.

I haven’t used a physical calculator (Google search does math), a phone book (online yellow pages), a dictionary/thesaurus, or even a physical clock in over a decade. If my eyes never have to leave the screen and my fingers can keep hovering the keyboard and mouse for the tools I need, I’m working more efficiently and more ergonomically, too.

Why Not Block Personal Sites

Blocking any personal email just forces employees to use the phone or company email for personal correspondence that is sometimes necessary during the daytime. Yes, it’s true and valid, employees do need to take care of a few personal things during the day. (No, they can not take a day off from work to schedule a doctor’s appointment or chat for 15 minutes with their accountant during tax season.)

Employees, exempt or not, are legally allowed/required a 15-minute break for every four hours of work. If they need to use this time to check personal email beyond what a mobile device can do, isn’t it smarter to allow them this…rather than lose good workers to a company that doesn’t make blanket accusations about all because of the poor work quality of a few?

The Real Problem

It is like most things: companies need to deal with the real problems and the isolated cases of weak, incomplete work. Warn any employee who isn’t pulling his or her weight, but don’t punish the masses because of a few. Doing so creates distrust….which means you lose quality people. Do you want your best and brightest walking out due to this lack of trust?

Excel’s Weekday Function

Excel is quite handy for making schedules, but sometimes you need to know more than just the date; you need to know the day of the week.

Excel uses serial numbers for each date. For this reason, we can do math with dates (i.e. “yesterday” plus 2 equals “tomorrow”).

Sometimes, we need to know the day of the week from a given date. We can accomplish this task with a series of nested IF statements.

Since this function

=weekday([date cell reference])

yields a number 1-7, we can use that in combination with the IF statements to see the weekday in any form we like.

Lets assume that the weekday function runs in column C. Let’s also assume that row 1 is being used for the title of each column. Cell D2 could use this function to show the day of the week.

=IF(C2=1,”Sun”,IF(C2=2,”Mon”,IF(C2=3,”Tue”,IF(C2=4,”Wed”,IF(C2=5,”Thu”,IF(C2=6,”Fri”,”Sat”))))))

Next, we fill that formula down for the rest of the column. Since we are using relative cell addresses, the same formula will adjust for row 3, row 4, etc.

Then, if column C is in the way,  simply Hide it.

Image Sizes and Ratios

I’m working with a client on her second book. It’s full of submitted personal stories and contains 55 author-submitted images, some of which were created with camera phones and/or older cameras. I’ve edited the images according to the specs of the book (like making them black and white) and also to make sure they look the best they can to illustrate each story.

Not every image is the same. Some are portrait orientation; others are landscape. Some needed edits that affected the angle/ratio of the images. Since my client found this confusing, I’ll illustrate.

Crop

Some of the images contained distracting items in the edges of the frame. Whenever possible, I cropped these items out to keep the focus on the subject of the image. After all, no one wants to see a pile of laundry on the couch in the background. ūüėČ Don’t worry, that’s only an example. Other images were slightly crooked and need to be straightened, which requires minor cropping from all four sides of the image.

Because the images have been cropped to the best look for that image, they are no longer all an exact (straight out of camera, SOOC) 2:3 ratio. Furthermore, one of the images submitted was from ~20 years ago and is naturally more square in shape. Making them all the same would do a disservice to each image and each story the image tells.

Area

Since not all images have the same ratio, each one will consume a different geometrical area on the page. An image that is 2×3 (2″ wide by 3″ high) should look the same to our eyes as one that is 3×2. The area of these images is 6 square inches.

An image that has been cropped square will look too large or too small.

  • 2×2 is a smaller area (4 square inches) than 2×3
  • 3×3 is a larger area (9 square inches) than 2×3

While we can cheat our eyes and make square images 2.5″x2.5″, what would we do about images that aren’t a perfect 2×3 or square ratio? We could fight with it and struggle with unimportant math. But (in a book with 55 images, this time-consuming work would be expensive for the client, so,) we are far better off to just realize that asymmetry is far more interesting than balance.

Instead of making all images the exact same area, we could make the more important images larger. We could incorporate colleges that strive for a hint of a more natural look in the document instead of one that looks too man-made.

Portrait-oriented Image
Portrait-oriented Image
Landscape-oriented Image
Landscape-oriented Image
Square Image (3x3)
Square Image (3x3)
Square Image (2x2)
Square Image (2x2)

See how much bigger the 3×3 square image looks (and how much smaller the 2×2 image seems)? That’s because it does consume more (or less) total area, even if it uses the same “real estate” on the screen/page as the other images. Technically, it is larger in area, but it’s the same width/height as the other two images.

This is compounded when we combine portrait, landscape, and square images on the same page. We tend to look for everything to be the same, but that isn’t realistic.

Best Practice

It is no longer necessary to think about images in “standard sizes” like 8×10, 11×14, or 24×36. Technology advances in digital photography and image printing have allowed us to make images in the best size for that image. We can have images that are 15.5×23 or 18×18. Anything is possible.

Longest Length

Instead of thinking of a certain size, we instead consider the longest edge of the image. Whether that’s 10, 14, 36, or 15.5 inches, we look at the longest edge to determine the size.

Placement

The other factor for the image size and shape is placement. With wall prints, we ask clients where the image will hang. The wall or mantle size will determine the largest possible length for the longest edge.

My Recommendation

My client’s book is 5.5×8.5″ with .5″ margins. My guess is that 2.5″ or 3″ images will look the best on the page, but I suggest we test sizes:

  1. Look at one of the square images on a page; determine the size in which it looks best.
  2. Look at one of the pages with multiple larger images; determine the size in which they look best
  3. (if necessary) Meet in the middle

Now, we have a measurement for the longest edge (height on a portrait-oriented image, width on a landscape-oriented image) of all the images in the book. Since we know it works in both extremes, we can feel confident applying this size to all 55 images.

Regardless of the design choice, pick a standard and stick with it. It’s part of the style guide for your document and will keep the book looking consistent and professional.

Blocking Flash

Flash can be pretty, even elegant. Usually, however, it seems that business owners don’t know when to quit…and ask their designers and developers for more More MORE…creeping toward obnoxious.

For faster load time and to save me from auto-play sounds (when I’m already listening to music), I have Flash blocked in Firefox.

So, when I stumbled on my dealership’s site today in search of their service department’s phone number, I saw this:

Flash is blocked.

Somehow, I doubt this is what anyone really wants customers to see.

The mobile site, while pretty, is barely useful. “Schedule Service” doesn’t let customers schedule anything. It only lists the phone number and email address of the service departments in this area.

 

They’re Ruining WiFi

MacBook Air in a coffee shop with WiFi

I get a lot more done during the day if I go somewhere than I do if I stay home. So, I’m pretty familiar with all the WiFi spots near me. I know which ones have a good/strong signal, which ones nag for multiple logins, which places have good food, and even which of my favorites beers are on draft where…for that 5pm reward for a hard day’s work!

Coffeeshop Office in Japan

I’m also a courteous customer. I always order something. I usually have a meal just before or after a peak time for the business. And, I don’t stay if there aren’t free tables during these peak times unless I have put food on my tab. I know that the free WiFi is a benefit, not a right. I know that it’s a perk for customers. I know they use it as a draw to get people in the door to spend money. I follow these same rules even at fast food joints.

This week, I hit one of my infrequent standbys. I love Kerbey Lane, so I occasionally treat myself.

I was a little befuddled when my MacBook Pro didn’t remember the password for the WiFi, but figured they had just changed it. I even wondered if they no longer had WiFi for customers. Turns out, they have had to set it on timers that turn it off during peak hours.

So, some inconsiderate customers ruined it for me: one customer at a tiny table in the bar area (where they don’t seat people unless the customer requests this spot). There are ~always empty seats in the bar area. Plus, I spent $15 on my appetizer, dessert, and Diet Coke; certainly comparable to any other person’s lunch tab. And, I tip well. In my opinion, a nice tip is part of the deal when you make heavy use of the free WiFi.)

Considerate, Courteous Customers

  • place an order
  • order food, too
  • tip well
  • be gracious
  • show respect for your server
  • keep to a tiny table so the restaurant can keep large (or free-standing) tables free for parties of five or more
  • if anyone is waiting for a table, leave
  • take phone calls and video conferences elsewhere (take calls outside; plan video conference in an office setting)
  • leave before the next rush

Respect that others around you are dining and are on a break from work.

Advanced Searching in Google

Google Advanced Search

Some sites are so chock full of information, that it’s difficult to find certain topics even within the site. Google’s Advanced Search can help.

I wanted to see what Lifehacker said earlier this week about the Agenda app for the iPhone. However, the site has many (amazing) writers giving a lot of good information. I knew it was Lifehacker through Twitter, but a quick view of the site didn’t return that (now old) information.

In Google’s search bar, type the keywords. If you don’t immediately see what you need, click the link near the search bar for “Advanced search”.

In the Advanced Search, you can specify the site, date, and other information. I knew I wanted to search within lifehacker.com. The site is also very full from years or so many good writers, so I also chose the date of within the past week.

Just like that, I had my article.

Bonus

If you’re rather type than click (or wait for another page to load), put the criteria in the Google search bar yourself.

iphone app agenda calendar site:lifehacker.com

…which returns my article fourth in the list.

Google Advanced Search

SGAL: Serial Commas

I’m starting a new “series”: The Style Guide According to Lori (SGAL). The topic for this first edition is the Serial Comma. In general, there are a few style/grammar rules that do not make sense to me. While I would never apply these in formal writings for a client, this is how I tend to write things that are intended for a casual audience.

The Serial Comma

In the SGAL, the use of a serial comma is always mandatory.

What Is a Serial Comma

The Serial Comma is the last comma in a list of items within a sentence.

“The serial comma…is the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

Consider this example about pie:

  • They wanted to sample chocolate, coconut, berries and cream.
  • They wanted to sample chocolate, coconut, berries, and cream.

Did they want to try three pies or four? Does the shop have a pie with berries, a cream pie, and a “berries & cream” pie? Unless you know the whole menu and/or the intent of the customer, you can’t be sure of their desires. And, what is the purpose of a pie shop if not to satisfy desires? hmmmm?

The serial comma originated in Oxford and was also supported at Harvard University.

Why Use a Serial Comma

The use of a serial comma enhances readability (giving the reader another mental “pause”) and adds clarity—or provides unambiguity.

Even if the comma is not necessary for clarity or to provide unambiguity, the mental “pause” the reader will take will enhance readability.

Why We Avoided the Serial Comma

Back in ye olden tymes…

Think back to a time when printed newspapers were the key (only?) source of news. The rationale was that the serial comma took up space. In the printing technology of the time, every single character in a story mattered. Saving commas on a story could make the difference between fitting it on the page or not.

And then we went digital…

Once we had digital input of news stories and print layout–along with adjustments for leading and kerning of fonts–this was far less important and might not even matter. By then, however, it was standard practice in the journalism industries.

Today…

Mainstream

Even with all the technological advances, both the Associated Press (AP) and Chicago Manual of Style require skipping the serial comma.

Recent News

The Oxford PR Guide (yes, part of the same Oxford that requires the serial comma) recommended leaving out the serial comma.

The SGAL

Consider these font/style/type abilities:

  • No more need to adjust the text/copy/content of a story to make it fit the space allowed by print.
    • Print space can be quite different with adjustments to font size, spacing, leading, and kerning. Within the parameters of the assignment, any story can easily fit into any story block in the page layout.
    • With so few printed stories and a never-ending webpage for each article, a few more characters no longer matters.
  • No more fully-justified text: many print publications now recognize that the “ragged” edge of a left-justified story is easier on the eyes and provides a quicker and more accurate read.
  • No more hyphenated words: software can now adjust for the need of hyphenation.

Thus, the SGAL mandates the use of the serial comma. The reasons for omission are obsolete, and the reasons for inclusion are logical. Now that print is arguably a “dying media”, and most news and other timely stories are delivered via mobile devices, there certainly is room for the serial comma. As long as there is room, why not increase readability? Why not improve clarity?

Sources:
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/serial-comma.aspx