Friday, 29 December 2006

Newsletter Issue 124, December 2006



Sam Young Newsletter

Issue 124, December 2006
Hi guys,
How do you fare when that report has to be finished now? Get some tips on Writing Under Pressure.
Recently I had a computer problem that proved very hard to solve, so I have published it here in case any of you ever strike the Lsass.exe System Error
Don't forget, if you want to be taken off my mailing list, click here to send me a reply e-mail and I will remove your name.

Writing Under Pressure

The Public Relations Society of America have graciously allowed me to share the article below with you all on how to best write under pressure. Enjoy!
We’ve all been there. The clock seems to tick at the same tempo as the cursor blinks on your blank computer screen, and with every second that goes by, your deadline inches a little closer. Your piece is getting nowhere fast—perhaps it’s that your mind feels as blank as the monitor screen; or perhaps it’s the swarm of thoughts in your mind, so muddled you don’t know how to begin to sort through them. In any case, you haven’t the time to figure out the exact cause. You need to get writing—and fast. But where to begin? Here, several journalists, PR professionals and writing coaches share secrets to getting the words on the page when deadline panic starts to set in.
  1. The computer is your friend. When stuck staring at a blank computer screen, Wendy Beckman, public information officer at the University of Cincinnati, suggests pretending your computer is a friend who has asked “What do you have to write about?” and then typing the answer onto the screen. This approach may lessen the pressure-induced panic that keeps writers from moving forward. “Just put it down exactly as you would say it to someone in person,” says Beckman, author of the book Communication Tools Made Easy. “At least it gives you something on the screen,” she says. “You can edit it later.”
  2. Clustering. If your mind seems pulled in a thousand directions, organization may be your problem, and clustering is one approach that may help, according to Beckman. After writing your topic in the centre of a blank page, circle it and record every related thought that enters your mind as branches or bubbles off the main thought. Do not worry about using complete sentences, stresses Beckman. Once finished, use these thought bubbles to outline and thus organize your paragraphs. “Clustering works whether you know nothing about the subject or whether you know too much and need to organize it,” says Beckman. “It shows you the gaps in your knowledge and what you need to do next to fill in those gaps. It helps you prioritize and organize the flow of your writing. It can be circular and help you touch back on something you mentioned at the beginning.”
  3. Sources on reserve. Having a list of dependable sources you can rely on long before your topic is even devised is a tactic that Jayne Iafrate, senior associate director of communications at Wheaton College, swears by. “It is a process that takes years,” she says. “You really need to work with people and understand how they work, to make them understand how you work.” Iafrate’s department meets with professors at the college regularly to prepare for upcoming communications opportunities. “We run our communications office as if it were a daily news operation, identifying sources all over campus, understanding what kind of sources they can offer, should we need to pitch them for national news,” she says. “There’s no substitute for making sure that you develop those relationships in advance.”
  4. Get more sources than needed. To prevent a last-minute race for quotes should your key sources end up unreachable or back out, seek out more than you’ll need, suggests Cathy Areu, contributing editor for the Washington Post Magazine. “I never rely on two or three people. I double the amount of sources I need,” says Areu, who usually shoots for 10 sources, no matter the length of the piece she is working on. “If five come through, I’m okay. If all come through, it turns out some are savvier.” Doing so also may illuminate positions that you may not have considered, she notes, adding, “If you’ve only got one angle, how can you write a detailed press release or story?”
  5. Clip inspiration. The old adage says that every great writer is also a reader. Areu clips articles she admires for times when her inspiration runs dry. This practice also helps her to keep her writing audience-centered. “When I’m stuck, I step away from everything, and I read over those pieces. You get in that mind-set and become the reader again,” she says. When under pressure, she scans these clips and asks herself, “What excited me the first time I read that?” and often recognizes a tone or angle she can incorporate into her own writing. Areu doesn’t limit her clips to writing similar to her own. She includes, as she describes, “anything that I like—for action verbs, flow, great transitions . . . I constantly teach myself to be an inspired writer.”
  6. Remember the reader. One way PR professionals get off track when writing under deadline is by forgetting their key audience, stresses Bill Lampton, Ph.D., president of Championship Communication. Actively focusing on your ideal response from your target audience can help, especially in discarding worry about your time constraints. “The time that an assignment is written in is irrelevant,” he says. “Readers don’t care how long it took to write it. They just care that the information is there. All that counts is the finished product.” Remember that your audience will only see the polished piece, not the panic behind the scenes. “To the reading public, time is not a controlling factor,” says Lampton.
  7. Support system starting points. Amanda McKeen Simpson, in her former position as public information officer for the Dallas County Health Department, sometimes relied on a support system of others in similar positions in nearby counties during flu outbreaks in 2003 and 2004. “I asked them to send me their press releases, and I sent them mine,” she says. When crunched for time and under high stress, McKeen Simpson used others’ work—as well as her own past work—as a starting point. “I pulled up an old release and started substituting,” she says. “I had a standard text for certain things.”
  8. Just get it out there. “Recognize that you’re not going to be perfect, that you’re going to look back at some things you write and cringe,” urges McKeen Simpson, who found that once in a while it was important to just complete a given piece and move on. “Sometimes getting the t’s and i’s out there was more important than crossing and dotting them,” she says. Her work for the Dallas County Health Department during two flu outbreaks was done under tight time constraints, forcing her to rush through writing she would’ve spent more time on under normal circumstances. “Sometimes you have no choice but to do it. Sometimes you just have to get the facts out there and organize them later,” she says. At times she sent reporters a fact sheet and promised a formal press release later, just to communicate information even though it wasn’t polished.
  9. Train and trust. Lampton thinks that panic under pressure can be alleviated if writers trust their abilities more. “There’s a phrase in athletics, to ‘train and trust.’ When the time comes for the competition, you’re confident in what you do, and you trust it. The same takes place in writing. All of us have a period of apprenticeship. We continue to train. Likewise, when we get a topic we want to write on, we research it.” Lampton continues, “So when we sit down and write under a tight deadline, why would we have the shakes about what we’ve been trained to do?”
© Public Relations Society of America. Used with permission. For more information, visit www.prsa.org Author Bio: Sarah L Knowles is a production/editorial assistant for “PR Tactics” at Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Lsass.exe System Error

I got an error message box on my PC's start-up, just after the Windows XP logo appeared, but before the splash screen. The message box said "lsass.exe system error, An invalid HANDLE was specified".
Windows then rebooted. The same message box appeared. Windows then rebooted. And again. And again.
So on the next reboot cycle, I keyed F8 until I got the DOS list and selected "Roll back to last known clean restart". Windows started normally.
However, the next day, I got the same message. So I F8ed, and selected the same item from the DOS list, but this time the roll-back didn't work. Hmm. So on the next reboot I F8ed and selected Safe Mode, logged in and then restarted. My PC then started up in Windows normally.
However, the next day, I got the same error message. So I F8ed into safe mode and then started up in Windows normally again. Every day I had to do the same.
What is really interesting is that to the best of my knowledge, I had made no changes to existing software, no new installs & no uninstalls before I started getting this error.
I did some digging on the net, and found that an lsass.exe error could be a result of the Sasser worm. However, as I had done two full system scans using up-to-date Norton AV and had the PC show as completely clean, I didn't think that was likely. I also run SpySweeper, Zone Alarm, Ad-Aware & PC-Pitstop so not much is likely to get through. I searched Microsoft's website and drew a blank.
So I turned to Woody's Lounge (http://www.wopr.com/cgi-bin/w3t/wwwthreads.pl), a volunteer-run IT help desk for almost every software you can imagine. I had three very helpful fellows come up with a range of suggestions, which I worked through. The fixer was to use the System File Checker, as follows:
  1. Go to the Start menu
  2. Select Run, then key "SFC /SCANNOW" into the Open field (NB: Make sure you enter the space before the forward slash)
  3. A Windows File Protection box will appear, with a bar giving an indication of how long the process is taking.
  4. You may get another Windows File Protection box asking you to "Files that are required for Windows to run properly must be copied to the DLL cache. Insert your Windows XP Professional CD-ROM now." Insert your CD, then key Retry.
    This Windows File Protection box may come up several times. Keep keying Retry (you will note that the indicator bar on the first Windows File Protection box will be a little further across each time. Just persevere.
  5. Once done, reboot and your problems should be over :-)
However, if you have problems with the System File Checker beyond that mentioned in item 4, just whip along to http://www.updatexp.com/scannow-sfc.html and you should find a solution there.


Removing Old Outlook Addresses

Windows Secrets Newsletter had a great tip this month on how to clean out all those old email addresses that have arisen because Outlook remembers EVERY email address you have ever replied to, whether you have added the person to your Contacts list or not.
If you aren't sure what I am talking about, it is those addresses that auto-fill when you start typing an address in the "To" message field in a new email.
To remove those addresses that you don't want to show up again, all you have to do is:
  1. Start a new mail message
  2. Click in the To box and start keying anything. Whenever you see an address you don't want showing up again, use your keyboard's arrow keys to move the selection highlight to that address.
  3. Press the Delete key.
You can also turn off Outlook's memory for addresses in both Outlook 2002 and 2003, as follows:
  • On the menu bar, select Tools | Options
  • Click the E-mail Options button, then the Advanced E-mail Options button
  • Uncheck the option labelled "Suggest names while completing To, Cc, and Bcc fields".
  • Select OK as you back out & return to Outlook.
Just remember, if you do this, Outlook won't help you autofill. You will have to key all your addresses in their entirety, unless they have been entered into your Contacts list.

Thanks to Woody's Secrets for this tip - join up at http://www.windowssecrets.com/

TLAs for SMEs

Here are this newsletter's TLAs for you:
  • RDF, Resource Description Framework. A general framework for how to describe any Internet resource such as a Web site and its content
  • GIGO, Garbage in, garbage out. Chat room/txt language

Please feel free to email me with any TLAs that you want to get the bottom (meaning!) of.

Tips, Short+Hot Keys
In the last newsletter & this one, we look at some web browser shortcuts:
  • (IE) Going to the Search bar - Ctrl+E
  • (IE 7) Seeing thumbnails of all your tabbed web pages - Ctrl+Q (or click the Quick Tabs icon to the left of the tabs). And then you can click on the thumbnail of the page you want, and the correct tab opens
  • (IE & Firefox) Key the middle part of a URL eg, microsoft, then, to add 'http://www.' to the front, a '.com' to the end & go directly to the site - Ctrl+Enter
  • (Firefox) Key the middle part of a URL eg, clear, then, to add 'http://www.' to the front, a '.net' to the end & go directly to the site - Shift+Enter
  • (Firefox) Key the middle part of a URL eg, cawthron, then, to add 'http://www.' to the front, a '.org' to the end & go directly to the site - Ctrl+Shift+Enter
  • (IE 7) Key the middle part of a URL eg, cawthron, then, to add 'http://www.' to the front and allow you to enter the end yourself -  Ctrl+Shift+Enter.

Hot Linx
For Pratchett fans keen on attending the February Nullus Anxietas Discworld conference in Melbourne, Australia next year, details are now available at http://www.ausdwcon.org/
If you are a Green Wing fan, you can read up on both series at wikipedia, as some dedicated soul has recorded all the gen at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Wing
Those of you with a passion for blogs might like this site, which provides a guide to the best new blog sites (as there are apparently 75,000 new ones per day) at http://www.technorati.com/
And ooo, this is a great site. Have you ever been stuck with an English word that you have only read? Key the word, enter & run your mouse over it to hear it spoken at http://www.howjsay.com/. Yay!

                                Catch you again soon!! E-mail your suggestions to me here

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