12 September 2014

Review about "JIRA 6.x Administration Cookbook"

Today I would like to write some lines about the most recent book on JIRA administration which is called JIRA 6.x Administration Cookbook by Packt Publishing.
Besides my professional experience with JIRA as well as several Atlassian and 3rd party trainings, I was curious on what additional in-depth knowledge this book could offer me to support my day-to-day work as a JIRA Consultant. I can absolutely say, the book certainly delivered!

JIRA, a software that has its roots in the software development and the bug tracking has a growing popularity even outside of those industries. The fact that JIRA is more like a very versatile framework than a static standard software for managing issues becomes clear once more in this book.

The author doesn't limit himself to providing a plain guide that only states the obvious ways of customizations which the user interface offers, but brings in his years of experience to deliver a full-fledged administration guide with extraordinary depth: Apart from general things like the installation, setting up own issue-types, workflows, field configurations et al. he picks up minor usability issues and provides practical solutions in form of Velocity-, Groovy- or JavaScript-Code to adjust the appearance, automatize field input or run content checks in screens among others. Still this book isn't only dedicated to "hardcore" admins either, as even starters will learn a lot on best practices before or even during setting up and getting familiar with their first JIRA instance which might grow to a company-wide software in no time.

This makes it - for me - the best book on JIRA administration and certainly a good read for any JIRA administrator expert or not.

11 May 2014

Getting started with OneNote - Feeding it with your multimedia information

As I have already partly covered in my initial article about OneNote the sheer amount of convenient ways to feed your notebooks with information was one of the main reasons that convinced me.
Since this is also one of the first things you need to get up to speed with OneNote, I hope you enjoy the article and get something new out of it.

Foster the connection with Outlook

As of OneNote 2010 the connection between Outlook and OneNote is very handy to swiftly shift stuff from one tool to another.

Copy content from Outlook to OneNote

Nearly in every screen being it the main view or a mail/meeting/contact-dialog, you can find the OneNote-button which (at least) gives you the possibility to move a selected object to OneNote.
To me this feature has the biggest value when it comes to quickly archiving documentation sent as a plain email. With just a few clicks you get the full e-mail stored as a OneNote-page in a nice format:

For another demonstration of how you can store e-mails in OneNote, please see the section "Add files to your notebook".

In case of a contact or a meeting the result is even better as - in addition to the information of the meeting and contact - it includes a link to the object in Outlook, enabling you to open your contact or meeting in Outlook right out of your page in OneNote:

Importing Meetings from Outlook into OneNote

Additionally to copying the meeting from Outlook to OneNote, this also works from out of OneNote using the "Meeting Details" button in the "Home"-Ribbon.

Selecting the desired meeting there will give you the same result as above apart from the link to the Outlook object, as this is not created using this method.

Print to OneNote

This is by far one of my favorites as it offers the ability to copy documents into OneNote without necessity to have them as a file.
Also that this feature is offered in various ways is another strength of OneNote:
The easiest and most convenient way, when you have the document opened is to use the system-wide "printer" that got installed with OneNote called "Send to OneNote".
Since it behaves as a normal printer it is compatible with everything that's printable and also enables you to send something to OneNote that is not stored as a file on your PC - quite handy for websites with a "print friendly"-mode.

Drag a file to OneNote

This is one of the most diverse features OneNote offers to feed it with content. Right when you drag a file to it, you know why:

Considering you dragged that file from your Windows Explorer, you get these 3 choices. (If for instance you're dragging an e-mail object from Outlook, there are only options #2 and #3)

Although these are quite obvious, I would like to point out the specifics of them:
  1. As usual the link is the best way to refer to a document that's stored somewhere else. Also this is the best way to make sure the reader always gets the latest version in case the file is regularly updated under this location.
  2. Inserting a copy has the big advantage that you can always drag it right out - for instance into a new mail in Outlook, attaching it. I use this regularly when I know a document doesn't change regularly and I will need to send it around regularly. But you should always consider, that the full size of the file is added to the size of the notebook. So refrain from adding huge documents to it, or it will bloat up your notebook!
  3. Apart from the fact that this is another way of printing a document to OneNote, this also includes a link to the original document to the page. Basically including option #1 as well.

Screen clipping - because taking full screenshots and cutting them in paint is a relic from the past
If you're familiar with the Windows Snipping Tool, this is basically a simplified version of it - if you're not, you should change it immediately! (Simply hit the Windows-Key and type "Snip(ping Tool)"
Clicking the "Screen Clipping"-Button in the "Insert"-Ribbon hides OneNote and enables you to cut any area from the screen which will then be added to your page.
A great bonus: When you're i.e. clipping from a website in Internet Explorer it even adds the url of the page below the image.

While using this, you might find the "Dock to Desktop"-View (In the "View"-Ribbon) very helpful; It shrinks the OneNote Window in width and docks it to the right-hand side of the screen. Giving you more room for the windows you need to take screens of.

Record Audio and Video

Again these are quite straightforward however one particular setting is making this really powerful: You can not only select the Microphrone inputs but also the "Playback" of your soundcard which enables you to record what you hear. That way you can also record audio-calls - at least the part of it that you hear - if the software doesn't offer such features.
Beware: Recording calls and discussions might require the approval from everyone involved before doing so. Apart from it being polite this is also required by law in some countries!

6 April 2014

Whitelisting online services for external parties using their IP

This article is targeted at a minor- to non-technical audience, therefor I prefered the use of simplified examples and extensive explanations.
Also I would like to point out from the start that the method mentioned here is not considered best practice due to strong security issues associated with accessing sensitive services through unencrypted connections (like a VPN) over the internet.

When whitelisting services hosted on the internet for external partners (i.e. partner platforms, management services, …) sooner or later the responsible IT-department demands "the public IP of this party".
Considering that for non-technical staff, any IP looks like the other, this sometimes leads to misunderstandings which may result in the IT-department getting i.e. an internal IP from someone in the 3rd party, being unusable for routing over the internet.
For this, it is important to know, how to reliably determine the public IP of the own internet connection or - in this case - the internet connection of the own company.
Now, leaving out the special circumstances of "dynamic IPs" for a moment, the easiest way to determine this, is using one of the myriad of websites, that offer exactly this service, for instance:

Information on the used internet connection, provider and location.

As you can see above, it correctly determined my external IP (tempered) as well as the city, state/region, country and even my ISP (blacked out).

Now, in case of our example above, considering the external partners have a static and only one external IP (e.g. internet connection) the only thing necessary is, for someone of the external party, to visit this website, write down the IP and send it to the IT-Department of your company.
Once they have whitelisted this IP for the respective services, the external party should be able to access it.

Static and Dynamic IPs
As mentioned in the example above, IPs can be either static or dynamic. This is something important when it comes to whitelisting a services on basis of IP addresses, because doing so for a dynamic (meaning "varying") IP could lead to the loss of access after the external party dis- and reconnects to the internet or their ISP simply assigns them a new IP address. Logically this will lead to the IT-department having to adjust this whitelisting as regular as the IP changes - which can even be daily.
Usually dynamic IPs are primarily used for  domestic and private internet connections, but also for businesses that don't use a business tariff or simply an ISP that doesn't offer this service.

So as a conclusion, it is important to make sure, the IP which has to be whitelisted is static or the external party should see if they can acquire such by contacting their ISP.

Internal and External IPs
One more trap when requesting an IP from non-tech staff, is the confusion between an internal and an external IP. This is usually avoided with the approach suggested above but still good to keep in mind whenever one sees an IP address and is uncertain whether it's valid for the particular case or not.
For IPs there are certain standards that help you determine if an IP belongs to an internal (company, home, …) network or the internet.
Following you can see 3 ranges which are reserved for internal networks only and therefor not usable on the internet:––– -

As a general disclaimer contrary to the explanation, I would like to point out that granting access to external parties over the internet using the IP instead of using a secured and encrypted VPN is considered risky from a security point of view.
When possible, such a VPN should always be preferred.

I hope this set of information was helpful for you and would be happy for any comments, suggestions or feedback.

6 October 2013

Revolutionizing my information management (thanks to OneNote)

Where I started
About a year ago, when I switched my professional role and focus from "Linux Administrator" to "Technical Project Manager" I was facing the challenge of managing the broad amount of information that was necessary for my daily work.
To give you an idea: Back then I had to manage and offer technical consultancy for 3 videogame projects that were all in different phases (Live, CB, (Pre-)Alpha) with all different architectures, documentations, configurations and so on.
Also it was always bugging me having to search for files and info when I was requested for it, like "Which server does IP belong to?", "How was this defined in the TDD?", "What did we agree on in the last meeting?".

First ideas
First of all, I wanted to have a paper-version as it's always present in front of me and can be carried around all the time. Another big requirement was the fact that it had to be very customizable in terms of categorizing content. Latter brought me to the idea of hacking a moleskin notebook as a lot of people do.
Although this seemed perfect in terms of flexibility, I quickly realized that the amount of info and documents was too much to get it sorted with a paper notebook. So I decided to stick with my Moleskine as a to do list and collection of data that rarely changes. Additionally, I got a free promo notepad for scribbles and brief notes.

Looking for a software-solution
So, realizing that paper won't do the trick, I had to lookout for software to do the trick.
I know Evernote is quite famous so I tried this amongst some other cloud-based tools (Primarily Google Keep, Springpad). Apart from the fact that these won't be allowed for business-use within my company due to the secrecy of the products, they also disqualified very early due to the lack of proper categorization that I wanted (At least 2 hierarchies: project & subcategory per project).
   To make a long story short, I tried a lot but finally a talk with one of our Producers fn a AAA-title pointed me to the right direction. He explained that he uses OneNote as a document and info-dump. We didn't talk much about the possibilities of it but it was enough to do some research and eventually test it myself after I saw it quite often (meaning: I saw it is part of the office suite and some people use it to write meeting minutes and send them around as a full notebook file)

Why OneNote is ranging from quite to very underrated
Shortly after opening it and creating my notebooks, I realized, that it actually is exactly what I wanted and I feel is perfect for my situation (and anyone who has to handle multiple projects and different info therein):
  • Instead of my required minimum of 2 hierarchy levels for categorization, it offers more than 3 (not even including subpages)!
  • The implementation in Windows and other Office tools is incredibly good
    • You can drag & drop documents into it letting you choose between a print-out, a link or storing the doc as is
    • ...and also drag info from it into another application like Outlook (Attach Files from a note onto an e-mail)
    • OneNote installs a new "printer" that lets you print any content into your Notebook
  • It's as easy as Word but without the usual %&§$%&§$ in formatting and arranging content but with powerful improvements
  • You are hardly limited in any way, being it number of categories, size of pages, size of notebooks and more
  • You can create templates for pages and even define templates as default for a specific category (i.e. meeting minutes)
  • You can save single pages as PDF right out of it ...and even sent it directly via mail using Outlook
  • You can search through all your open notebooks
  • You can record audio and video in it (great for calls/meetings) and clip from your screen (like the MS "Snipping Tool")
  • Very important: You can easily share it using built-in (sharepoint, network) or 3rd party (cloud) storages like Dropbox (or SkyDrive)
Usually it's quite hard for me to be really impressed by software, even more when it's part of the Office suite that usually doesn't offer much innovation, however this tool really lets my heart jump as a PM and "information hoarder".

How I organized it for myself
As I already knew how I wanted (or had) to categorize the information I had and it was obvious from the first moment that OneNote was perfect for me, I started with the following setup:
  • Creating a notebook for every project I manage plus an additional two for "Personal" and "Department Related"
  • Creating a scheme of required sections in every project notebook
    • Decisions / Approaches - To keep track of decisions and approaches for projects that are still in early production
    • Documents - TDDs, Architecture documents, diagrams, ...
    • Documentation - Requirement lists, lose documentations and infos, …
    • Meeting minutes - obvious one (having a meeting minute template configured as default)
    • Reports - All reports for this project
    • Misc - For stuff I pick up that doesn't fit in neither of the other categories
  • After this, it's basically about creating pages and - if necessary - convert them to subpages until the desired level of depth

What I got out of it
After this was done and all the info and documents I already had on my PC and in my Outlook was filed appropriately, I was always prepared for situations where I was requested certain info or needed it for myself to look something up or bring something back into my mind.

What's next
My main goal was to share with you how I - for me - revolutionized my way of collecting and gathering information having it at hand whenever I need it without much effort. Also how it helped me manage the overwhelming amount of information spread through single files, sharepoint, confluence and most horribly emails (Especially using a slow Outlook with an even slower "Vault") was tackled perfectly and I seriously can't think of how it would be without it.

Thanks for bearing with me through the wall of text and if you have any questions or tips, let me know!

Have a great week.