Words and Software

Technical writing for Windows 10. (old: Intelligent Systems Service, Data Protection Manager, and Operations Manager)

February, 2006

  • Slide 1 of X: a solution for PowerPoint numbering

    I just spent a frustrating half-hour on a search that isn't really part of my job but I couldn't resist the challenge.

    On an email group here at work, someone asked how to get PowerPoint to automatically number the slides in a "X of Y" format. So, I opened a new presentation and started fiddling with the master slide. Slide number, simple. But no way to modify its format.

    (Here's an oddity - to change the starting slide number, you go to File -> Page Setup.)

    There had to be documentation of the appropriate field code somewhere, yes? Well, I sure couldn't find it. Finally I went back to my Inbox, and at the end of a chain of emails, two people found a solution: PPTools introduces and links to Bill's SaveSelection add-in for PowerPoint.

    Now I can focus on work again.

  • The Read Me file

    I considered titling this just Read Me so it would be both relevant and a clever imperative reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately, I realized it wasn't all that clever and was possibly even obnoxious, so I clarified it.

    This post really is about Read Me files though. On Joel's Design of Software forum, I came across a discussion about the format which included some observations about whether Read Me files were still useful and who the audience is.

    I never really thought about them until the question was raised. Not the format question, but whether they're still useful and who are they for and does anyone read them.

    I can't recall the last time I actually looked at an application's Read Me. But then, when was the last time I looked at the contents of the installation media? The days are long gone when you opened the floppy to run the install.exe (that was when I would also see the ReadMe.txt in the directory and sometimes take a look at it). Now, setup wizards just launch themselves, or Install Shield does its thing, and I don't need to look at the disc in Explorer.

    I remember massive Read Mes -- usually came with games. Basic install instruction Read Mes. Even single sentence Read Mes, because apparently the thought of shipping without a Read Me at all was inconceivable.

    We didn't do a Read Me with DPM, and I don't know if any Microsoft product still uses them. We do include Release Notes. Do users read those?

  • news! DPM and Microsoft Update

    DPM added to Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) synchronization options in Microsoft Update

  • Opportunity: beta exams for developers

    I'm not a developer but I got this invitation to several beta exams for the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) certification, and it says:

    PS: We are looking for more and more technical feedback on the exams so feel free to reach out to your user groups and communities and let developers know of this opportunity. Although do note that each exam caps at 750 Beta participants so there is an official upper limit.

    Are you a developer? If so, contact me for the code to allow you to sign up for the beta of any or all of the following exams:

    If you've never taken a beta exam before, it's just like taking a regular certification exam except that (1) you receive your results several weeks later by mail, and (2) it's really critical for the future success of the exams that you provide thoughtful feedback based on your professional experience.

    Do you get credit for passing a beta? YES. Let's say you took Exam 70-548 PRO and are informed that you passed. You would now have one exam completed toward the MCPD certification.

    I'd never make it in advertising, putting the 'good stuff' at the bottom. Anyway, everyone who takes one of these beta exams gets a free exam voucher AND is entered in a sweepstakes for one of two Windows Mobile Smartphones and one of 10 Microsoft Laser Desktop 6000 Keyboards. (Sweeptstakes rules to be included with beta code.)

    Sorry, offer not available in China, Pakistan and India.

  • an Ode to disaster recovery

    I cannot read most of Pamal's blog but I can read his delightful Ode to Disaster Recovery. How can you not grin at a line like "I will reindex thee still, my dear, while the offline defrag shall run"?

  • Inside the usability lab

    We're running the v2 "new protection group" wizard through usability testing this week, and I observed a session yesterday. These are fascinating to watch. If you've never had an opportunity to participate in or observe usability testing, here's what ours was like...

    The lab is just large enough for table, chair, and computer, and for 2 to 3 people to stand and talk. When the door is closed, it's a quiet room, no distractions. Adjoining the lab is the room I'll call the observatory, in which the tester and others can watch the participant through one-way glass.

    The participant (I'll call him Bob) was already settled in at his computer in the lab. I joined the usability expert, Tracy, and Amit, the user interface designer, in the observatory.

    Bob had been given written goals for a task, and Tracy had instructed him to explain his thoughts and actions as he proceeded. Now, this "thinking aloud" part is really critical. We don't want to interpret why the user is just looking at the screen while moving his mouse in circles; we want to hear "I'm trying to find a button that will let me start the task" or "I'm reading the screen, it's telling me that I don't have the resources to proceed".

    Bob was excellent at thinking aloud. Or perhaps Tracy was excellent at getting the best out of participants? Either way, good results. So, we watched Bob's monitor on a monitor in the observatory, listened as he explained what he was doing and thinking, and took lots of notes.

    Occasionally, Tracy prompted Bob to discuss how he would interpret different options on a screen. Bob would answer, "I'm guessing it means..." and his explanation would be correct, but I want to go back and figure out how to make the choices less of a guess.

    Bob gave us lots of "I would have expected..." statements; those contain really valuable information. We want to know what the customer expectation would be so we can meet it or manage it.

    It was also helpful when he gave suggestions, such as "It wants me to type an email address here; do I need the full address or can it resolve to the address book? I'd like an example on the dialog box."

    The difficult part of observing is paying attention, and not the way you might think -- over and over, I wanted to pause Bob while I discussed possible solutions with Amit. Instead, we had to restrain ourselves until the end.

  • Great online thesaurus: Aiksaurus

    This is my favorite online thesaurus to date, and I only just discovered it tonight while searching hopelessly for a pair of words that I have yet to find...but that's a different story. However, in searching for something that would spark to mind the perfect pair of words, I got a link to Aiksaurus. It gives the most generous results I've found...and generous is what you need when you're hunting for something you can't define or describe but you'll know it when you see it.

    So I kept erasing the tail end of the url until I came to the story of this neat tool I'd never heard of: an old undergrad project by Jared Davis. Thanks, Jared!

  • Finding information on the Internet, circa 1993

    I went through my bookcases this weekend, getting rid of books I didn't want anymore, and came across my 1994 edition of "American Library Association: Guide to Information Access". Highlighted on the cover: "Includes the Internet and Other Electronic Sources".

    Scanning the table of contents, I flipped to page 61 and began reading the eight pages dedicated to the Internet for a trip down memory lane...

    • BITNET
    • JANET
    • EARN
    • NREN
    • An explanation of FTP
    • An explanation of TELNET

    Then I came to the Finding Tools section. Not "how to find tools", but rather "tools for finding". Check it out:

    Using the amount of information flowing from the Internet has been compared to "drinking from a firehouse". Individuals must find a way to channel the deluge of information. Finding exactly what you are looking for requires some specialized tools.

    Archie, which comes from the word archive, is such a system. Developed at McGill University, Archie is software mounted on various server computers around the world. It can be accessed in different ways, but one of the easiest is to telnet to the nearest server, log on as Archie, and ask it to look for the address of a file you want. The catch here is that you must already know what file you want, which might not be obvious in certain situations. Every Archie server periodically scans about 900 sites on the Internet and adds names of files to its data store, so it is constantly being updated. One Archie server is archie.rutgers.edu.

    Gopher is a finding tool for the Internet that was developed at the University of Minnesota (whose team mascot is a gopher or go-fer). Gopher was the first real attempt to help searchers navigate the maze of computers on the Internet. It looks into the menus of all the computers it knows about and finds information to match the key words you ask it to find. Accessed by the command Gopher, it is available in widely varying versions for different operating systems.

    Another method for retrieving information is WAIS, the Wide Area Information Servers. Developed at Thinking Machines Corporation, it attempts to find what you want within the files or databases it knows about by looking for a term or terms. There are simple WAISes (and more advanced ones) which will try to refine your search by finding other documents that are most like the ones you chose from an initial search.

    And that was the state of things just about thirteen years ago...(and yes, there was a Veronica and Jughead too)

  • Paean to Paint

    With Valentine's Day drawing near, Jensen Harris posed an interesting question on his blog last week: What software do you love? The fun part is reading the comments (up to 145 of them so far). Some of the software mentioned by the readers brought back very fond memories; some descriptions intrigued me into making note of the name to look into later.

    So I started thinking about the question. There were quite a few contenders, but I finally recognized that my favorite of them all is...Microsoft Paint.

    Yeah, I know, nobody respects Paint and a list of all the graphics things it can't do would go on and on...but there it is, number one on my list. Why? It does what I need, simply and quickly and without a fuss. Anthropomorphically, I see Paint as a sturdy little mule.

    I can open a digital photo in Paint, resize the image file, and save it under a new name, in about the same time it takes my more robust graphics application just to launch and open the file. I can customize screenshots quickly and effectively, without the "noise" generated when I work in a more complex app. Paint just does what I want.

    There have been very few improvements to Paint over the years, and I'm glad. Dear Paint, don't ever change.

    Is there software that you're especially fond of? Head over to Jensen's and add your favorite to the growing list.

  • User interface (UI): content scrub

    UI scrubs are now my favorite part of the product cycle. I joined the DPM team too late to participate in the UI scrub for DPM 2006, so this is my first experience with it. It's not quite as much fun as puppies, but close.

    The approach our content team took was to divvy up the new UI sections and work through them individually, then meet to review each section and the suggested changes as a team. Redundant? Not at all -- the extra eyes in the group review notice much more than one person can, but the work done in the individual review provides the group with an "expert" who has already thought through most of the issues, looked questions up in the specification, researched applicable standards for an item, and so forth.

    We look for much more than grammar and spelling, of course. The whole reason for user interface design guidelines is to achieve a consistent interface approach that works best for users. So our discussions included the order of check box options, for example, and the placement of imperatives, and what goes beneath the name of a wizard page.

    We've done two UI sections so far as a group, and each one took about four hours. The only thing I can think of that would make the scrubs even more fun would be to have the program manager or developer in the room to explain things when we get in a muddle, or have it all wrong...

  • Cheap and easy hot/cold pack

    I've noticed that the one item I can almost guarantee will be in any given freezer in any refrigerator on campus is the ubiquitous ice pack. It makes sense: hours spent at computers, thinking about your project rather than your posture...many sore necks at Microsoft, and many more throughout the world of computer-users, I'm sure.

    Cold feels good. Heat can also feel soothing to sore muscles. Combine either cold or heat with a nice distribution of weight for even more relief. And a really cheap and easy way to get that combination is rice.

    Yes, rice. And a sock. Long tube sock.

    Roll a sheet of paper into a tight cylinder. Stick one end into the (clean!) sock. Let the roll of paper expand to form a funnel into the sock. Pour in dry rice or small beans or seeds. Fill the sock about 2/3. Remove funnel and tie a knot in the end of the sock.

    These socks can be stored in the freezer to be used as cold packs, and also microwaved (about 2 minutes) for moist heat. And they can be reused over and over. The dry rice shifts around in the sock as you drape it around your neck, to provide a comforting even weight on the muscles.

    Naturally this post is not intended to offer medical advice, and you should always consult a physician for health issues.

  • System Center Essentials

    Today I got to see a demo of System Center Essentials. There isn't much information on Microsoft.com about it yet, but I'm glad that one overview page is so I could safely mention the product. If you're interested in managing IT assets in midsize businesses, this is a software product that you're going to love.