Monthly Archives: April 2013

Did Quark Quack Its Last Quirk?

In 2002, I started working in the industry as an assistant prepress technician. Back then, we were on working Power Macintosh computers in the advanced operating system of “Classic Mac”—we couldn’t possibly trust the new OS X! We prepared files in QuarkXPress 5 and sent them to a film marker to eventually make plates and begin the printing process. Adobe was just starting to filter into prepress departments with InDesign 2, but like OS X, it was also not to be trusted.

At this time in the industry, the only software that could successfully communicate with plate setters and filmmakers was Quark. Yes, it had its quirks, but it always got the job done. Designing something in InDesign and trying to get it successfully onto a printing plate could spell disaster for my keyboard—InDesign was always the whipping boy for me!

Fast-forward to 2013, and you can clearly see that the tables have turned.  Adobe has totally taken over with CS 6, and those who refuse to make the switch only use Quark. I cringe when I get files in Quark. Just recently I received a magazine file in Quark, prepared perfectly and packaged appropriately. After doing our due diligence of loading the customer-supplied fonts and then opening the document and relinking any missing images, all seemed to be well. Our esteemed prepress technicians made print- and screen-ready PDFs, and we distributed them to the client for review.

This is the shocker: All the caption fonts were incorrect, and there was an entire image missing on one of the pages. After receiving this news from the client, I questioned our prepress technician. Much to my surprise, the response was, “I’m not surprised”—this is a known occurrence with Quark these days! Upon further investigation, we determined the fonts were there (we had to manually switch it), and so was the image. But the image was hidden—not behind something, just blank, gone! It came to our attention that a new feature called “content aware” text wrapping was used to wrap text around the image without placing a proper clipping path in Photoshop. So, the question is, why is Quark releasing features that are not totally fleshed out?

The moral to this story is: Quark, you quacked your last quirk for me! If a software provider who was a leader in the industry allows itself to be overtaken in a market it once dominated, it should cease to exist. You can’t take back market share when you are releasing versions that have so many “quirks” that it doesn’t make sense to use. So, today the only useful feature of Quark is the hidden Easter egg—the little alien that marches onto the screen to delete your object. When you get frustrated with Adobe products, open up Quark and hit this key command—it will make you feel better, and then you can quit Quark and go back to Adobe!

Tell me—do you use Quark and have a full keyboard of keys, or does it look like mine?

Author: John Mehl

 

Vanguard Direct Cleans up Little Bay Park with New York Cares

This past Saturday, 15 Vanguardians laced up their boots once again to aid in the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief effort, tasked with cleaning up the shoreline at Little Bay Park in Bayside, Queens. They were joined by 4,000 other volunteers around New York City, joined together for New York Cares Day, an annual volunteer and fundraising effort dedicating to cleaning up parks across New York City in preparation for summer.

In early spring of each year, approximately 4,000 volunteers spread out to the corners of the five boroughs to clean up 70 different parks around the city. They spend the day raking, painting, and planting to make these spaces a desirable destination for the summer. This year was especially important as many of these locations were destroyed in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

Doreen Doyle looks at the beach upon arrival

Little Bay Park is a small beach situated directly underneath the The Throgs Neck Bridge, which connects Queens to the Bronx. Vanguardians arrived bright and early, ready to pick up the rakes and trash bags and get started. The beach was divided by a line of rocks with debris caught in front, behind, and on top of them. Within the first hour of working, over 20 bags full of trash were pulled off the beach. As the day progressed, the tide went out farther allowing for more access to the water line. As a result, we were able to dig up larger debris such as a skid and numerous tires that were buried deep in the wet sand.

Digging tires from the water. From left to right: Natacha Arora and Zachary Smith

Despite the fatigue and perhaps a smidge of windburn, everyone enjoyed getting out for a few hours and participating in this cleanup effort. Sarah Bishow-Semevolos from New York Cares told our own CEO, Bob O’Connell “I really like the dynamic of your company, you can see that its family oriented.” This just goes to show that a few hours of time can go a long way, and create a fun team effort all the while. New York Cares is open for volunteering opportunities all year round, and can be viewed http://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer/.

The team. Top row from left to right: Zachary Smith, Natacha Arora, Eugene Lee, Abdul Kersh, Bob O’Connell, Doreen Doyle, Joe Corbo, and Melody Dukos. Bottom row from left to right: Linda Chin, Kathy Lupo, Ketsy Avila, Samantha Avila, New York Cares Staff, Cathy Kersh, Millie Camacho, and Maria Kersh

More pictures of the adventure can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/VanguardDirect.

Author: Natacha Arora

After Procedures, What Comes Next?

In my earlier post “Neck-Deep in Procedures and Gasping for Air?”, I presented my Procedures Manifesto and some rules to follow when specifying and implementing procedures.

The next real question for procedure stewards to answer is: How can we improve? Specifically, how can technology be implemented to support a procedure and associated business processes? Support can come in many forms, from workflow transparency for team members or managers to complex, data-driven validation and automation. Most processes and their potential technological-support counterparts lie somewhere in the middle. It is our job as stewards of data across a process to identify the areas where technology can provide support. In order to do so, however, one must have a strong foundation in the concepts behind available technology and a working knowledge of the data or specifications of a given process.

Where can you learn about the concepts of process automation?
Look around the Internet. From the websites of IFTTT to Amazon to USPS to Vista Print, concepts of automation are all around you. You experience the end-user side of these systems daily, but step back for a moment and look at what information you provide to those sites. Basic info is irrelevant since contact info and demographic data don’t matter, but the specifics about your transactions with those sites push data into “behind the scenes” systems that allow companies to function.

Data specifications––who cares? I am not a programmer!
Wrong! You do care and you do know about data specifications. As you guide data through a given process, you often know if something “doesn’t make sense” or will cause an issue down the line. That knowledge is exactly what data specifications are built upon––the only difference is that the specifications are structured in a uniform way that is not always obvious. Ultimately, form is something that an expert can help with, but making a simple list of the variables or data points you need to begin a process can be an eye-opening exercise to see precisely how little or massive the amount of information you need to complete a process really is.

With the right business process shepherding accurate information, technology can support that process. The other missing piece is standards, but we will leave that for another post…

Author: John Carew

RIP Google Reader, Bring On Social News

If you use the Internet to curate all of your news, then chances are you’ve used an RSS Feed backed by Google Reader. In that case, you are then well aware that Google is nixing Reader during its yearly spring-cleaning purge. Often, apps that bring in no revenue or have long since been abandoned are what get the axe, not a popular application used by millions. The public outcry was instantaneous, all with one unified question: Why are you doing this to me?

For those who are still a little confused about what Google Reader is and the importance it had for many industries, it was the service offered by Google that aggregated specified content into a single web feed. This allowed users to scan articles and find pieces of relevant content quickly and efficiently. In March, Google announced the end of the service by July, with no replacement service to offer as of yet, or so it seems.

The last couple of years, social search and crowdsourcing have become more and more common in our everyday lives. Every blog and news provider has social channels––most likely multiple channels––it posts to. With Google’s constant attempts to breach the social scene, this shouldn’t be a surprising announcement. What is a surprise, however, is how many people are opposed to the idea of using social media as their sole news driver, even though it caters to personal preferences, niche markets, and like-minded attitudes. Sites like Twitter have every potential to operate like a newsfeed, with the added bonus of real-time debates and sharing abilities. But for some reason, our customary agents of change from the tech industry are shouting that they like things the way they are.

Which is ridiculous. Especially because everyone should have seen this coming. The Pew Research Center found that over 93 million of Facebook’s 133 million active users use the social network to read the news their friends and family share, while another 31 million of these users get their news from dedicated news providers. That was in 2011. That same report showed that, of all the users of Twitter––still climbing the ranks to become one of the popular kids in the social circle––36% used their friends as news sources, but 45% used accounts from established news sources pushing their own content.

I must reiterate. That was two years ago. Since then, Google has been pushing for Google+ to be better integrated into the everyday person’s social sphere, mostly to little success. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Reader pop up under a new guise in Google+, with the hopes of persuading people to use Google+ as their new RSS Feed/news aggregator. If you’re still in doubt, take a look at the last update Google Reader got in 2011. It was integration with Google+. Also two years ago.

This is not a shot in the dark, and it is almost certainly a very calculated move on the part of Google. Removing Google Reader is one move on the chessboard. Whatever Google plans on doing to remedy the current disappointment it dealt its loyal followers, you can be sure an answer will come before Google Reader cuts out for good.

Author: Zack Smith

Paper Forms: Only the Tip of the Iceberg

I recently had occasion to visit someone in the hospital. I was impressed by the array of digital equipment being used to gather patient statistics. I was surprised, however, to see that even though hospital technicians used sophisticated digital tools to take measurements, analyze blood, and scan barcodes in the patient’s room, they still wrote the results on a paper form. At first I thought this would be a good opportunity to make that paper form an electronic form and save the data directly to the patient database. Upon further investigation, I found out that the paper form goes to the nurse––who uses the readings to determine if the patient’s medication needs to be adjusted––before going to a data-entry person. The division of labor between the technician, nurse, and data-entry worker, combined with the inability to route electronic documents, created a workflow that was dependent on a paper form. Simply substituting the paper form with an electronic form would cause a breakdown in the workflow. Paper forms are not only needed to record information, but they are an important part of the workflow.

Similarly, an accounts payable department that is trying to automate the receipt and processing of vendor invoices may find that simply scanning, indexing, and storing the paper is not a complete solution. If the workflow includes an approval process, then there must be a way to route the electronic image of the invoice to the appropriate approver. Here again, the paper document serves as a vehicle for moving the data and initiating an action.

If you’re thinking of replacing your paper forms with electronic forms, make sure you examine the business process. Replacing paper with electronic forms is not always the solution for complex business processes. What is needed is a document management system. This should include features like document routing, electronic work queues, multi-level approvals, transaction logs, and alert notifications. The term used today is enterprise content management (ECM).

The title of one online article proclaims, “ECM is a better marketing term than a technology strategy.” This is because a complete document management strategy includes both policies and technologies. These policies include the rules and regulations that govern the use of documents in your organization. Before embarking on a project for creating an ECM system for your organization/business unit, consider the following factors:

1. Your business goals in deploying an ECM system: reducing expenses, increased productivity, compliance requirements, etc.

2. The metrics needed to measure the success of the project and a way to capture them

3. Process and workflow management

4. Interoperability and integration issues with existing systems or databases

5. Retention and disposition of electronic content

6. Security and access to digital document repositories

There a still many technical factors that go into the final selection and implementation of an ECM system. These first steps will help you determine if you only need to convert paper to digital forms or if an ECM system is the right direction for your organization.

Author: Thomas Veneroso

Proper Etiquette in the Modern Workplace

Whether you’re a master of office best practices or an email novice who just can’t seem to comprehend email taboos, Jason Franzen is here to provide valuable insight or a fresh reminder. His posters, which are both poignantly on target and hilarious, set out to detail what we all should know about behaving respectfully in the office. In a phrase, it’s about being cognizant of your communal actions that directly or indirectly affect your coworkers. You can’t help but read these and be like, “God, yes! So true!”

It’s genius.

Here are a few, but be sure to check out the entire list at DesignTAXI.

Author: Eric Swenson

Captcha If You Can

For those of you who visit the blog on a fairly regular basis (for which we offer our never-ending thanks), you will notice a small update has occurred on our blog and contact pages. Though we’ve tried to get by without one, we finally caved: If you want to contact us or interact with our blog, you now must cross that the extra trench of a captcha, a challenge-response test in order to ensure that your comment is from a real person.

Why, you ask? First and foremost, not having a captcha (which is an acronymn for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”) creates an unnecessary security risk––and I just wrote about how companies need to step it up. Every time a website is open to the public to submit information, the same portal allows spammers––both humans and bots––to infiltrate and overload the website managers with spam. As everyone is aware, spam can be extremely destructive, though we were lucky never to run into that particular problem.

Our problem was one of inconvenience: spam that ate up a significant amount of resources. As one of the website managers, I’m here to tell you it was getting out of control. We would receive 35–40 pieces of spam on average per day, which on weekends would often spike up to 60–70 pieces of spam. On a week with minimal spam, we would receive almost 300 pieces of spam. Trying to sort out the legitimate comments and contacts from that list was often tedious and time-consuming. On top of this, the spam was also compromising our analytics of our website, which in a data-driven society would be reason enough for some people. So finally unable to bear the onslaught any longer, we implemented a captcha.

As you surf the Internet, you will notice there are many different types of captchas––often involving retyping numbers and text or, less often, executing math equations or seeing what is in an image––all with the goal of ensuring that you are human. Because of the print and digital nerds here at Vanguard Direct, we have opted for reCaptcha, a captcha that helps digitize print with every word typed in. How does it work? The program takes words that could not be read using optical character recognition (OCR) and distributes them for users to type in before they can submit other information to a website (such as comments on a blog). How does reCaptcha know the word is correct and that you are human? Two words are presented to the user, one of which is known already. If that word is answered correctly, then the user gets access to the web content and the unknown word is logged with reCaptcha with your possible solution. As that word gets typed, eventually a consensus emerges and the word can be determined with high confidence. With the amount of captchas getting filled out every day, the more reCaptcha is used, the quicker we can archive things that exist solely on paper.

Remember that a captcha can help filter out most spam, making both your life easier and your website a safer place to visit. This week I have gotten two pieces of spam. That’s a monumental decrease from 300. Using a service like reCaptcha on top of it also gives something back to the print and literary worlds, solving multiple problems at once!

Author: Zack Smith