Category Archives: Tools of the Trade

Writing in Four Dimensions

To appreciate writing in four dimensions, look at Mike Matas explain in crisp sentences the new generation of digital book that he has developed with his team at Push Pop Press: Our Choice.  Written by Al Gore, the book is a follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, but this time Gore makes his case in an interactive, multimedia e-book. The content bends and flexes, moves and breathes. For the first time, Gore says, he is able to bring together deep research with images and sounds to prove his thesis. Details infuse every key point, down to the bars on bar graphs designed into a natural landscape.

The implications for readers are enormous; we must train ourselves so we do not let the gloss dazzle away our skepticism -not of Gore, I support his concerns on the environment – but of any content presented in such a slick fashion. People believe what they see on television, after all, even if it is not true.

The implications for writers are also enormous: crafting a story or an argument must be done with words and with design and with video and music and graphs and choices. What writers once conveyed using only words to get from their minds to readers’ imaginations, they will be expected to do to a standard of media-rich layers that can be touched and pinched and turned: “Using Push Pop Press authors can weave together text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics into immersive multi-touch interactive books, without dealing with the complexities and costs normally involved in software development. ”

Writers have always had to anticipate what Mortimer J. Adler explained in 1940 in How to Read a Book, “The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading.” Adler tells his readers, “If you have the habit of asking a book questions as you read, you are a better reader than if you do not..Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author…But understanding is a two-way operation, the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher has to say.” The standard for reading and writing is becoming an immediate two-way conversation.

And while the advice writing teachers have always given – show, don’t tell – now takes on a literal meaning as well as a literary one, a foundation of simple and crisp will always under-gird the glitz. Play Matas’s clip on TED, but do it by choosing a language other than English. Note the correlation between Matas’s sentences and the translations: he explains an amazing complex product with direct, well chosen words that are relatively idiom-free, and immensely clear. As writers consider not only how to incorporate sights and sounds, I believe they will also need to consider how what they write translates, since choice of language is one more dimension to consider in new digital books.

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Filed under Classic, Environment, Technology, Tools of the Trade

Missed the meeting? Look what I found…

Did you ever hear the expression, “I would love to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting?” Well, no need to give up your species if it was one of these meetings.

These are innovative educational projects, which means that people are trying things without budgets working on the energy of their own convictions. I wonder if they realized that these would be there for all to see. I know I attended a meeting in which I was gawking too close to my camera and generally looking goofy. I will make sure I am spiffed up next time.

Check out the topics. If you wade past the “Okay, testing mikes…where is …” stuff, you can learn not only about the projects themselves, but about how people work. As for flashmeeting, it works really well, from my experience.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Keystrokes, Technology, Tools of the Trade

Choose your relevant search results or let the machine do it?

Every time Beth tagged a great link for me on del.icio.us I wanted to thank her or comment. That thought hung around my head for a while, until I found diigo.com through a twitter.com post. I installed the diigo toolbar, but since I only have one other person using it with me so far, it isn’t as much fun as I had hoped. I imagined that the knowledge benefit from social networking with bookmarks would grow exponentially with the extra capabilities of notes and highlighting that diigo offers.

Then Beth sent me lumifi.com, which alleges that it reads the results for me and selects the relevant parts. This is the part that has me concerned. Do I really want to let this thing do my research for me? How much will it cull out or leave in? Sorting through piles of results means man is required to think. Sorting through piles of results often tempts me down paths of distraction. I am concerned but will investigate.

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Filed under Classic, Just thinking, Looking forward, Tools of the Trade

Bloggers Have Social, But Did They ASK Seinfeld?

Bloggers have joined the ranks of other professionals and arranged an event just so they can hang out. True to a sort of blogger ethic, the event makes no pretense of being a convention dedicated to professional development: it is for socializing, period.

I like that about bloggers. After all, this medium has been accused of being the wild west of journalism, so its practitioners should not have to feign some stuffy reason for a convention.

I downloaded their brochure to see what all the exciting events would be; since it is in NYC, the brochure’s author jazzed it up a bit with images of Seinfeld and the Sex and the City cast. Hmm, can you do that? Can those images be used to advertise an event without those folks’ permission? What if Jerry and Sarah Jessica did not give permission to a group that “hails from 8 countries and 20 US states.” Would the Blogger-Social be giving other bloggers a bad name by bad practice?

I hope not. Because the beef “regular” journalists have with bloggers is that quite a few are free and loose with journalistic standards. Would using images for an ad without permission be in that category?

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Filed under Tools of the Trade, Training

Grammar Worship?

National Grammar Day is March 4. I am still not sure exactly how I will celebrate, but even as a devotee of good grammar, I am cautious of celebrating too wildly. It seems grammar loving may have become somewhat of a cult:

We owe much to our mother tongue. It is through speech and writing that we understand each other and can attend to our needs and differences. If we don’t respect and honor the rules of English, we lose our ability to communicate clearly and well.

English has a long story (ever see Beowulf in the original?), so I do have concerns about waxing too poetic about “respect[ing] and honor[ing] the rules of English.” Grammar rules did not come on tablets of stone on mountain top.

Just when I was about to worry that these grammar day folks were getting a bit too strict and stuffy, I scrolled down far enough to see that they will celebrate with Grammartinis.

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Filed under Classic, Inkwells, Tools of the Trade

You would think they would know better

I click on ads very selectively. I just clicked on an ad because its message irks me for some reason: “Your corporate communications are too important to be left to just anybody.” The message in the ad, however, comes not from the words I just quoted, and it gives me an opportunity to harp on a point I have been making in this blog for a week or so.

The message comes because that quote is paired with a picture of a 20-something young man dressed in jeans, a V-necked argyle knit sweater, and a beige corduroy jacket, albeit slouching a bit. Since the advertiser is a company that claims to do educational marketing through multimedia, I find this ad not only rather silly but especially so for a media company. Should corporations avoid interviewing young men dressed like I just described before they ask them about their programming, design or media skills? Might not 20-something males be more informed about technology than fashion? The folks who came up with Google, or Facebook or MySpace or Napster or other similar dot com success wonders could have been caught guilty of the same fashion faux pas.  The even sillier part is that one of the founders of this media company is shown on their site in a tee-shirt.

Before dismissing this discussion as lightweight, connect this with my earlier posts about the close connection between image and text. The text in the ad has little meaning and no impact without the image of the young man. The subtler message is – oh, I don’t know – people who can’t afford suits can’t work a camera?

Sadly, in our digital world in which this company claims to be able to think outside the box, their vision is still trapped inside the box.

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Filed under Technology, Tools of the Trade

Cyberslacking?

Sneaking in a few looks at non-work related websites while on the job now has an official name: cyberslacking. Universities around the globe have studied internet use at work and deemed much of it a waste of companies’ time.

Besides that, the ethical questions pop up like is it okay if you use online banking and skip a lunch trip to the branch so you can finish a project? If a phone call to your car repair or doctor during the work day would be a toll call, is it better for the boss if you use your provider’s web site customer form?

Those who wrestle with those types of questions will not be the ones to zip to http://www.overheardintheoffice.com or http://www.annoyingcoworker.com to air their grievances about the dude in the next cubicle.(No matter how mad you are at that creep at work, don’t vent online!)

Either way, we have two breeds of people in cyber space: the especially careful and the especially loose whose actions will push the rules for the rest of us. I recommend hashing out guideslines at work before any of these things become problems, because the issues are here to stay.

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Filed under Technology, Tools of the Trade