Monthly Archives: November 2005


How to subscribe to a blog

Using my own blog as an example, natch, I’ve written instructions on how to subscribe to blog feeds

What do I do with that RSS button? Well, you need the “Tivo for web pages,” which is an RSS reader or aggregator. RSS aggregators are tools that manage your feed subscriptions for you so that you can be notified about new content and read it when you want it. This page contains descriptions of the most popular ones.

For a Windows-based environment, I suggest SharpReader, which is a separate, standalone application, or Bloglines, which is a web-based application that you access in a web browser.

Here are some sample procedures for adding a feed to my blog on, Exploring Routes to Value. The first involves clicking on the RSS button to go to the feedburner page where you can click on the aggregator of your choice. The next two procedures use SharpReader and Bloglines as examples.
Adding a subscription

  1. Click the yellow RSS button located in the right-hand column above.
  2. On the Feedburner page that you go to, select the RSS reader of your choice, and click the button to subscribe to the feed using that RSS reader.

Adding a subscription using SharpReader

  1. Go get the link for the RSS feed by going to and right-click the small RSS button and choose Copy Shortcut.
  2. Launch SharpReader.
  3. Paste the RSS feed URL ( into the Address field and then click the Subscribe button. Click for a screen shot.

Adding a subscription using Bloglines

  1. Go to
  2. Register for a login.
  3. Get the link for the blog’s RSS feed by going to and right-click the small RSS button and choose Copy Shortcut. You can do a similar procedure for any blog that you read by finding their RSS feed URL.
  4. Once you log in, click the Add link under the My Feeds tab. Click for a screen shot.
  5. Paste the RSS feed URL ( ) and click Subscribe.
  6. On the screen that follows, you can organize your feeds by using folders for categories. Click Subscribe and the feed will appear in the left-hand column. Click for a screen shot.Edited to add: For even more information about the feeds that provides, click on over to for a nice succinct page which discusses the intricacies of all our feeds here at

This lightbulb can tell you when it’s out

Talking about notifications on systems that matter, and going beyond notification to action

Here’s a light bulb that can send your cell phone a message when it goes out. Think about it – you could generate a household “to do” list via SMS! However, I think that Gizmodo is right, the light bulb application isn’t really for home use. I like the idea, but how about pushing it even further. Let’s see how you could. These comments at Engadget are quite good, with several business-service-management-sounding ideas that caught my eye. For example, shouldn’t the light bulb tell that it’s about to go out rather than “I’m out”? Why make the light bulb the smart part, instead, make the socket the smart part, since you don’t replace sockets very often? With light bulbs it’s pretty easy to detect that it’s out with a visual check. Seems like detection of darkness might be the better indicator. Also, how do you ensure your cell phone is working when the message comes through? Better yet, hook it up with a system that automatically orders and delivers more light bulbs when you need them. And that’s the connection to Business Service Management for me. Let’s keep pushing the information layers out of abstraction and into practical application.

Here’s another example from a home automation standpoint. It would be great to automatically generate a grocery list each week. You’d have to install a barcode scanner in both your refrigerator and pantry doors as well as your trash can. Yes, you can buy the smart fridge that scans barcodes, but I haven’t seen the smart garbage can yet that knows when you’ve thrown out a food container. There are plenty of smart appliances, like the microwave that knows how long to cook the food. Apparently kitchen trends are going in this direction. I do hope the smart kitchen designers will eventually catch on that your ultimate goal is the grocery list, or shopping, or having food renewed, or being able to generate lists based on recipes, and so on. It would be way cool to run a report on whether you could make your favorite recipie based on what’s in your fridge and pantry. Atwell, maybe you don’t want to justify that Sub-Zero fridge after all, unless it’s a smart one. 🙂
This real-world kitchen application is similar to how IT’s ultimate goal is to further their businesses’ offerings in services and to help their business make winning recipes. How have you set your notifications and pushed them further out towards the systems that can help you solve the problem? Are you notifying on the crux of the problem, such as “It’s dark in this hallway”, or are you notifying on something more system-like, such as “The lightbulb is out.” Food for thought.

Guess I’ve got food and cooking on my mind, huh? Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


What’s driving CMDB adoption?

Talking about the top three reasons people say they’re working on implementing a CMDB

According to Network World, in this CMDB adoption: What some numbers tell us and why article, they have found three top drivers or motivations for CMDB implementations:
1. Change and Configuration Management (also named Release, Change and Configuration Management)
2. Service Assurance
3. Problem and Incident Management

Interestingly, “Asset and Inventory” was fourth on one survey, but when asked if CMDB was going to be used for “Asset Management” instead, that category fell even further out of the list of reasons to implement a CMDB. Read the article for the full story and details.

In the IT Discovery Suite talk I went to at the BMC Forum, these are some of the items that we see are driving discovery tool needs. While not necessarily directly related to CMDB implementations, I see a coupling, and definitely our discovery tools can populate a CMDB. However, I wonder if asset management isn’t as much of a focus, and there are plenty of other pain points to choose from. In case you need a pain point. I’m guessing most of us don’t need more pain points, but here you go.

Common pain drivers

  • Don’t know what assets are deployed or their inter-dependencies
  • Over- and under-buying of assets
  • Cost, risk of software license and regulatory compliance
  • Change Control vs. Change Management
  • No insight into the impact of IT health on business activities
  • Long resolution times
  • Missed SLAs

Common project drivers

  • Inventory
  • Software license management
  • Regulatory compliance
  • ITIL® best practices (e.g. configuration management)
  • CMDB initiative
  • Application & Patch Management
  • Server consolidation
  • OS Migration
  • Root cause analysis
  • Intelligent Trouble ticket generation

You can take the survey for Network World yourself. What projects or pain points are driving your CMDB projects?


Delayed report from the BMC Forum about Discovering Configuration Items (CIs)

Observations on discovery technology based on sitting in on the BMC IT Discovery Suite presentation at last month’s BMC Forum

Tools for discovering your IT assets are a new area to me, so if I get the technology all wrong, let me know. I attended this session Wednesday of the BMC Forum after having breakfast with some cool people who work in change management at Temple Inland here in Austin (Stephen, one of the brothers in the photo from this post is one of them). They all had Blackberries which seems to be the support gadget of choice — my husband the system administrator carries one as well. I’ll get back to the Blackberries as part of the IT discovery in a minute.

Mike Ramos, a technical services expert who works in Dallas, presented to about 40 attendees. He offered methods for answering the questions, What assets do I have? How are assets related? How are assets configured? An example of a customer request he’s helped with: “I need a quick asset count of the 20,000 desktops I’ve got, plus I need patch management for those 20,000 desktops in less than 3 to 4 weeks, can it be done?” His answer is “Yes, and here’s an overview of how to do it.”

BMC offers Marimba Configuration Discovery for configuration discovery when you want to gain visibility and control over IT assets, so it’s agent based. BMC Discovery Express (he also called it Dex) populates and validates the CMDB with inventory of deployed assets (agentless) using SNMP v1 or v2 (items like a switch, router, or firewall) but doesn’t know about relationship info, so the third piece is BMC Topology Discovery, which tells you the connections. I’m probably completely confused on what you can buy as a package, but your sales rep could help you figure it out, or poke around on the links I’ve embedded.

Questions and answers from this session include:

Q: Can you marry the application to the network things that you know about?
A: Yes, any topology you already know about can be configured.

Q: Can you add connections to servers in the map by hand?
A: Yes, it’s in a right-click menu.

Q: What is that Route to Value graphic?
A: The Route to Value graphic shows categories of the methods you can use to achieve Business Service Management. Marimba works in the Change and Configuration Management Route to Value, but the other two products work in the Asset Management and Discovery Route to Value. I think that just goes to show you that you don’t have to take just one route to get to value.

Q: Are there any gotchas in a VMWare or UNIX partition environment in terms of discovery?
A: As you might guess, VMWare can have issues because of the display aspect, causing you to have to customize the view, but
there is an expert module for VMWare / Citrix is due in a November patch of the product.

Q: What about discovery of handhelds?
A: There are workarounds for Blackberry and Palm devices, but PocketPC is the only officially supported discoverable device.

So that’s how I’ve returned to the ubiquitous Blackberry. I also want to let the Marimba folks know that your radio transmitter/receiver/repeater analogy is quite good in my eyes. It scales well and seems to be familiar to most people. I’ve been explaining architecture for distributed system for about five years now, and your analogies make the best diagrams I’ve seen.


Specifications are important, or are they?

Lately I’ve seen several good articles or tidbits about specifications and was surprised to see some hatred for them

You know, specs. That short little list of things that is supposed to be the technical description of a product. I just read this New York Times article of the commandments to electronics manufacturers and it’s good stuff. Several of the commandments are directly related to documentation, and to troubleshooting, but sometimes the documentation is used before the purchase, such as reading the specs on a digital camera.

As Gizmodo points out, and Commandment III also describes, sometimes megapixels aren’t the whole story.

“III. Thou shalt not hype irrelevant specs. The digital camera industry wants us to believe that a camera’s quality is somehow related to its number of megapixels. A seven-megapixel camera must be better than a four-megapixel one, right?

It’s the same with computers, where millions of people still believe that the higher a computer’s megahertz, the faster it runs. (To its credit, Intel has recently started playing down that simplified statistic.)”

For digital cameras, the sensor size, which collects the light for the image, limits the sensor’s ability to get the whole picture, so to speak. So a 10-megapixel Sharp camera with a CCD sensor of only 38 square millimeters compared to a 10-megapixel Canon 1DS Mark II with a full-frame sized sensor of 864 square millimeters, well, you just can’t compare on megapixels alone because one the sensors will collect a lot more light for you. It seems as though there’s an hype encroachment even on technical specifications where you have to educate yourself just enough to know which specs matter and which ones don’t.

My other favorite commandment from this list is:

“I. Thou shalt not entomb thy product in indestructible plastic.”

With the holiday season coming up, I don’t look forward to the battle with toy packaging. We plan to unbox (debox?) every toy before wrapping in gift wrap. With the twist ties, zip ties, and extremely sticky tape that binds toys to their display box, it’s always a struggle to free the toy from its temporary home.

Back to specifications. Both as a writer and a consumer, I solemnly swear to examine all specifications for hype, and de-hype them before documenting them for a customer or making a purchase as a customer.


How do you evaluate software?

Discussing one evaluator’s perspective and looking for other evaluation methods

I use Google Answers for research questions on occasion, by typing in some keywords and then browsing through already-asked or already-answered questions. I believe you could look for business trends by browsing through the Business and Money section of Google Answers periodically. It’s a definite time-suck if you go off on some of the sections like the questions in Family and Home. (Just how many times does a toddler hear No? Try 400 times a day.) Or even just sort by price to see what information is worth $200. For example, what if you need to buy 1 million Nokia cell phones? But I digress.

In Google Answers, while researching a white paper, I stumbled across an interesting account of how a system administrator might go about evaluating software. This is only a view into one person’s mind set when buying software, but it offers a glimpse and a perspective I hadn’t seen before. I think it also caught my eye because his third priority when evaluation software revolves around documentation and learning curve. His words: “The third qualification I look for is: existing documentation and training availability. I want to know this not only for my team’s learning curve, but also, to see how much the industry accepts the package as something worth writing about.”

As a technical writer I definitely like to hear that documentation helps put a product over the top. But also worry a little because each person’s evaluation of a piece of documentation is different. Plus, as I learned at the Best Practices in Tech Pubs session a few weeks ago, sometimes what a user perceives as product documentation didn’t come from a tech pubs group. Also, his perspective has to do with what others have written about the software, not necessarily the manual that’s shipped with the product. So, in my mind, there has to be something written other than the online help or printed guide to help him qualify and evaluate the software.

His first and second qualifications have to do with exit strategy. “How do I get away from this thing if I need too?” and “Can I access the data from another tool, outside this one, such as Perl?” For someone who makes software, that registers as “Yikes.” Yet in my own evaluations of document publishing or HTML editing software packages, I can see his point. If all my documents were in Word Perfect still, I’d be looking for a more common information architecture to go to for that content. (Reminisce: remember Word Perfect’s code view in the early 90s?)

So. What are your top three evaluation criteria when looking at a software package? Does the doc factor in at all?


Reading IT-related blogs

What are you reading on IT blogs?

Ever feel like you have 100 channels but nothing’s on? I’m definitely feeling that way about television. Now that I have a TiVo®, though, my television viewing is sharply focused to just the content that I want to know about. I recently showed a co-worker of mine my RSS aggregator, Bloglines, and he said “It’s like TiVo for web pages!” That’s the perfect explanation.

So. How do you find good, insightful, relevant blogs on topics that matter to you? I recently read the CNet Top 100 blogs list. You can also download the list as an OPML file and import it into your newsreader. Their categories are a little “out there” to me. Their categores are Cutting edge, Digital lifestyle (that one’s vague), Law/politics, Mac nation, Open source, Search/media (this one’s an odd combo to me), Security/threats, Software,Tech business, and Web culture. Many of my favorites are on that list, but I think it’s definitely bent towards a geeky Mac bloggers’ list, and weighted towards computer technology. I would have also added a “Parenting” category as well as an “Automobile” category. And what about Mobile?

For IT-related blogs, I’ve got several categories in mind. Examples include IT Governance, Infrastructure Management, Application Management, Change and Configuration Management, Identity Management, IT Culture, Mainframe, Capacity Planning, Performance Monitoring, Enterprise Architecture, Network Administrator, and Service Oriented Architecture, all categories for which I’m doing searches for blogs. What categories would you choose for IT-related feeds? What would make your top 10 (or 100, even) IT-related blogs list?


Darwin Information Typing Architecture – DITA (dih tuh)

Roundup of the DITA reading I’ve been diving back in to lately

Here’s a rough grouping of some interesting articles I’ve been reading about DITA implementations lately. BMC has explored DITA implementations for both mainframe and distributed documentation, modeling the information for a couple of books. I’ve been looking at DITA case studies this week.

This article about Adobe’s journey into DITA-land, “Adobe Systems Speaks Out on DITA: Internal use of FrameMaker, CMS, and DITA” offers insight from an information architect at Adobe. Re-use for solutions-type documentation was Adobe’s main goal and the article describes the percentage of re-use that Adobe got out of structured authoring. Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, posted about this case study originally in DITA at Adobe — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (but he doesn’t have trackbacks built in to his blog, bummer.)

Since there aren’t a lot of companies using DITA yet, this additional case study (well, interview with an implementer) is pure gold. Off the top of my head, I think it’s generally known that Nokia’s using DITA, IBM invented it so they use it, and France Baril, Documentation Architect at IXIASOFT, implemented DITA for doc for CEDROM-SNi, a Canadian on-line content company. Today I learned that Autodesk uses it as well from this entry on the Gilbane Report Blog. And then, with a little more Google searching, I found a blogger who’s looking at DITA from the globalization standpoint, John Yunker. When DITA became an OASIS standard in June, John Yunker posted about it in his blog, trying to find more case studies. Don Day, the Chair for OASIS DITA Technical Committee and IBM Lead DITA Architect, notes that “you can find case studies from IBM (Michael Priestley, Susan Carpenter, Ian Larner), Ixiasoft (France Baril), Nokia, and others. In fact, among the references is a Gilbane whitepaper commissioned by Idiom about their work with IBI on a DITA implementation.” I’ve linked directly to the case studies that Don refers to, hoping that the URLs remain accurate. It’s a lot of reading material but worth digging in to.


Exploring Geocaching

Back to the heart of this blog… exploring

I want to write more about exploration, and specifically, I want to talk about Geocaching. Ever heard of it? Basically it’s like a high-tech scavenger hunt using GPS (Global Positioning System) units to track down coordinates, called waypoints, where other geocachers have placed a container full of goodies. Take a goodie, leave a goodie, or just record your visit in a log available in the container or on the website, Heh. I just revisited the site after a long time away and I especially like their new tagline “The sport where You are the search engine.” Perfect.

My foray into geocaching has been a lot of fun in the Austin, Texas area where the geeky technology and rugged outdoor appreciation quotients are both high, making for some fun, creative, techie geocaching. My first attempt to find a cache was along a greenbelt near some high-tech office spaces. The title of the cache was “Death of a Dot-Com.” I searched and searched but finally had to go back to the website for a tip or cheat. It’s tough to find plastic containers partially hidden on a rocky hillside. My second visit and sweep of the area yielded the cache, including SWAG (Stuff We All Get) from a failed Austin dot-com, and I recorded my visit. Success! And I learned how to seek better while exploring.

Geocaching has evolved over the years. You can now put “travel bugs” in a geocache and have the next explorer take that travel bug with them and place it in another cache. The tracking of a travelling object offers another dimension to geocaching. In this tracking there is a nugget of an idea for our route to value message, such as taking a concept from one route and lending it to another route.

Another concept that has evolved from geocaching is the idea of finding benchmarks, which are US survey data points across the entire United States. I’m sure that benchmarking is very useful when implementing BSM, and sharing your benchmarks with other teams or other companies is a great way to build best practices.

Geocaching compared to Business Service Management might be a stretch, but I think there are exploration concepts that we can discuss here. Got any geocaching tales to tell?