Month: August 2014

Dispatch from the Trenches #7

Pictures are worth a thousand words. Instead of jabbering on for thousands of words, here are three videos I enjoyed this week. I hope you enjoy them too.


“The District” is a Washington D.C. based timelapse project I decided to take on since I’ve lived in the area my entire life and I think it has beauty and architecture that needs to be seen.

Beautiful collection of shots from around Washington, D.C. This is a beautiful city with interesting sights and architecture. This collection captures them beautifully.

Beautiful Ghost: A Filmmaker’s Look at Chernobyl

On the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Christiaan Welzel and his wife, Kseniya, entered the Exclusion Zone. Christiaan’s cinematic footage captures the eerie beauty of the desolation and decay.

Haunting visit to a place of terrible things. the room full of gas masks is haunting.

Stunning Video: The Portuguese Man-of-War Up Close

The Portuguese man-of-war—a colonial organism related to the jellyfish—is infamous for its painful sting, but one photographer finds the beauty inside this animal’s dangerous embrace. For nearly two years, retired U.S. Navy combat photographer Aaron Ansarov has collected and photographed man-of-wars that wash up on a local Florida beach.

It’s a beautiful look at a deadly creature. The photos in the Deadly Beauty series are stunning.

On Ending the Tyranny of 24/7 Email

End the Tyranny of 24/7 Email

Why would less email mean better productivity? Because, as Ms. Deal found in her research, endless email is an enabler. It often masks terrible management practices.

When employees shoot out a fusillade of miniature questions via email, or “cc” every team member about each niggling little decision, it’s because they don’t feel confident to make a decision on their own. Often, Ms. Deal found, they’re worried about getting in trouble or downsized if they mess up.

When I am not at work, I do not check work email. I do not think about work email. I do not consider what could be going on in work email.

If it’s in email, it is inherently unimportant.

If something urgent were happening, I would receive a phone call. No phone call. No urgency.

In contrast, when employees are actually empowered, they make more judgment calls on their own. They also start using phone calls and face-to-face chats to resolve issues quickly, so they don’t metastasize into email threads the length of “War and Peace.”

See? Face-to-face meetings or phone calls are for important things. Email is for ass-covering and uncertainty.

These changes can’t happen through personal behavior: The policy needs to come from the top. (If your boss regularly emails you a high-priority question at 11 p.m., the real message is, “At our company, we do email at midnight.”)

This is another important point. The example is set from the top-down. If your manager and his manager and his manager all email all night long. That’s the message. I keep my work email habits to myself mostly because people are aghast when I tell them I don’t check it outside of work.

But when I ask them how often they’ve had something in email that absolutely could not wait until they were back in the office?

Very rarely do they have any examples. And the ones they do offer were accompanied by a phone call. This Labor Day let’s think about how we labor. We give all of our time to work in exchange for what?

More work. You won’t ever get ahead. The harder you work and the more time you pour into your work and email, the more you’re rewarded with more work to do.

Stand with me. Hold the line. Do not check work email outside of work.

Using a binder clip tripod to shoot time-lapse video

Instagram’s new Hyperlapse app is a lot of fun. It will allow you to shoot time-lapse videos. It will also smooth out the video with stabilization built into the app itself. I tried it out while walking and riding the Metro. Walking was too jarring for it to capture smooth video. But the Metro ride worked just fine. I’ve posted them to my Instagram account.

After seeing the hyperlapse video of Harry Mark’s morning commute I thought about other places to shoot some video today. While I don’t think I’m good enough to reshoot House of Cards, I did venture out to the Capitol Building and the Reflecting Pool there.

Before I went, I needed a tripod of sorts. Something to hold the phone upright and steady at the very least. Ideally, I wanted to angle the phone. I’ve been looking for a reason to buy an iPhone tripod of some kind. But I needed something now.

I looked through my desk and found two binder clips. They worked perfectly. I have no photos of the setup in action since I was using the phone to film. Here it is recreated at my desk.

iPhone held at an angle
Note the angle. This worked nicely for capturing the tall Capitol Building.
(Yes, it’s a portrait video. Deal with it.)

iPhone held sideways

It works nicely in landscape mode. I appreciated it more than the ducks did.

iPhone held upright
And of course, it will stand upright like a tiny soldier at attention.

Text expansion makes support a breeze

I’ve used various apps to expand snippets into full words or blocks of text for years. It’s made my work in support roles easier and saved me from retyping the same things constantly. I’ve not written much about it until now. I read a post from Chase Clemons on the Be Snappy blog and left a comment there.

For instance, when I don’t have a customer’s name, I use the snippet “`ht” to trigger “Hey there!” I use snippets even down to days of the week and months. Instead of typing out September, just put that as a snippet with “xm9.” Every few seconds you save adds up.
My Best Email Support Tricks and Tips : Snappy

Chase offers some good advice for snippets to make customer support email quicker. I have some tips of my own. While I do less general support now that I’m supporting one application, I have my list of snippets to make my life easier.

Snippet Basics

For TextExpander(Mac) and Breevy (Windows), both of which I use and love. They sync over Dropbox, or via snippet export/import for environments where Dropbox isn’t allowed.

It’s good to choose a trigger character. This is something you’ll type to indicate you’re starting a snippet. It’s not required. But it does prevent words from being swapped for snippets when you don’t want them to be.

I use “Z” as my trigger character so everything starts with Z.

zname is my full name.
zphone is my phone number.
zmail is my email address.
zadd is my full address.

I have zdphone and zdmail for work since I work at the Department of Labor.

How many times do you type these out?

About the 50th time I mistyped Thank You I turned that into zty.
I also use zgm and zga for Good Morning and Good Afternoon.

What about filling in forms?

I also have a snippet that fill in an entire page to book closed captioning for events I run since most of the information is the same. (Shout out to Caption Colorado! Those guys seriously rock!)

Here it is in action:
Closed Captioning snippet

What questions do you often ask?

I have a snippet I use when I’m planning an event. In my current role, I support WebEx. I need some basic information to schedule an event with the desired options.

For this, I enter zplanning because it’s easy to remember. It expands to:

Name of Event:
Will you be using a Webcam?
What will you be sharing? Video? Slides?
Will you be taking Questions/Chats from the remote participants?
Are we recording the event?
Do you need Closed-Captioning?

I send this out along with any specifics for the event. I never have to worry about forgetting to ask something and I have it all listed out in one easy-to-reference place.

Email templates

I get a lot of email questions. Many of them are asking the same questions, so I’ve put together some stock replies.

How do I silence the beeps when people join a conference call?

I respond with zzbeeps.
This expands to:

Dialed in with the Leader code press the following.
*9 – to bring up the menu
3 – turns off the beeps
* – to rejoin the conference

WebEx won’t let me share my Word/Excel/PDF using Share File, but _____ can do it?

I respond with zzwdl.
This expands to:

To get all other files besides PowerPoint files to show up with the Share File option in WebEx you’ll need the WebEx Document Loader.

The application is found here:
It’s listed under WDL Installer/Uninstaller
Direct download link:
You will need administrative rights to install it.
You can verify it installed properly because you’ll see a printer listed as WebEx Document Loader.
Once it’s installed, start a WebEx session and share any files you like and it will work.

Part of my role is to reset passwords and manage accounts. As a result, I sent a lot of password reset emails or messages informing someone of a new or transferred account.

Please setup a new account for John Doe.

I respond with znewebex.

For this, I use some advanced features which I’ll walk through.

First, I need a subject line.

Your new WebEx Account%(Key Tab)

This gives me the subject of Your New WebEx Account and the %(Key Tab) is telling Breevy to press the Tab key.

Now I’m in the body of the email.

%fill%%| tells Breevy I want to enter something before the rest of the snippet runs. I type my greeting, then I press Tab to have the snippet continue.

A WebEx conferencing account has been created for you. Please use the information below to use your account:
Username: %clipboard
Password: Welcome!23 (you will be required to change your password on your first log-on)

Username: %clipboard tells Breevy to input the contents of the clipboard. Before I activate this snippet, I copy the username to the clipboard so it’s inserted automatically.
The password is always the same.

I have requested an integrated audio conferencing account as well. Once created, I will send you the account information and instructions to link your audio account with WebEx. You can still use WebEx with another audio account if you already have one until we get an integrated audio account set up for you.

To learn more about WebEx:
1. Log into your WebEx account
2. Click on Support (located on the left navigation bar)
3. Click on “Training”
4. Select the platform you would like to learn about (Meeting Center is the main platform and widely used). You will have a list of topics to select from for tutorial.

Feel free to contact us via Support Email if you have any questions.

Thank you,

Here is how it looks when I’m using it in Outlook.

New WebEx Account Example

Do you fill out weekly status reports?

I have a snippet for those too.

%A, %B %d, %Y Status

The %A, %B %d, %Y turns into the day and date. When I run it, the snippet looks like this:
Status Report

Finally, I close most of my support emails with zppp which expands to Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

These are some of the snippets I use to work better. I highly recommend getting Breevy or TextExpander. These applications will pay you back in saved time many times over.

Excellent Snippet Resources

Shawn Blanc has posted A Quick Guide to Common Miscapitalizations of Tech Names
. If you write the names of Apple products or other tech products like AirPlay, iPad, or TextExpander it will put the capitalizations in the proper places.

Brett Terpstra has an excellent collection of TextExpander Tools. I particularly like the iOSMarkdown and Characters collections.

I would also recommend looking over the TextExpander posts Brett has written. Brett is a wizard with a computer. By subscribing to his blog, your computer life will improve immeasurably.

David “MacSparky” Sparks has solved the problem of pasting text without formatting or styles. Pasting text with TextExpander. This simple trick will take anything with funky Microsoft Office formatting or a mix or bold or italics and convert it into pristine plain text without formatting.

Dispatch from the trenches #6

If you’ve never needed the welfare system, consider yourself lucky. If you’ve never needed to have strangers pour over your bank balances, had to pester your landlord for a letter about your bills, your friends and family to document their financial support, or had to face the stigma of trying to buy groceries with a food stamp card, you are lucky. Next week, if things turn for the worst, you could be waiting in line to have the same process happen to you. That’s the biggest problem of all: so many people are willing to support the welfare system when they need it, but when someone else does, they don’t—especially if that somebody is black, a single mom, or both. You can’t have it both ways.

A View From Inside the Welfare System

Soul-crushing read. I’ve worked in government for years at various levels and while government is viewed as good or bad, it’s all people. It’s made up of smart, hard-working people.

As Richard says, they’re overworked and underpaid and there’s no hope of that changing soon. I’ve seen the same thing. Budgets are cut. Money is sent elsewhere. The job of 5 people is now the job of two. Or one.

It’s not just like this in the welfare system. It’s like this everywhere.

Even if you did go see it, you may have still missed it. The moment is fairly small but it’s completely deliberate. In the denouement of the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Trench” and Jet Li’s “Yin Yang” are canoodling at the team’s favorite bar when Sylvestor Stallone’s character tells them to “get a room.”

There are myriad reasons why this moment is noteworthy and they’re all worth mentioning: one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars being depicted as gay, a gay couple being a part of a crimefighting team, and also the subtle way the inclusion is slipped in — not a plot point, just a fact of life.

Yes, There Was a Gay Couple in ‘The Expendables 3’

I thought was interesting. It’s not a theme of the movie, but it’s there and under the radar. It’s a part of life. I like that it was treated as such.

Don’t simply focus on what you’re shooting — focus on why you’re shooting.


I’ve thought a lot of photography lately. I’ve resisted the call of new, better cameras. I shoot with an iPhone 5. I like shooting with it because I can capture what I want, without screaming **Look at me! I am a photographers!* I’m working on a daily photo project and another smaller set of photos.

I’m terrible about posting and sharing what I shoot, even when that’s my intention. But I’ll get it together because I really like what I’m doing because it’s fun.

I’m not great. I don’t pretend to be. But I’m having a lot of fun. My short-lived Bethesdoors project was born from the same idea.

Shooting something different and having fun with it.

If everyone starts calling themselves a gamer, the stereotypes will die out, the societal stigmas will fade and the dearly needed changes to games themselves and gaming culture will start to happen more rapidly. Let’s do this.

Let’s ALL be gamers, OK?

Games are fun. Play games to have fun. It shouldn’t be a hostile place.