The elements of style – how to dress at UBS

In case you missed it, the Swiss bank reissued their 44 page dressing directive. The fashion police have learned that temporary staffers need guidance on what not to wear in a banking environment.

Like other uniformed workers, dark suited bank employees in white shirts and red neckwear stand apart. The expectation is for customer-facing representatives to identify with and reflect the company values and culture.

How you dress “is a critical form of non-verbal communication” notes the guide. It’s okay to wear jewelry but no more than seven items for women, three for men with emphasis on watch wearing.

While the dress code aims to strengthen the bank’s brand, it remains uncertain whether a rep’s “flawless appearance can bring inner peace and a sense of security” — especially financial security.

Absolute and relative points

On the first day of the New Year my brother would tease that I hadn’t bathed since last year. Well neither has the poor guy who lives under the bridge. Let’s see which reference determines who’s more fragrant.

If today is January 1, then ‘since last year’ could refer to yesterday. I haven’t bathed since Monday means that I do bath with regular frequency. For others a different set of reference points apply. Perhaps as a street dweller I’d understand ‘since last year’ to mean any arbitrary period. I haven’t bathed since whenever means you won’t need bloodhounds to track me down.

Decoder rings go mobile

Not since 1975 has the barcode held this much excitement. That year the UPC forerunner first appeared on packaged food. At the same moment, the microwave oven found a permanent spot in America’s kitchens. I concluded that cooking instructions were encoded on packages of frozen peas, and somehow, the waves read the UPC barcode. My conclusion fizzled when UPCs were printed onto magazine covers.

All things scannable are not necessarily microwaveable.

Thirty-five years later the barcode gets a makeover, and your mobile phone is the decoder ring. Block shaped barcodes appear on lots of physical and virtual items including, yes, magazine covers. What these print blocks contain are the ingredients to turn your cell phone into a Wikipedia of widgets.

Until a block is scanned you’re kept guessing about its contents, though often it reveals a website. Cracking the code is as easy as point, scan and click. That sure beats typing a URL into your cell phone’s browser.

All things scannable have greater potential.

My business card rendered as QR Code

With any other ice cream flavor, the car starts just fine

General Motors sends an engineer to investigate a second complaint.

The engineer observed –
Day 1 – driver orders chocolate ice cream and the car starts.
Day 2 – driver orders strawberry ice cream and the car starts.
Day 3 – driver orders vanilla ice cream and the car fails to start.

The engineer noted –
Time of day, type of gas used, driving time to pick up ice cream, and reproducible results.

Time became the problem. It took less time to pick up ice cream located in the front of the store.

The extra time taken to pick up other flavors allowed the car’s engine to cool down sufficiently to restart. When the driver picked up vanilla, the engine was too hot for the vapor lock to dissipate.

Cone of Silence
Cone of Silence

Pomp and circumstance

<Insert your institute of higher learning here.>

A commencement speaker

Commencement speakers are honoured and humbled to be here this day. Gathered guests are thanked for their supporting role. The speaker fervently relates the mechanism by which she/he overcame personal obstacles (while you ponder your own not-so-different circumstance). The encouraging family member, insightful teacher, and/or divine being are acknowledged. Family and friends couldn’t be more proud. The day is filled with photos, embraces and unbridled optimism.

All graduations are pretty much the same – cheering sections, flowers, unpredictable weather, caps and gowns.

On this day we repeatedly tell grads to believe they can do anything they set their sights on. But belief is not enough. We must also remind them to have a plan to make it so.

Time to renew

Kiss this decade goodbye.

It was a tough year whether you worked or not. iTunes, for one, has not seen much spending from this customer. But I’m less worried about Apple. On the other hand the professional society I belong to went splaaat. A financial shortfall almost closed the doors.

Chapter members heard countless pleas to financially assist the society and responded with a.) ways to keep the society afloat, and b.) reasons to cut bait.

Canadian STC chapters get fewer benefits – no discounted insurance programs, no salary survey covering this country, no directorship, and lots fewer Canadian job postings. We are losing our pass-through dividend and probably lots of members too due to the dues increase.

More money for fewer services. I’ve gone back and forth – to fish or cut bait.

Traditions and resolutions get the better of me. I’m reviving our 1990’s practice of ringing in the new with a cup of warm sake.

And I’ll renew my STC membership for 2010 for the price of three artists complete sets on iTunes.

Happy New Year’s Day.

“Land In South Carolina”

The junk mail subject piqued my interest but not to own a swamp or make a pit stop. No, I wanted to know if “land” was on the approved verb list.

According to the authors of simplified technical English it’s not.

The Simplified Technical English standard is used by those who prepare maintenance documentation for the North American and European aerospace industry. A method of writing using controlled language aims to prevent misinterpretation. This is accomplished by limiting general word use to fewer than 1000 and adopting around 200 approved verbs.

stop, start, get, make – approved verbs
begin, end, land, manufacture – not approved

A dictionary plus set of writing rules and training are things that help writers cope.

Tech pubs compete

blue ribbonNow that the international technical publications competition has wrapped up it’s time to prepare for the next one. Reasons to submit an entry are numerous but mainly it’s for authors to receive a peer-reviewed evaluation. Teams of evaluators independently complete a multipoint checklist.

Areas covered

  • Content and organization—does it cover the main points, meet the purpose?
  • Copy editing—is it error-free, informative and appropriate for the audience?
  • Graphics—do they illustrate concepts?
  • Production—does it project a professional image?
  • Visual design—does it appeal, are elements integrated?

Handling flaws

Any weak areas are further evaluated. A major flaw substantially hinders the user, whereas a minor flaw might cause a momentary stumble, but doesn’t slow down the user much.

  • Major flaw examples: illogical organization; incomplete or missing content; consistently unclear style; no table of contents, headers, page numbers, or index; inaccurate page numbers in table of contents or index; procedural steps buried in text; a consistent pattern of spelling and grammatical errors; confusing terminology, difficult navigation, poor visual quality.
  • Minor flaw examples: a few instances of spelling and grammatical errors, misplaced graphics, inconsistent capitalization, or confusing terminology.

Award levels

  • Distinction — a work that is clearly superior in all areas. No major flaws and few, if any, minor flaws. The work applies principles of technical communication in an outstanding way, anticipates and fulfills audience needs.
  • Excellence — a work that consistently meets high standards in all areas. Clearly (if slightly imperfectly) demonstrates exceptional understanding of technical communication principles.
  • Merit — a work that consistently meets high standards in most areas. Applies technical communication principles in a highly proficient manner.

The two parts of a judging competition are the entries and the judges. Competition participation begins at your local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

Saved by the rules, bothered by the exceptions

File this under know your audience. A classmate asked for help to understand an excerpt from the rules of professional conduct.

An Immigration Consultant shall not represent parties with potentially conflicting interests in an immigration matter, save after adequate disclosure to and with the consent of the parties, and shall not act or continue to act in a matter when there is or is likely to be a conflict of interest.

The word save can be used as a verb, noun, preposition, and conjunction. Save used as literary term is out of context when found in policies and procedures writing. Don’t do it. Constructed as such, it’s not immediately evident that an exception follows the rule.

In the context of writing policy you want to deconstruct it something like this.

Rule:  An Immigration Consultant shall not represent parties with…
Exception:  Only after adequate disclosure to…

February update: The U.S. “brain-dead immigration system” is more reason to come to Canada. Read the article.

Cross-border negotiations — table it

“I bring something to the table!”
This term ‘table’ has been bugging me since moving to Canada. Apparently, here, ‘to table‘ something means to formally propose or offer a topic for discussion. For example, the condo association tabled the discussion on landscaping. After the agenda items were covered they initiated a discussion so residents could gripe about dead shrubbery.
In the US you’d say ‘let’s table it’ to mean postponing any discussion or consideration of a motion or thing.
Knowing this difference is helpful before tabling anything with Americans and Canadians present.