About Duffbert...

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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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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Co-author of the book IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide
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10/31/2005

Forbes' blog story online... Not exactly showing it off...

Category Blogging

Last night I was at the airport picking up my wife, and I saw the issue of Forbes that had the blog story on the cover.  Thinking that the web site probably was playing up that story big time, I went to forbes.com...  Nothing.

I went to the Technology section where Lyons' stuff usually runs...  Nothing.

Business section?  Nada...

The only way I could find it is to search on Lyons' name.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it strange that you'd bury your lead cover story in the online edition?  Not being a regular Forbes reader (either online or in print for obvious reasons), this may be normal behavior.  But it seems rather bizarre to me...

10/30/2005

Book Review - Extreme Exploits by Victor Oppleman, Oliver Friedrichs, Brett Watson

Category Book Reviews

Regardless of how many steps you take to secure your organizational computing environment, there's always some new exploit waiting to nail you.  The best you can do is to understand your network and stay on top of the technology.  Extreme Exploits - Advanced Defenses Against Hardcore Hacks by Victor Oppleman, Oliver Friedrichs, and Brett Watson can help you in that pursuit, especially in the networking realm...

Contents:
Part 1 - Core Internet Infrastructure for Security Professionals: Internet Infrastructure for Security Professionals; ISP Security Practices - Separating Fact from Fiction; Securing the Domain Name System
Part 2 - Defending Your Perimeter and Critical Internet Infrastructure: Reliable Connectivity; Securing the Perimeter; Redefining the DMZ - Securing Critical Systems; Intrusion Detection and Prevention; E-mail Gateways, Filtering, and Redundancy; Data Leaks - Exploiting Egress; Sinkholes and Backscatter; Securing Wireless Networks
Part 3 - Network Vulnerability Assessments: Vulnerability and Patch Management; A Winning Methodology for Vulnerability Assessments; Performing the Assessment - Part 1, Performing the Assessment - Part 2
Part 4 - Designing Countermeasures for Tomorrow's Threats: Exploiting Digital Forensics; Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and Other Malicious Code; Exploiting Software
Index

The authors of this book are real gurus when it comes to networking technology.  I worked with Brett Watson at a prior place of employment, and I can attest to the fact that he really knows his trade.  In the first part of this book, they go into networking and security probably deeper than any other book I've had the opportunity to review.  To get the most out of the material, it helps to be firmly grounded in networking technology.  If you're not a network administrator or if you're just starting out, you'll probably struggle to keep up.  Parts 2 and 3 are also valuable sections.  Part 2 continues the in-depth analysis of how best to protect your network from attack, along with software recommendations to implement your security plans.  And if you aren't already using a formal methodology to continuously review your network security, Part 3 will help you set up the necessary framework to implement a solid security review.  Part 4 probably is the weakest part of the book, in that most of the material is available from multiple other sources, and doesn't necessarily fit into the "extreme exploits" flavor of the rest of the book.  It's good information, to be sure...  Just not all that unique or special if you've read more than one other security book.

One feature at the end of each chapter stood out and works well...  It's a "Checklist for Developing Defenses" along with a recommended reading list.  Using the checklist allows you to make sure you understood what each chapter was getting at, as well as giving you a roadmap for implementing security in the particular area that was just discussed.  And if a particular chapter was really applicable to your organization, the follow-up reading can help you get even deeper into the material.  Good practical technique for helping the reader move from theory to application...

If you have the basics of network security down, it's time to pick up a copy of this book.  While you may have to work at understanding the material, it will pay off in a system network that is much more secure than most...

10/30/2005

Book Review - Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk by Leo Laporte and Mark Edward Soper

Category Book Reviews

Troubleshooting books are like insurance policies...  They may sit on your shelf for a long time, but if you have a broken PC, you want it to be there.  The Que book Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk by Leo Laporte and Mark Edward Soper is a nice mix of troubleshooting and knowledge transfer...

Contents:  PC Anatomy 101; Troubleshooting Windows and Windows Applications; Troubleshooting Storage Devices; Troubleshooting Your Printer; Troubleshooting Graphics and Sound Problems; Troubleshooting Multimedia and Imaging Devices; Troubleshooting I/O Ports and Input Devices; Troubleshooting Your Network and Internet Connections; Troubleshooting Memory, Processor, and System Performance Problems; Troubleshooting Flowcharts; Index

This book has some nice features.  The appendix of Troubleshooting Flowcharts has excellent information on how best to go about troubleshooting in general, followed by flowcharts of general areas that can give a PC owner headaches.  It's written in language easy enough for most PC users to follow without getting bogged down in terminology, while also guiding a knowledgeable user in the right direction.  Each of the other chapters also do a very nice job of giving the reader extensive information about how something works (like graphic cards) with a slant towards being able to resolve issues that could very well rear their ugly head.  It's almost worth reading the book from front to back *before* you have a problem just so you have the basic understanding before you need it.

If you don't have a basic troubleshooting book in your personal library (and if you're a Windows PC user), you should have.  And this book would be a worthy choice to fill that gap...

10/30/2005

Book Review - Linux Desktop Pocket Guide by David Brickner

Category Book Reviews

I recently received a review copy of Linux Desktop Pocket Guide by David Brickner.  This is one of those books that you may like or hate depending on what you're looking for...

Contents:  Distributions; Logging In; GNOME; KDE; Applications; Add, Remove, and Update Programs; Configuration; Laptops; Running Commands and Editing Text; Index

Since this is a "pocket guide", I don't expect there to be a lot of conversational writing and screen prints.  Normally you get core reference material that you can find and use quickly.  The Linux Desktop Pocket Guide seems to be somewhat of a departure from that pattern.  There's still no screen prints, which is fine.  But I can't tell what level of reader would benefit most from this book.  The distribution chapter has a nice short comparison between a number of distro choices, but seems to be a bit light in order for newbies to make decisions (or experts to learn anything new).  GNOME and KDE are quick references to the basic desktop tool, and it will help the new Linux user to learn the basic keystrokes and components.  The Applications chapter is a high-level sweep through some of the basic choices of software for things like media manipulation and office productivity software.  Add/Remove finally starts to show the pattern of other pocket guides, by recapping the command line choices possible for installing programs on the different distros.  Configuration and Laptops can help the reader get things like mice and sound cards running, but if you run into problems, there's not a lot of additional troubleshooting stuff here.  Finally, the Running Commands appendix is just a short two or three page chapter on how the command line works.

In my opinion, I'd try and look at this book first before buying it.  I'm just not sure if there's a single audience that this would appeal to without exception...

10/30/2005

Book Review - UML 2.0 In Action

Category Book Reviews

UML can be a rather daunting subject if you try and look at the entire thing at once.  But if you can distill down the items that are used most often, it becomes much more manageable.  That's the goal of Packt Publishing's book UML 2.0 In Action - A Project Based Tutorial by Patrick Grassle, Henriette Baumann, and Philippe Baumann.

Contents:  Introduction; Basic Principles and Background; Modeling Business Systems; Modeling IT Systems; Modeling for System Integration; Index

UML 2.0 In Action takes the position that UML is like an iceberg...  The stuff you use most often is the smaller portion that shows above the surface.  So rather than try and write a 1000 page comprehensive tome on the subject, they take the essential portions most often used by real-life developers and weave them into a case study example.  The "UML Airport" is used to show UML techniques such as Use Case Diagrams, Activity Diagrams, Package Diagrams, and Statechart Diagrams.  The writing style is more conversational than what I'm normally used to seeing in a book on UML.  Also, there isn't as much emphasis on explaining every last nuance on how a diagram can be drawn to handle every last exception you'll come across.  

I can see where this book would be a good introduction text to UML.  I would probably follow it up with a more comprehensive title of some type, one that documents all the nuances.  While this one will get you off to a good start, you could find yourself in a situation where UML as practiced at your organization may have a few more twists than this one covers.  Still, UML 2.0 In Action will have you understanding much more (and much more quickly) than you might otherwise figure out...

10/29/2005

Book Review - Beyond Java by Bruce A. Tate

Category Book Reviews

Living in the here and now like most of us do, it's easy to think that whatever language or platform we develop on is a smart and rational choice.  But in Bruce A. Tate's book Beyond Java, you realize that stepping back and looking ahead might help save your career...

Contents:  Owls and Ostriches; The Perfect Storm; Crown Jewels; Glass Breaking; Rules of the Game; Ruby in the Rough; Ruby on Rails; Continuation Servers; Contenders; Index

Tate has been a long time Java developer, and in fact has written books like Better, Faster, Lighter Java.  But he's become concerned that perhaps Java is drifting from what made it the overwhelming preference of developers these days.  In fact, he feels that there are issues with Java that could allow other languages and frameworks to become the next significant trend in software development.  He has some opinions on what options may be out there (Ruby, PHP, etc.), and he's very open about how each of those directions may have some problems of their own.  There are no "right answers", and Tate doesn't pretend to offer any.  But he does feel it's time to start looking...

For me, the sign of an excellent book is one that makes me stop and think about my own choices as I'm reading, as well as prompting me to take some steps instead of just thinking about taking those steps.  This book met that requirement.  While the book is written primarily for Java developers, the underlying message is for *any* IT professional.  Things change, nothing lasts forever, and standing in one place means you're falling behind and risking obsolescence.  I had sort of been thinking that I really needed to push into a few new areas this upcoming year.  After reading Beyond Java, those passing thoughts have coalesced into concrete actions.  You can't ask for more than that from a book.

This is a book I'd recommend to any software developer who is serious about what they do for a living.  Step back, take a breath, and figure out if you're still heading in the right direction.

10/29/2005

Book Review - Prefactoring by Ken Pugh

Category Book Reviews

Prefactoring - Extreme Abstraction, Extreme Separation, Extreme Readability by Ken Pugh involves a twist on the concept of "refactoring", improving the design of a program (or module) after the fact while retaining the same functionality.  Prefactoring is making sure good design techniques are practiced up front to help avoid having to refactor as much later...

Contents:  Introduction To Prefactoring; The System In So Many Words; General Development Issues; Getting The Big Picture; Got Class?; A Few Words On Classes; Getting There; The First Release; Associations And States; Interfaces And Adaption; Zip Codes and Interfaces; More Reports; Invoices, Credit Cards, And Discounts; Sam Is Expanding; A Printserver Example; Antispam Example; Epilogue; Guidelines And Principles; Source Code; Index

Pugh runs an imaginary development project (Sam's CD Rental and Lawn Mower Repair) where a new system is built to allow customers to rent CDs.  This is currently a manual process, but the owner wants to automate it.  By using prefactoring design techniques throughout, the developers are able to build the system such that it's much easier to make changes and design modifications later on without causing major rework.  Throughout the book, each step in the process is recapped in a short maxim that makes the concept easy to remember and apply to your own situation.  For instance, "Do A Little Job Well And You May Be Called Upon Often - Methods and classes that perform specific jobs can be reused more often" and "Figure Out How To Migrate Before You Migrate - Considering the migration path might help you discover additional consideration in other areas of the design".  Personally, it's these little gems that make the book most valuable.

I can see how some people would think this "prefactoring" is nothing more than good design techniques.  That's probably a valid point.  I don't know that prefactoring is some new revolutionary approach to design that will rank up there with things like agile methodologies and such.  But it does allow you to wrap your mind around a general concept ("good design") and develop a framework for improving your skills in that area.  For that, it's a valuable read...

10/29/2005

October Search Oddities...

Category Blogging

Yes, October isn't technically over yet.  But Cam's off with his friends, Sue's in Houston at a quilting show, and Ian's off doing the DisneyWorld cast member thing...  That leaves me here in a nice quiet house with the whir of a Linux DVD loading into a VMWare environment to keep me company.  So let's go ahead and call it the end of October.

And to you searchers looking for Hillary Duff on this site...  This is a Hillary-free zone.  So even though you tried finding her here this month with search terms of (mentally insert 'hillary duff' in most of these) "found naked", "topless", "naked", "home phone number", "pictures of naked", "weight problem", "how much does weigh", "sex with ", "bare midriff", "weight loss pictures", "is pregnant", "who is best friend", "naked all the way", "naked moves", "out naked after shower", "workout", and "Joel and Hillary having sex photos", you'll not find what you're looking for.  Furthermore, your IP address has been captured for further investigation.  Now go away, get a life, and leave the poor girl alone!

So let's proceed with the *really* weird stuff...
  • which is safer? amtrack or greyhound - Doesn't matter...  I'll take Amtrak next time even if they have to strap me on to the top of the engine.
  • tom willing have email? - Yes, I'm willing to have email...  I have *lots* of email addresses, in fact.
  • military version of trunk monkey - How come I think is this probably already being looked into in some basement in Washington?
  • notes is dead - nope.
  • how hard is it to learn to swim - Apparently it's not easy...  I still sink.
  • wife in diapers - Methinks you married someone a *bit* too young.
  • saddam longhorn - So is *that* why Microsoft was late with it?
  • Microsoft core value - FUD!
  • how do i check for memory leaks - Touch your pillow when you first wake up to see if it's damp...
  • what is the equivalent of 5'6 in meters - Doesn't matter...  It's "short" any way you measure it.
  • how to cheat on husband - o... k...
  • blog's funny - Thank you.
  • read how many books per year - 182 last year, and sitting at 153 for this year...
  • microsoft fud lotus notes - Happens far too often...
  • microsoft lies lotus notes - Pretty much the same as the last search hit...
  • hi, i'm random - Guess it must be nice to make it up as you go...
  • is notes dead - Not last time I looked...
  • christopher is a monkey boy - :)
  • lotus domino contracts in tampa - I'd suggest you check with Joe or jonvon on that one...
  • unobfuscating Domino - I wasn't aware it was obfuscated to begin with...
  • why am I a slow reader? - Sorry, can't relate.
  • analyst ethics - or the lack thereof in some cases...
  • nagl - Hey!  I've started a new acronym!
  • what do you call male ballerinas - I'm not going there...
  • cats benedryl - If *that* isn't a sure way to pick up a few scratches...
  • limitations of domino - It makes a horrible floor polish.
  • undressed gynecologist - Something tells me if your doctor comes in undressed, it's not a good sign.
  • am i a mcp - I dunno...  are you?

And my favorite one of this month...

Well strap me to a pig and roll me in the mud!

:)

10/28/2005

Book Review - Lance Armstrong's War by Daniel Coyle

Category Book Reviews

Like many others, I'm not a bike racer but I'm fascinated by the Tour and the Lance Armstrong story.  My copy of Lance Armstrong's War by Daniel Coyle finally came into the library, and it's an inside look as to what's it's like to be part of "Planet Armstrong" for three weeks in July...

Coyle spent a great deal of time with Lance and his Postal team leading up to the 2004 Tour De France.  His access to the "inner circle" allowed him to detail what went into Lance's training, his motivation and mindset, and how each of his main competitors were setting up to dethrone Armstrong.  You also see how personally Lance takes the attempts to link him to doping and cheating, and how his story plays out in other countries and cultures.  Americans love him, French people seem to look for a reason to drag him down, and the Basques just dislike anyone but their own...  :)

To me, the book really portrayed the physical demand and agony of cycling.  How riders push themselves hard and out "on the razor"...  that thin line between being at your peak and going catabolic.  And while the physical grind can't be ignored, the mental aspect is just as critical (if not more so).  If you can dominate your opponent in an area where he expected to perform well, you can break him mentally in such a way that you don't have to bother with him again.  There was a lot of that in the 2004 Tour, and Coyle documents it all.

If you're at all interested in the Tour and Lance, this is a book that you need to read.  Entertaining, fascinating, and a look at Lance from someone other than Lance himself...

10/28/2005

Microsoft could pull Windows from S. Korea

Category Microsoft

From Macworld:  Microsoft could pull Windows from S. Korea

Microsoft Corp. has warned that if South Korean regulators order it to remove code or redesign Windows as part of an ongoing unfair competition investigation, it could pull the operating system from the market or delay the introduction of new versions.

The warning was relayed Thursday in a Microsoft regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said it is possible that the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) — the country’s antitrust body — could issue a remedial order barring a version of Windows that includes its Media Player or MSN Messenger software.

If *that* doesn't sound like a hollow threat...  How can you afford to alienate a significant player in the burgeoning Asian global market, at exactly the time you're trying to fend off the growing option of running desktop Linux and/or stopping the spread of open source software alternatives to Office?  China's already made their preference to Linux known.  Does Microsoft think that major foreign governments are going to start shaking in their boots if they threaten to stop selling them software?  

You may be a near monopoly in reality, but there *are* other options that are viable and gaining...

10/28/2005

India a threat to Microsoft: Bill Gates

Category Microsoft

From the Financial Times:  India a threat to Microsoft: Bill Gates

Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates said on Wednesday the software giant faced growing competition from companies in China and India but, for now, the strength in those countries lies in software services.

Gates, on his first visit to Israel, said Israeli companies would also confront increased competition from China and India.

"There will be competitors for Microsoft and for Israeli companies coming out of those countries although today the success, particularly in India, has mostly been in the software services area, outsourcing work, doing call centres and things like that," Gates told a news conference.

Then if they consider India a threat, how come we keep getting stories about how they've committed to increase their staffing over there?  It seems rather strange that you'd complain about a country being a threat, at the same time you're leveraging their lower cost skills to create and sell your software...

10/28/2005

Google, IBM team on deep-research tool

Category IBM/Lotus


From ComputerWorld:  
Google, IBM team on deep-research tool

Looks like our Notes/Domino future is going to have a little Google baked in...  Not a bad pairing, if you ask me...


IBM and Google Inc. are collaborating to make it easier for office workers not only to search for local documents and personal e-mail but also to delve deep into corporate databases, the companies announced today.


IBM is linking its OmniFind corporate search system with Google's free desktop search for business to make it easier for users to locate information that's often locked up in many separate systems throughout an organization.


"Getting these two products together makes sense for both of us," said David Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise business unit. "If you want to have a good corporate search product, you have to have desktop search," he said.


No money is changing hands in the partnership between IBM and the leader in Web search. But coming just weeks after a software and research pact by Google and Sun Microsystems Inc., the IBM deal enlists yet another potential ally as Google increasingly faces off with rival Microsoft Corp. on PC desktops.


Prial downplayed any grand strategy in IBM's dealings with Google, but he said the collaboration is part of a broader push IBM calls "information as a service" that the company plans to make more explicit over the coming months.

10/27/2005

Now *there's* a way to get your Exchange 5.5 user base to upgrade...

Category Microsoft

From PCWorld.com:  Microsoft to Retire Exchange Server 5.5 by Year's End

Microsoft will retire Exchange Server 5.5--along with support for the product--at the end of this year, it said today. The company recommends that users upgrade to the latest version.

Microsoft urges customers who are still running Exchange 5.5 to upgrade to Exchange Server 2003, a more secure version of the messaging and collaboration server product.

Microsoft also reminded customers that Exchange Server 2000 will move out of mainstream support and into extended support at the end of 2005.
Mainstream support includes free incident support, security updates, and nonsecurity hotfixes. Once Exchange Server 2000 moves into extended support, customers will have to pay for support and non-security-related hotfixes, according to Microsoft.

Sounds like it's about time to adopt the MS campaign approach...

"Since you have to undergo a painful migration to Exchange 2003, have you thought about other alternatives?  Ones that promise you won't have to face this type of pain again?  Have you considered IBM's Notes/Domino 7?"

10/25/2005

Book Review - Windows XP MVP by John Barnett

Category Book Reviews

Unless you're a complete and total desktop OS geek, there's a good chance that you'll run into things you want to do but can't figure out in Windows XP.  I received a review copy of a book that would definitely assist in those cases...  Windows XP MVP by John Barnett with Curt Simmons, Alan Simpson, and David Dalan.

Contents:  
Part 1 - Configuring and Personalizing Windows XP: Configuring the Windows XP Interface; Managing Programs; Installing and Configuring Hardware; Managing Power Options; Customizing Startup and Shutdown; Customizing and Using Folders; Managing Files and File Type Associations; Compressing and Encrypting Folders and Files; Organizing Archiving and Remotely Storing Files and Folders; Personalizing and Managing User Accounts; Fun Tools for Customizing Windows XP
Part 2 - Internet and Networking with Windows XP: Creating Internet Connections; Configuring and Customizing Internet Explorer; Configuring and Customizing Outlook Express; Using Windows Manager; Wired Networking; Wireless Networking and Virtual Private Networking; Managing Network Security and Access; Sharing Resources; Configuring and Using Remote Desktop and Remote Assistance
Part 3 - Multimedia Solutions with Windows XP: Organizing and Managing Digital Photos and Video Files; Using Windows Media Player 10; Making Movies with Windows Movie Maker 2; Printing Digital Photos with Windows XP; Custom Projects and Fun Activities with Digital Photos
Part 4 - Hacking Windows XP: Hacking Your System; Expert Tips and Tricks; Scripting With Windows XP
Part 5 - Securing and Troubleshooting Windows XP: Managing Local Security; Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet; Managing Disks and Drives; Taking Care of Windows XP and Automating Tasks; Using Event Viewer and Performance Monitor; System Information, System Restore, and Windows Help; Tips and Tricks for Speeding Up Windows XP; Recovering from a Crash or Other Serious Problem;
Appendix: A Primer on Registry Editing; Index

As you can see from the contents, there's not a whole lot that's left uncovered.  The book is packed with plenty of step by step instructions on how to accomplish whatever task you need to do, such as sharing folders and drives or learning how to make a video with Microsoft Movie Maker.  In fact, I just played with that software this weekend, and I'm looking forward to digging into it a bit deeper with this material.  If you've got even a smattering of computer savvy, there's not much in this book that should intimidate you.  And if you're more into messing with areas not normally messed with, Part 4 (Hacking Windows XP) will give you plenty to enjoy.

Personally, this is the type of book I need with me when working with Windows XP.  As a software developer, I just want my OS to work without having to worry about it.  And since I don't spend a lot of time having to deal with things at that level, I don't get the day-to-day exposure and repetition to remember how to do some of this stuff.  As a result, Windows XP MVP ends up getting a lot of use as my own personal guru.

10/24/2005

Book Review - My Job Went To India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book) by Chad Fowler

Category Book Reviews

This may well be the most important career book you read this year (and possibly ever)...  My Job Went To India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book) - 52 Ways To Save Your Job by Chad Fowler.  

Contents:  Choosing Your Market; Investing In Your Product; Executing; Marketing... Not Just for Suits; Maintaining Your Edge; If You Can't Beat 'Em; What I Learned In India; Resources

As a software professional, I'm as concerned about outsourcing and offshoring as the next guy.  In a bottom-line economy, it's hard to compete against someone who can sling code at 10% to 20% of your wage.  But where I start having major problems is with the knee-jerk "woe is me, it's not fair, we need protection" attitude that's all too common when this subject comes up.  While it's possible to work towards those ends, the only thing you have firmly under your control is your own career.  And there are things you can do to make yourself stand out in today's market, and to make sure you are always in demand.

Fowler worked in India running an off-shore consulting firm, and he understands the culture on both sides of the pond.  His book consists of 52 short chapters that get right to the point of what you need to be doing to ensure you're not expendable.  "Coding Doesn't Cut It Anymore" shows how learning the business is essential to making sure you can contribute and add value.  If you're "just a coder", you can be replaced.  "Invest In Your Intelligence" drives home the fact that you can't wait to be "given the opportunity" to learn something new.  *Take* the opportunity!  "Remarkability" shows how marketing and "being noticed" is essential to making sure people *want* to engage your services.  Keeping your head down and just thinking you're good means that you have a fan club of one (and that one isn't making the outsourcing decisions).

There's absolutely no guarantee that you will have your job this time next year.  Even if you do everything in this book, you might find yourself out of work.  But if you choose to sit back and whine about the inequity of life, you'll probably be switching careers sooner than you'd like.  But if you start taking the right steps now, you can take control of your career in a way that will minimize the risks to the highest possible degree.  In my opinion, the information in this book is the *only* logical response that one can take in the face of offshoring/outsourcing.

Buy the book.  Now.  Read it all the way through.  Now.  Pick one or two things to start doing.  Now.  Then start reading through the book again, a chapter a week.  A year from now, you'll be more secure and employable than you thought possible in today's job market.  This isn't a recommended read...  It's a *must read*.  

It's that good.

10/24/2005

Book Review - Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds

Category Book Reviews

I was reading through a list of "who's reading what", and I saw that the head of Amazon was reading Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds.  It sounded like a decent sci-fi title, so I gave it a try.  After taking a couple weeks to finish it, my general impression is "eh"...

Set in the future, earth is now uninhabitable because of some nanotech infestation that killed everyone off except for some people who had already started to develop settlements in space.  Verity Auger is an archeologist who specializes in bringing back remains from the planet, and now the authorities need her help in figuring out a mystery...  as in what happened to one of their agents who traveled back in time via a wormhole in space, and ended up murdered.  The problem is that her few belongings seem to point to some catastrophe in the making, and no one knows what she was on to before she got killed.  Auger reluctantly goes on the mission, and meets up with a person from the past who is also trying to solve the mystery.  He doesn't know he's living in a "backup" of earth, and she doesn't want to tell him.  That all comes to an end when the Slashers infiltrate the past in order to get the murdered agents clues, and Auger and her friend need to escape via a collapsing wormhole in time to prevent *his* world from meeting the same fate as the present-day earth.

The premise held some promise, and I started into the book expecting to get absorbed rather quickly.  But way too much time was spent in the past world, bringing the detective up to the point where Auger gets injected into the story.  Getting Auger's story up to the intersection point was better, but both sides tended to drag a bit.  It wasn't until the last 200 or so pages (out of 500+) that I really wanted to keep reading to find out how it all ended.  And even after it was all done, I was sort of left wondering if the time I spent had been worth it.

Perhaps others will like it, as it's not a *bad* novel.  It just didn't grab hold and captivate me like I was hoping for...

10/23/2005

Book Review - Learning SQL by Alan Beaulieu

Category Book Reviews

To all my Notes/Domino developer colleagues, here's a tip you already know...  it's time to learn SQL.  If it's been on your list of "things to learn or brush up on", I'd recommend the book Learning SQL by Alan Beaulieu.  It's an excellent way to get up to speed (or *back* up to speed).

Contents:  A Little Background; Creating and Populating a Database; Query Primer; Filtering; Querying Multiple Tables; Working with Sets; Data Generation, Conversion, and Manipulation; Subqueries; Joins Revisited; Conditional Logic; Transactions; Indexes and Constraints; ER Diagram for Example Database; MySQL Extensions to the SQL Language; Solutions to Exercises; Further Resources; Index

Notes/Domino 7 incorporates the ability to store your Domino data in a DB2 repository.  Then using Data Access Views, you can create application views that use SQL statements to generate the selection formula.  While you don't absolutely *have* to know SQL, it'd be a good time to start adding that skill to your repertoire.  Beaulieu's book is a clearly written tutorial on SQL that uses the open source MySQL database package to teach you the necessary skills.  I like the decision to use MySQL, as it's something that's free and available to everyone.  Trying to get DB2 up and running can be difficult, and it's definitely overkill if you're just trying to learn SQL.  When you finish this book, you'll know all the key concepts that will allow you get data out of (and put data into) any relational database table out there.  Obviously that's a valuable skill to have in your toolbox...

So...  commit to picking up a new skill or two in the upcoming year.  I'd recommend that one of those skills be a fundamental knowledge of SQL, and Learning SQL can help you get there.

10/23/2005

Book Review - The Java Programming Language, Fourth Edition

Category Book Reviews

If you're looking for a more academic approach to learning Java, as well as one written by *the* authorities in the Java world, you'll be interested in this title...  The Java Programming Language, Fourth Edition by Ken Arnold, James Gosling, and David Holmes.

Contents:  A Quick Tour; Classes and Objects; Extending Classes; Interfaces; Nested Classes and Interfaces; Enumeration Types; Tokens, Values, and Variables; Primitives as Types; Operations and Expressions; Control Flow; Generic Types; Exceptions and Assertions; Strings and Regular Expressions; Threads; Annotations; Reflection; Garbage Collection and Memory; Packages; Documentation Comments; The I/O Package; Collections; Miscellaneous Utilities; System Programming; Internationalization and Localization; Standard Packages; Application Evolution; Useful Tables; Further Reading; Index

From a content standpoint, this book is very comprehensive.  If it's something you need to know to learn Java, you'll find it covered.  Given that the authors were deeply involved in building Java, that's not surprising.  There's not an overabundance of coding samples, but the discussion of features and concepts is extensive.  I got the feeling I was reading a college level textbook on the Java language instead of a more mainstream version that would talk to people of lesser skills.  I don't necessarily consider that a bad thing, as there are some people who don't like their material doled out in a "Head First" fashion.  If that describes you, then this might be a better choice.  I also consider this to be an excellent choice for someone who wants both a tutorial and a reference book rolled into a single volume.  In fact, this almost tends more towards the reference side than the tutorial side.

Good coverage of material and subject matter.  It may not be the most entertaining read, but you'll be well equipped to go forth into the world of Java development when you finish.

10/22/2005

Book Review - Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

Category Book Reviews

Have you ever stopped to think about how "information" and the ability to find it has changed our lives?  Ambient Findability by Peter Morville takes you down a thought-provoking path as to what it all means...

Contents:  Lost and Found; A Brief History of Wayfinding; Information Interaction; Intertwingled; Push and Pull; The Sociosemantic Web; Inspired Decisions; Index

First off, this isn't a book along the lines of "follow these steps to increase your search engine ranking".  In fact, if you're just looking for some quick hit suggestions on how to make your site easier to find, don't buy the book.  It'd be a waste of your time.  But if you're ready to really think about what "searching" means, read on.  Morville examines how a number of trends have converged to make it possible to find out just about anything regardless of where you are and when you're looking for it.  Wi-fi has made it possible to have search engine access outside the home or office.  Google's massive indexing ability has allowed us to find things that would never be found otherwise.  GPS, cell phones, and other technical marvels have made us locate-able regardless of where we (or the searcher) are.  All this "ambient findability" changes who we are both as individuals and as a part of society.  And with the continuing advance of smaller chips, more bandwidth, and integration of RFID into everyday products, this convergence of information exchange and interaction only promises to get deeper and more pervasive.  As stated in the book...  The future is already here, but it's just not evenly distributed yet...

I'm a little surprised I liked this book as much as I did.  As I've stated in the past, I tend to avoid philosophical musings and gravitate towards practical "how do I" titles.  But this one snared me.  It's well written to begin with, and I think the subject matter was one that I was already interested in.  It's the type of book that you should read slowly and think about as you go.  When you understand how we've arrived at our current destination, it tends to make you have a greater appreciation for things we (or at least I) have taken for granted.

If you're ready for something that will make you think and ponder, Ambient Findability should make an appearance on your "need to read" list...

10/20/2005

I do *not* believe Ballmer just said that...

Category Microsoft

From PCWorld:  Microsoft assesses Linux, Google

I realize it's his job to be a rah-rah guy for the company...  But in the software industry (and if you're Microsoft specifically), Ballmer can't *really* believe what he said here:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer believes the company has ironed out all of the security problems in its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system so that users can consider adopting it the first day it is released. For the most part.

"Most people will trust it from day one on their home computer, and then they will have to decide about their corporate [PC]. I encourage you to get it early but I must be honest among friends," Ballmer joked Wednesday before an audience of IT professionals and analysts at Gartner's Symposium and ITxpo 2005 here this week.

Ballmer thinks that all security issues have been resolved in Vista???  *NO* software of substance is free of any and all security issues.  Microsoft's track record is abysmal in this area.  And Ballmer expects us to believe that a significant rewrite of their flagship OS is going to withstand any and all attempts to exploit security?

Three months after the official release, I'll bet there'll be a major security outbreak that will have Microsoft scrambling to issue patches.  And I'm probably being overly generous in my time estimate.

10/20/2005

Time to fire up for high school hockey again... Cam's team is 1-0.

Category Everything Else

Yes...  Time for that 16 game odessey known as Oregon High School Hockey...  They even have a website now!

This year Cam is playing for Tigard, as Grant didn't have enough kids go out to field a team.  Heck, Cam doesn't even go to Grant any more (another blog entry for another time), so no big deal.  He wanted to stay with a couple of other kids from last year, but Tigard didn't have a goalie, so Cam didn't have a lot of choice.  

However, after watching the Tigard team play Mountain View last night and win 8-1, I think he's perfectly happy with the "net" results (yes, pun intended).  Tigard totally outplayed the other team, and Cam looked pretty good on the few shots he had to face.

Of course, trying to get him to be a bit more humble was nearly impossible after this piece in the game story on the website:

The Tiger highlight reel continued early in the third as goaltender Cameron Duff stoned a bewildered Mountain View shooter on a breakaway.

Oh, well...  I'm sure there will be nights where he can't stop a thing, so I guess he better enjoy the good ones while they're out there.

10/18/2005

Stop the presses! Microsoft defections!!!

Category Microsoft

From eWeek:  Father of Wiki Moves from Microsoft to Eclipse

Microsoft Corp. has lost one of its high-profile hires to an open-source consortium.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, announced on Monday that Ward Cunningham is leaving Microsoft to join the staff of the open-source tool consortium. Cunningham's new title is Director of Committer Community Development.

Cunningham, the father of the Wiki concept, joined Microsoft about two years ago. At Microsoft, he was not involved directly in social-networking-software development.

Hey...  If Microsoft considers it news when they hire ex-Loti who haven't worked there in years, then I figure this must be front page headline stuff...  :)

Just trying to apply the same ruleset to both sides here.

10/18/2005

To whoever bought Devil's Halo through a link here...

Category Everything Else

... and then apparently bought a boatload of of other books while they were over there?

 

Thanks!  :)

10/17/2005

Book Review - BitTorrent For Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Kris Krug

Category Book Reviews

BitTorrent is one of those file-sharing technologies that I've heard about but never really understood.  To remedy that, I got a review copy of BitTorrent For Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Kris Krug.  I now understand why this is such a better architecture than others...

Contents:  
Part 1 - Getting Started with BitTorrent: Cluing In to BitTorrent; Downloading BitTorrent Files; Playing BitTorrent Files
Part 2 - Managing BitTorrent Content: Finding BitTorrent Content; Storing BitTorrent Content; Understanding BitTorrent and the Law
Part 3 - Creating BitTorrent Content: Creating Audio Files; Shooting Digital Video; Capturing and Editing Digital Video
Part 4 - Delivering BitTorrent Content: Making and Tracking Torrents; Seeding Your Torrents; Promoting Your Torrents
Part 5 - Getting More Out Of BitTorrent: Hunting for Additional Content; Protecting Your Content; Using BitTorrent in Organizations
Part 6 - The Part of Tens: Ten (Or So) Common File Formats for Sharing Your Content; Ten (Or So) Things You Can Do To Stay Safe From Viruses; Ten Fun BitTorrent Downloads
Index

Now the first thing that comes to mind when discussing peer-to-peer software for file sharing is the illegal downloading of copyrighted software.  Gardner and Krug make sure that the reader has *no* defense along the lines of "I didn't know it was wrong".  They do a great job in explaining the laws, why downloading certain material is illegal, and how to find sites that have legal content for downloading.  That won't stop people from using it to get the latest Madonna single or video, but you've been warned.  After that's out of the way, they explain how BitTorrent works and how your behavior when using the software affects all other users.  After reading the book, I now know all about seeds, swarms, and leeches.  I also know where to go to start using BitTorrent for accessing and distributing my own material.

The only "problem" I have with the book is with Part 3.  It's on how to create video and audio material like podcasts or home videos that can be digitized and stored online.  It really isn't material that's specific to BitTorrent usage, and it will only appeal to people who want to create content to share with others.  In fact, I've seen much of this material covered in books on podcasting, and it seems to make more sense in a book like that.  I think that if you already want to create content, BitTorrent isn't going to be your driving technology like podcasting might be.  It's not bad material...  I just don't think I would have included it here.

Basically, an interesting book on a technology that is redefining how content is controlled and distributed in the digital world.  If you want to know how to make it part of your world, it's worth reading...

10/17/2005

Book Review - Software That Sells by Edward Hasted

Category Book Reviews

So you think you're ready to become the next Microsoft?  OK...  Perhaps you just want to sell some software as a one-man band.  You'll do much better at it all if you first read Software That Sells - A Practical Guide to Developing & Marketing Your Software Project by Edward Hasted.

Contents:  How Winners Spot Winners; What Successful People Ask; Plan For Success; I Want To Work Here!; Raising Cash and Kind; Development; How Not to Reinvent the Wheel; Programming without Tears; Squashing Bugs and the Source; Scoring with Words; Before You Say "Go!" - The Release Process; Setting Up a Company; Pitching The Price; Promoting Your Product; Going For Higher Volumes; Successful Selling; How to Keep Customers; Plugging the Hole in the Boat; Handling Growth; Preparing for Further Success; Search Engine Optimization (or Winner Takes All); Index

There are a lot of nice areas of this book.  A significant part of the first section could be good advice for *any* software development effort.  It doesn't matter whether you're producing internal or external software...  squashing bugs, managing source, and best practices in development don't change.  They just become more obvious when your bad code gets released into the wild.  As you move deeper into the book, you get into more "running the business" chapters that cover how to turn your "big software idea" into a business that actually makes money and provides a living for you (and potentially others).  Most software developers don't have a clue as to how a business runs.  They just figure that if the software is great, people will buy it.  It *can* happen, but it rarely does.  If you learn how to make the right decisions early on (or how to hire someone who can), then you stand a chance to avoid being a casualty in the business world.

Just one funny aside...  The writer is British, and there are quite a few times when the phrasing or the wording is something that isn't familiar to an American audience...  I'm guessing that I shouldn't be offended when I'm the "piggy in the middle"...  I may not be happy about it, however...  :)

Good book, and a definite recommended read if you're looking to move your development efforts into a money-making business for 1 or 100 (or more).

10/17/2005

Book Review - The Java Language Specification, Third Edition

Category Book Reviews

Are you the type that has to know the "why" and "how" behind how a language behaves?  Then this is the book you need...  The Java Language Specification, Third Edition by James Gosling, Bill Joy, Guy Steele, Gilad Bracha.  Provided you're buying it for the right reason, there's nothing close to it.

Contents:  Introduction; Grammars; Lexical Structure; Types, Values, and Variables; Conversions and Promotions; Names; Packages; Classes; Interfaces; Arrays; Exceptions; Execution; Binary Compatibility; Blocks and Statements; Expressions; Definite Assignment; Threads and Locks; Syntax; Index

So why do I say "for the right reason"?  Because if you pick it up expecting something else, you'll be highly disappointed.  This is *not* a tutorial of the language, nor is it an easy-to-read conversation or discussion of Java.  Instead, it's a computer engineering level coverage of how Java is structured and how it works, from the people who wrote it.  As such, you're going to find information in here that you'll have a hard time getting elsewhere.  You'll find out how the nitty-gritty of how things like classes and interfaces work, and how they *should* be structured.  If you're just getting started in Java, you'll likely be over your head by the second chapter.  The target of this type of writing would be people who are Java journeymen, and who have gotten to the point where they need to know some of the theory behind features and structure.  You'll also need a book like this if you write development tools that target the Java environment.  Armed with this book and a solid background in Java, you'll be able to produce software that behaves just as developers would expect.

Don't let the depth and complexity of the material steer you away from the book if you're ready to go deeper with Java.  Just don't pick up the book expecting to learn Java for the first time.  There are better books out there for that purpose.  But if you need to understand the guts of Java, this is it.

10/15/2005

Book Review - Hello World(s)! - From Code to Culture: A 10 Year Celebration of Java Technology

Category Book Reviews

You know you're a geek when your coffee table books feature programming languages...  Hello World(s)! - From Code to Culture: A 10 Year Celebration of Java Technology.

Contents: The World of Possibilities; The World of Choice; The World of Curiosity; The World of Community; The World of Adoption; The World of Inevitability; The World of Today; The World of Tomorrow

I had a real hard time trying to figure out how to frame this book.  From a visual perspective, it's very nice.  Heavy page stock, colorful graphics, and unique page layout.  On the other hand, after you've spent 30 minutes reading through the approximately 100 pages, you'll wonder what you should do with the book now.  Then I noticed the "author"...  Sun Microsystems.  This is one of those coffee table books produced by the company who owns the subject matter, and it's the type of book you can give to clients and other tech geeks who are part of the Java movement.  Given that framing, I understand its function and am inclined to cut it a bit more slack in terms of reviewer rating.  

There's nothing in here that you probably haven't already heard in other books on Java.  Granted, this style of book allows for more color and background as to what was going on at the time, and what some of the players were thinking during crucial moments in Java's history.  I enjoyed reading it, but I was a bit surprised that all the "historical" material that revolved around dates seemed to end at 1999 or so.  I almost felt like this was a dot.com era book that finally made it off someone's pet project list after three or four years, but that wasn't updated with more current events.

So, do you run out and buy this book?  Depends...  If someone *gives* you a copy, by all means take it and enjoy.  Heck, stick it on your coffee table with pride (after you move the pizza boxes off).  But if you're looking for in-depth analysis and historical perspective on Java, you'll likely end up walking away feeling less than satisfied...

10/15/2005

Book Review - Tripwire by Lee Child

Category Book Reviews

Yup...  completely and totally hooked...  I just finished up the third installment in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child...  Tripwire.  And they seem to keep getting better.

Reacher, an ex-Army MP and drifter, is now in the Keys digging swimming pools by hand.  No plan, no direction, it's just where he is at this point in time.  His routine starts to crumble when two separate parties from New York show up looking for him, and he doesn't have a clue as to why they should need to know.  He lies to both of them about who he is, and one of the individuals turns up dead a few hours later.  Reacher decides his time in the Keys is up, and heads north to find out who's looking into his life.  It ends up being the daughter of an Army general who was almost like Jack's dad.  Running parallel to the story is another thread involving a CEO of a crumbling company and his attempts to keep it going by borrowing money from "Hook" Hobie, an amputee from the Vietnam war who takes great pleasure in using his prosthetic hook to inflict damage on those who do not pay up on time.  Hobie is alerted that something from his past is starting to encroach on his current life, but he doesn't want to flee until he finishes the deal with the CEO.  He also needs the daughter of the general that Reacher has hooked up with.  Jack needs to keep the daughter safe, fulfill a promise to an elderly couple who's son is listed as missing in action, and figure out if he's ready to start settling down a bit...

I think what I like most about this series is Reacher's "humanness".  It's far too easy to paint a main character as some "can do no wrong" superhero who always makes the right decisions.  While Reacher is definitely a force to be reckoned with, he's also like a large child who hasn't figured out how to live in today's society like everyone else.  The writing is terse and the story is pretty tight, and the total convergence of all the plotlines doesn't happen until the very end.  I was definitely unsure as to how it was all going to resolve, and I really couldn't put the book down.  This is some of the best recreational reading I've had in a long time, and I'm glad I have another five or so books left in the series before I'm up to date.  Highly recommended...

10/15/2005

Microsoft: We were railroaded in Massachusetts on ODF

Category Microsoft

From ZDNet:  Microsoft: We were railroaded in Massachusetts on ODF

This is an excellent (but long) investigative report on what happened in Mass. on the ODF decision.  It was an outgrowth of an attempt by Alan Yates of Microsoft to explain to ZDNet reporter David Berlind about how people conspired against them to oust Office XML as an accepted solution for the state.  Well worth reading, as it offers insight into how Microsoft views their position in the industry, and perhaps how they've reached a tipping point of not being able to react to changing circumstances...

10/13/2005

Is it just me, or are those Burger King commercials with the ...

Category Everything Else

... character dressed as a king and a stationary mask getting creepier with each new one?

If someone looking like that shows up outside my window holding a hamburger, I'm either shooting or calling the cops.

10/11/2005

Bone of Hobbit-like species uncovered

Category Humor

From CNN.com:  Bone of Hobbit-like species uncovered

Scientists say they have found more bones in an Indonesian cave that offer additional evidence of a second human species -- short and hobbit-like -- that roamed the Earth the same time as modern man.

And this surprises Joe, Rocky, and I how?

Duh!

10/10/2005

Major thanks to Vince Schuurman...

Category IBM/Lotus

I was having an issue with trying to get the automatic launch of the iNotes template turned off for a particular database.  Vince Schuurman came up with the exact answer for what I needed.  Couple that with his $FormulaClass hack post and Julian's follow-up, and I was able to get everything working today as desired.

Thanks!

10/10/2005

Who *says* you can't run your business on Notes? The Remote Control CEO...

Category IBM/Lotus


From Inc.com:  
The Remote Control CEO

An *excellent* article on how Applegate Farms runs with Lotus Notes/Domino, and how their CEO uses those tools to allow him to manage the company remotely and not stifle the growth by micromanagement (namely, his!)...


Applegate Farms lives and dies by its information systems. Fifty-four employees are connected to 120 Lotus Notes databases that can give them just about every piece of company data they might need. Among other things, they keep track of 300 family farms, from Uruguay to northern Quebec, that raise animals for Applegate; 12 slaughterhouses; 18 processing plants; and 350 wholesale customers. As a result, even working mostly from home, McDonnell says, "At 5 p.m. on Friday, I know more about my business than most CEOs of much larger companies."


That's not an idle boast. Jay W. Vogt, a former Hampshire College classmate of McDonnell's who has been consulting for Applegate for the past four years, says the company's "data-driven architecture" could support a much bigger company than Applegate is today. "When I tell some of my clients what Applegate does," says Vogt, "they think I'm talking about an alien entity because some very large companies don't have what Applegate has." While Applegate's sales have doubled since 2001, its head count and infrastructure costs have remained strikingly low. And that's probably why it looks like a $10 million company when, in fact, its revenue is more than $35 million.


Highly recommended reading...

10/09/2005

Book Review - RFID Sourcebook by Sandip Lahiri

Category Book Reviews

RFID Sourcebook by Sandip Lahiri is a very well done title that you should investigate if you're starting to look into how RFID technology might be used in your organization...

Contents:  Technology Overview; Advantages of the Technology; Limitations of the Technology; Application Areas; Privacy Concerns; RFID Versus Bar Code; The RFID Strategy; Creating Business Justification for RFID; Designing and Implementing an RFID Solution; Standards; Closing Thoughts; RFID Vendors, News Sources, and Conferences; Passive Tag Manufacturing Overview; Glossary; Index

I found this book to be the type that you could legitimately use in order to plan your company's approach to RFID.  It's not a "rah rah" book that pretends that RFID is a panacea to all the manufacturing problems that exist.  It's an even-handed coverage of the subject, and he doesn't have any qualms about covering the pros and cons that you'll have to consider if you use RFID.  There's a degree of technical information in the book, but not so much that a higher-level decision maker would get bogged down in details.  I guess I'd consider it more of a strategic book to make good fundamental initial decisions, and to get your project moving in the right direction early.

If RFID is something that your organization or industry is pursuing, grab this book to get grounded in the fundamentals.

10/09/2005

Book Review - Podcasting Hacks by Jack D. Herrington

Category Book Reviews

The podcasting titles are starting to show up fast and furious.  I recently received a copy of O'Reilly's Podcasting Hacks - Tips & Tools for Blogging Out Loud by Jack D. Herrington.  It's a very good choice for both the rank novice as well as the person who wants to take their podcasting to the next level...

Contents:  Tuning into Podcasts; Starting Out; Quality Sound; Formats; Interviewing; Blogging; Publicity; Basic Editing; Advanced Audio; On the Go; Videoblogging; Glossary; Index

Some of the Hacks titles cover a wide range of tips and hints on a subject, and you end up picking and choosing what works for you.  There are a few that seem to go a step beyond and provide a pretty complete coverage of how to get started with something, as well as how to improve your skills if you've already started.  Podcasting Hacks seems to fall nicely into that second category.  There is some coverage on how to get going with listening to podcasts, like #8 - Listening to Podcasts on Your PDA and #9 - Podcatching with Your PlayStation Portable.  There's even a number of Perl hacks you can use to do some "roll your own" development.  But the book really shines when you get into the main areas of how to produce a podcast.  You'll learn how to pick the right microphone (#13) for your needs, how to set up a home studio (#61), and even how to produce your podcasts in surround sound (#16).  Add in a number of recommendations of hardware and software, and you've got a valuable guide to becoming the next voice to be heard...

Unless you're already an Adam Curry in the podcasting world, this is a book worth reading.  You'll either get off to a good start, or you'll take your podcasting to the next level.  Either way, your audience will thank you...

10/09/2005

The likely reason I have so many problems with my main printer at home...

Category Everything Else

A picture named M2

10/09/2005

Book Review - XSLT 1.0 Pocket Reference by Evan Lenz

Category Book Reviews

XSLT is one of those technologies that takes awhile to get the hang of.  Once you've learned the basics, you'll end up needing to refer back to reference material often.  One way to make that process a bit quicker would be to have a copy of Even Lenz's XSLT 1.0 Pocket Reference on hand...

Contents:  Data Model; The XPath Language; How XSLT Works; Elements; Functions; Extending XSLT; XPath 1.0 Grammar; XSLT Pattern Grammar; Index

Looking at the back cover, the impression is such that you could use this book to get "up to speed quickly" on XSLT.  Perhaps you could, but if this was your first and only exposure to XSLT and it works out that way, you're a far better IT professional than I am.  The information is concise and correct, to be sure.  But it's not going to walk you through the subject in a tutorial fashion.  Conversely, if you understand the basics and need a quick visual reference on how to use a feature, say like <xsl:sort>, this book shines.  You don't have to wade through a dozen pages of conversation to find out the format and syntax.  Two pages total in this book, and you have all the details.  And that's what an O'Reilly's Pocket Reference title is for...

If you're working with XSLT already and need that "cheat sheet" material, I'd recommend this book.  You'll get a lot of value from it.  If you're looking to learn XSLT, you'll probably want to start with something more tutorial in nature first.  Once you've got that down, head over here for ongoing reference...

10/09/2005

Book Review - Blink - The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Category Book Reviews

I finally got around to reading a book that's been talked about a lot in blogging circles...  Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.  I found it fascinating, and it certainly explains a lot of things that I've often wondered about...

The main question here is what happens in those first couple of seconds when you observe something?  Without often knowing why, you make some snap judgements that can often be extremely accurate.  But when asked to explain why you felt that way, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint the correct reasons.  This process of decision-making is called "thin-slicing", and it's the stripping away of various inputs that don't end up affecting the outcome of your decision.  If faced with 100 items of information about a decision, it's often just a small handful of items that consistently predict success or failure.  The subconscious can often find those points and sift out the pattern without us being able to know why.  Experts in a field, due to their exposure to the subject, can thin-slice even more quickly.  They stand a better chance of being able to explain the "why" behind it, but even then it's somewhat iffy.  Once you're aware of the thin-slicing phenomenon, you can start to accept it as a valid way to aid in the decision-making process.

It wasn't covered in the book, but an application of this is something I've always found irritating in sports broadcasts.  You have color commentators taking a play and dissecting the smallest movements in the players, explaining how each one made conscious decisions to shift the hips here or move the arm there.  In reality, there's little conscious decisions made at all.  The players are really thin-slicing the situation based on their past experiences, and making split-second reactions.  The more experience and practice, the better the thin-slicing.  All the extraneous action and information is stripped away, and the things that matter are handled instantaneously.  If this type of thinking was more well-known, color commentators could be out of a job...  :)

Definitely worth reading and pondering.  You may not agree with Gladwell, but it will force you to think about things...

10/09/2005

Book Review - Marker by Robin Cook

Category Book Reviews

I finally made it through the hold list at the library for Robin Cook's latest novel Marker.  I'm never quite sure if I'm going to like or hate each of his novels, as the story lines seem to hit me as varying in quality.  Marker is better than some of his other ones, and I enjoyed it.  It's not without some nits in my opinion, however...

Laurie Montgomery is a medical examiner at the city morgue.  She starts running across a number of deaths that are unexpected and have no pathology to indicate their cause.  Just perfectly healthy people dropping dead after routine procedures.  Her suspicions start to move towards a serial killer loose in one of the local hospitals, but of course no one wants to hear or believe that.  Amidst all of this turmoil, she's also got a number of personal crises issues to deal with, including a troubling genetic test and a relationship that's not going where she wants it to end up.  As she slowly starts getting people to buy into her killer scenario, she ends up in a situation that just might make her the next victim...

Overall, the story wasn't bad.  It seemed to be a bit long in the middle, and I felt like we went through a few iterations of events that didn't advance the story at all.  It was just activity for the sake of activity.  The ending was great, in that I had to pick up my reading pace because I needed to find out how it all ended.  My biggest problem was the agenda that Cook is pushing in the book.  I'm not one much for personal crusades wrapped in popular fiction, and Cook seems to excel in that.  In this story, he paints the managed care industry as the evil boogieman, with genetic testing being the final invasion of our personal privacies.  While there are issues there to be sure, the "insurance is evil, doctors are good" theme got to be much too heavy for my likings.

Fun read, and perhaps the underlying theme will resonate more with you than it did for me.  In my case, it flawed what would have otherwise been an excellent novel.

10/07/2005

Sayonara, Windows! Konichiwa, Linux!

Category Linux

From Softpedia.com:  Sayonara, Windows! Konichiwa, Linux!

What happened to Microsoft in Massachusetts, whose officials haven’t been convinced by the Redmond giant to wait quietly for Office 12, a product promised to be more “friendly” with the Office suite with the Open XML standard, will be a puny earthquake compared to the tsunami prepared by Japan!

AP informs that the Japanese officials have started to ponder upon the introduction of Linux on governmental PCs, in order to break free from Microsoft and its Windows operating system.

One of the Internal Affairs and Communications ministry officials, cited by AP, said that the Open Source software should be regarded as an “important option” for the governmental acquisition policy.

Interesting how yet another country is looking to legitimatize Linux as an alternative over Windows...

10/06/2005

Book Review - Internet Yellow Pages (2006 Edition) by Joe Kraynak

Category Book Reviews

So...  have phone books become outdated in the world of on-line access?  No, because not everyone has a computer or on-line access.  But isn't a "yellow pages" of websites by subject rather useless with the abundance of search engines.  Perhaps not as much as I originally thought...  I got a chance to review Que's Internet Yellow Pages (2006 Edition) by Joe Kraynak, and the concept of a "paper search directory" does have a few merits...

The book (all 1100 plus pages) looks nearly identical to a real yellow pages directory.  The web sites don't have ads, but the contents are listed by subject matter (like Reference or Cigars), and then the sites are listed alphabetically within those areas.  Each entry has the title, the web address, and a brief description as to what the site offers (or how it's different than others like it).  There are also some icons that help you get a bit more out of the directory.  There's a "Best" icon given to the site that the author deems the best in that category.  The dollar sign icon means you can purchase stuff on-line.  The usability guide is one to five stars that rank how easy it is to find information.  And finally, there are children ratings that indicate the appropriateness of the site for different age groups.  It's well designed to find the information, and to get a feel for what you'll be visiting before you get there.

So back to the main issue...  Why is this any different, never mind "better", than a search directory like Yahoo?  It's a legitimate question, as I always used to snicker when I saw this book in the bookstores.  But after leafing through the pages, I'm of a different opinion now.  Online directories are driven by a single focus.  You go on-line to find information about subject "X", and that's all you search for.  You may miss other sites of interest due to a bad keyword choice, or you may not even know that other sites on similar subjects exist.  And it's for sure you're not going to get much meta information about the site, such as the age target or how easy it is to navigate.  The book gives you that advantage.  And there's something to be said for finding an interesting subject and going off on a side trip that could pay unexpected benefits.  Searching for specific terms make that much more unlikely.  This book gives you the chance to broaden your view and allow various ideas to grab your attention...

Does this book replace or challenge Yahoo and Google?  Not hardly.  Searching for specific information is still something that the search engines excel in.  But if you're looking for opinions on sites covering a subject, or if you just want to "surf something new that you've never though of before", the Yellow Pages might offer some interesting insights and diversions...  Not a "must have" book, but it did force me to change my view and way of looking at search directories...

10/05/2005

Book Review - Ship It! by Jared Richardson and William Gwaltney Jr.

Category Book Reviews

I haven't had the chance to read and review any books from the Pragmatic Programmers series.  I decided to change that with the book Ship It! - A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects by Jared Richardson and William Gwaltney Jr.   After finishing the book, I put in an order for a few more titles.  If all the titles are this practical and useful, I'll be a happy camper...

Contents:  Introduction; Tools and Infrastructure; Pragmatic Project Techniques; Tracer Bullet Development; Common Problems and How to Fix Them; Tip Summary; Source Code Management; Build Scripting Tools; Continuous Integration Systems; Issue Tracking Software; Development Methodologies; Testing Frameworks; Suggested Reading List; Index

Richardson and Gwaltney don't try to add yet another methodology that guarantees your life will be rosy.  Basically, that methodology doesn't exist.  But there are a number of best practices that they've found from real-world experience, and they share those here.  The key word is "practical" (hence the "Pragmatic" part of the series title).  Even if you can't necessarily adopt all of their suggestions, you can easily take one or two and merge them into your routine.  Once they've changed the way you work, you'll be ready for a few new changes.

For instance, they are really big on automated build processes for your software development that requires a compile and packaging process.  Having the process done manually means that it won't get done as often as it should, or it will be machine dependent.  Taking the time to learn something like Ant can dramatically improve your effectiveness and productivity.  Same with using continuous integration software.  If your project is constantly being built and tested without intervention, it's a guarantee that new problems will be caught early and resolved quickly.

After reading this book, I'm planning on investigating the use of a wiki for "The List", as well as possibly downloading Bugzilla to have a formal issue tracking system.  For me, that's the sign of a great book...  you walk away with a few action items that will change what you do today, not sometime in the future.  This is really a "required read" for all software developers, and the sooner you read it, the better...

10/05/2005

Opening night in the NHL...

Category Everything Else

Yes...  life is good again!

Even better...  Comcast Cable picked up OLN as part of their basic package this week, so the move of the NHL broadcasts from ESPN to OLN doesn't matter any more to me.  

10/03/2005

Microsoft Backs Open Source In Its Competition With IBM

Category Microsoft

From InformationWeek:  Microsoft Backs Open Source In Its Competition With IBM
       
When will Microsoft stake some of its resources on open-source software? When the product in question helps Windows sales and takes market share from IBM.

That was the impetus behind a technical deal struck last week in which Microsoft will fly engineers from software company JBoss Inc. to Redmond, Wash., to make sure JBoss' open-source, Java-based middleware runs well on Windows, SQL Server, and other Microsoft products. JBoss sells its products under an open-source GNU Public License that Microsoft has criticized as a threat to intellectual-property ownership, and its technology is based on the Java 2 Enterprise standard that competes with Windows as a development platform. But Microsoft said the deal is meant to help a small software company that influences sales of Windows server software.

"JBoss is an alternative business model and finding great financial success building on Windows," says Bill Hilf, Microsoft's platform-technology strategy director.

I suppose the optimist in me should applaud the fact that Microsoft is recognizing the value of open source projects...  even ones that compete against their own areas.  They *have* been trying to tell us they're more interested in playing well with others now.

The cynical realist is a lot louder, however...  I'm not buying the altruistic spin.  I personally see it as a defensive measure to not allow the real competition (IBM) to have areas where Microsoft has no answer.  Similar to today's announcement that Office 12 will support PDF files (thank you, OpenOffice.org).  

And I'm guessing similar to an announcement in the not-too-distant future about how Microsoft is responding to the customer and marketplace demands in order to support the OpenDoc format...  :)

10/02/2005

Troubleshooting Notes Client Crashes

Category IBM/Lotus

Technote (FAQ)  (From the KnowledgeBase)

Problem
This document provides a basic overview of the steps that IBM Lotus Support uses to troubleshoot Notes Client crashes. It includes information for customers about the files that Lotus Support requests and the information required to troubleshoot such issues.

Cause

Solution
I. General Information:
A Notes Client crash is characterized by an abnormal termination of the Notes Client application. Most abnormal terminations will force Notes to create a diagnostic file (NSD file) containing information about the workstation experiencing the crash. In most cases, the information in the NSD file is not enough to diagnose a Notes Client crash but is used by Lotus Support as the first step in troubleshooting. When contacting Lotus Support regarding Notes Client crashes, please consider the following troubleshooting questions:

1. How many machines are crashing?
  • If multiple machines experience identical crashes, one machine will be isolated for troubleshooting. If the cause of the crash can be determined from one machine and a workaround results from troubleshooting, the same workaround will be applied to the other problem machines.
  • If multiple machines crash for different reasons, a new Problem Management Record must be opened for each crash.
2. Was an NSD file (Notes .RIP in R5) generated as a result of the crash?
3. Were there any error messages displayed during the crash?
4. What was the user doing at the time of the crash?
5. How often does the crash occur?
6. Can the crash be reproduced at will? If so, what are the exact steps to reproduce the crash?
7. What other programs, applications, and operating system tasks were running at the time of the crash?
8. Was Notes installed by CD, over the network, or via image?

NOTE: It is critical that particular NSD or RIP files can be attributed to particular user actions. If the NSD or RIP files are all of different crash types, then specifics on what was occurring at the time must be presented, or else the information may be of no value.

Additionally, in cases where multiple crashes are being reported, for example, in an ADC database, the crashes should be categorized by Fatal Stack content. If a user experiences a number of crashes, have them note what they were doing (during each crash) and the time it occurred. (In a RIP file, the "When" entry reflects the time of the crash; in an NSD, the file name itself reflects the time).

II. What Can Cause the Notes Client to Crash?

Crashes can occur for the following reasons:

- Software problems in the client code
- Software problems in design element features
- Corrupt ID, database, or database element
- Conflict with a third-party application/Operating System task
- Corrupt client cache file (hint: delete the cache.ndk (R5 cache.dsk) file in the Notes data directory)
- Corrupt workspace icon or bookmark (hint: rename the desktop6.ndk (R5 desktop5.dsk) and bookmark.nsf files in the Notes data directory. Notes will recreate the cache, desktop, and bookmark files on its next run.

III. Troubleshooting Guidelines:

When troubleshooting workstation/desktop crashes, it is important to isolate the issue and create a reproducible scenario. To do this:
- Isolate the issue by focusing on one machine/user
- Find exactly which databases, operating systems, service packs, or applications are involved.
- Create a reproducible scenario by establishing a pattern to the crashes
- Find the exact sequence of actions that cause the Notes Client to crash

General Error Messages Seen During a Notes Client Crash:


The following are error messages that may appear during a Notes Client crash. These are general errors that are used to alert the user that Notes has crashed. The errors typically are not used in problem determination but should be included when calling Lotus Support.

"An application breakpoint error has occurred."

"NSD is running."

"OSVBLOCK ADDRESS
BAD VBLOCK HANDLE"

"PANIC: Lookup Handle: handle out of range."

"Access Violation"


Related information
Using NSD for Domino Servers and Notes Clients on Windo
How to Maximize Notes 6 Client Performance

10/02/2005

Book Review - ConnectSafely Wireless and Security Guide for MS Windows by Dave Taylor and Chris Buechler

Category Book Reviews

I was recently given the opportunity to review an e-Book by Dave Taylor and Chris Buechler...  ConnectSafely Wireless and Security Guide for MS Windows.  This should be required reading for any wireless worker or wireless recreational surfer.  There's a good chance you're giving away more information than you think...

Contents:  Step 1 - Protecting Your Laptop; Encryption Primer; Secure Web Mail on Open Networks; Securing Your Email Application; SSL Security Concerns and Countermeasures; Securing Instant Messaging Chats; Securely Connecting To Work; Summary; After The Fact - Verifying Encryption with Ethereal

Normally I'm not a big fan of e-Books.  I prefer the tactile feel of paper and the flexibility of taking the information with me for reading anywhere.  But this particular title works *very* well in that format.  The size of the book (125 pages) is packed with practical and hands-on information on how best to make sure that your wireless computing doesn't give up more information than you want.  Taylor and Buechler start off by talking about firewalls.  By implementing the Microsoft firewall that's part of XP, you can greatly reduce the chance of someone exploiting your machine in an untrusted environment.  Moving on to email, you learn what might happen if you connect to a wireless network to check your mail (both via Outlook and via web email services like Yahoo or Gmail).  If you connect incorrectly, anyone nearby with a packet sniffer (like Ethereal) will have your name and password in short order.  Same goes for instant messaging and connecting into work.  You could be one login away from losing control of your account.  They close the book with a working example of how a packet sniffer works.  One download, and you could be the person they are warning others about.

Even after all the years I've worked with computing technology, I learned a few things.  The section on email security covers what is and isn't encrypted when you use AOL mail, Yahoo mail, and Gmail.  While you can log on to Yahoo mail securely, the following session isn't encrypted.  They recommend *not* to access your Yahoo account over an open network.  Makes me appreciate my Gmail account even more.  I also learned about an add-on to my Gaim instant messaging client that will allow me to chat securely with others running the same client/add-on combo.  Three minutes later, and I've upped my security there, too.  Very helpful...

If you're a person who often heads off to Starbucks to conduct business, you *need* to know this stuff.  And if you run a company with a band of road warriors, you should probably contact the authors to check on a group discount.  Spending a bit now to protect your information is far less expensive than trying to repair damage from leaked business plans or cracked email accounts...

10/01/2005

Book Review - Two-Way Radios And Scanners For Dummies by H. Ward Silver

Category Book Reviews

It must be the lurker in me...  I've always been fascinated with listening to unusual broadcasts like shortwave radio and emergency frequencies.  Therefore, I was happy to have the opportunity to review the book Two-Way Radios & Scanners For Dummies by H. Ward Silver.  It's an excellent way to get started in this hobby (or obsession)...

Contents:
Part 1 - Making Radio a Habit, a Hobby, or a Helper: Introducing Radios and the Wireless Word; Discovering the Art and Science of Radio; Making Radio Fit Your Life
Part 2 - Two-Way Radios at Home, Work, and Play: A Radio in Your Pocket - FRS/GMRS Radios; Breaker, Breaker - Using Citizens Band; Communicating in Emergencies; Workaday Wireless - Business Radio Services; Ladies and Gentlemen, Ships at Sea - Marine Radio; Citizen Wireless - Amateur Radio
Part 3 - Listening In - Scanning and Shortwave Listening: One Adam 12 - Scanner Basics; Scanning Public Service and Safety Radio Transmissions; Radio Aloft - Aviation Radio Transmissions; Radios in Uniform: Government Radio Transmissions; Radio in Action - Recreational Radio Transmissions; Surfing the Air World - Shortwave Listening
Part 4 - Getting Technical with Your Radio: Building Your Radio Toolbox; A Spark of Electronic Know-How; Installing Radios Right; Getting a Charge Out of Batteries; Putting Your Computer to Work; Troubleshooting Your Radio
Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten Radio Secrets; Ten Emergency Tips; Ten Radio First-Aid Techniques; Ten New Ways to Have Fun with Your Radio; Glossary; Index

There's not much that Silver doesn't cover in this book.  He works both sides of the radio spectrum, from just listening to actually participating.  If the usage of the airwaves in a particular category require having a license, he covers the requirements in order to make sure you stay legal.  The basics of the hardware for each type of activity is illustrated in a very easy-to-understand fashion without getting overly technical.  Same with subjects like antennas.  There are some really heavy-duty scientific principles behind how antennas work and how different frequency ranges really require different antenna types.  Silver is able to get you through this without the eyes glazing over...  My personal favorite part of the book was on the shortwave listening.  I remember listening to shortwave broadcasts from Radio Nederlands when I was young, amazed that I could be hearing stuff from the other side of the earth.  This book brought back some of those same feelings.

This book is a very good way to get yourself started in the business of voice communications over the airwaves.  Regardless of your leanings as a lurker or participant, you'll find what you need here to make that first contact.

10/01/2005

Book Review - The Devil's Halo by Chris Fox

Category Book Reviews

I've actually had a bit more time lately for recreational reading, and I decided to start a book I was sent by an author...  The Devil's Halo by Chris Fox.  It's an excellent cyber-war novel, and it's a future not hard to imagine...

Fast forward a few years into the future...  The United States is one of the most despised nations in Europe (and in the rest of the world, for that matter).  Their military posture is intolerable to many, and especially in terms of how they view space.  The European Union has decided to include Russia for their space technology, and the French leadership of the Union wants to strike a decisive blow to America's military superiority.  The plan is to launch an "electronic Pearl Harbor" that will strip America of any technological advantage.  Terry Weston and his wife are sent over to Russia to recover a stolen movie file encrypted with "unbreakable" military encryption.  He was an economic spy for many years, but he thought he was out of the game.  A little blackmail brings him back in against his will.  After recovering the movie, the "E-Day" scenario starts to heat up, and he's once again coerced into continuing the spy game.  This type of life-and-death espionage isn't his forte, but he's the only asset on the ground.  The plot is uncovered, but the question is whether he'll stay alive long enough to get the information back to the proper authorities....  or if they'll even listen if he does...

I enjoyed this book a lot, and on a number of levels...  For one, I enjoyed the cyber-warfare angle.  It's becoming a more important tool to both use and attack, and it adds a whole new element to the art of war.  Next, the scenario of America as an international pariah seems to be more realistic each day.  The near-future world that Fox paints in the novel isn't a stretch, and the headlines aren't that far away.  And finally, this isn't necessarily a "good guys win, bad guys lose, and life goes on" story.  Actions happen that have ramifications for all sides, and "winning" can also mean "losing"...

Definitely a recommended read that will keep you turning pages even as the hour grows late...

10/01/2005

September's strange searches...

Category Blogging

Seems like I started a trend here in the Lotus blogging world with semi-regular posts about the strange and unusual search hits that brought people to your sites.  I don't know about anyone else, but I find those posts pretty enjoyable.  Sheds some light on what a strange world exists out there, and that perhaps there should be a licensing requirement to use Google...

Oh, and before I start covering my September hits, a word to the Hillary Duff searchers.  Yes, I share the same last name, but I had it first.  I'm not related to her, nor do I follow her career.  And you will *not* find anything on this site about her with hits like "Hillary Duff naked", "hillary duff weight loss", "hillary duff's weight loss trick", "hillary duff in under water", "hidden shower cams of hillary duff", "hillary duff's workout plan", "I want to see pictures of hillary duff having sex", or even "hillary duff gynecologist".  You should all be embarrassed...

Now, on with the semi-less perverted stuff...
  • devin olsen movie - "The Secret Life Of Spanky"?
  • steve ballmer sweating - That would be just about any keynote address he gives...
  • nanomaterials galore - But would you even know they're there?
  • Daniel Lyons sucks - apparently another one of his fans...
  • Rob McDonagh performance - hmmm...
  • congratulations to anniversity - "Anniversity" probably describes a number of marriages out there...
  • review on the idiot (Stan Rogers) - Stan...  can you shed light on this one?
  • julian naked - GAHHH!
  • the duff - Perhaps I can start referring to myself in the third person...
  • hello my name is tom - Welcome!  Mine is too...
  • airtube torture - The fact that someone was searching for this disturbs me...
  • enron, settlement, preferred - Yes, I prefer they'd settle everything and give me my money.
  • divorce, cyber - What you get after you get caught having cyber-sex?  (and I had that search, too)
  • being psychic - The answer is "proceed with caution" (you know who you are)...
  • ibm trunk monkey - Now *that* I want to see!  Opening session at Lotusphere...  Rhodin pushes a button, a trunk opens up, the Trunk Monkey gets out, and proceeds to bash a Microsoft logo with a crowbar!
  • duff electrical figure - Shocking!
  • Microsoft employee dissatisfaction - and yet they still wanted to recruit me...
  • bare midriff look - A fashion statement that can successfully be worn by very few, but that is attempted by far too many...
  • getting AIM for free - Just download it!  sheesh...
  • prozac evil - Not in my book...
  • katrina computer model 10000 dead - Yeah, right...  More like "katrina politician media hype 10000 dead"
  • butts off - That could hurt...
  • Jesse Jackson please go away - ;-)
  • fluoxetine helped me - Probably saved *my* life...
  • duff naked - Sorry, those pictures are special order only...
  • duff's weight - 209.2 as of last Wednesay, shooting for 180 or so by Lotusphere!
  • water cooler lotus notes forum - I always *hated* that site!
  • starting a cruise - First, get on the ship...

And my personal favorite...

"disney magic" and "ian" - Either they want to know about his time on the ship by that name, or they want to know if he's learned all about Disney's magic from working down there...

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Thanks!

Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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