Beeman Silver Kodiak 2 and Awesome Airguns on YouTube

I grew up with BB guns. Shot them in my garage until I was bold enough to go out back and shoot cans. I took them camping, hiking, and always had one or two when I went out to my grandma’s farm.

I didn’t know we even made a caliber bigger than a .177 until one day my brother-in-law busted out an old .22 caliber rifle. My mind was blown.

There was a case of old Army artifacts at the Pentagon–in it was the air rifle Lewis and/or Clark carried on their journey West. (They were both officers in the Army Corp of Discovery.) I always thought it was cool, but I didn’t know much else about it. Take a quick scan through this video and be edified.

Is that not awesome? Turns out they could waste suckers quick with the 20 round magazine and that quick little flick that loaded in a new pellet.

Finding Fieldsports Britain and Ted’s Holdover

So a new world of airguns was opened to me–and I thought a .22 would be the best place to start. I also didn’t want to spend more than $99, and I didn’t want to order it online… and I’m pretty lazy.

I was at Wal-mart and I saw the Beeman Silver Kodiak 2–IT COMES WITH TWO BARRELS! I can have .177 AND .22 caliber rifles in one rifle. Sa-weet! Oh, and it came with a scope. Best part, $99.

So I bought it. I had to order .22 caliber pellet because Wally world didn’t have any in stock, but I only cried for like 20 minutes.

Like I said, it was a whole new world. Where had all these airguns gone? The answer is apparently the United Kingdom. Enter Fieldsports Britain. Charlie Jacoby and the rest of these British bad-asses regularly pop rabbits and squirrels with air rifles. How about some thermal optics to go with your air rifles? Yeah, they’ve got that.

Fieldsports Britain has some of the best content I’ve seen on YouTube, and I’ve seen more than a few. At least three… I haven’t really kept track. The narration is quick and punchy with great shots (both camera and rifle, most of the time it’s both).

Somehow, this led me to the discovery of Ted’s Holdover.

I have no idea where Ted came from, but I imagine it’s green, the breeze is light, and the air rifles are literally magical–that’s the only explanation I can come up with. There’s no reason he should be this amazing at shooting with an air rifle, pneumatic or not. The guy is a wizard.

If you’ve ever shot an air rifle, that title alone should leave you in awe. I’m telling you, the guy has supernatural abilities. I realize that rifle is magic all on its own, but saying it’s the rifle is like saying you could hand an M-21 sniper rifle system to an accountant and get perfect shots at half a mile. This is more like giving a Delta Force operator… well, anything–they’ll kill you with anything.

Do yourself a favor and watch a few of his videos and take notes.

Looking forward to slinging some lead

Back to my Silver Kodiak. I haven’t been able to shoot much with it. I can plink cans out to about 50 yards with relative consistency, but I haven’t had any time to really go out and do some shooting yet.

Still gotta find out what I can shoot and when out here in Colorado. Sure wish I had a field full of Jackrabbits like back in Utah. At some point though, if I have about $3000 to spend on a rifle I might get one to shoot at Coyotes or deer or something. These new rifles coming from Daystate, FX, and the rest are amazing.

That’s it, thanks for reading.

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Technical Writing and Content Management

Writing for the Web, or how I came to be in Content Management

I graduated college with a degree in Technical Writing. I took editing courses, business writing courses, learned how to create brochures; and I learned some HTML, CSS, InDesign–along with quite a few other skills. There was a professor, Dr. David Hailey, who taught a course all about eBooks–he was also the first one to teach an English course online in Utah. It was my penultimate semester, and I wanted to take a course from him before I graduated.

He was offering a course called “Writing for the Web” which basically fit right into what I was looking to do for a living. Professor Hailey talked about getting a job in the industry, why starting as a Tech Writer and then adding another discipline would make you marketable, and, mainly, what good content could do for your audience. He talked about the difference between Content Managers and Information Architects, the different genres found in every web page, and a clever acronym for auditing/analyzing your content. I could hear the music.

Professor Hailey took us through a number of sites and pointed out the theory behind ReaderCentric Writing and Prosumers. We talked through corporate sites, wrote papers on our own ideas of what Writing for the Web really meant, and visited the good and the bad of Amazon–all the while Professor Hailey showed us the need for different styles, or genres, of writing for the web.

My first job managing content

As the Tech Writer for the IT Service Desk, I was mainly in charge of editing the Knowledge Base in ServiceNow. That included designing a template for the FAQs and building directories for the different groups. It was a very focused task, and I wanted to rip through it in order to be ready for when they would switch the site over. I had the template created that first day and then I spent the next week and a half editing over 500 of those articles. It wasn’t quite the elephant you eat a bite at a time–I would discover that later–but it was a lot of work to do.

It was this position that would give me the experience I’d need to take my first real job managing content.

Starting at CU

When I heard about a possible position working on content in Drupal, I researched Drupal until my brain nearly exploded. I hadn’t worked in PHP, I barely knew anything about databases, but I did know about writing and editing content. So when I learned enough to have a handle on how Drupal worked, I figured that as long as the CMS worked the way it was supposed to I could probably make the rest of it work.

I got the contract to work for a Drupal vendor from Boulder called Archetype 5 for three months of managing content for the Employee Services department at CU while they transitioned to a brand new site in Drupal. It was like learning to swim by grabbing onto the back of a speedboat. While it’s going. Obviously. It wouldn’t make much sense if the thing was parked.

When I showed up there was a pile of Google spreadsheets for me to work through with cryptic instructions in one column and a URL in the other. Keep in mind, they were developing the site as we began migrating and editing the content. It was as far from a one-to-one migration as you could get. The navigation was entirely new, some of the departments were changing, and a lot of the content on the old site was close to a decade old. Since I only had three months to get all of their content moved over, I basically had to triage it and stick with the basics.

I had come into the game at a very late date, so I rushed to just get the content outlined in those documents into the CMS. I was madly cleaning HTML, getting rid of old tables, and dumping random images. It was great, almost like copyediting. Then I ran into yet another huge roadblock–I needed to train Content Managers to use Drupal, and they’d been told that they wouldn’t need to do any HTML coding at all. Here’s a rundown of what I heard while training Payroll & Benefits administrators to use the web:

“I have eight hours of work to do every day, and they just told me to take care of the web stuff.”

“Where is it going to go? Why is our navigation all messed up?”

“I don’t like it.”

“If people can’t find my files, they’ll be furious.”

“The vendor needs to fix that.”

“Can you drag the URL into the editor and just have it bring in the content you want that way?”

“I want accordions.”

“My accordions are broken… I thought you said I didn’t need to know HTML?”

I was skipping along behind that speedboat and getting pretty beat up until the vendor I was contracting with said to send anyone with questions about development to him. I was barred from talking about design or development, and it was awesome. I could concentrate on the content of the pages instead of the damn colors or additional functionality. Managing content isn’t about web development. Web development is about web development. Managing content is about getting your users their information and making sure it’s authoritative and satisfying (Employee Services).

At the same time I was learning anything and everything I could about Drupal–my brains were fried by the end of every week, but I was learning and building on both Technical Writing and Content Management.I read about hooks, views, ctools. I delved into PHP, SASS, and anything else I happened to overhear from the vendor building the site.

What happened to the content?

One of the biggest issues, besides everyone agreeing that their content is the main reason people visit the site, is content that is written, published, and then abandoned. Someone eventually comes around to it and wonders why it isn’t working, and then they build something that does, and then it eventually gets abandoned as well.

This seemed to be the case for one of the sections explaining some of the PeopleSoft courses available to employees. For different jobs, you’d need different certifications; therefore, you’d need different courses. There were 14 pages with links everywhere–and it took you nowhere. You didn’t end up on the course–all set to get some certification or another–you ended up confused, frustrated, and calling someone instead.

I saw it as a personal mission to fix this one thing. I think it took me about three days of talking to SMEs to find out what it was, and what they wanted it to do. Once I knew its correct purpose, fixing the pages was logical and actually fairly simple.

I knew they needed a link that took them directly to the training, but they also needed a form, and instructions on which courses they needed for the certification they needed. I didn’t want them to have to leave the page at all–except for when they clicked on a course or certification. What I came up with was a mixture of tabular data and tabs.

They could navigate around all the information they needed without leaving the page–it was both authoritative because it carried all the information they needed; and satisfying because it led them directly to their courses. Feel free to check out the end-product.

And now…

Now I’m administrating the website for the City of Colorado Springs. We’re moving to a new site on Drupal, with the help of ClikFocus (a local Drupal shop), and we have about a decade’s worth of content laying around. I’ve worked with Police Officers, Museum Administrators, Parking Administrators, Human Resources, the Fire Department, Emergency Management, the Airport, and the list goes on. It is quite possibly the best job a content guy like me could ask for.

I don’t have any amazing stories yet, we’re still ramping up to the site launch here soon. I’m still training Content Managers, so I haven’t been able to really get into the content and start polishing it up–you know, working with SMEs to make it lean and mean. It’ll take us a while to get all of our content up to the level we all want it to be, but we’re on our way–one bite at a time.

 

Links:

Dr. David Hailey
Archetype 5
CU – Employee Services
Training Page
City of Colorado Springs
ClikFocus
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Higher Education Web Content Strategy

Bring out your dead (content).

I’ve been working with this university for a few months now and I figured that a quick write-up on what I’ve been doing might not be amiss. (Enjoy the Monty Python inspired subheadings.)

Now don’t do it again.

First thing–I wish I’d been here three months before they decided to go to Drupal. A content audit, definite and direct plug in to the analytics, and a unified strategy with a definitive end-point for content would have made this task much smoother. We’ve only just finished transitioning content–we think. And because the go-live date was pushed back so many times, people had to go in and update content they’d originally put in months prior.

Right, enough of the complaining. I’m just sad that I didn’t get to do all the content analysis, because that’s almost as fun as editing. (No, I’m not being sarcastic. Editing is damn near therapeutic.) What have I enjoyed the most about all of this? Training content editors.

No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle…

It’s pretty sweet to have answers to all the inquiries from the web team as they edit their own content. I’ll share some of the questions I’ve received since I’ve been here:

  • How can we add Adobe Captivate videos to our site if .swf files aren’t supported by the CMS?
  • Can I copy and paste content from the old site to Drupal?
  • If I create a page–where does it go in the navigation? People will kill me if they can’t find these files.
  • What’s taxonomy, and what does it do?
  • What do you mean the programmers will pull different content into a view?

Questions I’ve tried to get answers to and eventually figured out some way or other:

  • If I’m your target audience, why would I need to see all of this?
  • Could you say all of this in fewer than 12 different pages–maybe in one or two?
  • Can you put it in one spot or the other–two places for the same thing will just cause confusion.
  • Couldn’t they just Google that? Why do we need it on the site?
  • If I’m using this website, I want it to be relevant to this university and this department–is it?

These are the kind of things that go back and forth between myself and the SMEs/content editors. One minute I’ll be teaching them about why the accordion broke down, and the next they’ll be explaining who uses the document, what they need it for, and why they’ll be looking for it in their section of the website.

We’re slowly pulling each other up to speed in our respective domains. Video tutorials have had about a 50/50 success rate. The team members who’ve asked for specific answers have really appreciated having the videos for reference–especially over such a long time of building. Other team members haven’t really seen the light on the videos. The biggest problem there? I don’t want them to dislike the video and decided that the video is the end of my assistance. “If you don’t watch and like my video tutorials, then I’m not going to help you out with your content in person.”

Please don’t think that’s in any way how I actually feel about this.

I like making videos as references in case I’m off-site or somehow unavailable, but face-to-face is even better because I can tailor the help to your very specific issue.

I don’t know that!?

I’ve also been asked to do some actual Drupal development. It started out as something I could create outside of the CMS, but since then has changed to Drupal–that shouldn’t change the difficulty, right?

It does. I can hook up a website with SASS and JQuery if I need to, but I’ve never worked in the development area of Drupal. Am I excited, sure. I get to learn new stuff. Do I want to have to wade through all of the begging and pleading to get hooked up into the development side of things just to tinker with one webpage–no. Will I be able to do anything else while I get up to speed with all of this stuff? Probably not.

If you’re reading this and thinking that it’s not that bad–leave me a comment and explain why I should be more enthused about this. Seriously.

Thanks for reading.

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Web Content Management

I’m currently working in the Drupal CMS, and learning just how powerful the whole system is. Here’s a quick video tutorial I created for the web team I’m working with–I’ve made a few at this point, and they seem to be getting excellent reviews from the team.

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The Army’s XM25 Does What?

XM25 looks like a barrel of fun to a former infantryman. Just looking at it makes me wonder if I got out of there a bit too hastily.

What can you do with an XM25, I’m glad I asked that, because there’s a bunch of reasons to have one of these. Blow things up, blow up barriers, shoot air-bursts over enemies as they crouched behind cover, run your own fireworks for the 4th next year, scare the pants off potential threats, react to contact with a bang, all kinds of reasons… it wouldn’t be very easy to conceal carry though.

Military.com also gives us the following information about the Punisher’s inner-mechanics:

The futuristic looking XM25 fires a “smart” High Explosive Airburst round out to around 600 meters. The smart round is a “counter defilade” round, designed to blast enemy infantry taking cover behind walls, cars, in trenches as well as enemy fighters dumb enough to be standing out in the open. The Army calls the weapon a “leap ahead” technology.

The XM25 uses a laser rangefinder to target the enemy, then the weapon’s micro-computer accounts for air pressure, temperature and the 25mm round’s ballistics, feeds that information to a microchip in the round itself programming it to detonate directly over the target. With a 600 meter effective range, it would provide small teams greatly enhanced lethality well beyond that of rifles and machine guns. The Army claims that tests showed the XM25 with the high-explosive round is 300 percent more lethal than current squad level weapons.

Read more — Kit Up!

That means that small cover might not be cover anymore… out to 600 meters. That’s not just reaching out and touching someone–that’s reaching out and punching them in the face. With a grenade.

Thanks to Military.com’s other article on this, I’ve learned that this grew out of the XM29 (OICW) project. You might remember way back in the day seeing a picture that looked something like this. This is the weapon that later had the imaging system so the soldier (hypothetically) could put the weapon around a corner and look at the enemy from the screen jammed against his one eye.

Army's XM29

You’ll notice there’s a wee little M4 carbine tucked under that arcade system of a weapon. They took that out on the XM25–running around with 14lbs of gun (what the XM25 weighs) is probably already pushing the limits of “comfort.”

And both of these, hopefully, will eventually lead to this guy.

Future Warrior Project

Maybe not, in fact… I have no idea what this guy is doing, but that helmet looks kind of funny. I vaguely remember that the uniform administers first-aid, pain-killers, and is capable of tourniquet-ing any of the extremities all on its own. Nice try, future warrior project, but I think the XM25 wins the “cool” contest.

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Federal Resumes vs. Private Sector Resumes

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There’s a huge difference between the two. My padre works for an Air Force base on A-10s–yes, it’s cool. That’s what becoming an engineer can do. Anyway, I remember when he was writing up his resume and seeing two or three pages worth of experience and painstaking detail of his experience.

Years later I’ve been taught to squish my resume into a single page and get the facts out as fast as possible so that an HR dude can ask me to “elaborate on what you learned at your last position.” Well, according to Military.com’s article that can be found HERE says that the difference between the two is Federal vs. Private Sector requirements.

So don’t get tunnel vision when writing/designing your resume–look at what the position is and be sure to research into it. Nothing beats having someone to talk to within the organization itself. Use LinkedIn (research the most current way to break the ice before you go annoying people) and find someone who will talk to you about how they got the job. If you do find someone who’ll talk to you and answer your questions–buy them a beer. If that’s not possible, make sure you send them a thank you email.

I’m off, gotta go write an enormously detailed resume for my future government job.

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Great Advertising: Utopolis Cinemas

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The Utopolis advertisement is a rhetorically effective document because it successfully argues that movies are generally more fun than real life. It argues this in three ways:

  • Your plan to reenact a romantic moment will never go the way you planned
  • No one has a team of production assistants, artists, and tech experts to follow them around
  • Seagulls are jerks

I know you’re particularly curious about how I’m going to prove that last one, but trust me; seagulls (minus the whole insect-eating thing) are jerks.

Utopolis knows that you want, at least at some time or another, to have a truly romantic experience. For the most part, we can blame Walt Disney for this; that, or give him credit. Let’s say that you decide to take your significant other out for a nice romantic getaway on a boat. You show up and it’s not trumpets and fanfare, it’s a middle-aged dock worker looking guy running a leaky boat and you think to yourself, “This doesn’t look anything like it did in the ad.” But you’re already there and you’ve already paid and so you sigh and get on the maybe-seaworthy vessel. You get out to sea and look up: it’s cloudy. It almost looks like it’s going to rain, and your hopes sink a little more. At this point you’re actually hoping the boat sinks because that’s the closest you’re going to get to having your romantic jaunt seem like a movie.

It’s at this point that you take a long, hard look at what your significant other is wearing. Now, I’m going to go ahead and say the other is a man. That’s just easier for me to work with. He made an effort; he’s wearing nice shoes, jeans without any holes in them, and a shirt that both matches and is clean. He even gets the whole romantic jaunt idea because you’ve been talking to him about it for a while now. But at this point you just don’t care anymore. No one is going to call “cut” and wait for the skies to clear up, your hair is ruined, and you didn’t wear warm enough clothing because you thought it’d be sunny and warm today. Unfortunately you don’t have a team of assistants to fix all this little errors for you, and Bob the middle-aged dock worker doesn’t care whether or not it’s “romantic” enough today. You give up on the whole idea and decide to just sit down, drink a whole bunch of shoddy wine that Bob put out, and try to just enjoy being on a boat.

Well, your significant other sees you throwing in the towel and decides to put some effort into making this a romantic outing. He walks over to Bob and asks him a question, but you’re too far away to hear and to apathetic to care. When they finish chatting Bob walks below deck and your one and only starts back toward you with a smirk. That’s when Barry Manilow comes over the speakers of the boat and the captain brings up some of those supremely dangerous tiki torches. Your best bud in all the world clears some room off the deck and convinces you that dancing is a good idea, and it is. Sort of. By now the crappy wine is starting to take hold, and hey—there are tiki torches and Barry Manilow—you start to feel better about this jaunt of yours. Your husband sees yet another romantic opportunity and starts leading you to the prow of the boat where there’s a railing and ropes—just like in Titanic. The wine is definitely kicking in and you’re letting yourself loose a little bit more. You both stand up at the prow and start doing the Titanic arms-out-flying-like-a-plane thing when BAM! You get hit in the face by a seagull. Your head rockets back and bashes your jeans-wearing romantic partner in the face.

As you’re lying there, on your back, staring up at the cloud-covered sky on a leaky boat with a grizzled pirate for a captain, you begin to wonder why you ever thought doing this was a good idea. Furthermore, you decide that your glad Walt Disney is dead, because if he wasn’t you’d want to kill him. You’re pretty sure that you could find James Cameron, but after Avatar you’d probably have to wait in a line. When you get up you realize that you just spent a couple hundred dollars on a complete and utter failure to have a truly romantic getaway when you could have rented a Bruce Lee movie, stayed at home, lounged in pajamas, and drank decent wine without having an overweight middle-aged guy standing a few feet away from you. And your significant other, yeah, he’d be there; except he’d be laughing and lounging right along with instead of trying to keep his nose from getting even more blood on his outfit that actually matched.

All of this is brought to light by Utopolis in their ad for their group of cinemas.

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“Are our blades any good? No. Our blades are f***ing great.”

What an intro. It reminds me of Michael Yon explaining how a soldier had put up a sign saying, “Don’t stand up here. The last guy who did got shot.” That’s how corporate communications ought to be: straight and fast.

I was working at State Farm on one of their many communications teams when a request came for us to write a memo from a manager to his underlings. The memo was supposed to tell them to take the quiz that he’d just created. To their credit, (this team was excellent) they asked me, the intern, what my thoughts were. So, there I was, consulting on communications. Time to shine.

“How about we start out with ‘I need you  to take a 10-minute quiz’?”

Einstein Genius Demotivational Poster

That’s what we put at the beginning. I think it got mellowed out during the approval process–pushed back a bit from the front, but I was proud of the straight-forwardness I’d created. There was the “what does this mean for me?” right at the beginning.

There has to be a level of “what’s in it for me” in a training video. Mine was directed at interns, so I had all sorts of ideas because, well, I was one. I immediately started to draw from what I enjoyed watching. Things started taking shape. I turned in a copy to my manager. People got all sorts of impressed. And Bob’s your uncle.

Writing a training script for a corporation is a very involved process. You have to get approval, and go through legal, and blah, blah, blah… However, getting it through and then having a tech team take it over to make a real thing is quite the feeling.

The very first script I’d ever written was accepted and made into a video. At first I wondered if the tech team just didn’t know what they were doing. Honestly, I was that surprised, even skeptical. But it turns out I had stumbled onto corporate communications gold.

I didn’t have the corporate-speak mentality. I had not, in fact, drank the kool-aid.

Storytelling vs. Corporate Speak

“If you’re not being over-edited, you’re not doing your job as a writer.” –Guy I met with once.

I would stay here and lolligag, but that’s all I wanted to share. If you’re writing for corporate communications, remember to keep it short and swe

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Corporate Communications

Up to this point in the internship I have written/created, co-written/co-edited the following:

-Awards research document
-Department meeting highlights article
-Template for team assignment reports
-Digital age information discretion article
-Assisted edit on memos, newsletter articles, leadership communications
-Leadership in the workplace training script for video production
-Moderated team book club meeting
-Screencast walkthrough of department newsletter site

I’ve never written scripts before, but it worked out really well. I’ll definitely be looking into instructional design.

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Training

What an excellent opportunity this State Farm internship has been already. A big company that’s taking big strides and has an awesome set of values. I’m on a virtual team, and I’m getting some great experience.

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