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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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12/30/2004

Day 13 - The final day at WDW...

Category Vacation

Well...  today is the last day of our Disney vacation.  We head out early tomorrow morning to drive back to Miami, where we'll stay overnight before catching an early morning flight home.  It's been a great time, I'm rested and relaxed, and I'm ready to get back to work.

No, really!  I am!

Today we rousted the kids out of bed to take them over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for breakfast at Boma's.  It's a breakfast buffet with items that are just a little different than the usual stuff (french toast with raisins, weird African casseroles, etc).  Sue really liked it, but the kids were somewhat ho-hum.  We went into the Animal Kingdom park to take in some of the attractions.  AK is not my favorite park, as I'm not much into zoos and tree-hugging.  We (Sue and I) saw a couple things we liked and then we left to head over to the Magic Kingdom to pick up a gift or two.  After that, it was a trip on the monorail to check out a few of the hotels on the resort line, and then back to the Boardwalk for some lunch.  Somewhere in there, the kids had taken the bus back to the hotel, and we met up with them there...

This evening, as a final special event, we had tickets to La Nouba (did I get it right that time, Ed?).  Downtown Disney has a special building where Cirque is permanently housed, and every seat is excellent.  I've seen videos of the shows, but it's a pale imitation of actually being there and seeing it live.  In short, it's a phenomenal show with physical feats that defy the imagination.  Many of the acts are typical circus routines (trapeze, tightrope, etc), but the flair and showmanship sets it apart from anything you've ever seen.  I could probably blog for hours on just that show, it's that good.  The ending act with the trampolines left me speechless.  If you *ever* get a chance to see Cirque live, do it.  They usually come to Portland once a year, but I've never gotten tickets for it.  I won't let that happen again...

As I type, Cam is over at the Canada area at Epcot getting a few things for friends, and Ian is at Pleasure Island, probably taking in the Comedy Warehouse and other clubs.  Sue's mailing something to a nephew, and I'm contemplating the packing chore that lies ahead of me.  I fortunately didn't buy a whole lot of things on the trip, so it's not like I'm coming home with twice the stuff I left with.  However, I had no spare room to start with.  I'll have to figure out where to put the new watch and the little ceramic Boardwalk bathtub toiletry holder I bought.

The next check-in will be from Miami, New Year's Eve...  Later!

Quick ponderings...

Even Sue is just about at wits end with whiny kids.  She was getting ready to lose it on a couple occasions today when kids who know better were carrying on...  I was phasing them out as I pulled out my iPaq and played solitaire.

I'm going to miss having a car that responds when you touch the gas pedal.  We've had a black Mercury Crown Marquis, eight cylinders, leather seats, and lots of room.  It's been nice...  And speaking of cars...

You know you're short when *every* time the attendant returns the car from valet parking, you can't touch the pedals.  

12/29/2004

Days 11 & 12 - Disney/MGM Studios, great weather, and a bazillion people...

Category Vacation

Let me get caught up here...

The last two days have been spent mainly over at Disney/MGM Studios.  The kids slept in and went their own way on day 11, so Sue and I caught the boat over to the park.  We got in 10 minutes before the main opening, and we were able to ride Rockin' Rollercoaster and Tower Of Terror twice before the mass hoards descended upon the park.  It was getting to be a zoo in there, and it wasn't even 9:30 yet!  We wandered for a short while after than and then caught the boat back.  It's really different being here at WDW during the peak attendance times of the year.  We've never experienced them closing a park to more people because it's reached capacity...

Day 11's evening was topped off with dinner at the Rose & Crown over at Epcot.  We were able to get a seat on the patio and had a pretty good view of the Illuminations show there.  I think it's the first time we've extended a meal out over two hours.  :-)

Day 12 was back to Disney/MGM with the kids this time.  I rode the coaster with the kids, and we then coerced Cam into going on Tower (he's never wanted to go before).  He now likes it.  After that, we split up and went separate ways.  The kids did things that interested them (more coaster stuff), and Sue and I did such classics as Muppet 3-D theater.  After lunch, she guilted me into seeing the Beauty and the Beast stage show.  Not my first choice, but whatever.  The show was OK, but the highlight was the opening act.  A "stagehand" came out and did a mic check to polite applause.  This impromptu act then turned into a three number set by an accapella group called 4 For A Dollar.  Very good, and very funny.  I wished they had just stayed there for the whole time...

I know this is a very high-level recap of the last two days, but I got lazy about keeping this up.  It's now Thursday morning and time for our last full day at WDW.  I'll see if I can do a better job next time.

12/27/2004

Day 10 - Beautiful weather in the Magic Kingdom (with a gazillion of my closest friends)...

Category Vacation

Today was the day we hit the Magic Kingdom at 8 am after our character breakfast at Chef Mickey's.  We successfully pried the kids (Cam, mainly) out of bed around 6:15 and got to the restaurant by our 7:15 reservation.  Pigged out on plenty of food at the buffet and took the obligatory pictures of the kids with a few of the Disney rodents.  We got to the gates of the MK right at 8 am and it was wonderful.  The sky was clear, the crowds were light, and we were walking onto all the rides we wanted to see.

We were able to see the new Stich's Great Escape (replaced Alien Encounters) and the Mickey's PhilharMagic 3D movie.  Neutral on the Escape ride (cute, but I liked Alien better) and thumbs up on the 3D movie.  

By about 10 am, we had seen most of the rides we wanted to hit and we started planning for getting to our lunch location at 12:30.  In very short order after that, the crowds grew...  and grew...  and grew.  In fact, they actually closed down entry to the park today as it reached capacity.  We've never been at MK when that's happened.  *These* are the crowds we were expecting.  I've got a few crowd shot pictures I'll upload after the vacation, but it was plenty crazy.  We left there about 2 pm in order to drop the kids off at DisneyQuest and to head back to the room ourselves.  It would have been earlier, but we got trapped on the wrong side of the rope during a Main Street parade and had to watch it.  :-)

The kids returned from DisneyQuest, where they were able to play a couple of games before the crowds got too overwhelming for them.  This whole *crowd* concept is something we've never dealt with at Disney, as we've always come before the major crowd times.  It's nice to know you can see what you want early, and then take off for quieter locations...

We're going to head back to MK later this evening (around 9 pm or so) to catch the firework show.  I think they've opened the gates back to admissions.  :-)  I'll make sure we stay close to the main gates so that we can beat a hasty retreat when the show's over.  I don't want to be riding the monorail back with a cast of thousands (all carting cranky kids who are past due for bed).

Random shots...

In crowds, people need to have butt blinkers and butt brake lights.  There's nothing more irritating than to be following a crowd flow and to have a mindless in-duh-vidual decide that stopping and staring aimlessly is a good idea.  By the end of the day, I'm ready just to dip my shoulder into them, deliver a nice upper rib shot, and sweetly apologize for bumping into them.  And with kids pulling the same stunt, I go for the head.  :-)

12/26/2004

Book Review - Kingmaker - Be The One Your Company Wants To Keep... On Your Terms by Joanne Cini

Category Book Reviews

In today's business environment, it's nearly impossible to have a guaranteed job or position at a company.  Joanne Cini's book Kingmaker - Be The One Your Company Wants To Keep... On Your Terms (Prentice Hall) can help you navigate those waters and put you in a much better overall position.

Chapter List:  

Part 1 - People, Profit, Politics, and Process: Who's A Kingmaker?; The Seismic Shift; A Word About Profit; Politics At Large; Politics In The Day To Day; Losing Like A Winner; Ego, Fear, and Competition; The Responsibility Of Leadership; The Champion; Embrace Diversity; Summary of Part 1

Part 2 - Excel, Execute, and Enjoy!: Value Yourself If You Intend To Be Valuable; How Can You Affect The Company's Margin?; Become Your Manager's Go-To Person; Getting A Handle On Obsession And Defensive Action; When Is It OK To Break Rank?; Interview Discovery; How To Pick (And Get Along With) Your Boss; Management By Type; Preparing For Your Annual Review: Managing Your Value Perception; Keeping Clear On What You Think You Want; Summary Of Part 2

Part 3 - Planning For Passion And Prosperity: Branding Yourself: The Art Of Free Agency; Achieving Fulfillment Through Great Work; Letting Go And Having A Life; The Freedom Plan; When Leaving Is The Only Answer; Summary Of Part 3; Your Personal Value Kingdom

The concept of being a kingmaker means having a stake in the rise of your boss to "king" status.  Your future is linked and interwoven to theirs, and you need to know how to manage your career to take advantage of that fact.  Cini relates wisdom and lessons learned in her 24 years in the television industry to help the reader through those landmines.

In the first part of the book, there seems to be a lot of relating of bad incidents and how she came to leave her job.  I'll admit to being less than thrilled with the content, and started to wonder if this was going to be just a book of whining about how unfair corporate America can be.  But Part 2 is where the book came together for me.  She gets very practical about steps and attitudes that need to be present for an individual to excel in their jobs.  And if you can make yourself one of these people, then you'll be considered one of those people who companies won't let go of, and you'll do it without selling out.  The questions at the end of each chapter help you to think through things on a practical level.

Overall, a useful book on making sure you are the person that will survive the rough times in any corporate environment.  There's something in there for everyone at every level.

12/26/2004

Book Review - The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver

Category Book Reviews

Jeffery Deaver has an excellent series of novels involving the quadrapelegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme and his protege, Amelia Sachs.  In the book The Coffin Dancer, Deaver once again delivers a fast-paced story.

Rhyme is called in to help investigate a crime that has the marks of a former case he studied.  A contract killer known as the Coffin Dancer has been hired to eliminate three employees of an air charter company after they are marked to testify in a grand jury investigation of another shady underworld character.  The first kill is made using a bomb attached to one of the charter planes.  The evidence of that explosion is brought to Rhyme, which then starts the cat and mouse game between him and the killer.  The case is personal to Rhyme due to the nature of their original confrontation.  The story races to a conclusion as Rhyme tries to stop the killer, keep the witnesses alive, and not get Sachs killed in the process.

This is probably my favorite Lincoln Rhyme novel so far.  The story is constantly moving, and it's like reading a chess match waged between two masters at their craft.  Even when you think you know how the story will play out, something happens to twist the story once again.  This is really one of those stories that doesn't finish until the final page.  You also gain some additional understanding behind the relationship between Sachs and Rhyme, so the character advancement means that future installments will be able to go even deeper than before.

A definite "must-read" if you like Deaver's work.  Just make sure you can either stay up late or you don't have to work the next day...

12/26/2004

Book Review - Speaking In Tongues by Jeffery Deaver

Category Book Reviews


One of my favorite crime thriller authors is Jeffery Deaver, and I just recently had the chance to finish his book
Speaking In Tongues.  Great stuff...

Aaron Matthews, a former psychologist with a knack for talking people into things, is out to destroy the life of Tate Collier.  Collier is a trial lawyer who prosecuted Matthew's son for a killing when he was a teen.  A short time after the teen went into prison, he was brutally murdered.  Matthews wants to take the life of Collier's teenage daughter in revenge.  He does this by kidnapping the daughter after a counseling session and makes it look like a runaway.  She's taken to an old abandoned mental hospital where Matthews plans on murdering her.  Collier suspects that his daughter's disappearance is not what it seems, but everyone who can provide answers is either dying or being framed for other crimes.  The story is a race to see if Collier can figure out who is doing all this, and to find his daughter before harm comes to her.


This is an excellent story with numerous plot twists and tight story-telling.  The interaction between Collier, his ex-wife, and the daughter (who has numerous issues) provides all the necessary color to allow the characters to struggle with both family feelings and the on-going crime investigation.  Definitely not a book that is easy to put down.

12/26/2004

Day 9 - Freezing our butts off at Epcot...

Category Vacation


OK...  When you head to Florida for Christmas, part of the appeal is to escape the cold and bask in the warmth.  Yeah, right, sure...


It's cold down here by Florida standards (and it's "brisk" by my standards)!


We transferred over from the Sheraton Safari to our home for the next few days.  The Disney Boardwalk is one of the Disney Vacation Club resorts, and that's the place we decided to stay as members this time around.  It's convenient for walking over to Epcot and catching busses over to Downtown Disney, and the kids like heading over to the ESPN Club.  It was really nice that we got checked in at 7:30 am so we could dump our luggage and make the park opening at 8 am.  The kids took off in one direction, and Sue and I ambled to places we wanted to go (cellphones are *so* nice!).  Because of the weather (I'm guessing), there were *no* crowds today.  And this is one of their busiest times!  We rode Mission to Mars once (any more than that and I'd be using the barf bags they have next to you in the ride...  I'm serious...  about both!) and I hit Test Track twice (the ride operator let us go through twice without getting off as there were no lines waiting).  Add in Spaceship Earth, Living With The Land, and Imagination, and we had hit all the major attractions before our 11:15 lunch seating at Canada's Le Cellier.  Beer Cheese Soup...  good stuff!


By that time the World Showcase had opened up, so Sue and I made a tour around the world looking at shops and stuff.  I was still stuffed from lunch, so we picked up some groceries at the Boardwalk store and just took them back to the room so the kids would have some stuff to eat without spending money.  It worked.  


As I type this, the kids are back out at Epcot watching Illuminations (the 9:30 pm firework/laser show).  I'm getting old, fat, and tired, so we decided to stay warm and call this an early night.  Besides, we have a character breakfast in the morning that we have to be at by 7:30 am.  Oh, and I made a mistake yesterday.  Our Cirque tickets aren't until Thursday.  No review of La Nouba until then.


Passing thoughts...


I'm sure most people who saw me at the park must have thought I was from *WAY* north.  I wore shorts and a sweatshirt, while most park visitors looked like they were on a mid-winter Alaskan cruise...  I'm in Florida, I packed shorts, and I'm going to wear them!


I tried to check out the room where Joe and I will be presenting at Lotusphere, but I need to check the room numbers again.  I was having problems figuring out the floor plan.  Swan 1-2 (where I think Joe said we're going to be) either wasn't clearly marked or I missed it.  I'll try again later...

12/25/2004

Days 7/8 - Seeing Florida by car...

Category Vacation

Time to catch up a bit on the vacation narrative...

Yesterday we *finally* got off the ship around 10:30 after waiting for over two hours.  Disembarkation is such a hassle since September 11th (or at least Royal Caribbean makes it that way).  We caught a taxi to Hertz, grabbed our car, and headed off for Key West.  It's a four hour drive, and we were going to be there for an overnight stay before heading back up to Orlando today (an eight hour drive).  So why drive basically eight hours out of our way to see Key West for less than 24 hours?

Because I wanted to!

I've always wanted to see Key West, and this was as close as I've ever been.  I was hoping for a glorious sunset on Mallory Square, but the fog rolled in and all we got was a gradual fade-out of the day.  No worries, and it was fun walking around looking at things.  We had lunch/dinner at Papa's, strolled Duval Street, and generally killed the evening.  It was fun driving down to Key West on US 1, seeing the various sites, the old abandoned bridges, different wildlife, etc.  I'd really like to drive it again some time when we have more time to explore...

Christmas day, and we're on the road by 6:30 to get to Orlando.  We're not *quite* at Disney yet, as we didn't have quite enough points to stay at the Boardwalk on a Saturday holiday date.  We're at the Sheraton Safari, which is nearly on the property.  We had to be transferred to a different room when I discovered that the internet connectivity in our first room didn't work.  How barbaric!  :-)  From Florida City to Orlando, we used the Florida Turnpike, which is a nice direct shot north.  It's also a toll road which probably cost us around $20.  Oh, well...

The kids wanted to see a movie this evening, so I went with them to see The Life Aquatic, the new film with Bill Murray.  That is one strange film...  The kids liked it, but I'm sorta thinking that watching it on DVD would have been fine...

The day will start early tomorrow, as we have to switch over to the Boardwalk hotel on Disney property plus try to get to Epcot when it opens first thing.  Somewhere breakfast will be stashed in there also.  We also have Cirque tickets for tomorrow, so it should be a full one.

Random firing synapses...

Floridians should be banned from watching any more NASCAR broadcasts.  It's adversely affecting their driving.  Everyone is not trained to draft off your bumper at 75...

12/23/2004

Day 6 - Heading "home" to Miami...

Category Vacation

This is effectively the last day of the cruise.  We spend the day at sea heading back to the home port of Miami...

There's not much to write about.  There are no port stops, so I can't regale you with stories of local culture.  Fortunately the sun was out for the better part of the day, so most everyone was out on deck trying to catch their last rays of winter sun before heading back to colder climates.  Sue and I didn't do much other than lounge and read.  The boys slept a lot too.

I think it's been a great cruise, and very restful.  But I also think we're ready for it to be done.  I think a certain element of boredom is starting to set in, and it will be nice to get off the ship, pick up our rental car, and start heading south to Key West.  Never having driven US 1 in the Keys, it will be all new sites and experiences.  And with any luck, the sun will be out so we can truly experience sunset on Mallory Street.

And maybe they'll have internet access at the hotel so I can  catch up on email and with what's been going on in the world...

And with that, I'll sign off until we meet again in Key West.

Parting shots...

This cruise had over 3000 guests on it, and a full 1/3 of them were teenaged or younger.  I'm pretty much ready to be done with kids for awhile, but then I keep remembering we're heading to *Disney*.  Sigh...

It's strange to watch the Cafe Promenade in the evenings, surrounded by teens who can drink, all acting more adult than they really are.  Fast forward 10 years, and you can see the same people still trying to be "adult"...

12/23/2004

Day 5 - Finally some sun in Grand Caymans!

Category Vacation

Today was the port stop in Grand Caymans, and for the first time we actually had nice weather!  Highs in the mid-80's and no rain.

For shore excursions, our family split up a bit.  The boys wanted to do the sea kayak and snorkel adventure, and Sue wanted to take the tour that hit 7 Mile Beach, the turtle farm, and the town of Hell.  Since I wasn't about to leave Ian and Cam on their own, you can figure out which one I ended up doing.  It was more fun than I expected, and all the logistics worked out pretty well.  The snorkeling was changed from what it normally is, as Hurricane Ivan really hammered the island.  At least in the tourist areas and the main drives, everything was getting back to normal.  But some of the heavily planted areas looked like a bomb had hit them, and there were a number of buildings that looked roofless and gutted.  Since Grand Caymans is the sixth largest financial center in the world, I'm pretty sure there was a nice amount of money floating around to help them rebuild more quickly.

As the country is under British rule, there seems to be more civility and less desperation there than we saw at Ocho Rios.  Not nearly the number of people hitting you up for taxi rides, no drug offers, and the store keepers would actually allow you to look without following you around like a puppy dog.  I would have enjoyed spending more time there...

Our last formal dinner was this evening, so I broke out the tux one more time.  The food has been excellent, and I don't even want to think about what the scale might say when I get back.  I took a long nap after the excursion, as Ian was acting rather bizarre last night and we didn't get much sleep keeping an eye on him.  With the three hour nap under my belt, we actually were able to make it to the midnight buffet.  They had it open for viewing at 11:30, but didn't open it for eating until 12:30.  The ice and food carvings were amazing, and I got a few pictures of them.  We decided to forego the eating part of the buffet, as neither of us were that hungry.

Tomorrow is the last day of the cruise, and it's a full day at sea as we navigate our way home.  Nothing is planned, so we'll probably lounge around some more.  I should be well-rested by the end of the cruise.

Isolated shots...

Cam's ready to head to DisneyWorld.  He likened living aboard the ship to living at a mall.  Shops, eating, and entertainment no more than three minutes away at any time.  He has a point...

And a statement to women (girls, really) dressing up for formal nights...  Your most important fashion accessory is a mirror.  You should use one.  Just because J-Lo or Brittany can pull something off, doesn't mean you can too.  Bare midriff looks are for people who have reasonably flat midriffs...

12/21/2004

Day 4 - Ocho Rios, Jamaica... mon!

Category Vacation

Today was the port call of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  Home of reggae, taxis, tours, and weed...

Instead of signing up for a tour, we (Sue and I) decided just to check out some of the shopping areas around the town.  We got off the ship around 8:30 and immediately it started to rain.  Not a good weather day.  The locals are *extremely* aggressive with offers for tours and taxis.  Couldn't go more than 100 yards without getting someone asking you if you needed a ride.  We hit a couple of the main shopping complexes, but everything was pretty much the same.  Unless you were looking for jewelry or cheap hooch, there wasn't anything you couldn't live without.  Plus, the merchants would follow you from counter to counter in the shops.  You couldn't look at anything without them trying to start the selling/bargaining process.  Island Village was a little more interesting, with a tropical themed area including one of my favorite restaurants, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville!  It was still early (around 10:30), so we decided to walk back to the ship, get the boys, and take them to lunch...

Since they woke up late, they had pretty much just had breakfast by then and weren't ready for another major meal.  By around noon or so, they were ready to go, but Sue was feeling tired.  So the three of us trooped off to Margaritaville, dodging tour and taxi requests the entire way.  Fun times, good music, and the boys enjoyed it.  On the way back to the ship (running the gauntlet again), I mentioned to Ian I was surprised we hadn't been offered drugs.  "What do you mean?", he said.  "The count's up to seven times now."  He was about four paces behind me, and I was oblivious to the fact that the offers for taxi/tours turned into offers for smoke/weed as he brought up the rear.  Sheesh...

I spent some time in the fitness area trying to work off a bit of the Cheeseburger In Paradise, and then lounged around doing some reading.  There really wasn't much else to do, as it was raining most of the day.  Not just the "rain for five minutes and clear off" stuff.  This was rain, then stop, then mist, then rain again.  Not very pleasant.  Warm, but not pleasant.  Dinner (casual Caribbean style) at 6, and a little gambling to round out the evening.  The main attraction this evening is the ice show, but we saw that Monday.  So it's quiet kicking back, and perhaps an early turn-in, as we're going to try some shore excursions tomorrow in Grand Caymans.  

Hopefully the weather will cooperate...

Random thoughts...

My favorite t-shirt:  "What part of NO don't you understand?  No, I don't want my hair braided.  No, I don't want a taxi.  No, I don't want a tour.  No, I don't want any weed."

Poor Cam...  when we were walking around, he wasn't old enough to get the taxi spiel (that was mine) and he was too young to get the weed pitch (that was Ian).  He didn't even get the free shot coupon for Margaritaville.  :-)

12/20/2004

Day 3 - The Port That Wasn't...

Category Vacation

Day 3 was *supposed* to be a stop at the cruise line's private island...  Labidee on Hispaniola.  We even signed up for a family kayaking trip.  But when we woke up, the seas were looking pretty nasty and I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of trying to kayak thru whitecaps.  Didn't matter, as we didn't get the chance to decide...

Since the winds were expected to be 20 - 30 kts with rain squalls throughout the day, the decision was made to cancel the day at Labidee.  So, instead of doing the port, we had another day at sea.  More lounging, more eating, more gambling...  So as we said good-bye to Labidee (I do have pictures from a distance), it was back out to sea.

Nothing earthshattering to recap here...  We did see the ice show called Ice Jammin'.  They have an actual ice rink on the ship (about a 1/4 of the size of a regular ice surface).  Both kids went, which is surprising knowing their distain for figure skaters.  Even more surprising, they actually liked it.  The show was well-produced with nice special effects, and you are right on top of the skaters.  Sue was going to go see a special showing of The Lord Of The Rings, but left early due to the motion in the theatre making her a bit queasy.  There was a little time on the slot machines, and I think I came away only down $5 (cheap entertainment).  Other than that, reading and lounging were the agenda of the day.

Day 4 is Ocho Rios.  The kids don't want to do an excursion, so Sue and I were going to sign up for a "best of Ocho Rios" tour.  But our tablemate said that it wasn't that big of a deal, and that there was plenty to see at the area where the ship docks.  So we're going to grab breakfast and head out early.  Later we'll come back and get the kids and do some exploring.  It's impossible to drag the kids out early...

Various impressions...

The room steward *finally* got in to clean the kids room.  Nasty stuff.  I wonder how long it will remain presentable.  :-)

12/18/2004

Day 2 - The Day At Sea...

Category Vacation

Today was the day at sea...  the day the cruise ship uses to get from the initial destination point to the first point of call.  Everything you end up doing is aboard ship, which with a ship this big isn't a problem.

Breakfast was a buffet thing for Ian, Sue and I up at the Windjammer Cafe.  They did have a formal sit-down, but I was really in the mood for...  WAFFLES!  (think the line from Shrek).  Cam came in late, so he was still zonked out in the room.  After finishing up breakfast, Ian took off to do ice skating in the *tiny* ice rink they have on board, and Sue and I figured it was time to see the ship in a little more detail.  Sue wanted to take part in the slots tourney at the casino, so Ian, Sue and I all signed up.  It's a weird thing...  They put 500 seconds on the machine, and then you just start pounding away at the spin button.  Whoever has the most points at the end of the time advances (10 per round).  We made the mistake of all signing up for the same round, so we didn't have any chance of more than one of us advancing.  Didn't matter anyway, as we lost...

Being the constantly-tired slug that I am, I took a nice long nap in the afternoon.  I start out reading a novel, and next think I know it's 3 hours later.  Back up to the casino to lose some more money, and it's about time to get the penguin suit on for the first formal dinner.  I rented a tux on board the ship, which is a nice way to go.  The tux comes to your room, and you just leave it there when you're done.  You can check out the pictures when I get them posted to see how well (or if) Tom cleans up OK.  This was also the first night that both our boys showed up at the formal dinner.  Neither of them were too happy to be "properly attired" (especially Cam), but they were troopers and persevered.  Back to the room to change again, and then we just drifted around the ship for the rest of the evening.  I blew the times for the evening show (I've been doing that a lot this cruise), so we ended up missing that.  Oh, well...

Random impressions...

On formal night, you see everyone dressed up (pretty much).  Ian made the observation that you see both extremes.  Some people look stunning, and others look...  less than stunning.  There was one girl ahead of us in line that tried for a pink skirt/white top/bare midriff look.  Apparently the mirror was broken in her room, as I would have thought that the stomach roll between the fabrics would have been a clue that the look wasn't happening for her.

It's weird to be watching football with your kid as he's tipping back a drink...

Our first "weather" happened today.  The movement of the ship got a little more pronounced as the day went on, and after dinner we went up on deck to stroll.  It was one of those "tropical rainstorms", where it's raining harder than our shower back home.  Still warm, but definitely not pool time.  The poor bartenders working the pool bar were rather bored.

The room steward *still* hasn't seen the inside of Ian and Cam's stateroom yet.  Ian won't let him in, as he wants to "clean it up a bit" before the guy cleans it up for real.  He actually stopped Ian outside the hall after dinner and asked if everything was OK.  Ian said he had his back and was looking out for him...  :-)

Tomorrow is Labadee in Hispaniola...  RC's private island/port of call.  We've signed up for sea kayaking as a family, and *that* should be interesting...  :-)

12/17/2004

Hi, I'm Tom, and I'm a snorer...

Category Vacation

Hi, Tom!

I've heard rumors that I snore.  I'm sure being overweight doesn't help matters.  And when I'm *really* tired (like after 24+ hours of no sleep after something like, say, a red-eye flight from Portland to Miami), I've been told I can be wall-shaking.  My wife is used to it and just adapts or tells me to roll over.  But when you're in a single hotel room with kids, it's a different story.  

During yesterday's nap, Ian was talking about trying to put the Breathe-Right strip on me early.  And I'm told that there were plots to assassinate me in my sleep last night by the kids.  The nose strips apparently aren't as effective as we'd like them to be.

Both kids are thrilled that we have separate rooms on the cruise.

Joe, now's the time to make sure you either 1) pack your earplugs, or 2) look into alternative room arrangements for Lotusphere.  :-)

12/17/2004

Day 1 - Starting the cruise...

Category Vacation



A very short taxi ride got us to the pier and our Royal Caribbean ship Voyager Of The Seas.  Check-in went smoothly, and we were able to board the ship early.  The problem we encountered was that Cam and Ian were in one room and Sue and I were in a second room a bit of a distance away.  With Ian's diabetes and recent episodes, that didn't make us feel very comfortable.  The ship is sold out, so we couldn't get moved to an adjoining stateroom.  But, they suggested we talk to the people next to Ian and Cam.  Long story short, they graciously offered to switch rooms with us.  So, we are next to the kids room with an adjoining door.  They can be as messy as they want (and they *are*), and we don't have to deal with it.


The part of the cruise that always worries me is the "meeting of the table mates".  You sit with one or two other parties, and you're with them the entire time.  Hopefully you'll like them, because if you don't you're stuck.  Fortunately, ours are very nice.  There an older couple who live in West Palm Beach, and then two ladies traveling together.  It was supposed to be the lady and her son, but he couldn't make it.  Her best friend ended up filling in.  Add our party of four, and that's the table for 8.  A nice ribeye steak cooked medium rare, and life was great.  We didn't go to the comedy show at 7:45, as we ended up wandering the ship just taking in the sites.  I'll have pictures posted up when I get internet connectivity back.


And talking about internet connectivity...  $85 for the week (not bad), with a $200 deposit for a modem because it's *dial-up* in the room.  Sorry, I'm a snob, and I don't do dial-up.  So you'll be reading this once we get back on land and I upload.


Ian's doing fine in the casinos.  Lots of video poker and video blackjack, and I think he broke even for the night.  Cam?  He's thrilled that he can get pizza and room service at 4 am.  :-)


Isolated moments...


Getting ready to check out of the hotel, Cam asks me to buy him a toothbrush.  Me: "You *forgot* to pack your toothbrush???" Cam: "We don't *know* that..."


Dropping off at the pier, I ask Sue if we have all the suitcases.  No, we're one short, and the taxi is pulling away.  A number of us chase the taxi down over two blocks.  No suitcase in the trunk...  Oops, we miscounted...  all is well.  Except I'm sweating like a pig.


Checking in, we had our first significant "uncomfortable moment".  They asked if we were going to allow Ian to drink.  Sue said no, I said yes.  I thought we had worked this out beforehand, but apparently not.  Ian's drinking, and I'm alive to type this, so you can figure that we overcame this issue.  :-)

12/17/2004

Book Review - Weirdos in the Workplace by John Putzier

Category Book Reviews

So, what do you do when you're on a five hour red-eye flight and can't sleep?  If you're me, you end up reading.  And this flight was spent reading Weirdos in the Workplace - The New Normal... Thriving In The Age Of The Individual by John Putzier (FT-Prentice Hall).  This is an interesting read on how to effective manage "weirdo" talent in today's workplace.

Chapter List:  How Did We Get Here, and Where Are We Going?; Individuality from Soup to Nuts; What's IN with High Performers?; Tools and Techniques to Change Others, Organizations, and Yourself; Conclusions and Universal Truths; About the Author; Weirdisms; Index

Putzier's premise is that "as society goes, so goes the workplace".  Today's society values the individual, and the highly talented individual is allowed to be as "weird" as they want because the value they deliver is needed.  In the workplace, these people can contribute greatly to the organization, but they challenge the "normal" methods of management which have worked in the past.  This book does a great job of explaining the traits that make up the "weird" individual, and how those traits need to be managed.  With a little foresight and understanding, today's manager can effectively lead a department of these people and look like a miracle worker.  Putzier considers himself a weirdo also, and his writing style is irreverent and fun to read.

If you think you might be a "weirdo", you need to read this to understand how the workplace is changing.  And if you manage a group of "weirdos", you absolutely need to read this in order to maintain your sanity.

12/17/2004

You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto...

Category Vacation

OK...  so we're all trying to nap in this hotel room.  It's a little chilly, so I turn up the room thermostat to high and the fan to medium.  It gets colder.  Why?  Because cold air is blasting into the room.

A housekeeping supervisor comes up and says he'll check with a janitor.  Excellent service, as he's back with an answer in about five minutes.

The rooms don't have heat.  Just air conditioning.  He'll bring us some extra blankets, though...

I suppose rooms in Alaska don't have air conditioning, just heat and fans.

12/17/2004

Welcome to Miami...

Category Vacation

I hate redeyes...

We left yesterday at 8 pm to catch a puddlehopper up to Seattle, and then from there it was a non-stop to Miami.  Ian is less-than-comfortable with flying, and was "greatly dismayed" when he learned about the twin-prop job to get us up to Seattle.  It didn't help that we hit some nasty turbulence on the way up, and the flight attendant almost dumped a drink on him.  I'm thinking they'll need to replace the seat in front of him, as it must have five holes in it the size of fingers now.  :-)

The Seattle to Miami flight was long, and I was stuck in the center seat between Ian and Cam.  Three sets of wider shoulders in one row didn't make for comfortable seating.  I think I spent the entire trip trying to fold myself vertically on line with my sternum.  Didn't work.  Didn't sleep either.  When we got to the airport, Sue had to talk with Alaska Airline customer service to arrange hotel vouchers for part of the trip.  We've now got them, but that took about 45 minutes.  Taxi to the Radisson, and we're all ready to collapse (it was only 9 in the morning).  But no...  No rooms available for early check-in.  Breakfast at Burger King, and then we camped out in the lobby until they got an opening around 11.  

So...  everyone's crashed except for moi.  24 hours of internet access in the room for 9.95.  Of course I had to get it.  :-)  It's not like there's anything else around here to do.  This will definitely be a sleep/eat/watch TV day (and fight over the laptop and internet).

Oooohhh...  reading the cruise brochure, you can get in-room internet access for the length of your trip...  Here, geek...  Come here, boy...

12/16/2004

Book Review - Goodbye Gutenberg by Valerie Kirschenbaum

Category Book Reviews

I recently was contacted by Valerie Kirschenbaum, asking if I would be interested in receiving a review copy of her book Goodbye Gutenberg.  Being both an avid reader and a freelance writer, I was interested in the premise of her book.  In short, this is an outstanding book in design and concept, with only a few minor nits in the writing.

Kirschenbaum is a high school teacher who spent a significant amount of her career trying to work with inner-city youth.  Trying to get the typical child to read a standard "post-Gutenberg" book (black and white text in solid blocks on the page) was nearly impossible.  With her background in illustrated manuscripts produced prior to the printing press, she decided to start adding color and font design to the writings, as well as illustrations and text layout that flowed on the page.  These writings started to resemble the style of the early manuscripts, and suddenly the students were working the assignments and were excited about reading.

The premise of her book is that we are at a time in history where technology can allow us to cheaply produce "designer writing" in full color, much like the Gutenberg press allowed the common people to possess books.  But with all this technology available to us, we're still stuck in the same old black and white serif font, where the words are sterilized from the original emotions and feelings of the author.  She urges authors to become designer writers, to use fonts, colors, and illustrations to bring emotion back to the printed page.  When you look at the declining rates of reading across all age groups, it's obvious that our exposure to multimedia is rendering the printed page less attractive.

As a writer, I fully agree with where she is trying to go.  When you read this book, her creative use of fonts and illustrations (as well as type layout) evokes more understanding than if you were to just plow through normal print.  Even if you don't necessarily accept her premise, the book is visually stunning.  The only nit I have is that she does tend to repeat the same points in each chapter, so by the end you might feel like you've already read the material earlier.  And, perhaps you have.  But even with that criticism, I still have to give the book a top recommendation.  Kirschenbaum has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the status quo.  It's up to us as readers and writers to take up the challenge.

12/16/2004

Book Review - Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb

Category Book Reviews

Ever wondered how that thing you have at the top of your head works (or doesn't work, as the case may be)?  Mind Hacks - Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain (O'Reilly) by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb is a fun read to gain insight into your cranial mysteries.

Chapter List: Inside The Brain; Seeing; Attention; Hearing And Language; Integrating; Moving; Reasoning; Togetherness; Remembering; Other People; Index

The Hacks series, for those who haven't read one, is a volume of 100 tip, tricks, and "hacks" into whatever the subject matter happens to be.  In this case, Stafford and Webb explore the inner workings of your mind.  The early part of the book ("Inside The Brain") does a lot of explanation as to how the brain works, as well as how we can study the mind with our current technology.  It's pretty much informational rather than "hands-on".  But starting at #13 in "Seeing", you start to delve into specific areas of the mind.  Many different studies and examples are shown (often referenced with URLs where you can follow along) that illustrate the given point.  For example, #30 ("Understanding The Rotating Snakes Illusion") explains how the random movements of our eyes can create motion where there isn't any.  #48 ("Detect Sounds On The Margins Of Certainty") show how the mind is adept in picking out signals hidden in random noise. And #75 ("Grasp The Gestalt") show how visual groupings influence how certain expectations are formed.  Excellent material, and you may finally figure out why taking a test while drunk could be a legitimate strategy for passing.

This would also be a good book for game designers.  By learning how the brain interprets certain signals and images, it would be possible to create simulations that are more lifelike on a level beyond what is currently available.  From that perspective, this book should be required reading along with how to program games.

Interesting read, and one that should be done sitting in front of a computer so you can experience each hack in its fullest.

12/14/2004

Book Review - Seeing Eye by Jack Ellis

Category Book Reviews

I dipped into my vacation stack of paperbacks and pulled out Seeing Eye by Jack Ellis.  Not a bad novel...

The main character, Campbell, is a blind guy who lost his eyes in an accident.  He's not handling his blindness well, and is pretty upset at the world.  His sister is dating a guy who is doing experimental research involving neural hookups between man and dog that allows a blind human to see through the dog's eyes.  He finally consents to the experiment and travels overseas for the surgery.  The process works remarkably well, and Campbell and Shadow start to bond tightly.  But things start getting strange when he starts seeing visions involving kidnapped children.  It appears that some psychic connection between Shadow and something else is bleeding through to Campbell, and he's the only person who can possibly track down a recently kidnapped child who is about to be murdered if the killer is not stopped.

The pacing and characters in the book are nicely done.  The idea of seeing everything through the eyes of your seeing eye dog is interesting, as are the situations where he is looking into his own face as the dog is looking at him.  Sort of like being a voyeur of your own life.  His new girlfriend is also having to adjust to the bond that is forming between him and the dog, as well as learning to deal with the visions and become involved in the attempt to save the girl's life.  

Entertaining read, nothing earthshattering, but fun nonetheless...

12/14/2004

Sorry for the dramatic (for me) drop-off in content as of late...

Category Blogging

We're getting ready for some Christmas vacationing, and it's been a hectic week trying to get everything wrapped up before we start our adventures.  The January e-Pro development newsletter deadline falls during that period, so I had to get that all done and off to Libby.  Fortunately I had some guest writers who did a great job.  You'll like the January newsletter...  Then there was another Lotusphere-related article to finish that was due very soon.  And finally, there's the session slides for the Team-TSG jumpstart session "Java For The Domino Developer".  I had to get my part of the slides done and off to Joe so that he can do his part while I'm gone.  Oh, and there's that thing about my *real* job, too!  Plenty of loose ends to wrap up in order to keep all the customers and clients happy.

So given all that, the blogging and book reviewing took a bit of a back seat.  But hopefully I'll have some interesting material (non-tech stuff, sorry!) coming up from different locations.  So, depending on how the wi-fi snarfing goes in the various locations, you'll get some updates.  :-)

While on vacation, I hope to take some time to relax and plan out some activities and goals for the upcoming year.  I definitely want to do less *reading about* technology and more *doing* technology.  I'd like to get out of the "know a little about a lot" corner and start moving into the "know a lot about a few items" side of the room.

And I'd like to get a life, non-technically speaking.  :-)  Perhaps that can start with me "taking the plunge" (pun intended) and signing up for a short scuba certification class for a recreational dive while on vacation.  We'll see...

12/12/2004

*Now* the winning streak is officially over...

Category Everything Else

This evening was the rematch from Friday's unofficial scrimmage between the Grant and Lincoln hockey teams.  Having missed what could best be described as an ugly game, I wasn't sure what to expect this evening.  Even though Grant lost 4 - 2, I was very pleased with the play of Cam and the rest of the team.

Grant actually led at 1-0 and 2-1 before Lincoln went ahead 3-2 just seconds before the end of the 2nd period.  They scored once more on a defensive breakdown to go up 4 - 2, and Grant was unable to score again to catch up.  For what could have been a brawl after the last match, both teams played tough hockey and the skating was very even.  If they were going to have their unbeaten streak ended, it was best to lose it this way.  They learned they could play head-to-head with the best teams out there, and this should give them confidence in the second half of the season.  There's one more game before the Christmas break, but it's after we leave on vacation so Cam will miss that one.  

And with that, we'll bid adieu to hockey for 2004...

12/10/2004

I don't know who's clicking through to Amazon from here, but THANKS!

Category Everything Else

For all my book reviews, I provide a link to the book on Amazon using my Amazon Associate ID.  That means if anyone buys something on Amazon after clicking on that link, I receive a small referral commission.  We're not talking big bucks here...  perhaps $15 to $30 a year.  Still, not bad.

But over the last week or so, someone bought a PalmOne Zire 31 after clicking through to Amazon from a link of mine.  And yesterday, someone bought a RhinoSkin Tungsten aluminum case for their PDA.  Since I haven't ever linked to those items directly from my site, it means that someone went over from one of my reviews, and then decided to purchase during that session.  Sweet!

So...  whoever you are...  Thanks!

12/09/2004

The Grant hockey team streak continues to 7-0... barely...

Category Everything Else

Last night Grant played Mountain View for the 3rd week in a row.  Since the first two games were convincing wins, I was worried that they wouldn't take this one seriously.  And I was almost right...

Grant came out hard and scored early to make it 1-0.  Towards the end of the 1st, there were signs that the team was slacking off and the intensity level was dropping.  Ian was coaching and made it very clear during the first break that things were going downhill if they didn't pick it back up.  Midway through the 2nd, the lead increased to 2-0.  Then is when things started to get dicey.

Everyone started trying to get fancy and started going solo with rushes.  This led to blown plays and counter-rushes down the ice.  Cam's shutout came to an end about midway through the 3rd when Mountain View scored on a breakaway.  About three minutes later, the defense disappeared and Cam was at the mercy of two shooters.  That tied it up 2-2, and things didn't look real good for the home team.  Grant brought their level of play up enough to score with about four minutes left, and they literally held on for dear life to take a 3-2 win.

While the win was nice, the effort was horrible.  They didn't play like a team that was 7-0, and they could have easily lost a game they should have dominated from start to finish.  I have a feeling the streak is going to come to an end tomorrow night when Grant plays Lincoln.  Lincoln is the west side powerhouse, and Grant is going to have to be at the top of their game to win this one.  On top of that, Cam is going to probably face more shots (and more difficult ones) than he's seen all season.

I'll check back in on Saturday to let all three of you who care know how it turns out.  :-)

12/09/2004

A major state university urges students to drop IE in favor of standards-compliant browsers...

Category Microsoft

... like Firefox.

From news.com:  School's out to shun IE

Penn State's recommendation to drop IE has to concern MS.  This is the classic pattern that MS has used in the past...  Get the mindset of the developers and young people just starting out, and when they become the decision makers, you'll have your audience.  That plan is now coming back to bite them.

12/07/2004

The December 2004 issue of e-ProWire: Lotus Developer Tips newsletter is now out...

Category e-Pro

Check it out (or just subscribe!  It's free!)...

http://www.e-promag.com/f3/index.cfm?fuseaction=newsarchive.displaypage&oldNewsID=26

12/05/2004

Book Review - Write Great Code - Volume 1: Understanding The Machine by Randall Hyde

Category Book Reviews

As computers have gotten smaller and faster, developers have become more and more removed from the lowest levels of programming.  Randall Hyde's new book Write Great Code - Volume 1: Understanding The Machine (No Starch Press) will help you get back to the basic levels of how computers work and how that affects your programming.

Chapter List:  What You Need To Know To Write Great Code; Numeric Representation; Binary Arithmetic And Bit Operation; Floating-Point Representation; Character Representation; Memory Organization And Access; Composite Data Types And Memory Objects; Boolean Logic And Digital Design; CPU Architecture; Instruction Set Architecture; Memory Architecture And Organization; Input And Output (I/O); Thinking Low-Level, Writing High-Level; ASCII Character Set; Index

It used to be you couldn't program at all without knowing this material.  The design of a program was tied closely to the machine architecture, and it drove the instruction set and the overall programming decisions.  But now the higher-level programs have made it easier for mere mortals to write a program and be completely oblivious to how a CPU executes an instruction or loads data from memory.  Hyde goes into great detail on all the instructional design and theory, and I'd venture to guess that a very small number of programmers (and I'm not one of them) know most of this information.  The assumption is that you'll know at least one procedural language (like C, C++, BASIC, or assembly).  He rotates examples among C, C++, Pascal, BASIC, and assembly so as to keep the examples as language-neutral as possible.  The goal when you finish the reading is that you should understand exactly how the architecture of a CPU affects your program, and how to make programming decisions that will lead to efficient programs.  This volume will be followed up by another book titled Think Low-Level, Write High-Level.  For me, I think this is where a lot of this information will come together.

Foundational information presented in great detail, and a book that all serious developers should take the time to read and understand.

12/05/2004

Book Review - Inside the SPAM Cartel by Spammer-X

Category Book Reviews

In order to fight an enemy, you have to understand him.  And in order to fight spam, you need to understand the mindset of the spammer.  To do that, pick up a copy of Inside the SPAM Cartel by Spammer-X (Syngress).

Chapter List:  Inside the Head of a Spammer; How Spam Works; Sending Spam; Your E-mail: Digital Gold; Creating the Message and Getting It Read; Spam Filters: Detection and Evasion; Spam Filters: Advanced Detection and Evasion; Phishing and Scam Spam; Spam and the Law; Analyzing Spam; The Real Cost of Spam; Statistics of Spam; The Future of Spam; FAQs of Spam; Closing Comments; Combating Spam with Exchange Server and Outlook; Index

This book is written from the first-person perspective of a spammer, and goes into great detail about the mentality and technology of spamming.  Whether Spammer-X is a real person or not is irrelevant.  The information is excellent and will definitely aid anyone who is responsible for combatting spam in an organization.  He covers everything from how spammers make their money, how they hide their tracks, what technology they use to send out the mailings, and what techniques are used to prevent the money from being tracked.  If you're trying to figure out where a spam email originates from, you'll learn how to read the headers to deduce what's real and what's not.  It's definitely interesting to read about the whole spam process from a "spammer friendly" perspective.  The argument could be made that this is a handbook on how to become a spammer, but it's also important to know what the "enemy" is up against.  I think it has much more value in that way.

My only complaint with the book is that the editing process of the writing must have broken down somewhere here.  There are a number of typos and grammatical errors in the book.  If the book wasn't so interesting and useful, I'd probably mark it down a notch for that.  But the value of the material can't be overlooked, so I'll award it the top rating on Amazon... 5 stars.

12/05/2004

Book Review - Effective XML by Elliotte Rusty Harold

Category Book Reviews

The flexibility of XML can often mean that there's a gap between using XML and using XML effectively.  Elliotte Rusty Harold's book Effective XML - 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your XML (Addison Wesley) is an excellent way to move towards the latter condition.

Chapter List:  Syntax; Structure; Semantics; Implementation; Recommended Reading; Index

There are obviously a large number of books that will teach you the semantics of writing and using XML.  But just because you can create an XML file doesn't mean that you've done it well or effectively.  Harold's book provides a bridge to being able to create XML files that will be usable in nearly all situations.  The book starts out in the introduction with explanations of terms that are often confused (element vs. tag, text vs. character data vs. markup, etc.).  Then there are four parts of the book that include a total of 50 tips that will improve the quality of your XML usage.  Some tips are pretty basic, like "Include an XML Declaration".   Others are more complex like "Verify Documents with XML Digital Signatures".  But every one is practical and useful for making sure that your XML is widely useable by all potential applications.

Excellent bridge book to read after you've learned the basics of XML.  This is a book that, when taken to heart and used, will cause your coworkers to thank you.

12/05/2004

Nice surprise yesterday... I got my Enron settlement!

Category Everything Else

When I worked with Enron, I was due one more severance check (on December 15th, 2001) before they declared bankruptcy about 10 days earlier.  When I filed the claim for the remaining amount, it appeared that payroll claims were in some "preferred" class that would move to the head of the list, but it was also capped at $4350.  That sounded all well and good, but I had emotionally divorced myself from ever seeing any of that money.  On top of that, it also appeared that my overall claim would be subject to the 20% or so projected settlement of payoff amount.  And hopefully it would all happen sometime before I died.  :-)

Well, yesterday in the mail was a large manilla envelope from Enron.  Expecting it to be more legalese court documents telling me of the latest rulings that would prevent me from seeing money, I wasn't too enthused to open it.  But my wife insisted.  Page one outlined the fact that my $4350 claim could be paid off due to Enron emerging from bankruptcy last month.  And even better, that class of claim was to be paid at 100% (minus all the regular payroll taxes that applied.  And on page 2...  A CHECK!!!!

So...  Our vacation this month will be more relaxed without worrying about dipping into savings.  The wording of the page one document makes me wonder if the amount above the $4350 cap may fall into the 20% settlement amount, but I really don't care.  This is far more than I expected to see, far sooner than I expected to see it.

And thus my Enron experience officially draws to a close...

12/04/2004

Book Review - Excel 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide

Category Book Reviews

Along with the PowerPoint 2003 Personal Trainer book, I received a review copy of Excel 2003 Personal Trainer (O'Reilly) the other day.  This is one I won't show my wife, as I think I'll keep this one for myself.

Chapter List:  The Fundamentals; Editing a Worksheet; Formatting a Worksheet; Creating and Working with Charts; Managing Your Workbooks; More Functions and Formulas; Working with Lists; Automating Tasks with Macros; Working with Other Programs; Using Excel with the Internet; Data Analysis and PivotTables; What-If Analysis; Advanced Topics; Index

As a long-time techie, people expect me to be an expert in any software they happen to be running.  One of the more common questions I get is "how do I do <insert their problem here> in Excel?".  To which I answer...  "Beats me!"  I've just never taken the time to learn how to work the software.  In fact, my wife (who is a relative newbie when it comes to software) knows more about Excel than I do.  So, looking at this book, I think it's about time to improve on those skills.

The Personal Trainer series uses a lightly-themed muscle/superhero motif that isn't overly cute or annoying.  Each chapter has objectives, a central task, and prerequisites to working the following lessons.  After anywhere from five to twenty lessons for a given chapter, there's a summary of the material, a quiz, and "homework" that you can do to explore a little further on your own.  On top of all that, the CD in the back has an Excel simulator you can use to practice your skills without necessarily having to have the software loaded on a given computer.  Since I have Excel loaded, I won't need that, nor will I have to go through each of the lessons that assume little to no background in Excel or even how Window applications work.  But I should be able to grasp all the Excel fundamentals I sorely lack right now in a relatively short period of time.  And then I might be able to answer some of my wife's pleas for application support.

Good material, covers all the basics and quite a few of the bells and whistles, and it all reads well.  Now if I can only hide it from my wife...

12/04/2004

Book Review - Odd Jobs: Portraits Of Unusual Occupations by Nancy Rica Schiff

Category Book Reviews

While waiting for my wife to browse quilting books at Powell's book store, I wandered down an aisle and breezed through an entertaining book that caught my eye...  Odd Jobs: Portraits Of Unusual Occupations by Nancy Rica Schiff.

Schiff came across a person with an unusual job one day...  the official timekeeper at a horse race track.  She then started wondering about other "unusual" jobs that people have, and set out to find those jobs and photograph the people who do them.  The result is this book.  It's not large, only 152 pages.  The format is a set of opposite pages for each job.  The description of the job and person is on the left, along with a picture of the job and person on the right.  And we're talking some really unusual jobs...  How about a condom tester held by a lady who is definitely old enough to be your grandmother?  A person who milks venom from snakes.  A mortuary beautician who prepares bodies for their "final viewing".  Dog walker, bull inseminator, tampon tester...  all things that need to be done, but you probably don't really think about (or *want* to think about) the people or skills it takes to do them.  

So if you're feeling that your job is horrible and you'd like to do something different, take 15 minutes or so and glance through this book.  You'll either come back with some new employment possibilities or figure out that your job isn't so bad after all!

12/04/2004

Book Review - Programmer's Ultimate Security DeskRef by James C. Foster

Category Book Reviews

If you're a typical programmer, you may be unaware of the potential security risks of certain statements in your language of choice.  The new book Programmer's Ultimate Security DeskRef by James C. Foster (Syngress) can help you in that area.

Chapter List: ASP; C; C++; C#; ColdFusion; JavaScript; JScript; LISP; Perl; PHP; Python; VBA; VBScript

For as far as this book goes, it does a nice job.  Each chapter for a language lists the language, and how it's used (like an example program line).  There's a summary of what it does, along with a short description of how it should be used.  You then get into the security aspect with a section on risk (how it might be used or exploited by an attacker), impact of the risk, and a list of additional resources where you can find more information on the risk issue.  Finally, if applicable, there's a cross-reference to any other language statements that might have the same issue.

The information that's contained in the book is good, to be sure.  If you use any of these languages in your normal coding efforts, you'll likely discover hidden risks in your program that you didn't know existed.  I would have liked to see two other features in the book, however.  The first thing I would have liked is to see a more concrete example of the potential exploit.  Some of the risk assessments are general in nature, and you might have a hard time trying to bridge the gap between general caution and actual usage.  And second, it seems like there could have been some additional languages added to the mix.  Visual Basic isn't included (although it could be argued that VBA is close enough).   Java seems to be an obvious exclusion, and it would have been much more valuable to me with that language included.  And if you included ASP, you could have just as easily included JSP along with it.

Even with those omission or caveats, it's still a valuable addition to a programmer's bookshelf.

12/04/2004

Book Review - PowerPoint 2003 Personal Trainer by CustomGuide

Category Book Reviews

O'Reilly has a new series of titles out called the Personal Trainer series.  I had a chance to review PowerPoint 2003 Personal Trainer, and it's pretty good for what it's setting out to accomplish.

Chapter List:  The Fundamentals; Editing a Presentation; Formatting Your Presentation; Drawing and Working with Graphics; Working with Tables and WordArt; Working with Graphs and Organization Charts; Delivering Your Presentation; Working with Multimedia; Working with Other Programs and the Internet; Advanced Topics; Index

The theming of the book is supposed to be muscle/superhero-related, but it's a pretty light application of that theme.  You don't see a lot of efforts to fit everything into that motif (which is probably good).  Each chapter starts out with a list of objectives, followed by a target task for the chapter.  There's a short list of prerequisites you should know/have in order to be able to do the lessons.  What follows is then anywhere from 4 to 18 lessons that clearly walk you through activities and features which are directly applicable to the tasks you'll do when using the software.  Each lesson is followed by a quick reference (one of the few places you see the superhero motif), and the entire chapter ends with a summary, a quiz, and some homework you can do in order to enhance your learning and stretch your wings.  The writing is clear and concise, and I think just about anyone should be able to follow along without feeling like an idiot.

The other nice feature is that the book comes with a CD that contains a simulation of PowerPoint.  You can use the CD to work on the exercises, without the worry that you'll mess up your real software.  This could also be used as true "homework" in order to learn skills you may use in the office without necessarily having the software at home.  

The simulation software definitely makes this book stand out from most other "teach-yourself" type books on the market.  While the cover might make you wonder how serious it is, the content is solid and useful.  If learning PowerPoint is on your list of "to do's", this book will help you get there.

12/04/2004

Book Review - Xbox Fan Book by Mark Holt Walker

Category Book Reviews

Since my son is an Xbox fan, I decide to review the new book Xbox Fan Book by Mark Holt Walker (O'Reilly).  This book surprised me by being more than I expected...

Chapter List: Preface; Up and Running; Maximizing Your Xbox Experience; Networking the Xbox; Take It Online with Xbox Live; Xbox Accessories; Xbox Buyer's Guide: The Best Games Now and in the Future; The Future Is Bright; Index

This is a really small book, both in number of pages (104) and dimension (like 6 inches by 6 inches).  Very colorful, with lots of photographs and screen shots of different games.  I was expecting something that would appeal to total newbies to gaming and the Xbox, but surprisingly there's more to it than that.  The Up and Running chapters are the typical "how do you hook it up" material, but the networking and Xbox Live chapters are very useful for any level of Xbox'er who hasn't taken that step.  Not only does the author explain how to network your Xbox, but there's a pretty good troubleshooting section there also.  He also references other websites and books that will take you much deeper into the internal workings of the console if you want to move in that direction.  Couple all this with an irreverent wit and writing style, and this is actually fun to read as more than just an instructional manual.

So...  If you're buying an Xbox (for yourself or someone else), spend the few extra dollars and pick up this book to go with it.  It's the book that probably *should* have been packaged with the Xbox in the first place.

12/04/2004

Book Review - Tinnitus - A Self-Management Guide For The Ringing In Your Ears

Category Book Reviews

As I have a slight issue with tinnitus (ringing in the ears), I picked up this book from the library:  Tinnitus - A Self-Management Guide For The Ringing In Your Ears by Jane L. Henry and Peter H. Wilson.  I'm not quite sure that this book would be helpful to what I see as the target audience.

Chapter List:  It's Time to Take Control!; Some Facts about Tinnitus; Assessing Your Tinnitus: How Does It Affect You?; The Connection between Thoughts and Emotions; Changing the Way You Think about Tinnitus; Relaxation and Stress-Management Techniques; Attention Control Techniques; Becoming Your Own Coach; Dealing with High-Risk Situations; Reducing the Impact of Tinnitus on Your Daily Lifestyle; Maintaining Gaines in the Longer-Term; Some Final Tips on Managing Your Tinnitus; Additional Reading; Appendix; Index

Tinnitus, for those who don't know, is the condition where you have a constant noise in your ear(s), like a ringing or buzzing.  It's thought to be due to damage in the inner ear, but it's not something that can be easily corrected in many situations.  And since the sound tends to always be there at some level, it can be an annoyance (or worse).  The authors in this book do a high-level overview of what tinnitus is, what the causes are, and then go into cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques on how you can learn to live with the condition and manage your response to it.  The program they outline is pretty detailed and involved, and involves a lot of writing and answering of questions to discover your current ways of coping.

I mentioned earlier I didn't think the book was too helpful.  The examples and situations they feature in the book all tend to be towards the extreme end of the scale, such that the person is unable to function normally with the condition.  In my case, I've had a very minor case for a long time (too much loud music growing up), and it's gotten a little worse with my dysthymia medication.  Still, I wouldn't trade the benefits of the fluoxetine for reduction of the noise.  For the extreme examples in the book, these people are at wits end and can't concentrate or deal with life.  In that state, I don't see them taking the time and effort to work through this program on their own.  With an external coach or mentor guiding them, it may be useful.  But history shows that most people can't pull off a self-guided improvement program of any type on their own.  Throw in a debilitating condition on top of it, and I think the chances of success drop to low single digits.

12/04/2004

Book Review - How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, Ph. D.

Category Book Reviews

I just finished a very short book with some interesting concepts.  It's called How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, Ph. D.

The book is a self-improvement title for developing "positive strategies for work and life".  They use the metaphor of a bucket and dipper to explain how your everyday interactions with others can have lasting impacts for both parties.  If you have a negative interaction, it's like taking your dipper and removing liquid from their bucket.  Positive words and interactions have the opposite effect.  You're using your dipper to add to their bucket, and in the process you add to your own.  And as one's bucket is filled, it becomes much easier to share that overflow with others.

The authors have a number of studies that show the very real benefits of positive interactions, both mentally and physically.  They also use a number of real-life stories showing how even a single positive interaction can turn around someone's life and have far-reaching effects.  This isn't to say that you have to walk around all happy and cheery all the time, but it does force you to look at how you approach others and what effect you might be having on them (and yourself).

The changes this book offers are simple and easy to implement, and the payback can be large.  A recommended read if you're looking to make some changes in your life.

12/03/2004

Giving Microsoft your blog content?

Category Microsoft

I'm not planning on switching over to Microsoft's new blog software (no great surprise there), but after reading this article in ZDNet, I'd advise people against it also.

Unlike rival services such as Blogger, MSN Spaces forces new users to grant Microsoft permission to "use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat" their blog postings.

You know, I don't think so...  They could decide to publish a "Best Of MSN Spaces" book each year, populate it with your content, and give you nothing in return.  

12/03/2004

A milestone reached...

Category Blogging

Around 7:30 this morning...

A picture named M2

Now, I realize that for people like Volker and Ed, this is closer to a weekly or bi-weekly total, and it's only taken me...  let's see...  February 2003...  carry the one...  22 months or so to see it.  But still, it's a nice number from the humble beginnings over at Blogspot.

12/02/2004

Book Review - Fearless Change by Mary Lynn Manns, Ph. D. and Linda Rising, Ph. D

Category Book Reviews

Have you ever wondered how to effectively introduce new ideas in your organization and get them to fly?  Wonder why some people effortlessly get buy-in on their ideas while you struggle?  Mary Lynn Manns, Ph. D. and Linda Rising, Ph. D. reveal some of those secrets in the book Fearless Change - Patterns For Introducing New Ideas (Addison Wesley).

Chapter list:  
Part 1 - Overview:  Organizations and Change; Strategies or Patterns; Where Do I Start?; What Do I Do Next?; Meetings and More; Take Action!; It's All About People; A New Role: Now You're Dedicated!; Convince The Masses; More Influence Strategies; Keep It Going; Dealing with Resistance
Part 2 - Experiences: Multiple Sclerosis Society Experience Report; UNCA Experience Report; Sun Core J2EE Patterns Experience Report; Customer Training Experience Report
Part 3 - The Patterns
Appendix; References; Index

I'd have typed in each of the patterns, but that would have put me over Amazon's word limit on reviews!  :-)

The concept of "patterns" involve finding a practice, or a method of doing something that is successful and can be applied to multiple situations.  This is similar to the use of patterns in programming, where you use a particular type of program structure to solve a problem, knowing that the architecture and process has been proven to work in multiple settings.  Manns and Rising use this pattern concept to show how you can successfully push new ideas through in an organization without making mistakes that will derail you before you even get started.

For instance, "Location, Location, Location" talks about how moving to a off-site area (or a very nice area) can limit distractions and also show the group how important the idea is.  "Guru On Your Side" helps you understand how cultivating a guru who likes your idea can help smooth the path as others in the organization will be more willing and ready to accept the idea from them.  A "Champion Skeptic" pattern is to bring in a person who may be less than thrilled with your idea, but is willing to talk about why and help you make it a better one.  There are a total of 49 patterns you can utilize during all phases of an idea or project, but I think you can get the idea where the value in this book lies.

As everyone is involved in selling their ideas at some point, this book will be important to just about everyone across an organization.  If you want to be more effective in getting people to follow you when things change (or need to), reading this book will get you there.

12/02/2004

Book Review - Best Business Crime Writing Of The Year by James Surowiecki

Category Book Reviews

Although it's a bit dated (the stories are from 2002), I decided to read Best Business Crime Writing Of The Year edited By James Surowiecki.  Definitely a good read for those looking to make sense of an ugly period of corporate America.

The book is a compilation of various columns and articles from publications over the year 2002, and they all deal with the criminal aspect of businesses like Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and others.  As most of the articles are "feature length", there's a solid level of coverage on each story, so you don't feel like you're just getting a taste of the real story.  The chapters are grouped by section, so you get stories about the main players, the accountants and auditors who were supposed to be watching the store, and some analysis about how the companies imploded.

Even though the material is a couple years old, it doesn't suffer much with the lag time.  In fact, it's sort of interesting to see how things have progressed since the story was written.  I think the parts that are most valuable and will continue to be are the biographies of the CEOs who led the companies to their demise.  Definitely worth reading, especially if you were involved in any way with these fiascoes.

12/02/2004

Time spent reading blogs... Where do *you* draw the line?

Category Blogging

Via the wonder of RSS, it's now possible to subscribe to hundreds (if not thousands) of blogs and receive all the content in one central location without visiting each site.  And of course, it's no big deal to add "just a couple more blogs" to your RSS reader.  But pretty soon, you've got far too many on your list, and you're spending increasing amounts of time trying to keep up.

Robert Scoble has stated (bragged?) that he has over 2000 blogs he follows and it takes over 3.5 hours to read them all.  Does he do that every day?  Does he do this on his own time or is it part of his job?  And if it *is* done on his own time, isn't that just about as compulsive and deranged as the nearly 180 books I read a year?

I use Awazu as my RSS reader, and I keep the feed list around 85 to 90.  If someone hasn't posted in a month or two, I consider them dead bloggers and remove the entry.  I realize it's no big deal just to leave it waiting for them to come around later, but I don't like facing hundreds of potential reads each day.  Between my RSS feeds and the handful of sites I visit "in person", I probably spend 20 - 30 minutes following things, and at times I consider even *that* excessive.  

Is there any possible *good* reason (and I get to be the judge, as it's my blog) why someone would be spending hours a day reading what other people blogged?  Is there a benefit you get out of it that balances out the cost of time and a life?  I know some question me in the same way about my book reviewing, but at least I get to keep the book.  :-)

12/02/2004

They keep going and going... Grant team now 6-0 with another shutout

Category Everything Else

Last night the Portland high school hockey league resumed play after the Thanksgiving hiatus with Grant playing Mountain View.  I think this was originally scheduled as Skyview, but that's the team that folded early on.  So we have a 8:45 pm game instead of the 7:15 timeslot.  And since I was sleep-deprived from waking up far too early Wednesday morning, I begged off and my wife went to this one.  Too bad, as it sounded like a good game.

The Grant team skated to a 4-0 win, and according to Ian it was pretty one-sided.  Ian's doing a lot more ref work in the leagues now, so he was a linesman for last night's game.  Other than taking a hard slapshot in the chest (*that's* gonna leave a mark) from the guy with the hardest shot on our team, he apparently had a good game.  Apparently there was only about 3 1/2 minutes of play down in the Grant end, and Cam only had to make a few really good saves to preserve the win and shutout.  

I know this will end sometime, but they are sure enjoying it right now.

12/01/2004

I just can't do this type of writing...

Category Everything Else

As you all well know, I read a lot.  

"Hello, I'm Tom, and I'm a book addict." ("Hi, Tom!")  

That love of reading has, I feel, made my transition into a writer a little easier.  I recognize different styles and forms, and I have a lot of examples and styles I can draw from.  But there is one type of writing I just can't pull off...  It's the "story/short story/novel" type of writing.

My boss sent me a link to a story he wrote for pay some time back (his one and only foray into professional writing).  It's a short story set in a seedy bar and does an excellent job of painting the scene and putting the reader right there in the midst of the characters.  I can't do that.

Then there's this instant classic...  Ben's first(?) installment of Mike Midas, Ace Developer.  I was hooked right away:

The low sexy voice came over the phone with the kind of invitation that grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and dragged you three thousand miles through the ether, no matter the consequences.  I'd never met the dame, but you could tell by her first words that I'd never walk by her in a crowd.

"Mr. Midas? This is Annika from Uppsala, Sweden, and I have a problem", she purred, and right then she could have asked for a light and the phone would have burst into flame faster than a cheap firecracker on a hot 4th of July.

"What can I do for you?", I asked, measuring the possibilities the way a jockey measures his steed.


I'm sure part of it is knowing someone that can write like that, and part of it is knowing it's not Ben's full-time occupation.  But I just love it when someone can pull off something like this.

Generally I like my writing...  I mean, *somebody* should.  :-)  But when it comes to this type of creative work, I don't have those skills.  If I attempted a 300 page novel, I'd be done in 75.  This is why when people ask me "are you going to write a book?", I just smile, shake my head, and stick with my shorter articles.

Mike, Ben...  great work, and I'm glad someone out there can cater to my reading likes.  

12/01/2004

Guess we won't see our car until after the new year...

Category Everything Else

We have a vacation planned later this month, and I was hoping that we'd be able to drive/train/...bus... up to get the car before we left.  After checking with the body shop today, no such luck.  The frame is bent, the parts need to be ordered, so on and so on.  It's all legit stuff, but it's just going to take awhile.  On top of the body work, there's some engine damage, the extent of which won't be fully known until after the body is taken care of and the car is transferred over to the Chrysler dealership up in Everett.

I'm glad we have insurance...

I *am* a little less-than-thrilled with the claims adjuster so far.  When I first talked with him, he went on about how hard it is to assign blame in a multi-car accident, how long it will take to sort that out, how difficult it is to recover the monies, etc.  I'm sorry, but my Thanksgiving sucked too!  I also asked him today about reimbursement for my deductible, rental car, and transportation from the other insurance company once they get it sorted out.  He said they'd submit those costs when they went about getting their charges back, but they really couldn't force anything.  Huh?

I'll let it all play out, but depending on the outcome, it might be time to reexamine our insurance company options...

12/01/2004

Coming to a Lotusphere session near you... Team TSG!

Category Lotusphere 2005


Joe and I received notification today that we'll be expanding our Java For The Domino Developer session into a Jumpstart this year!


Java For The Domino Developer

Thomas Duff, Lead Analyst
Joe Litton, Consultant, Veredus Corporation
Your LotusScript knowledge gives you a solid base for coding Java agents in Domino. Learn the fundamentals of Java, and leave with some working code and the confidence to begin Java development. Once the fundamentals are presented, we'll show a few more intermediate and advanced techniques. You'll also learn how to use Eclipse as an alternative IDE for Java agents in Domino. Fast-paced, practical, and fun.


We had submitted abstracts for two Java sessions (one for beginners and a new follow-on session with more advanced stuff).  They asked us if we'd be willing to combine those into a single Jumpstart session, which we both readily accepted.  One session instead of two, and two hours to talk instead of splitting up content into separate one hour sessions.  Plus, I think this means we'll be able to present on Sunday and have it done early on.  I don't know that for sure, but I think that's how Jumpstarts have generally gone in the past.


Guess this means we better get those slides going!  :-)

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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