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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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10/31/2004

Book Review - Creating a Presentation in PowerPoint by Tom Negrino

Category Book Reviews

If you're new to creating PowerPoint presentations and need something to help you talk through your first one, try the book Creating a Presentation in PowerPoint by Tom Negrino (Peachpit Press).

Chapter list:  Introduction; Explore PowerPoint; Write Your Presentation; Gather Image and Sound Files; Pick A Design; Work With Text; Illustrate Your Presentation; Make It Move; Prepare To Present; Deliver Your Presentation; Present Everywhere; Index

If you've done more than three or four PowerPoint presentations on your own, this book won't add much to your understanding.  It's in the style of the Visual QuickStart Guides, which means there's lots of full page graphics with text inserts directing you on specific tasks.  It's not meant to be a reference guide, nor is it meant to give you the "whys" or a lot of detail.  The target audience is someone who wants to get something done quickly without getting bogged down in all the minutiae...

Now given that as the target audience, I think it does pretty well.  My wife, who has never done a PowerPoint presentation, immediately latched on to this book and claimed it as her own.  Given her background and learning style, she'll find this a perfect book to take into her workplace and try something she hasn't attempted before.  My only real issue with the book is that it doesn't talk much about style considerations.  When a new person is shown how to make the text dance and shimmer, they tend to think all their slides should do that.  But just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  I would have liked to have seen a bit of coverage of basic design concepts to prevent new users from going wild with all the features.  

For the right audience, Creating a Presentation in PowerPoint will be a good first book to get them started.

10/31/2004

Book Review - Find The Bug by Adam Barr

Category Book Reviews

If you're a programmer who has to look at code that others have written, you'll appreciate this book...  Find The Bug by Adam Barr (Addison-Wesley).  
Chapter list:  Bug Classification; Tips on Walking Through Code; C; Python; Java; Perl; x86 Assembly Language; Classification of Bugs; Index of Bugs by Type; References; Index

This is a excellent text to help you improve your skills on reading code and mentally debugging it.  There are 10 short program or routines for each of the five languages.  Your goal is to walk through the code and figure out what is the hidden error in it.  There are three or four suggestions if you need help thinking it through, a couple of direct hints to focus your thoughts, and a complete explanation at the end.  Even though you may not be familiar with some of the languages, Barr gives you a basic coverage of the fundamentals at the beginning of the chapter so that you can see if you are able to spot the error.  Add to all that some good information on how best to walk through code, and you end up with a book that should be part of every developer's training.  If you're part of a development group that does code walkthroughs, this would be an excellent guide to help everyone become more effective during the process.

A good way to step outside your normal thought processes and improve your skills...  good stuff.

10/31/2004

Book Review - Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang

Category Book Reviews

If you want a better understanding of the often murky world of file sharing, you can get it from the book Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang (No Starch Press).

Chapter list:  Finding The Files; The Peer-To-Peer File Sharing Networks; Navigating Newsgroups; Instant Messaging and Online Chat Rooms; Finding Files on Web and FTP Sites; Protecting Your Identity; Protecting Your Computer; The File Formats; Sharing Music; Finding Movies (or TV Shows); Sharing Books; Pirating Software (Warez); Sharing Video Games; Sharing Pornography; Miscellaneous Thievery; The Legal Alternatives; How The Corporations Fight Back; Index

With a subtitle of "What They Won't Tell You About File Sharing" and the back cover disclaimer of "WARNING: This book is not to be used for violating copyright, pirating software, bootlegging movies, stealing video games, or any other miscellaneous thievery or illegal activity", you can figure this book pretty much deals with topics that in most cases are considered illegal.  I'm going to avoid addressing the ethical considerations of file sharing and comment strictly on the content of the book.  You get to draw your own ethical lines.

Overall, the book is good.  I came away with a much better understanding of how peer-to-peer networks work, and how there are multiple networks available, each with their own clients for access.  It's also been awhile since I messed around with newsgroups, and I now understand the RAR format.  Wang includes a lot of software recommendations (along with URLs) for each type of file acquisition (like newsgroup readers and online proxy sites), so you can quickly start trying out some of the techniques he outlines.  The style and type layout of the book is also "dirty", much like an underground publishing effort.  It gives the book a look of something that you'd probably not display on your bookshelf because "proper" people don't read things like this.

While there's plenty of stuff you already know here, there's also quite a bit of material that will fill in some gaps (if they are gaps you want filled in)...

10/31/2004

Time for October's Google surprises...

Category Blogging

Let's take a look through Duffbert's logs and see what sort of searches got people here.  We'll ignore the boring techie stuff, housewives that are "desparate" (learn to spell, people!), dummies who need to learn how to kiss french-style, and girls who are lusty and/or lebanese.  Been there, done that...

pollack software - shouldn't this be going to Andrew's site?
halloween poopout sites - I don't even wanna know...
housewives kissing - kissing what?
ibm lotus notes kill? - No, Notes is not dead and it's not going away...  keep moving.
lotus is dead - someone forgot to tell us, then...
name of male ballarinas - aren't ballarinas female by definition?
where is "Chris Miller" Notes - lately, you *could* play "Where's Waldo?" with Miller...
LSI layoff - I don't know quite how I became the site for LSI layoff information...  I don't even know what LSI is!
Tom Duff programming style - I didn't know I had one named after me.  :-)
Little Joe camisole - Until I looked this one up, I was starting to wonder if I wanted Runtbert sharing a room with me at Lotusphere...

I'm also going to be removing the list of Google hits from my main page.  Part of this is an attempt to give the search engine indexers a truer picture of content.  Maybe there'll be fewer lusty girl hits that way.  The other part is to cut down on some "google bombing" I've seen where people have put some...  "creative terms" together to hit the site.  This step won't stop the google bombing, but it will prevent the bomber from seeing the results of it on my site.

10/30/2004

Book Review - Visions In Death by J. D. Robb

Category Book Reviews

Even though I read a lot, there are a few authors and series that I still get excited about.  At the top of the list is the In Death series by Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb.  Her latest, Visions In Death, once again delivers the goods...

Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her partner Detective Peabody pick up a murder where the victim's eyes are cut out and she's posed naked on some rocks in the water.  As with all killings, Dallas takes it personally and seeks to find the person responsible.  But then another murder occurs with the same M.O., and she's got a serial killer on her hands.  She's contacted by a "sensitive" who is seeing the killings in visions, but Eve has to overcome her bias about trusting anything that can't be touched or investigated.  The killings become more violent with less time between episodes, and everything comes to a crescendo when Peabody is attacked by the killer and narrowly escapes death.  As a subplot, Eve is having to learn to share her own abused past with her partner, and to take that next level of trust with Peabody.

This is the 19th book in the In Death series, and who knows how many other books Nora Roberts has written on top of those.  She cranks out stuff at an incredible rate.  As I've watched authors and series like Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta character crash and burn, I keep fearing that each new In Death novel will be the beginning of the end.  But to my joy and amazement, Robb/Roberts continues to shine here.  She's taken Peabody from a straight-laced assistant to a full character who can hold her own against Dallas.  Eve's mega-rich husband Roarke complements her hard-edged tendencies and forces her to experience life outside of being a cop.  And each episode chips away a little bit more at Eve's defenses against her past and makes her more human.

I realize at some point the series will have run its course, but I certainly don't look forward to that day.  But until then, I'll continue to enjoy Robb's work to the fullest and place it near the top of my "must read now" list.  

10/30/2004

Book Review - Core Java 2 - Volume 1 - Fundamentals (7th Edition) by Cay S. Horstmann and Gary Cornell

Category Book Reviews

I had a chance to review the book Core Java 2 - Volume 1 - Fundamentals (7th Edition) by Cay S. Horstmann and Gary Cornell (Prentice Hall).  This is a very good choice for experienced programmers who want to learn Java and have a good reference book to continue to use over time...

Chapter List: An Introduction to Java; The Java Programming Environment; Fundamental Programming Structures in Java; Objects and Classes; Inheritance; Interfaces and Inner Classes; Graphics Programming; Event Handling; User Interface Components with Swing; Deploying Applets and Applications; Exceptions and Debugging; Streams and Files; Generic Programming; Java Keywords; Retrofitting JDK 5.0 Code; Index

When a book survives into its seventh edition, you know it must be good.  Core Java 2 is that.  It's a solid, serious treatment of the Java language with plenty of examples and in-depth explanations as to how things work.  And while no single book can cover the complete Java API, this book does a good job of documenting each area they cover so that you can refer back to the work as you start to use Java on a regular basis.  There are not a lot of good Java learning books that also adequately serve as a reference book.  The authors should be commended for this.

Because the authors target "serious" developers, there's less emphasis on Hello World type applications and more focus on the types of routines you might find yourself writing in a business environment.  There's also coverage of the newest features in Java 1.5, so you can buy this particular edition with fear of having it be obsolete in a month.  

This is a volume that I'll happily keep on my shelf and refer to as I get into some of the newer features of Java...

10/30/2004

Book Review - Java Garage by Eben Hewitt

Category Book Reviews

I've just found another favorite series/style of tech book for learning Java.  This one is Java Garage by Eben Hewitt (Prentice Hall).  Quirky, funny, strange, and it rocks...

Chapter list:  What is the Java Garage?; Java Buzz; Java Editions and Platforms; Compiling and Running Java Applications; Where to Write Code; Primitive Types; Operators; Control Statements; Classes; Fridge: Mmm-mmm Lamb Chops and a Manhattan; Classes Reloaded; Inheritance; Strings; Arrays; Documenting Your Code with Javadoc; Abstract Classes; Interfaces; Casting and Type Conversions; Inner Classes; Blog: Inner Classes and Event Handlers; Handling Exceptions; File Input/Output; Fridge: Guacamole; Using Regular Expressions; Creating GUIs with Swing; Blog Entry: Software Development Black Market; Dates and Times; Using Timer Tasks; Applets; Fridge: Big Daddy Flapjacks; Using System and Runtime; Using the Java Development Tools; FAQ; Packaging and Deploying Java Applications; Toolkit; System.Exit; Java Glossary on Steroids; Index

And yes, there *are* recipes for guacamole, pancakes, lamb chops, and a Manhattan in the book.  I *told* you it was quirky...

This book is hard to describe.  Hewitt's concept of "the garage" is a place where you go on Saturday to bang on things and hack it out.  It's a place to experiment.  It's where you go to be alone and to be with your friends.  I look at the book and I think "zen" and "stream of consciousness".  The author is talking to you in the pages, and it's not so much a tutorial as it is a couple of geeks sitting down learning a programming language by doing.  And like all conversations, there are little sidebars that fill in the color and flavor of the main topic being discussed.

Looking beyond the style, the content is solid.  It covers Java version 1.5, so you're getting the latest in features and techniques.  There are code samples all over the place in the book, and much to my pleasure, they are commented extensively.  He tells you exactly what the code is doing in the comments, so there's no guessing as to what might have been intended.  Since I tend to comment in this fashion, I am thrilled to see someone else who does that too.  Anyone needing to learn Java will be able to pick up this book and absorb the concepts without much effort.  Even if you're already somewhat knowledgeable on Java, you'll enjoy reading the book to get a new slant on things.  It's one of the few techie books that is almost an enjoyable read even if you don't need the lessons.

Java Garage is a refreshing break from the ordinary, and it will force you to shelve your expectations as to what a learning guide should be.  This is a highly recommended read for beginners, and worth reading even if you've been working with Java for awhile...

10/30/2004

Book Review - Creating Web Sites Bible (2nd Edition) by David Crowder and Andrew Bailey

Category Book Reviews

I was recently sent a copy of Creating Web Sites Bible (2nd Edition) by David Crowder and Andrew Bailey (Wiley).  While the 1st edition apparently had some significant issues based on reviews at Amazon, the 2nd edition seems to be much improved.

Chapter list:  Planning Your Web Pages; Promoting Your Site; Basic HTML Building Blocks; Organizing Your Site; Putting It on the Web; Getting Fancy with Text; Finding Images; Blending Images into Your Pages; Creating and Enhancing Images; Adding Color Throughout Your Site; Harnessing the Power of Tables; Organizing Your Site with Frames; Styling Web Pages with Cascading Style Sheets; Positioning Elements with DIVs; Getting Input with Forms; Making Dynamic Pages with JavaScript; Navigating Your Web Site; Adding Dynamic Page Elements with DHTML; Animating with Macromedia Flash; Adding Multimedia and Other Objects; Blogging; Setting Up Your Store; Selling on eBay; Getting Paid; Using Advertising; Covering All the Bases; Maintaining Your Site; Designing with XML; Making Your Site Mobile with WAP/WML; HTML 4.01 Specs; XHTML 1.0, Second Edition specs; XML 1.0, Third Edition Specs; WML 2.0 Specs; JavaScript Reference; Glossary; Index

This is one of those books that I personally like, but I don't know if it's right for what I think is the intended audience.  I've been doing application development for a long time, and some of that time has been spent doing web development.  While I wouldn't grab this book to find an answer to an HTML or JavaScript question, I would use it to understand graphical composition, navigation, and more of the site structure thoughts.  There's always new stuff to learn, and it helps to get new ideas from others in that area.  And if you've seen my (lack of) graphical ability, you'd understand.  Die-hard web designers will also squawk about the reliance on tables and frames for design.  I'd tend to agree with them, but I'm also not as dogmatic about the whole issue.

If you're a casual computer use who thinks they have a great idea for a web site, and if you think you could build that site on your own, you'd probably gravitate to a book like this.  To be sure, everything you absolutely need to know is in here.  But I think you could quickly find yourself overwhelmed with everything you need to learn to set the site up.  And when you start talking about setting up an online store and shopping carts, you could end up making mistakes that could cost you dearly in security and fraud.

So is it a good book?  In my opinion, yes.  It's well-written and there is a lot of valuable information in it.  I just tend to think it serves developers with some prior background knowledge better than it would serve a complete newbie.

10/29/2004

The day after the elections can't come fast enough for me...

Category Everything Else


I've pretty much stayed away from election blogging over here at Duffbert's Random Musings.  A few years ago I was offhandedly pegged as the person anchoring the right-wing side of the political spectrum where we worked.  I've never been that vocal about political matters, but I've been more conservative in nature than liberal.  Based on all the stuff that's been going on lately, I've moved more to the center and have surprised a few people with my choices this year.  I still need to fill out my ballot and drop it off at the library, but a brief note to all those people running the machines that call me soliciting votes...


JUST FREAKING STOP IT!!!!!


I had three voice mails when I got home yesterday.  All of them were automated calls asking me to vote one way or the other (most from the Republican party).  Last night I was really tired and tried to go to bed early.  Three calls between 7:30 and 9...  all automated machines.  


I'm tired of the commercials.  I'm tired of the calls.  I'm tired of listening to commentaries that focus on a single issue.  I'm tired of both sides lying.  I'm tired of pundits pointing out how "the other side" is lying.  I'm tired of the mistrust and cynicism that has permeated our society.  I'm tired of seeing "election observers" sitting by ballot boxes, making us look like some third world dictatorship.  


I'm ready for November 3rd so we can start letting the courts decide who won...  :-)

10/28/2004

Week 2, and Grant is 2-0...

Category Everything Else

Last night was the second week of the Portland high school hockey league season, and Grant was playing Tigard.  Ian (my son the coach) was rather concerned about this game, as Tigard had two or three skaters that he knew were pretty good.  So the game got started, Grant pretty much dominated play in the 1st, Cam was solid in net, and the score was 0-0 after 1.  Midway through the 2nd, we got an additional player when one of the Grant members finished up his bantam practice on the other rink and came rushing over to play in the game.  He skated the next shift, and about 30 seconds in he scored on a sweet little feed in front of the net.  That opened things up and motivated everyone.  While we gave up a couple of good goals, Cam came up big as the pressure increased, and at the end Grant won 4-2.

The thing that still impresses me about this year is that we actually look like a team.  This is the second (and in some cases 3rd) year that some of these kids have played for Grant, and it's all starting to gel.  Ian and the two adult coaches are into the game instead of just taking up space on the bench, and there's actual game strategy being mapped out and executed.  And believe it or not, there hasn't been a single fight so far this season.  I think by this time last year, Ian had already surged into the league lead in penalty minutes and was facing his first game suspension for fighting.  :-)

10/27/2004

Microsoft's Worst Nightmare...

Category Microsoft

And if you don't think that David can battle Goliath any more, read this article by Business 2.0: Microsoft's Worst Nightmare

An excellent Firefox browser article that shows that one person can still make a huge difference...

10/27/2004

Windows vs. Linux... Which is more secure?

Category Microsoft

Recently, I blogged about an article where Steve Ballmer of Microsoft was interviewed and was stated that the whole Linux issue was overblown.  But in yet another action that seems to be contrary to that "core belief", we have him sending out an executive email to customers stating that Linux is less secure than Windows, offers less total cost of ownership value, and can't be relied upon due to the ad-hoc development efforts of the package.  For someone who professes that Linux is not a serious threat, the dude sure spends an increasing amount of time and effort trying to convince us of that fact.

Then on top of that, we have a new report by journalist Nicolas Petreley that shows that Linux is *far* more secure than Microsoft when you look at the most recent track record of alerts and security notices.  

It's just amazing that Microsoft-funded studies find Linux less secure and independent studies find Linux more secure...  :-)

10/26/2004

Book Review - Body Double by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Reviews

I had the chance to read a solid crime mystery over the last couple of days...  Body Double by Tess Gerritsen.  A nice read...

Dr. Maura Isles is a pathologist in the big city.  Her life takes a bizarre turn when someone is shot and murdered in front of her apartment.  The problem is that the victim could pass as her identical twin.  If true, this means that Isles had a sister she didn't know about, and it looks as if that sister was trying to contact her.  She talks to a lawyer who handled the twin's adoption, and finds out that her mother is a mentally deranged prisoner convicted of a brutal slaying of two sisters, one of which was nearly full-term pregnant.  Continuing the investigation, she finds that it's possible that her mother had an accomplice who is still on the loose, and it may be the person who killed her sister and may also be looking for her.

The writing in this book is pretty tight, and the plot line is workable.  There's the subtext of Isles discovering a sister she didn't know existed, and struggling to decide whether she wants to know if the monster she meant in prison is really her mother.  If so, do the genetics of the family predispose her to this same type of insanity?  This is an author I really enjoy reading, and this book was no exception.  I'm looking forward to her future works.

10/25/2004

Book Review - Will Your Next Mistake Be Fatal? by Robert E. Mittelstaedt, Jr.

Category Book Reviews

As I was part of one of the biggest corporate mistakes in U.S. history, I thought it would be interesting to read Will Your Next Mistake Be Fatal? by Robert E. Mittelstaedt, Jr.  I wasn't disappointed...  This should be required reading in all organizations.

Chapter list: The Power of M3 and the Need to Understand Mistakes; Execution Mistakes; Execution Mistakes and Successes as Catalysts for Change; Strategy - How Do You Know It's a Mistake?; Physical Disasters with Cultural Foundations and Business Implications; Cultures that Create "Accidents"; Mistakes as Catalysts for Cultural Change; Economics at Work: Watching Entire Industries Lose It; Mistakes Aren't Just for Big Companies - Small Company Chains; Making M3 Part of Your Culture for Success; Summary of Insights; References; Index

I started working for Enron Broadband back in 1998 when it first got going.  I was laid off on September 1st, 2001 when the Portland office closed.  Little did any of us know that the entire company would melt down just three months later.  Did they plan for that to be the culmination of all their actions?  No, but no one in power saw the signs and had enough courage to stop the string of mistakes that ultimately doomed the company.  Mittelstaedt uses Enron and numerous other companies to show how a culture of tolerating mistakes can lead a company to the brink of disaster (and many times right over the edge).  But instead of just concentrating on "when bad things happen to good companies", he also covers how strong leadership can allow a company to survive and prosper in adverse conditions (like J&J's handling of the Tylenol tampering case).  There's a lot of material here that is excellent reading and should cause organizations to ponder their ways.

There are 38 "insights" that summarize the main teachings and help the reader to focus on making the necessary changes for success.  Insights such as "fly the airplane" and "you cannot afford even a whiff of an ethical lapse" are easy to remember and should quickly bring you back to a proper attitude for running a successful and thriving organization.  Oh, and the "M3" you see in the chapter list refers to "managing multiple mistakes".  Once you start to implement a systematic approach to M3, you won't guarantee that your company will never make an error or misstep again.  But you will be assured of not letting things get totally beyond control.  

Excellent book, and it's so very relevant to today's business environment.  A highly recommended read...

10/24/2004

Book Review - Islands In The Clickstream by Richard Thieme

Category Book Reviews

Every once in awhile I read a book that reminds me I'm not a very introspective person, and I don't do "subtle".  This time it's Islands In The Clickstream by Richard Thieme.

Chapter list: This is the Way the Internet Works; Computer-Mediated Living: The Digital Filter; Doing Business Digitally; Hacking and the Passion for Knowledge; Digital Spirituality; Mostly True Predictions; The Psychology of Digital Life: Identity and Destiny; Political Implications; The Dark Side of the Moon and Beyond; Technology Gets Personal

Thieme is a speaker and writer who is apparently in high demand.  This book is a compilation of selected essays from his www.thiemeworks.com site over a time period from January 1997 to March 2004.  His background is one of an Episcopalian priest who left the ministry to focus on "the impact of computer technology on organizations, societies, and one's own self".  When I got the book for review, I was looking forward to some practical insights that I could apply.  What I got was a number of ethereal, new-age'ish thoughts on things that sometimes didn't even touch on technology.  Occasionally there was a gem or two I could relate to, but I found myself reading faster and faster just to get to the end.  For me, it wasn't worth the time investment.

Another irritating part of this book...  Because it's selected writings over a eight year period, you get repeated thoughts and phrases grouped together instead of spaced over the months that they originally occurred.  After reading about the same scene from Blade Runner over and over, you wonder if the guy was fixated on the movie.  In reality, the original essays were spaced over many months and that wouldn't have been noticeable.  Same thing with an incident where a woman asked him "Do you still believe in God?" after he left the ministry.  Over months, the conversation would be useful for examples.  Seeing it in 50% of the essays in a chapter, it gets redundant.  And when he spends a whole chapter relating his UFO interest to the digital world, I was pretty much ready for it to be over.

I'll admit I tend to be less introspective and more pragmatic.  As a result, a book like this doesn't work well for me.  Some of my friends who are more contemplative would probably love it.  But since this is my review, you get my thoughts...  That's about five hours of my life I'll never have back.

10/23/2004

Does Microsoft win by quality or by inertia?

Category Microsoft

I've watched a number of my friends switch from using Internet Explorer to FireFox.  I've also seen people break out of the Office environment and move to OpenOffice.org.  Microsoft Messenger?  How about Trillian or Gaim instead?  All worthy alternatives.  

I've got each of these alternatives loaded on my computer(s).  I agree that using them is a good idea to avoid security breaches and to support the concept of choice.  And what do I find myself doing almost daily?  Launching IE and Word.  Why?  Is it because I think IE and Word are superior products and should be my first choice?  No.  I think I finally put my finger on it today.

It's inertia.

Old habits die hard, and I tend to use what I'm used to.  I'm used to IE, and that's where my bookmarks are.  So I launch IE.  I'm used to the features in Word, so I launch Word.  Since Firefox is a little different and my bookmarks aren't exactly the same, I don't think to launch it first.  Since OpenOffice.org takes longer to launch and doesn't react quite the way I'm used to, I use Word instead.  Not that the MS options are better, just that they are more familiar.  The admittedly minor effort to break out of a rut keeps me from practicing what I preach and believe.

So what do I do?  Force myself to take those steps to eliminate the convenience factor.  I run Gaim on my Linux box which is right next to my laptop.  I removed the IE icon from the Quick Launch bar on W2K.  Now my quick option is to launch FireFox, and in reality there's only a couple of bookmarks that weren't there from my initial install and import of IE bookmarks.  For my December e-ProWire newsletter articles, I'm writing them with OpenOffice.org's Writer.  I'll save in Word format, as I need to exchange the data with someone else.  But still, I'll use this as my personal self-training.

This flaw in my character makes me wonder how much of Microsoft's market share is predicated on quality and how much is due to convenience.

10/23/2004

Book Review - Broadband Bible Desktop Edition by James E. Gaskin

Category Book Reviews

If you're looking for a book to explain the array of options when it comes to high-speed internet access, get a copy of the book Broadband Bible Desktop Edition by James E. Gaskin (Wiley).  This is a really good book...

Chapter list:  Why You Need Broadband Internet Access; Getting Familiar with Broadband Technology; Types of Broadband Providers; Types of Alternative Broadband Providers; Emerging Broadband Service Options; Pros and Cons: Choosing Your Best Broadband Option; Understanding Computer Security; Examining Your Home Broadband Hookup; Examining the Multitenant Broadband Hookup; Server and Storage Options; What You Need To Know About Desktop Networking; What You Need to Know About TCP/IP Networks and Routing; Backup and Disaster Recovery; Wired Connection Options; Wireless Connection Options; Wireless Security in Depth; Avoiding Wireless Eavesdropping and Hacking; Troubleshooting Internet Access Problems; Troubleshooting Your Side of the Connection; Quick Hits Roundup; Additional Web Directory Listings; Broadband, Internet, and Networking Definitions; Index

If you haven't yet made the jump to broadband internet access, you may be confused over all the options and terminology.  Cable vs. DSL?  Home networking?  Routers?  Gaskin does an excellent job in this book to explain everything you need to know to make the move.  The flow of the book is well-done, in that it moves from "why do you need broadband" to "here's how you decide which option is best".  Even for those of us who have had broadband for awhile, it's a good read to catch up on some other options that are becoming more viable, such as broadband over power lines.  The writing is clear and concise, without falling into endless jargon that defies the reader to understand it.

This book would have helped me out immensely when I made the jump from a slower DSL line to 3MB cable internet access.  Since we have a number of computers in the home, I wasn't quite sure how to make sure I did and bought the right things to allow me to get them all to access the internet.  Although I ended up being successful at the whole setup, there was a lot of fear and trepidation on my part.  With Gaskin's book, I would have been much more confident up front.  Even now, there's some information in here that will help me debug an issue I'm having with communication between two of the computers.  

For a single source of understandable information on moving to high-speed internet access, you won't go wrong with this book.  Highly recommended.

10/23/2004

I overlooked a milestone on the 15th of this month...

Category Blogging

The Earth To Mr. Gates post was my 1000th post since I started blogging back on February 4th, 2003.

1000 posts in 20 months...

Rather wordy, aren't I?

10/21/2004

Book Review - McNally's Bluff by Lawrence Sanders/Vincent Lardo

Category Book Reviews

I finally finished McNally's Bluff by Laurence Sanders and Vincent Lardo.  I say *finally* as this one took me about a week when generally it'd be a two day book...

Archy McNally is called to investigate a murder when a party he's attending turns into a crime scene.  A carnival owner who has moved into town has a maze built on the property, and during a grand opening party his wife is murdered and found dead in the goal of the maze.  It's nearly impossible that she was able to appear earlier as a performer at the party and then be found dead, but that's apparently what happened.  There are a number of people who might be connected to the death in some way, but none appear to have a clear-cut motive.  When one of these people shows up dead, the plot gets even more complicated.  Archy is trying to solve the murder and unravel the mystery before anyone else dies in the process...

Normally I'm a big fan of the McNally series written by Lardo since Sanders passed away.  And on the surface, this latest installment has the same witty writing and word play.  But something just seems to be missing.  Archie and Connie are no longer together, and the relationship between him and Georgia doesn't seem to advance anywhere here.  His normal frustration with Binky is not there, as Binky seems to have a mind and life of his own in this book.  Even Archie's dad, the head of the law firm, plays an extremely minor role here.  The spark that normally propels me along with these books just wasn't there.  

Everyone's entitled to an off-day.  I just hope this isn't a precursor to the end of an excellent series...

10/21/2004

I'm still not seeing the correlation here...

Category Microsoft


From ZDNet:  
Ballmer: We Need A $100 PC

"The biggest problem we have right now is that people who should be paying for software aren't," Ballmer told an audience of technology executives at an industry conference here sponsored by market researcher Gartner.


One way to stem piracy is to offer consumers in emerging countries a low-cost PC, Ballmer said. "There has to be...a $100 computer to go down-market in some of these countries. We have to engineer (PCs) to be lighter and cheaper," he said.


People in poorer countries have one low-cost computing option, Ballmer said. "They have a leased-PC concept: the Internet cafe. Pay-by-the-drink computer use--that has a very important place in the market. (Microsoft) has five times as many Hotmail users in India and China than there are PCs because of this," he said.


Ballmer said piracy of Microsoft's Windows and Office software in emerging markets has become a major concern for the software giant, especially among business users who can afford to pay for software.


"PCs are not selling to the lower end of the population in China and India. People buying machines there are relatively affluent. So...should the prices be lower? Not really. Until government and situational factors reduce piracy...those people...don't pay," Ballmer said.


But lower prices have become part of Microsoft's strategy for gaining market share in developing nations. In recent months, the software maker has announced plans to introduce low-cost "starter editions" of Windows XP into countries including India, Russia and Thailand. These versions will be bundled only with entry-level PCs and will not be available for retail sale.


This seems to be a trend that is gathering steam at Microsoft...  Offer cheaper, less feature-rich versions of software in order to get emerging countries to pay for it instead of pirating it.  And now it's proposing cheaper hardware to drive the demand for Microsoft's software.  And I guess I'm just not making the connection...


If I can buy a $5 copy of Win XP SP2 on the street corner and I don't care about piracy, why in the world would I want to spend more than that to get less?  And if I can get a $100 PC, I think this means I can now have my own $5 copy of Win XP *and* my own $5 copy of Office XP.  Also, I don't see how offering software with little profit margin means that you'll gain the margin later.  If I *do* choose to buy your crippled $15 version of Win XP, does this necessarily mean that I'm now willing to buy Longhorn in x number of years for $300?  I doubt it.  I'm going to demand a $15 version of Longhorn or I'll go buy the $5 version on the corner.  


While Microsoft can currently afford to *buy* market share due to the incredible margins on their software cash cows, I believe this is the beginning signs of a desperate effort to avoid a downward trend.  Once you set lower price expectations, that becomes your new baseline...

10/21/2004

Singapore government switches to OpenOffice.org

Category Open Source

From ZDNet:  Singapore Government Switches To OpenOffice.org

The Ministry of Defence in Singapore has decided to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, a move which could involve 20,000 PCs, according to reports

Singapore's Ministry of Defence has decided to switch to OpenOffice.org, rather than migrating from its current version of Microsoft Office, according to reports.
   
With the ministry operating around 20,000 PCs, the decision to move to open-source software on the desktop is among the biggest by any government agency, according to Bloomberg News.

Cheok Beng Teck, a director at the ministry, said that the decision to migrate from MS Office 97 to OpenOffice.org was made because the additional features of MS Office 2003 did not justify its higher cost. The ministry will keep the copies of MS Office 97 which it has already licensed giving users the choice, but new PCs will run OpenOffice.org, said the report.

A couple of interesting twists here...  For one, you're starting to see large organizations consider Office upgrade paths that don't include Office!  And two, this hits at Microsoft's other cash cow...

10/21/2004

OK, Mr. Ballmer... Which is it?

Category Microsoft

On one side, we have this...  Ballmer Calls Linux Threat Overblown (CRN)

"There is no appreciable amount of Linux on the client anywhere in the world," Ballmer said in response to questions from Gartner analysts. "People can read the drama stories. ... They read about the city of Paris. It said it would adopt Linux. Well, the study came back, and there's no ROI case for Linux for the next seven to eight years."

Ballmer said similar stories of Linux adoption in Brazil and elsewhere around the globe also have been blown out of proportion. He pointed to the city of Munich, Germany, which drew lots of media attention by opting for Linux over Windows clients. "Now, Munich is Munich. We lost the city of Munich," Ballmer said, with a caveat. "You hear 65,000 stories, and there's still only one customer. And [Munich] ... what's a polite word for this? They're still diddling around, deciding on whether to do the migration."

Then over here, we have...  Microsoft Courts "Non-Friendly" Linux Users To Increase Sales (Bloomberg)

Ballmer's latest move to fend off Linux date to July, 2003, when he tapped 11-year Microsoft veteran Martin Taylor to help convert Linux devotees and what Taylor calls ``corporate non- friendlies.'' Among Taylor's first decisions: to attend LinuxWorld 2003, a gathering of 11,000 Linux developers.

Back at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington headquarters, he ordered a group of 30 employees who drum up interest in Windows to seek out Linux users and persuade them Microsoft is better.

``I said `Dammit, go talk to these people. Show them some love,''' Taylor, 34, said he told the group's leaders in a planning meeting earlier this year.

Ballmer, 48, is also hiring Linux salespeople. The company in April hired Karl Aigner, who helped Suse Linux convince the city of Munich to convert its 14,000 Windows personal computers to Linux, Microsoft's biggest loss to Linux in the PC market. In January Microsoft recruited Bill Hilf, 35, who promoted Linux for International Business Machines Corp., and the company has added 10 salespeople from top Linux seller Red Hat Inc.

Linux is growing faster than Windows. Windows accounted for 58 percent of server operating-system software shipped in 2003, compared with 23 percent for Linux, according to preliminary data from Framingham, Massachusetts-based researcher IDC.

``Linux is clearly a worry,'' said Robert Mattson, an analyst in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, at Gartmore Group, which manages $77 billion including Microsoft shares. ``I can't understand anyone who says it isn't. Microsoft's growth rate would have been faster had Linux not been there.''

Couple this with official statements from Microsoft stating that the threat of open-source software may have negative impact on earnings, and we've got some serious spin control going on by Microsoft's president...

10/21/2004

It's not the NHL, but the high school hockey season started last night.

Category Everything Else

With the current NHL lockout in effect, it's getting harder and harder to find my hockey fix.  At least the high school hockey season started last night, so it's back to the weekly trek to the arena to watch my kid play (and my other kid coach)...  There's a different dynamic this year in that Ian graduated, so he's no longer skating (and fighting) for the Grant team.  But Cam is still between the pipes in goal.

Last night's game was an opening season victory for Grant.  They were playing a new team from West Linn, and I was surprised as how decent we looked.  Remembering back two years ago to the 0-22 fiasco of their first year, they've really matured and improved.  The West Linn team looked like we did on a bad night last year, and most of the play was down in their end.  If not for an outstanding performance by their goalie, the score would have been 10-0.  As it was, we couldn't get anything past him, and Cam wasn't having his most solid game in goal.  Coming to the end of the game, the score was tied 1-1 and we couldn't get the winner in the last minute.  The teams immediately went to the overtime shootout format, where I wasn't terribly confident that Cam would do well given the way the night had gone.  

Boy, was I wrong!  Cam completely shut them down on all the shots, and Zack Kintz (our team captain) was able to slip one by West Linn's goalie.  So, Grant escaped with a 2-1 victory, and Cam looked like a hero by stopping all the shootout attempts.  Way to go, Cam!

10/20/2004

Book Review - Hardware Hacking: Having Fun While Voiding Your Warranty

Category Book Reviews

If you're the hard-core type that likes to take things apart and "fix" them, you'll like Hardware Hacking: Having Fun While Voiding Your Warranty by Joe Grand (Syngress).  Your discarded toys will never be quite the same again.

Chapter list: Tools of the Warranty Voiding Trade; Electrical Engineering Basics; Declawing Your CueCat; Case Modification: Building a Custom Terabyte FireWire Hard Drive; Macintosh; Home Theater PCs; Hack Your Atari 2600 and 7800; Hack Your Atari 5200 and 8-Bit Computer; Hacking the PlayStation 2; Wireless 802.11 Hacks; Hacking the iPod; Can You Hear Me Now? Nokia 6210 Mobile Phone Modifications; Upgrading Memory on Palm Devices; Operating Systems Overview; Coding 101; Index

The first thing to know about this book is that it isn't a beginner's volume.  There is some serious hardware modifications going on here.  You should be comfortable with electrical theory, devices such as resistors and capacitors, and tools like soldering irons.  Also, I'd recommend that you don't try these things on primary devices.  I'd say there's a decent chance you could damage it trying some of these tricks.  But having said all that, you'll enjoy the book if you meet the above qualifications.

Since I'm not a major hardware geek, I don't know that I could do many of these mods.  One of the mods that would be useful even to non-geeks is the chapter on the iPod.  You will learn how to replace the battery and how to upgrade the hard drive on your earlier generation iPods, and you don't even need to be that handy.  That tip alone would probably pay for the cost of the book.  Each hack is very well illustrated with excellent photos and instructions, so you don't feel like you're reading assembly instructions written by something that was run through an automatic translator.

So if you have some old video game consoles gathering dust in the basement, pull them out and see what you can do with them using this book.  You'll end up being the envy of all your geeky friends.  :-)

10/18/2004

So how would that look on the front page of your local paper?

Category Everything Else

I read an article today talking about a controversy over the annual pay for a president, CEO, and chairman of the board for a not-for-profit company.  In this case, the total annual compensation including salary, bonus, and perks was over $500,000.

Generally speaking, I'm not adverse to CEOs making substantially more than the rank and file.  When you've got the success of an entire company resting on your shoulders, you should be compensated for that.  I don't know what that "substantially more" amount should be.  I'm a bit more cynical about compensation since my Enron days, but still...

In this article, the person in question leads a not-for-profit organization.  $500K seems to be a bit steep, considering the type of organization and the fact you're dealing with a sensitive public concern (yes, I'm being purposely vague here, and no, it's not my company or any company I've ever worked for).  But when the newspaper article starts to outline some of the perks, you start to get the idea that there's a little excess going on.  Base salary was $345K with a $70K bonus.  Um...  marginal.  Cashing out $25K in unused vacation... OK, as I could do the same (but not for that amount).  Paid life insurance premiums...  You can't pay for your own with that type of salary?  Travel first class to meetings...  OK.  Allowance to take your wife on trips, also at first class?  No.  $2500 a month "personal dining allowance" in lieu of country club membership?  $30K a year to entertain and eat out?  I wish.  The company pays $25 bucks a day for someone to watch the dogs while they are traveling?  Come on!  There's also a benefit restoration plan covering retirement that calls for him to make 100% of his average salary over the last five years, and his wife gets 75% if he dies first.  Rather generous, especially since this benefit costs the company over $700K a year on top of his other benefits.  And he's not the only one covered by this...

My point in all this?  How does the management of any organization expect the rank and file to follow and sacrifice (or even commit to the company values) when it's obvious that management is doing little sacrificing themselves?  And if a compensation plan and benefit selection were to be spelled out on the front page of your local paper, could it be reasonably justified?  Or would it appear that the shareholders or the employees are paying for your comfortable or even lavish lifestyle?  Did the CEO of Tyco *really* think that spending $6K of company money for a freaking UMBRELLA STAND was a fiscally responsible use of corporate funds?  

With the emphasis on cost-cutting at all levels of a company, with the constant threat of outsourcing/offshoring eating away at American jobs, with the ever-increasing health care costs eating away at the paycheck of the American worker, ethical leadership at all levels of a corporation is increasingly important.  And ethical leadership demands that sacrifices be shared equally at all levels, and all levels of a company need to be following the same values.  

I'm glad that the concept of servant leadership is practiced at our company...

10/17/2004

Book Review - Eclipse Step-By-Step by Joe Pluta

Category Book Reviews

As part of my preparation for an Eclipse presentation later this month, I reviewed Eclipse Step-By-Step by Joe Pluta (MC Press).  For someone with absolutely no exposure to the package, this will help you get started.

Chapter list: Welcome to Eclipse!; Installing Eclipse; Introducing the Workbench; The Resource Perspective; The Java Perspective; The Debug Perspective; A Simple Program; Running and Debugging; The User Interface; Adding the Database; Install a Java Runtime; Install Winzip; Download Eclipse; On Things GUI; Start Your SQL Engines; Index

I think to understand this book's style, you have to know the target audience of the author.  He wants to show working code and examples that are well commented, and he wants to walk you through the steps involved in a task.  He also wanted to show how Eclipse works from a Java perspective, even if the reader doesn't know Java.  That's why you can type in the code he provides, or you can import it from the CD.  The steps are very detailed with tons of screen shots to show you what each step should look like.  Things are taken in bite-size chunks, so that really *anyone* could understand and use Eclipse by the time you get done with this book.  If you have any experience with Eclipse already, you probably won't get much out of this book that you don't already know.  But the beginner will be able to work through this material with no problem.

The argument could be made that there is too much handholding and screen shots of things that people have seen millions of times already.  In addition, the screen shots are large.  They take up a lot of space and make the book larger than it probably deserves to be.  For a $60 book, I think I would have tried for smaller images and more content to make up the 362 pages.  Experienced IT professionals might think it's too much step-by-step detail, but then again the hard-core IT person probably isn't the target audience.  Finally, once you work through this material, you'll want to get a more detailed book on Eclipse to learn how to use the tool with all the whistles and bells.  But at least you'll have the basics down before you get there.

So do I recommend it?  If you want a no-threat introduction to Eclipse that assumes very little, yes.  If you're looking for a single reference volume that will give you all the finely detailed minutiae of the platform, no.  It all depends on where you're at and what you want.

10/17/2004

Either really geeky or proactive...

Category Everything Else

On my desk, we have this arrangement currently...

A picture named M2

On the laptop (my primary machine), we have W2K with all the stuff I do on a normal day-to-day basis.  On the right, we have Cam's $40 computer (now mine) running Linux Fedora 2.  I'm now keeping them both up full-time, and I'm starting to force myself to use the Linux box for tasks.  For instance, the Linux box is running Gaim for instant messaging, so I'm not bringing up Trillian on the laptop any more.  It's not much, but it's a start.

10/17/2004

Book Review - Outsource: Competing in the Global Productivity Race by Edward Yourdon

Category Book Reviews

Last night I finished the book Outsource: Competing in the Global Productivity Race by Edward Yourdon (Prentice Hall).  I'm highly impressed with Yourdon's treatment of this subject.

Chapter list:  Introduction; Key Factors Driving Outsourcing; Today's Situation in IT; Additional Forms of Outsourcing; Likely Trends for the Next Decade; Implications for the Individual; Implications for Companies Supplying Knowledge-Based Services; Implications for Companies Buying Knowledge-Based Products or Services; Implications for Government and Society; Conclusion; Index

Since outsourcing (especially off-shoring) is such an emotional subject, it's hard to find a book that doesn't quickly descend into histrionics and hand-wringing.  And in the past, Yourdon has had a tendency to paint doom and gloom scenarios (like Y2K) and hype them.  But in this book, the whole subject of outsourcing is treated in an analytical and realistic way.  Yourdon accepts the fact that the American consumer wants cheap, high quality items, and that companies have to consider outsourcing to provide those products.  When foreign knowledge workers can be found for a fraction of the cost of US workers, it's hard to ignore.  So by acknowledging the reality of outsourcing, Yourdon moves on to what you can do as an individual to protect yourself.

To me, this is where the book shines.  Yourdon lays out a number of steps that a knowledge worker in the US can take to protect their career and weather the trends that are becoming more common.  This is the only (in my opinion) rational approach to take.  You can yell and whine about how companies are unfair, but ultimately your career and ability to pay your rent is up to you.  Taking Yourdon's advice may not stop you from being off-shored or outsourced, but you'll be ready for it if it does happen, and you'll be able to keep moving along with your life.

Recommended reading for everyone that earns their living by what they know...

10/16/2004

Book Review - PC Upgrade and Repair Bible (Desktop Edition) by Barry and Marcia Press

Category Book Reviews

Since I'm not "hardware oriented" when it comes to technology, you have to work hard to help me understand it.  One book that does a great job is the PC Upgrade and Repair Bible Desktop Edition by Barry Press and Marcia Press (Wiley).

Chapter list:  Getting Ready; Why Isn't the Same Computer Right for Everyone?; PC Overview; Processors, Cache, and Memory; Buses, Chipsets, and Motherboards; Video; Monitors and Flat Panels; Hard Disks and Disk Arrays; CD and DVD; Removable Storage; Modems; Wired and Wireless Networking; Hubs, Switches, Routers, and Firewalls; Configuring a Windows Network; Internet Services, Antivirus, and Anti-Spam; Sound Cards, Speakers, Microphones, and MP3 Players; Digital Cameras, Video Capture, and DVDs; Keyboards and Game Controllers; Mice, Trackballs, and Tablets; Printers, Scanners, and All-in-One Units; Cases, Cooling, and Power; Laptops and Handheld Computers; You're Going to Put That Where?; Diagnosis and Repair; Building an Extreme Machine; Glossary; Index

As I mentioned above, I'm a software developer and I just want my hardware to work.  One of the hardest things for me to do would be to try and build a computer from scratch.  But watching my son (who has no fear of hardware) has made me a bit more at ease with it.  And with this book, I think I could actually try it.  Each of the chapters gives an excellent explanation about how that piece of hardware works and how it fits into the larger picture of a full computer.  For instance, in the CD chapter you'll get an understandable write-up of how information is stored and read on a CD-ROM disk.  Then they transition into how a DVD is read and how the drive functions.  And I actually understood it!

The only place where I thought this book was a little weak is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of upgrade or repair instructions.  I expected more along the lines of step-by-step pictures and instructions on how to replace or repair certain parts in your machine.  There is some of that towards the end when you get into the Diagnosis and Repair chapters, but little as you're working through the book.  Some buyers might be a little upset that the title doesn't quite mesh with the content of the book.  Still, the actual content *is* quite good...  just not what you might expect.

Overall, I like the book a lot as it helps me understand my computer hardware better than I did before.  Just a minor deduction for possible title and content confusion...

10/15/2004

Earth to Mr. Gates... What planet are you now approaching?

Category Microsoft

From USA Today:  Gates Has A Plan - Computainment (thanks, Alan!)

While most of the interview is about the new media offerings, there are a couple of Bill Gates answers that show a major disconnect from reality...

Q: Speaking of security, Internet Explorer has had well-publicized holes …

Gates: Understand those are cases where you are downloading third-party software.

Ahhh...  I understand.  I was unaware that displaying a graphic image on my browser was considered a "third-party software" product...

Q: There is talk of a Google browser. Internet Explorer has had its security woes. How do you keep users?

Gates: More has been invested in making IE secure than any browser on the planet by a long shot. Nothing is going to change. That's the one over 90% of people are going to keep using.

Could it be that more has been invested in making IE secure because it was such a security risk by a long shot?  Is this why sites concerned with secure computing practices advise against using IE?  Nothing is going to change?  Talk about arrogance...

10/14/2004

Book Review - Visio 2003 Bible by Bonnie Biafore

Category Book Reviews

I just had my eyes opened to all that Visio can do by reviewing the book Visio 2003 Bible by Bonnie Biafore (Wiley).  

Chapter list:  Getting Started with Visio; Getting Started with Drawings; Working with Visio Files; Working with Shapes; Connecting Shapes; Working with Text; Formatting Visio Elements; Inserting, Linking, and Embedding Objects; Importing, Exporting, and Publishing Visio Data to the Web; Linking Shapes with Data; Collaborating with Others; Building Block Diagrams; Constructing Charts and Graphs; Working with Organization Charts; Working with Flowcharts; Documenting Business Processes; Scheduling Projects with Visio; Documenting Brainstorming Sessions; Modeling and Documenting Databases; Building UML Models; Building Software Development Diagrams; Mapping Web Sites; Creating Network Diagrams; Working with Scaled Drawings; Creating Scaled Plan Drawings; Laying Out Architectural and Engineering Plans; Integrating CAD and Visio; Working with Engineering Drawings; Creating and Customizing Templates; Creating and Customizing Stencils; Creating and Customizing Shapes; Customizing Shapes Using ShapeSheets; Formatting with Styles; Customizing Toolbars and Menus; Automating Visio; Installing Visio 2003; Visio 2003 Help Resources; Additional Resources for Templates and Stencils; Keyboard Shortcuts; Template and Stencil Reference; Index

As you can tell, there's not much left to cover after Bonnie gets done.  :-)

As an IT professional, I've used Visio for the basics.  Someone wants a flowchart, I can fake my way through a decent looking diagram.  And that was pretty much all I thought Visio could do...  basic drawings.  But going through this book was an eye-opener.  I didn't know that you could output Visio output for the web.  I didn't know you could hook shapes up to data sources.  And I *really* didn't know that Visio could produce a site map of a web site!  Guess what I'll be trying at work tomorrow...

The author does a great job of covering the material at a level that everyone can understand.  Due to the comprehensive nature of the book, I think that all levels of users can get something from the book, too.  Those who are new to Visio will get a good foundation in the basics.  Those (like me) who haven't explored past the basics will discover all sorts of new toys.  And experts may find a feature or two that they didn't know about.

Definitely a keeper that will end up on my bookshelf at work, and one that I'll have to guard against greedy fingers...

10/14/2004

Book Review - Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham

Category Book Reviews

Getting out of the tech genre for awhile, I relaxed with Mark Billingham's Scaredy Cat.  This is his follow-up to Sleepyhead (that I really liked)...

A number of killings in England has Tom Thorne looking for a serial killer.  The victims are found in pairs, and although the methods are similar, the intensity of the violence is different.  He figures there are actually a pair of killers working in tandem.  The pair of killers go back to a grammar school friendship, and it's the typical controller/controllee type relationship.  The cops quickly get one of the killers, but then try to set a trap for the other one.  Unfortunately, the trap backfires and the killer starts to strike closer to home.  The question becomes can he be stopped before he kills someone close to Thorne.

As I mentioned above, I really liked Sleepyhead.  Very dark, and hard to tell who was guilty and who was innocent.  Scaredy Cat was just as dark, but the suspense wasn't there.  You find out right away who the killers are, but you're not quite sure about the current identity of the controlling personality.  The relationship between the killers is rather complex and somewhat ill-explained, and one of the common elements that tie them together is left to hang out there for far too long.  When it's finally revealed, it doesn't seem to have the impact that it was probably intended to.  Thorne's personal torments don't seem to do anything but sit there.  The relationship between his partner Holland and a female cop with issues also doesn't seem to add anything to the storyline.

Maybe it's just the sophomore jinx, but this novel definitely isn't on par with his first...

10/14/2004

Whoo-hoo! The ND6 version of NotesPeek is now out in the Sandbox!

Category IBM/Lotus

http://www-10.lotus.com/ldd/sandbox.nsf/ByDateNJ/2791869f4e1d3fa385256f2c00432973?OpenDocument

Some people on the Lotus Business Partner Forum were talking about when the ND6 version of NotesPeek would be released, and someone from IBM cut through the red tape to finally get it out there (thanks, ES!)

10/14/2004

Question... Updating the design of bookmarks.nsf...

Category Software Development

I've got an issue I'm dealing with, and I certainly can't figure out a way around it. Can any of you help?

We have a customized bookmark.ntf template that has a special home page and does some scripting when the bookmark.nsf file is first opened. All the code and design elements work fine. Now we're upgrading from R5 to ND6.5.2. On a fresh install, the bookmark.ntf file works fine. All the custom design elements come over, and life is good. On an upgrade, there's an issue with replacing the design of the bookmark.ntf file. When you attempt to do a design-replace, the process doesn't fully complete due to the bookmark.nsf file already being in use. You have to then shut down the Notes client and restart it to have the replace complete. We'd like to be able to script that process somehow, but I can't figure out a way around it. We also don't want to wipe out everyone's bookmarks and start them from scratch.

Anyone have any clever ideas on how to do a complete design-replace on the bookmark.nsf file on a person's Notes client without having them do it all manual

10/13/2004

Scobleizer: Microsoft doesn't get credit...

Category Microsoft

Yesterday, Robert Scoble had a blog entry titled Steve Jobs Positions Microsoft In Business Week.  In the posting, he laments:

Steve Jobs of Apple says, in BusinessWeek, Microsoft sucks. Oh, OK, he didn't really say that, but he implied it.

The funny thing is that he's right. We do suck. We suck at not getting credit for the really cool things that Microsoft has been kicking out left and right.

Being the typical pro-IBM/anti-Microsoft person, I at first thought this was just typical MS propoganda.  But I couldn't shake this thought.  He's actually right, I think.  Microsoft *does* come out with some cool stuff.  Visual Studio is generally acknowledged to be a killer IDE.  And I'm sure there's other things out there (we'll leave Exchange out to make it fair).  But why does MS get bashed in the press and by techno-geeks?

I'll venture forth a guess....  All the cool stuff you deliver isn't worth anything if you can't deliver on the basics...  Security...  Reliability...  Scalability...  Announced feature sets...

That's also true for life in general...  Your best efforts and results aren't worth anything if people can't trust you with the basics...

10/11/2004

Launching a Flash file from a link on a Domino server...

Category Software Development

I've been working on a corporate website that is pretty slick (at least it is to me!), and the question came up today as to how they could include a link to launch a Flash animation file (.SWF).  They were able to link to a server internally, but that server wouldn't be available outside the firewall.  So the question becomes...  how do you set up everything to include the .SWF file in your application?

If you look out on the discussion boards, you'll find a number of suggested methods for doing so, and I don't think any of them work for everybody in all situations.  I was fortunate to find a method right off that worked for my needs, so I thought I'd share it with you.

First off, you'll need an HTML file that is set up to launch the animation.  I used one like this:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<meta http-equiv=Content-Type content="text/html;  charset=ISO-8859-1">
<TITLE>Sales_Demo</TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY bgcolor="#FFFFFF">
<OBJECT classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase="http://download.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=6,0,0,0"
WIDTH="800" HEIGHT="600" id="Sales_Demo" ALIGN="">
<PARAM NAME=movie VALUE="Sales_Demo.swf">
<PARAM NAME=loop VALUE=false>
<PARAM NAME=quality VALUE=high>
<PARAM NAME=bgcolor VALUE=#FFFFFF>
<EMBED src="Sales_Demo.swf" loop=false quality=high bgcolor=#FFFFFF  WIDTH="800" HEIGHT="600" NAME="Sales_Demo" ALIGN="" TYPE="application/x-shockwave-flash"  PLUGINSPAGE="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer"></EMBED>
</OBJECT>
</BODY>
</HTML>

I called this file Sales_Demo.html and made it a Page design element in my application.

Next, I put the Sales_Demo.swf file into the Image Resource design area.  That's where the HTML file will find the Flash file to launch.

Finally, we added a link in a page that pointed to the HTML file like this:  ../Sales_Demo.HTML

That link points to the database that you're in, and launches the page element Sales_Demo.HTML.  That file in turn finds and launches the .SWF Image Resource.  And voila...  The Flash animation starts!

10/10/2004

Book Review - XML In A Nutshell by Elliotte Rusty Harold & W. Scott Means

Category Book Reviews

If you're looking for a single volume on XML to give you many of the answers you need, I would suggest checking out XML In A Nutshell by Elliotte Rusty Harold and W. Scott Means (O'Reilly).

Chapter list:  Introducing XML; XML Fundamentals; Document Type Definitions (DTDs); Namespaces; Internationalization; XML as a Document Format; XML on the Web; XSL Transformation (XSLT); XPath; XLinks; XPointers; XInclude; Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); XSL Formatting Objects (XSL-FO); Resource Directory Description Language (RDDL); XML as a Data Format; XML Schemas; Programming Models; Document Object Model (DOM); Simple API for XML (SAX); XML Reference; Schemas Reference; XPath Reference; XSLT Reference; DOM Reference; SAX Reference; Character Sets; Index

As you can see, there's a lot of ground covered here.  Since XML is such a diverse set of standards and technologies, different readers will probably get differing amounts of value from this book.  For instance, if I was delving into CSS for a website project, this book wouldn't give me much of what I need.  The coverage on CSS is very light and introductory.  Conversely, if I was starting to use SAX, the initial chapter on SAX along with the reference chapter would give me a solid foundational base from which to work.  It seems that most of the quality material is found in the core XML standards.  And as with most Nutshell books, they are not meant to be tutorials for the beginner.  They provide a no-fluff reference for the professional to refer back to for quick answers.  This book coupled with a stand-alone book on a specific XML standard would be a great combination.

Is it perfect?  No.  But it will give you a lot of information in a single location that will prevent you from having to comb through multiple other volumes.

10/10/2004

Book Review - The Fiefdom Syndrome by Robert J. Herbold

Category Book Reviews

I recently picked up a book at the library titled The Fiefdom Syndrome by Robert J. Herbold.  This is an excellent book on understanding and eliminating corporate turf battles.

Chapter list:  Introduction; The Problem With Fiefdoms; Fiefdoms And Human Nature; The Seven Disciplines Of The Well-Run Corporation; The Six People Disciplines; Creativity And Fiefdoms; Balancing Discipline And Creativity; Achieving Discipline; Fostering Creativity; How Fiefdoms Affect Strategy And Execution; How Fiefdoms Hamstring Mergers And Acquisitions; Communication As A Tool To Fight Fiefdoms; Beating The Fiefdom Syndrome; Index

If you've worked in corporate America for any length of time, you've experienced the fiefdom syndrome.  A manager runs their department as if they were a wholly separate company, and decisions are made to benefit the department, not the corporation.  This type of behavior, if not confronted and eliminated, leads to less than optimal performance for the organization.  In extreme cases, it can kill the department AND the corporation.  Herbold does a great job of both cataloging the behaviors that indicate the existence of fiefdoms, as well as the steps of well-run organizations that prevent them from forming.

This book should be required reading for management in large corporations, regardless of whether they think they have problems or not (and you probably do have them).  Smaller companies would do well to take these lessons to heart in order to successfully grow without sabotaging one's success.

10/09/2004

Book Review - Malware: Fighting Malicious Code by Ed Skoudis with Lenny Zeltser

Category Book Reviews

One of the most comprehensive books I've seen lately on malware is the title Malware: Fighting Malicious Code by Ed Skoudis with Lenny Zeltser (Prentice Hall).  

Chapter list: Introduction; Viruses; Worms; Malicious Mobile Code; Backdoors; Trojan Horses; User-Mode Rootkits; Kernal-Mode Rootkits; Going Deeper; Scenarios; Malware Analysis; Conclusion; Index

In each of these chapters, the authors give a brief history of that malware type, an in-depth explanation as to how they work, and complete coverage on how you can help prevent getting damaged by it.  Each chapter wraps up with a conclusion, a summary, and the list of references for the chapter.  For readers looking to find detailed information, they won't be disappointed.  For readers looking at receiving their first exposure to the material, the writing style is easy to follow and doesn't overwhelm.

I personally enjoyed the chapters on Malware Analysis and Scenarios.  The Analysis chapter gives you an excellent outline for setting up a malware analysis lab.  You'll learn how to set up the hardware, protect yourself against leakage to other networks, and what software is needed to do your analysis.  Following this outline, you'll be well-prepared to track down bugs like a pro.  The Scenario chapter is also excellent.  The authors set up three malware scenarios with actual people and configurations, and show how certain choices and mistakes can lead to disaster.  There's lots of good learning material here.

Great book, excellent material, and a definite must for your security bookshelf.

10/08/2004

Not too much blogging this evening...

Category Everything Else

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary.  :-)

Sheesh, I'm getting old...  I work with people who haven't been *alive* that long!

10/08/2004

Um... ya know that nice "little" pile of books I had to review on Monday?

Category Book Reviews

Well...  I sorta let it get outta hand this week.   As of Friday evening and numerous boxes from publishers, this is what the pile looks like now...

A picture named M2

Anyone have any requests of what one should be first?  :-)

10/07/2004

Book Review - F1 Get The Most Out Of Excel by Joseph Rubin

Category Book Reviews

I received a really cool book today titled F1 Get The Most Out Of Excel by Joseph Rubin, CPA (Limelight Media).  A unique format that has a lot of practical use...

Chapter list:  What's New in Excel 2002 & 2003; Working Inside; Excel Environment; Text, Date, Times; Summing & Counting; Formulas; Printing & Mailing; Lists, Analyzing Data; Index

I like books that are practical, but I don't think I've ever seen one that is set up to be *this* practical.  There are 322 tips spread out over the chapters listed above.  Each tip occupies a left/right page arrangement.  On the right page is the title of the tip, the explanation of how to accomplish the task, and a screen print that illustrates the point.  On the left, you have an area for "Notes" and "My Tips/Shortcuts".  So not only do you have the author's information, but you can build up your own collection of notes on Excel tricks.  At the very bottom of the left page, there's a reference to any related tips or shortcuts.  I'm very impressed with the layout of this book.  It's excellent.  Also, each tip notes the versions of Excel that the tip relates to.  The vast majority of the information encompasses Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.  

With all the tips and information, the book runs over 800 pages.  It's printed in a smaller format, so it's pretty easy to carry around.  About the only thing I can fault the publisher for (*not* the author) is the thickness of the paper used in the book.  The paper is pretty thin in order to keep the book from getting too bulky.  The problem is that ink will easily bleed through if you aren't careful with your own notes (or even if you *are* careful).  I think you better plan on using a pencil for any notes.

Excellent material in a unique, practical format...  A definite winner for Excel users.

10/05/2004

Book Review - Privacy: What Developers and IT Professionals Should Know by J. C. Cannon

Category Book Reviews

I recently received a copy of Privacy: What Developers and IT Professionals Should Know by J. C. Cannon (Addison-Wesley).  This is a good book that does an excellent job in delivering to the target audience.

Chapter list:  An Overview Of Privacy; The Importance of Privacy-Enhancing and Privacy-Aware Technologies; Privacy Legislation; Managing Windows Privacy; Managing Spam; Privacy-Invasive Devices; Building a Privacy Organizational Infrastructure; The Privacy Response Center; Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P); Integrating Privacy in the Development Process; Performing a Privacy Analysis; A Sample Privacy-Aware Application; Protecting Database Data; Managing Access to Data: A Coding Example; Digital Rights Management; Privacy Section for a Feature Specification; Privacy Review Template; Data Analysis Template; List of Privacy Content; Privacy Checklist; Privacy Standard; References; Index

In today's environment, nearly every aspect of your daily existence touches data processing systems in some way.  And if you surf the web, you know you are constantly being asked for personal and demographic information.  But all too often, privacy issues related to all this information are not addressed in a secure, consistent methodology.  Because of that, you stand a good chance of having far more personal information released to 3rd parties than you may be comfortable with.  This book will help you become aware of the issues and build solid systems and processes that protect that privacy.

The first part of the book shows you how to secure your own privacy when you're working with computers.  With the use of features such as pop-up blockers, cookie blockers, anonymous email services, and other related tools, you can effectively control the amount of information about your person and your activities while online.  This information is really useful to anyone reading the book regardless of whether they are in IT or not.  The second part of the book concentrates more on building software and processes that recognizes this right to privacy and gives the consumer choices on how to disclose and manage their personal information.  The information is very practical and readable, and organizations would do well to consider the information presented here.

If you happen to be working in an industry affected by legislation such as HIPAA, this book becomes critical.  If you're dealing with personal health information, you have no choices when it comes to privacy.  The laws are spelled out, and the legal consequences for violating these laws are severe.  Companies such as these should definitely get a copy.  

This information has even affected one of the application changes I am currently working on.  The user wanted to track the number of hits that a document got for reading.  I started to build the change to track *who* read it, but then remembered that "less is more".  There's no reason to track that information, so I shouldn't.  As a result, I've got a more privacy-friendly application that delivers the desired results without violating the reader's privacy.  

Good book, and worth the time for reading...

10/05/2004

Lotusphere 2005 Call For Abstracts now open!

Category Lotusphere 2005

Whoo-hoo!  You can register your abstract here:  http://www.callforabstracts2005.com/

Gotta love the URL...  :-)

10/05/2004

VUNet Q and A with Steve Ballmer

Category Microsoft


Part 1:  
http://www.vnunet.com/analysis/1158568

Part 2:  
http://www.vnunet.com/analysis/1158567

Interesting view of Microsoft from Ballmer's eyes...  Though I like the answers to these two questions.  Basically, Microsoft still knows what you need and you better like it...


When Computing asks chief information officers about Microsoft, the most common response is to do with software quality problems, patching, security flaws and so on. Do you have an issue about trust with your customers?


We recognise that listening and responding to our customers is and will be a key quality that allows us to continue to see the kind of success we have had
. In some very important ways in the past couple of years we have really taken that to heart. The heart of trust is responsiveness - do you listen, do you pay attention, do you learn?


Take security - big issue for our customers, no doubt about it. Starting about two-and-a-half years ago, we made security priority number one, the Trustworthy Computing initiative. There's a lot of hard problems there, the bad guys are out there and going to stay out there.


We've done a huge amount of beneficial work - we're not all the way to where our customers want us to be, but I think most people who look at it objectively will see the work we've done to improve our patch process or the work on management deployment tools, the work we've done to dramatically reduce the number of vulnerabilities in our product, the work we've done on firewalls and other isolation technologies, the work we did in the Windows roadmap.


People sometimes tease me and say you've not had a browser release - I say, we just had a significant browser release - it's called Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). If you want to safely browse the internet, if security matters to you, we just did a significant browser release. You can't have it both ways. This stuff is important. We changed our plans for Longhorn [the next version of Windows] in order to be able to prioritise some of the security needs that we delivered in SP2.


Are we everywhere our customers want us to be? I'm not going to say that. But I am going to say we have done the right stuff, we've taken the message to heart, and I think customers are now seeing that, seeing the outputs, seeing the results and the improvements. The data I see says we are making progress in terms of customers' perceptions. People want to know we are being responsive, that's what trust is based on.


<later on...>


Has the approach to innovation in Microsoft changed? Often now, customers say they don't want loads of new features, they want the existing product to work. They want quality first.


Customers need innovation. Nobody ever thinks they need innovation, they think they need improvement in what they've got.
That's why I say there's twin pillars - they want both. The companies that succeed have to bring products to customers that they don't know they want. If you think you know everything you want, and you only listen to what your customers want - you will fail. No company in this industry can succeed by only giving customers what they ask for. You have to try things that surprise people. If you don't you will fail.


I don't buy into 'customers don't want more features.' All customers, someplace in their organisation, will use them. If we bring new features to Word, there are people that use those features. Nobody will ask for them, but plenty will use them.


When we bring innovative features to market we can't pretend they will take care of themselves. We have to explain them, we have to spread the word about them, get the users to show the value so others will accept them.


For some of our products, the corporate IT department is important but not the ultimate user of our products. The most sophisticated user of Excel is not corporate IT but maybe somebody in the finance department.

10/05/2004

Open mouth, insert both feet in *real* deep, Mr. Ballmer...

Category Microsoft

Seems like Microsoft has their own version of Steve Mills...  From The Inquirer:  Most Songs On iPod Stolen - Microsoft CEO

*WHAT* was he thinking when he went off on that riff?  It's one thing to think your product offerings are better than the competition.  It's another thing entirely to brand your entire target audience as criminals...

10/05/2004

Gates Undaunted By Linux

Category Linux

From Computerworld:  Gates Undaunted By Linux

Wonder if that was before or after the AT&T story...

10/05/2004

ATT Tests Linux To Replace Microsoft Windows on 70,000 PCs...

Category Linux


From Bloomberg:  
AT&T Tests Linux To Replace Microsoft Windows on 70000 PCs

70,000
PCs...  That's gotta hurt...  Snippets from the article:


AT&T Corp. is testing Linux software as a replacement for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system, which runs the 70,000 personal computers used by its employees.


A decision by AT&T to abandon Windows would be Microsoft's biggest loss to the 13-year-old Linux system. A surge in viruses and efforts to cut costs have driven customers to look for alternatives to Windows, which dominates the $10 billion market for PC operating systems.


``Just like every other chief information officer in the country, I have to worry about reliability, security, productivity and lowering my costs,
'' Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's information chief, said in an interview. AT&T, the largest U.S. long-distance phone service provider, will make a decision by the end of 2005.


``It translates into pricing pressure'' on Microsoft, said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Oregon, who rates Microsoft shares ``outperform'' and owns them. Microsoft gets about 80 percent profit on each Windows PC sale.


Virus Attacks


Bedminster, New Jersey-based AT&T, seeking to cut costs after 18 consecutive quarters of falling sales, has 20 to 30 researchers examining Linux
, Eslambolchi said.


A surge in virus attacks on Windows spurred AT&T to consider using Linux, Eslambolchi said. AT&T could also save 50 percent to 60 percent on the cost of desktop software by using Linux, he said
. He wouldn't be more specific.


``I still have concerns about security'' in Windows, Eslambolchi said. ``We have had more viruses attacking PCs in the last six months than in the previous 10 years.''


Security


Linux is considered more secure than Windows and less vulnerable to viruses, Goldman, Sachs & Co. analyst Rick Sherlund, wrote in a note to investors yesterday.


Linux is expected to grow to 6 percent of PC operating system shipments in 2007 from less than 3 percent now, market research firm IDC says. About 23 percent of servers, which run corporate networks, used Linux last year, compared with 58 percent on Windows, according to preliminary numbers from IDC. The firm forecast Linux will grow faster than Windows through 2007.


``Investors should anticipate some marketing success of Linux on the desktop,'' Sherlund wrote. ``Of potentially greater risk to Microsoft is the perception that Linux is more secure than Windows.''


May Not Switch


Like Eslambolchi, about 45 percent of chief information officers say their interest in Linux is increasing
, a Merrill Lynch & Co. study shows. Cisco Systems Inc., based in San Jose, California, said in July that it too may offer Linux as an option to its 35,000 employees.


AT&T may stick with Windows if Microsoft can provide better security
, Eslambolchi said.


``If Microsoft solves the security problem, and I think they will, I may not have to switch
,'' he said.


More Leverage


Some companies may express interest in Linux to gain leverage in contract negotiations with Microsoft, said Charles Di Bona, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.


``The talk about controlling which operating system you use is more posturing than anything else,'' said Di Bona, who rates Microsoft shares ``outperform'' and said he doesn't own any.


Any defections from Windows may be limited as companies find that switching to Linux has costs beyond the price of the software, Di Bona said. He said training and other costs associated with using Linux may make it too expensive to switch.

10/04/2004

Book Review - Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams

Category Book Reviews

I was recently sent a galley proof of the book Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and Penis Enlargements by Brian McWilliams.  It's a well-done expose of the seedy underworld of spammers...

The story follows a number of spammers as they take their first steps into the world of unsolicited bulk mailings, and how they learn to evade the laws and regulations designed to shut them down.  At the same time, you're reading about a group of anti-spammers who take spam seriously and make it their primary goal to shut these people down.  The detective work and technical skill exhibited by both sides is quite incredible, and it's amazing to read what type of lengths both sides go to in order to win their battles.

Most of the story revolves around Davis Hawke, a neo-Nazi who is evading his past to make his fortune in internet marketing, and Susan Gunn, a determined anti-spammer who soon becomes the queen of the anti-spammers.  Along the way, you meet a number of other interesting characters on both sides of the issue.  You'll also read about the internet groups like Spamhaus.org and NANAE who police this activity and battle the spammers every step of the way.  And even though there are no acts of violence carried out, the physical threats are real, and many of the escalations are scary.  When you have spammers posting your name, address, and phone number on the web with pictures of where you live, things can get dicey.

The book doesn't necessarily have one of those "feel good" endings.  Spammers still spam, and some of the players in the book are still evading the law.  Furthermore, you don't walk away with a number of ideas on how to combat the problem.  This is more along of the lines of an autobiography that takes you up to a couple months ago, but could be continued and added to each year.  You won't finish the book feeling optimistic, but you'll understand the players much better than you did.

10/04/2004

A nice stack again...

Category Book Reviews

A picture named M2

Some time back, I showed a picture of all the books I was backlogged on for reviews.  This weekend I made a concerted effort to clear out the old ones so that I'm back up to date with the new stuff coming in.  This is my current pile (minus 3 that are in various other rooms being read), and the top four just arrived today.  It feels good to be back on top of things again...

Oh, and the IBM WebSphere and Lotus book on the bottom will be reviewed as part of November's e-ProWire newsletter...

10/03/2004

Book Review - Java Threads by Scott Oaks and Henry Wong

Category Book Reviews

Thread programming in Java can be a great feature or the bane of your existence.  If you need a good book for understanding the subject in depth, get a copy of Java Threads (3rd edition) by Scott Oaks and Henry Wong (O'Reilly).  It's quite good...

Chapter list:  Introduction to Threads; Thread Creation and Management; Data Synchronization; Thread Notification; Minimal Synchronization Techniques; Advanced Synchronization Topics; Threads and Swing; Threads and Collection Classes; Thread Scheduling; Thread Pools; Task Scheduling; Threads and I/O; Miscellaneous Thread Topics; Thread Performance; Parallelizing Loops for Multiprocessor Machines; Superseded Threading Utilities; Index

The first thing to note about this book is it's now in its 3rd edition, and apparently has been vastly improved.  I never read the 2nd edition, but the reviews on Amazon are less than steller.  The authors have updated the book using J2SE 5.0, which has improved the threading abilities of Java.  As a result, there are fewer custom classes in the book that the authors deemed necessary to do more complex tasks.  The focus has returned to core Java threading functionality available in the latest version of Java, so you'll be getting the most up to date information here.  The subject matter starts off with the basics of threading, and then builds upon that information so that you can start to code and build complex threading applications.  They also do a good job of noting the differences in 5.0 so that you can see where improvements have occurred.  All really good stuff...

I enjoyed going through this book, and I'm sure I'll be referring back to it on a constant basis when my coding starts to get into any threading issues.  

10/03/2004

Book Review - Head First EJB by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates

Category Book Reviews

Enterprise Java Beans are not easy to understand.  A great way to get started in that area is the book Head First EJB by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates (O'Reilly).

Chapter list: Welcome to EJB; EJB Architecture; Exposing Yourself; Being a Session Bean; Entities are Persistent; Being an Entity Bean; When Beans Relate; Getting the Message; The Atomic Age; When Beans Go Bad; Protect Your Secrets; The Joy of Deployment; Final Mock Exam; Index

When I first started trying to learn EJB technology awhile back, I used a different book.  Within two chapters I was totally lost and feeling really stupid.  Not one to give up quickly, I gave it another try with Head First EJB.  I learned more in the first chapter of that book than I learned in the entire prior book.  The Head First method of writing and learning almost ensures that you'll be able to pick up even the most difficult concepts, and you'll definitely have more fun doing so.

The primary goal of this book is to help you pass the Sun Certified Business Component Developer Exam.  Since Kathy and Bert are co-developers of the test, you can pretty much figure out they understand the content and style of the questions that you will face.  It'd be hard to go wrong using this as a primary study guide.  You can read the material to fill in the gaps of your understanding, and then use the mock exam to figure out if you're ready for the real test.  But even if the test is not on your radar screen, this book will give you the foundational information you'll need to start out with EJBs.  Once you've got that down, then you can go play with the more "serious" material...

Once again, a great title from the Head First team.  I can't wait to see what they will cover next.

10/03/2004

Thought-provoking... "Before applying, check out the blogs"

Category Blogging

From CNET: Before Applying, Check Out The Blogs

 This is an excellent article on how blogging activity of an individual is coming into the job recruiting process.  And it works both ways...  Prospective employers read the applicant's blog, and applicants look for blogs of others who work in the corporation...

There is no conclusive data on the spread of blogs to the job market, largely because they are difficult to track, said Michael Gartenberg, a vice president and research director at JupiterResearch in New York who covers blogs. But based on anecdotal information, he said, people are using blogs on both sides of the job search process.

"It's a trend on the rise right now," Gartenberg said, "especially for employers, who get a much better sense of a person this way. Resumes and interviews are a very scripted process; read someone's Web log and you get a good sense of that person's thinking and perspectives."

Alexander C. Halavais, a professor in the School of Informatics at the State University of New York at Buffalo who studies blogs, also expects blogs to play a larger role in the job market. "Right now," Professor Halavais said, "recruiting this way is invisible, it's not institutional yet. But I would be surprised if, fairly soon, we didn't see blogs become a much bigger part of job searching and recruiting,"

Job seekers use blogs to establish a strong online presence, display their skills and advertise their availability. For many just out of college, the blog is an essential networking tool because it is common for bloggers to link back and forth to others with recent posts. Corporate recruiters, in turn, use blogs to draw in qualified candidates, and they search for potential hires by reading bloggers who write about topics relevant to a particular industry.

This should cause all bloggers to take a careful look at what they do.  As many bloggers have found out, the act of blogging can be one of the most useful marketing tools ever devised.  It's always out there, it shows your thoughts and experience outside of the standard two page resume, and it can raise your level of visibility in your technical community.  On the other hand, poor grammar, misspellings, and "questionable content" can brand you in ways you probably didn't envision when you started blogging.  Google can be a cruel taskmaster...  :-)

My boss recently recommended my blog to some senior executive management who were looking into blogging as a corporate strategy.  He quickly apologized for putting me in that spotlight without asking, but I quickly squelched that.  I'm proud of what I do here, and there's nothing I feel I need to apologize for if people in my company were to read this.  In fact, I felt honored that he would feel comfortable to hold this effort out as an example of what can be done with blogs...

Anyway...  definitely read the article...  good stuff.

10/03/2004

Book Review - Learning Red Hat Enterprise Linux & Fedora by Bill McCarty

Category Book Reviews

In my quest to learn Linux, I've been working through the book Learning Red Hat Enterprise Linux & Fedora by Bill McCarty (O'Reilly).  This is exactly what I was looking for in a learning guide.

Chapter list: Why Run Linux?; Preparing to Install Linux; Installing Linux; How Linux Works; Using the GNOME and KDE Desktops; Using Linux Applications; Conquering the bash Shell; Installing Software Using the RPM Package Manager; Configuring and Administering Linux; Connecting to the Internet; Setting Up Network Services; Advanced Shell Usage and Shell Scripts; Linux Directory Tree; Principal Linux Files; Managing the Boot Process; Linux Command Quick Reference; Index

This book concentrates more on the desktop and graphical interface aspect of running Linux, which is exactly what I was looking for.  While this book won't tell you everything you need to know about any specific subject (like shell programming or networking), it covers more than enough to get you up and running with a complete Linux setup.  Using this volume, I've been able to get a full desktop and server setup going with little effort or trouble.  By following the rest of the book, I'll gain a solid base of knowledge of Linux, and then I'll be ready to move on to more detailed learning.  

Perfect level of coverage for where I'm at, and enough detail to get me up and running quickly...  I like it.

10/03/2004

Book Review - Eclipse Cookbook by Steve Holzner

Category Book Reviews

A recent addition to my Eclipse library has been Eclipse Cookbook by Steve Holzner (O'Reilly).  It works well for my level of expertise at the package, but experienced users might find it lacking...

Chapter list:  Basic Skills; Using Eclipse; Java Development; Refactoring, Building, and Launching; Testing and Debugging; Using Eclipse in Teams; Eclipse and Ant; SWT: Text, Buttons, Lists and Nonretangular Windows; SWT: Dialogs, Toolbars, Menus, and More; SWT: Coolbars, Tab Folders; Trees, and Browsers; JSP, Servlets, and Eclipse; Creating Plug-ins: Extension Points, Actions, and Menus; Creating Plug-ins: Wizards, Editors, and Views; Index

Like all O'Reilly cookbooks, this follows the standard formula.  A problem is presented, a short two or three line solution is given, and then there's a discussion and fuller explanation of the answer.  There are plenty of screen shots and coding examples to help you through each of the recipes.

Overall, the book will benefit new and intermediate users.  The author covers quite a few of the features of Eclipse that make it so powerful, like refactoring, running the debugger, and other various tasks.  You may know that these exist but not know how to use them, or you just may be ignorant of the fact that they even exist.  In that sense, it's really good.  The SWT portion seems to be more centered on programming with Eclipse as a secondary focus.  Maybe because it's because I don't do SWT development, but it just seemed to be a bit out of place.  The material also seems to be pretty basic for a cookbook.  Usually the recipes are more beyond the basics and get into things that aren't quite as intuitive as they might be.

This will help me get up to speed on Eclipse, and I do like the book.  I'm just not sure it's for everyone...

10/03/2004

Book Review - The Spam Letters by Jonathan Land

Category Book Reviews

Have you ever wanted to "strike back" at the spammers and the con artists?  If so, you'll enjoy The Spam Letters by Jonathan Land (No Starch Press).  This is a funny read...

Chapter list: Introduction; Products for Prey: Part 1; Foreign Affairs: Part 1; Spam Potpourri: Part 1; A Quick Buck; Interlude: Bad Impressions; Products for Prey: Part 2; Foreign Affairs: Part 2: Nigerian Scam Artists; Sex Sells; Spam Potpourri: Part 2; Warning/Disclaimer: Do Not Try This At Home

This isn't a book that is going to give you any technical insights or strategies for dealing with spam.  Actually, it *will* give you a strategy...  yank their chains...  HARD!.  Land has taken various spam emails he's received (or that have been forwarded to him by co-conspirators) and let his warped creative writing skills loose.  Some of his efforts were more for his own benefit, as it was obvious that the return address was not going anywhere that was real.  But his real classics were with real emails who decided to scam or spam the wrong person.  His exchange with the fabric wholesaler in the middle east is funny.  The series with the stainless steel broker is just plausible enough to be real (and the broker played along well).  The best efforts were reserved for the Nigerian scam artists.  His scenarios of playing off scammers against each other, asking for bigger cuts, and playing the role of both financial advisor and committed asylum patient gives any reader who has received one of these emails a vicarious thrill.

This is an excellent recreational read, but I probably shouldn't have opened it.  I'm just warped enough to think I could do this too...  :-)

10/02/2004

Book Review - Eclipse by Steve Holzner

Category Book Reviews

In preparation for a webcast I'm giving this month, I'm working through the book Eclipse by Steve Holzner (O'Reilly).  While not perfect, it's a good tool for learning about the package.

Chapter list:  Essential Eclipse; Java Development; Testing and Debugging; Working in Teams; Building Eclipse Projects Using Ant; GUI Programming: From Applets to Swing; SWT: Buttons, Text, Labels, Lists, Layouts, and Events; SWT: Menus, Toolbars, Sliders, Trees, and Dialogs; Web Development; Developing Struts Applications with Eclipse; Developing a Plug-in: The Plug-in Development Environment, Manifests, and Extension Points; Developing a Plug-in: Creating Editors and Views; Eclipse 3.0; Index

For the person new to Eclipse, this will do a decent job in getting you started.  Up through the Using Ant chapter, the focus is primarily on Eclipse.  The examples deal with the package, and that seems to be the primary focus.  After that, the style seems to change a bit.  The GUI development chapters seem to focus a lot on GUI programming, and then after that's finished, they show you how to do it in Eclipse.  Mind you, it's good information, but the focus has shifted.  The plug-in chapter gets back to Eclipse as the primary focus again.  While there are entire books dedicated to plug-in development, this chapter will get you comfortable with the idea and concepts.

So is the book perfect?  No.  I feel that the material could have been a bit more consistent as to what the foremost goal was...  learning the Eclipse platform.  But having said that, it still accomplishes the goal of teaching you how Eclipse works in different scenarios.  I'd definitely recommend this as an initial Eclipse text for someone.

10/02/2004

"A Fond Farewell"...

Category Everything Else

Bruce forwarded me a link to a musical artist named Ari Hest and a clip to his cut A Fond Farewell...  Here's the link to a video performance of the piece:  http://www.redmusic.com/video/AriHest/CarsonDaly_FondFarewell_large.asx

And the words...  Been there...  Thanks, Bruce...

A Fond Farewell

My mother once told me
The thicker your skin
The better off you'll be when this world brings you down
Well it's trying to control me
And leave me without hope
In the past I've been burned
But I've lived and I've learned

Beneath the shelter of the pouring rain
In the absence of this fear and pain
I will finally bid my ball and chain
A fond farewell

On the road that leads me to my place
I will rid my heart of past disgrace
I will finally bid this sluggish pace
A fond farewell

When I heard their reservations
When I read their bitter words
I shined a light upon their wisdom no matter how absurd
And it broke my heard to pieces
And I questioned my own beliefs
My dignity was gone
But it's time to move on

Chorus

Say goodbye to feeling sorry for myself
To begging others for far too much help
This is my hand, these are the cards that I've been dealt
Only I can make these changes, nobody else
Say goodbye to those sleepless nights
Those corridors with no end in sight
A driven man with these words I write
I'm making peace with my soul tonight

Chorus

10/02/2004

Book Review - Head First Servlets & JSP by Brian Basham, Kathy Sierra, and Bert Bates

Category Book Reviews

Looking for either an enjoyable intro into JSP and Servlets or material on passing the Sun Certified Web Component Developer exam?  Grab a copy of Head First Servlets & JSP by Bryan Basham, Kathy Sierra, and Bert Bates.  It rocks...

Chapter list:  Intro; Why use Servlets & JSPs; Web app architecture; Mini MVC tutorial; Being a servlet; Being a web app; Conversational state; Being a JSP; Script-free pages; Custom tags are powerful; When JSTL is not enough; Deploying your web app; Keep it secret, keep it safe; The power of filters; Enterprise design patterns; Final mock exam; Index

I've stated my preference in the past to learning subjects with a bit of humor thrown in.  OK...  a *lot* of humor.  If I have a chance to pick up a new tech skill with a study guide that makes me laugh and stay interested, I'm in heaven.  Is it any wonder then that I absolutely love the Head First series?  Bates and Sierra have created a concept that is unlike anything else on the market.  Through the use of cartoons, hand-drawn examples, off-beat questions, and other various types of learning material, they engage your brain on a number of levels.  And as a result, you're sucked in and learning stuff in spite of yourself.

In this installment, they tackle the subject of servlets and JSPs.  Rather than try and explain things "technically", they have a common cast of characters throughout the book making observations and points about the material.  Using the hand-drawn notes around illustrations and code, you quickly understand the underlying concepts of what happens with servlet requests and responses, and how JSPs interact with the web server.  And given that there are exercises and questions at the end of each chapter (along with the answers), you have a chance to reinforce your learning immediately.

There are two uses for this book.  The primary goal is to help you pass the Sun Certified Web Component Developer exam.  If you already know about servlets and JSPs, get the book for the mock exam and the questions at the end of each chapter.  The authors helped write the actual Sun test, so you'll get a good feel for the types of questions you'll face.  The other use of this book would be to learn and understand the subject matter, like a tutorial.  Once again, an excellent choice for that purpose.  You'll still need to get some sort of "official" reference book of some sort if you get deeper into the material, but this is a perfect way to get started.

Once again, another winner from the warped minds that created the Head First concept.  May they continue to thrive for a long time!

(Besides, how can I not like a book that has quotes from Andrew Pollack and Joe Litton in the Praises section at the front of the book?)

10/02/2004

Book Review - OpenOffice.org Writer by Jean Hollis Weber

Category Book Reviews

If you're ready to make a serious attempt at moving your word processing needs off of Microsoft Word, check out OpenOffice.org Writer - The Free Alternative to Microsoft Word by Jean Hollis Weber (O'Reilly).  This is a no-fluff how-to book that will help you figure out how to work with Writer.

Chapter list: Setting Up Writer to Work Your Way; Writing, Editing, and Reviewing Documents; Controlling Page Layout; Using Templates and Styles Effectively; Getting the Most from Fields; Tables of Contents, Indexes, and Bibliographies; Working with Large or Complex Documents; Working with Graphics in Writer; Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks; Moving from Microsoft Word; Index


This is one of those books that falls outside the normal expectations for tech books.  It's published by O'Reilly Community Press, which is described this way:  


Unlike classic O'Reilly animal books, O'Reilly's role in the series is limited to providing manufacturing and distribution services rather than editorial development, so that each Community Press title reflects the editorial voice and organization of the community that has created it.


As a result, it doesn't have the same polish and finish as what you'd expect from an O'Reilly title.  But don't let that deter you from the excellent content contained within.  There's a three page preface stating the target audience, conventions in font, and all the other standard preface stuff.  After that, it's all practical content on how to do specific tasks in Writer.  The target audience is for intermediate to advanced users, so if you're competent around Word, you'll quickly catch on to what steps are required to produce the same time of reports you normally create in Word.  And if you're just getting exposed to Writer, you'll be amazed at how much power you'll have at your fingertips.  And of course, free is a very good price.


The other thing I appreciate about the book is the section on converting to and from Word documents.  That's obviously the biggest concern since Word is nearly a standard in the business place.  The author doesn't try to gloss over and hype the conversion process.  Some things (simple documents) will convert with no problems at all.  Other more complex documents may not convert well at all.  This could lead to some manual tweaking once the document has been moved to the other platform.  But still, you get a good idea as to what you're up against.


No fluff, plenty of meat, and highly practical...  A definite winner.

10/01/2004

A better way to build and test my CSS...

Category Software Development

OK...  A number of you are going to say "well DUH!"  And I deserve it.  But keep in mind I'm still rather new to this stuff...

I've rolled out two major web apps in the last couple of weeks at work.  And in reality, those are really my *first* two major web apps.  Since our internal browser standard is IE6, I was coding my CSS to work with that browser.  In both cases, the apps looked pretty good and I had the CSS working the way I wanted.

But when you're new at something, you don't know if it's working by accident or if it's really good code.  In my case, there was far more accident than good code.

One of the applications also allows use outside of our corporate network.  I fired up the app in Firefox, and it was horrid!  Overlaps, bad positioning, text not behaving, the works.  When I started working through the issues in my CSS file, I found that most of what worked in IE was in spite of myself.  I had block sections that were too small for the content, but that IE sized properly.  Firefox didn't allow that.  I had a misspelled anchor pseudo-class that was working fine in IE, but it was broke in Firefox.  After some time spent tweaking stuff, I got both browser platforms working fine with no browser-specific coding.  In all cases, it was misunderstanding as to what was happening in the CSS.  Things look fine in Netscape, and there's only one minor nit in Opera.  

So now, when I'm building an app with CSS, I'll be using Firefox as my test bed knowing the CSS I create will be more accurate.  And I bet in most cases, it will end up running fine in IE as a result...

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Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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