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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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08/30/2004

Just curious... how many books do *you* read each year?

Category Everything Else

I know I'm an oddity when it comes to reading...

OK...  Fine...

I know I'm an oddity in many ways, but especially when it comes to the amount of reading I do...

Is that better?

Anyway, I know I read a lot.  Some of it technical, some of it recreational.  For me, this is just "normal".  But I'm curious...  How many books do *you* read each year?  Estimates are fine, as I don't think anyone is quite as strange as me for what I'm about to reveal...

I have an Access database I built back in late 1995 to track my reading.  It was a small project to teach myself PC software at the time.  And since I read so much, I have a tendency to forget what a book was about two or three weeks after reading it (novels, primarily...).  If I get into a string of books by a given author, it's a real pain to try and remember if you've read his 23rd book or not.  So, I have this database...

And I've kept it going since January 1st, 1996.  It's about the only data file I'd *REALLY* miss if it somehow got corrupted and died.  Want some numbers to show how strange I am?

Total books read per year...  1996 - 103, 1997 - 123, 1998 - 112, 1999 - 119, 2000 - 159, 2001 - 169, 2002 - 180, 2003 - 146, and so far this year...  117.

That amounts to 404753 pages, average book size of 330 pages, largest book was 1127 pages, smallest was 40.

I used to justify my addiction by saying that I read a lot when I was stressed.  2001 and 2002 were really stressful with the Enron layoffs and the start of consulting.  But that doesn't explain 2003 or 2004.  Actually, the book reviewing on the blog has caused me to ramp up the technical reading more, so that's the excuse I'll start using...  :-)

08/30/2004

Book Review - Garden Of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

Category Book Reviews

I finished up Jeffery Deaver's latest last night...  Garden Of Beasts.  While I didn't like it as much as his Lincoln Rhyme series, it was still not bad.

The story is set in Berlin 1936, right before the Olympics.  Hitler has a member of his cabinet, Reinhard Ernst, who is planning the secret rearmament of Germany.  A small group of influential Americans want him stopped, so they offer Paul Schumann, a German-American hit man with a conscience, a chance to avoid prison and get a new start.  He's sent over on the ship with the rest of the Olympians, posing as a reporter.  He starts his mission, but quickly ends up with a dead person on his hands and the German police trying to find him.  The German government also has a hint that something is up, so the protection on Ernst is even heavier than normal.  Schumann has to sort out his feelings for his country, figure out who to trust, and still "correct God's mistake".  Some sneaky twists show up at the end, and it changes the whole direction of what's going on.  

I'm normally not one much for "historical" novels, but I usually like Deaver's work.  This one seemed pretty authentic, and showed a Germany slowly moving down the road of Jewish persecution and murder.  The story seemed to lag a bit at times, but the detail and attention to plot kept it going.  The character development was really well done, as you really felt for the different people, regardless of whether they were good or bad guys.  While not a "must read", it's still entertaining if you're looking for something in the crime/espionage genre.

08/30/2004

Allchin Defends Longhorn Decision To Microsoft Staff

Category Microsoft

From Mary Jo Foley at Microsoft Watch:  Allchin Defends Longhorn Decision To Microsoft Staff

Major spinning going on here...  

This is what customers have told us they want as soon as possible, and this is what we will deliver in 2006:
  • The highest quality OS we have ever shipped
  • New information management tools to improve productivity, including fast desktop search and new, intuitive ways to organize files
  • Major security advances that build on Windows XP SP2, such as new technologies to make clients more resilient to attack, viruses and malware
  • Flexible and powerful tools to reduce deployment costs for enterprise customers, including technologies for image creation, editing and installation; and much simpler upgrades for consumers
  • Significant improvements in reliability, including a robust diagnostic infrastructure to detect, analyze and fix problems quickly, and new backup tools to keep data safe
  • A platform that creates Developer excitement with the availability of rich APIs [application programming interfaces]

And how many times have we heard these promises?

08/30/2004

I think someone just called the emperor "naked"...

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Microsoft's Longhorn Failure is Linux's Chance

In an opinion piece by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, we have the following opening:

Microsoft's vaporware master plan is finally broken. The wonderful wizards of Redmond are still saying, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" But even the most fanatical Microsoft supporter has to see that Longhorn has become Shorthorn.

Microsoft has often managed to freeze the market with promises that no matter how great a competitor's current program is, Microsoft's next program will be so much better that only a fool would settle for a bird in the hand instead of the two in the Microsoft bush. We have been such fools.

As I've said before, Longhorn was, among other things, just another attempt to lock down the market. This time around, Microsoft was trying to freeze out the insurgent Linux and the revitalized Mac desktops.

Microsoft has managed to get away with this time after time. But now, instead of a reborn version of Windows—which I think they needed to do—Longhorn has become nothing more than just another big XP service patch.

And with all of the application incompatibility teething pains and minimal security benefits that XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) has brought to the table, who needs it?

No, Microsoft has finally shown that its bag of tricks is empty. Now is the time for Linux vendors to get their act together and deliver the best possible Linux desktop.

I can't tell you how nice it is to finally see that type of sentiment being reported.  Heck, I saw a reference today to an article in Forbes where it stated that Microsoft was "moving up the timeframe to deliver Longhorn".  What shill was paid to write that puff piece???  

08/29/2004

Book Review - iPAQ For Dummies by Brian Underdahl

Category Book Reviews

OK...  I'm secure enough in technology to admit that I enjoy Dummies titles.  The latest Dummies title I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing is iPAQ for Dummies by Brian Underdahl.  This is a nice book if you are looking for an enjoyable read that will walk you through all the features of your new mobile device.

Chapter breakout:  Getting to Know the iPAQ; Choosing Your iPAQ; Understanding the iPAQ Basics; Entering Information into Your iPAQ; Keeping It in Sync; Keeping Your Address Book; Taking Some Notes; Keeping Your Mobile Calendar; Working With Pocket Word; Managing Your Calculations; Tracking Your Money; Connecting Your iPAQ; Surfing The Internet; Keeping Track of Your Email; Using Your iPAQ for Music; More Multimedia; Playing Around with Your iPAQ; Finding iPAQ Applications; Traveling with Your iPAQ; Ten Great iPAQ Accessories; Ten Great iPAQ Business Programs; Ten Great Ways To Have Fun with Your iPAQ; Ten Great iPAQ Utilities; Index

When I got my iPAQ a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a title that was more oriented towards a user of the device (as opposed to a title that showed you how to hack the device).  Underdahl delivers well on that need.  He covers both the hardware of the iPAQ (and all the different models) as well as each of the software packages that comes as part of the standard iPAQ configuration.  In addition to explaining the base software, he also recommends additional software and/or hardware that either adds functionality that isn't there or is better than what the iPAQ ships with.  And of course, all this is done in the lighter, humorous fashion that you normally find in a Dummies book.

My favorite section was the portions on using the Internet with the Wi-Fi connectivity.  I downloaded an additional package based on his recommendation, and now I'm set to easily find and surf hotspots when I'm away from the house.  I also tried an alternative web browser, but I'm not yet sure if I like it or not.  Either way, without this book it would have taken longer to find those gems.

You can probably find all this information online or figure it out yourself.  But why take the time to do so if you can have it all delivered in an enjoyable book?

08/28/2004

A little Saturday morning humor to start things off...

Category Humor

I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don't know what to feed it.

I had amnesia once -- or twice.

I went to San Francisco. I found someone's heart. Now what?

Protons have mass? I didn't even know they were Catholic.

All I ask is a chance to prove that money can't make me happy.

If the world was a logical place, men would ride horses sidesaddle.

What is a "free" gift? Aren't all gifts free?

They told me I was gullible ... and I believed them.

Teach a child to be polite and courteous in the home and, when he grows up, he'll never be able to merge his car onto a freeway.

Two can live as cheaply as one, for half as long.

Experience is the thing you have left when everything else is gone.

What if there were no hypothetical questions?

One nice thing about egotists: They don't talk about other people.

When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.

A flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries.

What was the greatest thing before sliced bread? Hmmmm.

My weight is perfect for my height -- which varies.

I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.

The cost of living hasn't affected its popularity.

How can there be self-help "groups"?

Is there another word for synonym?

Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all"?

The speed of time is one-second per second.

Is it possible to be totally partial?

What's another word for thesaurus?

Is Marx's tomb a communist plot?

If swimming is so good for your figure, how do you explain whales?

Show me a man with both feet firmly on the ground, and I'll show you a man who can't get his pants off.

It's not an optical illusion. It just looks like one.

Is it my imagination, or do buffalo wings taste like chicken?

08/27/2004

Book Review - Offshoring IT: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly by Bill Blunden

Category Book Reviews

Following up on Blunden's Cube Farm, I read his book Offshoring IT: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (Apress).  I was expecting a cynical rant with more emotion than logic.  What I got instead was a book that was anti-offshoring, but that presented both sides of the issue very well (in my opinion).

Chapter breakout:  Setting The Stage; Measuring The Trend; The Offshoring Obstacle Course; Arguments In Favor Of Offshoring; Arguments Against Offshoring; Index

Blunden's been around the IT world for awhile, and he's seen the effect of offshoring in the Silicon Valley area.  So this isn't an academic exercise in business economics conducted in an ivory tower.  He did his homework, as the book has extensive footnotes so that the reader can verify the numbers and statements.  In fact, he urges the reader to get involved and question things.  Rather than taking the conventional wisdom and oft-quoted reports and statistics, he digs underneath the conspiracy of corporate silence when it comes to the issue of shipping jobs offshore for cheaper labor.  The chapter on the Offshoring Obstacle Course is a well-written roadmap of what an organization should do if they are planning on going that route.  The chapter on arguments in favor of offshoring present all the well-worn platitudes about how this will benefit America in the long run and move our workers to more "fulfilling work" instead of the menial jobs nobody wants.  He does warn you however...  Those two chapters are not his voice, but the voice of balance required by the publisher.  In the final chapter, he cuts loose and exposes the arguments for what they are...  A simple exercise in making the rich richer and the working class poorer.  He ends by urging workers to get involved and not take this all lying down.

While I think some measure of offshoring is inevitable, I think the trend of knowledge jobs heading overseas is a dangerous one.  The United States is setting themselves up for long-term pain when we don't have the skills to lead the world's economy any more.  It doesn't matter how much a multinational company saves with cheap labor if the US job market is made up of low wage jobs that can't buy anything but the essentials.  

There are a few times when he paints foreign workers as bogeymen while ignoring the fact that the same things happen here (intellectual theft occurs in the US, too).  Still, by and large, a good book to read and think about...  

08/26/2004

Book Review - Cube Farm by Bill Blunden

Category Book Reviews

If you want to feel better about your job (or confirm your fears that corporate life is horrible), you might want to read Cube Farm by Bill Blunden (Apress).  It's a quirky little book about a person's foray from college into a corporate environment of a major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software vendor.

Blunden went to Cornell and got a degree in physics.  But in Cleveland, that and a couple of bucks will get you coffee at Starbucks.  It might even get you a job at Starbucks.  After a stint in food service, he got another degree in Management Science and ended up eventually securing a job in IT working for Lawson Software in Minnesota.  In his time there, he was part of a grossly dysfunctional company that had most of their software projects die before seeing a shipment to market.  The people, given code names in the book to "protect the guilty", are a rogue's gallery of misfits and psychopaths who will make you hope you never have a boss or coworkers like that.  The story ends when he decides to leave because he doesn't like what he's becoming.

The book is touted as "a reality check for anyone preparing to enter the work force, and a survival guide for those entangled in their own personal version of Office Space."  While I have no doubt these work environments exist, I've never seen all these personality types in a single place in my over 25 years of IT.  For a first IT job, this guy had a horrible experience.  His "lessons" at the end of each chapter are short one liners about corporate life, but they are largely based on an extremely cynical view of corporate life.  If I had his experience at Lawson, I'd probably feel the same.  But I'm not sure I'd buy this book as anything more than one person's hard luck story of life in IT as well as an entertaining read by a talented writer.  Using it as a guide to surviving in the office place might cause you problems if you work in a more normal company...

08/25/2004

Book Review - CSS Cookbook by Christopher Schmitt

Category Book Reviews

I received another package from O'Reilly (the UPS man really dislikes me!), and one of the books was the CSS Cookbook by Christopher Schmitt.  This will be another book that I will jealously guard on my bookshelf at work...

Chapter breakout:  Web Typography; Page Elements; Links and Navigation; Lists; Forms; Tables; Page Layouts; Print; Hacks and Workarounds; Designing with CSS; Resources; Index

Generally speaking, I like the O'Reilly Cookbook series.  A problem is presented, a solution is given, and an explanation of that solution takes place.  For those of us who like seeing working code in order to adapt to our own solutions, this is great stuff.  In the CSS Cookbook, this goes one better.  Since CSS is a visual design technology, the author also includes screen prints on all the "recipes".  So you can scan through the book, see a cool effect, and stop to read the article to figure out how to do it.  He covers the gamut of cool and practical stuff, so everyone should find something here.

For me, I already found something I need.  The recipes on menuing have a couple techniques that I didn't know how to do.  Since I have a project due at work that needs those features, I'll be trying these out within the next day.  That's always a good sign of an excellent book...  If I immediately find a use for the information, it's a real keeper.

If you're past the "what is CSS" phase and need to work with it on a regular basis, I'd recommend this book both for instruction and inspiration.  Very good stuff here...

08/25/2004

It's been awhile since I had a humor post...

Category Humor

These are from a friend, and I thought they were pretty funny...  (Thanks, Scott!)

1) I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with 'Guess' on it. I said, Thyroid problem?

2) When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realized, God doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.

3) My mum was a ventriloquist and she always was throwing her voice. For ten years I thought the dog was telling me to kill my father.

4) I've often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming.

5) I was doing some decorating, so I got out my step-ladder. I don't get on with my real ladder.

6) I went to a restaurant that serves 'breakfast at any time'. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.

7) Well I was bullied at school, called all kinds of different names. But one day I turned to my bullies and said - 'Sticks and stones may Break my bones but names will never hurt me', and it worked! From there on it was sticks and stones all the way.

8) My Dad used to say 'always fight fire with fire', which is probably why he got thrown out of the fire brigade.

9) Sex is like a game of bridge: If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.

10) I saw six men kicking and punching the mother-in-law. My neighbor said 'Are you going to help?' I said 'No, Six should be enough.'

11) If we aren't supposed to eat animals, then why are they made out of meat?

12) I think animal testing is a terrible idea; they get all nervous and give the wrong answers.

13) You know that look women get when they want sex? Me neither.

14) Why does your gynaecologist leave the room when you get undressed?

15) If a person owns a piece of land do they own it all the way down to the core of the earth?

16) Why can't women put on mascara with their mouth closed?

17) Is it possible to brush your teeth without wiggling your arse?

18) Why is it called Alcoholics Anonymous when the first thing you do is stand up and say, 'My name is Bob, and I am an alcoholic'?

19) Why is there a light in the fridge and not in the freezer?

20) Why does mineral water that 'has trickled through mountains for centuries' have a 'use by' date?

21) Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp no one would eat?

22) Is French kissing in France just called kissing?

23) Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, 'I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here and drink whatever comes out'?

24) What do people in China call their good plates?

25) Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but don't point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?

26) What do you call male ballerinas?

27) Why is a person that handles your money called a 'Broker'?

28) If quizzes are quizzical, what are tests?

29) If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?

30) Why is it that when someone tells you that there are over a billion stars in the universe, you believe them, but if they tell you there is wet paint somewhere, you have to touch it to make sure?

31) Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

32) Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out of the window?

08/25/2004

Another Microsoft "study" finally exposed, and it's about time...

Category Microsoft

Here are three stories from ZDNet, vuenet.com, and the Inquirer about Microsoft being ordered in England to pull one of the "Get The Facts" ads comparing Microsoft to Linux and, of course, showing Linux to be 10 times more expensive.  From the Inquirer story...

An advert it ran compared the two operating systems to each other, but Windows was running on a measly dual 900MHz Xeon configuration, while Linux was running on a z900 IBM mainframe.

The ad claimed: "Linux was found to be over 10 times more expensive than Windows? Servers". It said that "in a recent study audited by leading independent research analyst Meta Group, measured costs of Linux running on IBM's z900 mainframe for Windows-comparable functions of file serving and Web serving. The results showed that IBM z900 mainframe running Linux is much less capable and vastly more expensive than Windows Server 2003 as a platform for server consolidation.*"

The ASA said the asterisk linked to a footnote that said: "Results may vary outside the United States". The people who complained challenged whether such a comparison was misleading, because the operating systems were run on different hardware.

A number of things bother me about this.  For one, does Microsoft think we are *so* stupid to not understand that running anything on a mainframe is always going to be more expensive than throwing up a server and loading on the software?  Exactly *why* was Linux not set up on the same Xeon configuration for basis of comparison?  One of these things is not like the other...  Using this logic, I could commission a study of comparative costs per mile of driving and conclude that a Ferrari is more cost efficient than a Dodge.  Of course, I'm looking at miles per gallon only, and the Dodge vehicle is a Ram Turbocharged V-8 Hemi truck hauling two tons of trailer, but hey, it was as close as we could get, OK?

The second point of contention, and the one that continues the recent thread of analyst opinion purchasing, is that this report was "audited by leading independent research analyst Meta Group."  The words "audited" and "independent" are incredible.  Unless Meta "audited" the study and trashed it, but Microsoft is using their name anyway, this puts them in the same "opinion for sale" category as another recently discussed analyst group.  I just can't see how any independent audit group could (or would) put their name behind a study that compared OS costs between a server and a mainframe and tried to pass them off as comparable platforms.

08/25/2004

Microsoft wants to help you convert from Notes to .Net...

Category Microsoft

Declan found a new Microsoft document that is a migration guide to move from Notes to .Net.  I saw his posting this morning, but I just now got home from work and have a chance to post about this.  I'm going to read all 169 pages (a lot of pages for something that's supposed to be easy) and do an analysis of it, but I'll quote the same passage that Ed Brill did.  It's in the introduction, 2nd paragraph, and I think this tells me a lot as to where this document is going to be going...

Notes/Domino R6 is the last planned release of the existing Notes architecture; IBM plans to reengineer it to run on top of DB2 and WebSphere. The change in database structure creates a significant migration effort for existing customers and creates a situation where the Notes/Domino direction is re-evaluated. Additionally, IBM has halted plans for long-awaited improvements to Notes/Domino, and users are getting conflicting timelines for their replacement strategy. These problems have been amplified by IBM's lack of direction for a cohesive coexistence and migration strategy. Accordingly, many organizations are expressing interest in migrating away from the moribund Notes/Domino platform, but they do not want to abandon their existing investment in applications built on the Notes architecture.


I don't think I've seen so many lies and misdirection in a single paragraph.  Microsoft is outdoing themselves of late.  

Of course, we can write our own .Net to Notes paper and include our own 2nd paragraph.  It would go something... like... this...

Exchange 2003 is the last planned release of the existing Exchange architecture; Microsoft plans to reengineer it to run on top of WinFS or Yukon (they haven't decided yet). The change in database structure creates a significant migration effort for existing customers and creates a situation where the Exchange direction is re-evaluated. Additionally, Microsoft has halted plans for long-awaited improvements to Exchange, and users are getting no timelines for their replacement strategy. These problems have been amplified by Microsoft's lack of direction for a cohesive coexistence and migration strategy from earlier version of Exchange. Accordingly, many organizations are expressing interest in migrating away from the Exchange platform. Thankfully, Exchange was so abssymal as an application development platform that migration of applications is not an issue.

08/24/2004

Book Review - Cyber Adversary Characterization - Auditing The Hacker Mind

Category Book Reviews

I finished reading Cyber Adversary Characterization - Auditing The Hacker Mind by Tom Parker, Eric Shaw, Ed Stroz, Matthew G. Devost, and Marcus H. Sachs.  This is a very different book than anything I've seen, read, or reviewed...

Chapter breakout:  Introduction; Theoretical Characterization Metrics; Disclosure and the Cyber Food Chain; Rating the Attack: Post-Incident Characterization Metrics; Asset Threat Characterization; Bringing It All Together: Completing the Cyber Adversary Model; WarmTouch: Assessing the Insider Threat and Relationship Management; Managing the Insider Threat; The Cyber Adversary in Groups: Targeting Nations' Critical Infrastructures; Characterizing the Extremes - Terrorists and Nation States; Return on Investment; Final Words; Glossary; Index

Most books that concern themselves with the "hacker mindset" do so with personality characterizations and attack methods.  When you get done, you may understand how attacks occur, but you're no further along in doing a critical risk assessment of your particular environment.  This book is the first I've seen that attempts to analyze the components mathematically in order to allow you to weight different scenarios against each other.  The authors do a decent job in taking individual characteristics of the attacker, the environment, and the target, explaining how each component affects an attack scenario, and then giving a formula that can be used to assign a numeric value.  While you may not agree with the interpretation, it's a rigorous approach to something that can be hard to quantify.

I haven't decided whether I approve of the WarmTouch chapter.  It's a software package developed by the authors that attempts to chart threat assessment from a person based on email wording, actions, and other observed behavior.  The idea is interesting, but I normally have issues with a book like this being used to push an author's product.  I'll just say buyer beware in this case...

Bottom line...  this would be a useful read for someone in security consulting and auditing, and would help an organization take a methodical view of their environment for risk assessment.  There's not much on the book market like this volume.

08/24/2004

Anyone want to buy an opinion? I'm sure you can find one for sale...

Category Microsoft

From Computerworld:  Microsoft-funded report affected decision

A report carried out by Capgemini was the clincher in the decision by the London Borough of Newham to scrap its plans last year to switch to Linux on the desktop. However, the report was funded by Microsoft, an official says.

The man in charge of IT for the Borough, Richard Steel, has been telling the press how the report came about. Microsoft had asked if it might commission the report from Capgemini in response to a report from a UK-based open source consultancy, Netproject, that had been commissioned first and which concluded that a switch to open source would be the best solution.

"We obviously recognise that you could question the independence of a report funded by Microsoft," Steel conceded, adding: "It would be insane to claim otherwise."

According to Capgemini, solving the Borough's IT problems the Microsoft way had the potential to save it US$5.9 million over the next five years, versus a saving of just $2.9 million for the Linux solution.

And analysts wonder why sponsored reports are distrusted by members of the IT industry.  

08/24/2004

Is the United Nations Microsoft's next enemy?

Category Microsoft

There were two articles I ran across today that, even though on different topics, seem to tie together in my mind...  First off...

From International Herald Tribune:  Microsoft withdraws from UN group on Internet standards

And next, from ZDNet.uk:  UN body releases desktop Linux guide

In both cases, its a matter of the United Nations backing an approach to something using open-source technology to aid developing countries and to avoid a take-over of the technology by individual companies.  And in both cases, this goes counter to everything Microsoft stands for.

There seems to be a clear trend of non-US countries looking to non-Microsoft solutions, making the international technology scene rather murky for Microsoft.  And as the trend spreads in the US, it's not doing much for their marketplace here, either...

08/22/2004

Book Review - XML Hacks by Michael Fitzgerald

Category Book Reviews

O'Reilly has delivered another excellent title in the Hacks series.  This time it's XML Hacks by Michael Fitzgerald.  While not as "fun" as, say, the Digital Photography Hacks book, it's just as useful if working with XML is something you do as part of your IT job.

Chapter breakout:  Looking At XML Documents; Creating XML Documents; Transforming XML Documents; XML Vocabularies; Defining XML Vocabularies with Schema Language; RSS and Atom; Advanced XML Hacks

For those not familiar with the Hacks series, each book contains 100 tips, techniques, and plain cool things you can do with the technology.  Some will be things you already know, some will be things you aren't quite ready for yet, and others will be ones that you just can't wait to try out as they solve a problem you've been living with for far too long.

There were two areas I liked in this book.  The Creating and Transforming chapters introduce a number of software packages, both commercial and free, that can help you manage the process of working with your XML files in something more elegant than Notepad.  The RSS and Atom chapter is also cool as I use RSS in my blog feed, and this will help me understand and enhance that feed.

I've yet to find a bad Hacks title, and this is no exception.  Very good material.

08/22/2004

Book Review - IT Project Management - On Track from Start to Finish by Joseph Phillips

Category Book Reviews

Have you ever wondered what it is project managers do while you're off cranking out code and fixing bugs?  If so, you can get a really thorough coverage of the art and science of project management in the book IT Project Management - On Track from Start to Finish (2nd edition) by Joseph Phillips (McGraw-Hill/Osborne).

Chapter breakout:  Initiating the Project; Planning the Project; Working with Management; Creating the Budget; Creating a Work Breakdown Structure; Organizing a Project Team; Building the Project Plan; Implementing the Project Plan; Revising the Project Plan; Enforcing Quality; Managing Teams; Completing the Project; IT Project+ Exam Objectives; Critical Exam Information; Working as an Independent Contractor; About the CD; Glossary; Index

This book actually serves a couple of purposes.  For the beginning or intermediate project manager, this book serves as a guide to the entire project planning process.  I know if I were placed in the role of a project planner (of which I have little experience), I would need a book exactly like this to guide me through the process.  The other function of the book is to help the person who is planning for the IT Project+ certification exam.  While I have no desire to go after that certification, I think I'd place this book on my study list if I were pursuing it.

Along with the solid content in each chapter, there are some features at the end that are interesting.  One is a feature called "From The Field", which is an interview with a real project manager answering questions related to the content covered in that chapter.  That's a nice move to add some practicality to the material.  There is also a chapter quiz and exercises at the end so you can bridge the gap from theoretical to practical.

Overall, a good treatment of the subject matter, and worth getting if this is an interest of yours.

08/22/2004

Book Review - The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Category Book Reviews

I haven't read a lot of Michael Connelly's stuff, so I wasn't sure what to expect from his latest Harry Bosch novel, The Narrows.  After reading the book, I think I may be going back to catch up on his earlier work.  This was a good novel.

Bosch is asked to investigate the death of his ex-partner by the widow.  The partner had a heart transplant, and he ended up dying of heart failure while running a fishing charter in open waters.  The widow finds that his medication had been switched, and that's why his heart gave out.  Bosch's investigation dovetails into an FBI investigation into a serial killer known as the Poet.  The Poet was an FBI guru who was actually killing the people on the case he was leading.  Agent Rachael Walling, his protégée, thought that she killed him in an earlier showdown.  But he apparently survived, is killing again, and has called her specifically into the final stages of the investigation.  Walling and Bosch, both "outcasts" from the FBI's viewpoint, end up teaming to find the Poet, figure out his next move, and confront him.

This is a nice mystery with a touch of darkness to it.  There are a number of subthreads going on that would have probably made more sense had I read earlier novels in the series.  While that might have made the novel a bit better for me, it didn't get in the way of enjoying the book on its own merits.  As I mentioned above, I will probably end up putting Connelly on my "catch-up" list.

08/22/2004

With Lotusphere coming up, do we need to start thinking about holding some sort of blogging award event?

Category Blogging

I dunno...  Call it the Bloggies, come up with a list of categories (most prolific blogger, most influential blogger, best blog design, best thread of the year, funniest blogger, etc.)

We can take over Turtle's Saturday night Gonzo Lotusphere party at the ESPN Club and hand out awards.

I can start working on sponsorship so we can get nice awards, too...  I'm sure Mayflow and Radicati would love to participate...  :-)

08/21/2004

Book Review - Digital Photography Field Guide by Cynthia L. Baron and Daniel Peck

Category Book Reviews

In the never-ending quest to learn to take semi-decent pictures, I read through the Digital Photography Field Guide by Cynthia L. Baron and Daniel Peck (Peachpit Press).  This is a small, easy to read and understand book on getting the most out of your digital camera.  

The chapters:  Before You Shoot: Buying Guide; Digital Camera Basics; Photographing People; Capturing Motion; Indoor Places; Outdoor Places; After You Shoot; Digital Camera Troubleshooting; Index

For what this book is and for the intended audience, it's pretty good.  The book starts out by explaining how a digital camera works and what the basic features are that you'll want to have.  From there, it covers a number of shooting situations you'll experience in the real world, and what camera features you can use to best handle the scene.  For instance, trying to shoot good sporting pictures is difficult.  The latency between when you click the shutter and when the picture records means that you'll most likely end up getting the split second AFTER the perfect shot.  Not good.  But the authors show you how to anticipate the action to compensate for latency.  The other option is to set for continuous shooting so that a single click will produce a series of shots that will bracket the moment and increase your chances of the perfect picture.

The serious photographer will already know most of this information, so they probably won't get much value out of the book.  But if you're a novice and aspire to understand your camera and the art of photography better, this is a good starting point.

08/21/2004

Book Review - 101 Killer Apps For Your Pocket PC by Rick Broida and Dave Johnson

Category Book Reviews

Since I recently got an HP iPaq, I decided it was about time to dig in and see what sort of software was available for this new toy.  Part of that search led me to the book 101 Killer Apps For Your Pocket PC by Rick Broida and Dave Johnson (McGraw-Hill/Osborne).  While you could probably find these software titles on your own by using the internet, this book is an entertaining way to get a nice overview of the wide range of software you should think about adding to your Pocket PC.

The book covers, you guessed it, 101 applications in the following chapters:  On The Job; Bon Voyage!; Gone Fishin'; Fun and Games; A Handier Pocket PC; Learn Something; Connected Tricks; A Penny Saved; And Finally, Our Favorites

The two authors have a unique writing style where they freely take digs at each other while describing how the other uses their Pocket PC device.  This makes for at the minimum an entertaining read.  But beyond that, they are free with their advice on the strengths and deficiencies of the applications that come pre-installed on most Pocket PC devices, and how there are inexpensive alternatives that are much more feature-rich and robust for the serious user.  The book also comes with a CD that contains nearly all the software mentioned in the book.  In most all cases, these are trial versions that have some time or feature limitation that will go away once you purchase the software.  While you can head out to the 'net and find the latest version, the CD makes it a bit quicker.

I would have liked to see more emphasis on freeware programs, as most of the programs need to be purchased.  Even so, the costs are very reasonable, so using the trial versions is a great way to see if you want to spend the money to get the full version.  Couple this book with your own research on Google or your favorite search engine, and you should be set.

08/19/2004

Book Review - Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton

Category Book Reviews

Since I liked Just A Geek so much, I decided to read and review Dancing Barefoot (O'Reilly).  It's a book of stories about Wil Wheaton's life as a person trying to place his former life as a teen actor on the Star Trek: The Next Generation in perspective.  These are the stories that didn't make it into Just A Geek, but that Wil thought were still important.

Although I liked the book and his writing style, I think Just A Geek is much better.  JAG tells more of a story, and you get to understand the feelings behind what it's like to be treated as a TV character instead of as an actual person.  DB is more along the lines of isolated vignettes that are fun to read but don't really take you anywhere much.  It's real short (like 115 pages), so it's not like there's a huge time commitment.  My recommendation would be to get the books together, cruise through this one quickly to get a flavor of his writing style, and then dig into JAG.  You'll probably like this book better if you do it in that order...

08/19/2004

Disclosures of financial interest and analyst reports

Category Everything Else

Yes, I'm still sorta stuck on the disclosure issues related to reporting.  Specifically, financial disclosures when it comes to analyst reports.

To a large extent, most reputable news sources go out of their way to reveal any involvement of their company that might be seen to create a conflict of interest in what they say and report.  For instance, if MSNBC has a Microsoft article on their web site, you'll almost always see a statement that refers to the partnership of Microsoft and NBC in running MSNBC.  Regardless of what is said in the article, you at least know that the potential conflict exists.  That doesn't prevent certain stories from never seeing the light of day if they reflect negatively on the company, but at least we pig detectors don't have to work as hard on the fluff pieces.

Now, an analyst firm is not a news agency.  It's a private company and they can really do whatever they please.  BUT...  unless a report is written for a specific client, the firm is attempting to either sell their research or show their expertise in a particular area.  And being that these reports are used quite often in news stories, I don't see it being a major leap to expect analyst firms to be completely and totally open about any financial relationships that exist for a given report.  

For instance, a report comes out saying that Microsoft Exchange will kick IBM/Lotus' butt in the messaging market (I know it's an unlikely stretch, but work with me here...  :-)  ).  Another analyst firm, looking at the same landscape, comes to a completely different conclusion.  Could they both be accurate in their methodologies for arriving at their conclusions?  Yes, they could.  But if Microsoft "sponsored" analyst A's report, and IBM "sponsored" analyst B's report, it's very likely that there was influence in some degree.  The readers and potential customers have an absolute right to know that....

So, I would like to see all analyst reports include a standard "disclosure of financial and technical sponsorship" section.  In this section, absolutely any assistance, either financially or technical from any vendor, would be revealed.  If Microsoft paid for the report, tell me.  If IBM provided the lab setting and technical assistance in configuring software, tell me.  Don't give me a "our research is a compilation of our views gathered over blah, blah, blah".  If that's the case, I want a flat-out "We received no vendor assistance or financial compensation for creating this report."  

Think of it as the Sarbanes-Oxley act for the technical analyst firms...  :-)

08/19/2004

And finally, some Linux news...

Category Linux

From The Inquirer:  Taiwanses Bodies In Major Linux Push

I'm starting to wonder if Linux and Microsoft are becoming the high-tech version of metric vs. imperial measurement systems.  The rest of the world (with a few imperial holdouts) adopts the metric system to become interchangable.  The US (with a few imperial holdouts) stick with their own system.  Could this be the way things are going for operating systems?

From GlobeAndMail.com:  European Banks Embrace The Linux System

Written from Canada, this article looks at how many banking systems are starting to seriously look at Linux to run their business.  If anything will attract significant cracking talent to hack on a platform, this would be it.

08/19/2004

And a little Microsoft news involving, what else, a new hole...

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Bugs, Exploits Dog XP SP2

What the...  ?  We're not even into this whole SP2 thing for a month, and already the hits are coming.  

Also from eWeek:  Is Microsoft's Pipeline Officially Unblocked?

The word has been that things have been slipping due to XP SP2.  Now that it's out, things should start flowing out of Redmond, right?  Mary Jo Foley doesn't think so...

From Guardian Unlimited:  Microsoft Pays Dear For Insults Through Ignorance

While this looks like a Microsoft bash, it really isn't in my book.  It's a realistic look at how American-centric companies can stumble badly when trying to sell globally, sometimes through very little actions that take on enormous culture significance elsewhere.

08/19/2004

A little IBM news...

Category IBM/Lotus

From Computerworld:  IBM Tightening Eclipse, Java, Linux Links

I have to go check these tools out...

From Boston.com: Researchers Seek To Untangle The Email Thread

This article talks about some of the IBM research on the Remail (Reinventing Email) project.  There are some interesting items coming out of IBM in this area.  It will be interesting to see how this translates into improvements in the mail client.

08/18/2004

Book Review - Murder In The Hearse Degree by Tim Cockey

Category Book Reviews

I'm now all caught up on the Tim Cockey series involving Hitchcock Sewell.  I missed Murder In The Hearse Degree when it first came out, so now was the time to round out the reading.  And as always, Cockey creates a fun read with great dialogue...

In this version, an old flame of Sewell's who is now married with children is fearful that her nanny has gone missing.  The girl turns up dead at the base of a bridge.  The police seem to want to quickly write it off as a suicide, but Sewell isn't so sure.  After a little investigation, he finds out that the nanny was pregnant, and no one is quite sure who the father is.  And if they figure that out, they may know who the killer is.  There's a tie with a right-wing religious group that isn't all it's cracked up to be, and Sewell is getting on their nerves with the continued snooping.  The goal is to find the killer without becoming a victim.

While I enjoyed the book, I wasn't as "in to" this one as others I've read.  This should have been a two day read at most, but I ended up reading a number of other books interspersed with this one.  So was the lack of focus just me, or was the story not quite as gripping as normal?  I'm really not sure.  If you're a fan of the Hitchcock Sewell series, you'll like this one.  If you're new to the series, maybe you should save this one and read it in order.

08/18/2004

This is what happens when you spend too much time thinking about your blogging...

Category Blogging

In order to cover the bases and not fall into a trap of hiding any potential connections that could affect my blogging, I present my first pass at a Privacy and Disclosure Statement.  If you notice some similarities to the one that Ed Brill created, I wouldn't be surprised.  :-)  He blogs under much more scrutiny than I do...

08/18/2004

My blog is a WHAT????

Category Blogging

In the latest issue of e-Pro's Lotus Informer, there's an article by Chris Alan Miller titled In The Age Of The Blog, Who Needs Analysts?  In that article, there is the following quote:

These days, though, the blog reigns supreme -- a pedestal where passion, personality, and expertise all come together to say interesting things in a exciting ways. While blogs sometimes gleefully spew their own form of meandering musings, they can be excellent pig detectors.

So after reading We The Media yesterday and feeling all empowered, now I'm told I'm really just an excellent pig detector???

Actually, I think I like that!  :-)

08/17/2004

Book Review - We, The Media by Dan Gillmor

Category Book Reviews

In my book reviewing, I occasionally come across a book that tilts my world view.  We, The Media by Dan Gillmor (O'Reilly) is probably the best and most important book I've read in the last couple of years.  It's a must read for serious bloggers and journalists, both "professional" and "citizen".

Chapter breakout:  From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond; The Read-Write Web; The Gates Come Down; Newsmakers Turn the Tables; The Consent of the Governed; Professional Journalists Join the Conversation; The Former Audience Joins the Party; Next Steps; Trolls, Spin, and the Boundaries of Trust; Here Come the Judges (and Lawyers); The Empire Strikes Back; Making Our Own News

So why is this book important?  Because the balance of media power has shifted, and it's no longer in the hands of a few publishers who can make or break public perception.  Via the power of the internet and the new tools such as blogs and wikis, anyone with a point of view and an interest becomes a reporter and has a voice.  Those who are consumers of news no longer are restricted to controlled media outlets.  With the use of RSS, you can "roll your own news" and assemble a collection of media feeds and outlets to get a more balanced view of events.  During the Iraq war, people followed the blog of Where's Raed? to get a view of real life in the country as opposed to what we were permitted to see on mainstream news.  Gilmore does an incredible job of revealing the power shift, as well as looking ahead to what this many-to-many approach to media might be in the future.  In addition, he explains many of the legal issues surrounding electronic media that are being hashed out on a daily basis.

This whole subject recently became very real to me and a group of bloggers in my circle of interest.  An IT analyst firm known as The Radicati Group engaged in some behavior that was viewed by many in the blogging community as unethical.  For the whole story, see http://vowe.net/cgi-bin/wiki.cgi?RadicatiGroup.  But rather than have the story restricted to a small handful of individuals, the independent blogging community picked up the story and exposed the "anonymous" behavior.  In short order, the mainstream IT media ran the story and discredited much of the firm's defense.  The power had shifted from corporation to individual, and the individuals made the news.  Even two or three years ago this couldn't have happened.  Now with the new electronic media, the ethical behavior of individuals, companies, and goverments can be examined and exposed when necessary.

If you're a serious blogger or a journalist, this should be the next book you read.  Your viewpoint of what you do "for fun" will be forever changed, and you'll have a much richer appreciation for exactly what it is you represent.

08/15/2004

Book Review - Zero-Day Exploit by Rob Shein

Category Book Reviews

I'm seeing more security books come out in the style of cyber-novel.  The latest one is called Zero-Day Exploit - Countdown To Darkness by Rob Shein.  While not on par with Tom Clancy material, it does quite well and should appeal to the cyber-geek in all of us.  

In the novel, two security programmers (both geeky but pretty normal) are hired to do a security audit on a new VPN product to be used by the Department of Justice.  They quickly find two exploitable bugs (denial of service and buffer overflow) and report the situation.  But as often happens in real-life, politics and CYA cause the findings to be minimized and the software is installed anyway with a promise to fix the software later.  Of course, it doesn't get done.  Meanwhile, Islamic idealists enlist the help of two hackers in the Phillipeans to scan networks looking for this VPN package as well as some industrial software so that a cyber-attack can be launched against the US.  The original security audit team (this is years later) notices the increase in port scans for the VPN package and try to alert the DoJ.  But until the attack actually occurs, no one will listen.  Once all hell breaks loose, its them against the hackers.

This is more of a novel and less of a security primer than books like Steal The Box.  The author does go into detail on the technology, but not to the point of putting pages and pages of screen prints in the book.  It's all part of the story dialog and action.  The second member of the team ("MadFast") starts just about each sentence with "Right on", so don't expect outstanding dialogue.  But then again, this would be closer to reality if you were listening and watching real computer geeks/hackers.  A reader experienced in security will be entertained (but won't learn much), but others less tied into computer security may have their eyes opened as to dangers that are very real.  

While not perfect, I still liked it a lot.  Definitely worth a read...

08/15/2004

Easily distracted by bright, shiny objects...

Category Everything Else

OK...  So I went to CompUSA and took Cam along in order to get some hard drive screws and a couple computer fans.  And while there, I was going to do "research" on handheld devices...  Look and touch, ask questions, come home, research options, check prices, etc...

You know where this is going, don't you?

I'm now the proud owner of an HP iPaq H4155...  Nice unit with built-in wireless...  Now if I can only pry it out of Cam's hands...

I'm such a sucker for bright, shiny objects...

08/15/2004

Blogging and Business Reputation/Brand Name Protection

Category Blogging

Christopher Byrne has an interesting post over at his Business Controls Caddy site titled Blogging and Business Reputation/Brand Name Protection.  With the recent issues with Radicati behavior towards bloggers, it's a timely post and very relevant...

08/15/2004

Mama... Don't let your babies grow up to be... adults. :-)

Category Everything Else

OK...  Ian (my oldest) just turned 18 last week.  And to commemorate that event, he went out and did something he's been thinking about for over two years...

He got a tattoo...

A picture named M2

Yes, an honest-to-goodness permanent tattoo in a tattoo parlor and all.

This whole incident was interesting in our household.  My wife was really against it.  She wouldn't forbid it (he *is* an adult now), but she was hoping he'd somehow not get around to it.  Cam, his brother, thinks it's cool, if a little large.  Then there's Dad (that would be me).  I've got a phobia about needles.  As in I come close to passing out when dealing with them.  How cool for the father of an insulin-dependent diabetic!  :-)  So, I wouldn't/couldn't do a tattoo.  But I supported his right to get it.  I was also impressed with the fact that the design does have symbolic meaning for him, and he thought it through.

The funny part has been watching Ian go through the healing process.  He's been in quite a bit of pain over the last few days.  He's threatened to remove certain, um..., "body parts" if anyone touches his arm.  We went to a soccer game the other evening, and someone there doesn't know how close they came to getting decked.  The guy saw Ian's baseball cap and said something like "Great team!" as they popped him on the shoulder.  Fortunate for all involved, it was the *other* shoulder.

So...  for all of you with young children...  See what you have to look forward to?  :-)

08/14/2004

Well... It looks like Elgort's and my evil plan to reassert Northwest blogging superiority has failed...

Category Everything Else

It appears all the Florida bloggers are still online....  :-)

Seriously, glad that you all pulled through with what seems to be minimal damage.

08/13/2004

Need advice on purchasing a hand-held computer...

Category Everything Else


I'm thinking that I really want to purchase a hand-held device like a Pocket PC.  I'm getting tired of lugging my laptop around, or going without computing access if I don't bring the full laptop and paraphenalia.  


I really know very little about those devices.  I know I want something other than a Palm Pilot (done that been there).  I'm thinking I want something that runs the micro version of Windows XP, has built-in wireless access, and will allow me to do basic word processing and such.  A device that recharges when in the cradle would be nice, as well as the ability to sync stuff from another PC.  Costwise, I'm thinking something in the $400 - $500 range...


Any suggestions?  Any devices you use that you really like?

08/11/2004

IBM Previews Future Collaboration Technologies

Category IBM/Lotus

From eWeek:  IBM Previews Future Collaboration Technologies

It doesn't sound like IBM is sitting back on their laurels and resting on past successes.  There is some interesting and intriguing new stuff being developed out there...  Kontiki, the process whiteboard, sounds especially cool...

08/11/2004

Book Review - Internet Babylon by Greg Holden

Category Book Reviews

I just got done reading Internet Babylon by Greg Holden (Apress).  This is one of those books that reminds you of a car wreck on the side of the road.  You know the proper thing to do is avert your gaze and drive on by.  But you know you can't...  You know you have to sneak a look...  And then you just can't turn away.

Chapter breakdown:  Family Values in Babylon; Washed Up in Babylon; The Babylon Enquirer; Unsolved Mysteries in Babylon; Death in Babylon; God in Babylon; Hackers and Other Internet Heros; Spam and Other E-Mail Follies in Babylon; Low-Down, Dirty Scum in Babylon, Flakes and Fanatics in Babylon; Political Intrigue in Babylon; Scandals in Babylon; Government Secrets in Babylon; Tongue Lashings in Babylon; Silliness, Fun, and Games in Babylon; Gossip in Babylon; Internet Legends, Myths, and Symbols; Dressing Up Your Home Page - and Yourself; Big (and Not So Big) Business; E-Commerce Comedies in Babylon; But Is It Art?; Index

Holden has created a book that explores the quirky, strange, and seedy side of the Internet.  In each of the chapters, he examines one or more web sites and tells the story behind the concept or the person who created it.  And as you can see, he covers the gamut of topics.  Inside, you'll find links to sites such as The Necrocam (a web cam in a coffin), spamradio.com, and Bob Dole's Exploding Head.  Internet geeks and long-time internet users will recognize and relive memories of some of the sites (like Hamsterdance), and everyone will find new and "interesting" sites that they've never heard of.  And for those classics that no longer exist (such as the Gary Coleman Web-a-thon site), Holden provides links to archive sites that have captured the pages for posterity.

At least for me, this will end up being a two-pass book.  The first pass was just to read it and be amazed/amused/whatever.  The second pass will be to visit some of the sites and gaze upon the carnage.  I'd like to give you some lofty reason for buying or reading this book.  I can't.  It's just plain voyeurism that is too much fun(?) to put down.

Yes...  I hate to admit it.  I really liked this book.  :-)

08/11/2004

Cloudscape becomes Derby and goes open source... Good job, IBM!

Category IBM/Lotus

From eWeek:  Open-Source Community Eager for Cloudscape Code

I'll admit when I first heard this, I was underwhelmed.  All I knew about Cloudscape was that it was some internal db that was used for Portal and other IBM software, and why didn't IBM use DB2?  But the feedback in the media has been pretty positive about this project going open source, and there's actually a demand for it.

Good job, IBM!

08/11/2004

Various Linux stories to catch up on...

Category Linux

From LinuxInsider:  Linux set to unseat Apple as #2 desktop OS

Definitely time to get familiar with that desktop OS...

From News.com: HP unveils Linux-based laptop

This is an important step...  A major hardware vendor preinstalling Linux so that you don't have to be a geek to buy a laptop and then strip it all down to reload it.  

From infoworld.com:  IBM says it won't assert patents against Linux kernel

I have no fear of IBM dragging Linux into court over patents.  My major fear is that Microsoft, who has publicly stated they will start asserting and protecting patent rights more vigorously in the future, will use this to launch a major campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt against its rival.  Personally, this is the only move I can see that stands a chance of slowing down Linux.  Not because Linux has copied things without license right, but that the patent office has been remiss in properly granting patent protection.  I mean, come on...  patenting One-Click???

08/11/2004

Another Euro-city gets a choice...

Category Linux

From inq7.net:  Linux or Microsoft: Vienna to offer choice to city officials

Around 7500 of some 16000 city employees will be offered a choice...  Cool!

08/11/2004

Book Review - Mastering IBM WebSphere Portal

Category Book Reviews

WebSphere Portal (WP) is becoming a major technology, but there's still not a lot of books out there to help you understand and implement it. I had a chance to review Wiley's Mastering IBM WebSphere Portal by Ron Ben-Natan, Richard Gornitsky, Tim Hanis, and Ori Sasson. Having done some work with Portal, I can say I wish I had this book a lot sooner. It would have saved me some headaches.

The chapter breakdown: Introducing WP; Installing WP on Windows 2000 Server; Installing WP on Linux; Customizing WP; Installing WP Tools and Problem Analysis; Migrating to WP Version 5.0; Defining Portals and Pages; Tailoring the Portal Web Design; WP Personalization; Portal Administration; Document and Content Management within WP; Adding Collaboration and Search Components to Your Portals; Extending Portal Functionality: Portlets; Portlet Programming Model and API; WebSphere Portlet Development Environment; Portlet Development; Portlet Interactive Debug and JSR 168 Example; Struts Portlet Framework; Implementing Authentication for Large Enterprises; Integrating Security and Identity Management Tools with WP; Designing High Availability into Your Portal Server; WP Support for Web Services and Remote Portlets; Integrating External Applications with WP; Supporting Mobile Users; Index

As you can see from the list of chapters, there's a lot of information that spans many different roles. There's the administration processes, the development processes, security processes, and architecture. Regardless of what part of WP you are dealing with, you'll find something of interest in here. The authors are well-versed and experienced in WP developement and implementation, so it's not a rehash of "here's what the instructions tell you to do". Plenty of illustrations and code samples will help you quickly get to where you need to be.

From a development perspective (since that's my area of expertise), I appreciated the different looks at portlet development. I know that Struts is becoming a de facto standard, but it's hard to find information on how to integrate that into a portlet program. They cover that here. They also cover the differences between the WP API and the JSR 168 standards for development, which is very nice.

Basically, it's one of the most up-to-date books on WP that is currently on the market, and between it and the IBM redbooks you should be able to come up with a successful portal implementation.

08/09/2004

Book Review - Hibernate - A Developer's Notebook by James Elliott

Category Book Reviews

I had the opportunity to review the book Hibernate - A Developer's Notebook by James Elliott (O'Reilly).  This is the second Developer's Notebook I've had the pleasure to work with, and I'm becoming a big fan of this series.  This notebook on Hibernate is very nicely done.

The chapter breakdown:  Installation and Setup; Introduction To Mapping; Harnessing Hibernate; Collections and Associations; Richer Associations; Persistent Enumerated Types; Custom Value Types; Criteria Queries; A Look at HQL; Hibernate Types; Standard Criteria; Hibernate SQL Dialects; Index

As I mentioned on the Java 1.5 Tiger Developer's Notebook, this is a new series by O'Reilly that focuses on practical information on a specific subject.  The books are short, conversation, and devoid of fluff.  It's all hands-on.  If I had seen this book a couple of months ago, I would have said "What's Hibernate?  I've never heard of it."  I was asked to do a tech edit of another Hibernate book from the perspective of someone who hadn't ever worked with the technology.  After reading this book, everything about the technology fell into place.  This book will walk you through exactly what you need and what you need to know to start using Hibernate.  Furthermore, the tone and style of the book makes it very easy to follow along.  One thing I appreciated in this book is that there is a single application sample used throughout the book, so you don't have a disconnected set of code snippets that don't make sense outside of the context of the chapter.  

I was of the mindset before that Hibernate was a niche technology.  I've since learned more and heard more about it, and see the real value of what Hibernate brings to the table.  If you're doing any coding to bridge relational and object oriented data, Hibernate will be an important technology for you.  And to get off the ground with it, you won't do much better than the Hibernate specs and the Hibernate Developer's Notebook.

08/09/2004

Book Review - Java 1.5 Tiger - A Developer's Notebook

Category Book Reviews

I got my first experience with a new O'Reilly series...  The Developer's Notebook.  This notebook is the Java 1.5 Tiger Developer's Notebook by Brett McLaughlin and David Flanagan.  This is a great book and a nice concept sure to become a favorite with developers.

The chapter breakdown:  What's New?; Generics; Enumerated Types; Autoboxing and Unboxing; varargs; Annotations; The for/in Statement; Static Imports; Formatting; Threading; Index

As you can see, this is not a Java tutorial or a broad overview of the Java language.  It is a practical focus on the new features in Java 1.5 (codenamed Tiger), and it skips the fluff and takes you right into hands-on stuff.  The concept of a "developer's notebook" is that it's a place to record observations and take notes.  It goes to the meat of the subject.  The book is printed on paper that has a graphed background, and there are "handwritten" notes in the margin to point out additional facts.  Conversational in tone, you are walked through how each of the new features work as well as what you would use them for.  Each chapter has a number of "How do I do that?", "What just happened?", and "What about..." paragraphs that quickly guide you into understanding each new feature.  

For instance, the for/in language feature is covered nicely.  The authors show you how it is a nice replacement for the Iterator class.  But rather than stop there, they tell you what the pros and cons of the feature are....  When you'd want to use it instead of an Iterator, and when an Iterator is the only way to get what you're looking for.

I liked this book a lot.  I'm looking forward to more books in the Developer's Notebook series.  It might end up being the best series for getting into a subject quickly without wading through a lot of fluff or hard-to-follow jargon.

08/09/2004

Why, yes... Yes, I *can* assemble things!

Category Everything Else

It just takes me a lot longer than the *normal* male...

There's a reason why I don't do home repair jobs...  I suck at it.  Give me a keyboard, and I'm fine.  Give me a wrench, and something's going to get broken or someone's going to get hurt.  Given that as the backdrop, I'm proud to show off our latest do-it-yourself job...  Our backyard gazebo!

A picture named M2

It's 11 x 11 feet, bronzed iron, and the sucker weighs a ton.  It was all we could do to get the package home in our PT Cruiser.  Sue and I started putting it together yesterday, and we actually finished in one day, with no leftover (or missing) parts, and we're still speaking to each other.  Though it was 98 degrees yesterday, my arms are sunburnt, and my legs ache from all the ladder climbing.

08/09/2004

Book Review - Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Category Book Reviews

Another "favorite author" has a new novel out.  This time it's Kathy Reichs' Monday Mourning.  All I can say is she's still hitting on all cylinders with this series.  Great stuff...

Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for both North Carolina and Quebec, is up in Montreal in December when she's pulled into a bizarre case.  Three skeletons are found buried in the basement of a pizza parlor, and it appears to be three young girls.  As there's no flesh left, it's difficult to determine whether these are historical or signs of a homicide.  Because of certain clues, the police want to write it off as historical, but Brennan isn't too sure.  The more she pushes, the more recent the killings become.  When she starts investigating prior owners of the building, a clear suspect emerges.  The story then focuses on kidnapping and slavery, and Brennan has to try and rescue what looks to be the next victim.

Reichs' novels are often compared to Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series.  And there is some similarities back when Cornwell used to be...  well, Patricia Cornwell.  But the Scarpetta novels have been really bad of late, and Reichs has taken over as the queen of this type of novel.  Great writing, very fast pacing, character personalities that don't overwhelm the action, and interesting plot twists.  The only thing I didn't care for was the way the scene with Brennan's escape played out.  A little too much of a reach.  But even with that, it was still a great read and a solid five star.

08/08/2004

Another frightening aspect of the Radicati situation...

Category IBM/Lotus

In the eWeek article Lotus Bloggers and Analysts Brawl, Bogus Postings Alleged, there's a paragraph there that hasn't gotten much attention in many of the postings...

And Radicati said she has sent e-mails to IBM executives, including Ken Bisconti, vice president of Workplace products for IBM Lotus, urging Brill's firing. She has called for Brill's dismissal in the past as well, in part for comments he made on his blog referring to her company as "infamous."

And since there's strong speculation that Radicati has used aliases to respond to blog entries and harrass others, I think we can include Bruce Elgort's posting where Daniel Johnson (no contact info, and from a Yahoo mail account opened the day of the email) emails Bruce's company asking them to take "appropriate action with such a clearly errant employee".

Am I the only person who finds Ms. Radicati's actions stated in the article reprehensible?  Or have we gotten to the point in American society that we can demand that people be fired or replaced if they said something we don't agree with?  Are we now legally bound to only say nice things about people and companies?  

And would I want to run a company who's main defense against negative opinion is to sue people or ask for them to be fired?

08/05/2004

Yes... It's that time of year again!

Category Everything Else

A picture named M2

08/05/2004

The "last" Radicati exchange...

Category IBM/Lotus

Just when I thought a company was smart enough to know when to cry uncle...  Just when I thought the pain of having shot oneself in the foot was too great...  Just when I thought that rationality would prevail...

We now have this...  Sara Radicati's response to Eric Mack.

This is just too rich/incredible/unreal/STUPID to let pass without comment.  To bring any new readers up to date...  Eric Mack posted a detailed, rational (or so I thought) open letter to Ms. Radicati asking her to respond to the current controversy over the Exchange/Domino report.  He offered to post her response and give her an open forum in which to defend the company.  Take a second to go read the link above.  I'll wait.

Her four points in the initial response are fine.  Analysts are paid (by whom is an issue, but we'll let that pass...) to observe and analyze.  But the kicker is this closing gem:

Finally, I am not interested in blogging or discussing this topic much further since everyone's opinion is fairly well ingrained and polarized at this point. We have stated our opinion as it stands in the whitepaper and we will continue to stand by that position. I do, however, take a great deal of offense when people attack my company's integrity simply because they don't like our point of view. I think that is extremely sad for our industry and very underhanded.

You can make this entire email available to others if you wish but frankly that only encourages what I think is by now a fairly pointless discussion.

Somebody's missing the point here.  Yes, people disagreed and discussed it publically.  But that's not why people attacked the integrity of said company.  It was the anonymous/aliased posts by her and/or analysts at her company defending the report and attacking the bloggers who were questioning it.  *THAT* is the real issue that got everyone all riled up.  And even though that's been pointed out time and again, there is absolutely no acknowledgement of that.

Ah, but wait...  that last bullet aimed at her own remaining uninjured foot only managed to clip the toe.  Here...  let's try again.  Follow-up on both sides.  Eric puts forth the real issues again, and again Ms. Radicati responds...

Eric,

I think you have not understood a single thing I just wrote to you - again, everything I needed to say about this topic or our methodology, ethics,
processes, etc. is already posted on my web site.

I really don't have any more time for these endless discussions.

Oh, yeah...  Nailed the foot that time!

No, Ms. Radicati...  Everything you *needed* to say was and is *not* on your web site.  What you needed to say was one or more analysts at your firm engaged in unethical and inexcusable behavior directed towards the online community in defense of your report.  In the process, one or more analysts at your firm crossed a boundary that is completely unacceptable for a company in your position.  You should acknowledge that behavior or refute the very real evidence that has been gathered to date that points to this scenario having occurred.  And in response, you should hold the analyst(s) responsible for these actions accountable and apologize to the IT community.

Repeated attempts to ignore this issue in hopes it will just go away are ill-advised.  This issue will repeatedly be used by IT professionals to discredit this and all future reports you issue.  And I don't care if the next one does a 180 degree turn and predicts Domino will be the only email system left running in six months...  :-)

08/04/2004

Book Review - Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Category Book Reviews

Yesterday I had a package from O'Reilly awaiting me on the porch.  It was Wil Wheaton's Just A Geek.  Since I've been doing little but reading and reviewing tech books of late, I decided to take a break and dive into this one.  I am so glad I did.  It's quite the read...

Wheaton, as many probably know, played Wesley Crusher in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation and starred in the movie Stand By Me.  He was a teen actor at that time, and decided that TNG was holding him back from moving on to feature films.  When he left the series, little did he know that his acting career would never be the same.  He resented and hated how people defined him as Wesley, not as Wil, and struggled hard with what role TNG should have in his life.  During that angst-ridden time, he got married, became a father to two stepchildren, struggled to find acting jobs, and most importantly, started a blog before blogs were all the rage.  His site, www.wilwheaton.net, became a hit and attracted a loyal following.  While many readers were trekkies, there was also a large audience of people who visited due to his writing, his comedy, and his ability to open up his life and share his feelings and struggles with others.  This book tells the story, through blog entries and vignettes, of his transformation from child actor to budding writer.

The style is raw, comedic, emotional...  While most of us don't come from his background, all of us can relate to the constant companions of Doubt and Self-Loathing, two creatures who question our every move and live to make sure they're having more fun than we are.  I'm not a big Star Trek fan, and mostly got this book due to having some fellow colleagues who know Wil.  After reading the book, I've added his site to my list of must-read blogs and look forward to reading his other book.

Wheaton has found his life's calling...  he's a writer.  And those of us who are his readers are better because of it.  

08/02/2004

Book Review - Defend I.T. - Security By Example

Category Book Reviews

I just finished reading an interesting book called Defend I.T. - Security By Example by Ajay Gupta and Scott Laliberte (Addison-Wesley).  This is a series of real-life case studies of security issues faced by actual companies.

The chapter breakdown:  Getting to Know the Enemy: Nmap the Target Network; Home Architecture; No Service For You!; Look, Ma, No Wires!; Virus Outbreak 1; Virus Outbreak 2: The Worm; Changing Face; Protecting Borders: Perimeter Defense with an IDS; Disaster All Around; Security Is the Best Policy; HIPAA: Security by Regulation; A War-Dialing Attack; A Low-Tech Path into the High-Tech World; Industrial Espionage; Executive Fraud; Cyber Extortion; Conclusion; Recommended Reading; Index

As you can tell from the chapter breakout, it's not all about hackers and crackers.  Security is often the mundane task of writing policies and enforcing regulations.  Gupta and Laliberte draw upon experience from their past consulting engagements to look at these various issues with a sense of realism that is often missing in these types of security books.  Most companies that suffer some sort of security breach don't want any news whatsoever of the incident leaking out.  While the authors don't use real company names, the actual incidents did happen.  You can learn from them before you find yourself in the same position.

There is a reasonable balance between detail and concept in the various chapters.  Management will be able to follow along and understand what type of issues are at stake.  The techies will be able to glean enough technical detail to help prevent the same type of issues from occurring to their company.  Overall an interesting and unique take on the subject of security...

08/02/2004

Can't wait to see how *this* plays out...

Category IBM/Lotus

Over on Bruce Elgort's blog, we have a posting of an email received by his company complaining about Bruce's unprofessional behavior over the Radicati incident.  In this email, one Daniel Johnson complains about harassment on other blog sites by Bruce over this episode.  After providing some links, he states...

Mr. Elgort proceeds to spend his time scouring other blogs, harassing online bloggers such as myself, and apparently feels that it is his right to demand answers and insult them at will with false assumptions.


Um...  OK...  On Colin's site, we get the following exchange between the two...


4. Daniel Johnson (2004.07.29 - 06:19) #
Some observations:


1) The analyst was amazingly stupid, but having read all that he wrote, I give him some points for daring to lock horns with the Lotus community. For that I would forgive him, especially when the poor, passionate youngster was most likely acting and reacting on his own. I cannot believe any company would happily sanction this behavior.


2) ALL analyst firms are guilty of at least some commissioned research. No one is immune to the lure of a little extra cash. If this was an indication of lack of credibility or integrity, then they are ALL guilty, no questions asked. And I have seen far dirtier deeds from bigger firms than a silly little report comparing (surprise) Microsoft and IBM.

3) All this bad behavior has been at the word of JUST ONE MAN (alright, and some of his friends). An IBM Lotus employee (and some members of the loyal Lotus community). Yes, apparently there are emails and IP address and blog comments to prove all misdeeds, but we forget that this is just a blog, and yes it is a very visible blog, but it is a personal, prejudiced collection of thoughts and opinions. No one is infallible, no one person's opinions and thoughts are dogma, and why in the world is a competitive marketing exec of IBM Lotus wasting his time blogging and digging up dirt on some insignificant company with a name like Radicati???


4) Personally, I'd rather hear more about products and strategy direction than how some silly company published something that will be forgotten in a week.

6. Bruce Elgort (2004.07.29 - 22:40) #
Daniel,


Please give me a call or shoot me an email. I would love to chat with you. My number is 360.834.8581. I am out on the West Coast. Call anytime.


Bruce


Uh...  That's harassing and insulting?


And on the Lotus Informer site which is sited, we get the following exchange with a "Joseph Lewis"...


There are other issues at hand. I downloaded the study and it's not great, but it's just a study drawing some parallels from 2 previous studies. That's fine, this is the firm's business. What troubles me more is that going back in Ed Brill's blog, the only things commended are studies praising Lotus. Is every such study so perfect? Anything remotely unpleasant is torn to shreds. Objectivity? I think not. Readers seem to have forgotten that. Some young analyst stupidly decided to engage Lotus-loyal bloggers in what looks like an attempt to argue his point and defend his work. Dumb move, but what level did this sink to? Supposedly mature people mud-slinging, resorting to googling names in the middle of the night, petty name-calling. These were not the actions of the firm but those of people with nothing better to do than pick a fight online. In such an economy, I can't believe that this is the most productive use of a day. Of course it was probably fun, but one has to wonder at the underlying reason for getting so riled up. Until Ed's blog, most people probably never heard of this small company, and Lord knows that NO BUSINESS is without some politics, a little extra commission, and skewed viewpoints. As a face of IBM Lotus, Ed's behavior in championing such drivel has been appalling, and as an apparent leader in this community, he has shown them all to be a bunch of bored thugs with nothing better to do. I am not impressed with the way the Lotus community acted in this matter.


Posted by: Joseph Lewis — 07/28/2004 - 10:00:04 PM


Joseph, I would enjoy chatting with you off-line about your post. I wanted to email you but you didn't include your email address. Please send me an email so we can have a dialog. Perhaps a phone call? I am very interesting in hearing more about your views. Click on my name to send me email. Bruce


Posted by: Bruce Elgort — 07/28/2004 - 10:54:24 PM


And this is harassment how?


And now
Volker is wading into the fray with forensic analysis.  Knowing what Volker's pulled off in the past, I'd be really worried if this is a continuation of anonymous posting and harassment on the part of Radicati.  Nobody hides from Volker...  :-)

Personally, I'd love to turn both of these responses and email over to someone versed in the art of forensic linguistics, as my initial impressions are that they could be from one and the same person.  And if they are, there are some disturbing issues to be raised.  An analyst "defends" his report anonymously, takes issue over how the Domino "thugs" react, tries to gloss over the anonymity aspect with the Johnson/Lewis responses, and throws as much mud as he accuses others of.  If Volker or anyone else proves the IP address linkage or ties all these personalities together, I don't see how Ms. Radicati can save face other than a public apology and the removal of the party or parties responsible for these actions.

08/01/2004

Book Review - Know Your Enemy - Learning About Security Threats by The Honeynet Project

Category Book Reviews

Most of the time, your only close-up view of a computer attack is trying to sort out how someone compromised your production system.  But there is a way to get hands-on experience with attack analysis, and Know Your Enemy - Learning About Security Threats by The Honeynet Project (Addison-Wesley) shows you how.

The chapter breakout:  The Beginning; Honeypots; Honeynets; Gen1 Honeynets; Gen2 Honeynets; Virtual Honeynets; Distributed Honeynets; Legal Issues; The Digital Crime Scene; Network Forensics; Computer Forensics Basics; UNIX Computer Forensics; Windows Computer Forensics; Reverse Engineering; Centralized Data Collection and Analysis; Profiling; Attacks and Exploits: Lessons Learned; Windows 2000 Compromise and Analysis; Linux Compromise; Example of Solaris Compromise; The Future; IPTables Firewall Script; Snort Configuration; Swatch Configuration; Network Configuration Summary; Honeywall Kernel Configuration; Gen2 rc.firewall Configuration; Resources and References; About The Authors; Index

If you're not familiar with the concept, a honeypot is a computer set up to gain the attention of network intruders.  The concept is that the intruder will spend time with that box and leave the rest of the network alone.  A honeynet is the same thing but only at a network level.  The authors of this book are experts at setting up these kind of systems in order to see how attackers work and discover new exploits before they are used against actual production systems.  They take you through all the different parts of the process; how to set up a honeypot/honeynet, how to analyze an attack, what legal considerations have to be kept in mind, and examples of exploits that actually were recorded and analyzed.

While there are plenty of books that talk about computer security, there are few that show you how to take the offensive and learn first-hand how to analyze and understand real-life attacks.  This is a unique offering that will have high appeal for the security professional looking for in-depth understanding of the attacker mindset.

08/01/2004

Book Review - Java Cookbook (2nd Edition) by Ian Darwin

Category Book Reviews

I make no apologies about being an "R&D" developer...  "Rob & Duplicate".  I learn best by seeing something that works, and then adapting it to my own needs.  Therefore, a book like Java Cookbook by Ian Darwin (O'Reilly) is the exact type of book I look for and use on a regular basis.

The chapter breakdown:  Getting Started; Interacting With The Environment; Strings and Things; Pattern Matching with Regular Expressions; Numbers; Dates and Times; Structuring Data with Java; Data Structuring with Generics, foreach, and Enumerations; Object-Oriented Techniques; Input and Output; Directory and Filesystem Operations; Programming External Devices: Serial and Parallel Ports; Graphics and Sound; Graphical User Interfaces; Internationalization and Localization; Network Clients; Server-Side Java: Sockets; Network Clients II: Applets and Web Clients; Java and Electronic Mail; Database Access; XML; Distributed Java: RMI; Packages and Packaging; Threaded Java; Introspection, or "A Class Named Class"; Using Java with Other Languages

For those unfamiliar with the "Cookbook" style, the chapters have a series of real-life problems, such as playing a sound file, playing a video clip, and printing in Java.  The problem is followed by a short one or two line solution and an expanded discussion of the issue complete with code.  This approach makes it really easy to find something that is similar to the issue you're facing and to see how someone else would solve it.

For me, the quality of this book is really high.  It's a second edition covering the Java 1.5 package, so it's fully up on the current technology.  In fact, the Generics chapter deals exclusively with new features in 1.5.  Some of the solutions are code classes developed by the author and made available for download.  But unlike some books I've reviewed where the author supplies code, this isn't an attempt to push their company or product.  It's just a clean way to use a solution that someone else has worked through.

This isn't a book you'd use to learn Java from scratch, but it's a book you'll use on a regular basis as you continue to expand your Java knowledge.  Highly recommended.

08/01/2004

Book Review - Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Category Book Reviews

Based on another recommendation from my local librarian, I picked up Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.  This is an unusual mystery with a wicked twist at the end.

Teddy Daniels is a US Marshal in the summer of 1954, and he's been asked to head out to Shutter Island to help track down a missing patient/inmate.  Shutter Island is a mental hospital and semi-prison where criminals with major psychological issues are sent.  Ward A and Ward B are split between men and women, and Ward C is for the hardcore cases.  Teddy and his partner Chuck Aule take the ferry to the island and start their investigation.  But the site seems to be larger and more heavily guarded than is necessary for a simple psychiatric institution.  The staff seem to be hiding something, and there is no cooperation to find the missing woman who escaped.  There are clues she left, and he's trying to break her code to figure out what's really going on out there.  He's also convinced that the guy who killed his wife in an apartment fire is also on the island, and he wants to settle the score.  But as he gets closer to the answer, reality as he knows it makes a dramatic shift.

This was a different read, in that the story setting in the mid-50's seemed to give it a darker, edgier feel.  The interaction between the two partners is interesting, and takes on a different view as the story progresses.  And the plot twist was fully unexpected and was a mind-bender.  An intelligent read and superb story.

08/01/2004

Haven't been in this much pain in awhile...

Category Everything Else

Last night I decided I was going to sleep on the futon in the front room in front of the air conditioner.  Too many warm nights of late, and I wanted to be cool for a change.  I went into the bedroom to grab my pillows.  Standing flat-footed, I leaned over the bed, tugged on a pillow, and heard two distinct pops...  Then the pain started...

I think I pulled/tore something in my calf muscle.  According to some online sites, this is a "common" injury to be treated with ice, rest, compression, and elevation.  The good thing is I don't have bruising or swelling, so I don't think it was as ugly as it could be.  The bad thing is that with my leg straightened out (painful), I can't put any weight on it (even more painful).  Fortunately if my knee is bent, I can flex the foot with no pain.  Not so with a straight leg.

So, I'll be sitting around with my leg up on ice today...  Man I hate being immobile.  

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