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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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11/30/2004

November Google surprises...

Category Blogging

Let's take a look at the monthly list of search results that hit this blog and see what fun things brought people to this neck of the woods.  I'll leave out the usual technical hits (no fun) and the normal repeated hits I've mentioned in the past...
  • Jeff Skilling sentenced - not yet, unfortunately...
  • What was Jeff Skilling's role - mastermind...  how's that?
  • Greyhound bus stories - that hit appeared a scant two days after I blogged about my *mis*-adventures.
  • Psychoanalysis of Pinocchio - hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...
  • Little Joe camisole - this one *still* leaves disturbing mental images.  Pair it up with a Team TSG thong, and you'll have nightmares forever.
  • Simona Lungu - this is the Romanian judge who stepped down after "appearing" in a porno film.  This has the dubious honor of driving more traffic to my site than any other term or link.  Sigh...
  • How much text in a gigabyte - um...  let me venture a guess... 1,000,000,000 bytes?
  • pwc sucks blog - something tells me that if there *is* one like that, the person just committed a CLM (career limiting move)...
  • crossdresses - no detail, just "crossdresses"...  I don't know if this is good or bad.
  • canada night at lotusphere - Hey, pass me a Molsen, eh?
  • jake taylor thong - no, that's "Team TSG" thong, thank you.
  • jennifer hawkins thong - I'll *send* her a Team TSG thong!
  • sarbanes oxley sucks - I'm sure that's a common sentiment in many businesses today.

I truly think this is my favorite posting I make each month...  :-)


11/30/2004

Book Review - The Book Of Overclocking by Scott Wainner and Robert Richmond

Category Book Reviews

Do you have a "need for speed"?  Does your idea of fun center on making your computer run faster than advertised?  If so, check out The Book Of Overclocking - Tweak Your PC To Unleash Its Power by Scott Wainner and Robert Richmond (No Starch Press).

Chapter List:  What the Computer Industry Does Not Want You to Know; Overclocking Versus Industry Hype: Technical Background; Technical Theory: Evolution of the Integrated Circuit; How to Overclock; Cooling; Intel Overclocking; AMD Overclocking; VIA/Cyrix Overclocking; Benchmark Testing; Troubleshooting; Final Thoughts; Appendix; Index

This is a unique book on the market, as it covers both the why and how of overclocking, as well as providing all the technical details and specs of each CPU that was available at the time of publication.  The book has 250 pages, and the first 50 and last 40 are more general in nature.  By "general", I mean the chapters talk about how chips are constructed, why you'd want to overclock a CPU, and what considerations you have to keep in mind as you proceed.  The information is pretty detailed, and it's not something you'd give to your grandmother to help her get a bit more "oomph" from her old 486.  Everything in the middle of the book is specific information for individual CPU chips produced by different manufacturers.  These specs involve such items as physical design, performance ratings, bus speeds, multiplier ratios, overclocking potential, and overclocking tolerances.  If you happen to have one of the CPUs covered in here, you'll have more than enough information to determine how best to max out the performance.

The only "problem" with this book is that it was published in January 2003.  Since it's now two years later, there's an increasingly greater chance that the chip you have is not covered in this book.  Still, the basic information you have in here will serve as excellent background material that you'll need to know regardless of what chip you're working with.

Good book, excellent information, but just a little dated at this stage.  Still, a necessary read for all serious overclockers (or overclocker wannabees).

11/30/2004

Screensaver Strikes Back At Spammers...

Category Everything Else

From Scotsman.com:  Screensaver Strikes Back At Spammers

A way of turning the tables on internet spammers was announced today.

New software allows recipients of spam to band together to target known websites behind the messages.

The idea is to bombard the sites with messages, slowing them down and making them more expensive to run.

Lycos, the entertainment and communications site, has now designed a screensaver that can launch counter-attacks.

The software waits until the computer is not in use and then sends HTTP requests – technical messages – to known spam sites.

The sites are selected from a blacklist of spammers used by portals such as Lycos and internet service providers.

The Make Love, Not Spam software relies on the principle of distributed computing, which harnesses the power of computers while they are idle.

Similar technology has been used for other challenges which require enormous computing capacity, such as finding a cure for cancer or sifting through the data gathered by SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Lycos Europe is inviting its 20 million users to download the screensaver, although it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

However, not everyone is convinced the screensaver is the best way of battling spammers.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-virus firm Sophos, said: “If you do manage to swamp the spammers then you set yourself up for more attacks in return.

“The initial target would be Lycos, but anyone installing the screensaver would be classed as an internet vigilante.

“Having this screensaver in a large company could slow down your internet connection. And what is to stop a mistake happening and the wrong number going on the list?

“Our advice is to have the most up-to-date anti-virus software and not to respond to anything which arrives as spam.”

The Make Love, Not Spam screensaver can be downloaded from www.lycos.co.uk

The killer grid application...  :-)

I think what surprises me most here is not the fact that someone built it, but that a company with the size and reputation of Lycos is actively pushing it.  On the surface it seems to be an emotionally appealing way to deal with the issue, but realistically this opens a can of worms.  What if you *do* make a mistake on a site which isn't really a spammer?  You've in effect launched a DDoS attack, and I would think that by doing so you could be held legally liable for damages.  I'll venture out on a limb here and guess that within a month, this software will no longer be available or there will be a court injunction prohibiting its distribution or use.

11/30/2004

#1 word of the year according to Merriam-Webster...

Category Blogging

blog

Nice of them to finally catch up with us.  :-)

11/30/2004

The e-Pro webcast "A Domino Developer Looks At Eclipse" went over well (I think)...

Category Software Development

I always hate to say that it was good, and to have attendees wonder how the poor boy could be so bad and be so oblivious to it.  :-)

Anyway...

You can catch a replay of the webcast by going out to the e-Pro website under their webcast area.  It should be available for replay in a couple of days.

You'll be able to download the slides there, or you can pick them up here.  You can get the PDF files of the slides and/or the slide notes.

11/28/2004

As this Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close...

Category Everything Else

... here are a few things I am thankful for...
  • that the car accident on Thursday had no injuries involved
  • that our relatives drove to pick us up an hour away so that we wouldn't have to find a place to stay overnight
  • that Ian was at home through all this so that we didn't have to worry about his diabetes
  • that why we *were* gone, Ian didn't have any problems staying here in Portland
  • that we were able to find an economy rental car for under $100 for the next week
  • that they upgraded us to...  get this...  a PT Cruiser!
  • that Ian's diabetic seizure at 7 am this morning was heard by Sue
  • that between her and I, we were able to inject him with glucagon and get him back under control
  • that I was able to contact someone to cover his hockey refereeing duties he was supposed to do at 9:30 am

and most of all...

That this Thanksgiving weekend is over!  :-)

11/28/2004

Book Review - What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Sparkle Hayter

Category Book Reviews

I finally got the chance to read Sparkle Hayter's first book What's A Girl Gotta Do?  I must say, it's probably one of her best...

Robin Hudson is a soon-to-be divorced journalist who has been shunted off to the tabloid story department of the TV network she works for.  One day she gets a message from a private investigator revealing a lot of personal/intimate information about her that she thought nobody knew.  But before she can meet with the guy to figure out what he wants, he's murdered in such a way that it looks like she could be the killer.  The more she picks at the story, the more she finds out, and it looks like a number of the personalities at the station were also investigated and blackmailed.  While she's trying to stay alive, stay out of the bed of a co-worker, and deal with her soon-to-be ex and his pregnant fiancee, she also has to do an undercover story at a sperm bank posing as the wife to her slimebag boss.  

This is a wacky story with funny, snide, and sexy characters.  This book sets a lot of the background color for many of her future Robin Hudson novels that I've already read.  This may well be my favorite of all her novels, and it will be interesting to see if her future work can work back up to this level.

11/28/2004

Book Review - Gravity by Tess Gerritsen

Category Book Reviews

I recently finished the book Gravity by Tess Gerritsen.  It's a great medical thriller set in space...

Emma Watson, an astronaut and physician, is sent up to the International Space Station when a current occupant's wife dies as the result of a car accident.  Shortly after she gets up there, one of the other astronauts contracts a strange illness and dies a gruesome death.  They are unable to figure out why or what the cause is until suspicion centers on one of the cellular experiments that isn't going as they expected.  The dead astronaut is put on the space shuttle for a return to earth, but the deadly killer leaks out and attacks all of those astronauts, causing them to die on the way back to earth.  It then becomes a race against time and the government (who wants to keep the virus up there as they know what it is) to save Watson before she becomes the last victim.

This was an excellent story with plenty of suspense and mystery.  It was one of those books I kept trying to read in any spare moment I had, as the characters were compelling and the story was building towards a interesting finale.  I have a definite feeling that Gerritsen's other novels will quickly make their way onto my must-read list.

11/28/2004

Book Review - Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

Category Book Reviews

I've heard a lot about the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel, so I decided it was about time to read it.  An interesting look at how a Westerner learned about Zen using the Japanese art of archery.

Herrigel went to Japan in order to teach philosophy, and while there took the opportunity to become immersed in Zen Buddhism.  He is able to get a master of archery to teach him after searching for a mechanism to learn Zen principles.  As a Westerner, he has a number of problems creating the right mental mindset that would allow him to understand Zen and release himself.  But through years of perseverance and continued study, he finally learns the principles and experiences the Zen of becoming one with the bow and target.

It's an interesting look at how Zen principles can be applied to any activity.  If you've never been exposed to any Zen philosophy before, you will probably struggle with much of the seemingly nonsensical statements you'll encounter.  But if you have a basic understanding going into the book, you should be able to get the value that the author intended.

11/28/2004

Book Review - Return To Titanic by Robert D. Ballard

Category Book Reviews

Since I find the whole Titanic story fascinating, I checked out Return To Titanic - A New Look At The World's Most Famous Lost Ship by Robert D. Ballard with Michael S. Sweeney.  It's a beautiful book with a definite agenda.

Ballard was the person who originally discovered the sunken remains of the Titanic in 1985.  He returns for another look at the ship in May 2004 and undertakes a project to get as complete of an external photo record of the ship as possible.  He has definite opinions about the large number of visitors and scavengers who have, in his view, greatly accelerated the deterioration of the ship over the last few years.  By comparing photographs of certain key areas, you can see where damage has occurred.  Certain popular spots on the ship have become defacto landing areas for submersibles, and they've broken down decking and walls.  Pirate scavengers have literally torn open parts of the ship or cut off sections in order to get prized souvenirs, like the phone system from the crow's nest where the first iceberg sighting occurred.  The photography is beautiful, and the story of the return trip is interesting.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book a full five stars is the fact that the author is *very* opinionated about the damage to the ship being caused entirely by human visitors.  He's adamant that things should be a "look but don't touch" situation, and I'm inclined to agree.  But writing off all deterioration to people instead of the ravages of being submerged for over 90 years is a bit extreme.  Since there's no baseline from 1912 forward, you have to assume that pictures from 1985 chronicle the way the ship was during all that time.  I don't know that you can prove that conclusively.  Regardless, if the Titanic is of interest to you, you should enjoy this book quite a bit.

11/27/2004

Greyhound Bus Lines... a different "class" of travel...

Category Everything Else

OK... So we had to get back to Portland from Lummi Island after the car accident.  It's about a 5 hour drive, so we started examining options...

Option #1 - rental car in Bellingham.  That would cost us around $250 - $300 for the week, we'd have to return it to Bellingham, and we really don't know if one week will be enough to fix the car.  Any other choices?

Option #2 - puddle-hopper plane from Bellingham to Portland.  Horizon Air runs shuttle flights on that route, but it's like $210 a person.  I don't think we're *that* flush.

Option #3 - Amtrak train.  That sounds like fun.  I've never taken a train before.  Problem:  no seats from Seattle to Portland either Saturday or Sunday.  OK...  The final option...

Option #4 - Greyhound Bus.  The price is right: $106 for all three of us to get back.  6.5 hours.  And I've never taken a Greyhound bus anywhere.

And I'll try never to do it again.

The terminal in Bellingham is small but nice.  The bus was coming down from Vancouver BC and was about 15 minutes late.  We all ended up sitting next to people that were already on the bus.  I ended up sitting next to a 300 pound mountain man that smelled like a brewery and mumbled like he had already polished off at least one six-pack.  And it's not even 9 am yet!  I sat halfway out in the aisle until we got to Everett (another nice terminal) where the lady next to my wife got off and I moved over.  There was also a stop in Tacoma (nasty little dive of a terminal) before we got to Seattle.  I would have expected Seattle to be relatively upscale, but no.  It was everything you come to expect from a stereotypical bus terminal.  Surly help, run-down building, diesel fumes in the air, and vending machines and video games which had seen better days.  

And then the people...  I'll tread lightly here, as it would be far too easy to stereotype passengers.  It's cheaper transportation for the masses, and we met quite a few of the masses today.  I really didn't want to know anything about the 22 year old guy who is dating a 30 year old woman because he doesn't go out with "children", won't ever get married, will retire at 40, and whose prior girlfriend claimed she was pregnant to get him back (and that's happened to him eight times before).  I didn't want to sit next to the guy who must have been testing a new hi-carb beer diet.  I really didn't want to listen to a bus driver who acted like we were all three year olds who couldn't follow instructions.

I now know why I fly whenever possible.  I'd still like to try Amtrak sometime, and I may get to when I head back up to get the car in a week or so.  But I will NOT do Greyhound again unless there is absolutely no other alternative.  

11/27/2004

Thanksgiving Day multi-car accident (which we were part of)...

Category Everything Else

My wife, one of my sons and I all headed up to Lummi Island for Thanksgiving to stay with her family for a couple of days.  Things were going fine until we got to Everett Washington and a tricky part of I-5 where there's a left lane exit only that causes significant bottleneck slowdowns.  Traffic started slowing down rapidly,  I came to a hard stop about a foot away from the car in front of us, and then got rear-ended and pushed into the lead car.  Multiply that by eight cars, and you have an idea of how my Thanksgiving went.  

A picture named M2

The damage doesn't look that bad, but it did something to the engine which prevented me from restarting the car and driving away.  The back has nothing more than a broken reverse light in the bumper.  Six of the eight cars were trucks or SUVs, and they were able to continue on.  The other car about five back was a Honda Accord that got the worst of it.  Major accordion effect there.

So...  We got a taxi to take Sue and Cam to the body shop, then AAA got a tow truck to take the car there (about 1.5 miles away).  Sue's brother-in-law drove the hour or so down to pick us up and take us the rest of the way, so we had some place to stay.  We had to leave the car in Everett (about 3.5 hours away from Portland), and will have to head back up there in a week or so (hopefully).

So...  I'm thankful that no one was hurt in the accident, and that all went OK so far as getting the car dropped off and such.  Now we just have to figure out how to get it repaired, work with the insurance company, etc.  

Sigh...

11/23/2004

And what is IE's exploit du jour this time?

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  IE Exploit Targets Banner Ad Servers

The ubiquitous banner ad has become the latest delivery mechanism for exploit code targeting a known flaw in Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser.

During a 12-hour window over the weekend, hackers broke into a load balancing server that handles ad deliveries for Germany's Falk eSolutions and successfully loaded exploit code on banner advertising served on hundreds of Web sites.

"Users visiting Web sites that carry banner advertising delivered by our system were periodically delivered a file from the compromised site. This file tries to execute the IE-Exploit function on the users' computer," Falk eSolutions confirmed Monday.

The exploit (Bofra/IFrame) takes advantage of an IE vulnerability discovered and reported to Microsoft earlier this month. It is a variant of the MyDoom virus that launched zero-day attacks on vulnerable IE users two weeks ago.

One word...  Firefox.

11/23/2004

Microsoft attempts to "clarify" Linux patent issue...

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet: Microsoft attempts to clarify Linux patent issue

Microsoft claims that it did not warn Asian governments against Linux and was merely referring to a study done by an open-source group, but the author of the study says his report was misinterpreted

...

But Dan Ravicher, the author of the OSRM study and the executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, criticised Microsoft for using soundbites from the report.

"Balmer makes a very bold statement by saying 'Linux infringes X patents', which is much different than saying 'Linux potentially infringes X patents', as the requirement to prove infringement is much stiffer and more difficult than the requirement to simply file a case claiming infringement," said Ravicher. "As the SCO saga shows, filing a case based on an allegation is one thing, proving the merits of the allegation in court is something completely different."

Ravicher added that he feels Microsoft's customers are more at risk of being sued for patent infringement than those who use open-source.

"Not a single open-source software program has ever been sued for patent infringement, much less be found to infringe, while proprietary software, like Windows, is sued and found guilty of patent infringement quite frequently," said Ravicher.

"For examples, we have Eolas' patent being infringed by Windows and Kodak's patent being infringed by Java. If one believes the proof is in the pudding, that stark contrast shows how open-source software has much less to worry about from patents than proprietary software."

The Microsoft spokesperson was unable to confirm that Ballmer said that Linux does infringe patents and companies will be at risk of lawsuit, but said that it could infringe patents.

"According to its 2 August announcement, OSRM states that Linux could be in violation of 283 patents and, as such, could expose customers to undetermined licensing costs," said the spokesperson.

Ravicher claimed that Microsoft's decision to back down on its initial statement is simply a marketing tactic.

"Saying something one day that is fearful and scaremongering, and then backtracking is Microsoft's tried and tested PR tactic," said Ravicher. "As they said it the first time people believe it. It's a psychology trick."

You know...  You can either think Ballmer is a shrewd businessman for saying these things, or he's a liability and a loose cannon.  I'm starting to think it's the latter.  Pretty soon he'll have a spin control staff the size of Gate's email filtering department...  :-)

11/22/2004

Looks like I wasn't the only one upset with Ballmer's Asia comments...

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet: Linux player hits back at Ballmer

This guy makes some interesting points...

Open source solutions provider Cybersource has lashed out at Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer's statement in Singapore that Linux is potentially in violation of various software idea patents.

Con Zymaris, Cybersource chief executive officer, said that in reality, the platform which is most at risk from drowning in patent litigation is Microsoft's own, adding that even Microsoft's US$50 billion "cash hoard" may not be enough to save it.

"At present, Linux is not the target of any software idea patent attacks," he said. "Microsoft however, is facing between 30 and 35 such court actions. To name but a few, Microsoft has been ordered to pay US$521 million to Eolas for an infringement in Internet Explorer and another US$440 million settlement to InterTrust Technologies Corp. for infringement of digital restrictions management patents and US$1.6 billion to settle a patent and anti-trust suit bought against it by Sun Microsystems. That's over US$2 billion for just three suits, well over US$500 million per patent case. Furthermore, the number of court cases against Microsoft is increasing," Zymaris said.

Zymaris added that Ballmer's "scaremongering" is a response to the Singaporean government's recent decision to migrate 20,000 PCs to open source desktop productivity applications.

"Ballmer is trying to use FUD about software idea patents as a weapon to stem more government and corporate defections to Linux. In his haste, however, he forgets to mention that if software idea patents are a threat to Linux and open source, they are far more of a threat to Microsoft itself," he said.

"If we believe Ballmer, the Linux kernel may possibly infringe on 228 software idea patents. If that's the case, then it seems reasonable to expect Microsoft's Windows, which has a code-base ten times larger, infringes on over 2000. And that's just the operating system. Once we include Microsoft Exchange, Visual Studio, SQL Server and dozens of other products, Microsoft could be infringing on thousands more. On current track record, losing even 100 patent cases might be enough to deplete Microsoft current cash reserves. Suddenly that gargantuan mountain of money that Microsoft sucked dry from its customers doesn't quite seem large enough," Zymaris said.

"In watching Microsoft's recent movements in this space, we come to the conclusion that Microsoft have given up trying to compete with Linux and open source on value, quality and security. We had hoped that Microsoft would respond with better, more secure and much cheaper software, rather than resort to shabby veiled legal FUD. But if that's the message it wants to send the world, then so be it," concluded Zymaris.

11/21/2004

Book Review - Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Category Book Reviews

Based on a comment from my boss at work, I found and read the book Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  It's an incredible story and concept that has powerful implications.

Trevor McKinney, a 12 year boy, is given an assignment by his teacher, Reuben St. Clair.  Think up a project that will change the world.  Trevor comes up with the concept of Pay It Forward.  The concept is simple...  you do something important and valuable for 3 people.  Instead of taking payment for it, those three people have to "pay it forward" by doing something for 3 other people.  Through multiplication, pretty soon everyone is looking for ways to do good to others.  Trevor picks three people to do something good for, but it appears that all three people fail to pay it forward.  But unknown to Trevor, those good deeds do get paid forward, and soon the concept and movement jumps to the west coast and catches on.  An enterprising reporter traces down the source of the project and Trevor is highlighted to the country as someone who has changed the world.  But tragedy strikes the family and things don't turn out well.  But the movement takes off and changes the world.

So how'd I find this book?  I boss at work used the phrase "pay it forward" in conjunction with an email I had sent him.  I also had another blogger use that phrase in an email exchange.  After using Google to figure out exactly what it meant, I checked out the book from the library.  Very glad I did.  The idea of "paying it forward" is powerful and would change lives if it ever caught on.  I'm not so naive to think that something like this would ever happen, but there's nothing to prevent me from implementing this in my own life.  Sorta like changing the world one person at a time.

11/21/2004

Book Review - C++ Coding Standards by Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu

Category Book Reviews

Although I'm not a C++ programmer, I was still able to get value from the book C++ Coding Standards - 101 Rules, Guidelines, and Best Practices by Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu (Addison Wesley).

Chapter List:  Preface; Organizational and Policy Issues; Design Style; Coding Style; Functions and Operators; Design and Inheritance; Construction, Destruction, and Copying; Namespaces and Modules; Templates and Genericity; Error Handling and Exceptions; STL: Containers; STL: Algorithms; Type Safety; Bibliography; Summary of Summaries; Index

This book consists of 101 tips and guidelines that each run between 1 to 3 pages in length.  There's a short summary statement of the tip (like "Sharing causes contention: Avoid shared data, especially global data."), followed by a discussion of the tip along with exceptions to the rule and further references if you want to read more about the subject.  There's a range of tips for all experience levels, so developers at all levels should be able to gain at least one or two tips that will help them on a daily basis.

I'm not a C++ developer, but there is plenty of common sense material here for all developers (such as Java programmers).  The first three chapters will largely apply to just about any developer, and should be taken to heart regardless of platform.  So while you may not run right out and buy it if you're not a C++ developer, definitely read it if you get the opportunity.

11/21/2004

Book Review - Gaming Hacks by Simon Carless

Category Book Reviews


If you're a gamer who is always looking for new information to improve your gaming experience, check out
Gaming Hacks by Simon Carless (O'Reilly).

Chapter list:  Playing Classic Games; Playing Portably; Playing Well With Others; Playing With Hardware; Playing with Console and Arcade Hardware; Playing Around the Game Engine; Playing Your Own Games; Playing Everything Else; Index


Like all Hacks titles, there are 100 hints, tips, and hacks that cover the spectrum of gaming, from hardware to software, from consoles to online gaming.  If you're old like me, you might enjoy Play Commodore 64 Games Without the C-64 (#2) and Play Atari ROMs Without the Atari (#3).  Those will take you back to your early days of computing.  If you're into first player shooting games, Tweak Your Tactics for FPS Glory (#94) will help boost your scoring.  Carless will even help you play Japanese video games without knowing the language in #97 - Play Japanese Games Without Speaking Japanese.  He shows you some basic hiragana and katakana that you'll encounter frequently in those games, and that might allow you to bridge the language gap.


The only trouble I see with the book is that it's covering such a wide area of subject matter.  Unless you're a full-time gamer, you'll probably find a number of areas in this book that don't pertain to your interests.  In some ways, that's OK for a Hacks title, as not everything is meant to apply to every single reader.  But this particular title seems to be a bit more scattered than usual.  The material is good, to be sure, but each reader may have a different opinion of the book based on what their gaming interests are.

11/21/2004

Book Review - Game Console Hacking by Joe Grand

Category Book Reviews

Have you got an old Atari 2600 sitting around that you don't know what to do with?  Game Console Hacking will give you some interesting ideas on how to recycle those old gaming consoles.

Chapter list:  Tools of the Warranty-Voiding Trade; Case Modifications: Building an Atari 2600PC; The Xbox; PlayStation 2; Nintendo Game Boy Advance; Gamepark 32 (GP32); Nintendo NES; Atari 2600; Atari 5200; Atari 7800; Electrical Engineering Basics; Coding 101; Operating Systems; Index

Although I'm not into gaming so much any more, my kids have had most of the more recent consoles at one time or another.  And growing up, I had one of the Atari 2600.  But after the latest and greatest comes out, the older gaming systems end up gathering dust.  Game Console Hacking is an interesting book on things you can do to breathe new life into the old classics.  This book is heavy on altering hardware components, so you need to be comfortable with a screwdriver and a soldiering iron.  But even if you're not as experienced in that area as you'd like, the book has an abundance of photos to show exactly what you should be doing at any given point in the process.  At the end of each chapter, there's also a section on homebrew game development as well as additional resources on the Web for that particular console.  So even if you're not wanting to hack your hardware, you will be able to find information to push your gaming fun even further.

For me, my favorite hack was using an Atari 2600 console to contain a full-blown PC.  I thought that was just too cool.  I could imagine showing up at a user group meeting to do some software demo with an Atari 2600 under my arm, and blowing people away when I boot it up as a regular PC.  I don't know that I'll get around to doing it, but it's an intriguing idea.

11/20/2004

Book Review - Online Investing Hacks by Bonnie Biafore

Category Book Reviews

Online Investing Hacks by Bonnie Biafore (O'Reilly) is one of those books that can pay for itself in short order, as well as over and over.  

Chapter list:  Screening Investments; Hacking Excel for Financial Analysis; Collecting Financial Data; Analyzing Company Fundamentals; Technical Analysis; Executing Trades; Investing in Mutual Funds; Managing Your Portfolio; Financial Planning; Index


I worked at Enron from 1998 through 2001, and spent plenty of time during that dot.com era following my stock portfolio.  I watched my Enron stock value go from incredible value to a point where it cost more to sell the stock than it was worth.  I won a few bets (face it, that's what they were) on a few dot.coms and lost many more.  What could have been an incredible nest egg, isn't.  This book would have been a lifesaver if I had read and paid attention to it a few years ago.  Biafore shows you how you can analyze and invest wisely using a variety of tools available to everyone.  


If you're an Excel user, you'll find it an invaluable tool for analysis.  She'll show you how you can use it to create financial charts (#13), calculate compound annual rates of growth (#26), and use rational values to buy and sell wisely (#36).  #39 - Spot Hanky Panky with Cash Flow Analysis (using Enron as an example) would have literally saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars had I known about it.  Even if you don't care about the investing tips, the hack on downloading data via Excel web queries (#7) was something I didn't know how to do (or that you could even do it!).  The book has a little something for everyone.  


As with all Hacks titles, you probably won't be interested in every single item.  Some may not be applicable to your situation or may be too complex for what you care to handle.  But all it would take is one hack to work out and change your investing for this book to pay huge dividends.  If you do your own investing, you owe it to yourself to get this book.

11/20/2004

Amazon Reviewer goal reached...

Category Book Reviews

A picture named M2

11/20/2004

Book Review - The Prince Of Beverly Hills by Stuart Woods

Category Book Reviews

Stuart Woods has a new character in his novel stable...  Rick Barron is introduced in The Prince Of Beverly Hills.

Set in the '30s, Barron is a cop in Beverly Hills that has been demoted from detective due to a run-in with the head of the department.  While doing a late-night stint watching traffic, he witnesses a deadly accident involving a film star at Centurion Studios.  When he gets the actor back to the studio without alerting officials, the head of the studio sees him as a replacement for the security head who recently was involved in a murder/suicide.  Barron takes the job and fits in well, impressing everyone with his creativity and results.  But when he runs into an associate of the Mafia, he ends up with a price on his head.  Furthermore, it looks like this associate was also involved in his predecessor's demise.  Barron has to figure out how this all ties together while keeping himself alive in the process.

I didn't go into this book with many expectations, and soon found myself wrapped up in the story.  The main character is a strange mix between someone who works around the rules and someone you can count on.  The subplots of love and friendship set against the escalating war in Europe also lends a different slant on the story.  I hope that Woods continues this character for a few novels, as I think this would be an interesting series to follow.

11/19/2004

Book Review - Programming Jakarta Struts by Chuck Cavaness

Category Book Reviews

I recently got done reviewing Programming Jakarta Struts (2nd Edition) by Chuck Cavaness (O'Reilly).  It's a solid treatment of Struts for experienced Java developers.

Chapter list:  Introduction; Inside the Web Tier; Overview of the Struts Framework; Configuring Struts Applications; Struts Controller Components; Struts Model Components; Struts View Components; JSP Custom Tag Libraries; Extending the Struts Framework; Exception Handling; The Validator Framework; Internationalization and Struts; Struts and Enterprise JavaBeans; Using Tiles; Logging in a Struts Application; Packaging Your Struts Application; Addressing Performance; JavaServer Faces; Changes Since Struts 1.0; Downloading and Installing Struts; Resources; Index

Using an example Storefront application, Cavaness takes you through the entire Struts framework, complete with coding examples.  The beginning chapters set the groundwork for how web applications work and the processes that are required for them to function.  Struts is then introduced as a framework that answers these questions and provides a solid foundation for building maintainable web applications.  Since this is the 2nd edition, Cavaness is able to use the latest revision of Struts (1.1) to make sure you know about the latest and greatest in the package.  I personally found it very easy to follow along with the examples, and the book will continue to serve a purpose going forward as all the attributes of each entity (like form-beans and form-properties) are well documented and can be used as a reference guide for some time to come.

Since this open source project has become a defacto standard for online web applications, you should be aware of how Struts operates.  If you have the Java experience under your belt, this would be a good choice to get started.

11/19/2004

Some wisdom from Tom Peters...

Category Everything Else

I have always been a Tom Peters fan, and now that he's blogging I can get a daily dose of his rantings.  There have been a couple of entries this week that I really liked...

100 Ways to Succeed #27:

OUT-STUDY THE BASTIDS!

Tennis coach Brad Gilbert was once the #4 ranked pro in the world. He was not a natural. His breakthrough, after a very spotty career about to tank, came when he acknowledged to himself that he wasn't a natural. His response could have been to turn in his racquet. Instead it was to hit the books. Or, rather, write one.

Gilbert was the guy, who when the other guys went for a beer after a match, hung around watching more matches, talking tennis with anyone and everyone ... and writing it all down. He began his black book, and took notes on everything, especially other players he'd faced, or might face. The result: that eventual #4 ranking, and then a superb coaching career, working with the likes of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.

No surprise, one of Gilbert's coaching secrets is continuing his own studies, as well as converting his players into Students (sometimes no mean feat with those "naturals"). Coach Gilbert acknowledges that there may well be a few, like John McEnroe, who can get away without hitting the books ... but for us mortals that's scant consolation.

Needless to say, all this translates one-for-one, to the World of Work you and I participate in. I loved the line from New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: "When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: 'Finish your dinner—people in China are starving.' I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: 'Finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your job.'" Age 12, 22, or 62 ... tennis or finance or engineering ... this "simple" lesson bears repeating.


100 Ways to Succeed #28:

REMARKABLE POINT OF VIEW/R.POV8!

I suppose I've said this before, but I'm willing to suffer the charge of repetition. I've just finished seminars with 500 law partners, then a couple of hundred investment bankers. The people I addressed are what I call "scary smart." And they've missed some kids' soccer games ... that is, 12-hour days are the norm. But "talent" and outrageously hard work are not enough! Why? Because there are a lot of talented people around who work long days.

So what's the secret-differentiator? Marketing guru Seth Godin said, "If you can't state your position in eight words, you don't have a position." I choose to interpret this not as a "marketing tip," but as a profound statement. I spent my two seminars hammering on "Remarkable Point Of View" ... or R.POV. Or, stealing from Seth, R.POV8 ... a Remarkable Point Of View ... captured in 8 words or less.

Seth, however, must make room for Jerry Garcia: "You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do." And for founder Tom Chappell, of Tom's of Maine: "Success means never letting the competition define you. Instead you have to define yourself based on a point of view you care deeply about."

The problem: Developing, maintaining, and refreshing a R.POV is excruciatingly difficult. I'll leave that to later; right now my point is simply to insist that smarts and hard work, even effective hard work, is not enough. The query that must never be far from your consciousness: IS WHAT I'M UP TO REMARKABLY DIFFERENT, AND CAN IT BE CAPTURED IN SIMPLE, COMPELLING LANGUAGE?

What we're talking about here may explain in part John Kerry's loss. A few weeks before the election, a Washington Post analyst, Kenneth Baer, penned: "To win this race, Kerry needs to stop focusing on Election Day and start thinking about his would-be presidency's last day. What does he want his legacy to be? When sixth-graders in the year 2108 read about the Kerry presidency, what does he want the one or two sentences that accompany his photo to say?"

Presumably those two sentences would have maxed out at eight words!

11/19/2004

Ballmer's Linux comments in Asia still infuriate me...

Category Microsoft

When I read the stories yesterday about Ballmer "warning" Asian leaders to stay away from Linux due to IP violations, I was rather hot under the collar.  If you can't beat them, threaten them.

Then MS went into spin control and said the reporter was wrong and that the comments were taken out of context.  Typical reaction.  Here's the transcript of the statement that caused all the furor...

After reading the transcript, I do feel like the initial stories were a little overblown.  But there's still a kernel of truth there.  Microsoft has stated that they are going to protect their IP more vigorously in the future.  They've also been making more noise of late over how Open Source software (read: Linux) often violates IP rights and opens up the user to potential lawsuits.  You want to tell me it's not a logical assumption that Microsoft may be the one to start the lawsuit frenzy?

This bugs me on a number of levels.  One, it's the traditional Microsoft FUD technique to control the market.  Get people worried about choices so that you can freeze the market and prevent movement away from your own software.  Next, this type of behavior makes it really hard for me to buy statements from people like Robert Scoble and Gary Devendorf that Microsoft has really changed and just wants to help people integrate their software choices.  It sounds like they are still bent on migration and single source solutions to me.  And finally, regardless of their global reach, Microsoft is still a US company, and now they are preaching to foreign governments that they don't have choices.  Linux is an international phenomenon, and doesn't have the stigma of being another American attempt to dominate a market.  I just don't understand how Microsoft thinks this is going to fly well outside of our own borders...

11/18/2004

The streak continues... Grant hockey team now 5-0!

Category Everything Else

Or if you want to count last week's "technical win" properly, it's probably really 4.75 - 0.  :-)

Last night was the first time we've seem Mt. View, and they've improved quite a bit.  They were as bad as we were two years ago (actually, *nobody* was as bad as Grant two years ago), and they've steadily gotten better over time.  Last night's game was pretty tight in the first period, and I thought that Cam was going to have to be pretty active in goal to keep Grant in the game.  But the floodgates opened up in the second and Grant ran off to a 5-0 lead before coasting to a 5-2 win.  Cam is back to sporting a 1.0 goals against average, which is incredibly low.  And considering this is the total number of wins we had all of last year, things are going well.

I would have liked to be a bit more intensity to start the game, as well as not seeing the drop-off that occurred after we got the 5-0 lead.  With hockey at this level, the only safe lead is the one you have at the final horn.  On the very positive side, the team is showing a lot more maturity in staying out of fights and retaliation penalties.  There were two instances last night where a Mt. View player was seriously trying to provoke one of the Grant skaters into a fight.  Last year, Ian would have come crashing in and taken the player out.  Funny, but with him just coaching this year, the team is much more sedate!  :-)  Anyway, the Grant team avoided the fight and got power plays out of the incident.  It's nice to see things coming along like that.

Once again I'll say...  this won't last forever, but it's a great ride while it does!

11/17/2004

Book Review - The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Category Book Reviews

In light of our recent elections here, I read an interesting novel of alternative history.  It's called The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.  While it's not as good as I'd hoped, it does make you think...

The book is written from the perspective of Roth's childhood growing up as a Jew from June 1940 through October 1942.  Charles Lindberg is at the height of his popularity, and ends up defeating Roosevelt to become the President of the United States.  He wins on a platform of staying out of World War 2, and is not shy about his admiration of Hitler.  The American Jewish population is uneasy about this turn of events, and become even more concerned when certain programs are implemented that force them to move to different parts of the country against their will.  Walter Winchell, an outspoken Jewish commentator, decides to run for president against him and inflames the country against the Jewish people.  As all this comes to a head, you see remarkable similarities to how Germany evolved into a country that massacred the Jewish people.  What's even more amazing is that much of the story is derived from real events and real beliefs that were held by the people at that time.

As the book is written from the view of a nine year old, it's interesting to see how world events and the interpretation of them by parents drive the thoughts and feelings of a child.  Unfortunately, I felt that there were too many instances where the story-line was secondary and the thread of the American political scene was somewhat lost.  During those times I wish the writing had been a little tighter.  In fact, I was about to give the book an average rating until the last couple of chapters.  At that point you start to see the full effect of how a society can be manipulated to discriminate against a group of people, and how that discrimination can become accepted and even approved.  It's there that the book really got me thinking and caused me to raise my opinion.

A good story to underscore how society needs to guard against rhetoric and actions designed to segregate people in order to gain approval of their discrimination.

11/17/2004

This is why I've switched to using Firefox when possible... another pair of IE viruses.

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Two More IE Holes Surface

And this is on an XP SP2 box, fully patched.  

sigh...

11/15/2004

Book Review - Building The Perfect PC By Robert and Barbara Thompson

Category Book Reviews

I buy my computers already built because "I don't do hardware".  I have never understood how all the cables and slots fit together.  But I may change that habit after reading Building The Perfect PC by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson (O'Reilly).  

Chapter List: Fundamentals; Choosing and Buying Components; Building a Mainstream PC; Building a SOHO Server; Building A Kick-Ass LAN Party PC; Building a Home Theater PC; Building a Small Form Factor PC; Index

As stated above, I have never done well with hardware.  But my son has absolutely no qualms about swapping things in and out, sometimes for no real reason other than to open up the box and do it.  Some of that must be rubbing off, as normally I wouldn't even be interested in a book like this.  Now I'm glad I got it.  The authors do an excellent job in explaining what each component is, how it works, and what considerations you need to keep in mind based on the type of system you want to build.  After explaining all that, they take that information and apply it to building five specific types of systems, one of which probably comes close to your needs.  And most important, there are pictures!  Lots and lots of pictures of components being installed, screwed in, plugged in, and fired up.  For those of us who haven't done a lot of hardware assembly, we appreciate that.  :-)  Armed with this book, you could easily walk into a store like Fryes and walk out with everything you need to build your own PC from scratch, *and* have it work when you get done.

A superb, well-done book that will end up being the basis of at least one father-son project in this household.  If I had found this book about six months earlier, I might have ended up building my son's computer instead of buying it.  

11/14/2004

Book Review - Hacking Windows XP by Steve Sinchak

Category Book Reviews

If you're the type of computer user who likes to tweak the machine to do things it normally doesn't do, you'll like Hacking Windows XP by Steve Sinchak (Wiley).

Chapter List:
Part 1 - Customizing Your System - Customizing the Look of the Startup; Customizing User Navigation; Hacking the Desktop; Customizing the Appearance of the Windows Interface; Hacking Windows Explorer; Exploring Other Windows Enhancements
Part 2 - Increasing Your System's Performance - Analyzing Your System; Speeding Up the System Boot; Making Your Computer Load Faster; Making Your Computer More Responsive; Speeding Up Your Computer
Part 3 - Securing Your System - Protecting Your Computer from Intruders; Fighting Spam, Spyware, and Viruses; Protecting Your Privacy

Appendix A: What's on the CD-ROM; Index; End-User License Agreement

I had no sooner opened the box that had this book in it, and my son immediately took off with it.  Since he's the only one running XP in the house, I figured that was reasonable.  In less than an hour, he had a whole new boot screen proclaiming his Windows XP OS to be the Doom 3 version with a video game wallpaper with no icons showing.  He was also showing me how to set the priorities of certain tasks that were running with the Task Manager options.  It's only taken me about three weeks to finally sneak it off his desk.  

Sinchak uses a variety of built-in features and third-party software to give you the ability to change many of the features of your system.  If you want to change your boot-up screen, you'll have step-by-step instructions on how to do so.  If you want to customize the way your windows act on the desktop, that's here too.  While the Part 1 tweaks are more for fun, Part 2 gets more serious and useful.  He goes into a number of tweaks and settings that will allow you to wring out every last drop of performance from your system.  If you're running the latest and greatest Ghz CPU, you may not need to do these things, but PCs that are two or three years old could benefit from these settings.

Good book, interesting material, and lots of fun to explore.  I only wish my work laptop (that runs XP) wasn't so locked down...  :-)

11/14/2004

Book Review - Society by Michael Palmer

Category Book Reviews

Over the last couple of days, I've been reading Michael Palmer's latest novel, Society.  It definitely ends better than it starts out...

Dr. Will Grant is a physician crusading against the evils of managed care and the big bad insurance companies.  All is going well until executives of managed care companies start getting murdered.  It looks like one or more people have an axe to grind with managed care, and the police think that Grant is involved, all except a woman detective who believes him but has been forced off the case.  During a surgery, Grant is drugged, passes out during the operation, is accused of drug abuse, and is kicked off the staff of the hospital.  With his life in ruins, he decides to hire a lawyer and fight back.  This leads to a showdown at the end with the killers who set him up.  I'll keep it really high level so as not to give away the twists at the end.

Within the first five pages, Palmer establishes that HMO companies are evil and are the bad guys.  No subtlety whatsoever.  I was pretty well prepared to give it a 3 out of 5 at that point.  Even though that premise continues throughout the book, the plot does get more intense and I started to identify with what the characters were going through.  There are some nasty plot twists at the end, and the book became a "can't put down" for the last few chapters.  Plot line would have given this book a full 5 stars.  I'll average the ranking out and give it a 4.  A good story, but the "evil HMO" could have been delivered better than it was...

11/13/2004

Book Review - SWT - A Developer's Notebook by Tim Hatton

Category Book Reviews

Most of my Java coding has been server-side with no user interface.  But I'd like to try some interactive Java programming.  O'Reilly's SWT - A Developer's Notebook by Tim Hatton looks like it should be perfect for where I'm at...

Chapter List:  Getting Started; SWT Shells; SWT Menus; SWT Toolbars; SWT Text Fields; SWT Buttons; SWT Lists; The SWT Combo; SWT Layouts; SWT Composites and Groups; SWT Tabbed Folders; SWT Tables; SWT Trees; Other SWT Listeners; SWT CoolBars; SWT Slider and ProgressBar; SWT Standard Dialogs; A Complete SWT Application; Index

I like the Developer's Notebook series from O'Reilly as it is a down-to-earth, practical approach to learning some new aspect of technology.  In this installment, Hatton quickly gets you up and running with the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) within Eclipse so that you can start building interactive applications in Java with user interfaces.  There's a lot of code to show you real examples, along with the screen shots to show you what it should look like when you're done.  The "How Do I Do That?" and "What Just Happened?" sections after each example take just enough time to give you the explanations of the technique you just learned, without giving you time to lose your momentum.  The final chapter lets you tie together all the techniques you've learned into a fully functional application.  When you're done, not only should you have a good grasp of SWT coding, but you'll have a good book to keep around to help you remember things as you continue forward.

Nicely done, and another solid addition to the Developer's Notebook series in my opinion.

11/13/2004

Book Review - Foundations Of JSP Design Patterns by Andrew Patzer

Category Book Reviews

If you're familiar with JSP technology and you're ready to take the next step, you might find the book Foundations Of JSP Design Patterns by Andrew Patzer (Apress) interesting...

Chapter list:  JSP Foundations; Using JSP; Role Separation with JavaBeans; Role Separation with Custom Tags; Development Using Patterns; The Decorating Filter Pattern; The Front Controller Pattern; The View Helper Pattern; Testing Techniques; Deployment Techniques; Application Frameworks; Putting It All Together; Index

While this book does cover some basics of JSP, I wouldn't recommend it for a complete newcomer to the subject.  This book is more designed for the person who has learned the basics, done some work with JSP, and would now like to learn how to better structure their code to separate business logic from presentation.  Patzer does a good job in showing how a consistent approach to presentation/logic separation can avoid maintenance issues down the road, and how it allows developers and designers with different roles to work together on a project.  By introducing patterns, the developer can build applications with a solid structure that follow proven architecture that works.  The thing I appreciate most is that the pattern chapters have plenty of code that allows you to understand the pattern both by explanation and by example of a real application.  That helps take the information from a theoretical to a practical level.  The chapters at the end that deal with testing and deployment are also very valuable, and they should help the developer to follow a solid approach to JSP application development from design through implementation.  Very good material here.

11/13/2004

Book Review - Confidence by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Category Book Reviews

Have you ever wondered how come winning teams/organizations keep on winning and losing groups struggle to break the cycle?  Confidence by Rosabeth Moss Kanter does a pretty good job examining this issue...

Chapter list:
Part 1 - Winners and Losers: How Confidence Grows Or Erodes - The Locker Room and the Playing Field: Booms, Busts, Streaks, and Cycles; Winning Streaks: The Cycle of Success; Why Winning Streaks End; Losing Streaks: "Powerlessness Corrupts" and Other Dynamics of Decline; Why Losing Streaks Persist
Part 2 - Turnarounds: The Art Of Building Confidence - The Turnaround Challenge; The First Stone: Facing Facts and Reinforcing Responsibility; The Second Stone: Cultivating Collaboration; The Third Stone: Initiative and Innovation; A Culture of Confidence: Leading a Nation form Despair to Hope
Part 3 - Implications And Life Lessons - Delivering Confidence: The Work Of Leaders; Winning Streaks, Losing Streaks, and the Game of Life; Notes; Acknowledgments; Index

This isn't one of those "get fixed quick" books that are so common these days.  Kanter examines the culture of winning and losing by using sports teams and a number of organization and government leaders.  By telling their stories and examining their histories, it becomes clear how winning begets winning and losing begets losing, and it's a formidable task to break the cycle.  I think one of the most inspirational and moving stories is when she writes about Nelson Mandela's rise from a prison cell to leader of South Africa, and the steps he took to promote and drive racial and cultural unity when it would have been much easier to just take the route of revenge.  Although the examples are large, it's not devoid of personal application.  Each chapter distills down the lessons into actions that you can take as an individual to build your own confidence and lead others in the same path.

Good material, and well worth reading...

11/12/2004

The Grant hockey team is now 4-0... sorta...

Category Everything Else

When we left the team last week, Cam had a shutout in goal and Grant was sitting at 3-0 on the season.  This week they played Beaverton, who has humiliated them in prior years.  I was hoping this would be a good indicator of how far Grant has come.  We suited up the normal contingent of players, and Beaverton showed up with six...  five and the goalie.  So much for bench management!  They did get an extra skater a couple minutes into the game, but we're still talking seriously outmanned.  And unfortunately, I think that Grant thought the same thing...  Even thought they had no spare skaters, the ones that Beaverton *did* have were good, and they have a goalie who is outstanding.

Grant opened the scoring in the first with a goal to end the 1st period at 1-0.  Beaverton tied it up at 1-1 by the end of the second, and Grant wasn't looking good at all.  No spark on offense, and they were playing in their own end far too much.  In the third, Beaverton scored to go up 2-1, and their goalie was looking unbeatable (along with us not putting any pressure on him).  With about six minutes left, the first fight of the season broke out and Beaverton ended up with an extra double minor, making it 5 on 4.  Then Grant got called for a minor, making it four each.  Beaverton had no one on the bench, a player in the box, and their fighter called for a game.  At the 2:49 mark, another pushing match broke out, leading to matching minors.  The players had to go to the box, but rules state that you stay at 4 on 4.  But Beaverton didn't have a fourth player to leave on the ice.  So according to league rules, they had to forfeit the game and Grant was awarded a 1-0 win.

Neither side was too happy with this...  Beaverton felt cheated (they probably could have won by skating 3 the rest of the game) and Grant wanted a chance to tie it up in regulation.  But rules are rules.  Actually, Grant lost their last game of the season last year in this same fashion.  But they were tired, the season was over, and they just wanted to end it.  

So, the record shows that Grant is still undefeated and Cam has two shutouts with a .75 goals against average.  But there's a large asterisk next to that one...

11/11/2004

Interesting... Google News Alerts are picking up some of the Notes bloggers...

Category Blogging

I've got a Google News Alert out there for "Tom Duff", "Thomas Duff", and "Duffbert".  Yeah, I'm sure it's an ego/vanity/are-the-cops-looking-for-me-yet thing...

Anyway...

I noticed that over the last couple of days, I got alert hits on Duffbert that pointed back to Chris Miller and Ben L.'s blog...  rather cool that Google is now treating some of the bloggers as "news sources"...  :-)

11/11/2004

Microsoft says Firefox no threat to IE

Category Microsoft

From news.com: Microsoft says Firefox no threat to IE

I know that Robert Scoble keeps telling everyone that Microsoft is different, that they are listening to their customers, that they are willing to learn...  But in this article, there are some incredible self-serving and delusional statements that show that Microsoft hasn't changed at all.

Just days after the launch of open-source browser Firefox 1.0, Microsoft executives defended Internet Explorer, saying it is no less secure than any other browser and doesn't lack any important features.

At a security roundtable discussion in Sydney on Thursday, Ben English, Microsoft's security and management product manager, told attendees that IE undergoes "rigorous code reviews" and is no less secure than any other browser.

"Because IE is ubiquitous, you hear a lot more about it, but I don't think that Internet Explorer is any less secure than any other browser out there," English said.

Steve Vamos, Microsoft Australia's managing director, agreed, saying he does not believe IE's market share is under attack following the recent high-profile debut of the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser.

Vamos said that although he has heard other people mention the competitive threat posed by Firefox, he doesn't see it as a problem.

"I'm not sure that that is the reality. I have seen comments around that, but there is nothing I can refer to that really supports that," he said. Instead, Vamos said, consumers need to be educated about all the features already offered by Microsoft's browser.

"We probably need to do a bit of work to communicate the features that are in IE," he said.

Vamos, who admitted he has never used Firefox, said there is a lot of hype surrounding the open-source movement and that if Microsoft's customers wanted new features, they would have told the company about it.

"I don't agree that just because a (competing) product has a feature that we don't have, that feature is important," he said. "It is not. It is only important if it is a feature the customer wants. There are plenty of products out there with features we don't have. We have plenty of features that our customers don't use.

"If there are features in our products that are subpar or need to be added, then I have great confidence that we are an organization that responds pretty quickly and effectively to that."

English reiterated that features such as tabbed browsing are not important to IE users.

"I don't believe it is a true statement that IE doesn't have the features that our customers want," he said. "We take user feedback very seriously. If you have that feedback, then you should feed it back to us because we will feed it to the product team."

Ross Fowler, managing director of Cisco Systems Australia and New Zealand, said the networking giant uses IE internally but only after deploying Cisco's Secure Agent, which is a desktop utility that monitors all activity and alerts the user if it spots something unusual--such as a keystroke-logging program.

"Internally, we have deployed Cisco Secure Agent to prevent those day-zero attacks, and we have more and more of our customers--particularly in the university sector--deploying the Cisco Secure Agent," Fowler said.

11/11/2004

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

Category Blogging

Yesterday I blogged a story about the judge who got caught starring in an adult video.  I clipped the first part of the article that included her name.  

Today I had nearly triple the hit volume on my site as the search engines picked up my blog...

Whatever drives traffic, I guess...  :-)

11/11/2004

Are You Ready To Love Blogging?

Category Blogging

From Baseline:  Are You Ready To Love Blogging?

Good material for corporations looking to understand how blogs can benefit or hurt them.  A lot of quotes from Scoble in here...

11/10/2004

Book Review - Let Them Eat Prozac by David Healy

Category Book Reviews

Since I am acquainted with the issues of antidepressants as someone with dysthymia, I decided it might be interesting to read the "other" side of the story.  To that end, I just finished Let Them Eat Prozac - The Unhealthy Relationship Between The Pharmaceutical Industry And Depression by David Healy.  Interesting stuff here...

Healy is listed as a former secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology and has written a number of articles and books on the subject.  He's also been on the prescribing end of antidepressants, so I don't see (at least on the surface) any particular conflict of interest that might color his statements and conclusions.  The book is part a personal story of his experience with the drug Prozac and its parent company Lilly, as well as an expose of how pharmaceutical companies are able to distort facts and studies to present misleading results on drug testing.  The main thrust of this book is how Prozac and SSRI drugs in general show a strong increase in the rate of suicidal tendencies in users during the first few weeks of use.  But looking at the information from the drug companies, you'd never know it.  Based on creative manipulation of statistics, the suicide rates were presented as far less than they really were.  And even now that Prozac has gone off patent and is now available in its generic form of fluoxetine, he still claims that little is known about the long-term effects of the drug, and who might be held responsible if issues arise down the road.

Coming into this book, I was ready to write him off as a conspiracy nut with an axe to grind.  I was given fluoxetine nearly two years ago to help me deal with chronic low-level depression, and it's been a lifesaver.  I've experienced very few side effects (very minor), and it has given me a new lease on life.  But after reading the book, I realize that I am pretty lucky, in that the story could have been much worse.  It's nearly impossible (from what I can tell) to predict how a specific person will react on an SSRI drug.  My position has been that the doctor should be watching them extremely closely over the first two to four weeks.  I'd now change that to the first two to four *days*.  An adverse reaction to the drug could be deadly, and for more than just the person taking the drug.

Overall, very interesting material.  I would hope that reading something like this wouldn't dissuade a person from seeking treatment and trying SSRI drugs, as they can and do work well for many people.  But it's valuable to understand that they don't work for everyone, and it's possible that they could make the condition even worse.  Just proceed with caution...

11/10/2004

A Domino Developer Looks At Eclipse...

Category Software Development

Tom Duff, e-Promag.com technical editor, takes a look at Eclipse technology from the perspective of a Domino developer. Join this Webcast at noon Eastern on November 30 to learn more about the future use of the Eclipse platform with Domino. Click here to enroll!

If you've already been doing stuff with Eclipse, you'll know most of the material I'm covering.  But if you've been meaning to look into it but haven't have the chance yet, feel free to enroll in the webcast...

11/10/2004

Yes, I know you've been inundated with Firefox news stories...

Category Open Source

... but this might be the only time I'll ever end up posting anything from Al-jazeera that's not war-related.  :-)

11/09/2004

Activating IE's AutoComplete without "submitting" the form?

Category Software Development

I'm having an issue with an application, and perhaps you can help me out since I'm still less than proficient on the web stuff...

I have a form that is used for searching.  There's a field you use to put your search term in, and then you click the submit button (or hit enter).  On the OnSubmit event, there's a call to the doSearch function which ends up returning the results of the search on a customized form.  After the doSearch function, there's a return false.  So in effect, the form never gets fully "submitted".

IE's AutoComplete function will give you a dropdown list of values for a field if the field name matches a field name for which IE has stored values.  After experimenting around with my app, it appears that the value of the field gets stored (and is available the next time the form is used) when the form gets submitted.  Since I'm doing a return false as part of my onSubmit, it never gets stored.  If I don't do the return false, it will store the value, but I get a 500 HTTP error because it tries to submit some long hairy URL when you look at the log.

I may just have to tell the user that the AutoComplete function won't work the way the application is designed.  However, if there's some way I can fake IE into thinking the form is submitted while actually just displaying the returned search results, that would be cool...

Any ideas?

11/09/2004

Book Review - The Real Business Of Web Design by John Waters

Category Book Reviews

I read an interesting book on web design recently.  It's titled The Real Business Of Web Design by John Waters (Allworth Press).  It offers up some different views on web site design that I hadn't considered before...

Chapter List:  Linking and Thinking; New Rules for Growth; After the Bubble Burst; Business Fundamentals; Expanding the Circle; The Growth Continues; The Information Age Is History; Mission-Driven Design; Organizing the Trip; Developing the Look and Feel; Building the Site; Form, Function, and Feasibility; Interaction Designers; Functional Designers; Business Designers; Governing the Web; New Basics for Marketing; Making a Difference; What Customers Want; A Value Proposition for the Web; Building One-to-One Relationships; Integrated Marketing Communications; Faster, Better, Cheaper; Economic Possibilities; The Circle of Language; Golden Music; Resources; Notes; Index

To be sure, this isn't a mechanics book.  You won't go here to learn new techniques for animating graphics or structuring navigation.  What you will learn is how to approach web design from a functional and business perspective.  It's not enough to just throw out a few web pages and call it good.  People expect more than that.  Your site becomes the calling card for your business and is really an extension of it.  If the customer has a bad experience on the site, you can rest assured you'll never see them again.  By designing for a specific person who is using your site to accomplish something, you'll meet the needs of that person type as a whole.  So instead of saying "what would a user want to do?", you build a fictional person, complete with name and background, who has a specific goal in mind.  You then design for that single person.  After designing the site for a set of these characters, you'll find you've successfully met the needs of most everyone who falls into those categories.  In addition to that design technique, Waters covers a wealth of more generic information on the business of using the web to run your business.  

All very good stuff, and worth the read...

11/09/2004

I'm sad to announce that Arafat is dead... I AM NOT!!!!

Category Everything Else

Am I the only one that thinks either:
  • This is a bad Monty Python skit ("Bring out your dead...")
  • Bagdad Bob has found a new job as spokeperson for the French medical establishment...

11/08/2004

Book Review - Steal This Computer Book 3 by Wallace Wang

Category Book Reviews

If you're looking for something that covers the murky underbelly of the internet, you might want to check out Steal This Computer Book 3 by Wallace Wang.

Chapter List:  Finding What You Need: The Magic Of Search Engines; Alternative Sources Of News And Information; Censoring Information (We Know What's Best For You); Hacktivism: Online Activism; Pledging Allegiance: Hatred As Patriotism; Where The Hackers Are; Viruses And Worms; Trojan Horses: Beware Of Geeks Bearing Gifts; Con Games On The Internet; Online Stalkers; Probing A Target; Sneaking Into A Computer; Digging In; Computing On A Shoestring; Protecting Your Data And Your Privacy; Waging War On Spam; Web Bugs, Adware, Pop-ups, and Spyware; Firewalls, Intrusion-Dectection Systems, and Honeypots; Computer Forensics: Recovering And Deleting Data; Protecting Your Computer; Software; A Hacker's Gallery Of Rogue Tools; A Bit Of History: Phone Phreaking And Other Phun; Glossary; Index

On the back cover, you have this warning:  "This book is not to be used for hacking into government computers, shutting down AOL, cracking software, phone phreaking, spreading viruses, or any other illegal activity."  That's enough to get your attention.  Depending on your background, I think you'll have varying reactions to the book.  People who haven't been exposed to information like this will quickly learn that all is not safe when you're online.  If you've surfed the web for any length of time as an IT professional, you'll read a lot of the information and say "I already know that".  But even then, you'll pick up some ideas and concepts that you may not have been aware of.  For instance, I didn't know there were servers that would send you requested web pages via email in order to bypass filtering or banned sites.  And the chapter on alternative sources of news will cause you to think about expanding your media view of the world.

The packaging of the book is rather unique.  The cover and pages have a dirty, "photocopied" look to make it appear more illicit than it actually is.  It becomes one of those books that will catch someone's eyes on a book shelf, and may need to be explained.  :-)

An interesting read, and you will learn a few things along the way....

11/08/2004

Book Review - Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin

Category Book Reviews

OK...  I'm impressed!  I just finished reading Knoppix Hacks by Kyle Rankin (O'Reilly), and I really didn't have a clue as to the power of Knoppix...

Chapter List:  Boot Knoppix; Use Your Knoppix Desktop; Tweak Your Desktop; Install Linux With Knoppix; Put Knoppix In Your Toolbox; Repair Linux; Rescue Windows; Knoppix Reloaded; Knoppix Remastered; Index

I'm going to guess I'm like most non-Linux junkies when I say that I had heard of Knoppix and thought I knew what it was.  It's a distribution of Linux that runs from a CD, and allows you to load Linux on a computer without installing anything.  Just boot from the CD and five minutes later you're running Linux.  Remove the CD and reboot, and you're back to your original configuration.  A nice safe way to play with Linux and decide if you want to go any further.  End of story.

Wrong...

In Knoppix Hacks, Rankin covers 100 "hacks" that you can do with the Knoppix distribution.  Beyond just trying out Linux, I quickly learned that a Knoppix CD is like a Swiss Army knife of tools that you can use to do all sorts of cool things.  You learn in the first chapter how you can launch Knoppix to load up in a number of different configurations.  Using Hack #8, you can use Knoppix to find out if your laptop is going to work well with Linux before loading it for good.  But the further you get into the book, the more Knoppix becomes a safety net the likes of which you may never have realized.  Hack #41 covers using Knoppix to build an emergency file server, and #42 is how to build an emergency web server.  Chapter 6 goes into how Knoppix can be used to repair existing Linux installs, like #59 where you rescue files from damaged hard drives.  Even if you're a Windows person, you can use Knoppix to repair Windows installations, like with hack #79 which shows you how to download Window patches securely.  He even covers how to build your own custom version of Knoppix with Linux software selections that are important to you.  The book comes with a Knoppix CD, so you can try out many of the hacks without having to go hunting for a Knoppix download.  

This is probably the first Hacks title that transcends the Hacks philosophy and becomes a "user manual" on Knoppix.  There just isn't anything out on the market like this book, and once you read the material you quickly realize how much you've been missing by not having a Knoppix CD in your CD case.

This is an incredible book on an incredible tool that is much more than what meets the eye.  Highly recommended.

11/07/2004

Book Review - PC Hacks by Jim Aspinwall

Category Book Reviews

Do you like to play around in your PC's BIOS settings?  Do you run your computer without a cover so you can mess around with the hardware inside?  If so, you'll like PC Hacks by Jim Aspinwall (O'Reilly).

Chapter List:  Basic System Board Hacks; Basic System Board Setup; CPU Hacks; Memory Hacks; Disk Hacks; Disk Drive Performance Hacks; Video Hacks; I/O Device Hacks; Boot-Up Hacks; Configuring A New PC; Index

As you can tell from the list of chapters, there's a heavy emphasis on hacks that involve tweaking hardware settings or upgrading core components.  Many of the hacks have performance in mind, like Boot Faster (#4) or Speed It Up With RAID (#64).  Other hacks allow you to use little known Windows tools to set system options, like Let Windows Tell You About I/O Card Conflicts (#75) and Convert FAT to NTFS (#45).  If you're into overclocking your PC devices, you'll have a great time here as the author covers everything from overclocking CPUs to video cards.  He also warns that it's possible to completely toast your machine if you push the limits too far, so these things might not be the best tricks to mess with on a critical PC.  I'd suggest getting a second-hand machine that you can destroy (if it comes to that), and see what you can do by following the tips in this book.

As with all Hacks books, there are 100 tips to play with.  Some may not apply to you, and others may be worth the purchase price of the book by themselves.  But that's part of the fun with the Hacks series.  If you don't like the one you just read, keep going.  The next one may solve a problem you've been struggling with for years.

A very good book for those who want to eke out every last drop of performance from their system, or for those who are more interested in how the operating system works instead of just running applications.  

11/07/2004

Book Review - Just Java 2 (6th edition) by Peter van der Linden

Category Book Reviews

When I was first learning Java, one of the most useful books I used was Just Java 2.  The 6th edition of Just Java 2 by Peter van der Linden (Prentice-Hall) continues to be a quality resource.

Chapter List:  What Can Java Do For Me?; Introducing Objects; Primitive Types, Wrappers, and Boxing; Statements and Comments; OOP Part 2 - Constructors and Visibility; Static, Final, and Enumerated Types; Names, Operators, and Accuracy; More OOP - Extending Classes; Arrays; Exceptions; Interfaces; Nested Classes; Doing Several Things at Once: Threads; Advanced Thread Topics; Explanation <Generics>; Collections; Simple Input Output; Advanced Input Output; Regular Expressions; GUI Basics and Event Handling; JFC and the Swing Package; Containers, Layouts, and SWT Loose Ends; Relational Databases and SQL; JDBC; Networking in Java; Servlets and JSP; XML and Java; Web Services at Google and Amazon; Downloading Java; Powers of Two Table; Codesets; Index


This 6th edition covers all the recent additions in Java from J2SE 5.0, so you can get this book knowing you'll have the most up-to-date information.  The thing I appreciate most about this book is the tone and readability of what is one of the most complete tutorial style books on Java on the market.  The tone is conversational, so you're not struggling through dry text.  With dashes of humor and sidebars that cover interesting history and stories of IT significance, the book comes close to being one of the few learning guides that could almost be read cover to cover as an interesting read regardless of whether you work the examples or not.  The servlet and JSP chapter at the end, along with the XML chapter, is more high-level than the rest of the book.  You could buy entire volumes that deal specifically with those concepts.  So if that's the main reason you're buying the book, you could do better.  Of course, if you bought the book for the last two chapters only, I'd question why you did so in the first place...  :-)


This is an excellent book that spans the gap between hard-core tutorial and pure entertainment.  I can't imagine too many people who wouldn't enjoy and benefit from this text if they want to learn Java.

11/06/2004

Book Review - Unix Shells By Example (Fourth Edition) by Ellie Quigley

Category Book Reviews

As I start playing around more with Linux, I'd like to get into some shell programming.  After reviewing Unix Shells By Example (4th Edition) by Ellie Quigley (Prentice-Hall), I think I've found the book I need to get started.

Chapter List:  Introduction to UNIX/Linux Shells; Shell Programming QuickStart; Regular Expressions and Pattern Matching; The grep Family; sed, The Streamlined Editor; The awk Utility; The Interactive Bourne Shell; Programming The Bourne Shell; The Interactive C And TC Shells; Programming The C And TC Shells; The Interactive Korn Shell; Programming The Korn Shell; The Interactive Bash Shell; Programming The Bash Shell; Debugging Shell Scripts; The System Administrator And The Shell; Useful UNIX/Linux Utilities For Shell Programmers; Comparison Of The Shells; Index

I know that there are a number of different shell scripting platforms, but I really don't know enough to understand what is different between them.  In a single book, Quigley covers all the options so I can start to make some decisions about what direction I'd like to go in.  And regardless of whatever choice that might be, she covers all the different platforms in equal depth so I don't have to go out and buy another book to get started.  Each chapter is filled with a number of examples, immediately followed by an explanation of how the example works.  So not only do you have the benefit of reference material on how something like the grep utility works, but you also have the benefit of seeing working examples in order to translate theory into practical knowledge.  Her style of writing is clear and concise, and I really think that with a little time on my part, this book will take me well down the road to where I want to be.

An excellent choice if you're looking to get into command line scripting of your UNIX or Linux systems...

11/06/2004

Book Review - Hacking The Xbox by Andrew Huang

Category Book Reviews

Since my son is into hardware hacking and also into his Xbox, I got a review copy of Hacking The Xbox by Andrew Huang.  While not my particular area of interest, he really thought the book was great!

Chapter List:  Voiding The Warranty; Thinking Inside The Box; Installing A Blue LED; Building A USB Adapter; Replacing A Broken Power Supply; The Best Xbox Game: Security Hacking; A Brief Primer On Security; Reverse Engineering Xbox Security; Sneaking In The Back Door; More Hardware Projects; Developing Software For The Xbox; Caveat Hacker; Onward!; Where To Get Your Hacking Gear; Soldering Techniques; Getting Into PCB Layout; Getting Started With FPGAs; Debugging: Hints and Tips; Xbox Hardware Reference; Index

Within 10 minutes of getting this book, Cam was hunting for my toolkit and shortly thereafter had his Xbox opened up all over my office floor.  I knew basically that the Xbox was a PC disguised as a gaming system, but I didn't realize how true that was until Cam opened it up and showed me the internals.  It was like opening up my desktop system!  Huang does a great job in showing what tools are necessary as well as illustrating via pictures what needs to be done to "lift the lid" of your system.  Once there, he shows you some of the basic modifications you can make like adding custom lighting or replacing power supplies.  Beyond the basics of hardware, Huang takes the reader into very in-depth examinations of the system structure of the Xbox and what needs to be known in order to understand how to modify software and hardware.  For me, the most interesting chapter covered how you can modify an Xbox to turn it into a low-cost Linux machine.  Although it's not what Microsoft envisioned, there really is a lot you can do to and with this machine.

If you're ready to dig into your Xbox and go beyond just playing games, this is the first book you should get your hands on.

11/06/2004

I went and saw The Incredibles last night...

Category Everything Else

... and as usual, Pixar has done a phenominal job of computer animation and story telling.  This is more of an "adult" feature than their other films, in that most of the themes will resonate with adults, such as middle-age crisis and marital trust.  The fight scenes are also a bit more graphic than past features, but not such that you'd have to worry about taking your kids.  The characters are so very believable (within the superhero motif, of course), and the dialogue will have you rolling.  The scene with his wife visiting the costume designer is absolutely hysterical...  Once Pixar finishes their Disney arrangement (Cars is their next (and last) Disney film partnership), they can start working on The Incredibles 2, as the sequel is set up perfectly at the end.

While this probably isn't my favorite Pixar feature, I'd defintely sit through it again (and again).  When it hits DVD, I'll definitely rent it for any special features.  My only complaint is that I forced my family to sit through the ending credits wondering if they'd stick any surprises (like "outtakes") at the end.  They didn't, I lost $5 to Ian, and I had to listen to both him and my wife gloat all the way home.  The only redeeming thing is that my name appears in the Pixar credits...  OK, it's actually this guy, but still...

11/06/2004

Book Review - Lost City by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos

Category Book Reviews

For a recreational reading break, I recently finished Lost City by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos.  This is classic Cussler and is very entertaining...

A number of scientists that worked on a secret project have met their deaths in rather questionable ways.  This thread is dropped for awhile until you get further into the book.  Meanwhile, Kurt Austin helps out a woman researcher (beautiful, what else?) who is trying to find evidence of an ancient trade route at the bottom of a lake attached to a glacier.  The researchers at the glacier also find a man entombed in the ice who appears to be about 100 years old, is wearing flying gear, and has a strange helmet.  When reporters are permitted to see the find, one of them takes a box belonging to the frozen man and blows up part of the glacier in order to cover his tracks.  Thus starts the series of cliff-hanger rescues and adventures that Austin and the researcher find themselves in.  Castles with dungeons, arms-dealing families with long histories and murky pasts, and killer algae all combine into a novel that keeps moving at a rapid pace.

Is this Nobel prize literature?  Not by a long shot.  It's escapism and entertainment, nothing more.  But it's good entertainment, and the book is hard to put down.  Since this isn't Cussler's primary series with Dirk Pitt, I went into it without a high level of expectation.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  It's a fun read.

11/06/2004

Book Review - Victory! by Brian Tracy

Category Book Reviews

In the personal improvement genre, I recently finished Victory! by Brian Tracy.  Not a bad read, and it has some pretty good ideas to improve your effectiveness in life.

The book consists of a number of "principles" that are pulled from military commanders and strategy.  There are titles such as "The Principle of the Objective - Clarity Is Essential" and "The Principle of the Mass - Concentrate Your Power".  The first part of each chapter starts with an illustration from a famous war or battle, and shows how a leader's decision based on that principle made a difference.  An explanation of the principle is followed by how it relates to company effectiveness, and finally the principle is applied to your personal life.  Since the book relies on military strategy, there are numerous examples and philosophies scattered throughout that tie back to generals and wars.  

I've always liked Brian Tracy's writings.  He is able to distill down ideas and concepts into practical steps you can take to become more effective.  If you've read any number of personal improvement books, you'll see many ideas here that you've seen in other places.  You may not have viewed them in light of military strategy, so that could lead to some additional insights.  If this is your first exposure to self-improvement literature, you'll come away with a number of ideas that, once implemented, will cause you to become more successful in your personal life.  And the book isn't written such that you have to do everything here or it doesn't work.  Even the successful implementation of a single idea, like simplification of your personal life, can yield tremendous benefits.

If you're looking to break out of a rut or try some new ideas to become more successful, this book will definitely help you get there...

11/06/2004

Book Review - The Gospel According To Disney by Mark I. Pinsky

Category Book Reviews

As I've mentioned before, I'm a Disney addict.  So it was understandable when I picked up The Gospel According To Disney - Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust by Mark I. Pinsky.  As usual in these types of books, I was somewhat disappointed...

Pinsky is the religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, and he's also written The Gospel According To The Simpsons (which I haven't read).  In the Disney book, he first looks at the Disney organization and attempts to determine what the company religious views are.  That can mean anything from the company's view of life to how they tolerate organized religion.  This information then provides the backdrop for the majority of the book, which is a review of the company's animated films and what religious concepts are woven into them.  The last couple of chapters examines the Disney theme parks and the Baptist boycott in the light of religious themes.

Now I have a bias here myself.  I don't go to Disney films to gain religious instruction or insight.  I go to be entertained.  And while there are lessons to be learned in films, it's also easy to superimpose a personal view or bias and then interpret everything in that light.  Unfortunately, I feel that's what is happening in this book.  Since Pinsky is looking to find religious thought in each film, everything that appears is colored by that expectation.  It's very possible that what he sees is really there and was really intended.  But all too often I felt as if the explanation was possible only because you were looking for it.  I'm sure if an organization like PETA were to write a book like this looking at Disney from an animal rights perspective, they would end up seeing the same type of thoughts that pertain to their views and make it look like Disney's foremost thought in films is animal rights.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you reduce any examination of events to a single issue (politics, religion, etc.), it's easy to see things that aren't there.  I come away from this book feeling like a fair amount of that occurred.

11/04/2004

PIG DETECTOR ALERT! Mayflower/Inside Domino/Domino Files

Category Everything Else

My favorite resident of the software company ethics hall of shame is at it again.  For the full story, head on over to Brian Benz' blog at Software Soapbox to check out the latest marketing missteps of DominoFiles (aka Inside Domino, aka Mayflower Software).

Basically, DominoFiles sends out a email (it appears to be spam, but I didn't get it and maybe Brian did sign up) touting their email marketing program called an email "blast".  It's supposed to generate all these leads that make people flock to your site and buy or download your product.  For one, that sounds incredibly like spamming, but I won't get into whether their list of Notes professionals are opt-in or not.  I didn't get the email, so I can't say.  

Now, it would have been nice had they bothered to spellcheck their ad copy.  How seriously do you take an offer to

SEND YOUR EXCLUSIVE PRODCUT MESSAGE THROUGH THE LARGEST NOTES LEAD GENERATION DATABASE IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY!

"PRODCUT MESSAGE"...  sounds painful...

Ah, but wait...  this isn't the "best" part...  They have actual "testimonials" on how effective this program is...  One of the glowing reviews:

"I Love DominoFiles!
Our server downloads increased to 25 times our normal daily rate (from 4 downloads per day to 100 so far today), and we haven't even gone a whole day since you sent our blast. Thanks!!!"

Frank Paolino, MayFlower Software

If you've been following this saga, you'll know that MayFlower Software is the company that runs Inside Domino and DominoFiles.  Of course, that's the *only* way you'll know that, because they seem to go to great lengths to hide that fact.  As a result, Inside Domino does such wonderful stuff like give Best Of Lotusphere awards to SpamSentinel software, a product which is produced by, you guessed it, MayFlower Software.  This is also the group that lifted an article by Bruce Elgort directly from his OpenNTF site and used it on their Inside Domino site as content.  

It just blows me away that MayFlower continues to pull these stunts.  I don't think I've ever seen a small company like this be totally oblivious to the opinion and reaction of decision makers and influencers when it comes to their behavior and ethics.

Thanks for flagging this one, Brian...

11/04/2004

Firefox gaining more ground on IE...

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet:  Firefox gains more ground on IE

I was watching a blog thread on someone's site that was talking about conversion rates of clicks to downloads at the Firefox download area.  They figured about 50% of those who visited downloaded the software.  The method of their computation was open to debate, but still...  Then the conversation turned to whether 50% was abysmally low or incredibly successful.  I saw it as nothing short of astounding...

In the IT media, a percentage point drop of IE usage translates into a major story.  Can you imagine what the writing will be if Firefox takes IE down from the current 92.9% to anything under 80%?  We're talking op-ed columns predicting the immediate death of MS...  :-)

11/04/2004

Break up the Grant hockey team! They're 3-0!

Category Everything Else

Last night was week 3 of the Portland high school hockey league season, and Grant was up against Sherwood.  We came into the game 2-0 and looking more like a team than we ever have in the two prior years.  Due to one of the league teams not having enough players, they folded the squad and divided up the players.  For the first time I can remember, we had enough people to come close to skating three lines!  What a concept!  Substitutes!

Anyway, we have Cam between the pipes and Ian on the bench coaching.  Sherwood is better than the first two teams we've played, and the overall play is more even than it has been in the past.  Cam looks solid, the defense is keeping the pucks away from him, and the forwards are flying.  The first period ends 0-0, and so we go to the 2nd.  Grant finally knocks home a goal to go up 1-0.  Cam has a few nice pad saves, and still looks solid.  Midway in the third, Grant once again knocks home a rebound and we're looking good at 2-0.  Things get a little dicey when Cam has a race for the puck with an on-rushing Sherwood forward, but he gets there first and clears it.  With the pressure increasing, Sherwood is swarming in our end and Cam is scrambling.  With about 3 minutes left, he makes a spectacular glove save that definitely robs them of a goal.  The Grant team successfully rags the remaining 3 minutes off the clock, and Cam has his first shutout of the season.  Way to go, Cam, and way to go team!

I know this won't last forever, and next week Grant plays Beaverton.  Beaverton is a perennial powerhouse run by the owner of a different ice rink, and he tends to...  "load up" his roster with kids who play at a higher level than most high schoolers.  That game will be a real test to see how far Grant has matured as a team.

11/04/2004

Yes, I'm here... Yes, I'm fine...

Category Everything Else

I've had a number of things going on of late (just typical life stuff), and so my blogging volume is down.  I also haven't been on top of my email very well.  So I get a ping from someone I know asking if everything's OK...  :-)

I don't know if that's good or bad...  Are people missing my writing or are they pleased that I'm not wasting as much bandwidth as normal?

11/03/2004

America didn't "make a mistake" yesterday...

Category Everything Else

Cruising through a number of blogs today, many of them, especially non-US ones, seem to have the overwhelming opinion that America made a mistake yesterday.

No, we didn't.

We have a democratic form of government that says everyone of a certain age is allowed to vote.  Whoever gets the most votes, wins.  Except for that ugly little electoral college/popular vote thing, but I digress.  We had more people vote yesterday in terms of voter turnout than we've had in over 35 years.  Bush won the popular vote by around 3.5 million.  Bush also won the electoral college vote by the required 270.  There were no Florida debacles (at least that we know of) this time around.  The American public spoke, and this is what they said...  We want George Bush to be president for the next four years.

That may not have been the candidate I wanted.  It may not have been the best choice in my opinion.  I'll even concede that it may not have been a *wise* choice based on your point of view.  But was it a mistake?  

Not if you believe and participate in a democratic form of government.

My response would be to take Joe Litton's advice...  Get involved and stay involved.

And turn off those insipid reality shows...

11/01/2004

Why Measure What Can't Matter?

Category Everything Else

From Peter Coffee at eWeek:  Why Measure What Can't Matter?

Developers have a duty to focus stakeholders' attention on relevant metrics and technologies.

I was talking with someone about this year's presidential election, when I said that it was silly for polls to report anything other than predictions of the Electoral College votes. I argued that a poll purporting to measure, for example, "a 51-to-49 lead" for one candidate versus another was meaningless—since there's no such thing as a "popular vote" for the Presidency.

"What do you mean?," came the reply. "You count up all the votes in all the states for one candidate, you count up all the votes for the other, that's the popular vote."

"OK," I said, "Imagine it's the end of a football game, and the announcers say, 'Well, our home team carried or passed the ball for a total of 1,100 yards, and the other team only moved the ball 980 yards, so our team is the real winner—but a technicality in the rules only gives points for moving the ball across the lines at the ends of the field, so the referees have declared the other team the winner.'

"Would that make sense?," I asked—"Because it's exactly the kind of language you hear on election night if the 'popular vote winner' is different from the Electoral winner. There's no such thing as a 'popular vote winner': The rules are the rules, and you either win by those rules or you don't."

"Yeah, that's not a bad point," was the answer. My point here, though, is not political but technical: It's necessary for people to focus on measures of the actual achievement of a goal, rather than being distracted by other related measures that may be easier to compile but really have nothing to do with success or failure.

Yeah, I realize there's the technical point here, but the whole election angle thing really got me.  Over the last month I've seen the daily Yahoo headlines stating Bush is ahead by a point, then two, then it's a dead heat, then Kerry's ahead...  All within the "statistical margin of error".  And the entire time I keep thinking...  Yeah, and Gore won that measure, too...  :-)

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