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Gmail Gmail Lab came out with a new feature that helps you to suggest more people you might want to send an email to. When you send an email to a group of people, whether family, friends, or colleagues, it’s easy to forget someone if you don’t use an email distribution list. You’d have to enter each individual name in the To: field, if you remember every person you want to send the email to.

The “Suggest More Recipients” feature remembers your emailing pattern and suggests names/emails as you enter the To: field. Clicking on the suggested name(s) adds the contact(s) to the To: field automatically. 

Suggest Email Recipients

What a brilliant and useful feature! I often send emails to multiple recipients and am always trying to remember who I’m forgetting. With this feature, Gmail helps you to remember the people you might want to include in the emailing list. It’ll be so much easier sending emails to multiple recipients from now on!

To enable this feature, go to the Labs tab under Settings in Gmail. Scroll down the list to find and enable the Suggest More Recipients feature.

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/29/gmail-lab-suggest-email-recipients/
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YouTube YouTube has been blocked in China for a few weeks now, yet another victim of the Great Firewall of China. Luckily, I have Witopia Personal VPN so I am able access YouTube along with all the other sites that are blocked in China.  If you’re in China and you can’t access YouTube, you can use YouTube Proxy to watch all the videos you’ve been missing out on.

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/26/accessing-youtube-in-china/
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Increased ProductivityJust read an article about a research done by University of Melbourne claiming that workplace Internet leisure browsing (WILB) actually increases employee productivity! At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke but it wasn’t.

The article makes so much sense! I think about companies that block websites like Gmail, Hotmail, YouTube, and Facebook so that their employees can focus solely on work. In theory, that’s supposed to boost productivity, but does it really?

It should be common sense that a happy employee = increased productivity. That should be the first thing managers need to know about managing people and work productivity.

imageUnfortunately, many companies just don’t get it. Management often come up with all sorts of policies to monitor, restrict, punish, and/or penalize employees regarding X, Y, and Z. Some companies deduct your salary if you’re late to work. Some companies block certain websites while others block Internet access altogether. Some companies even screen emails and phone calls! My last employer held back one teacher’s paycheck because she didn’t return a stapler at the end of the year. And my last apartment building management used public humiliation as a way to get their tenants in order.

That’s the kind of penny-pinching, morale-lowering micromanagement that increases employee turnover rate, not productivity!

Happy Employees = Increased Productivity!

Thankfully, National Instruments is the kind of company that makes its employees happy working at NI. The IT department does not block websites or restrict any Internet access. Matter of fact, we’re all administrators of our own computer! With the exception of P2P software, we can install any legal software we want. If we wanted to install World of Warcraft, we could!

Not that I want to broadcast this to the whole world (not to mention that my managers read my blog sometimes), but I do check my personal emails at work and occasionally work on non-work related stuff. I don’t spend a significant amount of time doing personal stuff, but sometimes I get urgent emails or matters that require immediate attention. Or I need to call the bank or book a flight or schedule a doctor’s appointment. Or maybe I just need a little pick-me-upper in the afternoon when I’m about to arrive at Planet Comatose. For me, being able to balance work and life (and sometimes integrate them) makes an employee like me happy, efficient, productive, and willing to put in overtime when crunch time comes.

A professional is not just somebody who puts in exactly 8 consecutive hours of work everyday, but someone who owns a project and does everything needed to make sure the job gets done with the highest quality. How the job is done, managers need to trust and respect that their employees will do the job. If that means letting employees take a mental break occasionally with a game of Solitaire, an article from their RSS reader, a 10-minute power nap, a good laugh watching a YouTube video, or even, dropping by their kid’s birthday party at school, let them do so. As long as the work/project gets done, there’s no reason to chain them to the desk under surveillance and tight scrutiny.

As you can see, I’m a huge fan of companies that promote project ownership and honor work flexibility. When employees are treated and respected as a professional, then they are more likely to be happy, productive, and loyal.

Happy employees = increased productivity!

Blogging on Company Time

Now something else to think about besides surfing the web on company time. What about blogging on company time? Tom Johnson wrote an excellent post about technical communicators as corporate bloggers. Technical writers are perfect candidates for blogging about company products from a personal, technical, as well as usability perspective.

In the first place, many technical communicators have strong writing backgrounds and often aspire to write novels and pursue other literary endeavors. They usually turn to technical writing as a means of financial sustenance only. For these individuals, the blog format can provide a paradise for their creative side. It can be a format that provides a needed break from procedural writing and gives them the variety they need for a more creatively fulfilling career.

Secondly, technical writers are free from the marketing/business speak that permeates marketing writers. Intimately familiar with the company’s products, technical writers can provide tips, tricks, and other informative insights that many marketing writers aren’t aware of, and they can write it in an honest language void of hype. More informative content written in a refreshingly honest voice better aligns with the purposes for which most people use the Internet: to research, to learn.

imageMaybe blogging on company time does not increase productivity in the sense that less time is spent on the work of documentation. But people in the technical communication profession know that the actual writing of content takes up maybe 10 percent of our work day. Most of the time is spent doing research, working with developers, attending product meetings, reviewing designs, and improving product usability. Documentation is only a small component. The greater role is defined and presented in the usability of the final product.

Technical writers who blog about their work, documentation/software process, product(s), usability, technical aspects, tips, tricks, and what not, challenges, provide a refreshingly new perspective about a company, its products, and its employees. In a way, this type of corporate blogging promotes an open channel of communication between users, potential customers, potential employees, other developers, and other technical communicators. Granted, too much honesty and openness could potentially lead to some nasty legal/intellectual property issues as well as negative publicity. However, the flipside to having an honest, corporate voice out in the open could lead to better products, customer loyalty, happier technical writers (who can’t wait to exercise their creative writing skills), and increased popularity in the world of Web2.0. Perhaps, blogging might become the future of extending product usability beyond documentation.

So can blogging on company time boost productivity, sales, marketability, and usability? Definitely! 

Note: In case any of you are curious to know, I’m not being paid to blog here. 99% of the posts on this blog are written on my own time, not company time. I do take a few seconds during the work day to jot down ideas though. :)

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/23/surfing-the-web-during-work-boosts- productivity/
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image I sit with a group of technical writers at work. Every so often, we’d email or chat about funny English translations we’ve seen around Shanghai / China. It’s a great source of laughter and entertainment for an otherwise quiet and dull afternoon where everybody stares at the computer screen like a zombie digesting an earlier meal. Another source of good laughter for a comatose afternoon is Engrish.com.

One time, a colleague asked if we’ve ever heard of the song “Ken Lee” by Mariah Carey. I don’t listen to pop music so I wouldn’t know. It’s funny I should mention that the only pop concert I ever attended in my life was Mariah Carey’s first (and only) concert in Shanghai. Back in my teaching days, I often get invitations from parents to all sorts of events. One time, a parent gave me a set of Mariah Carey concert tickets. I wasn’t interested, but went anyway just to say I’ve been to a pop concert and saw Mariah Carey live.

The concert was very short and the tickets were ridiculously expensive. At least i didn’t pay for the tickets, but I was very surprised to see the stadium packed with so many Chinese fans. I don’t remember any of the songs Mariah sang during that concert, but I certainly don’t remember any songs called “Ken Lee.” So I was curious why my colleague asked about it. She told us to go home and YouTube the song. (One of these days, YouTube will be a verb in the official English dictionary.)

I looked up “Ken Lee” on YouTube and after watching it, my stomach was in pain from laughing too hard. I’ve posted the video below for your entertainment.

Note: If you live in China, YouTube is blocked and you won’t see anything. You can get your own personal VPN or use the YouTube proxy

http://www.youtube.com/v/_RgL2MKfWTo


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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/20/ken-lee-lost-in-translation/
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I use Windows Live Writer to write my blog posts offline, then schedule them to publish in advance. I love Windows Live Writer because it’s so much easier to write posts offline. With Windows Live Writer, I can add/edit images, insert videos, assign categories/tags, select author, modify the permalink, and password-protect a post without being connected to the Internet. 

Windows Live Writer has a keyword field that allows you to add tags to posts, but it’s not enabled by default. Some WordPress theme templates enable the feature in WLW, but some templates do not. This was the case with one of my blogs. I can write posts offline and assign categories, but I cannot add tags. I have to publish the posts first, then go to the WordPress dashboard to add tags. It was kind of annoying, and I didn’t want to install a new theme template. I was searching for a work around solution and found this utility to enable keywords/tags field to WLW. You can download the WriterKeywordsEnable utility to force the tags field to your WLW.

Windows Live Writer Tags field

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/16/enabling-wordpress-tag-support-in-w indows-live-writer/
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As this year’s college graduates get ready to enter the work field, the slowing economy and soaring unemployment rate make finding a job even more difficult. New graduates are now competing with millions of other unemployed as many companies are laying off workers and/or not hiring. The job situation is even worse in China as 1.2 million college graduates compete for limited jobs, including selling pork.

What makes one candidate stand out among millions of job applicants? The following video from YouKu (China’s version of YouTube) demonstrates exactly that! Check out this guy’s video CV for a position related to video production.

Now that got me thinking about what makes a candidate stand out when we hire technical writers at National Instruments. I’m not involved with hiring so everything I write here is just my personal opinion, but from conversations with colleagues and managers, it’s not that hard to identify a talent when we see one. That’s not to say it’s easy to find a candidate like Ma Wen in the video above. 

For example, when we say that we’re looking for someone with interest in technology and writing, that means we are looking for a geek who is passionate about technology and has already demonstrated that passion in various projects, writing samples, previous job/experiences, etc… A colleague told me that during his interview, he mentioned something about being a geek (or nerd). He was hired. I’m sure he was hired for many other reasons as well, but the point is, NI hires the best and brightest people and we keep our eyes out for talents.

With that said, please don’t go and send resumes to me because I’m not involved with hiring. I don’t think we’re hiring right now either, but maybe if a candidate like Ma Wen jumps out from our pile of resumes, that might change.

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/13/competing-for-jobs-in-china/
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facebook In Facebook, you can import notes from an external blog. I have several blogs that I would like to import to Facebook, but unfortunately, I can only configure the import setting to import from one blog. Which blog do I import notes from? My geeky, but most popular Shanghai Tech Writer blog? My personal/family blog? My health/diet-related blog?

Yahoo! Pipes Well, choose no more. You can use Yahoo! Pipes to combine multiple RSS feeds into one! This online tool uses pipes as an illustrative method to build, combine, customize, and/or funnel feeds from different sources to one output. I used Yahoo! Pipes to combine all my blog RSS feeds into one feed. Now my Facebook friends can read all my blog posts!

How To Build a Pipe Tutorial

Here’s a video tutorial on how to build a pipe in just a few minutes. You can also find some online tutorials on creating various pipes.

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/09/combining-multiple-rss-feeds-using- yahoo-pipes/
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imageI took a 3 months leave of absence from work (and blogging) due to a family emergency in the U.S. I came back to work today and found 934 unread emails in my inbox! My goodness!

It’s going to take me all day (at least) to go through all the emails, catch up on everything I’ve missed, jog my memory on what I was working on before I left, not to mention, remember anything from the NI style guide or how to use the tools we use for technical writing!

Back to Day 1 of working at NI all over again, except now with 934 emails to catch up!

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/08/a-long-absence-and-a-surprise-inbox /
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Check out this amazing Super Mario Galaxy birthday cake that this guy spent months making for his daughter’s fourth birthday party. And then kids devoured this masterpiece in a few minutes!



 

Here’s a picture of the masterpiece.

Super Mario Galaxy Cake

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/06/amazing-super-mario-galaxy-cake/
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Gmail Gmail is undoubtedly the most popular email service out there because it’s free, reliable, easy to use, and offers a huge disk space. Back in the days when Gmail first came out around 2004, all the other free online email services offered a mere 2MB of email space. Gmail offered 2GB, and in addition, adds more space to your account every second.

Who needs 2GB of space anyway? So people stopped deleting emails. I stopped deleting emails. Now my Gmail account has over over 7GB of space and I’ve used up 25% of my space. That’s 1.8GB of emails, useful information, receipts, articles, news, RSS feed, attachments, pictures, files, and junk.

Gmail disk space

I probably don’t need to keep everything, but who cares about deleting emails when we have "unlimited" space? So what happens if Google goes bust one day or their servers crash? Where will all our information be? Those of you that heavily rely on Gmail to manage your life, don’t say you’ve never been warned.

Always back up your hard drive. Always back up your email account!

Check out Gmail Backup. Download this software to your computer and it will back up your Gmail account.

Gmail Backup

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Originally posted by Susan at http://www.shanghaitechwriter.com/2009/04/02/back-up-your-email-account/