Monthly Archives: December 2005


Open, editable online dictionary

You can submit entries to Merriam-Webster’s Open Dictionary

In the spirit of Wikipedia (which by the way, isn’t as editable as it used to be), Merriam-Webster now has an Open Dictionary. So far there are over 2800 entries. You can submit an entry or browse submitted entries.

Okay, okay. I just wanted the last post of 2005 on Happy new year, everyone!


GamingWorks BV developed the Apollo 13 ITIL experience

Despite my inability to read Dutch, I got a nice note telling me who created the Apollo 13 ITIL game simulation

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while, and I apologize for my tardiness! A few weeks ago I received a nice email from Jan Schilt, Managing Director at Gaming Works BV, letting me know that they developed The Apollo 13 – an ITSM case experience™. It’s available in Dutch, German, English, Polish, Spanish and Danish. Click on over to their website for ways to find certified trainers.


Bloggin’ on a break from organizing

I can’t stay away. Actually, I’m just taking a blog break while I do a bunch of organization both online and offline.

I figure that since my blog doesn’t have a bunch of content yet, I shouldn’t take a two-week break. I remember when the Fox network started running new shows while all the other networks took the summers off. Granted, they brought us 90210 during that time, but still, I am too new a “network” with too little content to take a break.
For me, anticipating the new year brings an irresistible urge to organize. I like this article, “A Guide to Organizing the Home and Office” and are putting some of the ideas in to action. I’ve found plastic storage boxes at Frye’s that are the same as the ones at The Container Store but with blue lids and for about $3 less each. These boxes stack nicely and are clear so I can see what’s in them.
I’m also working on designing a maintainable address book. I am designing my own address book in Excel. Mostly I have to make my own data store because I have over 60 addresses for sending Christmas cards, and a mail merge makes for easy envelope addressing. I found that the open source database formats for contacts don’t let me do a mail merge with the combinations that I need, because Christmas cards go to families but most address books are used for email which means one person per email address. Snail mail and electronic mail are quite different animals when you start to try to combine the data sources you store. Yep, I’m designing information even while on break.
I’m also re-reading’s “Writing sensible email messages” and I’m going to make it a resolution to write better email messages in the new year. I especially like the tip, “Make it easy to quote – Power email users will quote and respond to specific sections or sentences of your message. You can facilitate this by keeping your paragraphs short, making them easy to slice and dice.”
Easy to quote, making your message memorable and also easy to copy and reuse portions of it. Content reuse, sounds good to me! How about you, any organization tips to share?


Revisiting dirty jobs in IT…

I’ve found some answers to the question I posed earlier, what are IT’s dirtiest jobs?

Jason Hiner over at (registration required, I believe) just started a thread asking, What are the worst jobs in IT? accompanied by the counter question, What are the best jobs in IT?

Great question, one I’ve asked here before in my IT Dirty Jobs post. And now I get some answers! Here are my three favorites.
How about computer technician for elementary, middle school, and high school computer labs, yikes. I envision virus infestations and germy keyboards (of course, studies have shown that keyboards are filthier than most toilets. Ew.) Not to mention the script kiddies who fancy themselves as hackers in the older grades.

I also liked the job description for an industrial machinery debugger and programmer. The loud, hot or cold (depending on the time of year) factory floor is your workstation, and apparently you have to climb over the broken machinery, risking life and limb! Risky, dirty, and high pressure all in one.
And the final one I’ll mention because it gets a lot of votes is “sole IT person,” meaning if it gets plugged in, you’re the one in charge of it company-wide. Yeah, that has to be a dirty job. Crawling under desks, driving to remote sites only to find out the problem is fixed before you get there, and the pressure under emergency situations (all eyes are on you until the network is up). Sounds down and dirty to me.
Other finalists include: ISP tech support, network cable installer, help desk, cooling fan hairball remover (okay, actually, computer refurbisher, blech).
So there you have it, a report on some downright dirty jobs.


Taking a two week break, pondering structured blogging

I’m off for a two week break and I’ll blog when I return. In the meantime, I’m reading about structured blogging.

I’ll be off next week for the holidays. The first week of January I’ll be welcoming a new niece or nephew to the extended family. Nope, they haven’t learned the gender, but we haven’t broken into the store where they’ve registered to find out, either.
Until January, I’ll share a post about structured blogging that I found in Charlie Wood’s blog about RSS in the enterprise, Moonwatcher. I’m contemplating an insightful post by Joshua Porter, ” Structured blogging, who is benefitting and how” and also learning more about the semantic web. I’m working on a DITA specialization for blog entries and I need to find out what elements the structured blogging folks will require. I’d like more practice in structured authoring using DITA, and since I’m writing two blog posts a week, seems like it’s the perfect opportunity to put get some structured authoring practice.
Happy holidays, everyone!


IT-related resolutions for the new year

The new year is ever nearer, and here are some new year’s resolutions for both information technology experts and technologists in general.

Pick up a copy of Time Management for System Administrators for productivity tips that speak to the sys admin life. I just read the first page of Chapter 4 and the best quote is “I’m a system administrator! I manage chaos for a living!” True, true. I’ve seen this in person.

Shadow or interview one of your typical users this year. Take someone who uses your applications to lunch.

Invite a co-worker in another area of business to coffee to gain some insight and perspective outside of your corner of the world (and perhaps outside of your influence).

Find a way to automate one of your daily or weekly tasks. I’m personally working on automating my digital photo backups at home.

Clear out your help desk inbox. We all have those tickets we just haven’t wanted to deal with. Start 2006 with a clean inbox.

Pick your favorite lifehack and put it into action, such as search shortcuts.

Find ways to examine your business’ needs and see how IT or any technology can help. You can choose just one BSM Route To Value as a starting point if you get stuck.


IT managers wish lists for 2006

A summary description of an article featuring many IT managers and their wishes for 2006

This article called ” What matters most” in the Australia-based The Age newspaper gets to the heart of what IT Managers wish for most in 2006. At the top of many of the manager’s list is an even closer alignment of business and IT. Many have already seen the value of business services managed with IT service, and want to expand on that idea in 2006.

Managers also talk about the hiring landscape and wonder if the talent they need will be available in the coming year. Many saw a shortage in skill sets they needed in the market. Others note that finding the right people takes a lot of time and effort and wish for recruiting efficiency.

A manager in the banking business said that compliance work was a real pain point for 2005, and wishes for 2006 to have smooth compliance efforts while learning to live with regulators across the world.

BMC’s own Tom Bishop says that “His management wish list has already come to pass – “the recognition that in order to really deliver on the vision on IT service management, you need a good library of best practices [ITIL] that represent the collective wisdom of a set of IT”.” IT governance definitely fulfills the wishes of many IT managers. And on a personal note, congratulations Tom on an adopted daughter on the way December 27th! Now that’s a great wish to come true.

I also would note that it seems like more than half of these IT managers wish to improve their golf score. I read recently that statistically speaking, you can get a hole in one at least 1 in 5,000 tries. So by going golfing three times a week for fifty years, you should be able to get a hole in one. That ought to improve your game!

How about you? Any personal or professional wishes for the new year?


More business and IT connections

If you didn’t already know that business and IT have real connections that matter to customers, here are a couple more examples.

I like the user experience blog This Is Broken. There are two recent entries that caught my eye as examples of connecting IT procedures to customer-facing services.

This post showcases an error in the printout on this receipt from an ATM application. Hee hee.

*This is line 1 of the store message*

*This is line 1 of the marketing message*

Another This Is Broken post is about a misprint on the label of a pair of jeans. Granted, this is probably a counterfeit label example, but, it relates to IT in front of customer facing products. The printout is a data source error ” =if(Label=””,”RMA”,”?”) ” which is funny text to read when it’s out of place on a label that’s supposed to contain say, sizing or brand information. I know, I know, you can’t blame IT for those necessarily, and the Internet conspiracy people think the image is photoshopped, but I like the image nonetheless.

Both examples are good reminders that IT and data does make a difference to the quality of the product or service that faces customers. Online shopping experiences are always good examples of how IT can make or break a sale. This Is Broken tends to get to “meatier” IT connections for consumer products, and I appreciate that approach.


Podcast is the word of the year

It feels like only the beginning of December, but we already have a designated word of the year. And it’s a good one!

This article from NewsFactor Magazine states that the New Oxford American Dictionary has designated “podcast” as the 2005 Word of the Year.“Podcast was considered for inclusion last year, but we found that not enough people were using it, or were even familiar with the concept,” said Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary. “This year it’s a completely different story. The word has finally caught up with the rest of the iPod phenomenon.”

I own an iPod but I listen to podcasts on a computer more than on the iPod. My original word for a podcast was audioblog but I hadn’t heard of the term blogcast until I read this article. The most recent podcast I’ve listened to is Tom Bishop’s The Next Cool Thing. Hearing him talk about the technology of coffee makers was really interesting. Soon after I listened to his podcast, I read the National Geographic article, The World in a Glass: Six Drinks that Changed History which was also fascinating (if even loosely related).
My other favorite word-of-the-year contender is “lifehack,” a more efficient or effective way of completing an everyday task. See or’s lifehack category for ways to hack your life. Maybe lifehack will be the word of the year for 2006.
Any favorite words for 2005? Or in general? Do tell.


DITA and wiki combo

Darwin Information Typing Architecture, meet Wiki

Time for me to geek out a bit on the convergence of a couple of tech pubs technologies that just might find a way to work together.

I just found this tidbit on the dita-users Yahoo Group. Crystal ball: A DITA wiki. Scott Abel, the self-named Content Wrangler, says that Paul Prescod first introduced the idea of a DITA-based Wiki at XTech2005. Paul’s the Group Program Manager at Blast Radius XMetaL. Right on, Paul. Tell us more when you’ve got the Sharepoint killer that can help with cross-departmental communication and aid in collaboration.

So, which do I describe first, DITA or wiki? How about alphabetical order. Darwin Information Typing Architecture, DITA (pronounced dih-tuh) is an XML architecture I’ve been working with over the last year or so. It originated at IBM and is now part of OASIS. Were investigating DITA at BMC as part of a unified content strategy project, to look at structured authoring using XML. Wiki stands for “quick” in Hawaiian, and it’s a web-based collaborative authoring tool.

So far, to me, wikis I’ve read are more for quick note taking, unless you’re talking about wikipedia, which is the best organized example of a wiki that I’ve seen so far. I’ve been skeptical so far about its applications for end-user technical documentation, but DITA architecture applied in a wiki environment just might be an interesting mash up. While wikipedia and some other info-distributing technologies fill neat niches when there’s a large, willing-to-write-and-rewrite community, I’m not sure anyone in the tech pubs world is using it for end-user doc. Yet. I just Googled and found this blog post about wikis for documentation (he’s against it). Also, here’s an example of end-user technical topic in a wiki. I just think wikis are not as easy to navigate as other HTML-based sites, and search in a classic wiki is not yet as robust as in most HTML-based help systems. I’d love to spend time with the wiki templates and experiment with wikis to the point where you could update it, navigate it, and so on, but it’s just not my favorite technology right now. Topic-oriented authoring is more what I’m pondering about lately, so the concept of authoring DITA topics in a Wiki environment intrigues me. A workflow I would envision would be a web form for entering wiki content that would match a specialization of a DITA topic so that contributors to the wiki would automatically know what to fill in and how to organize their content. I would imagine that publishing on a DITA-based wiki should be as easy as it is on a regular wiki (just a Save button of some sort) and if it could somehow create a wiki-based index based on keywords in the DITA-specialised content that would be awesome too.

Now, to turn the idea on its side a little, what are your thoughts on whether wikis could be used for end-user technical documentation? I’d imagine that a more structured wiki based on DITA content (which may have already been created for end-users) might work well for technical documentation. Have you seen any good examples? I’d love to see a well-done example. I recently found an article by Stephen Brooks, a technical communicator who works at DreamWorks. You need a membership in the Society for Technical Communication to download the article, but here’s the direct link to the PDF for STC members with their login info. In the September-October 2005 article he says:

“As the studio transitioned to CGI, I transitioned to the studio ways. Unlike a typical software company, DreamWorks has no set rules for software and documentation development, except to please the production staff as they race to complete their film (a “race” that lasts two or three years). The lack of rules has meant endless experimentation in our documentation. We’ve tried Flash demonstration movies, wikis, humorous quotes, and iconic heading styles to classify information.”

To me, including wikis in a description of experimental deliverables might mean that some structure surrounding wiki deliverables might be just what we need to put some ease-of-use in the wiki format. Perhaps DITA (itself a cutting edge technology to some) will be the architecture to build a structured collaborative environment that we all can easily build on.