Category Archives: Content creation

It’s time to update websites

Until recently, I’ve regarded websites that are mobile responsive as desirable, but not essential. Around last November, Google began adding the phrase “mobile-friendly” to search results for websites that are mobile responsive.

is your website mobile friendly 200wLast month Google announced that on April 21, they’ll update their search algorithm. It’s expected to reward mobile responsive websites with  higher search result rankings.

I’ve been busy updating clients’ websites to make them mobile responsive. This has meant moving them to new platforms. I’ve moved small websites to Squarespace without too much pain, but I’ve learned that Squarespace doesn’t allow navigation menu nesting deeper than two levels, which disqualifies it for websites of more than a couple dozen pages. I’m working with a few mobile responsive themes on WordPress; it’s probably the route I’ll follow for my own website.

As usual, I’ve learned (again) that there is no single perfect answer. We just have to work around flaws and hide the blemishes.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

How to become a better writer

I’ve recommended Doris and Bertie’s Good Copy Bad Copy blog before as a source of good ideas for writers. Their 50 super-quick business writing tips article begins with,

Doris and Bertie logo1. Each time you sit down to write, remind yourself of this sobering fact: “nobody has to read this”.

continues through

5. Don’t follow “we’re different because…” with clichés about “adding value” and “innovative solutions”.

and winds down with

48. Ruthlessly delete everything that’s not important to your reader (even if it’s important to you or the person who briefed you).

I agree with these tips. Although Doris and Bertie target a business audience, these suggestions could have been written by George Orwell or Winston Churchill, who spoke clearly to everyone. These masters expressed candor, rationality, and resolve, and sprinkled in just enough humor to keep us coming back for more.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Taking Back the English Language

ListenI listened to KERA’s Krys Boyd interview author Steven Pinker about one of my favorite topics: plain English. Mr. Pinker authored The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. He claims that education often interferes with a person’s clarity. He refers to this wordy English dialect as academese, which is similar to corporate hack boilerplate.

Do you speak English?I agree. Most academic papers are terribly written, as is the text in many corporate websites.

Both dialects employ the passive voice and zombie nouns: nouns created from verbs. For example, instead of appearing, there is an appearance. Instead of cancelling, there is a cancellation.

Mr. Pinker closes with the “prime directive” of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:

Omit needless words.

When an article refers to “scholars”, prepare for windbaggery.

I’ve been reading articles recently regarding e-business. The wordiest, most tedious articles are written by authors who refer to “scholars” and are somehow attached to universities.

photo: Rudolf Schmidt

Three Elements of Windbaggery

The author

  1. uses the word “methodology”
  2. refers to reader as “a scholar”
  3. uses passive voice: “It was decided that . . .”

When you encounter an article that contains all three elements, stop reading immediately. The article has been written by a windbag. The same rule applies to speech.

What is a windbag? It’s a person who can’t actually perform a given task, yet endlessly opines about said task.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Albert Einstein liked simple language.

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

459px-Einstein_patentofficeIf you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

— Albert Einstein

Both aphorisms have been attributed to Dr. Einstein. I mentioned in Plain English that,

In my experience, the best scientists and engineers explain complex concepts by using simple words in simple sentences. Dolts, on the other hand, make everything sound complicated.

I’m glad that Dr. Einstein agreed. (After watching his video biography, I now think of him as “Uncle Albert”.)

What Made Churchill’s Speeches so Effective?

The answer? Simplicity.

I’ve recently become fond of Doris and Bertie’s suggestions for clear writing. I’ve been an admirer of Winston Churchill’s command of English for years. Doris and Bertie wrote an article titled Five Churchillian tips for writing like a leader.

Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063-250wThey compare Churchill’s radio speech following the collapse of France to a recent press release from Kodak that announces their dire predicament. Doris and Bertie submitted both texts to an analyzer.

Incidentally, the tool also gives you a Gunning Fog Index number, which tells you the age at which someone would have had to have left full-time education to understand the text. Winston’s figure is 9.698. The figure for the Kodak text is 26.95.

Doris and Bertie urge us to “pitch your writing at the level of the primary school, not the PhD.” That’s what Sir Winston did, and it worked.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Clear Business English

Cliché-drenched confused writing is so common in corporate communications that I must take note when I find someone who writes clearly.

I was pleased to discover a blog that’s maintained by a U.K.-based copywriting firm that shares my communication values. The blog is Good Copy, Bad Copy. Its owner, Doris & Bertie, describes it as A blog about good business writing and bad. Especially the bad. Because there’s so much more of the bad. Their writing contains

No “leveraged synergies” or “integrative frameworks”. No “holistic solutions” or “ideating roadmaps”.

Apple Inc.

In their article titled Are jargon-weary investors ditching Apple?, Doris & Bertie point out that Apple’s investor relations webpage has recently become jargon-cluttered:

It’s hard to be sure, but this text appears to be saying: “we’ve jigged a few columns around to make the figures look better”. Hardly instils confidence, does it?

They point out that

JJB Sports, Clinton Cards and Kodak are all examples of ailing firms that have hidden a poor performance behind the kind of pretentious, highly abstract biz-blather Apple now seems to be adopting.

Incidentally, we’ve also noticed that, post-Jobs, Apple has begun talking to its customers in the kind of mealy-mouthed corpspeak that was previously the preserve of its competitors.

Biz-blather! What a perfect expression. Elsewhere, David Pollack writes

Whatever you think of Jobs – he was a great communicator. Another of the small details that made Apple so different, so successful. Now they’re beginning to appear like just another corporate megalith.

The Good Copy, Bad Copy blog makes good reading. I wish that more business people would follow their suggestions.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

“Methodology” strikes again

I watched a recorded telecom-related webinar that was hosted by a federal agency. Early in her presentation, the national program coordinator displayed a list of tasks, with one task per line. The list was prominently labeled Methodology. Then Ms. Program Coordinator referred to her list of tasks as the program methodology.

Ackk! A five syllable word, incorrectly used, when two syllables would have been accurate! I’ve ranted about this stupid use of pretentious language before. I like Wiktionary’s definition of methodology:

The study  of methods used in a field.

(proscribed) A collection of methods, practices, procedures and rules used by those who work in some field. The implementation of such methods etc.

Usage notes: Etymologically, methodology refers to the study of methods. Thus the use of methodology as a synonym for methods (or other simple terms such as means, technique, or procedure) is proscribed as both inaccurate and pretentious.

I admit that after witnessing this pretentious and inaccurate use of language, my opinion of the presentation, its presenter, and the program dropped a notch or two.

I’m not alone. From Ugh! Those pretentious expressions:

As soon as I hear “methodology” or “holistic” or “at the present moment in time”, I treat the speaker with distrust.

The irony is that the presenter undoubtedly chose the word methodology because she thought that it would impress her audience. It had the opposite effect on me. The program manual also misused the word methodology, so I’m sure that her colleagues who helped prepare the manual thought that this butchering of language was acceptable. The telecom and defense industries are loaded with pretentious and inaccurate phrases. It’s not a coincidence that they’re also loaded with pretentious and unimaginative people.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Plain English

I recently listened to a lighthearted yet profound interview with Neil James of The interviewer opened with a salvo of corp-speak:

ListenGoing forward at this point in time it may or may not become necessary to introduce the next key stakeholder in the forthcoming conversation. Dr. Neil James . . . is here . . . I intend to drill down into core relevant personal observations, occasionally thinking outside the box in relation to key matters for consideration, and are you ready to kill me now?

Neil James
Neil James (photo Australian Broadcasting Corp)
Dr. James thinks that over-stuffed English conveys a message that “I don’t care if you don’t understand me. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s your fault. I’m more intent on sounding impressive than communicating with you.”

He explained, “It comes down to status. It makes me feel more important.” He concludes that “It’s inefficient. It’s contemptible. It’s about power. It impedes a proper conversation. It reinforces inequality.”

Genesis of Newspeak

Dr. James explains that this use of Italianate language began in the ’60s . . . the ten-sixties. In 1066 William the Conqueror defeated the Saxon-speaking King Harold at the battle of Hastings. William spoke French only, and for the next three centuries all official business in England was conducted in French. Throughout England, French became the language of power.

Since then, the rigid structure of French phrases has been used in English to convey status and obscure meaning. Politicians know that sound bites are limited to a few seconds, so they fill them with meaningless phrases, thus avoiding loss of votes.

In the tech world, windbags use similar meaningless phrases sprinkled with jargon to hide the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about. In my experience, the best scientists and engineers explain complex concepts by using simple words in simple sentences. Dolts, on the other hand, make everything sound complicated.

Dr. James shares my admiration for Winston Churchill’s command of plain English. His “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech is a set of simple declarations. Instead of “We shall not surrender” (4 words), Dr. James thinks that a wlndbag might use 19 words:

It is incumbent upon us not to enter into a binding bilateral agreement to subsume our jurisdiction going forward.

I prefer Mr. Churchill’s simple phrase.

16 amusing podcasts by Neil James about over-stuffed English.

Methodology == Method (usually)

I reluctantly listen to a jargon-filled podcast called Telecom Junkies. The episodes are loaded with trendy technical buzzwords but are mercifully short. Jargon ProhibitedDuring an episode titled A Prequel to the Great E911 Debate, Bill Svien from 911 ETC boasted that “we connect to the client using various different methods and methodologies to allow for a cost-effective solution”.

Mr. Svien unwittingly demonstrated that in this context, the words methodology and method are synonyms. I imagine that he used the word methodology because it sounds scientific. In fact, today’s entire telecom industry flagrantly misuses the word methodology.

My question: Before presenting their pitches, did these guys rehearse in front of anyone who could critique their presentations for clarity? All four presentations were loaded with catchphrases that struck me as comical, even though I understand the technology. I pity the uninitiated listener; laughter would be a natural response. These guys could be mistaken for stand-up comedians.

Come on, guys. Speak English. Read Orwell. Follow his advice.

George Orwell’s web content advice

Further reading:

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

RepRap open-source 3D printer

reprapSuppose that you’re Del Griffith and need new shower curtain rings for your pre-holidays sales trip to NYC.

Instead of ordering them from a catalog and waiting for delivery, you can download or create the design, load it into your PC, and “print” them in your RepRap printer. This could transform society.

What is 3D printing?
3D printing creates products via the additive process. Traditional machining is a subtractive process. RepRap originates in Bath, England, is totally open source, and is a vanguard. Its descendants may allow customized one-off production at mass-production prices, close to or even at the point-of-use. Learn more: RepRap wiki.

University of Bath: Who’s behind RepRap?

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© Russ Bellew (fan of Trains Planes and Automobiles) · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A new stupid word: “Operationalizing”

The I.T. field is filled with illiterate writers and their stupid text. Today I found a new stupid word in an article headlined, “Operationalizing Information Security: Putting the Top 10 SIEM Best Practices to Work” By: Accelops.

Operationalizing? I must place this new stupid word alongside the stupid words “methodology” and “utilize”. Using these words is like Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin in The Jerk) demanding, “Bring us some fresh wine!”. “Operationalize”??

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A workaround for WordPress app problems on Android

For the last month, I’ve been creating and editing these articles using the WordPress app for Android. It usually works fine, but occasionally the locally stored articles on the Android phone lose synchronism with the articles stored on the WordPress server.
Android WordPress screenshot
The Android WordPress app edits each article locally and then uploads the edited article from the Android device to the WordPress server in several steps:

  1. Create / edit / store article on Android device
  2. Upload article to WordPress server
  3. Synchronize Android device’s articles list with WordPress server’s articles list

Step 3 fails when I try to store about 50 or more articles on the Android device. Attempts to manually re-synch fail. Once step 3 fails, there seems to be no way to re-synch the articles. I’ve not found a fix other than to delete the data, uninstall WordPress, and reinstall WordPress. After I configure the app with the WordPress server url and administrator credentials, and the app authenticates with the WordPress server, the app will download the most recent 20 articles and be ready to use — good as new.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

My thoughtology on “methodology”

I know that the word “methodology” infects academic and other pretentious written text, but I was surprised when recently I heard a defense electronics engineer speak the word “methodology” aloud in conversation. Since this guy is smart and the two-syllable word “method” would have sufficed, I have decided to hop aboard this linguistic train to needlessly elongated expressionology.

My reasonology is simple: it will make my paragraphologies sound more scientific and thus resistant to attackologies. The ideaology is that when I use 4-syllable wordologies, I appear to be smarter than when I use single-syllable words. I shall ignore the taunts of “pomposity” from the readerology.

Further reading:

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695