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iPhone J.D. - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 01:27

I know that I talk about password managers frequently, but that's because I think that in this day and age of new security concerns every week, having unique and complicated passwords is a critical primary defense between your confidential information and the bad guys.  There is a slight learning curve when you first start using a password manager, but trust me, you are smart enough to figure it out.  And if you use a service that offers a family plan, you can share some passwords with your spouse and other friends and family while keeping other passwords private to you.  Geoffrey Fowler of the Washington Post agrees with me and recommends that you use a password manager.  He prefers Dashlane, but also recommends 1Password (my favorite) and LastPass.  Password managers are going to be even easier to use on the iPhone and iPad when iOS 12 comes out in a few months because they will be more integrated, reducing the number of times that you need to open the password manager app to copy a password and then switch back to the previous app to paste it.  If you are not using a password manager yet, you could wait until iOS 12 comes out, but I recommend that you get one now and start to enter all of your current passwords and secure information (which takes time to do, but fortunately you only have to do it once) and that way you will be ready when iOS 12 comes out.  And now, the news of note from the past week:

  • I enjoyed listening to the latest episode of Brett Burney's Apps in Law podcast.  He talks with Pennsylvania attorney Evan Kline, and they discuss the DEVONthink app.  (Evan Kline was one of the folks who did the awesome Galactic Empire v. Han Solo CLE that I discussed a few years ago.)
  • Burney also posted a video in which he discusses version 4.5 of iAnnotate, a PDF annotation and file management app, which I reviewed back in 2013.  As Burney notes, one of the neatest features of iAnnotate is that you can customize the toolbar to just include the tools that make the most sense for your practice.
  • Yesterday, Thomson Reuters announced the next generation of Westlaw, which will be called Westlaw Edge.  Law librarian Jean O'Grady did a good job of describing all of the new features of Westlaw Edge in a post on her Dewey B Strategic blog.  She notes that there will be a new iOS app.  (Note that Westlaw is a current sponsor of iPhone J.D.)
  • If you use Quicken, the iPhone app should be getting new features soon.  Quicken CEO Eric Dunn announced yesterday that at the end of this month, Quicken will release "an all-new mobile app which works better, looks better, and does more than the existing app."
  • In light of the App Store celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, Alex Guyot of MacStories looks back at the last 10 years of apps.
  • Jonny Evans of Computerworld recommends some neat iCloud tips.
  • Trevor Daugherty of 9to5Toys recommends portable Apple Watch chargers for travel.  My travel solution is to just bring a USB charging cable with me (the one  that comes with the watch) along with an Anker PowerPort, which I use in my hotel room every night to charge my Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • When I was in college, I very much wanted a device like the iPhone, but that technology was far away.  Instead I used a Sharp YO-620 electronic organizer, and I followed with much interest a company called General Magic, which was rumored to be working on something very neat in this product category.  The company itself didn't make it, but the folks who worked there went on to create lots of technology that we use every day.  Thus, I was interested to see a report by Stephen Silver of AppleInsider about a documentary about General Magic that first debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.  His post includes the trailer.
  • And finally, Frederic van Strydonck created a really neat short film using an iPhone partially submerged underwater.  He calls it Spltch, and it is worth watching:

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Review: AirFly by Twelve South -- use your AirPods with any headphone jack

iPhone J.D. - Wed, 07/11/2018 - 02:19

Wireless headphones in general are very useful, but Apple's AirPods in particular are one of my all-time favorite gadgets.  I barely feel them in my ears, and they let me listen to music, podcasts and videos without any annoying cords hanging down my face.  To use AirPods, you need an iPhone or other device with Bluetooth.  What do you do if you want to use your AirPods to listen to audio coming from a headphone jack but Bluetooth is unavailable, such as an in-flight entertainment system on an airplane or the audio in a health club?  The clever folks at Twelve South developed the AirFly for this very situation.  Plug the AirFly into the headphone jack of the audio source, and then the AirFly uses Bluetooth to send the audio to your AirPods.  Twelve South sent me a free sample unit for review purposes, and this device is great.  The AirFly is a simple solution that works very well.

The hardware

The AirFly is smaller than the case that holds your AirPods.  It is 1.8" high, 1.3" wide, and has a depth of .4 inches.  And it weighs about a half an ounce — virtually nothing.  It comes with two small cords, a USB-to-Micro-USB cord that you use to charge the AirFly, and a small headphone cable.

It take two hours to fully charge the AirFly, and when fully charged the AirFly lasts about eight hours. 

There is a single button on the front of the AirFly, used to turn the unit on and off and for pairing.  There are two ports on the bottom:  Micro-USB for charging, and a headphone jack.

To make it easier to carry around the AirFly and the two cords, it comes with a small carrying pouch.

Connecting to the AirFly

To pair the AirFly to your AirPods for the first time, you hold down the button on the front of the AirFly for 10 seconds, then you hold down the white button on the back of the AirPods case.  But you only have to do this pairing the first time that you connect.  In the future, you can just turn on the AirFly and your AirPods will automatically connect.

To switch from using the AirFly to using your iPhone again, just hold down the button on the front of the AirFly for five seconds to turn the unit off.  Then open up the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone and tap AirPods to connect them again.  It is even easier to switch from the iPhone back to the AirFly; just turn on the AirFly by pressing that front button for five seconds, and your AirPods will automatically disconnect from your iPhone and connect to the AirFly.

Although the AirFly works great with Apple's AirPods, it can work with any Bluetooth headphones.

The AirFly uses Bluetooth version 4.1, so your AirPods can be about 30 feet away from the AirFly and still work — pretty much the same range that I get when using my AirPods with my iPhone.

Connecting to an audio source

With a name like "AirFly" you can tell that Twelve South thinks that most folks will want to use this device on an airplane.  However, I didn't have any flights during the past few weeks so I wasn't able to test them which I was in flight.

Instead, I turned back the clock to the Fall of 2005.  Think back to a time before the iPhone when the iPod was still all the rage, and larger Apple Stores even featured an iPod Bar:

The Fifth Generation iPod was the hottest new model, large enough to hold 15,000 songs and also display 25,000 photos and 150 hours of video on its huge (for its time) 2" x 1.5" color screen.

Bluetooth headphones were just starting to hit the market at the time — Stephen Regenold reported in Popular Science on September 29, 2005 that Wireless Headphones are Finally Here, but I didn't know anyone using Bluetooth headphones back them, and certainly nothing as small and innovative as the AirPods.

I pulled my old iPod out of retirement so that it could act as an audio source.  I plugged one end of the headphone cord into the AirFly and plugged the other end in into the iPod.  Within a few seconds, I was listening to songs from my old iPod using my new AirPods, and the music sounded great. 

It was so incredibly freeing to be able to walk anywhere around the room and continue to listen to my iPod.  The 2005 version of myself would have loved using the AirFly and AirPods.  I listened to songs on my old iPod for a long time, and it was actually fun to use a device with a click wheel again.

I also tried the AirFly with other devices in my house with headphone jacks, and it worked great every time.  Look around your own house or office and I'm sure that you will see audio sources that have a headphone jack but don't support Bluetooth.  An iPod, a stereo system, a record player, a TV, a radio, a portable gaming system, an older computer, a portable DVD player ... if it has a headphone jack, the AirFly will make it work with your AirPods.


A few hours after I took the above photo of my old iPod with the AirFly attached, I went back to play with it some more, and it looks like the screen on the iPod finally died.  I tried all of the old tricks for restarting an iPod to no avail.  While it is sad to say goodbye to an iPod that I used almost every day for so many years,  I'm glad that I had one last chance to use it.  Thanks to the AirFly, I was able to give that old iPod a taste of the future.  Perhaps one day, airplane entertainment systems and other devices will all include native Bluetooth support.  But until that day comes, the AirFly is a perfect way to use a headphone jack with AirPods.

Click here to get AirFly from Amazon ($39.99)

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Apple releases iOS 11.4.1 with Exchange and security improvements

iPhone J.D. - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 01:03

Yesterday, Apple released an update to iOS, the operating system for the iPhone and iPad.  The version number change — 11.4 to 11.4.1 — seems pretty minor, but there are two features in here that I think will be of interest to many attorneys.

First, iOS 11.4.1 improves reliability of syncing mail, contacts and notes with Microsoft Exchange accounts.  I know that a large number of law firms use Exchange (and Outlook on the PC or Mac), and thus lots of attorneys use an iPhone and iPad with Exchange.  I certainly do.  Most of the time it works great, but I have had syncing issues in the past, and indeed I encountered one just last week.  There was a contact on my iPhone who did not appear in Outlook on my PC.  I don't know what caused it, and the only solution I came up with was to create a new entry in Outlook on my PC and let that sync automatically to my iPhone, and then delete the former entry on my iPhone so that I didn't have a duplicate.  Hopefully this update will fix these sorts of problems in the future.

Second, iOS 11.4.1 increases security.  This is true of every iOS update, and I'm sure that there are lots of ways that iOS 11.4.1 is more secure, but there is one that is notable.  I mentioned on June 15 that when iOS 12 comes out this Fall, it will include support for USB Restricted Mode.  See that post for more details, but in short, this mode greatly reduces the risk that someone can take your iPhone and plug it into a hardware device that is designed to crack your password by preventing such a device from working if it has been more than an hour since your iPhone was locked.  Who has these devices?  We know that some law enforcement agencies use a device called GrayKey, but if some of the "good guys" have it, then I'm sure that there are some "bad guys" who have similar devices that are used for hacking purposes which are contrary to the public good — and perhaps contrary to the interest of you and your client, because presumably you have confidential information on your iPhone or iPad protected by the attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product doctrine.  If one of these bad actors steal your iPhone or iPad and then connect it to one of these devices quickly enough, maybe they still have a chance of cracking your iPhone, but hopefully there will not be enough time.

It turns out that not only is this feature in iOS 12, it is also in iOS 11 thanks to iOS 11.4.1.  I installed this update on my iPhone and iPad last night and the feature seems to work well.  To test it, I unlocked my iPad using my thumb print, then I waited for an hour, and then I connected it via a USB cable to my home computer running iTunes.  In the past, the iPad just showed up in iTunes.  But after installing iOS 11.4.1, when I connected my iPad to my computer more than an hour after I last unlocked it, I saw an alert on the iPad's lock screen telling me that I had to unlock my iPad before I could use an accessory:

Although USB Restricted Mode is enabled by default in iOS 11.4.1, you can turn it off if you want.  In the Settings app, tap on Face ID & Passcode if you have an iOS X, or Touch ID & Passcode if you have an earlier device, and then enter your passcode.  On the next screen — the same place where you teach your iPhone your face or your fingerprint — scroll down to the very bottom.  The second to last setting is called USB Accessories.  Just below it is an explanation of what this new setting does.  When switched to the off position, which is the default, you have greater security.  If you switch it on, then you are saying that you are allowing your iPhone to be connected to USB devices even if it has been more than an hour since the iPhone was last unlocked.  It is a little counter-intuitive to have increased security when something is turned off, so that's why I wanted to mention this.


Apple released more information on how this new mode works in this post.  Note that you can still plug in a power adapter to charge your iPhone or iPad without needing to enter your passcode after an hour.  However, Apple warns that there may be some other devices which might not pass a charge unless you first enter your passcode. 

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

In the news

iPhone J.D. - Thu, 07/05/2018 - 23:33

On July 10, 2008, Apple opened the App Store, stocked with 500 apps.  There are now over two million apps in the App Store.  I wasn't planning on talking about the 10th anniversary of the App Store until next week, but yesterday Apple released an interesting "feature" story about the ten years of the App Store, and it is a great read.  This isn't just a boring press release; it is a detailed story featuring quotes from lots of individuals who have had something to do with the App Store's success.  And now, the other news of note from the past week:

  • Malcom Owen of AppleInsider explains why the 10.5" iPad Pro is a great iPad to use when getting work done.  For most attorneys, that probably is the best iPad to get, but I really like the 12.9" size and I can't imagine ever wanting to go back to a smaller size.
  • British defense secretary Gavin Williamson was speaking to the House of Commons when Siri started talking too — probably triggered when he mentioned Syria.  The resulting short video is amusing, posted by Malcolm Owen of AppleInsider.
  • Apple is rebuilding the maps in its Maps app.  Matthew Panzarino of Tech Crunch talked to a number of folks at Apple and has all of the details.
  • Bradley Chambers of 9to5Mac reviews some of the best password managers for iOS and macOS.
  • Andrew O'Hara of AppleInsider reviews the Olloclip for iPhone X, an external lens system.
  • If you access Twitter using a third party app like Twitterific or Tweetbot, you are going to start losing some features next month.  Peter Cao of 9to5Mac explains why.
  • My favorite weather app, CARROT Weather, was updated this week to add new map layers.  Ryan Christoffel of MacStories explains what is new.
  • Ed Hardy of Cult of Mac reports that the iPhone 8 is currently the best-selling smartphone in the world.
  • In iOS 12, third party apps will be able to work with CarPlay.  Sygic plans to offer offline maps, useful if you are traveling without a data signal, as reported by CarPlay Life.
  • And finally, is it worth it to get an unlimited data plan from your cellphone carrier?  I use the AT&T unlimited plan (which I described in this post), and I think that it makes sense for my family, but your situation may be different.  Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal teamed up with competitive eater Carmen Cincotti to show to talk about when the plans do and don't make sense (video link):

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Order Out of Chaos: Patterns of Organization for Writing on the Job

A list Apart development site - Thu, 07/05/2018 - 09:18

A few years ago, a former boss of mine emailed me out of the blue and asked for a resource that would help him and his colleagues organize information more effectively. Like a dutiful friend, I sent him links to a few articles and the names of some professional writing books. And I qualified my answer with that dreaded disclaimer: “Advice varies widely depending on the situation.” Implication: “You’ll just have to figure out what works best for you. So, good luck!”

In retrospect, I could have given him a better answer. Much like the gestalt principles of design that underpin so much of what designers do, there are foundational principles and patterns of organization that are relevant to any professional who must convey technical information in writing, and you can adapt these concepts to bring order out of chaos whether or not you’re a full-time writer.

.row{margin:0 132px 24px}.col ol,.col ul{margin-left:40px}.row:after{clear:left;content:"";display:block}.col{float:left;width:50%}.col ul{list-style-type:disc}.col ul li{margin-bottom:9px}@media only screen and (max-width:37.5em){.row{margin:0 0 24px}.col{float:none;width:100%}.col+.col{margin-top:24px}} Recognize the primary goals: comprehension and performance

Not long after I wrote my response, I revisited a book I’d read in college: Technical Editing, by Carolyn D. Rude. In my role as a technical writer, I reference the book every now and then for practical advice on revising software documentation. This time, as I reviewed the chapter on organization, I realized that Rude explained the high-level goals and principles better than any other author I’d read up to that point.

In short, she says that whether you are outlining a procedure, describing a product, or announcing a cool new feature, a huge amount of writing in the workplace is aimed at comprehension (here’s what X is and why you should care) and performance (here’s how to do X). She then suggests that editors choose from two broad kinds of order to support these goals: content-based order and task-based order. The first refers to structures that guide readers from major sections to more detailed sections to facilitate top-down learning; the second refers to structures of actions that readers need to carry out. Content-based orders typically start with nouns, whereas task-based orders typically begin with verbs.

Content-Based Order Example

Product Overview

  • Introduction
  • Features
    • Feature 1
    • Feature 2
    • Feature n
  • Contact
  • Support

Task-Based Order Example

User Guide (WordPress)

  • Update your title and tagline
  • Pick a theme you love
  • Add a header or background
  • Add a site icon
  • Add a widget

Of course, not all writing situations fall neatly into these buckets. If you were to visit Atlassian’s online help content, you would see a hybrid of content-based topics at the first level and task-based topics within them. The point is that as you begin to think about your organization, you should ask yourself:

  • Which of the major goals of organization (comprehension or performance) am I trying to achieve?
  • And which broad kind of order will help me best achieve those goals?

This is still pretty abstract, so let’s consider the other principles from Carolyn Rude, but with a focus on how a writer rather than an editor should approach the task of organization.1

Steal like an organizer: follow pre-established document structures

In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon argues that smart artists don’t actually create anything new but rather collect inspiring ideas from specific role models, and produce work that is profoundly shaped by them.

“If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original,” he writes, “we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

The same principle applies to the art of organization. To “steal like an organizer” means to look at what other people have written and to identify and follow pre-established structures that may apply to your situation. Doing so not only saves time and effort but also forces you to remember that your audience may already expect a particular pattern—and experience cognitive dissonance if they don’t get it.

You are probably familiar with more pre-established structures than you think. News reports follow the inverted pyramid. Research reports often adhere to some form of the IMRAD structure (Introduction, Methodology, Results, and Discussion). Instruction manuals typically have an introductory section followed by tasks grouped according to the typical sequence a user would need to follow. Even troubleshooting articles tend to have a standard structure of Problem, Cause, and Solution.

All this may sound like common sense, and yet many writers entirely skip this process of adapting pre-made structures. I can understand the impulse. When you face a blank screen, it feels simpler to capture the raw notes and organize it all later. That approach can certainly help you get into the flow, but it may also result in an ad hoc structure that fails to serve readers who are less familiar with your material.

Instead, when you begin the writing process, start by researching available templates or pre-made structures that could support your situation. Standard word processors and content management systems already contain some good templates, and it’s easy to search for others online. Your fellow writers and designers are also good resources. If you’re contributing to a series of documents at your organization, you should get familiar with the structure of that series and learn how to work within it. Or you can do some benchmarking and steal some ideas from how other companies structure similar content.

My team once had to do our own stealing for a major project that affected about half our company. We needed to come up with a repeatable structure for standard operating procedures (SOPs) that any employee could use to document a set of tasks. Knowing SOPs to be a well-established genre, we found several recommended structures online and in books, and came up with a list of common elements. We then decided which ones to steal and arranged them into a sequence that best suited our audience. We made out like bandits.

Structural SOP Elements We Found Our Assessment Overview Steal Roles Involved Steal Dependencies Steal Estimated Level of Effort Nah, too hard to calculate and maintain. Process Diagram Meh, kind of redundant, not to mention a lot of work. No thanks. Tasks Steal Task n Steal Task n Introduction Steal Task n Responsibility Steal Task n Steps Steal See Also Steal

But what if there is no pre-established pattern? Or what if a pattern exists, but it’s either too simple or too complex for what you’re trying to accomplish? Or what if it’s not as user-friendly as you would like?

There may indeed be cases where you need to develop a mostly customized structure, which can be daunting. But fear not! That’s where the other principles of organization come in.

Anticipate your readers’ questions (and maybe even talk to them)

Recently I had an extremely frustrating user experience. While consulting some documentation to learn about a new process, I encountered a series of web pages that gave no introduction and dove straight into undefined jargon and acronyms that I had never heard of. When I visited related pages to get more context, I found the same problem. There was no background information for a newbie like me. The writers failed in this case to anticipate my questions and instead assumed a great deal of prior knowledge.

Don’t make this mistake when you design your structure. Like a journalist, you need to answer the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your content, and then incorporate the answers in your structure. Anticipate common questions, such as “What is this? Where do I start? What must I know? What must I do?” This sort of critical reflection is all the more important when organizing web content, because users will almost certainly enter and exit your pages in nonlinear, unpredictable ways.

If possible, you should also meet with your readers, and gather information about what would best serve them. One simple technique you could try is to create a knowledge map, an annotated matrix of sorts that my team once built after asking various teams about their information priorities. On the left axis, we listed categories of information that we thought each team needed. Along the top axis, we listed a column for each team. We then gave team representatives a chance to rank each category and add custom categories we hadn’t included. (You can learn more about the process we followed in this video presentation.)

A knowledge map my team created after asking other teams which categories of information were most important to them.

The weakness of this approach is that it doesn’t reveal information that your audience doesn’t know how to articulate. To fill in this gap, I recommend running a few informal usability tests. But if you don’t have the time for that, building a knowledge map is better than not meeting with your readers at all, because it will help you discover structural ideas you hadn’t considered. Our knowledge map revealed multiple categories that were required across almost all teams—which, in turn, suggested a particular hierarchy and sequence to weave into our design.

Go from general to specific, familiar to new

People tend to learn and digest information best by going from general to specific, and familiar to new. By remembering this principle, which is articulated in the schema theory of learning, you can better conceptualize the structure you’re building. What are the foundational concepts of your content? They should appear in your introductory sections. What are the umbrella categories under which more detailed categories fall? The answer should determine which headings belong at the top and subordinate levels of your hierarchy. What you want to avoid is presenting new ideas that don’t flow logically from the foundational concepts and expectations that your readers bring to the table.

Consider the wikiHow article “How to Create a Dungeons and Dragons Character.” It begins by defining what Dungeons and Dragons is and explaining why you need to create a character before you can start playing the game.

Writers at wikiHow help readers learn by starting with general concepts before moving on to specifics.

The next section, “Part 1: Establishing the Basics,” guides the reader into subsequent foundational steps, such as deciding which version of the game to follow and printing out a character sheet. Later sections (“Selecting a gender and race,” “Choosing a class,” and “Calculating ability scores”) expand on these concepts to introduce more specific, unfamiliar ideas in an incremental fashion, leading readers up a gentle ramp into new territory.

Use conventional patterns to match structure to meaning

Within the general-to-specific/familiar-to-new framework, you can apply additional patterns of organization that virtually all humans understand. Whereas the pre-established document structures above are usually constructed for particular use cases or genres, other conventional patterns match more general mental models (or “schemas,” as the schema theory so elegantly puts it) that we use to make sense of the world. These patterns include chronological, spatial, comparison-contrast, cause-effect, and order of importance.


The chronological pattern reveals time or sequence. It’s appropriate for things like instructions, process flows, progress reports, and checklists. In the case of instructions, the order of tasks on a page often implies (or explicitly states) the “proper” or most common sequence for a user to follow. The wikiHow article above, for example, offers a recommended sequence of tasks for beginner players. In the case of progress reports, the sections may be ordered according to the periods of time in which work was done, as in this sample outline from the book Reporting Technical Information, by Kenneth W. Houp et al.:


  • Introduction
  • Summary of work completed


  • Work completed
    • Period 1 (beginning and end dates)
      • Description
      • Cost
    • Period 2 (beginning and end dates)

      • Description
      • Cost
  • Work remaining

    • Period 3 (or remaining periods)
      • Description of work to be done
      • Expected cost


  • Evaluation of work in this period
  • Conclusions and recommendations

The principles of organization listed in this article are in fact another example of the chronological pattern. As Carolyn Rude points out in her book, the principles are arranged as a sort of methodology to follow. Try starting at the top of the list and work your way down. You may find it to be a useful way to produce order out of the chaos before you.


The spatial pattern refers to top-to-bottom, left-to-right structures of organization. This is a good pattern if you need to describe the components of an interface or a physical object.

Take a look at the neighbor comparison graph below, which is derived from a sample energy efficiency solution offered by Oracle Utilities. Customers who see this graph would most likely view it from top to bottom and left to right.

A neighbor comparison graph that shows a customer how they compare with their neighbors in terms of energy efficiency.

A detailed description of this feature would then describe each component in that same order. Here’s a sample outline:

  • Feature name
    • Title
    • Bar chart
      • Efficient neighbors
      • You
      • Average neighbors
    • Date range
    • Performance insight

      • Great
      • Good
      • Using more than average
    • Energy use insight
    • Comparison details (“You’re compared with 10 homes within 6 miles …”)

The comparison-contrast pattern helps users weigh options. It’s useful when reporting the pros and cons of different decisions or comparing the attributes of two or more products or features. You see it often when you shop online and need to compare features and prices. It’s also a common pattern for feasibility studies or investigations that list options along with upsides and downsides.


The cause-effect pattern shows relationships between actions and reactions. Writers often use it for things like troubleshooting articles, medical diagnoses, retrospectives, and root cause analyses. You can move from effect to cause, or cause to effect, but you should stick to one direction and use it consistently. For example, the cold and flu pages at Drugs.com follow a standard cause-effect pattern that incorporates logical follow-up sections such as “Prevention” and “Treatment”:

  • What Is It? (This section defines the illness and describes possible “causes.”)
  • Symptoms (This section goes into the “effects” of the illness.)
  • Diagnosis
  • Expected Duration
  • Prevention
  • Treatment
  • When to Call a Professional
  • Prognosis

For another example, see the “Use parallel structure for parallel sections” section below, which shows what a software troubleshooting article might look like.

Order of importance

The order of importance pattern organizes sections and subsections of content according to priority or significance. It is common in announcements, marketing brochures, release notes, advice articles, and FAQs.

The order of importance pattern is perhaps the trickiest one to get right. As Carolyn Rude says, it’s not always clear what the most important information is. What should come in the beginning, middle, and end? Who decides? The answers will vary according to the author, audience, and purpose.

When writing release notes, for example, my team often debates which software update should come first, because we know that the decision will underscore the significance of that update relative to the others. FAQs by definition are focused on which questions are most common and thus most important, but the exact order will depend on what you perceive as being the most frequent or the most important for readers to know. (If you are considering writing FAQs, I recommend this great advice from technical writer Lisa Wright.)

Other common patterns

Alphabetical order is a common pattern that Rude doesn’t mention in detail but that you may find helpful for your situation. To use this pattern, you would simply list sections or headings based on the first letter of the first word of the heading. For example, alphabetical order is used frequently to list API methods in API documentation sites such as those for Flickr, Twitter, and Java. It is also common in glossaries, indexes, and encyclopedic reference materials where each entry is more or less given equal footing. The downside of this pattern is that the most important information for your audience may not appear in a prominent, findable location. Still, it is useful if you have a large and diverse set of content that defies simple hierarchies and is referenced in a non-linear, piecemeal fashion.

Group related material

Take a look at the lists below. Which do you find easier to scan and digest?

  1. Settle on a version of D&D.
  2. Print a character sheet, if desired.
  3. Select a gender and race.
  4. Choose a class.
  5. Name your character.
  6. Identify the main attributes of your character.
  7. Roll for ability scores.
  8. Assign the six recorded numbers to the six main attributes.
  9. Use the “Point Buy” system, alternatively.
  10. Generate random ability scores online.
  11. Record the modifier for each ability.
  12. Select skills for your character.
  13. List your character’s feats.
  14. Roll for your starting gold.
  15. Equip your character with items.
  16. Fill in armor class and combat bonuses.
  17. Paint a picture of your character.
  18. Determine the alignment of your character.
  19. Play your character in a campaign.

Part 1: Establishing the Basics

  1. Settle on a version of D&D.
  2. Print a character sheet, if desired.
  3. Select a gender and race.
  4. Choose a class.
  5. Name your character.

Part 2: Calculating Ability Scores

  1. Identify the main attributes of your character.
  2. Roll for ability scores.
  3. Assign the six recorded numbers to the six main attributes.
  4. Use the “Point Buy” system, alternatively.
  5. Generate random ability scores online.
  6. Record the modifier for each ability.

Part 3: Equipping Skills, Feats, Weapons, and Armor

  1. Select skills for your character.
  2. List your character’s feats.
  3. Roll for your starting gold.
  4. Equip your character with items.
  5. Fill in armor class and combat bonuses.

Part 4: Finishing Your Character

  1. Paint a picture of your character.
  2. Determine the alignment of your character.
  3. Play your character in a campaign.

(Source: wikiHow: How to Create a Dungeons and Dragons Character.)

If you chose the second list, that is probably because the writers relied on a widely used organizational technique: grouping.

Grouping is the process of identifying meaningful categories of information and putting information within those categories to aid reader comprehension. Grouping is especially helpful when you have a long, seemingly random list of information that could benefit from an extra layer of logical order. An added benefit of grouping is that it may reveal where you have gaps in your content or where you have mingled types of content that don’t really belong together.

To group information effectively, first analyze your content and identify the discrete chunks of information you need to convey. Then tease out which chunks fall within similar conceptual buckets, and determine what intuitive headings or labels you can assign to those buckets. Writers do this when creating major and minor sections within a book or printed document. For online content, grouping is typically done at the level of articles or topics within a web-based system, such as a wiki or knowledge base. The Gmail Help Center, for example, groups topics within categories like “Popular articles,” “Read & organize emails,” and “Send emails.”

It’s possible to go overboard here. Too many headings in a short document or too many topics in a small help system can add unnecessary complexity. I once faced the latter scenario when I reviewed a help system written by one of my colleagues. At least five of the topics were so short that it made more sense to merge them together on a single page rather than forcing the end user to click through to separate pages. I’ve also encountered plenty of documents that contain major section headings with only one or two sentences under them. Sometimes this is fine; you may need to keep those sections for the sake of consistency. But it’s worth assessing whether such sections can simply be merged together (or conversely, whether they should be expanded to include more details).

Because of scenarios like these, Carolyn Rude recommends keeping the number of groupings to around seven, give or take a few—though, as always, striking the right balance ultimately depends on your audience and purpose, as well as the amount of information you have to manage.

Use parallel structure for parallel sections

One of the reasons Julius Caesar’s phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered” still sticks in our memory after thousands of years is the simple fact of parallelism. Each part of the saying follows a distinct, repetitive grammatical form that is easy to recall.

Parallelism works in a similar manner with organization. By using a consistent and repetitive structure across types of information that fit in the same category, you make it easier for your readers to navigate and digest your content.

Imagine you’re writing a troubleshooting guide in which all the topics follow the same basic breakdown: Problem Title, Problem, Cause, Solution, and See Also. In this case, you should make sure that each topic includes those same headings, in the exact same hierarchy and sequence, and using the exact same style and formatting. This kind of parallelism delivers a symmetry that reduces the reader’s cognitive load and clarifies the relationships of each part of your content. Deviations from the pattern not only cause confusion but can undermine the credibility of the content.

Do This

ABC Troubleshooting Guide

  • Introduction
  • Problem 1 Title
    • Problem
    • Cause
    • Solution
    • See Also
  • Problem 2 Title

    • Problem
    • Cause
    • Solution
    • See Also
  • Problem 3 Title

    • ...
  • Don’t Do This

    ABC Troubleshooting Guide

    • Introduction
    • Problem 1 Title
      • Problem
      • Root causes
      • How to Fix it
      • Advanced Tips and tricks
      • Related
    • Problem 2 title

      • Issue
      • Steps to Fix
      • Why did this happen, and how can I avoid it next time?
      • See also
    • Problem 3 title

      • ...

    This last principle is probably the easiest to grasp but may be the most difficult to enforce, especially if you are managing contributions from multiple authors. Templates and style guides are useful here because they invite authors to provide standard inputs, but you will still need to watch the content like a hawk to squash the inconsistencies that inevitably emerge.


    In one sense, my response to my former boss was accurate. Given the endless variety of writing situations, there is no such thing as a single organization solution. But saying that “advice varies widely depending on the situation” doesn’t tell the whole story. There are flexible patterns and principles that can guide you in finding, customizing, and creating structures for your goals.

    The key thing to remember is that structure affects meaning. The sequence of information, the categories you use, the emphasis you imply through your hierarchy—all of these decisions impact how well your audience understands what you write. Your ideal structure should therefore reinforce what you mean to say.

    • 1. The principles in this article are based on the same ones that Carolyn Rude outlines in chapter 17, pp. 289–296, of the third edition of her book. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of editing. The book is now in its fifth edition and includes an additional author, Angela Eaton. See Technical Editing (Fifth Edition) for details. The examples and illustrations used in this article are derived from a variety of other sources, including my own work.
Categories: Technology

Review: LA Wallet -- digital version of your Louisiana driver's license on your iPhone

iPhone J.D. - Wed, 07/04/2018 - 18:33

Has this ever happened to you — you grab your iPhone and keys and jump in your car to go somewhere, only to realize after you start driving that you forgot to pick up your wallet or purse, and thus you don't have your driver's license with you.  As a result, you spend the rest of your trip praying that you don't get pulled over for any reason.  You could just take a picture of your license and keep that on your iPhone, but that isn't going to be legally valid.  The only real solution is a digital version of your driver's license which is valid under state law.  Louisiana, where I live, was the first state to roll out a digital driver's license on July 3, 2018, and a few other states are working on similar initiatives.  The app that you use in Louisiana is called LA Wallet.

Announcing the app earlier this week, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said:  "Most people never leave home without their smartphone and with this App, they will never be without their driver’s license.  State Police requested a 'hands-off' and 'no-touch' procedure that would not require them to hold a driver’s phone.  Rep. Ted James who authored the legislation that led to the creation of this App is to be commended for his work as well as the team of Louisianans who designed it."

The law

Before discussing the app, let's briefly address the statute that makes this app possible.  In Louisiana, and I imagine in virtually every other jurisdiction in the world, you need a driver's license with you when you are driving a car.  In Louisiana, that law can be found in La. R.S. § 32:411.  Act No. 625 of 2016 amended that statute to add language saying that you can either have a license or a digital license when you are driving.  The current law provides, with the new language in bold and underlined:  "The licensee shall have his license, or a digitized driver's license as provided in this Section, in his immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle and shall display it upon demand of any officer or agent of the department or any police officer of the state, parish, or municipality..."  La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(1).

The law then goes on to provide what constitutes a valid digital driver's license.  The law specifically provides that it is not enough to just have a picture of your driver's license.  See La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3)(b) ("A digital copy, photograph, or image of a driver's license which is not downloaded through the application on a mobile device shall not be a valid digitized driver's license as provided by this Section.")  Instead, a legal digital driver's license in Louisiana must be displayed in an app that meets certain requirements, including the ability to connect to the La. Department of Public Safety via the Internet to confirm that the digital driver's license is currently valid. 

The law also provides that, for now, a digital driver's license is only valid during a traffic stop or a checkpoint.  If you need to provide your license for some other reason, such as proving your identity to TSA to board an airplane or to prove that you are of legal drinking age at a bar, for now at least the digital driver's license is not enough.  But there are efforts underway to expand the acceptance of a Louisiana digital driver's license.

If you show your iPhone to a police officer, does that mean that you have consented for the police officer to look at other apps on your iPhone?  The statute explicitly says no:  "The display of a digitized driver's license shall not serve as consent or authorization for a law enforcement officer, or any other person, to search, view, or access any other data or application on the mobile device."  La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3)(e).  Moreover, once the officer looks at your digital driver's license, the officer is required by law to return your iPhone to you.  "If a person presents their mobile device to a law enforcement officer for purposes of displaying their digitized driver's license, the law enforcement officer shall promptly return the mobile device to the person once he has had an opportunity to verify the identity and license status of the person."  Id.

Here are all of the statutory requirements associated with a digital driver's license in Louisiana, contained in La. R.S. § 32:411(F)(3):

(a) For the purposes of this Subsection, a digitized driver's license shall mean a data file available on any mobile device which has connectivity to the internet through an application that allows the mobile device to download the data file from the department or an authorized representative of the department, contains all of the data elements visible on the face and back of the license, and also displays the current status of the license. For the purposes of this Subparagraph, "current status" shall include but is not limited to valid, expired, cancelled, suspended, disqualified, hardship, or interlock hardship status.

(b) A digital copy, photograph, or image of a driver's license which is not downloaded through the application on a mobile device shall not be a valid digitized driver's license as provided by this Section.

(c) A person shall not be issued a citation for driving a motor vehicle without a physical driver's license in his possession if he presents a digitized driver's license to a law enforcement officer in connection with a traffic stop or checkpoint in Louisiana. However, in connection with requests for identification not associated with traffic stops or checkpoints in Louisiana, a person may be required to produce a physical driver's license to a law enforcement officer, a representative of a state or federal department or agency, or a private entity when so requested and be subject to all the applicable laws and consequences for failure to produce such license.

(d) The department shall promulgate such rules as are necessary to implement a digitized driver's license. No digitized driver's license shall be valid until the department has adopted such rules.

(e) The display of a digitized driver's license shall not serve as consent or authorization for a law enforcement officer, or any other person, to search, view, or access any other data or application on the mobile device. If a person presents their mobile device to a law enforcement officer for purposes of displaying their digitized driver's license, the law enforcement officer shall promptly return the mobile device to the person once he has had an opportunity to verify the identity and license status of the person.

(f) The fee to install the application to display a digitized driver's license as defined in Subparagraph (a) of this Paragraph shall not exceed six dollars.

As I noted above, digital driver's licenses are coming to other states too.  Just a few days ago, William Petroski reported in the Des Moines Register that Iowa is working out the details of its digital driver's license, which is expected to debut in 2019.  Iowa, Colorado, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Wyoming are working with a company called Gemalto, which received a $2 million grant from the federal NIST to design and test a digital driver's license.

The LA Wallet app

Currently, the only digital driver's license app in Louisiana is an app called LA Wallet, although I imagine that others could make similar apps as long as they meet the requirements of the statute.  When you start the app you are asked to provide an email address and create a password so that you have an account with Envoc, the Louisiana-based company that created the app. Next, you need to create a four-digit PIN, which you will have to enter every time you open the LA Wallet app.

Next, you add your driver's license to the app by supplying your full name, your driver's license number, and your audit code (a four-digit number on the front of every Louisiana driver's license).  Although the LA Wallet app is free, you need to pay $5.99 to download a digital license.  That $5.99 will cover you until you get a new driver's license.  (In Louisiana, a license is good for up to six years.)

That's it.  Now, when you open the app, you enter your PIN, and then the app shows you the main screen:

Tap on the small image of your license to bring up the full view:

A high-quality digital version of your full driver's license is displayed.  The app determines whether your license is valid and displays that clearly along the top — a large green bar if it is valid.  I'm not sure how often the app normally checks (it did it several times on its own during my testing) but you can always tap the Refresh button to force it to check.  You can tap the View button to switch between a graphical version of your license and just the key information in large, plain text.

I cannot say that I fully tested this app because I haven't yet used it when I was pulled over for a traffic stop or a random checkpoint.  And if I never get a chance to conduct that sort of "test" that would be fine with me.  But it certainly looks like this app does everything that it says.


Spending $6 for up to six years of never having to worry about forgetting my driver's license when I am driving seems like a pretty good deal to me.  And as noted above, the legal uses of this app may expand in the future, which might be helpful for folks younger than me who are frequently carded at a bar but may not always have a physical license.

I like the idea of moving away from physical cards.  I can already walk to many stores with nothing more than my iPhone or Apple Watch, using Apple Pay to pay for my purchases.  (I actually just did that yesterday morning to pick up a few groceries.)  Thanks to the LA Wallet app, now I can also drive to those stores, or anywhere else in Louisiana, without having to worry about having my wallet which contains my driver's license.

If you live in Louisiana, I encourage you to get the LA Wallet app.  If you live elsewhere, hopefully you will soon have a similar iPhone app that you can use.

Click here to get LA Wallet (free): 

Categories: iPhone Web Sites


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