Tag Archives: tips

Write The Docs EU — Christine Burwinkle — Pairing with designers to create a seamless user experience

I’m at Write The Docs EU today in Budapest and will post semi–unpolished notes from sessions throughout the day after each talk finishes.

Christine is a tech writer from Atlassian, who is best known for Jira and Confluence.

  • Went from five to thirty designers in the last two years.
  • Goal: Help casual users, too!
  • Ten tech writers, 400 developers.

Techniques borrowed from designers are used for their writing.

Three main design principles (printed and framed, hanging on their office wall):

  1. Be familiar
  2. Grow with me (help users become power users)
  3. Give me clarity

Aside: Android UX principle is her personal favorite.

Audience/Personas — they printed them everywhere.

Designers took a year–long project:

  1. What role is a feature targeting.
  2. What is assumed skills/background
  3. How do

Leverage data from designers to help them craft better documentation.

Measure success by piggybacking:

  • Usability testing to determine if they need documentation, and publishing FAQs (if necessary).
  • Analytics results.

Diving into borrowing design techniques

Workshopping example: Empathy maps (to bring focus to the user)

  • Better understand their feelings “before and after” a situation
  • Work backwards from the “after” situation to create an ideal state, and empower users.

They’re huge fans of Post–Its:

  • Easy to move ideas around.
  • Excellent for separate collaboration and brainstorming.
  • Inexpensive, mobile, and fun!

Workshopping example: Sparring sessions

  • Critique session to bring group thinking into design and planning.
  • Confirms if goals are met with the prototype.

Sparring with TWs (technical writers)

Before the session, TW sends:

  • Draft to discuss
  • List of goals in the document

Superb sparring session tips

  • Timebox!
  • If your team is given to negativity, try positives–only for five minutes. Fantastic idea!
  • Make sure everyone is heard. Use a checklist, or give everyone one minute to list feedback.
  • Leave with at least three action items.

Workshopping example: 6–ups

  • Divide a sheet into six parts.
  • Focuses on ideal solutions.
  • Gets out of thinking in words. (Draw!)
  • Great method to build on ideas from colleagues.

Workshopping example: User stories

  • How does a user get to a feature? Is it controlled? From many different areas with different goals?
  • What does a user do before? What do they (usually) do next?
  • If they fall out of line in the process, documentation is needed for additional context.
  • Lo–Fi: Use colored stickers to “vote”, then build the document plan based on problem areas.
  • Australian slang: “Doco” is short for documentation. :)

Finding the right projects — look for:

  • A team that finds value in design and tech writing.
  • A designer who sees value in the docs
  • A new project that’s running lean and has some momentum.
  • Look for projects that are data–driven.

Explore and expand

  • Read design principles and techniques.
  • Follow UX blogs.
  • Write a documentation experience plan.
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View an article with Instapaper Text only using the keyboard

As a happy, longtime Instapaper user, I need the Instapaper Text bookmarklet often when settling in for a lengthy read on my MacBook Air.

I’d like to share a tip that’ll save time of switching to your mouse or trackpad.

When the bookmarklet is saved to your browser, you can use it with the page you’re viewing by following these steps:

  1. Move your cursor to the address (a.k.a. location) bar by pressing Command + L.1
  2. Type the first few letters of the bookmarklet name (or the whole thing if you type quickly).
  3. Press Enter.

If you use folders in Instapaper2, you can take this a step further by saving the bookmarklet for those folders as well.

  1. Mac: Works with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari
  2. Pro tip. If you send saved articles from Instapaper to your Kindle, don’t mix text articles with media so those particular entries aren’t wasting space in that periodical (Amazon’s term, not mine). I have video, audio, and photo folders as well. 

Caveat when upgrading from Google Authenticator 2.0.0 to 2.0.1 (iOS)

If you upgraded to Google Authenticator 2.0.0 (see my last post) and recreated all your account tokens, I’d like to warn you.

Your old account tokens will be restored. This means it’ll be difficult to determine which ones are current.

Solution: Rename your current accounts before upgrading from 2.0.0 to 2.0.1 with these steps:

  1. Tap the pencil icon located at the top right corner.
  2. Tap on the name of each field to edit.
  3. When you’re done, tap the check mark located at the top right corner.

Google Authenticator 2.0.1 - Edit Step 1 Google Authenticator 2.0.1 - Edit Step 2

After you upgrade, you can confirm the new tokens still work, then delete the old ones.

My thoughts on NMX BlogWorld 2013

Brett Kelly and Bryan Villarin

Almost one month has passed and I’d say it’s a good time to share my meager notes of my experience at NMX BlogWorld 2013 in Las Vegas.

  • If you aren’t able to help a visitor with their super–specific question(s), give at least one takeaway so they don’t leave empty–handed. For example, someone’s blog was focused on browsing sites securely, and an Incognito window with Google Chrome was new to them. That was nifty.
  • For the most part, most attendees are shy. If someone glances in your direction, and they’re a few feet from your booth, introduce yourself or say “hello”. You never know.
  • WiFi will not work consistently.
  • Keep your laptop and phone charged.
  • Save a few relevant Twitter searches for the event/conference.
  • Bring business cards. I didn’t, and I won’t make that mistake again.
  • Carry a couple pens and pocket notebook.
  • After seeing a panel of speakers, open your notebook and write for 5–10 minutes about anything that comes to mind. Do the same thing at the end of the day. (This is also useful for everyday life.)

I also met Brett Kelly for the first time ever in real life and we took a photo. He’s super cool. (He spoke at “Productivity Power Panel: Learn the Tools, Tactics, & Workflows of Highly Productive Bloggers”, and I’ll post my notes from that separately.)

Overall, I had a great time working at the WordPress Happiness Bar in the exhibitors’ area with several other fine Automatticians, and I look forward to more opportunities like this in the future.


Shortly after OS X Mountain Lion was released, James — or J–Huff, as I’d like to call him — let me know that I should give Mail another try. (I’m a longtime Mozilla Thunderbird user.) While I don’t have a HiDPI (retina) laptop, he said I would settle into Mail just fine, and will wonder why I ever used Thunderbird.

While getting accustomed to Mail, I tried to figure out a way for a keyboard shortcut to move selected messages to a folder I designate. (Reason: Mail uses a default “Archive” folder that I can’t change like my Drafts, Sent, Trash, or Junk folder. I previously setup an “Archives” folder.)

So, I’m really glad I stumbled onto Matt Gemmell’s post, “Favorite Mailboxes in Lion Mail”. I now have keyboard shortcuts to move one or more messages to any of these folders very quickly:

  • Inbox (Command-Control–1)
  • Archives (Command-Control–2)
  • Automattic (Command-Control–3)
  • @Action (Command-Control–4)

By the way, the reason why I used Thunderbird because it’s open source, and I could switch easily from Eudora. Isn’t that a blast from the past?

If you have any other Mail tips, please leave a link in the comments. Thanks!

Drag and drop files easily with Expose and screen corners [OS X]

The other day, Lifehacker posted about Yoink, which "[acts] as a Middleman for Dragged and Dropped Files, Is a Life Saver on Small Screens". Since I have an 11-inch MacBook Air, I’ve already found a workaround that doesn’t require additional software. Note: I’m still using OS X Snow Leopard.

  1. Go to System Preferences > Expose & Spaces.
  2. Under Active Screen Corners, set one or two corners as All Windows. (I have the two right corners set for All Windows, and the bottom left for Desktop.)

With the source and destination Finder windows open, drag the file(s) to one of the active screen corners, hover over the source folder, then drop onto the active window.

P.S. Hi everybody. I’m geeking out, and I’m okay with it.

Pronto writing in six steps

I don’t like hand writing as much as typing simply because I’m a slow writer. The faster I write, the less legible my words become.

It’s incredibly easy to get going with a MacBook Air (Oct 2010), especially since it wakes up from sleep so quickly.

Mac OS X on my MacBook Air

  1. Open lid.
  2. Enter password.
  3. Press Command + Spacebar to activate Spotlight (or whichever keyboard shortcut used to activate Quicksilver , LaunchBar, or Alfred App), type “Bean” or whichever text editor/word processor you use, then press Enter.
  4. Frantically type whatever thoughts are spewing from your mind.
  5. Command + S to save your document, then Command + Q to quit your text editor program.
  6. Close lid.

Windows 7

You can type the program name after pressing the Windows key.

Once you’re done writing, Control + S to save your document, then Alt + F4 to close the program.


Which programs do I use to write? The following are essentially free simple text editing programs, designed with minimal features so you can focus on writing. If you like any of them, please donate to the developers.

I save these small text files to a dedicated folder within Dropbox[1. Affiliate link to Dropbox. "For every friend who joins and installs Dropbox, we'll give you 500 MB and your friend 250MB of bonus space (up to a limit of 16 GB)!"] only for text files, with a specific prefix to help me find it later. (e.g. BP means blog post in “BP – Pronto writing in six steps.txt”.)

Why not use Microsoft Word, Apple iWork Pages, or OpenOffice.org Writer? If you’re only working with plain text, you don’t need the extra features and bloat.

If you don’t know the HTML tags for post formatting, copy your text[2. Select All for: (Windows) Ctrl+A; (Mac OS X) Command+A], paste it[3. Paste for: (Windows) Ctrl+V; (Mac OS X) Command+V] into your blog post, then format and/or add links accordingly.

Android apps I use, plus a few battery tips

Overall, I’m very happy with the experience using my HTC Droid Incredible. I’ve had it for about ten days.

After a couple of days with it, I root my phone with unrevoked3. (Ambitious, huh? I guess Wil Wheaton recently did the same with his HTC Droid Incredible. Wheaton!!!)

Side note: Why did I want to root my phone? To uninstall apps pre-installed by Verizon Wireless that I wouldn’t use. (Crapware.)

The following is a list of Android apps I’ve installed and used so far:

  • Android System Info
  • Barcode Scanner – When checking prices at the Cal Poly Pomona bookstore, this saved me $162.57 (Breakdown: $62.11 immediately + $100.46 Amazon.com Buy Back, which I’ll do at the end of the quarter.)
  • Chrome to Phone – Opens links from Google Chrome on my desktop to my phone.
  • Clockr – A simple clock widget that displays text, not numbers.
  • Dropbox – Along with Epistle (see the next item), this lets me save photos to any Dropbox folder, keeping my phone storage clear.
  • Epistle – Synchronizes text files to/from a specified folder in your Dropbox account.
  • Gmote – Control playback of videos and music, browse your file system, or use phone as a keyboard or mouse.
  • K-9 Mail – Robust email client, better than the built-in app. I use IMAP with my email server. (See update below)
  • Mint.com – View your balances and budget. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support adding cash transactions.
  • Pandora [Radio] – I haven’t tried Slacker Radio yet.
  • [Google] Reader – The formatting looks good. I prefer this over visiting the website on my phone.
  • [Google] Shopper
  • Silent Boot – Silences the “Droid” start up sound when powering your phone on. Stay discreet if you’re in a quiet room and need to restart your phone.
  • Silent Sleep – Specify when your phone should be silent.
  • Swype (Beta) – If you’re sick of tapping an OSK, you’ll love this app. I was comfortable using it after a couple days. I can write fairly quickly.
  • Titanium Backup
  • TLDR – Saves articles for later reading directly to your Instapaper account.
  • TweetDeck – More powerful than the official Twitter app.
  • Uninstaller
  • Google Voice – I heart this.
  • WordPress – In case I want to draft/publish a blog post from my phone, this works very well.

After I root my phone, I uninstalled the following pre-installed apps:

  • City ID
  • Footprints
  • Skype – I might reinstall this if I needed. At the moment, I wouldn’t want to use it while I’m out and about.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

Battery life and task killers

From what I’ve read so far, it’s only bad to have rampant apps installed if they constantly use your CPU in the background. The Android memory system is pretty solid.

On Friday, I used my phone pretty heavily between classes. (TweetDeck, texting several friends with Google Voice, and Pandora.) It was unplugged between 7:00 AM and 1:45 PM. When I got home, my battery was down to 25%.

I might have to try the bumb charge method outlined in this HTC forum thread, plus remove the calendar widget. I technically don’t need it.

Actually, I should try one thing before trying another. That way, I know which factor was relevant. For now, the calendar widget is gone.

Otherwise, I’ll upgrade to the Seidio Innocell 3500 mAh Extended Life Battery shortly.

Note to self: With Auto-sync disabled and Background data enabled (Settings > Accounts & Sync), I still got notified of a text message through Google Voice.

Update 2011-01-09 22:10 — TweetDeck also updates with Auto-sync disabled. What apps are dependent on Auto-sync? (I’ll search for the answer eventually if nobody leaves a comment. Hehe.)

Update 2011-01-10

  • 06:15 — After charging all night, powered off phone, unplugged, then replugged the power cable. The orange light appeared, meaning the battery resumed charging.
  • 06:45 — Green light from battery charging.
  • 09:10 — Listening to Pandora Radio, checking TweetDeck, downloaded a few PDF files, and chatted with a couple friends through Google Voice (27 messages). My phone was on vibrate the whole time.
  • 10:50 — Battery level at 40%
  • 11:25 — While eating lunch and reading, my battery level went down to 28%. I checked my K-9 Mail settings and disabled background sync. (Settings > Global > Network)
  • 11:29 — Stopping the K-9 Mail service. Battery level at 27%
  • 11:42 — In class; battery level at 26 %
  • 12:50 — Battery level at 26%

For now, I’ve (sadly) uninstalled K-9 Mail and will resume using the built-in Mail app. I’ll resume my testing and publish a new post at the end of the week (so I don’t keep adding “clutter” to this).

Saving money on U.S. Passport photos

I almost got charged the CVS passport photo fee ($7.99) when printing a 4″ x 6″ photo with two 2″ x 2″ photos on it.

With the help of my friend, James, I took my own passport photos. I showed James how to compose the photo, stood in front of an off-white wall, then James pressed the shutter button. After making a few necessary color and lighting adjustments in Lightroom, I exported the file as a JPEG. Lastly, ePassportPhoto.com helped crop a single JPEG to output five 2″ x 2″ headshots on a 4″ x 6″ print.

I went to my nearby CVS (0.5 mi away), knowing that they charge $0.29 for an instant 4″ x 6″ print. All they had to do was take my $0.29. The kiosk did the rest. When I got the the register, cute cashier said they might charge the passport photo fee of $7.99 because of the intention of my photo. She called the manager to the front, and he told her to charge me the $0.29.

Cody, who used to work at CVS, explained that the passport photo price applies only when they take the photos for the customer.

When I went to the Temple City U.S. Post Office, I had no problems. Barbara carefully cut two photos out for me, reviewed my application, made a few corrections, then took my payment.

I submitted all that on Monday, May 10th. I’m not going anywhere, so there’s no rush. They estimated five weeks, but hopefully it won’t take as long.

P.S. I forgot to link to this blog post, “The Stupid Passport Photo Ripoff.”

Update May 28th, 2010: I just received my U.S. Passport book. That’s a turnaround of 14 business days. (Nice.) According to the information slip in the envelope, my passport card will arrive will arrive separately. None of this matters because I’m not planning on going anywhere out of the country anytime soon. I just wanted to have a a passport on hand, just in case.

12 Tips for Better Sales on eBay

After recently selling a few things on eBay, I’ve compiled some suggestions for you in hopes it’ll increase legitimate bidding activity.


  • Use a large, readable font. On a 22″ wide screen LCD monitor, 14 point is ridiculously small. Try 18 point and the Georgia font.
  • Create sections in your auction description with bold headings. (e.g. what’s for sale, why you’re selling, item condition, shipping or local pickup, retail pricing)
  • Check for spelling, especially in the title.

Completeness and/or full disclosure

  • Explain yourself. Most auction descriptions are too brief or simply repeat the item name. Why are you selling the item? How long have you had it for? What comes in the box?
  • Even though eBay auctions have a built-in shipping, return policy, and payment tab, repeat the shipping, handling, and payment details in the description. (You know, for redundancy and decreasing miscommunication.)
  • Don’t use stock photos. The bidders will usually ask, so save them time.
  • Display several clear photos of the item. If you know someone with a DSLR camera, get a white foam poster board and take the photos of the item(s) on it. Try to take the photo in some shade. If it’s too bright, get a friend to hold a diffuser over the item(s). For best results, make a light tent. (See “How To: DIY $10 Macro Photo Studio” or “How to Make An Inexpensive Light Tent – DIY“)
  • Link to a few glowing reviews of the item.

Don’t pay unnecessary fees

  • Host photos elsewhere. There’s no need to pay eBay more money for photo hosting. If you have Flickr, WordPress/WordPress.com, or Tumblr, create a set/page with a gallery of photos for your item(s). Don’t forget to link to the photos within the auction description!

Increase views, watchers, and bids

  • Use eBay’s first free image so it shows up in the listings.
  • End the auction around 9:30pm, and if possible, on the weekend. This will help get more buyers looking at your auction, especially for more expensive items. If you end the auction at 3pm on a weekday, it’ll be more difficult for people at the office to participate in the last few minutes of a bidding war. Don’t forget to calculate the time zones you want to cover. (For example, if you want to end the auction at 9:30pm EST, start the auction at 6:30pm PST.)
  • For a fee ($0.10), eBay can schedule your auction to start at a certain time and day. If you want to save that ten cents per auction, and you’ll be at a computer when you want to start the auction, fill everything out and save as a draft. You can post it later.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take some photos of some more items I’m going to put up for auction.

Do you have more time-tested suggestions? Please take a few minutes to share them with a comment, and explain how it’s helped you. Thanks! (Back off, spammers. I’ll nuke comments and ban IP addresses without hesitation.)