Monthly Archives: March 2006

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Friday fun – solving Sudoku with SQL

Using SQL in interesting ways

Stumbled across these links on my Digg RSS feed. Two articles showing how to solve Sudoku puzzles with T-SQL and with Oracle SQL. I’ve been writing database doc long enough to find that absolutely awesome. Each article shows a few useful and complex SQL techniques. The T-SQL article is particularly well-written, even if it doesn’t share all the stored procedures used to solve the puzzle.

While many like the pencil-and-paper method of play, there is WebSudoku with an Option that lets you write more than one number in the square as if you were penciling in possibilities. Plus, it times your solving abilities and lets you measure up against all other players in the past week who solved that puzzle. My half-hour-long first completion of an easy puzzle didn’t do well against the six minute mark set by many of the previous week’s players. :)

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ITIL and monitoring

How monitoring your infrastructure can provide a base layer for ITIL practices

I’m relatively new to BMC Performance Manager but I’ve learned a lot in the past year or so about the capabilities and how it fits into the Infrastructure and Application Management Route to Value. So this post talks about a white paper my co-worker Bill wrote, BMC Performance Manager – Cornerstone of your ITIL Implementation. (Look at that, our white papers no longer require a webform registration before you can download them!)

I like that he includes realistic scenarios. Scenarios help me understand the real issues and problems that need to be solved by businesses. With BMC Performance Manager for Servers, you can manage the health and performance of different operating-system environments and applications. BMC Performance Manager helps you close in on ITIL Availability Management objectives and, when used with other BMC Software products, also helps companies with other ITIL processes, such as Incident Management and Problem Management. This white paper describes how you can use BMC Performance Manager for availability management. Here’s an example scenario from the white paper.

A company uses SAP for supply chain management and BMC CONTROL-M for scheduling SAP jobs. When there is an unscheduled outage of the SAP system due to excessive paging that makes it unavailable to suppliers, BMC Performance Manager automatically detects the problem and initiates recovery procedures.

Unless BMC Performance Manager reports this unavailability, CONTROL-M is not aware of this outage and would continue to schedule jobs to SAP.

Because the SAP system is not active, business processes managed by CONTROL-M could fail, resulting in long recovery time that impacts SAP users’ productivity. When an unplanned failure of an SAP application is detected by BMC Performance Manager and then reported automatically to CONTROL-M, the operator can use the data provided by BMC Performance Manager for Problem Investigation.

What do you think about this scenario? Sound like something that could happen in your environment? Let us know if we’re on the mark, and share any harrowing experiences you have.

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How to create help files for custom BMC Performance Managers

Cross-platform browser HTML-based help is built right in to the SDK for BMC Performance Manager

All this is documented in the Controlled Availability release of the BMC Performance Manager Software Development Kit (SDK), but I thought I’d write it up here as well, hoping it’s helpful. Contact your sales rep if you want more information about the SDK for BMC Performance Manager.

BMC Performance Manager is a product with the ability to be extended, allowing you to write your own custom monitoring tools, called Performance Managers. If you write a custom Performance Manager, you’re going to want a help system to go with it, so that your users know which parameters are monitored with your tool. And if you want your custom Performance Manager to be certified by BMC Software, a help system is required. Here’s an overview of writing that custom help system including sample files.

  1. Write an HTML file for each application class and the parameters within that class, nested like this set of sample HTML files for the BMC Performance Manager for Citrix Presentation Server . For example, the farm application class contains parameters like “logged in users” and “disconnected sessions,” with each parameter documented in separate HTML files. These files contain Dreamweaver template code but should be useable with any HTML editor.
  2. Place your Help content files in your Performance Manager Maven project in the following location: …/META-INF/help/browser_help/.
  3. Open your application definition XML file and add these Help elements in the application definition: help-group-definition or help-group-reference, and help-item. You need unique attributes msgkey and name on both these elements. Here is an example code snippet:
  4.  <application-definition name="patsdk-ri-service">
    
    <display-name>Reference Implementation Application</display-name>
    
    <description> Instances of this application-definition can be used
    
    to monitor the availability of many common network services
    
    such as HTTP, Telnet, FTP, etc.</description>
    
    <help-group-definition msgkey="riapp.intro.displayName" name="intro">
    
    <display-name>Patsdk RI Application</display-name>
    
    <help-item msgkey="riapp.intro.about.displayName" name="about">
    
    <display-name>About</display-name>
    
    <file>riapp/about.htm</file>
    
    </help-item>
    
    </help-group-definition> <help-group-definition
    
    msgkey="DRCIT-Farm-Container.desc.book"
    
    name="DRCIT-Farm-Containerbook">
    </help-group-definition>
  5. Add Help-related fields to your project.properties file (located in your Maven project folder). There are a couple of commented lines that you can uncomment by deleting the # sign at the beginning of the line. Set solution.product.code equal to your PAR file name (without the .par extension), and use a sample category such as database, networking, etc.
  6. solution.product.code=PRD
    
    solution.help.category=networking
  7. When you build and deploy your Performance Manager, the .htm files that you created are compiled into cross-platform browser-based help. These files and the Help content are packaged in a .jar file which is then put into the .par file and deployed to the BMC Portal Help repository server. Automagically.

Sounds pretty straightforward, and we’ve done this internally for a few Performance Managers already, which is why I wanted to share some sample files with you. Let us know how it works for you.

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RSS Roundup

I’ve been reading and learning about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) lately and thought I’d share

RSS must be hitting the big time since Microsoft will support RSS reading in the new version of Internet Explorer, IE7. Charlie Wood (he’s an enterprise RSS expert here in Austin) has already noticed that IE7 won’t be supporting password-protected feeds, however. I don’t yet have any feeds that I read that require a password, though, but I have been enjoying Charlie’s vision on RSS for a while. Fred already thought about secure RSS notifications for banking and so on, but check out Charlie’s ideas for use cases for enterprise RSS.

Charlie’s blog often contains insightful and forward thinking for a technology that is gaining attention and adoption rates are increasing. Heck, Scoble reads him, but I found Charlie through an Austin-based RSS aggregate list that used some sort of geography marker to collect a list of Austin Bloggers.

I’m also planning to read more on the Microsoft Team RSS Blog.

I have some notes from the “RSS: not just for blogs anymore”, SXSWi talk, with Chris Frye of Feedburner, Scott Johnson of Ookles (formerly of Feedster), and Robyn Dupree of Bloglines. Each panelist had interesting ideas for what RSS is being used for besides reading blogs.

They estimate that there are 75 million RSS users in the US and UK, but only about 17-32% of the users know they’re using RSS (source: marketingsherpa.com). Adina Levin, the moderator, noted that some users use RSS notification to avoid the flood of emails as a source of information. What’s interesting about that observation from my personal experience is that I find when I introduce RSS feeds to some folks, they would prefer to get the RSS content in their email client (via Newsgator). Some people just prefer a one-stop-shop for information and that happens to be Outlook for them. They want to “open the fire hose.”

RSS is mostly associated with text content, and as Scott Johnson put it, RSS was originally just headlines and links, but has now become “XML that matters to his Mom.” But Feedburner is starting to see more “big enclosures” on RSS for TiVo-like web content. I have often explained RSS aggregators as “TiVo for web pages” so that analogy makes so much sense. Preach it, Chris.

Robyn Dupree of Bloglines had the most comprehensive list of alternatives to text for RSS. Considering that Bloglines has 1.5 B articles in their index (and they only index ones that people actually subscribe to through Bloglines), they likely see the most creative and varied uses of RSS. Here’s her list (furiously scribbled in my notebook):

  • Podcasts, video
  • “Buzz” on blogosphere with Most Popular Links feature that you can subscribe to
  • Notifications on classified ads (craigslist has this, I believe)
  • Group conversations (such as Yahoo Groups, which offers RSS feeds for conversations)
  • Package tracking (nifty! especially for ebay resellers she says this is a useful tool)
  • Product newsletters (again, email alternative)
  • Calendars (notification for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
  • Higher education (notification for course information)
  • Searches for competitive intelligence and other specialized information

After the panelists spoke, they opened up the floor to audience members who had ideas for RSS beyond blogging. Adina tagged all of them using the del.icio.us tag rssbeyondblogs. One of the most interesting ones to me is stuffopolis, helping you keep track of your stuff (and helping small businesses share stuff online, apparently.) Another creative stretch for RSS feeds is actually a couple of WordPress plug-in created by Andy Skelton and showcased on andy.wordpress.com including his 30 boxes calendar and his dodgeball info (although that one is apparently broken and named “Unknown Feed” on the sidebar right now). I sat behind a guy who works at dodgeball (recently acquired by Google) and he was very excited to be mentioned.

Any other ideas for RSS beyond blogging? I think I’ve got to go find some secure feeds to subscribe to just to make sure I’m on the cutting edge of RSS technology.

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SXSW Interactive 2006 takeaways

South by SouthWest Interactive is done, what did I learn?

This year’s Interactive conference was interesting to say the least, because I was too sick to attend two day’s worth of sessions. So, I’ve been listening to the podcasts of the sessions I really wanted to go to but missed. The fine folks at SXSWi have also made videos available online for sessions misssed.

The Dooce/Kottke keynote had me laughing aloud while I listened. From Jason asking Heather if she had seen her Wikipedia entry, noting that it said at the bottom “both Heather and husband remain unemployed” to Heather commenting that a subscription model for blogging for money gives people the sense the they are owed something, and when Jason went on a 2 week vacation during the year, Heather said “Bastard took my money and went to Asia with it” both of them cracked me up constantly. Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry has been changed to say “They currently remain self-employed.” My guess is that someone changed it during the session. At South By SouthWest Interactive most audience members are multitasking with an open laptop and IMing their friends or liveblogging during the sessions.

One of the reasons this was such a great session was the complete opposite nature of the two speakers — female/male, extrovert/introvert, personal blogger/personality purposely removed blogger, Heather’s married with a two-year-old daughter, Jason’s getting married in two weeks, Heather lives in Salt Lake City and is a self-proclaimed “house wife,” Jason’s living in New York City. Their blog styles are completely different and it’s likely their audiences are different but with a lot of overlap (they’re arguably the two most popular bloggers out there today). Certainly the audiences they have in their heads are different, according to the session. Jason says his are the “bored at work network” and Heather thinks hers are mostly women either with kids or trying to have kids.

In my mind, the main reason they were chosen as opposites for this keynote is because both “went pro” in the past year, blogging for a living. Heather chose ads as her method of payment, and Jason chose a subscription model (1500 “micropatrons” paid him an average of $30 each). I’d describe this keynote as a great match up, great format (they asked each other questions while sitting opposite each other in overstuffed armchairs), great questions for each other (the audience questions were pretty dull and uninspired) and a great idea, whoever thought of it. I was more entertained than educated by this session which was fine with me. I have no current intentions of blogging for a living. (Yes, I don’t consider this arrangement of corporate blogging to be blogging for a living, there are definitely other tasks I do for BMC that are my “living”.)

Read this Real SXSW post to get a funny insider look at what goes on at SXSWi, which involves random encounters that lead to many more connections and podcasting in the streets.

I also attended BarCamp Austin at lunchtime on Saturday and met some interesting people, Alex Muse from Dallas was one, and I had a nice short chat with Michael Cote, formerly at BMC but now analyzing and blogging for RedMonk. BarCamp is an informal meetup where you chose sessions to present and then could listen to presentations all day, given by fellow barcampers.

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A trip report from SXSW Interactive 2003

Let’s jump into the wayback machine to 2003 for a walk down SXSWi memory lane

Here is my SXSW Interactive trip report from three years ago. Over the next few days, I’ll post my thoughts on the sessions from this year.

Organizing the World’s Information — Google and Blogger.com

Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful.”

They complete a web crawl of the entire web every 3 to 4 weeks. There are about 2 billion pages covered in their web crawl. If you include graphics and 20 years of Usenet postings, there are 4 billion web documents.

Their ranking system is heavily weighted by how many times other sites link to a particular page. They consider their system to be very similar to a book index. Google looks at over 100 factors including font size, proximity to other words, etc. when looking for keywords within a page. They also display a snippet from most relevant part, based on the factors in their algorithm.

The hardware is cheap, cheap cheap, and they use a distributed search mechanism with 10000-plus machines running Linux. He had a funny graphic of a bunch of bowed motherboards in a rack. Okay, it was funny to us geeks in the room. Basically they have hardware failures all the time since the hardware is so cheap, but they have so much redundancy in the system it’s easily fixed in time to avoid any problems.

They have noticed that their queries in English are declining. A fascinating study is to read the trends on http://www.google.com/press/zeitgeist.html. Google is inventing new areas and researching new features. Examples:

  • Google glossary
  • Google API, which allowed for map of web
  • content target advertising on other sites (speaker’s example was when you’re on edmunds and you do a search for an air filter, Google’s air filter ad hits are displayed on the side)
  • news.google.com 4500 news-only sites crawled daily
  • froogle.google.com (Love this name!) price, name of product, category, and pic

In ranking pages, Google doesn’t use metatags due to not trusting those tags to tell the real “importance” or “relevance” of a page. (People obviously load up their meta tag data in order to try to get hit by more search engines.) They are working on a natural language query, but people often don’t “talk” their questions. Apparently we’ve become so accustomed to writing in two or three words, we don’t do a good job of writing complete questions. This was particularly interesting to me, looking for search trends in online information. And, without further ado, the (seemingly) surprise presenter at this presentation was Evan Williams from blogger.com.

Blogger.com was acquired by Google this year (2003) in a surprising move that had the blogging community speculating wildly about what this meant for blogging and for Google. While he didn’t have much more information than “there was a Slate article with some good ideas” it gave a better idea of how this came about. (I believe the Slate article to which Evan referred is Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?. ) There are approximately 3000-4000 new blogs created each day on blogger.com, and maybe a half million to 1 million blogs exist in total. A lot of information is being posted on these blogs which google can help organize and lend easier access to. There are approximately 20,000 new posts per day.

Blogger consists of 6 guys in one room — and Google added 1 or 2 more. They basically moved from one San Fran office to another, this one without a window. They are getting more hardware resources and people resources and continuing maintenance and new coding on the blogger product.

Database-driven Websites

The main thing I learned from this presentation was that many times, server-side includes are more efficient than using text that is stored in a database. Server-side includes are basically ways to imbed files within HTML so that they appear seamlessly in the browser-window, but you’re basically writing a shortcut to the other files’ content. This approach makes sense for boilerplate information used over and over again. I guess it’s similar to the “Library” items used in Dreamweaver.

The speakers were from these sites: 13colony.com, brainfood.com, rackspace.com, and sxsw.com. They recommended that you cache query results and create files out of those results for more efficiency. If you want to teach yourself about database-driven web sites, they suggested that you start with php with Postgres or Mysql on Linux, and then pick an open-source application and figure out how it works.

Putting Online Conversation to Work

The only speaker for this panel was one of the WELL’s original directors — Cliff Figallo. The other speaker couldn’t make it, I’m not sure why. He was an interesting person who had lived on The Farm and felt that too many free-riders broke the community financially. He lent this experience to his experience with thewell’s online community — if too many people are “lurkers” instead of actively posting and contributing to the online conversation, then the community doesn’t grow well and has break downs.

He observed that ” attention is energizing.” So, the people who rant and rave got attention but usually that just fed the fire.

He noted that in online conversations, these factors are influencing on the conversation:

  • who is talking
  • intentions
  • commitment
  • tolerance
  • traction

They didn’t want to become ‘benevolent despots’ at The WELL, although those with time and money took over sometimes. He had us remember that in those days, you paid per minute for your online time. (In 1985, membership on the WELL was $8 per month plus $2 per hour.) So, those with the most time, money, and the best modem could over take conversations, sometimes for the worst.

He thinks that for success online, you need founders, implementers, and sustainers in any online conversation and community.

He mentions the idea of subtext – you had to read between the lines and ask, was there a lack of credibility under the surface? He thinks this happens often on corporate intranets. Often this would be shown by non-participation by specific groups.

He noted that customers are getting more say in online conversations. I.e. Edmunds.com, epinions.com, allow users/customers to give feedback to companies. One thing he suggested during the Q&A session to a question about how to build a new community is to implement a ‘full value contract’ -make participants sign an agreement that they will listen, will contribute, will make the conversation useful.

One of the audience members was a doctor on a web community site like WebMD, and he said that as soon as a doctor joins a conversation they are flooded with questions and that anyone who identifies themselves as a doctor is treated differently than other community members. I was hoping for information and tips for real-time conversations embedded into products but the session was much more geared towards message board-type communities. Still, a thought-provoking session.

Beyond the blog

dollarshort.org is Mena Trott’s weblog.

stupidfool.org is Ben Trott’s weblog (the Trotts are co-founders of Moveable Type.) This session discussed the evolution of features on blog tools like Moveable Type or Blogger.

Ideas from the session’s panelists:

All blogs today are written in reverse chronological order, like a journal. Could there be another order or method of organization?Why can’t you post a book review on amazon and also place it on your weblog? The site a.wholelottanothing.org is Matt Howie’s blog, and he has a ‘posted elsewhere’ section. Audio blogs – the general consensus is that “these suck.” How could they be improved upon?

There’s a relatively new feature called friend of a friend – basically you can use XML to build a map of relationships. One of the enhancements might be an “enemies” or “nemesis” list.You can subscribe to weblogs using a Mac-based tool.

Many of the panelists read weblogs rather than watch tv. Their claim is that it’s better than reality tv, it’s mundane everyday life, usually well-written. This type of feature could evolve into a non-professional personal news feed. The panelist envisioned feeds from 10,000 blogs coming to your desktop, all with info that the filter thinks you’d find interesting. An early example is found at http://topicexchange.com/. I came away from this session with a burning desire to write a blog entry daily or at least weekly and to play with this technology. I don’t yet know how it will be used in tech pubs, but it’s fun to watch the technology grow and evolve.

Keynote speakers

I only got to see two keynote speakers, but both were highly creative, entertaining, energizing speakers. Joshua Davis is an amazing Flash developer/creative genius who paired up with a “mathlete” to do diagrams/drawings of how things grow in nature. I can’t begin to describe what he showed us on screen. Imagine a tree and leaves growing, made out of black sticks on a white background, in an exact pattern that matches what happens in nature. Then, imagine that he has about 10 of those patterns randomized together. Well, you can’t imagine the results, but it was amazing. I was completely blown away. He has done many other things for museums and artistic types as well as for Nike corporation and Pontiac. See his portfolio at http://www.praystation.com.

Richard Florida is a professor at Carnegie Mellon who specializes in regional economics. He had a great talk about the creative class and how they shape local communities and help make them successful. Austin is one of his top ten areas of economic growth and success (ranked 2 among major regions). Read more at http://creativeclass.org/. Highly inspiring and thought-provoking.

Other links for speakers I saw:

http://www.zeldman.com

http://tantek.com/presentations/2003SXSW/stylesheets.html

http://validator.w3.org

http://www.alistapart.com

http://www.stopdesign.com/

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On my way to SXSW Interactive

I’m on my way to SXSWi 2006

I last attended SXSW Interactive in 2003. Just three short years ago I was … enamored with CSS… awed by search engine technology and Google… struck by Flash’s programming capability… :) I found my old trip report and read through it prior to this year’s conference. Maybe I’ll post it later, but for now I’m excited to head on down to the Convention Center and learn a lot and get some creativity charge.

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Sesame Street lessons learned

A roundup of some Sesame Street items

I found Globalization Lessons from Sesame Street on Going Global the other day and thought it was really interesting. I have worked on very few globalization efforts related to tech pubs, so I don’t have a lot of commentary to go along with this link, but I liked John Yunker’s list of lessons to take away from Sesame Street’s success at globalizing (or glocalizing, as the case may be). One lesson is about knowing when to lose your star — for example, there’s no Big Bird in the India version of Sesame Street. Instead, there’s a big lion-ish friendly monster named Boombah, as seen with Laura Bush last week.

Another cute web page, though not related to business lessons learned, is the 25 Favorite Sesame Street Memories page. As a mom of a preschooler, I really appreciate that he and I can watch a show that I watched as a kid, and many of my 20-plus-year old memories are still alive in the spirit of the show.

No attempt to connect to IT or Business Services or Information Solutions… just some fun reading material on a classic kid’s TV show.

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Our DITA experience at BMC Software

With The Rockley Report now available for free, I can point you to a case study about our use of DITA. DITA stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture, an XML-based information architecture design originally from IBM but also an OASIS Standard with an open source toolkit on SourceForge also available.

This case study outlines our approach with a pilot project where we modeled both an error messages manual and an installation and configuration manual. A great read, and now the article is available with an optional registration. Enjoy!

Case Study: Using DITA to Develop a New Information Architecture at BMC Software