Words and Software

Technical writing/user assistance in Microsoft.Azure Intelligent Systems Service (ISS). (old: Data Protection Manager and Operations Manager)

March, 2006

  • Microsoft Research and the first smiley

    If I waited until Saturday (April 1) to post this, you might wonder if it was a joke. It's not. The invention of the smiley.

  • Service Quality Monitoring, E.T., and Cary Grant

    Listening to a presentation on Service Quality Monitoring (SQM), also known as Opt-In Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), the phrase "phone-home technology" caught my attention. It reminded me of the old AT&T commercials reminding people to call their mother on Mother's Day.

    Collecting information that can help us learn more about how our products are used in the real world is a great tool for product improvement. But, phone home? It seems like such a warm, homey phrase, not something I'd associate with us. Looking it up, one explanation mentioned that the phrase was probably based on the line from the movie E.T..

    Time for a confession. I am a member of that extremely tiny minority in the U.S. who has never seen E.T. I can't recall why I didn't see it in 1982, and I haven't gotten around to it since. But the reference said that ""E.T. phone home," was listed as #15 on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes, a list of top movie quotes."

    I recognized most of the quotes in the list, although there were a handful that I'd never heard of. Now I have to come up with my own list: favorite movie quotes that should have been in the AFI's list but weren't.

    Hmm, I'll probably start it off with "These are not the droids you're looking for." No, maybe "I hate snakes, Jock!" Or perhaps, "You remind me of a man..."

  • IT pros - how do you use worksheets

    If you've ever used any product documentation that included worksheets, checklists, or other job aids, I'd appreciate your input on two questions. How do you actually use those job aids? And how would you like to be able to use them?

    For example...

    1. I just read them online
    2. I print them out and fill them in/check things off
    3. I copy and paste them into a file so I can fill out soft-copy
    4. Other...?

    I'm gathering information on your preferences because I plan on doing several job aids in the documentation for the next version of DPM and I want to know what formats would be most useful. Please send your answers to Dpmfdbk AT microsoft.com, or comment here.

    Thanks in advance!

  • Our team motto

    Every team should have a motto, and we've chosen ours. Deb, our content lead, got us each a bumper sticker of our new motto to display proudly.

    I'm just tickled by it.

  • From list to diagram: modeling workflow

    This week's lesson in the managing content projects class was on modeling workflows. Quite timely too, since I had offered to diagram a process for writing chapters that I hadn't gotten around to doing.

    It was a fun exercise. We started by writing out a list of the steps in a process. I began scribbling...

    1. Create skeleton
    2. Put meat on the bones
    3. Scrub
    4. Incorporate
    5. Iterate
    6. Clean up
    7. Review<>< li="">

    (I wasn't too worried about slang or jargon, obviously.)

    Next stage, we took our lists and turned them into simple flowcharts. Basically, each step in its own box, little arrows indicating direction. I'd already identified step 5 as a loop opportunity, but I decided to hold off until the final stage, in which we applied swimlanes to flowcharts: (click image to view larger graphic)

    In the pretty version, I selected more appropriate verbs. I also took a merry-go-round approach rather than a proper loop, because it felt more realistic to me.

  • Metrics for content development

    First off, notice how I used "content development" rather than "writing content"? The reason is that writing is really just a portion of the task, and it's important to stand your ground on that. Otherwise, non-writers will scoff at your metrics. "An hour for a definition? Ha! I could write one in a minute!"

    As for metrics...I'm taking a class at Microsoft on managing content projects. This week, we looked at the project triangle.

    Fairly straightforward: scope, time, and available resources (and other costs) are the key components in planning your project.

    For example, you may be given a project of three whitepapers, due in six weeks, with one fulltime writer and budget for 10 hours of editing. Doable? Well, to say whether it is or isn't, you'd need some sort of metric to back you up. "The average whitepaper is 5000 words and a single copy edit pass takes 1 hour per 1000 words." (I hope you can tell I'm making these numbers up...) "Estimating 15,000 words, I need at least 15 hours of editing."

    Those are the sorts of metrics we were discussing in class. The difficulty is in getting solid metrics for content development. I really couldn't tell you how long it takes me to write a chapter of an operations guide.

    And even with a number, whether it's hours or days or weeks, I don't mean a consecutive unit. Let's say that it takes 8 hours to write a topic. That doesn't mean 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch break = a topic. It's more like an hour today, in which I dump the information at hand and identify my key questions, which I email off to the technical expert. Next day, I get a reply and can put in several more hours. Now I send the whole topic off to the expert to review. (We should be counting the expert's hours as well.) The expert reviews, identifies the errors and gaps, makes comments, and sends it back. This may be several days later. I spend a few more hours fixing and polishing. Then the editor gets a turn.

    A project model generally results in neatly segmented phases, such as in the next image. My method of working tends to look more like the image after...

  • DPM and Single Instance Store (SIS)

    The Single Instance Store (SIS) feature is useful for optimizing storage space, particularly for a server storing Remote Installation Services (RIS) images. But you do not want to enable SIS on your DPM server. Really you don't.

    This isn't news, but it is something we wanted to mention in case you happen to do a clean install of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 or get a computer with it, and plan to use that computer to run DPM. See, in a clean install of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, SIS is installed (but not enabled) by default. Previously, you had to install it manually and then enable it. Having it installed by default puts it just a bit closer to being enabled and you want to avoid doing that on your DPM server.

    We'll have a Knowledge Base article available soon, telling you how to undo SIS in case it did get enabled on a DPM server. (It will be number 911883, but I'll also post a link when it's available.)

  • Hotfixes on the DPM Server

    Question: How do I identify which DPM hotfixes or service packs are installed on my DPM server?

    Answer: Hotfixes and service packs for DPM will be listed in Add or Remove Programs, just like those for the operating system.

  • Data Protection Manager and time zones

    The question: Is the time of a shadow copy the time on the file server or the DPM server?

    The answer: You may have noticed this section in the Operations Guide...

    DPM automatically schedules synchronization and shadow copy jobs in the time zone of the file server. In all other areas of DPM Administrator Console, system times are displayed in the time zone of the DPM server. Although you schedule jobs to run in the files server’s time zone, the start times and shadow copy times of the jobs are displayed in the time zone of the DPM server.

    Let's look at how that plays out in the console...

    Task DPM Server time (Berlin) File server time (Reykjavik) DPM Administrator Console time displayed
    Schedule a shadow copy to occur at: 8:00 P.M. 6:00 P.M. 6:00 P.M. (protection group options)
    Shadow copy is created at: 8:00 P.M. 6:00 P.M. 8:00 P.M. (monitoring jobs)
    Select shadow copy from 6:00 P.M. (Reykjavik) for recovery: 8:00 P.M. (timestamp of shadow copy for recovery)

  • Customizing a scheduled disk cleanup task

    I've been waiting a week for Ed Bott to follow up on scheduling disk cleanup with the instructions for customizing the disk cleanup options in the scheduled task.

    It's not difficult to customize the options, as he explains it, but it's rather obscure. (Which makes me feel better about not figuring it out for myself first!)

  • TechFest 2006: What I Saw

    Going to Microsoft's TechFest is a sure way to revive my thrill at working here. Picture it: the huge rooms in the conference center filled from wall to wall with booths of brilliance. (Most of the ideas and inventions seem brilliant to me. And those that I can't understand, I'm positive must be!)

    It's show-and-tell for our researchers. I really am awed every time I go to one of these. Of course, I can't say much of anything specific about what I saw, but I did get a good look at the foot-powered user interface. I'd love to see that implemented around campus!

    My very favorite part isn't any specific booth or research area, though -- it's the What I Saw page. Those huge rooms filled with booths? They're also filled with people, lots of them, crowds around every demonstration. I'm not much for crowds anyway, and I can't see over anybody's head unless they're still in grade school, so this is a challenging situation. And the solution charms me with its simple elegance: At each booth is a badge reader. I scan my employee badge at every booth that catches my interest. Immediately, a web page is created, associated to my logon, and every booth I scan at is added to the page, with links to the demos and content and images for each booth. I have my own personal TechFest at my fingertips, back in my own office, to peruse at my leisure.

    Is that cool or what?

  • Feature comparison chart for R2

    Kevin Remde (Full of I.T.) brings to our attention a great quick-reference chart of Windows Server 2003 features, comparing SP1 to R2 for each edition. I like this approach, and I agree with Kevin that "All of our products need a page like this, and it should be one of the first links you see on the product's home page."

    Data Protection Manager isn't as complex as Server, naturally, but this would still be a great method for communicating our changes in the next version. I'm going to set myself an Outlook reminder for later in the development cycle to revisit this chart and the idea behind it.